entertaining tips from American Hovel Magazine

American Hovel Magazine, April 2007 cover A few months ago, I shared the news that our home was featured on the cover of American Hovel Magazine‘s April edition, following our interview with that magazine earlier this year. Well, readers were so impressed by the chaotic state of our home that AHM has asked me to write some features myself as a guest author. Here is a draft of the article I’m working on, inspired by having recently had guests staying overnight.

Preparing for Overnight Guests, an American Hovel Magazine feature by guest writer alejna

When you know that guests will be staying over, it always helps to be prepared. If you have a guest room, or believe that you may have one lying around somewhere, it is a good start to find and prep this room. Here are some steps to follow to accomplish this goal.

  • Step 1: Find the guest room
    The first step is to locate and identify your own guest room. A guest room is a room in your house that may or may not have a door. Often, this room will be the place that you have found convenient to set aside items for “temporary” storage: boxes of clothing to be packed up or donated, piles of books and papers, small items of furniture or sundry toys that your child may have outgrown, odds and ends of obsolete technology, mysterious cables, miscellaneous repair or creative projects in various stages of completion, seasonal decor items given to you by your mother-in-law, holiday presents sent by various out-of-state relatives, holiday presents you never got around to mailing to various out-of-state relatives, and/or out-of-state relatives that you forgot were visiting. (Actual contents of guest rooms may vary.)
  • Step 2: find the sleeping surface
    Guest rooms typically feature some sort of bed or convertible sofa-type piece of furniture that allows your guests to sleep in relative comfort. (Many guests find that kitchen floors, front lawns or bathtubs are not terribly comfortable as sleeping arrangements. However, in a pinch, these will do. Make sure to offer a blanket or tarp.) You are likely to find that the bed (or other sleeping surface) can be found under the largest pile of items listed in Step 1.
  • Step 3: clear the bed or other sleeping surface
    Once you have identified the bed (or other sleeping surface, hereafter called simply, “the Bed”), it is time to undertake the most challenging task: “clearing” the Bed. This daunting task may take many hours, and will most likely be attempted when the arrival of your guests is imminent. Be prepared by having ready the proper tools for the job: rakes, shovels, forklifts and hard liquor. You may also find it helpful to have a phone nearby, so that you may call a sympathetic friend or relative to help ease the emotional burden of the task.

    One of the seemingly impossible aspects of “clearing” the Bed is to find places to put those items that have so long been inhabiting the Bed space. The ideal way to deal with this is to carefully sort through all the items, give away or discard those items that are no longer in use, and find appropriate permanent storage solutions for the rest. You will not have the time or energy for the ideal way, because your guests are almost here, and if you could so easily deal with things in the ideal way, you wouldn’t be reading this magazine, because you are neat and organized and you have in the past been likened to Martha Stewart. You will instead need to follow the more expedient method: move the items from the Bed to other spaces around the house that your guests will not see. Suggestions include: your own bedroom, office, car, back yard (depending on the season), neighbor’s yard, or if you have more than one bathroom, in a bathtub or shower.

  • Step 4: Prepare the Bed
    You will find that many guests will expect to find some sort of bed linens in place on the Bed, and that further, the expectation is that such linens will be clean. However, few guests will actually ask if the bed linens are fresh. Therefore, if time is short, and the sheets are not visibly soiled by any previous guests or nesting animals, you may find that a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy is helpful.¹
  • That is all for this installment of hints for preparing for overnight guests. There are other preparation considerations that may be helpful, however, I believe that your own guests are now pulling into your driveway anyhow, so you will just have to wing it this time.


    ¹ For those guests who may have recently visited my own home: I put clean sheets on the bed. Seriously.

    more note-writing tips from Ms. Mismanners

    Dearest kind readers,

    It has been some time since I have offered you my advice in matters of etiquette. I believe that some of you may be shy about seeking advice in so public a forum, and have attempted to make your requests in subtle ways. For example, I recently received the following note:

    we have mr barkworth pay or else await instructions

    As I have not had the pleasure of being personally aquainted with the Mr. Barkworth referenced in the above communication, I must assume that either this note was sent to me in error, or that more probably, the note-writer was requesting advice about the proper wording of ransom notes. I am happy to oblige.

    The first point I would like to address is on a matter of style rather than etiquette. While use of capitalization and punctuation is a often a matter of personal style, I would heartily recommend using at least some punctuation. I would like to point out that in such matters, it is particularly important to avoid ambiguity. In the note above, I presume that as the specifics of payment have not yet been made explicit, the writer is not actually suggesting the choice between the option of paying vs. waiting for instructions. I believe the author intended to communicate the coercive suggestion “Pay, or else” and the explicit directions “await instructions.”

