Saturday, December 18, 2010

Home for the Holidays... with the Relatives

The Press-Enterprise

In some homes right now, there's a certain tension buzzing in the air, and it's not a good one. The sense of foreboding means only one thing: The relatives are coming to visit for the holidays.

"Plan in advance for that, emotionally and psychologically," says Maura Graber, director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette in Ontario. "The holidays are stressful enough as it is. ... Take a look at the situation as clearly as possible and as far ahead as possible."

Preparing your home for guests involves more than just setting aside extra space in your dresser drawers. It means creating a welcoming atmosphere for your visitors while giving yourself room to breathe.

Here are some tips on readying your home, and yourself, for holiday guests.

When Visitors Step Into the House ...

"People tend to overdress for the holidays, especially in Southern California," says Graber. It's a product of regional envy. "We want that East Coast Christmas," she says. So it's a good idea to make sure there's enough room on your coat rack to accommodate the influx of clothes.
And set the mood by filling your house with relaxing scents like cinnamon, lavender and rosemary, Graber suggests. "Give people a  nice, homey kind of feeling when they walk in."

Lodgings for Travelers

Add nice trimmings to the rooms where your guests will be staying. recommends placing things such as an alarm clock, a phone, a water glass and pitcher, a good reading light and fresh flowers in a guest room. For more tips on what to have, go to

Stock up on the basics: extra food, linens, hand towels and toiletries.

And be prepared to take in a guest/long-distance driver who may be too tired to drive back. "Have an area prepared for them, to back your insistence that they stay," suggests Graber.

One Room That Needs to Be Clean

It's the medicine-cabinet cliche -- people want to see what you're hiding, and bathrooms offer interesting peeks into your home life. So it's no wonder that sprucing up the bathroom is one of the top pre-holiday renovation projects, according to The Home Depot's 2006 online survey of its customers.

For an easy mini-renovation, try replacing a faucet or an old, grimy toilet seat (save yourself some embarrassment).

Also, "take magazines and things out of the bathroom; people don't need to be reading there," says Graber.

Warring Dinner Guests

Stop the verbal fireworks before they start. Avoid talk of politics and religion at the dinner table, and think about hiding controversial reading material that might set someone off. That clash of sensibilities can be saved for another time.

And watch out for sports rivalries among family members: Make sure they don't degenerate into something less than civil.

How's the Host Doing?

Take stock of how you're doing emotionally. "Listen to your family members about how grumpy you become," says Graber. Lean on them for support.

To maintain harmony, not to mention your sanity, "you've got to enlist other family members' help, whether it be a spouse or a sister. I'm not even above bribery of children," says Graber. Delegating means fewer things for you to do, less stress, and less of a chance that you'll be pining for your workplace on your days off. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Etiquette, the Holidays & the Generosity of Strangers

From an old New Yorker Magazine
The winter holidays always seem to bring out the wonderful generosity of complete strangers online.   
(And no... I am not talking about all of you who keep asking me to be your "friend" on Yahoo and Hotmail, seeing as there are warning notices from the servers that come with your requests)
This December has been no different than those past.  In fact, I have a new friend via Ebay, all thanks to one half of a "pickle set". (More on pickle sets at a later date, in another post...) 

    After listing this presumed Albert Coles  fork (it looks like his work, but he did not mark it 150 years ago) I got a friendly email from an Ebayer who confirmed my assertion that it was indeed circa 1850s-1860s, by Albert Coles and said she would be happy to send a photo of her knife and matching fork pickle set  
(Shown below).  
Over the last several days, we have been swapping stories about our silver collections and she has generously sent me photos of  her pieces.  These are true works of art in silver!  She has also graciously allowed me to post them on this blog, in order to share them with other silver lovers and collectors.  So here I give you an anonymous Ebayer's  photos from her private collection of buckwheat cake lifters, and other silver collectibles.  Silver lovers, I hope you enjoy this holiday gift.  The  variety of buckwheat cake lifters in this collection is really something, especially compared to a cake lifter featured below in an old cookbook.    
(For those of you unfamiliar with buckwheat cakes, I have added some images from a cookbook first published in 1876.  Click on any of these for a larger view or a better read...)

Read some recipes for all sorts of 'Griddle' type cakes from 1876...