Is Etiquette Extinct?

Let me start by sharing my experience meeting a Prince of Royal English descent. Picture a young woman in her early twenties on the verge of ditching her punk-rocker/hipster aesthetic and attempting to adopt a bohemian-hippie vibe. Yes, that was me. I was working in the hospitality industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and an event was planned with the Earl of Essex as the guest of honour. Oh my, what a tizzy! Everything had to be perfect, especially us, the lowly staff. A Finishing School teacher (yes, there is such a thing!) was hired to teach us royal etiquette, and instruct us on how to behave, address and acknowledge the Prince. I practiced how to act and what to say until it was perfect – I was going to nail this visit, and possibly become the next Duchess, Countess, Princess whatever.

When the Prince arrived, he greeted everyone in the room and in turn, received a bow or a curtsy. It was nearing my turn, and nervous me did that game we all do and started counting down the number of people ahead of me. In my head, I recited what I had to say and before I knew it, the Prince was in front of me, my name was called and I half curtsied/bowed/lost my balanced and awkwardly jumbled “Pleasure to meet your RoyalHighnessMajestyPrince.” Wrong! It was embarrassing, and in that moment I thought he was going to yell “off with her head” (wrong monarch) and the Scotland Yard, who were standing guard at every possible entryway, would come running with their swords.

Thankfully, that did not happen; my head is still intact and my curtsying days are over. However, there is something to be said about proper manners, even though some seem dated, while others are daunting. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to being a prim and proper manners queen, actually, I’m the contrary, I am a bit of a slob, but you’ll never know that (unless you live with me) because I have almost mastered the art of etiquette.

We live in a unique time right now: technology is ever evolving and continuing to advance the human race, yet I think humans, my generation in particular, are failing when it comes to our Ps and Qs. I can’t be the only one that thinks that, and if I’m not, have manners become a thing of the past, dare I say it, possibly extinct? Is it because we have lost practice of properly communicating to people without a screen in front of our face; are we too self-centred that thank yous are no longer in our vocabulary; or does it have something to do with a cultural shift of slow and steady to fast and furious?

Whatever it is, I say that we push the pause button and examine our etiquette practices. What follows is a short little ‘mind your manners’ list to use as a cheat sheet, or fake it until you make tips.

Thank Yous
This shouldn’t need reiterating, but sadly it does. Thank yous are free and the greatest gesture to show someone that you appreciate them and their generosity. If someone gives you a gift for a shower, bridal, or wedding, thank you cards are necessary. Say someone shovels your sidewalk while you are away, they deserve a thank you and maybe homemade cookies. To people that serve you, say thank you. If someone has gone out of their way for you, be it monetary or physically, say thank you.

Host/Hostess Gifts
This may seem a bit old-fashioned, but if you are invited to a dinner party know that your host has spent time and money planning and creating a delicious meal. A gift is a token of gratitude for their efforts, and can be small or complement the dinner party. Flowers, wine or a dessert are my go-to gifts.

Dinning
When at a formal setting, fancy dining can seem daunting but it is fairly simple. Remember to place your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down and leave it there until you are done. Always wait until everyone at the table has been served before you pick up your cutlery, and start with the utensil that is away from your plate and work your way in. When finished, place your utensils at 4:20 on your plate. Confused with which bread plate and drink glass are yours, connect your left pointer finger and left thumb to make an ‘o’ and do the same with your right, the letters b and d will form; b is your left hand where you will find your bread plate, and d, for your drink, is on your right.

Daily Life
We all go through moods and sometimes we are not in the proper mind space to smile or chat with anyone, which is okay. But, on days when our spirits are bright we should share some of that warmth to others we connect with throughout the day. Smile at the people you pass on your walk; hold the door open for the person behind you; compliment a colleague on their awesome outfit, or their great presentation. Respect your partner, check in with a friend, and call your parents and grandparents.

Etiquette may seem archaic, mundane, silly and unnecessary, like that curtsy/bow debacle, but it is a sign of respect, to you and to others. So bow, open that door, send the thank you letter, and let the resurgence of etiquette commence.annie-spratt-113596-unsplash

Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson

I am embarrassed to admit that I tend to shy away from books written by men, especially memoirs. When I read a book I want to feel a connection to the characters or to the story that unfolds with every page turned, and I have rarely felt that way towards anything written by male authors.  I know that this is a terrible way to read, that I am limiting my reading scope, and that I am being a biased (read “bad”) reader, however it’s what I do and I doubt it will ever change. With that being said, CBC’s annual Battle of the Books aka Canada Reads, persuaded me to step out of my comfort zone and read Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did.

