A New Name...

A new name and, soon, a new look.

Most important, new content.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Unsolicited Advice: Public Body Odor


So when Aunt Savvy was about ten years old, her grandmother pointed directly at her and announced (in front of a roomful of company):

"You STINK!"

Alas, it was true. It was mid-July in the sultry Midwest, and young Aunt Savvy stunk to high heaven. Being at an age when a dab of deodorant would have done wonders in keeping the living room aroma-free, Aunt Savvy had decided she did NOT need such grown-up foolishness.

The terse announcement was a room stopper, as all eyes drilled on the girl with the sopping half circles under her arms.

That public humiliation was enough to send this youngster running for the Secret roll-on. From that day onward, Aunt Savvy never failed to add those daily dabs to the pits.

Fast forward to present day: recently, Aunt Savvy was shopping in Big Box Store, going about her business when, suddenly, she caught a whiff of something distinctly unpleasant.

She looked around: no one but her and her significant other for at least three aisles. Aunt Savvy was pretty sure they had both showered that day...

Besides, the odor was more than just a little sweat; it was the aroma of, well, bodily fluids and solids, mixed with unwashed body and sweat.

The smell was beginning to permeate throughout the store.

As Aunt Savvy left the store, she discovered the source of the odor: a woman with greasy, stringy hair and dirty clothes. By this time, the odor was so bad that Aunt Savvy was tempted to pinch her nose; this was the smell of the great unwashed, years and years of avoiding soap and water. This wasn't a case of working out or working out in the fields and not being able to shower before hitting the store to buy a computer.

No. This smell was pungent and skunk-like, deeply ingrained, a part of the woman's every fiber, and it left an awful trail, straight to Aunt Savvy's nose.

The woman's family was with her and did not seem to notice a thing (???). Meanwhile, Aunt Savvy was gagging. She wanted to tap the woman on the shoulder and say,

"You STINK!"

Of course, etiquette demands that one does not call out unpleasant facts to strangers.

So Aunt Savvy will offer her some unsolicited advice here:

Take regular showers or baths and use plenty of soap and water. Scrub. It doesn't haven't to be daily ritual, but part of a regular routine--at least every other day. Not only will you feel better, but so will everyone around you; your loved ones deserve that from you. Heck, the PUBLIC deserves NOT having to smell you three aisles away.

We live in a culture where certain bodily odors are offensive; you can get away with a little sweat or the smell of automotive grease. People understand that working people cannot always get home to shower before hitting the store--they understand that those are the smells of honest and hard labor.

But you, anonymous lady, are simply stinky and offensive. You smell of pee and poo and layered grime and grit--there is no use sugarcoating it.

Aunt Savvy does not wish to be cruel; she genuinely feels sorry for you and understands that you do not intentionally mean to assault her nose, but you have failed miserably in the art of social graces when you refuse to wash your body properly.

To the lady's family: it is clear that your loved one needs some kind of psychological counseling; the woman's lack of cleanliness suggests a deep-rooted problem of some kind, way beyond your and Aunt Savvy's milieu. In our culture, it is not acceptable to present, in public, one's self in such a distasteful state. An intervention of some kind would be in order.


We are way past the era when homemade lye soap and the Saturday night bath (whether you need it or not) are all you need to navigate polite (and even impolite) company.

Loved ones: please help her. She sorely needs it.

Please help the public.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Advice: The Wedding--Who Should Foot the Bill?

Henry and Anita Siegel's 1937 Wedding (Aunt Savvy's in-laws)

My daughter Angie and her fiance Michael have just announced that they are engaged and plan to get married in two years. When I asked why they were waiting so long--they have been living together for the past two years--Angie said, "I want to have the wedding of my dreams, and we want to give you and Dad some time to save up for it."

Aunt Savvy, I know that all the etiquette books tell you that the bride's parents are responsible for hosting the wedding, but I was taken aback. Of course we want Angie to have a very special day, but my husband and I are struggling to send three children through college (they all work and contribute toward their books and tuition, but still, most of their expenses fall on us). We have already funded Angie's education and would like to offer the other children the same benefit. To "host" an expensive wedding would really set us back for years, especially in this shaky economy; on a day to day basis, we don't even know if we'll be keeping our jobs.

We would love to host a simple reception in our church hall; I'm even willing to cook the food myself and bake the cake (or have the local supermarket do it), and I know my sisters would help out with decorations and wedding dress, but Angie has her heart set on the most expensive hotel ballroom and caterer in town, and the wedding dress she wants will cost low four figures.

But Angie wants what she wants.

How can I tell Angie that if she wants a lavish wedding and designer wedding gown, she and Michael will have to pay for it themselves?
--My Name is Not Money-bags

While Aunt Savvy finds most rules of etiquette chock full of common sense, she wishes to rewrite them when it comes to the modern wedding and who pays for what. Current wedding etiquette is premised on the social construct that a daughter is a liability who needs to be married off ASAP, so to finalize the acceptance of the liability being passed to the bridegroom's family, a dowry is paid to his family. Moreover, the bride's family is expected to host the ceremony and reception, which signifies the closing of the deal: the bride now belongs to the bridegroom's family.

Hummm. This premise is definitely at odds with the modern liberated young woman who has come a long way, baby.

That aside, for the sake of argument, let's assume that on some level this custom is still relevant and that you will be expected to foot the bill. How you decide to foot it and how much you have to spend should be up to you and your husband, not your petulant daughter.

Aunt Savvy has been around long enough to remember wedding receptions taking place in church or fire halls, with the Ladies' Auxiliary hosting and catering them. The rice was still thrown, the pictures taken by a friend or uncle, the food often very good, the booze still flowing, the DJ a high school kid and a record player hooked up to a microphone, and wedding cake smashed into each other's faces, but on a much lower budget.

Sigh. Those days seem to be gone forever; young women these days seem to plan and spend more for The Wedding Day, which is more like a major choreographed production, and less for the marriage itself, which is probably one reason why so many marriages seem to fail. One wonders if young couples really sit down to discuss important issues, such as religion, children, finances, politics, interests, and how their overall goals and values mesh.

But Aunt Savvy digresses.

In your case, a return to these simpler values might be in order. Certainly, Not Money-bags, you and your husband should sit down and decide how much you can afford. Then the two of you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with your daughter and fiance and offer to host the wedding and reception on a budget. As you show your maximum number, do so with firm kindness. Just say something like, "We're happy to help out to the extent that we can do so without going into debt and depriving your brothers and sisters."

If Angie insists that she must have the wedding of her dreams, then let her know that she and Michael will be paying for it and that you will give your maximum as a money gift. If you have raised your daughter right, she will understand and accept these conditions. If not, again in calm voice, repeat your terms and suggest that she and Michael talk it over and crunch the numbers for themselves. Remind her how much you love her and how much you wish you could give more.