    Secondly, while brevity is certainly a trait to be admired, I fear that the intended recipient of your original note may have found your wording to be somewhat impolite. Might I suggest the following rewording:

      Dear Madam or Sir,

      I hope that this day finds you well, and that you are enjoying this fine spring weather. I have recently been admiring the lovely flowers that are now blooming in your garden, and I expect that they bring you much pleasure.

      It may have come to your attention that your beloved Mr. Barkworth was not in attendance this morning. Rest assured, he is unharmed, and I am certain you will be reunited with him soon.

      I am certain that you will wish avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness, especially out of consideration for the aforementioned Mr. Barkworth, and therefore I must suggest that you refrain from contacting any third parties. I will forward to you additional information about our upcoming transactions shortly. I eagerly anticipate continued communication with you in this matter.

      A Friend

    I hope that this information has been of some help to you, and I wish the best of luck to you in this endeavor.


    Ms. Mismanners

    Hey, you! What’s-yer-face!

    I have a sort of strange confession to make. I don’t know what to call my mother-in-law. I’ve actually known her for almost 15 years. And in that time, I’ve deftly (and sometimes not so deftly) avoided calling her by any term of direct address. I’ve been “you-ing” her for over a decade. She’s of a generation and disposition that doesn’t really invite someone of my age calling her by her first name. She’s never suggested that I do. And I’m of a generation and disposition where calling someone I know well “Mrs. X” seems wrong. At some point, maybe shortly after John and I got married (the first time), she started signing cards “Ma & Pa X”. While I appreciate the effort to give me some forms of address, albeit many years after first running into the issue, I just can’t manage Ma or Pa. They sound straight out of Little House on the Prairie. And nobody else calls them that. John calls his mother “Mom.” (I call my own mother “Mom.” I don’t want to call John’s mother “Mom.”)

    So I have to say I found it pretty funny to come across this in my class reading:

    Knowing how to address your father-in-law (or mother-in-law) has often been a problem for many people: Mr Smith is sometimes felt to be too formal, Bill too familiar, and Dad pre-empted or even ‘unnatural’. The arrival of grandchildren is sometimes seen as a way out, it being easier to call a father-in-law Grandad than Dad. (Wardhaugh, p. 269)*

    Tomorrow, we are heading down to NY to visit Grammy and Grampa. Problem solved.

    Yes! This is why people have kids!

    Brought to you by Great Moments in Family Planning.

    *Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1992. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Second Edition. Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.

    driving in a pedestrian manner

    Dear kind readers,

    I must apologize for the delay in responding to your queries. I’m afraid that it’s been almost 2 months since my last column, and I fear that I have left you unadvised on some important matters of etiquette concerning driver-pedestrian interactions.

    Here is our first query, submitted by a kindly reader in response to my last column, and repeated below for your convenience:

    Ms. Mismanners, please lend your thoughtful advice to me, in my time of need.

    Every day I take the bus home, I cross a busy highway. At the crosswalk. With the appropriate crosswalk sign (the steady walking person). And nearly every day I do this, I am faced with a stream of irate commuters trying to make a right-hand turn through the crosswalk onto the highway.

    I do my best to express my gratitude to the kindly drivers who actually notice this lowly pedestrian, generally by waving, smiling, or nodding to them. But what is the appropriate response to the drivers who speed up at the sight of me (to better zip around the corner, mere inches from my nose), or those who actually swing around the kindly drivers, and then yell at me when they have to come to a screeching halt or run me over?

    Thank you in advance for your advice.

    Dear conscientious pedestrian,

    Your query is indeed a difficult one, and I have spent many an evening researching in the historic tomes of etiquette. One possible response would, of course, be to behave in a manner similar to the appropriate response to drivers who rudely splash nearby pedestrians by driving through puddles, as discussed in my previous column. Specifically, one may respond by hurling colorful rotting produce and idiomatic expressions. I recommend eggplant, tomatoes and the expression “rat bastard,” which was suggested as a useful phrase by a kind reader. However, for cases where driver rudeness pushes within life-threatening ranges, you may want to refer to the following sources:

    The book Favorite Everyday Hexes, Spells and Sangria Recipes: a How-to Guide, by Philippa Martin-Rodriguez. Oxford University Press, 1963. In particular, chapter 27, entitled “How to exact revenge upon a discourteous driver” should prove to be particularly useful to you.

