Chicago attorney Marc Cooperman, who has represented a toy company in lawsuits involving Beanie Babies’ names, hit the nail on the head when he said he believes Ty Inc. got what it wanted in its release of the Sasha and Malia dolls that “were not intended to bear the likeness of President Barack Obama’s daughters”: PUBLICITY.

I would suspect that the company knew when it introduced the two dolls, they would cause some commotion and the company would get some press out of it.

All proceeds from the sales of the Sasha and Malia dolls, which have been renamed “Marvelous Mariah” and “Sweet Sydney,” will apparently be donated to charity.

Maybe now we can all move on to the next Obama saga, saving our economy from economic collapse.

english-jack-russell-terrier-0010Moondanz, my 11-year-old Jack Russell terrier, is a lover if ever there was one. She’s a food scarfer, too – but she absolutely loves being held and petted, so much so that if you’re petting her and you stop, she nudges you to start again until you do.

For being such a dog person (we have six in our family, across three households), I sure seem to have a lot of non-dog people in my life. It’s always baffled me just a bit how anyone can live completely alone, without even a pet goldfish or parakeet to talk to. But having a dog – or even a cat – to come home to is a whole different experience. Dogs wait patiently for you to arrive, only to lavish you with love and attention, and with those actions boost your happiness level, which in turn boosts your wellness level.

Come on – even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports the health benefits of pet ownership:

Pets can decrease your:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:

  • Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Opportunities for socialization

Many groups support the health benefits of pet ownership. You can learn more about the health benefits of pets and how to keep your pets healthy by visiting the following sites.

What they don’t say overtly is that a bunch of that benefit is derived from touching and petting your four-legged companion.

Somewhere along the line, we adult humans have lost our way when it comes to the importance of touch in our lives. Think about how often you hug or touch another person. Chances are good that you touch your dog more – and while, as we’ve mentioned, that’s a beneficial thing – touching a person is even more rewarding.

An article on Unilever details the human need for touch this way:

There is no better way to demonstrate the importance of touch than by examining what happens when we are deprived of it. Most of us have experienced the sensation of touch deprivation at some point – the need to feel the benefits of touch.   But touch deprivation can also have more serious consequences.

In the 19th century, infants in their first year of life commonly died from a disease called Marasmus, a Greek word for “wasting away.” Doctors later discovered that this disease was caused by a lack of touch: babies not touched on a regular basis would literally starve themselves to death.

An amazing study completed in the 20th century by touch researcher Ashley Montagu found that children deprived of loving touch suffer the consequences in their bones – small lines of retarded growth, known as Harris lines, appear at the ends of the tibia and the radius.

And the need for touch doesn’t diminish as we age. In fact, research on adults has proven that touch is essential for physical and emotional well-being: regular touch can lengthen life and cut down on doctor’s visits. Touch provides solace, safety, tenderness and soothing.

They go on to explore the four most prevalent areas where touch plays a key role:

Biological - Studies on infants and children link touch very directly to healthy physical development.   And in people of all ages, touch reduces stress, releases seratonin and oxytocins and reduces cortisone levels in the body.

[A friend and former client of mine, Kelly Damron, eloquently illustrated the importance of touch therapy for premature infants in her book, Tiny Toes: A Couple's Journey Through Infertility, Prematurity, and Depression. She described that the highlight of her days during her twin daughters' stay in the NICU was when it came time for "kangaroo care," a way of holding a preterm infants that creates skin-to-skin contact between the infant and the person holding him or her. The baby, wearing only a diaper, is held against the parent's bare chest. Kangaroo care for preterm infants is typically practiced for two to three hours per day over an extended time period.

Kangaroo care was so named because the method is similar to the way a kangaroo is carried by its mother. Researchers have found that the close physical contact with the parent can help to stabilize the preterm infant's heartbeat, temperature, and breathing. Further, researchers have found that preterm infants who experience kangaroo care have longer periods of sleep, gain more weight, cry less, have longer periods of alertness, and are discharged earlier.]

Communicative – There is perhaps no more effective way to communicate than through touch – in fact, touch produces a series of neural, glandular, muscular and mental changes that we interpret as emotion.

Psychological – Touch provides reassurance and comfort and aids in the development of self-identity and self-esteem.

Social – Research has linked the quality of touch experiences to competence in interpersonal relationships. The ability to trust others, and understand the needs of others, is directly related to touching.

Touch-Centered Gift Ideas

If you’re struggling for a Christmas stocking theme, why not offer the gift of touch? There are tons of options in this arena, but here are just a few to get you started. You can certainly spend a lot of money on these kinds of gifts … or you can take the opportunity to create a new intimacy by performing these touch acts yourself.