Once Angie and Michael realize the costs involved, they may rethink your offer to scale back the extravaganza and involve you in the planning. But if they don't and proceed on their own, you may have to step back and allow them to plan their wedding without your help--that is, unless you're asked specifically for advice.

Of course, if Michael's family is well-heeled and offers to pay, Aunt Savvy sees no reason why you should refuse. However, even if you know that his family is rich, do not approach your daughter's future in-laws or even Michael with this suggestion. Chances are, Michael will know best if he should ask his wealthy parents for wedding funds. It could be that they are steeped deep in tradition and would be mortified if their friends knew they were asked to pay for the wedding.

For those of you who are planning your own weddings, there are ways to cut expenses:
--Elope ("The Golden Ladder"). Kidding aside...

--Rent your wedding dress, or have it made by a crafty family member who may be happy to do this as your wedding present. Certainly better than that re-gifted toaster she was planning to palm off on you.

--Arrange to marry during off season; reception hall rentals tend to be cheaper in January than in June.

--Have your local supermarket bake the cake--they often do a fantastic job at the fraction of the cost.

--Have your local supermarket arrange your flowers for the reception tables.

--Create your own wedding favors for guests.
Don't skimp on
--Wedding photography and video recording.

--DJ services (a professional is less likely to run afoul of copyright laws regarding the commercial use of music).

--Floral sprays for the bride and corsages for the bride, groom, parents, and grandparents.
Finally, Aunt Savvy would like to share a memory:

She and her first husband were dirt poor, and her future in-laws had four children still at home; in addition, her own parents were dead set against the marriage.

Her wedding and reception took place at her home. Her future mother-law-baked the cake, a lemon sponge cake with lemon icing, topped off by a real yellow rose. It was a hot day, and the cake started listing to the side. The rose and part of the icing slid off onto the cake plate. By cake-cutting time, the top layer was half off and definitely lopsided, a little like the Tower of Pisa.

But you know what? Although the marriage didn't last, she will always remember that cake with fondness because it was made with loving hands, not some impersonal baker. In fact, Aunt Savvy still admires her ex-mother-in-law, although she has not been married to her son since 1980.

So, dear readers, when all is said and done, The Wedding Day reception is just an overblown party. The most important aspect should be the marriage itself, which (if approached properly) will join together two people who are totally committed to making their union work and raising lovely children.


Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a possible family problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.

If you you would like to add anything or don't like Aunt Savvy's advice, comment to this post (Comments are moderated, so please don't double post).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Advice: Grandparents "Invoiced" for Their Grand Children's College Education


After spending a festive and joyous Christmas Day with our daughter Emily, son-in-law Joshua, and our adorable grandchildren (a boy and a girl), my daughter handed me an envelope.

"We're giving these out to all the grandparents," Emily said.

Emily explained that the great grandparents would be receiving these as well, all of whom are retired and on fixed incomes. "This will lessen the pain for all of us," my daughter said.

Inside was a $10,000 invoice for each child, to be paid in monthly increments to college funds set up by my daughter. The first installment would be due by January 1, in less than a week!

While we fully intend to help out with our grand children's education, this amount was a shock to my husband and me. While we are financially comfortable, we are by no means rich, and we are currently saving extra for retirement, at least 10 years away.

As if Emily had read my mind, she suggested that we could always dip into our retirement account savings account for our share.

I was so stunned that without saying a word I simply tucked the "invoice" into my purse, and we left shortly after that.

My husband thinks we should just go along with Emily's plan, but I disagree; I don't appreciate being told what to do by my adult child.

Besides, taking $20,000 out of our retirement fund would most certainly create a financial hardship during our golden years.

What do you think?

--Stunned Grandma
Personally, Aunt Savvy feels Emily is being presumptuous and that you are absolutely under no obligation to contribute the specified amount prescribed by your daughter. In fact, you are under no obligation to contribute anything to your grand children's college accounts.

While it might be tempting to tell Emily to take her invoice and stick it somewhere else, you should refrain. You need to make clear to her about the extent (and limitations) of your support, but do so in a reasonable manner. Your daughter has acted in a boorish manner, but she is still your daughter and your access to your grandchildren.

Under no circumstances, should you punish the children for actions perpetuated by their mother; they own no guilt in this situation.

Given that you do intend to contribute something to their college funds, you and your husband need to sit down and crunch the hard numbers. You need to make clear to him that you are not happy with the extortion tactics practiced by your daughter and that you have no intention of accepting her billing scheme. He should be aware that your daughter is engaging in a form of familial blackmail, setting an ugly precedent for future interactions; if Emily is allowed to get away with this now, what is going to happen when the children need braces or surgery? Will you be receiving a "invoice" for that as well?

And what happens if you contribute what your daughter demands and your nest egg comes up short? Will Emily and Joshua then support you and your husband in your old age?

Not likely.

After you agree on an amount, then you need to talk to Emily and Joshua and let them know that you cannot pay this invoice, that any contributions to the college fund must be voluntary and at your discretion; moreover, any payments will be subject to adjustments should your financial circumstances change.

Be polite, but be firm; if Emily does not act in a reasonable manner, simply end the conversation and leave. Then try again until she can sit down with you for an adult conversation.

Instead of contributing to the parents' fund, you might consider setting up a grandparent's account for your grandchildren. That way, you would have complete control over the money until your grandchildren need it. You never know what might happen between your daughter and son-in-law and what would occur during a divorce action.

Each state has its own rules regarding college funds, so speak to an hourly-fee financial planner for advice (one who does not earn a commission on any financial instrument he/she sells). Get references from your credit union and/or trusted friends, and plan to invest only in safe financial instruments.

You mentioned that the great grandparents have also received invoices; while you cannot decide for them or pry into their financial situations, you should speak with both sets of parents (yours and your husband's), just to make sure that they have not been bullied into this billing scheme. If they choose to buy into this bullying, there isn't much you can do, but at least you will feel better knowing that you have made the effort to inform them.

On a final note, a piece of unsolicited advice: Aunt Savvy has discovered that college students who pay at least part of their own expenses do much better academically because they feel more invested in the process. Your daughter and son-in-law should be teaching their children the value of saving for their own educations, but if they can't or won't do it, perhaps you should consider filling in by having the grandchildren earn some money by doing some odd jobs for you and having them save part of their earnings in a special piggy bank (kept at your house) for each child.

Good luck!
Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a possible family problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (1897 and 2008)


Virginia O'Hanlon
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

Papa says, "If you see it in THE SUN it's so."

Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?




Francis Pharcellus Church

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Response of Francis Pharcellus Church, The Sun (New York), 1897

Courtesy of

The Newsmuseum

Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Stephanie Coyiuto


Yes, Virginia, There is (Still) a Santa Claus

Aunt Savvy reaches back to 1897 and updates, 111 years later, Mr. Church's response to the eight-year-old Virginia:
Dear Virginia,

Your little friends are still wrong, and what the sage Mr. Church so poignantly wrote to you about skepticism also applies in the new millennium.