Craig finally made it as an author following the debut of his short story collection, and was praised as the next up-and-coming writer, but after the release of his second book, he becomes a flop; the book didn’t sell well and he is dropped as a client by his publisher. In order to make ends meet, he works odd jobs, one of them being a stint at the local library, where he is shortly fired for watering someone else’s plant (office politics, amiright?).

It’s the beginning of summer 2008, Craig is living in Calgary, and at a low point in his life, that is, until he finds a flyer in his mailbox stating “Bus Drivers Wanted.” Maybe it is fate, or the fact that he was broke, but whatever the reason, Craig calls the number on the flyer and registers for bus driving lessons. From the start, Craig decides that his bus driving career will only be a temporary one year transition before he moves on to something else, but what he doesn’t plan are the friendships he develops with the kids on Bus 3077.

The start of the school year is near, and Craig, now equipped with his bus driving license, is ready to drive, and when it comes time to pick his route, he agrees to transport a group of kids with special needs that range from autism to cerebral palsy. This decision made on the fly turns out to be one that creates a lasting impression. What follows is transformative experience for Craig that leads him to evaluate his life, his work, and the way society treats people with cognitive and physical disabilites.

This is a heartfelt memoir, that is lighthearted despite its serious content, thought provoking, beautifully written, and funny. I highly recommend it.IMG_6515

Fitbit Thoughts: The Lives of Others

Last Christmas I asked for a Fitbit, and was generously gifted one by my significant other. I wanted one for the same reason every other Fitbit user has one, to track my daily steps, which to my horror, was/is quite pitiful. I’m not lazy, per se, I just work a 9-to-5 desk job and in the evenings I just want to read, eat, watch T.V., and sleep. However, since rocking this super fashionable rubber step tracker, I have felt accountable to the number that mocks me daily; sometimes it reads 10,000 steps other days it reads 3.5K steps. Needless to say, I have started to walk more to show that number who’s boss.

This act of walking would make me less creepy, say if I was walking a dog, or with someone else, but nope, I walk on, and on these walks, I am even more of a creep as I house shop. You know the act because you do it to: You go for a Sunday drive to look at houses; you check out the nearby open house, not because you want to buy, but because you want to see what’s inside; and you, like me on these evening walks, glimpse inside windows if the curtains are open and the lights are on.

That is what I do on my Fitbit-10K-a-day walks: I house shop. I unplug from my phone, and from other distractions, and tune in to the stories untold by the houses I pass. I am intrigued by the story every house has, it’s past and it’s present. Who lives in it now, and what do they do, but most importantly, what does it look like inside? I have taken it one step further and added careers to the owners of these homes. For example, on one of the streets I frequent I am positive a witch (obviously there has to be one) lives in the house on the corner with the magical turret overlooking the neighbourhood and the windows that are never open. I met her once as she was sweeping her stoop while a grey cat, that wasn’t hers – she mentioned this fact twice – circled her legs purring. We had a nice, albeit brief chitchat. Continue north, and we’ll meet a bookseller, I know this because there are bookshelves that are overflowing with books in the living room and the front foyer, and there’s even a bookshelf on the front porch – I often wonder if the mail-person sometimes grabs a book while delivering the mail. The bookseller’s neighbour is doctor, while a graphic designer, a drifter, and retired elementary school teacher live in the Tudor-style home turned apartment across the street. Eventually I’ll end up back at my house and wonder if people think the same thing as they pass on by: Are they curious about the lives and the stories being lived in this little old house? Maybe.

After all, it is human nature to be intrigued by the lives of others. If we weren’t, our media landscape, the outlets that willingly allow users to invite people into their lives via stories, tweets and posts, would look a lot different, possibly be non-existent. Memoirs, biographies, epistolary novels (I love books that are narrated through letters or diary entries, it’s like I’m participating in the secret), would never be written, and many documentaries would be left untold. So, my curiosity for the lives of others wagers on one tracked step at a time.

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An open letter to the girls from my youth

Dear you,

I am writing you this letter almost fifteen years since we were last together hoping that you are well. Crazy how fast those years have flown by when we don’t have semesters and summers to separate our carefree years.

I want you to know that I’ve thought of you, how life is for you, what you have accomplished in the past decade: are you married, a PhD candidate, do you have kids, did you travel, what do you do for work, are you happy? I am genuinely interested, which may seem strange since we never really talked in high school. Why do you think that was? It is a regret of mine, for being afraid to say hi, to sit beside you, to ask how your day was and wanting for that one second to build a connection, but that never happened because I was too scared. But maybe you were too. It’s ironic how what comforts us actually burdens us.