Massage - One of the most relaxing ways to destress and unwind, massage offers the recipient the chance to release all the thoughts of the day and be fully pampered. There are many methods of massage and every practitioner has their own specializations. If you’re giving massage as a gift, though, why not offer to do it yourself? Create a quiet opportunity to cherish your loved one, further your touch (but not necessarily sexual) relationship with them, and give of yourself.

Haircut – Who doesn’t feel better after getting a new ‘do? One of the nicest aspects of getting a salon cut is the washing that comes with it. But here’s another opportunity for you to treat your loved one! Draw by hand or on your computer a certificate good for one personal hair-washing. Towel or blowdry afterward and then brush out their tresses. They will feel pampered, and you will feel closer.

Manicure – OK, this one may better be left to the pros … but if you’re open-minded, you may be able to create a manicure day at home. Ladies, perhaps this is something you can think about for your daughters or girlfriends. One of the nicest parts of a manicure is the hand massage, truly a delightful treat.

Spa Day – Package all of the above together into a Spa Day. If you’re really in that giving, intimacy-creating space, see if you can create something like this at home for your loved one. Pack the kids off to Grandma’s or their best friend’s house for the day and take the time to touch your partner in a loving way that doesn’t necessarily lead to sex. Your relationship will be vastly enhanced for your effort.

hug-certificateHugs - Yup. Plain, old-fashined wrap-your-arms-around-’em hugs. Make this a gift by creating a little book of certificates your loved one can redeem at will. I’ve heard that we each need seven hugs a day to stay healthy. Here’s a perfect way to up your hug ratio.

Reiki – Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Rolfing - Rolfing® Structural Integration is a hands-on manipulation developed by Ida P. Rolf 50 years ago. It works on the connective tissue to release, realign and balance the whole body. Rolfing enhances your posture and freedom of movement. It can resolve pain and discomfort from many different causes, including back pain, repetitive motion injury, trauma, and aging. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Chiropractic – Chiropractic emphasizes diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine, with the understanding that these disorders affect general health via the nervous system. The main treatment involves manual therapy and manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissue. Treatment also often includes exercise and health and lifestyle couseling. Like massage, there are many different forms of chiropractic. Find a provider in your area and give a gift certificate.

Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a component of  Chinese medicine that can be traced back at least 2,500 years. The general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi – pronounced “chee”) through the body that are essential for health. Disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture may, it has been theorized, correct imbalances of flow at identifiable points close to the skin.

The thing about the touch therapies mentioned above is that they are not simply reserved for healing, but actually can be very beneficial in maintaining health and preventing illness. The gift of touch. Give it to others and the beneifts will undoubtedly come back to you.

Who knew that my son was born on National Pancake Day? Maybe he did, but I didn’t discover it until I read tonight about IHOP’s promotion. According to their Web site, IHOP is giving away free short stacks (three) of their famous buttermilk pancakes to anyone who visits between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Tuesday, February 24, 2009.

All they ask is that you use the money you would have spent on the pancakes as a donation to support your local children’s hospital or another local charity of your choice.

In 2008, IHOP patrons raised more than $875,000 for charity during the same National Pancake Day promotion. Their goal this year is a cool, ambitious $1 million. To find the IHOP location nearest you, click here.

Children's Miracle Network

My fourth grade teacher at St. Agnes school in Phoenix must have been a Broadway director wannabe. We did two big plays that year. The first was A Christmas Carol (I played the Ghost of Christmas Past, garbed in my dad’s forest green terry robe. It came to his knees, but dragged the floor past my ankles.) I don’t recall the name of the second play (for all I know, Mrs. Kase had us acting in her own magnum opus), but it was about all the characters we celebrate during the month of February. (So how is it that Punxsutawney Phil - come on, admit it, no matter how dapper he may be, he’s a rodent -  gets his own day and Web site, while two of our greatest Presidents share one day??)

Groundhog

Abe Lincoln

George Washington

Susan B. Anthony

St. Valentine

With such a tiny starring cast, I was fortunate enough to move up from the small speaking part of the GoCP to land the role of the great Suffragette herself. I remember next to nothing about the role, except for the fact that her “Day” was February 15. For my costume, we  managed to find a high-collared off-white dress at Goodwill that we dyed a pukey shade of green with the ever-handy, always popular Rit Dye.

I also remember being pretty jazzed when the SBA coins came out in 1979 (6th/7th grade) and bummed when they failed, confusing people because they looked too much like quarters.

