Tag Archives: Society

It’s All for the Cause

Something magical happens when charity and best friends mix; I think it has to do with the sum being greater than the parts…

On Sunday, February 5, Meredith, Laura, Annie and I hosted a Super Bowl party to raise money for the Hutch School.  The four of us make up the Margaret E. Martindale Jr Guild, started in 2010.  The original Margaret E. Martindale Guild (MEMG) was created in 1986, and is made up of the friends and family of Margaret “Peggy” Martindale, better known as Laura’s mother.  Peggy died of neuroblastoma when Laura was one year old, and the Guild was created to raise funds for cancer research.  It has done so for over 25 years, raising more than $5 million in that time.

Chip (Laura's father), Laura, and Leslie (Chip's wife)

Needless to say, we were more than a little intimidated joining a crew of such achievers.

In our first year, we participated by helping the Hutch School students create an art project for the big annual MEMG Travel and Leisure auction.  It was a minor effort, and we knew it,  but it helped get our feet wet.  And, I must add, the piece of art went for $1,200 at the auction, which kind of made us beam with pride (as if we, and not the kids, created the actual art).  Fun fact: the winning bidder was none other than the Volunteer of the Year herself, who had no idea that I’d had anything to do with the piece.

This year, we decided to step up our game.  Our biggest challenge was conceptualizing an event that would be affordable for guests our age, as well as appealing to guests of an older generation.

A Super Bowl party seemed to meet both needs and sounded like more fun than work, so we booked our venue, chose food and drinks, and then began scouting for killer raffle item donations.

It was a lot of hard work, but don’t let this photo fool you — there was very little actual lifting involved, and let’s be honest, I’m always willing to lift a case of wine.

We were stunned when 80 people bought advance tickets, and ten more showed up unannounced.  It was the greatest problem we could have asked for, so we eagerly said, “The more, the merrier!”

Buckley’s on Queen Anne proved to be a fantastic location, with a private room and the freedom to decorate with our elaborate adornments: multi-colored balloons.

It also didn’t hurt that we served ribs, wings, and macaroni so good our guests went back for thirds.  I’m further convinced that having two drinks included in the prices of the ticket kept smiles on people’s faces.  It’s all for the cause!

We played Super Bowl Squares, which sold out quickly, and then hustled the crowd to buy raffle tickets for some serious prizes.  We had a snowboard, two lift tickets, $200 in massages, $50 spa credit, $100 Tully’s card, two $85 magnums of wine, a Weber grill, a putter, and several bottles of wine.

Apart from the prizes, we all agreed that the people are what made the event a success.  Everyone was so positive, so energetic, and so happy to support us.  It really felt like a community event.

After all, this event wasn’t just about fundraising, it was also about raising some fun…can you forgive me for that one?  If not, I truly don’t blame you.

Most importantly, we raised $2,500 to give to the Hutch School for extracurricular activities for the kids.  Instead of giving to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, which felt a little like offering a glass of water to someone with a fire-hose, we decided to give our funds to the Hutch School, which felt more like building a well.

The encouragement of our mentors, the original MEMG (Leslie in particular!), really kept our spirits afloat.  They cheered us on like we were playing in the actual Super Bowl, and they didn’t stop until the last person left.  In fact, they still haven’t.

Perhaps the greatest compliment of the afternoon was that several friends expressed an interest in joining the Jr Guild in September.

I think I speak for all four of us when I say, come on in!  We’re already dreaming of next year.

*Photo credit to Steve Bimson, dedicated photographer and boyfriend of Laura.

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Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

Elbow Grease

Even though Mike and I have yet to experience unemployment in our marriage, I am still overly conservative and penny-pinching in our daily lives.  Call it my nature, but I wish I could sweep our funds into a nice little pile in the middle of the floor before stuffing it all in a pillowcase and hiding it where Mike can’t find it. 