Then just like that, our high school life was over; we forged our own separate paths as we walked out of those doors, carefree and thought-free of the people we were walking away from, some forever. Then Facebook happened, a tipping point for human connection and interaction. We added one another as friends – what a funny misconception, because we weren’t IRL – and yet, at a safe distance and free from judgement, we were able to like and comment on posts shared. Through this mediated form, I have been able to witness you kick-ass building a career; I was able to see how stunning you looked on your wedding day; I was proud of you when you accomplished that project; I also sympathized with you when you shared some sad news. It made me realize that I never complimented you or encouraged you while we were teens, the pivotal time when compliments and encouragement are so very needed.

That in-between stage of childhood innocence to adulthood awakening is such a difficult time as we figure out how to navigate through wonky hormones and crazy attitudes, yet barely understanding any of it. So we build a wall to protect ourselves from this unknown, but our barrier is uninviting and quick to judge others, and for that I apologize. I apologize for judging you instead of taking the time to get to know you; I apologize for not asking you to join me at my lunch table; and most importantly, I apologize for being mean. But we were young, we didn’t know better, right?

Now, we are not so young, and we do know better, so should our paths ever cross again, I promise I will say hello to you and ask how you’ve been. Maybe we will grab a coffee and catch up on each other’s lives, or we will simply chat for a couple of minutes and then walk our separate way, but whatever the outcome, I will be happy that we were able to connect unhindered from fear for that brief moment in time.

Love,
ali

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I vaguely remember the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal; I was too young to be interested in the romantic affairs of politicians, but as I matured, the more I began to learn about America’s most-loved/hated seductress. Now, over twenty years later I read a similar, yet fictitious story in Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin where readers are transported to Southern Florida and meet twenty-year old Aviva Grossman. Aviva is an intern for a “handsome” congressman, and we quickly learn about an affair between the two of them, and so does the rest of the country following a car accident. Aviva is not injured, but the publicity ruins her name, and the fact that she wrote an anonymous blog about their scandalous affair for all to read, while the congressman apologies for his poor judgment and walks away unscathed.

This quirky novel is divided into five episodic parts centered on the woman who are affected by “Avivagate” and the genius part; all sections are engaging, humourous and loveable in their own way. We meet Rachel, Aviva’s mother, as she re-enters the online dating world later in life and how her daughter’s past still makes conversation. We learn about Aviva’s new life post-scandal. We are introduced to the loveable and very curious 13 year-old Ruby. We get a glimpse into the life of the congressman’s long-suffering wife. And lastly, we are taken on a chose your own adventure where we are brought to the beginning on how the love affair began, and because of its first-person narration, we don’t judge Aviva’s actions, but place ourselves in her situation.

Young Jane Young is an easy read that addresses themes of sexism, feminism and relationships: mother-daughter, friendships, mentorships and romantic relationships. Most importantly, this is a story about a woman who was shamed for her actions, yet rebuilt her life instead of being ashamed. I really enjoyed it, and if you read it, I hope you do too. DB462A24-7EF1-4E36-9373-AE6420C6D4C2

Read in 2017

As another year slowly fades into the recesses of our memories and excitement starts to build of what the new year will bring, I find that many use this in-between time for self-reflection of  what hast been accomplished and dreams of new goals to chase. With that in mind, it’s only fitting I humblebrag here and share the fact that I crushed and surpassed my 2017 goal. Nerd alert, it was to read 30 books in 2017 (I ended up reading 35). So, in chronological order from date read, here are the 30+5 books read in 2017:

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
2. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
3. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
4. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King*
5. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay*
6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi*
7. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall*
8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
9. After You by Jojo Moyes
10. The Mothers by Britt Bennett*
11. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
12. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas*
13. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
14. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill*
15. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
16. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
17. Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare
18. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King*
20. Beartown by Fredrik Backman*
21. The Windfall by Diksha Basu
22. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
23. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
24. Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
25. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*
26. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal by Jen Waite
27. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman*
28. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
29. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
30. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
31. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner
32. Runway Wives and Rogue Feminists: The Origins of the Women’s Shelter Movement in Canada by Margo Goodhand
33. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
34. No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
35. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
*indicates 2017 favourites 

Since I am a high-achiever, my 2018 book goal is going to remain at 30 (#goalcrusher), but with the added twist of reading what is on my bookshelf before I buy a new book. Let’s see how long that resolution will last before I breakdown and visit the nearby bookstore. Also, is anyone else old school and puts pen to paper of what they’ve read, or do you keep your list digitally through Goodreads?
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Merry & Bright

Today is the day, the beginning of Yuletide festive cheer, the start of joy and giving, tradition and nostalgia, and most importantly, the time to slow down and visit with those that are dear. As I sit to write this in the warmth and glow from the twinkle lights on my Christmas tree, outside snowflakes are gently falling: it is a picture perfect scene of Christmases of my dreams: white and merry, and comfy and cozy.