    You may also find this more recent article to be of interest: “Crosswalk Curses and Highway Hexes,” by Martin Quimplemeyer, in Black Arts for the Urban Commuter Quarterly, Spring 2006, pp 38-45.

    I hope this information will be of use to you.

    Best regards,
    Ms. Mismanners

    The second query is on a very related topic, and I can only hope that the writer of the previous query has not become acquainted with the writer of this one due to my slow response.

    Dear Ms. Mismanners,

    I’m in a bit of an unusual situation, and would greatly appreciate your knowledgable advice. I would like to buy a gift for a fascinating and extraordinarily attractive young woman with whom I became acquainted quite recently, but I do not know what gift would be most appropriate to mark the occasion of our meeting. We met last Saturday as I was on my way to a convention of squid enthusiasts. As I passed through the intersection of Main Street and Fourth Avenue, I was reflecting upon a recent article I’d read on the mating habits of Batoteuthidae, and chuckling to myself about a gaff made by the author of the article, when I couldn’t help but admire the graceful movements of a stylishly dressed young woman as she rolled across the hood of my car.

    While this remarkable young woman sustained only minor injuries, and is expected to be released from the hospital within the week, I still wish to extend to her some token of my regrets over the unfortunate incident, as well as my admiration of her character and person. Could you please suggest what gift I might present to her?

    a cephalopodophile

    (Editor’s note: this letter is actually somewhat of a paraphrasing of the original query, which came via search engine requests in the form of a search for “gift pedestrian hit car etiquette”)

    Dear cephalopodophile,

    It is always difficult to shop for those whom you do not know well, even in cases where you have shared a connection such as the one you have described. Not knowing the young woman’s taste, you may want to consider a basket of fruit. An arrangement of a dozen or so long-stemmed pineapples makes a dramatic statement, and one that the recipient won’t quickly forget. You may also want to consider a limited edition commemorative figurine from the Precious Moments Death, Dismemberment and Debiliating Disasters series. Of course, either of these gifts will be most appreciated in combination with the receipt of a large insurance settlement, and the knowledge that your driver’s license has been revoked, that your car has been impounded and a that a restraining order has been issued.

    Ms. Mismanners

    I would be very happy to address other etiquette concerns from readers who may wish to submit questions to me. I promise that I will respond to those requests in a timely manner, unless I find I have better things to do.

    etiquette matters

    Dear readers,

    I greatly appreciate the the kind reponses to my earlier discussion of some matters of etiquette. Several of you have sent me queries on addtional points of etiquette, and I have felt that these deserve a more in-depth response than I was able to provide earlier. Below, please find the original queries, as well as my thoroughly researched responses.

    I will gladly accept further etiquette questions, which I may be able to address at a future date.

    Best regards,
    Ms. Mismanners

    jwbates wrote:

    Dear Mismanners:

    When is it appropriate to swear in a thank-you note? And which particular taboo words are appropriate?

    Please provide a corrected version of this letter:

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

    Thank you for the damn teddy bear. Phoebe will certainly get many hours of enjoyment playing with it, until its damn eyes fall off and become a choking hazard.

    We greatly appreciate your generosity, and will remember you fondly on our trip to the damn emergency room.

    John, Alejna, and Phoebe

    jwbates additionally provided the following information:

    Please note that the above letter is merely representative, and does not refer in any way to any specific present Phoebe has received in this, or any other, holiday season. However, preparedness is essential, and I wish to fully understand the correct etiquette to be utilitized should this situation arise. I’m afraid that an off-the-cuff response may lead to shocking impropriety.

    Dear jwbates,

    I cannot improve upon the wording of your excellent letter. I think that you have a sound intuition about matters of etiquette, and that you should put your talent to work right away. Might I suggest that you compose thank you notes for various members of your family? I must add, though, that in writing thank you notes, it is customary for only the author of the note to sign the letter. (Therefore you should not include the names of your spouse and offspring.)

    bs wrote:

    Dear Mistress Manners,

    When you are walking in the rain, and a luxury car whose driver is undoubtedly distracted by the demands of his/her cell phone and/or iPod and/or breakfast hits the puddle at the side of the road just right so as to thoroughly soak you, is it more proper to scream “douchebag” or “asshole” at them? Also, is it worth it to throw your cup of coffee at them if this negates your reason for going out in the rain in the first place? Thank you for your time.