I don’t do this without cause.  Mike’s spendthrift ways are thoroughly documented somewhere in a book called “There’s Always More Money Where That Came From,” a book I failed to read before signing the marriage certificate, by the way.  Similarly, my frugality is the stuff of legends, legends that felt like a myth to Michael before he married me and realized I would circle the block for days for a free parking space.

So it’s easy to picture the clash of ideals when one of us carries a homemade lunch to work every day and the other frequents the local Nordstrom for a refreshing cafe lunch and a shoe shine.

Mike has long argued that a shoe shine is a great decompressant, and he always tells me about his engaging conversations with his favorite shine artist, Kim.  To avoid any raised eyebrows, Kim is a man.

I have always lamented Mike’s shoe shines as a needless extravagance, and he has always defended them by pointing out that they cost a mere $2.50.  Well, $2.50 plus a $5 tip.  And, he points out, it’s helping out his main man Kim, and who can argue with that?

This is the point in the conversation when I roll my eyes.

Well, I used to roll my eyes.  All of that changed one Sunday when Mike invited me to get my boots shined after church.  I asked if we could really shoot the moon and get that cafe lunch, too.  Needless to say, he agreed.

After enjoying a bowl of crab bisque and too many slices of sourdough, we meandered downstairs to the shoe shine room near the entrance of Nordstrom.  I started to ask Mike just how often this little shoe shine date with Kim really takes place…is it once a month?  Every two weeks?

“Kim!” he hollers to the man furiously buffing a gentlemen’s shoes.

Kim turns around, leans in toward Mike until he’s inches from his face, and says, “My man!”

Must be every week.  At least.

“What do you want today?” he asks Mike.  He hasn’t noticed me standing with him yet, and that’s when I remember that Mike once told me that Kim is nearly blind.  All at once I’m realizing the implications of a blind man shining shoes all day, and I’m stunned silent.

“We’d both love a shine,” Mike replies, gesturing toward me.  “This is my wife, Abby.” 

We exchange hello’s and he invites us to sit while he finishes with his current customer.

“I been slammed today, man,” he says to Mike.  “It’s almost the holidays and people are coming in a mile a minute.  This one woman walked off in a huff when I said I was backed up five pairs.  People don’t get it.  I’m the only one working here today!” 

Mike sympathizes with him and assures him we’re in no hurry, so he can take his time with other things.  He asks if we’d like to change the TV station or choose from the reading materials.  A feeling begins to creep up on me, a feeling of being mortified that someone thirty years my elder is about to wait on me.  I feel a sweat-inducing class-consciousness, and I realize I’d rather run naked through the store than have him shine my shoes. 

It occurs to me that the feeling harks back longer than I can consciously recall.  My parents always raised me never to have others do for me what I could do for myself.  This includes things like housework, landscaping, washing the car, laundry, and apparently, shoeshining.  Part of it is about not spending money on those things, but the other part of it is the fact that what is my responsibility is my responsibility.  I made my shoes scuffy, therefore I should have to buff them myself.  Case closed.

“Ma’am are these boots black or brown?” he says, leaning over my feet.  It’s the worst reminder of his lack of sight.

“They’re black,” I reply, “and I’ve never had a shoe-shine in my life.  I haven’t taken good care of them,” I admit. 

“Well, you’ve got to come in here,” he says.  “You’ve got to get your shoes done, not just to make them shine but to treat the leather.  Especially in Seattle!  The water dries out the leather and you have to have them oiled.”

I feel both gently chastised and justified by what he’s said.  Yes, I need to take better care of them, and yes, it is my problem.  But it also occurs to me that he’s emphasizing that this is just part of owning shoes — you go get them shined.  It’s not about pretentiousness, it’s about caring for the things you purchased six feet away in the shoe department.  It’s the same as getting an oil change (which my dad has always done himself by the way…poor example, then).  My making this a class issue is really my issue — I’m uncomfortable; he’s not.  After all, the shoe shine costs $2.50 — it’s designed for every shoe owner to take care of their shoes.