You would not recognize much of 2008 America.

The world has become a much different place since you were a little girl 111 years ago. We have had several wars, awesome inventions, technological advances, a major depression, several presidents (some great, others not so great), great wealth and heartbreaking poverty, and increasing pollution.

We have had assassinations of great people and unthinkable national disasters. Your beloved newspaper is gone, along with other noted newspapers. The internet is slowing taking over the print medium, so, in 2008, your charming letter would probably be composed on a keyboard and edited on a computer screen, similar to a TV, which you have not experienced, either.

Families have changed with more divorces and co-habitations, a word that probably did not exist in your day. While these may not offer the ideal family structure you have enjoyed, families are managing as best they can. Once positive aspect: young women are no longer shunned or punished if they make a mistake (You'll understand what this means when you grow up).

If you are African-American (and judging by your last name, you are not), you would be especially jubilant at this juncture in history, for as we look forward to our new President's inauguration on January 20, 2009, we now realize that the impossible is no longer impossible. In fact, no matter what your race or ethnic group, our President-elect represents a positive new era in race relations and evolving social constructs.

Yes, Virginia, the year 2008 has been difficult, with rising gas prices, an economic meltdown, lost jobs, and a contentious election season.

However, the end of 2008 offers new promise and hope as we head into 2009.

Aunt Savvy knows for a fact that Santa still exists and will continue to exist. We now have the tools to verify Santa's travels around the world. In your day, you had to accept Santa's existence on the word of your parents and editors, but now we have NORAD, YouTube, and Google Maps to track the portly man in the red suit as he flies around the world, delivering presents and good wishes to children like you. Still, you should continue believing your parents or guardians when they tell you that Santa is alive and well.

Wise people understand that while Santa is a jolly old fellow, Christmas is so much more than piles of expensive presents under the tree, even in our consumerist culture. Christmas is a time when Christians gather together to celebrate the birth of a child over 2,000 years ago. Christmas is also a time when families get together and celebrate their love for each other. As you can see, these important things have not changed since 1897.

Virginia, you may not realize this, but not everybody celebrates Christmas. Our culture has become sensitive to those who celebrate their God in their own way, although Christmas still seems to overwhelm those people who would rather not hear about the festivities on TV and see all the decorations. As a sign of respect, we have learned to say "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" to people we do not know well, for just about everyone celebrates the New Year.

Christmas, as a Christian holiday, has largely been curtailed as a government-sanctioned holiday. While this may seem shocking and unthinkable to you and your family, you must remember that this country was founded on the tenets that its citizens would enjoy freedom of religion, which also means freedom from a state-sanctioned religion. Good news: those who wish to celebrate their religious holidays still enjoy the freedom to do so; in fact, young people like you practice your religion and holidays, but they also often study about other religious holidays--for example, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and, yes, pagan holidays.

Virginia, of course there is a Santa; in every religion he exists in some form. He may bear another name and celebrate a different holiday at a different time of year, but as long as we have families and friends to celebrate, Santa will always be in our hearts and minds.

Besides, if he were not so we would have to invent him.


Virgina O'Hanlon Douglas (circa 1960, Perry Como Show)


The 2008 version of "Yes, Virginia, There is (Still) a Santa Claus," is copyright Aunt Savvy (Jennifer Semple Siegel), 2008, and may not be posted or printed without permission from the author.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advice: Unwanted Political Spam Forwarded by Family


I dearly love my brother Bill and I know he loves me as well, but we are miles apart politically, and never will we agree.

At family gatherings, we argue constantly; this last election has really driven a wedge between us.

I would just love to put the whole thing to rest, but Bill just can't seem to stop himself. He is constantly forwarding junk spam e-mail to me, mostly about how crooked the Democrats are.

I'm really fed up and would like to stop receiving such mail; in fact, I nearly answered his last spam with an angry e-mail of my own, but at the last minute, I decided to delete it.

How should I handle this?

--Frustrated and Fed up!
Alas, Aunt Savvy understands this issue all too well.

Your instincts were correct when you decided not to fire off that angry e-mail to your brother.

You have to ask yourself that all important question: "What do you wish to accomplish by scolding Bill?"

He's not likely to stop sending such e-mails, especially if you overreact.

The best policy here is simply to zap the spam e-mails (unread). Usually, forwarded spam is easy to detect, but should you accidentally click on to such a message, simply delete it as soon as you receive it, and take a deep breath.

In person (or on the telephone), let Bill know that you are very concerned about receiving spam and forwarded messages because of potential viruses and that you generally delete such messages without opening them but that you love receiving personal e-mails containing news about family and friends. Be sure that your tone is upbeat. This may or may not stop the spam, but at least he will know how you feel without his feeling directly threatened.

At family gatherings, don't bring up political issues, and don't allow Bill to goad you into an argument. Many times, such potentially heated discussions can be deflected with humor (not bitter satire or snark) and understanding.

For example, you can always say something like, "Well, Bill, I know we can agree on one thing: we both love our country and family" or "Let's just agree to disagree and leave it at that." And, then, with smile on your face, change the subject to something neutral, like the weather.

You and Bill may never agree on politics, but you can still love and appreciate each other and embrace what you do have in common: family.

Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a common family problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.

About Aunt Savvy and How Is She Qualified for This Job, Anyway?


Question, Submitted by Aunt Savvy, The Doubter:
What gives me, Aunt Savvy, the right to dispense advice? Who appointed me as the Advice Goddess of the Internet?

After all, I have no special credentials in psychology or sociology, and I'm no Ann Landers, Emily Post, or Miss Manners; I'm just some middle-aged chick who has decided to set up shop on the internet and pretend to be an expert in affairs of the human condition...

--The Doubter
Answered by Aunt Savvy, The Supreme Confident:
Whoa! If you're going to write an advice column, you must do so with confidence and verve. You should be ready to take the plunge and make a case for why you are a good candidate for this job.

Your alter ego and The Supreme Confident will explain why you, The Doubter, are qualified for this job:
You have been around for a while and pride yourself on having a good head on your shoulders.

You are compassionate.

You have a sense of humor.

You are not easily shocked--which is not to say that you're never shocked.

You are college educated (which is not to claim that non-college advisers are necessarily lacking in common sense).

You write well, which covers at least 50% of your qualifications.
Why is writing well such a major prerequisite?

There are millions of sensible people who are empathetic and who can make you laugh, but they don't always articulate themselves well in writing.

As a professional writer, you, Aunt Savvy (The Doubter), have the power to explain situations in ways that are easily understood.