    Dear BS,

    As you are well aware, the etiquette of interactions between pedestrians and operators of motor vehicles is quite complicated. In cases such as the one you describe, where a driver of a luxury car causes a nearby pedestrian to become well acquainted with the contents of a puddle, the pedestrian may properly respond with several different responses. However, which response is most appropriate is dependent on a variety of factors, including geographic location of the incident, day of the week, and puddle circumference. If the incident takes place in a Midwestern US town on a Tuesday, and the puddle is large, “douchebag” is the most appropriate response, but “asshole” is the preferred term on a weekend. In large cosmopolitan cities such as New York, Boston or San Francisco, you may choose between “douchebag,” “asshole,” as well as alternatives such as “shit for brains,” “dickweed” or “squidnuts” to shout at the driver, no matter what day of the week.

    As for your question about throwing your cup of coffee, I would refrain from spilling your hard-earned beverage. In the rain, the coffee would likely rinse right off the offending luxury vehicle. Instead, it is best to be prepared for such cases by carrying along with you various bits of rotting fruit and vegetables, preferably tomatoes and lettuce, such as you might have ready for when you attend the theater or other stage production. Such colorful yet biodegradble items are much more likely to be noticed by the driver, and may become stuck in the vehicle’s windshield wipers.

    jeanerz wrote:

    Mismanners: Since I too have problems with writing timely thank you notes, is there ever a sufficient period of time that passes such where you should not write a thank you note? That is, is it ever _impolite_ to write a thank you note, given a long enough span of time?


    Dear Jeanerz,

    Your question is on a very delicate matter. Other than a few really uptight individuals who need to get over themselves, people are generally happy to get a thank you note no matter how late. However, there are a few circumstances under which it is no longer polite to send a thank you note. For example, if the person whom you wish to thank is deceased, it is considered somewhat rude to send him or her a thank you note. (For a start, it is unusual for such people to leave a forwarding address.) Likewise, it may be considered rude to send a belated thank you note to anyone who has entered a witness protection program since the time of the original gifting. Another circumstance where a thank you note may be considered impolite is when enough time has elapsed such you have forgotten what the individual gave you, or what the occasion was, or who the person was. For example, the following letter would be inappropriate:

    Dear friend, relative and/or former co-worker,

    Thank you so much for the generous gift that you may or may not have given me for my wedding, twenty-fifth birthday, bat mitzvah, graduation, secret santa exchange, retirement party, or arbor day. I greatly treasure the sweater, chocolates or vase and wear it often, found them delicious or put it on my mantle with a bouquet of lupines. I hope that these past months, years or decades find you well and/or living.

    Sincerely and/or with much love,
    your friend, relative and/or former co-worker Sue


    I had a funny experience a couple of nights ago. I got a call from a woman in my graduate program that I hadn’t seen for several months. She said she had a question about thank you notes. I sputtered for a moment in confusion. Had she found out about my blog, where I’d recently posted about being several months behind in writing thank you notes? To confuse me more, this is someone who had given a present for Phoebe, and to whom I had not yet sent a thank you note. Was she asking about that? Hey, dude, where’s my note? (Not that she’d ask that way. She’s very polite. Also Japanese. Can’t picture her saying dude.) In a moment, I remembered that I’d gotten a message from her a couple of days before saying she was going to a job interview. Aha! She must mean thank you notes that she would be writing. Indeed, this was the case. She was calling to ask me about the etiquette of writing post-interview thank you notes. But let me repeat and rephrase, she was calling to ask me about the etiquette of writing thank you notes. Me. I laughed maniacally. Somewhat to her confusion.

    I guess I know a fair amount about etiquette somehow or another, and have reasonably polished manners. (I mean, when eating in a fancy restaurant, I know which is the proper fork to use when skewering the last piece of potato off your companion’s plate when he’s looking the other way.) But it strikes me as funny that someone would ask me for advice on etiquette on a matter where I’ve been so terribly delinquent.

    Anyhow, if anyone out there has some etiquette questions for me, lay ’em on. I’m thinking of writing a column. (And by the way, no, I haven’t yet finished the damn thank you notes I owe. So don’t ask. That would be rude.)

    New Year’s resolutions for 2006

    It’s been quite a few years since I’ve made a list of New Year’s resolutions. And here it is, the beginning of another new year, and it seems like a wonderful opportunity to set some goals. Having a new baby can lead to difficulties in getting many things done, so I’ve decided to set some goals that I know can be achieved. Namely, some that I’ve already reached.