I look over at Mike, who couldn’t be more at ease.  He’s telling Kim about church today, since he asked what we’ve been doing this morning.

Kim apparently agrees with our morning choice.

“So you’re paying attention, you’re tuned in,” he says.  “People I meet here always think that their days are not numbered, but let me tell you, they are.  You’ve got to get to know the Lord before you meet Him, am I right?!” 

Kim steps into the back room to gather different supplies, and I turn to Mike and tell him something about how utterly ungrateful I am for having an easy job sitting at a desk all day while Kim is on his feet, working his tail off for far less money.   I tell him about a teacher I had in seventh grade who used to tell us about her trip to India and ask us a haunting question:  if we were ever in India, would we pay to take a ride in a rickshaw?  Would we do what felt degrading to the driver in order to help them make money?  Or would we refuse to take a ride, on principle, but then know that we had just kept that person from making enough money for the day?  I’ve never forgotten that question, and I still don’t have an answer.

Mike looks at me and says, “Kim is working hard, yes, but there’s honor in that.  He’s here every day serving his clients, getting paid, making what we hope is a living wage.  Think about it: he’s blind — he has every excuse to be at home, and instead he’s here working his tail off.  I’m going to support him as much as I can because I admire him, and I want him to be the best paid shoeshiner in the freaking state.”

I don’t know what to say, but I suppose I agree.  I want to support Kim, and I also want to be socially responsible.  For today, that means swallowing my issues and letting him shine my shoes. 

Kim returns and finishes our shoes.  We tell him he did an incredible job, because he truly did.  I can’t believe how much better my boots look, and I tell him I’ll return.  He asks one favor of us before we go.

“Would you email the management and tell them that you liked your service today?  That woman I told you about earlier threatened to email management and complain that I couldn’t wait on her fast enough.”

We are both horrified and vow to send an email that will remove all doubt as to the nature of his service.  We pay him and begin to walk away.  Normally, I would have a hurricane of a heart attack if Mike tipped someone more than 30%, but in this case I just feel proud of him for the far higher than 30% tip he hands to Kim.

“And,” I add, “I’ll tell everyone I know with a pair of shoes to get over here.” 

Nordstrom, Bellevue Square: Open 9:30AM – 9:30PM Monday through Saturday, 11AM – 7PM Sundays.

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Filed under The WORD (Faith)

Corn People vs. Coffee People

Every time I go running in my neighborhood I play a little game called “The Smile Game.”  The rules are simple and anyone can play.

Whenever I’m approaching someone who is facing me, I smile.  Usually I go for teeth, but not every time.   I do this as a social experiment,  and because I like to cheer people up.   It’s really the only time I’m an unbridled optimist.

Sometimes I go a little crazy and actually speak to these strangers, but it’s rare.  About a month ago I was just cresting a steep hill that left me winded and exhausted.  On my way day down, I passed a man who was gasping for breath but still running up the hill, and I smiled at him.  He smiled back through asthmatic heaves, and I felt a burst of camaraderie with him so I said, “Good work!”  He didn’t breathe any easier because of my encouragement, but he did manage to say thanks, and for a moment it was like we were on the same team.

I’m working up my courage to put my hand out for a high-five, but the rejection from that would be too much to recover from.  Can you imagine a stranger jogging toward you and suddenly her hand is raised to eye-level and she’s smiling at you?  It would either be awesome or terrifying.  Or it could completely backfire, and make men believe I’m using the high-five as a conversation starter.  Shudder.

I have learned a myriad of things about humanity through this game.

1.  Unless I smile first, no one will smile at me.  This is fact.  I think I have recorded maybe two unsolicited smiles and they were on particularly sunny days, so they really can’t count because good weather warps Seattleites’ mental states.

2.  In general, women my age are the worst.  They almost always fall into the non-eye-contact category.  The fierceness with which they refuse to look at me makes me feel like we’re competitors in the national running championships.  It always boggles my mind, so I continue to smile.