And consider this: most advice columnists, such as twins Dear Abby and Ann Landers, got their start at daily newspapers. Other than a college education (1939 graduates of Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa) and good common sense, Abby and Ann had no specific qualifications to offer advice to a general newspaper audience.

The advice you offer, my dear doubting alter ego, will be just that: advice to be considered by the recipient as one possible option. Whether or not readers choose to follow your advice is out of your hands.

So go forth and dispense your best advice.

--The Supreme Confident
Aunt Savvy, a Jill-of-all-trades, is an educator, creative and blog writer, and business person.

For more detail, here is Aunt Savvy's actual résumé (sans her real name, though it's no huge secret and not at all difficult to find); readers can then decide for themselves if they accept her qualifications as an advice columnist:



Aunt Savvy



M.F.A. (Creative Writing), February, 1994, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT. Areas of concentration: fiction and playwriting. Supporting literature field in gender studies.

Graduate study in writing, 1983-84, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
B.A., magna cum laude (English), May, 1982, York College of Pennsylvania, York, PA.

A.S. (Accounting), December, 1980, York College of Pennsylvania, York, PA.

Additional Study

Participant, annual poetry workshops with poet Larry Rubin at the College English Association (CEA) conference, 1987-2004.

Drama Writing: From the Producer’s Viewpoint, continuing education course, 1994, New York University, New York.

Intensive study of Macedonian, 1988-1989, private lessons with faculty member of Institute for Foreign Languages, Skopje, Yugoslavia.

Intensive study of Serbo-Croatian, 1988, Eastern European Summer Language Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

Study in fiction writing under Ann Beattie, 1982, Writing Workshop, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.


Writing and Literature Instructor, Department of English and Humanities, York College of Pennsylvania (1992-present). Courses taught most recently: African-American Literature, Introduction to Literature, and Creative Writing. Have also taught Journalism, Composition, Advanced Composition, Playwriting, and Interdisciplinary Writing (a course I developed).

Faculty Consultant, Educational Testing Service (ETS), Princeton, NJ (1994-2007). Assess essay portion of ETS tests, including AP, SAT II, and others.

Writing Center Instructor, Department of English and Humanities, York College of Pennsylvania (1987-1994). Consulted with individual students to help them improve their writing abilities and writing quality on specific assignments.

Library Assistant, Schmidt Library, York College of Pennsylvania, York, PA (1984-1987). Performed a wide range of duties in the Circulation and Technical Services departments.

English instructor (graduate assistant), University of Florida, Gainesville, FL (1983-1984). Taught freshman composition.

Newspaper Correspondent, The York Dispatch, York, PA (1980-1981).


"The Re-feeding Program," excerpt from "The Big Diet" (short story), The Non-Dieting Weblog. 26 February 2006.

"Copyright: Ethics Versus Education in Macedonia," American Writer: Journal of the National Writers Union, UAW/AFL-CIO. Fall 2005. 12. Print and online.

"Persona Grata" (essay), Writer’s Digest Online. 28 April 2005.

Are You EVER Going to be Thin? (and other stories), Infinity Publishing, July 2004.

"You Said It: Worth the $$?" Reader’s Digest. January 2004. 15.

"Résumé" (short story). International Journal for Teachers of English Writing Skills (Special Literary Issue)10.2 (August 2003). 115-117.

"Alan Sillitoe." Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography. GaleNet Online, 1999.

"Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: Fiction ‘With a Purpose’ and the Need to Know the Real Story." CEA Critic 59.3 (Spring/Summer 1997): 44-57.

"Feet" (short story). Pennsylvania English 19.2 (1994): 53-63.

"Are You EVER Going to be Thin?" (short story). Sleeping with Dionysus: Women, Ecstasy and Addiction. Ed. Kay Marie Porterfield. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1994. 20-25.

"Alan Sillitoe." British Short-Fiction Writers, 1945-1980. Ed. Dean Baldwin. The Dictionary of Literary Biography. 139. Detroit: Bruccoli Layman Clark, Gale Research Inc., 1994.

"Lady Chatterley’s Evolution from ‘Personality’ to ‘Blood’: The Role of Eight Wild Flowers and the ‘Blood-warmth’ Marriage Ritual." Pennsylvania English 18.2 (1994): 12-27.

"Are You Thin Yet?" (essay). Eating Our Hearts Out: Personal Accounts of Women’s Relationship to Food. Ed. Lesléa Newman. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1993. 204-206.

"Rendezvous" (short story). Yugoslav English Language Teaching Review 12 (November 1989): 76-77.

Related Writing Activities

Completed I, Driven to Cherokee: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment, currently working on And God Won, Twin Candy Bings, and Mystical Bodies (novels); Growing Light: an Abbreviated Life (play). Thesis novel: What Happens When the Fat Lady Sings; completed The Trash Can of L.A. and The Fat Lady Sings a cappella (full-length plays).

Edited the English portion of Boris Trajkovski, 1999-2004, by Jason Miko. Skopje (Macedonia): The Boris Trajkovski International Foundation, 2004.

Founder and former editor of Onion River Review, an independent publication of the MFA alumni and graduate students at Goddard College, 1993-1996.

Editor and faculty advisor of The York Review, York College of Pennsylvania literary magazine, 1992-1996.

Edited articles for the Macedonian Review, Skopje, Yugoslavia, 1989.


Administrator/owner of Please? (Please.info), December 2008 - Present.

Administrator/owner of Poets.net forum and blog, March 2008-present.

Administrator/owner, Post Foetry, blog, 2007-present.

Administrator/Moderator at Foetry (now archived), American Poetry Watchdog, 2006-2007.

Reading, "All Along the Campaign Trail" (poem), Fountain of the Muse, 2008 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, San Antonio, TX.

Organized Larry Rubin’s Poetry Workshop, 2008 College English Association (CEA) conference, St. Louis, MO.

Organized and facilitated a second poetry workshop, 2008 College English Association (CEA) conference, St. Louis, MO.

Reading, Excerpts (Prologue and Chapter One) from I, Driven: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment (memoir), Fountain of the Muse, 2007 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, New York, NY.

Organized Larry Rubin’s Poetry Workshop, 2007 College English Association (CEA) conference, New Orleans, LA.

Organized and facilitated a second poetry workshop, 2007 College English Association (CEA) conference, New Orleans, LA.

Black History Month Lecture/Film, February 2007, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The American Corner, Skopje, Macedonia.

Organized Larry Rubin’s Poetry Workshop, 2006 College English Association (CEA) conference, San Antonio, TX.

Organized and facilitated a second poetry workshop, 2006 College English Association (CEA) conference, San Antonio, TX.

Reading, "2001 Ivar Street," excerpt from Driven to Cherokee: a memoir of involuntary commitment, 2006 College English Association (CEA) conference, San Antonio, TX.