    A New Mother’s Retroactive Resolutions for 2006

    1. Personal appearance: Lose 10 pounds
      Physical appearance is important to so many people, and I think weight loss often tops people’s New Year’s resolution lists. I can honestly boast that I lost at least 10 pounds in a single night! While the process wasn’t exactly painless, it sure was quicker than dieting.
    2. Health and fitness: Exercise more
      Another common goal is to improve one’s fitness levels. And I did indeed “exercise more” in 2006. The trick to this one is to take advantage of the inherent ambiguity of the term more. Since it is necessarily a relative or comparative term (i.e. something can be/have/do/etc. more XXX than some other thing), I choose to leave out the specifics of the comparison. For example, if I wanted to say “I plan to exercise more than I have been exercising” my resolution would have failed. However, if I consider my resolution to mean something like “I plan to exercise more than various people who are a) comatose b) dead or c) of a more extreme couch potato nature than even myself,” I have achieved this goal in spades.
    3. Fine arts: Write a song
      Let’s not leave out creative and artistic growth. I actually wrote several original compositions, complete with lyrics. My greatest hits include “The Diaper Song” (We’re changing the diaper, and we’ll put a new diaper on…put a new, put a new, put a new, put a new diaper on.) and “The Bouncy Song” (I have a little girl, her name is Phoebe Lenore, and she likes to bouncy bouncy…bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy Phoebe…)
    4. Feeding the mind: Read some books
      It’s always important to strive for intellectual breadth and depth. I’m happy to say that I’ve read quite a few books this year. Many of them quite thick ones. Well, with thick pages, at least. And I’ve even gone as far as to nearly memorize several of them, including: Goodnight Moon (Brown), Bear Snores On (Wilson), The Foot Book (Seuss), Quiet Loud (Patricelli) and The Going to Bed Book (Boynton).
    5. Home improvements: redecorate the house
      Let’s not forget the home. I can quite honestly say that there have been many changes to the appearance of our home. Not a single room looks the same. The new look is definitely more colorful than ever! The new palette includes a shift from earthy tones (mostly muted browns and grays, typically represented by wood and stone) to an array of chartreuse, tangerine, fuchsia, cerulean and lemon yellow. Mostly represented in plastic and some plush.
    6. Productivity and daily routine: Wake up earlier in the morning
      Who doesn’t want to feel more productive? I used to frequently waste the day away by sleeping until 8:00 a.m., or even snoozing in past 10:00 on weekends. I now always wake up before 7:00 a.m. There are even many days when I wake up before dawn: by 6:00, or 5:00, and sometimes even 4:00! And I don’t even need to set the alarm clock.
    7. Etiquette: write and mail thank you notes in a timely manner
      This one is for real, actually. Though the interpretation of “timely manner” may be subject to my own somewhat lax standards. I determined that I should finish writing thank you notes for the presents given for my daughter’s birth (in February 2006) within the same calendar year as her birth. I am bound and determined to achieve this goal. (Don’t quibble with me over today’s date. I will have those letters written in 2006.)
      1. our new living room decor
        Our new living room decor.


    Here it is. January 1, 2007. After 11:00 p.m. And I really should be going to bed. But the compulsion…compels. It’s this damn blog a-callin’ to me. Now I’ve discovered a new toy I need to get for it: a real site meter. (I’m apparently missing out on all sorts of fun potential for…knowledge.) Plus I’ve got several posts in progress that I’d like to finish, some of them in my kick-ass women project. I even have more to say on the subject of pants. And then the idea has come up a couple of times that this is a time of year when people write resolutions. Hey, I could write resolutions. (That sounds like a list, and I love lists.)

    But I’ve told myself I shouldn’t work on this blog until I’ve finished a particular task. Namely, to finish writing those thank you notes. “Wow,” you may be thinking. “She’s so organized to be already almost finished with her thank you notes.” But I’m not talking about thank you notes from this past big holiday. I’m talking about thank you notes for presents people gave for Phoebe’s birth. Um. That was more than 10 months ago. I’m not sure what the etiquette is in this matter. It’s a question I’d rather not find the answer to. But I’ve made up an answer: finish the notes in the same calendar year as her birth. As of yesterday, I had 25 notes left to go. I’ve managed to get through 10 of them. And I’ve decided to flub the date on the last few, as long as I can get them mailed by tomorrow. Which strikes a bit like a retroactive resolution. I think perhaps this type of resolution may be easier to achieve than the ones for the future. Perhaps that is what I’ll do instead of a list of 2007 resolutions. I’ll make a list of resolutions for 2006. Carefully selected to make me feel like I’ve accomplished some goals.

    Okay. I really must get back to those letters. 15 left to go. (Does it count if I just write the date on the top of each of them?) I told myself I wouldn’t post until I finished writing them. (This one doesn’t count, does it?)