3.  Those who appear too shocked to react before I pass are people who are jaded and used to being overlooked in life.  They want to smile at strangers, but they are sick of being rejected and therefore never do.

4.  Those who never make eye contact, and therefore have no idea that I am grinning like an idiot, I forget quickly.  These people are clearly on their own road and do not need a cheerful encounter with me.

5.  Those who smile back are fantastic, wonderful people who make me feel like I’m a unicorn riding a rainbow.

6.  Those who obviously see me and yet do not give even a hint of a smile are jerks.  Period.

Sometimes I wonder if Kirkland’s lack of friendliness is really just geography.  Mike’s grandparents, who live in Iowa, sent us a subscription to their favorite local magazine, “Our Iowa.”  Its pages are bursting with state-wide pride about their friendliness, with little quotes from cartooned farmers scattered over the pages that say, “There are no strangers in Iowa, just friends you haven’t met yet!”   They have little inside jokes like “You know you’re an Iowan if you wave to people in other cars that you don’t even know.”

Seattleites don’t do this.  We don’t wave from cars.  You’re lucky to get a wave even if we do know you.

I think that’s part of why people don’t smile on the street here.  We already know no one is going to throw any love our way, so we just stick to our mission and move on.  If Iowa has t-shirts that say “Iowa — America’s Front Porch,” Seattle should have t-shirts that say, “Seattle — America’s Closed Front Door.”

But that doesn’t mean I have to pull my cap down around my eyes and stare at the concrete.  I’m going to keep grinning, not to give the impression that running is effortless, but to give the impression that acknowledging people is.  The Seattle rain is chilly enough; we don’t need countenances to match.

If all else fails I can always purchase one of the many bumper stickers available in this month’s Our Iowa.  I’m leaning toward the one that says, “Iowa Rocks!” with the giant ear of corn furiously strumming a guitar.  When you think about it, it’s really no odder than a manic redhead running down the street accosting strangers (who are just friends I haven’t met yet).

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Shower with Care

I am pleased to announce the publication of my second guest post for Clise Etiquette!

The topic this time?  Bridal and baby shower etiquette — true minefields of social awkwardness.

The author of the blog, Arden Clise, is the well-known Seattle authority on business etiquette.  As the founder of Clise Etiquette, Arden works as an etiquette consultant, speaker and business etiquette columnist for the Puget Sound Business Journal. 

Many thanks to Arden for so generously allowing me to share her space again.

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Filed under Good WORD (Etiquette)

Yawn (Amid Scandal)

Prince Albert II married Charlene Wittstock last weekend, and it really didn’t rise above expectations.

At least I prepared you — when you saw her signing her marriage license in the legal ceremony, her pantsuit didn’t alarm, did it? 

Thanks to some decent WBO fashion sleuthing, you were totally prepared for a wide-legged, powder-blue pantsuit.  Though it hasn’t been condemned adequately in the fashion blogs, the fact that you can’t find a full-length picture of it anywhere speaks volumes.  It’s like the Monaco police are trolling the internet, deleting the offense.

Despite the Eagles concert, fireworks show, celebrity chefs and oceans of champagne, the occasion failed to herald the kind of attention Wills and Kate received.  In fact, the event fell so low on the British royalty priority list that they only sent Prince Edward as a rep. 

(You know, Prince Edward, the youngest of Queen Elizabeth’s children, the groom in another forgettable royal wedding, the Earl of Wessex…OK I know you stopped reading half a sentence ago.)

Let’s take a look at the Armani dress in the religious ceremony the following day:

According to a press release, Armani explains his design:  “The idea was to go for a completely modern look, without an obvious sense of nostalgia or revivalism.”  I’m not sure what that means, except that apparently it took a lot of work.  According to multiple sources the dress took 2,500 hours to create and featured 40,000 Swarovski crystals and 20,000 mother of pearl teardrops.  The veil alone took 100 hours to embroider.