Reading, selected excerpts from Driven to Cherokee: a memoir of involuntary commitment, 2006 Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA) conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Moderator, 2006 Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA) conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Lecture, with question-and-answer session, to prospective college students, "Enrolling in American Colleges," The American Corner, Skopje, Macedonia, January 2006.

Reading, "Horny Women at the Sewing Factory" (poem), Fountain of the Muse, 2005
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Reading, "Rudy," excerpt from Driven to Cherokee: a memoir of involuntary commitment, 2005 Advanced Placement (AP) test readings, Daytona Beach. (Have also done readings for the group since 1996). AP Reading, Daytona Beach, FL.

Workshop on Writing Memoir, The American Corner, Skopje, Macedonia, 2005.

Workshop on Writing Fiction, The American Corner, Skopje, Macedonia, 2005.

Workshop on Writing Form Poetry, The American Corner, Skopje, Macedonia, 2005.

Lecture to high school students on writing the SAT and AP essay, Nova School, Skopje, Macedonia, 2004.

Reading, "Our Other Twin," excerpt from Twin Candy Bings, 2004 College English Association (CEA) conference, Richmond, VA.

Moderator, 2004 College English Association (CEA) conference, Richmond, VA.

Reading, "Detox," 2004 Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA) conference, Scranton, PA.

Reading, "Résumé" and "Are You EVER Going to Be Thin?" from Are You EVER Going to Be Thin? a short story collection, 2003 College English Association (CEA) conference, St. Petersburg, FL.

Reading, "Résumé" from Are You EVER Going to Be Thin? a short story collection, 2003 Advanced Placement (AP) test readings, Daytona Beach. (Have also done readings for the group since 1996).

Reading, "Psychedelic Bingo" and "How NOT to Send a Poem Out Into Public" (poems), 2003 SAT II test readings, Princeton, NJ.

Reading, excerpts from Twin Candy Bings, novel-in-progress, 2002 Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA) conference, St. Davids, PA.

Reading, "Psychedelic Bingo," from Are You EVER Going to Be Thin? a short story collection, 2001 Pennsylvania College English Association conference, Punxsutawney, PA.

Conducted workshop, "Predator Editors, Publishers, and Agents: Avoid the Scam!" 2001 Clockhouse Writer’s Conference, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT.

Reading, excerpts from Mystical Bodies, a novel, 1999 College English Association conference, Philadelphia, PA.

Reading, excerpts from Mystical Bodies, a novel, 1998 Pennsylvania College English Association conference, DuBois, PA.

Organized three creative writing sessions, including an Editor’s Roundtable discussion, my own presentation on fiction writing, and Larry Rubin’s poetry workshop, 1996 College English Association conference, New Orleans, LA.

Reading, "Snakes," a short story, 1995 Pennsylvania College English Association conference, State College, PA.

Organized three creative writing sessions, including own presentation of a "Flash Fiction" workshop, Larry Rubin’s poetry workshop, and Penelope Prentice’s comedy connection workshop, 1995 College English Association conference, Cleveland, OH.

Conducted creative writing workshop, "How to Create Interactive Characters from Scratch," 1994 College English Association conference, Orlando, FL.

Organized creative writing panel, "The Teacher as Creative Writer," 1993 College English Association conference, Charlotte, NC. Also presented paper "Hear Our Voices: Back to the Past."

Reading, "Feet," from Are You EVER Going to Be Thin? a short story collection, 1993 Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA) conference, Bloomsburg, PA.

Reading, "Knowing," "Mafia Lawyer Scum," "Possibilities for Capricious Weather," "Placard on a Honolulu Bus," and "TO JWC: Eulogy for a Stranger" (poems), 1992 College English Association conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Presented paper "When Freud Steps in..." and read short story "Visitation," 1991 Pennsylvania College English Association conference, York, PA.

Session Respondent, 1990 College English Association conference, Buffalo, NY.
Chaired session and read "Our Lady of Miracles" (short story), 1990 Pennsylvania College English Association conference, Pittsburgh, PA.

Reading, "Rendezvous" (short story), creative writing workshop, 1988 National Lektors’ Conference, Skofja Loka, Yugoslavia.


Honorable mention, "Résumé" (short story), International Journal for Teachers of English Writing Skills (2003).

Honorable mention, "Seppuku" and "Cycles" (poems), Writer’s Digest Writing Competition (1995).

Honorable mention, "In Waiting" (short story), Baltimore Sun Magazine Holiday Fiction Contest (1990).

Honorable mention, "Visitation" (short story), Baltimore Sun Magazine Summer Fiction Contest (1990).

Honorable mention, "Our Lady of Miracles" (short story), Baltimore Sun Magazine Holiday Fiction Contest (1989).

First Prize, "Starlings" (poem), annual poetry competition, Pennsylvania Poets’ Society (1987).

Scholarship, Georgetown University for study at the Georgetown Writing Conference (1982).

Full Scholarship, Edison Foundation to attend National Collegiate Newspaper Conference, Washington, DC. (1981).


Member of the College English Association (CEA) Board, 2007-2010.
Chair, Creative Writing Committee, College English Association (CEA) (1994-1996). Organized multiple creative writing sessions at annual conventions.

Member, Board of Trustees at Goddard College, Plainfield, VT (1992-1993). Served on the Finance/ Personnel and the ad hoc Visioning/Identity, and the ad hoc Presidential Evaluation Committees

Current memberships: College English Association (CEA), Pennsylvania College English Association (PCEA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Modern Language Association (MLA), Associated Writing Programs (AWP).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


This résumé does not reveal the so-called service jobs Aunt Savvy held before and during college: Credit Checker, Janitor, Food Server, Bookkeeper, Library Assistant, and General Clerk.

She is also the mother of one child and stepchild (both grown) and grandmother to two girls.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

About "Please Be Advised": An Advice Website

Our Web Address: Please.info

Just what is an "advice website," anyway?

Wikipedia defines an "advice column" as
...a column at a magazine or newspaper written by an advice columnist (colloquially known as an "agony aunt," or "agony uncle," if the columnist is a male).

The image presented was originally of an older woman providing comforting advice and maternal wisdom, hence the name "aunt."
An advice columnist for the web and 21st century, however, is no longer confined to the vetted print newspapers and magazines. On the internet, one will find a plethora of independent blog advisers offering advice on both specialized and general topics. So, then, an "advice website" is an expanded definition of an advice column to include an internet space that offers advice to a readership.

Please Be Advised is such a website.

Wikipedia (with some minor structural and word tweaking) defines "advice" as
...a form of relating personal opinions, belief systems, personal values and recommendations about certain situations relayed in some context to another person, group or party often offered as a guide to action and/or conduct.

A more acceptable definition is that advice is merely an opinion about what a person or group could or should do in any given situation.

Advice is believed to be theoretical, and is often considered taboo as well as helpful [For example, unwanted versus wanted advice].