Christmases have changed from my childhood, but the magic, although now self-made, has remained. One of my fondest Christmas morn’ memories is of waking up with my brothers and seeing the presents under the tree – presents that weren’t there the night before. Wonder, excitement and magic, as the belief of Santa became a reality that morning. Now Christmas magic is not in the presents, but in the memories that were made of yesteryears and the new ones still to be made.

Tradition is another element of my Christmases that I am adamant to keep alive, such as the movies that need to be watched, the stockings that have to be hung, the cookies that need to be baked, the Christmas albums that need to be played, and the real Christmas tree that must be decorated. Some of these traditions are fairly new (e.g. the real Christmas tree tradition has been adopted since living with my boyfriend), others are fave oldies and some become modified.

So, over the next few days I am going to savour every moment, relive happy memories and indulge in all things merry, and I hope you, dear reader, will as well. Happy Christmas!

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Wine & Words for the Holidays

The countdown for that joyous gift-giving season is upon us, the time where presents are purchased and prettily packaged under the tree anxiously awaiting their recipients. However, if you are at all like me, you haven’t started your shopping, and just the thought of visiting a nearby mall makes your anxiety skyrocket more than that time your boss was unknowingly behind you while you were texting. Ooops. Now add in the extra pressure to find that amazing present that silently says, a lot of effort went into finding this gift that oh so perfectly complements your personality, whereas your normal go-to cheap bottle of plonk and lame-o murder mystery novel that simply say I didn’t know what to get you so I picked this up on my way over just won’t cut it anymore.

Have no fear, this wine chugging, I mean loving, bookworm is here to help by pointing you in the right gift-giving direction, but before you go running to the nearby wine store and local bookshop, let’s figure out what type of person you are buying gifts for.

The Flirty Friend
We all know that one person who wins people over by their smile, who bats their eyelashes to get their way and cleverly places a hand on an arm if they want something. Heck, we have even used this friend as bar bait to get free drinks.
Wine: Riesling – Traditionally made on the sweeter side to balance its sharp acidity, riesling is the wine that will make you fall in love. Sweet or dry, you’ll find aromas of citrus blossoms, and taste profiles of apple, lemon and mineral deliciousness.
Book: The Regulars, Georgia Clark

The Au Naturel Friend
This person loves incense, sourcing local ingredients, makes their own deodorant, smells like patchouli and always has a bottle of kombucha on the go.
Wine: Orange wine – Orange wine seems to be the new craze these days, but this winemaking technique has been around for thousands of years. This wine is a bit of a misnomer as it is not made from oranges but from white grapes that are fermented with their skins and seeds with little to no additives (no sugar and yeast, etc.). They taste funky, nutty and sour.
Book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

The So Many Feels Friend
This friend loves love, has a dark and provocative side, but is sensitive to their surroundings. They’re sweet, with an added side of just the right amount of sass. This friend may also need a bit of hand-holding throughout life.
Wine: Pinot Noir – Nicknamed the heartbreak grape because it is a challenge to grow; this is a thin-skinned grape making it more susceptible to rot and disease and is very sensitive to fluctuating temperatures, however, when pinot noir is at its best, it is a seductive wine with aromas of red berries and clove.
Book: Milk & Honey, Rupi Kaur

The Badass Friend
This person does not stand for bullsh!t, even though there are times when this friend gets knocked down they always quickly get back up and walk on like a boss.
Wine: Cabernet Franc – Part of the Bordeaux five (cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot), and parent of cabernet sauvignon (hello, love affair between sauvignon blanc), cabernet franc has just the right amount of tannins and red-fruit characteristics to remind you that this wine is King Queen.
Book: What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton

The Vivacious Friend
We all have that one friend who is up for anything and everything; they are the life of the party yet they also have the ability to make everyone feel at ease. People usually gravitate towards this friend because of their effervescent personality and great sense of style.
Wine: Sparkling – This wine is pretty intense, (who are we kidding, so is this friend) in that it is one of the most technical wines to make because it requires two fermentations: one to make the wine and the other to make the bubbles. When buying sparkling wine ask what grape varieties were used to make the wine as typically chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are the three grape varieties that make up the traditional sparkling wine recipe. Side note: Champagne and sparkling are similar in style but not in name (and price), as wine made outside of Champagne in France cannot be called champagne, hence why bubbly wine made here in Ontario is called sparkling.
Book: The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald

Here’s to happy shopping, yummy imbibing, and good books and most importantly, please drink responsibly and always read adventurously!IMG_5809** Thoughts and opinions in this post are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.**

So many feels

As the days began to darken earlier, so too had my mood, which took an unexpected turn earlier this week mirroring the recent change. I don’t know why, but I’m sure the unnecessary time change, the sugar crash from over-indulging on leftover Halloween candy, and the [my] moon cycle had something to do with it, but this week was blah. Everything was too hard, I was so sad, and I felt alone.

After a few days on this roller coaster of emotions, I decided to confide in a friend about this funk and how to turn my mood around. Her words helped but I still needed to find the inner strength to transform them into an action.

“Every day I have the choice on whether or not I want to be happy and I have to actively choose happiness over sadness. Yeah, there are days when that dark cloud follows me like a shadow, but I’ve learned to embrace that dark cloud and accept it. The difference is that I no longer hate myself on those days I can’t get out of bed, the days I just want to cry, and the days that I don’t want to talk to anyone. I know that those days will pass, eventually, and in a way, those dark cloudy days are my body’s way of telling me to slow down and reset.”

I never thought of it that way, as happiness being a decision we have to continuously choose, I naively assumed happiness just happens, and it probably does, but when it doesn’t happen, on those dark and gloomy days, what do I do?

This question also had me asking “what is happiness?” Is it having it all: house, luxury car, money? Maybe. But what if the house, the car, or the six-plus-digits in the bank account is non-existent, does the mean one is not happy / cannot be happy? What does it even mean to have it all? Maybe having it all isn’t tangible expensive possessions, maybe having it all is simply friends, family, and most importantly, breath, the ability to inhale and exhale every day.

I’m a recreational yogi, I attend a community class at a yoga studio in my neighbourhood once a week, and one thing all of those downward dogs and warriors poses have taught me is the importance of my body working in conjunction with my breath. Some of the poses are impossible for my rigid body, while others are doable, but uncomfortable, and some leave a feeling of sweet sensation on both my physical and mental state – hello, shavasana. The difficulty of each pose affects my breathing, and there are many times I catch myself holding my breath, but it is in that moment when breathing is integral to the pose, and I have to consciously choose to breathe to ease that discomfort.

That dark cloud, the discomfort, and blah-ness of all the feelings, too many feels, crashing down on me at once is invited, but I will hit that internal reset button, I will breathe, and I will choose happiness, be it laughing with friends, taking comfort in the warmth of love from family, and by remembering to inhale and exhale when things get difficult.

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Books that Spook

I love a good festive book that sets the tone for an upcoming holiday, and with today being Halloween, I want to share a list of my favourite books that spook without the scare and gore factor– because who am I kidding, I’m the biggest scaredy-cat around.image1 2Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
A graphic novel for young readers, this story follows Cat’s family as they move to Bahía de la Luna a foggy village up the California coast. Cat’s sister has cystic fibrosis and needs the sea air as well as a nearby clinic. The new village Cat’s family moves to is obsessed with ghosts; their neighbor gives ghost tours and there’s an annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. What’s more the ghosts that live here are real. A cute read about the relationship between sisters, and the relationship between life and death.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Where do I begin with this 850 page fictional masterpiece, and its numerous footnotes that assist readers on the contents found within this magical and fastidiously false historical tome? The novel centers around three magicians competing to be England’s best magician. Set in 19th century England where magic is a distant memory of stories and old spell-books, this gothic novel is sure to delight as readers witness three magicians dueling for power. (This novel is one of my all-time favourites!)

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This is a magical, uncanny story that involves ghosts, witches, magical gardens, and black cats. A tale of two sisters, Gillian and Sally Owens, raised by their eccentric aunts in a world of spells, love potions and exotica from which they escape – one by running away and the other by marrying. But everyone knows that you can’t run from magic, or can you?

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay
Somewhat of a sequel to the Virgin’ Cure, The Witches of New York follows three witches, Adelaide, Eleanor and Beatrice as they navigate their magical lives through NYC in the late 1800s. Centuries after the Salem, American witches still quietly reside and young Beatrice is about to become a witch that is made, not born.

Other noteworthy books that spook are Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

What are your favourite Halloween reads?