And yet…it doesn’t wow me.  It is certainly beautiful, but it didn’t send me to the moon the way Kate’s did.  I’m pretty sure it’s the chest and stomach area — something about that just doesn’t win me over.

As for Albert, he looks like he’s on a float in an age-inappropriate Disney World parade, dressed as an unattractive version of Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid. 

But it’s not like anyone was looking at him anyway.

I will say the ceremony setting was beautiful, and the castle was a picturesque backdrop.

Something is amiss, however, when the bride is  the only one at the wedding who sheds a tear.

Though I don’t think we have to struggle to suppose what brought the waterworks.  It was widely reported that just days before the ceremony, yet another woman hit Prince Albert with a paternity claim.  According to The Telegraph, “Monaco officials privately admitted there is “truth” in a rumour that Albert faces a paternity test.”

Nothing like a paternity test to get you excited for the big day!

Did I mention the woman accusing him hasn’t had the child yet?  She’s still pregnant…I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen prior to Charlene and Albert’s four-year relationship.

See?  Even princesses have to deal with baby mama drama.

In the end, Charlene may be getting the last laugh.  After all, her new name is Her Serene Highness, Princess Charlene.  Even Duchess Kate isn’t an actual princess by title (though when you’re guaranteed to be queen one day, who’s counting?).

I, for one, am rooting for her, and will raise a glass in the hope that all of Prince Albert’s future children are Princess Charlene’s.

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The Other Royal Wedding

Pop quiz:

1.  Did you know that a royal wedding is happening this Saturday, July 2?

2.  If you did know, can you name the bride?

I didn’t think so.  And that’s my point exactly.

We’ve gone from the biggest royal wedding in history to a royal wedding two months later for which no one is even bothering to purchase new hats.  Let’s explore why.

First of all, the wedding in question is that of Prince Albert II of Monaco and former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.   Hmmm, a prince marrying a commoner…this sounds familiar and compelling…so why isn’t it?

Let’s look at the less-than-appetizing facts:

  • He’s 53.  She’s 33.
  • He has already fathered two children out-of-wedlock with two different women; his daughter is 19 and his son is 6.
  • Charlene has spent the last four years living in an apartment in Monaco, paid for by the prince.  She hasn’t had a job in that time, and seeing as she’s only just learning French, it doesn’t seem like she could have obtained one.

But before I get too critical, let’s not forget that she is going to be a princess.  Of MONACO, easily one of the most fabulous areas of the Mediterranean.  She’s going to live in a castle, with staff, with nothing more to do than produce an heir and appear at state events.  Sounds like a good deal to me.

Oh, and she gets a ring that takes up half her finger:

On second thought, I don’t think I would take all of that if it meant marrying him.  No offense, Al.

One advantage Charlene has over Kate is two sisters-in-law to turn to for guidance.  Kate married a man with one brother, while Charlene is marrying a man with two sisters, Princess Stephanie (shown below) and Princess Caroline.

One can imagine it would be quite helpful to have a few experienced princesses around to show one the ropes.

Though apparently they haven’t been jumping to serve as fashion advisors, seeing as they are both ill-qualified.  I can’t decide who looks worse — Charlene or Princess Stephanie.  No, Stephanie definitely looks worse.

Apparently Charlene agrees.  In a recent Vogue article, she spoke of this particular fashion misstep (at the 2007 Monaco Red Cross Ball),  “Finding my fashion feet has certainly been the biggest challenge,” she says.  “I was literally a fish out of water. I thought it was all fun, fun, fun, and didn’t give my outfit any thought. I had been playing beach volleyball all day, painted my nails red, and threw on a dress. I thought I looked great at the time, but looking back, I realize that my debut into Monaco society should have been better executed!”

When she’s that honest with herself, how can you not feel for her? 

I am the first to admit that any lady entering the world stage would probably fail in comparison to Kate the Great, but I can’t help but shudder at some of her choices.