The kinds of advice can range from systems of instructional and practical toward more esoteric and spiritual, and is often attributable toward problem solving, strategy seeking, and solution finding, either from a social standpoint or a personal one.

Advice may pertain to the following:

Lifestyle changes

Legal choices

Business goals

Personal goals

Career goals

Educational goals

Religious beliefs

Personal growth


Advice is not pertinent to any solid criteria, and may be given freely, or only given when asked upon.

In some cultures advice is socially unacceptable to be released unless requested. In other cultures advice is given more openly.

Advice may also be given in exchange for payment, especially if the advice is specialized, such as legal or methodological advice.

Many expressions and quotations have been used to describe the status of advice, whether given or received.

One such expression is "Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't." (Erica Jong, How to Save Your Own Life, 1977).

This particular quotation refers to the belief system that states that the answers to one's questions are within themselves, and do not come from any external stimuli. The accuracy of this particular belief is often disputed among theologians, philosophers, etc. However, a person who would hold such a belief, would "advise" another person to seek the answers out from within one's own esoteric and inner spiritual natures.

Advice when adhered to and followed may be beneficial, non-beneficial, damaging, non-damaging, partially beneficial and partially damaging, in reference to personal or social paradigms. In other words, not all advice is either "all good" or "all bad."

Many people consider unrequested advise to be paternalistic and patronizing and are thus offended.

Therefore, some people may come to the conclusion that advice is morally better to be left out of the equation altogether, and this theory is included within the following quote:

"The best advice is this: Don't take advice and don't give advice" (Author unknown)

Yet, often in society, advice has been helpful.

A more day to day example would be "Eat your vegetables" or "Don't drink and drive." If this advice is followed, we can see that the benefits would outweigh the consequences.
Please Be Advised is a site where advice columnist "Aunt Savvy" offers general advice on various topics, very similar to the areas listed above.

Aunt Savvy is a generalist in that she does not offer specialized advice, such as psychological, medical, and sexual advice, but general advice, based on common sense and wisdom.

If a reader submits a question for which this columnist does not feel qualified to answer, she will say so and try to steer the reader in the right direction.

Right now, Please Be Advised is a one-person operation, but if you have a question, she will consider posting it on this website along with her best answer. In the future, team members may be added to this site.

For more information on how to submit a question, click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advice: "My Girlfriend is Pulling Away..."


Marilee (not her real name), my girlfriend of three months, seems to be pulling away from me. For the first two months, our relationship was great. We would often talk for hours, well into the night, revealing everything about each other.

I'm 30, never married, and Marilee is 27, with three kids, who I adore. Should our relationship go to the next level (marriage), I'll have no problem assuming an instant family, so that's not an issue.

However, she is still married to her husband, although they have been separated for two years.

When I ask Marilee about what's wrong, she just shrugs and says, "Maybe we're moving too fast." I also notice that her ex-husband (to be) has been helping her around the house, doing handyman chores. This hurts because I'm a professional carpenter and I'd be more than willing to fix anything that's broken.

What can I do?

--Mr. Fix-it
Aunt Savvy's answer:
You may be a victim of bad timing.

Marilee may be pulling away because she's not ready for another relationship. The fact that she is still married to her ex-husband (to be?), reveals a lot about Marilee and her current relationship with her husband. Neither person seems to have moved on, and there is always the chance that Marilee may get back together with her ex (not to be?), although these second go-rounds often fail.

Even if your relationship does reach the next level, please consider that you have not known Marilee very long; three months is not enough time to establish a deep relationship, no matter how many all-night talks you may have had. You simply don't know her well enough yet.

Most importantly, you seem a bit cavalier about the "instant family" issue. Even under the best of circumstances, blended families offer their own set of problems. No matter how much you adore Marilee's children and they adore you, they may come to resent you and feel that you are trying to take their daddy's place. Consider, too, that Mr. Ex will be a large part of your life: weekly custody transfers, birthday parties, weddings, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a major stressor in a second marriage.

For now, the best thing you can do is have a heart-to-heart talk with Marilee; however, be prepared for the possibility that she will ask you for more space or, perhaps, even end your relationship. While this will be painful, at least you will be able to pick up the pieces and move on.

Note: This is not a real question, but a what-if scenario based on a common relationship problem. Aunt Savvy will always disclose when a question is based on a scenario.

Aunt Savvy would be pleased to consider answering your real questions for this site.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is "Etiquette"?


According to the The Free Dictionary, etiquette involves "The practices and forms prescribed by social convention or by authority."

Etiquette is a code of social behavior and expectations required for the smooth transactions among people, both in social and business settings. Etiquette is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom, which has its own rules, driven by the instinctual desire to survive, for even tribal peoples who live in the wild have their own codes of etiquette (some of which may seem strange to us).

In other words, the norms that make up etiquette are predicated upon what works for a society to function properly, for without some basic norms, humans would resort to instinctual behavior.

Norms of behavior often differ from culture to culture, so while visiting other countries, one might inadvertently violate an important norm. For example, dickering in a Greek market is a well-honored tradition, while in Germany it can be viewed as an insult.

Quite simply, etiquette is based on what works for a specific culture.

The Free Dictionary definition may be slightly misleading in its use of the word "authority" because etiquette is rarely "legislated," although, in some countries, spitting on the sidewalk may carry a fine, and in the U.S. littering is illegal. These laws may have started as etiquette norms, but have, over time, been legislated to stop disease.

However, if you eat your salad with the wrong fork, you may face social disapproval, but you won't face a fine.

Social conventions, which may differ among social groups within the same country, are often enforced by their elders and passed down to the young. For example, in one social group, a child might be chided for putting her elbows on the table during a meal, while in another it's not a huge issue.

Social norms are important societal indicators because they can reveal much about the state of a culture. For years, articles published about U.S. popular culture decried the rise of rudeness among young people and spelled out scenarios of societal doom as rude youth roamed the streets with their cell phones, wolfing down Burger King Whoppers on the run. However, as young people mature and accept jobs in business, they soon realize that in order to succeed in business, they had better brush up on their business etiquette. For example, books such as Business Etiquette for Dummies offers new hope for younger generations needing to get in touch with their inner courtesy.

Etiquette is difficult to define specifically; travelers who must interact with other cultures should read up on cultural norms for the places where they expect to visit or work.

And don't spit on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Inadvertent Lapses in Etiquette: Erroneous Assumptions and Stereotypes


The three-day conference in Des Moines was was supposed to be a festive occasion for a group of international students who were living in or visiting Iowa.

Sixteen at the time, I was invited to tag along because we had an international college student living with us and she didn't want to travel alone to Des Moines, which was three hours away by bus.

Instead of staying in a hotel, we stayed with a host family, the Smiths (not their real names). These people graciously opened their home to us and gave up their own bedroom so that we would have a nice place to stay. They were a young family with three children, one of them a newborn, so having two extra people around must not have been easy for them.

The husband looked very boyish, almost like a teenager, while the wife looked considerably older.

Without thinking, I made an assumption based on a stereotype.

I said to Mr. Smith, "Your mother is very nice."


Even as the words slid out of my mouth, I realized the awful truth. Fortunately, Mr. Smith was gracious and did not take take my gaffe personally; maybe he was used to it, but, still...I spent the entire weekend slinking around like a felon.

One positive: I hadn't told Mrs. Smith that she had a cute son.

Sigh...as a youngster, I was known for my inadvertent lapses in etiquette, notorious for opening my mouth before thinking, but, at 16, I was old enough to know better.

I have also been on the other side of the erroneous assumption. Just before my husband and I married, we were shopping for our wedding rings. I was a very young-looking 33-year-old woman (I often got carded in bars), and my husband a normal-looking 43. One particularly thick sales person said, "Your daughter is a very lucky girl."

OUCH, again!

Hello! We were shopping for wedding rings! The young salesperson was horribly embarrassed and apologized profusely, but my husband-to-be was slightly offended at her assumption and spent the day feeling as though he had robbed the cradle.

Young children can get away with those minor embarrassing moments, but once you shed the short pants and pigtails, it's time to think about your words before they slip out.

Basic rule of thumb: if you're not sure, don't make assumptions. It's better not to make a statement or ask a question than to risk making an erroneous assumption.

Simple, right?

On the surface, asking, "When's the baby due?" sounds like an innocuous enough question, but if the listener is not pregnant, well, you have just embarrassed both yourself and the non-pregnant woman.

Have you noticed that most assumption-based questions and statements are simply nosy and not really any of your business anyway?

The pregnancy question is especially egregious; even if the woman is pregnant, maybe she simply doesn't want to make a big deal about her condition. So button your lip; if she's someone with whom you have regular contact, you'll find out soon enough--when the baby arrives. If you don't expect to see her any time soon, why would you care if she's pregnant or not?

Some commonly-held assumptions/stereotypes and their opposites:
--African-Americans work at low-paying service jobs (Perhaps with the election of Barack Obama, this silly assumption will fade away into welcome obscurity).
Many African-Americans hold positions of immense power.

Childless couples are unhappy people who want children but simply can't have them.
Some childless couples make a conscious choice not to have children.

CEOs with gender-neutral first names are male.
Some CEOs with gender-neutral first names are female.

Children throwing fits in public are simply brats.
Some children throwing fits in public are developmentally disabled or challenged and can't help themselves.

Men and women having lunch/dinner together are married or dating each other.
Many men and women having lunch/dinner together are simply friends or having a professional working meal together (strangers).

Men and women having lunch/dinner together are having an affair.
Many men and women having lunch/dinner together are simply friends or having a professional working meal together (friends and acquaintances).

Two people of the same sex living together are gay or lesbian.
Often, two people of the same sex living together are just trying to save money on rent and expenses.

People who act stoned are doing illegal drugs; people who stagger around are drunks.
Some people who act stoned have a disease that mimics illegal drug use; some people who stagger around have a disease that mimics drunkenness.

Strangers or acquaintances who cozy up to you and invade your personal space are perverts or trying to put the moves on you.
Many strangers or acquaintances who cozy up to you and invade your personal space are from countries where the personal space distance is much shorter.
The trouble is, these common assumptions and stereotypes are often true, so in our minds, they are in danger of seeming to be true all the time; however, the truth may be more complicated.

This list is not exhaustive--every day, we make assumptions--both true and erroneous--about the world around us.

However, we can minimize any damage caused by assumptions, by simply keeping our lips buttoned.

When you are considering asking a stranger or acquaintance a personal question, first ask yourself:
--Is the question appropriate to the level of relationship you have with this person?

--Do you really need to know the answer? (NOT "Do you want to know the answer?)

--Will your knowing the answer help this person in a significant way?
If you answer "no" to any of these questions, then don't ask your question.

Unsolicited comments based on assumptions follow the same basic concept:
--Is the comment appropriate to the level of relationship you have with this person?

--Does the listener really need to hear what you have to say?

--Will your comment help this person in a significant way?
If you answer "no" to any of these questions, then don't offer your comment.

Feel free to comment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cellphone Etiquette


Major pet peeve:

The annoying cellphone.

In the old days, say the late 1980's, "mobile" or "car" phones were mobile only in the sense that they were permanently installed in cars, and users could call as they hurtled 70 mph down the interstate. But other than that, it was the public phone booth or nothing. And, in truth, that system worked remarkably well for nearly 100 years.

Then, back in the early 1990's, the mobile phone became truly mobile; users could unplug them from their cigarette lighters and move them to other cars. Unfortunately, the early models did not have battery packs that actually held a charge, so users could not really use them anywhere but their cars. Besides, minutes were expensive ($3.00-$5.00 a minute, plus roaming charges, which could be anything the provider wanted to charge), so using them for casual chit-chat wasn't really an affordable option.

These phones, with regular handsets and dialing pad, came in a small zippered cases, about the same width and length as a netbook but much thicker. This is what we bought as our first "cell" phone. At that time, we traveled a lot by car, so the cell was just for emergencies.

We were more than ready to give up our CB (Citizens' Band Radio); readers of a certain age will remember, "Hey, Good Buddy!" and "Put the pedal to the metal!" screeching from a tinny box. It's not that we didn't find truck drivers' take on the world charming; it's just that they cussed a lot, and we had a kid to raise--actually, by the time we bought this bagged wonder, the kid was in college, but still...


Convoy (C.W. McCall, 1975)



Anyway, as we unpacked the phone and got it up and running for mobility, a little voice went off in my head:

"Oh, oh, this new-fangled thing can't be good for society."

Even then, I could envision these things springing up in public, ringing anywhere and everywhere.

And I was right; not only do these horrid things go off all the time during inappropriate times, they often do so with annoying ringtones.

My husband and I each have a cell phone now; nine times out of ten, mine is off. I'm not a frivolous phone person, and I have no special desire to be available 24/7 to whoever decides to call. I love being in control of my phone domain, thank you; if you call when I don't feel like talking to you, then I'll turn my phone off and get back to you when I'm not busy or cranky.

Evidently, I'm pretty much alone in that opinion.

Still, cellphone users should follow some basic etiquette:

1. In public arenas (concerts, films, classrooms, plays, professional meetings), the cell phone should be OFF. At the very least, the phone should be on vibrate, and all calls should be taken outside of the arena. In the classroom, the phone should always be off, unless you check with your instructor first and ONLY if you're an EMT, firefighter, or doctor on call. In that case, place on vibrate, take call outside the room. (See also number 6).