Try not to jump back in your chair when you see this pantsuit:


But that’s all behind her now.  Soon she’ll be walking down the aisle in Armani.  Soon she’ll have designers at her disposal.   Soon she’ll be looking back at all of this and laughing over a glass of Veuve Clicquot.

Which leaves me with the final task of watching and evaluating the big day.  No matter how Charlene looks, one thing is sure: we know there will be hats.  Guests may be pulling them from the back of their closets, but there will be lots of hats. 

Stay tuned.

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Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

A Royal Wonder

It was, to borrow the popular British expression, absolutely brilliant.

I shot awake at 6AM PST, an hour ahead of my alarm, and I literally only had one thought in my head, the way you only have one thought in your head on Christmas morning, “It’s done!  They are married!” 

I know this should be embarrassing to admit, but I got over that admission about a decade ago.

I turned on my DVR and fast-forwarded through Bah-bra and Diane’s two-hour pre-wedding coverage to get to the point of the day — her dress. 

Needless to say, it did not disappoint.

I always wagered that she would use lace, if only because it matches so perfectly with her style and grace.  And, it must be said, she had grace in spades on her wedding day.

If I were an alien visiting Earth on April 29, 2011 and happened to land my spaceship in London, I would never imagine that this lady in white was joining the royal family; I would assume she was leading it.

And as she joined her prince at the front of the abbey, I was only thinking one thing: it’s a shame he couldn’t keep his hat on for the duration of the ceremony.

One of my favorite things about the service was that those leading it managed to use the word “betwixt” not once, but several times.  How utterly English is that?  For the remainder of this post I shall now use that word in place of “between.” 

Though we all know I could write the entirety of this post about HRH The Duchess of Cambridge alone (just writing her new title makes me happy), I’m afraid that if I start down that road it will prove as endless as some of the hymns sung during the service.  So let’s move on to the attire of the attendees, shall we?

First stop: cannot be avoided, must be mentioned and condemned immediately:  Princess Beatrice.

I don’t care that she’s wearing Valentino.  I don’t care that her hat is Philip Treacy.  It is absolutely abhorrent and she should have been escorted out upon arrival.

On the other end of the fascinator spectrum lies that other British princess, Victoria Beckham.  Now THAT is a perfect topper.

On a sadder princess note, my former favorite mistakenly thought this was an Easter service and got a little carried away with the color peach:

Without question, a real winner of the day was the bride’s sister and bridesmaid, Pippa.  Wasn’t it obvious she was doing all of the work?  And she was doing it in a difficult-to-walk-in, awkward-to-bend-over-in dress.

She had to escort the little royals down the aisle, which could have gone wrong a hundred different ways in front of two billion people.  She had to carry her sister’s train for what seemed like weeks, and looked like she was happy to do so.

Also, did anyone else notice a little flirtation betwixt Harry and Pippa as they walked down the aisle? 

And who could blame him, when he’s used to dating this:

Let’s just say the difference in level of sophistication betwixt the Davys and the Middletons is akin to the difference in hair coverage betwixt William and Harry.

But I digress.

When they arrived at Buckingham Palace and the crowds were given permission to surge toward the front gate, the sight of a sea of humanity filling the entire mall was overwhelming.  It’s no surprise that Catherine was seen saying “Oh wow!” when she stepped onto the balcony.

In true break-the-mold style, the couple kissed two times.  It almost seemed like they were saying “We actually like kissing, because we actually like each other!  This is not just for show!”  Anyway, I bought it.

After all of the fashion analysis fades and the wedding stops making headlines, I think those who watched it will remember it one way: as a happy event.  It was undeniably exciting, and despite the grandeur it managed to feel strangely intimate.  Somehow Will and Kate brought us all along for the ride, and as silly as it sounds, this fan-since-she-was-13 is grateful.

Here’s hoping the love betwixt The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is as strong and long-lasting as the stone pillars of Westminster Abbey.

To read about the wedding from someone who was actually there, check out my friend Maggie’s post.

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