2. When you're on a date or outting with friends and family, your phone should be OFF. Answering your cell when you're with people sends a message that the call is more important than the people you're with. If you need to check your phone, excuse yourself to call people back and read your text messages, but don't hang on the phone--just be quick and courteous. If you are anticipating an important call, let your friends know in advance, and when the call arrives, excuse yourself; there is nothing more awkward than sitting there while someone is blathering on the phone.

3. If you MUST answer your phone on a bus, train, taxiing plane, or any closed space, please don't shout; believe me, your conversation is decidedly uninteresting and annoying. We don't care if Aunt Booba had her daily bowel movement or about the details of Grandma's gall bladder surgery. Remember, we're a captive audience and can't escape from your Dreadful Daily Minutia.

4. Don't answer your cell phone when you're wee-weeing in a public restroom (or at any other inappropriate place). True story from the next stall:

"Yeah, Mabel, I'm on the toilet. Yeah, yeah, I'll be there in a minute. I'm wiping myself now." (Flush) "Hear that?" (Going out the door without having washed her hands [ew!]): "Yeah, I'll pick up the sandwiches..."
5. If you're in a service job--cashier, receptionist, salesperson--NEVER take personal calls on ANY phone while waiting on customers. If I were a boss, that would be grounds for instant firing. If nothing else, always keep in mind: you are overhead, your customers are profit. You are expendable, your customers are not--they are the lifeblood of your boss's business.

6. Never take calls when you're with your boss or any other person who wields professional power over you, such as a job interviewer or instructor. Your phone should be OFF, OFF, and OFF. If I have to tell you why, then you are truly a numpty dunderhead.

7. This is fairly minor, but if you use an earphone (blue tooth?) so that you can talk while you're walking (God help that you should end up with some quiet time), you might want to make sure that the earphone is prominent enough so that strangers don't think you're rambling to yourself. Those one-way conversations can be disconcerting.
I'm not a Luddite; I have embraced technology--I love computers and all the bells and whistles that go with them--and I accept that the world moves forward. Nothing ever stays the same.

However, some basics remain the same: treating other people, even strangers, as we would want to be treated.

Maybe less "me-me-me" behavior would be a good place to start.

Note to the airlines: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE never allow cellphone use in the skies. Even if the technology eventually supports in-air cell use, can't we just pretend otherwise?

It's bad enough having to fly in a can of sardines, but a can of sardines filled with a cacophony of hum-drum babel is more than I can bear.


Etiquette: The Pet Peeve Thread


Welcome to The Pet Peeve Thread!

If you have a hot-button pet peeve regarding basic decorum, etiquette, or any other issue, please post your pain here in the comment section or email Aunt Savvy.

(Note: comments are moderated, so please don't double post. Thank you.)

Door and Doorway Etiquette

One of my pet peeves:

In a public setting, the person walking ahead of me allows a door to slam in my face.

What the heck?

How long does it take to glance back to make sure that no one is behind you? And when the person behind you is near, how much effort does it take to hold the door for him or her?

For your courtesy, you might even get a smile or "thank you." Even if the other person doesn't acknowledge your courtesy, you will have known that you did the polite thing (Bragging rights here).

By observing door behavior, you can tell a lot about people and their basic characteristics; a person who thinks nothing of allowing a door to slam in your face is not likely to care much about anything except him or herself.


Door Etiquette


Another pet peeve:

People who stand in doorways, blocking passersby; if you're going to engage in a long, drawn-out conversation, please move it to a less traffic area, like a coffee shop, bar, park, or low traffic area.

People who insist on blocking passing traffic always seem to act as if it were your fault that their conversation has been so rudely interrupted by your wanting to get from point A to point B.

So, my dear readers, holding doors open for strangers and keeping doorways free of human doorstops are simple things that you can do to help grease the wheels of polite society.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Miss Nancy Minds Their Manners


DownEastDocs says,

This is a 3 minute visual and preliminary trailer/preview for the upcoming documentary, "Miss Nancy Minds Their Manners". This film by filmmakers Martha Weeks Daniel and Caroline Rumsey Paxton fMiss Nancy Minds Their Manners is an earnest and heartfelt documentary film that follows 74 year old "Miss Nancy" Rascoe through the engaging task of teaching manners to children in her 200 hundred year old home in rural Hertford, NC. It's a five day and four night summer etiquette camp like no other and the mix of activities are all rich with Miss Nancy's true Southern gentility and grace from an era gone by.

The candid and often rambunctious campers help reveal Miss Nancy as a most charismatic Southern lady who's both charming and captivating. With abundant patience, and unknowing humor, she and her vibrant camp staff share not only the finer technical points to correct etiquette, but the underlying meaning and purpose of it all as well.

When summer ends, Miss Nancy also minds the manners of third grade students at an area public middle school in the fall. Her efforts with these students give them skills and confidence in special etiquette classes where they learn dining manners, telephone etiquette, introductions and correspondence.

People from the South have always prided themselves on good manners, and Miss Nancy's endearing spirit and zest for life move beyond traditional stereotypes of formality and social class often associated with etiquette. Through her religious and character values, Miss Nancy gives the children a better understanding of how positively good manners affect others, as well as themselves. Southern hospitality shines through all the valuable lessons that the children can take with them throughout life.

More information available at


Please: "How About That Magic Word?"



Dear Readers,

Welcome to this new advice website!

We live in an era where courtesy is increasingly practiced all too little and yet is much needed, so it would seem that the word "please" would be part of the title for an advice website.

On this site, Aunt Savvy offers advice on common problems and, perhaps, ways in which we can become a more courteous society.

Remembering to use the word "please" offers a good start; typically, when one asks advice from a friend or family member, the request is preceded by


Did you know that the term "please" is searched approximately 2,400,000,000 (yes, that's billions) times a month on Google and 10,600,000,000 times on Yahoo?

This suggests that people still want to use "please" in their day-to-day dealings with people.

"Please" is truly a magic word that can open important doors for us.

Remember from childhood, after you had begged for something (toy, treat, or extra TV time), your mom or dad (or a stern auntie) gently asking you, "What's the magic word?"

Of course, you always knew the answer. You also understood that saying "Please?" (even when you didn't exactly mean it) delighted your elders.

"Please" is the word that can grease the gears of society and even put a smile on someone's face; everyone loves to be flattered, even when one realizes that, well, the speaker might not be altogether sincere.

But that's okay; sometimes a well-positioned white lie is okay because if you say "please" enough, it will become a part of your character; you will eventually become grateful to people who have helped you along the way.

Aunt Savvy is not quite sure how this site will eventually evolve, but she was offered a gift of "please" in a domain name and is proud to assume it as part of the name for this website.

To ask Aunt Savvy a question, click here.

Or read more here.

Best wishes to all!

Aunt Savvy

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