With my role in the play, I also became a confirmed, lifelong fan of the Groundhog. Not the movie bearing his name, mind you. Sure, it was OK the first time, but not unlike Phil Connors’ experience in the movie, it only grows more and more tedious with each progressive screening.

Apparently there are other Groundhog fans … as I actually managed to track down a photo of a Groundhog stocking! You can purchase the materials (instructions for $4/$5, the linen for $15.50, charms for approx. $20/package, and thread for $20-$25) for this baby at The Silver Needle – and if you get started now, it might be done in time for Feb. 2, 2010.

Just in case you’re not a fourth grade teacher and want to know what other holidays are coming up this month, here’s a calendar for you, courtesy of The Teacher’s Corner.

February 2009

1 National Freedom Day

Langston Hughes born

Robinson Crusoe Day

First meeting of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790

2 Bottle Cap patented

Groundhog Day

3 Elizabeth Blackwell (first female doctor) born

Elmo’s Birthday (Sesame Street character)

Vietnam War ended, 1973

4 Charles Lindbergh born, 1902

Create a Vacuum Day

Rosa Parks born, 1913

5 Weatherman’s Day

Disaster Day

Hank Aaron born, 1934

6 Babe Ruth born, 1895

Monopoly board game hit stores, 1935

7 Charles Dickens born, 1812

Laura Ingalls Wilder born, 1867

8 Boy Scouts founded, 1910

Author Jules Verne born, 1828

9 Hershey’s Chocolate founded, 1894

National Weather Service established, 1870

Toothache Day

10 Umbrella Day

Ratification of the 25th Amendment, Presidential Succession, 1967

11 Thomas Edison born, 1847

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day

National Inventors’ Day

White T-Shirt Day

12 Author Judy Blume born, 1938

Abraham Lincoln 16th President born, 1809

First Barbie Dolls for sale

13 Get a Different Name Day

First Public School established, 1635

14 Ferris Wheel Day

Valentine’s Day

15 National Gumdrop Day

16 President’s Day

King Tut’s Burial Chamber opened, 1923

17 Random Acts of Kindness Day

National P.T.A. Founder’s Day, 1897

18 Former planet, Pluto, discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, 1930

19 Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood debuted, 1968

20 John Glenn first person to orbit the Earth, 1962

Toothpick patented, 1872

Love Your Pet Day

21 Polaroid ‘Land’ Camera first introduced by Edwin Land, 1947

22 George Washington born, 1732

Be Humble Day

World Thinking Day

23 International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day

U.S. Flag raised at Iwo Jima, 1945

24 Mardi Gras – always 47 days before Easter; also known as Fat Tuesday

25 Quiet Day

Artist Pierre Auguste Renoir born, 1841

26 Levi Strauss born, 1829

27 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow born, 1807

International Polar Bear Day

Author John Steinbeck born, 1902

28 Public Sleeping Day

The Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl! Read a couple great posts about the little team that could from Michele PW and Mike Leeds this week.

Michele wrote about how everyone counted the Cardinals out, and no one thought they could do it. But against all odds, they DID IT. And we can and should approach our businesses with the same tenacity.

Mike went in a different direction to discuss the concept of sports fan etiquette, something I’d never considered before. Politics and religion have long been taboo subjects in the office, known to ignite intense controversy, while sports has always been a pretty safe bet. But what happens when you’re rooting for one team and your boss (and/or coworkers) are rooting for the other? Mike gives some great tips about how to be an enthusiastic fan without becoming boorish about it.

Reading Mike’s post got me to thinking about etiquette in other areas of life … which, of course, led me back to the holidays and gift-giving/Christmas stocking etiquette.

First, it helps to know what, precisely, is meant by the word. The first definition from dictionary.com is:

et⋅i⋅quette

[et-i-kit, -ket] – noun

1. conventional requirements as to social behavior; proprieties of conduct as established in any class or community or for any occasion.
2. a prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony, as at a court or in official or other formal observances.
3. the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each other: medical etiquette.

Origin:
1740–50; < F étiquette, MF estiquette ticket, memorandum, deriv. of estiqu(i)er to attach, stick < Gmc. See stick 2 , -ette

So, basically, we’re talking about proper, polite, classy behavior that’s not going to create ill-will or stir up bad reactions in others. Seems easy enough when it comes to gift-giving, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Tips for Being a Good Gift-Giver

  • Make sure the person to whom you are giving the gift will like it. This may seem rather obvious, but think back to some of the gifts you’ve received. If you’ve ever had that “What the hell were they thinking?!??” thought cross your mind on opening a gift, assess whether you might ever unintentionally create the same response in someone else. That techno gadget may seem cool to you, but you’re not going to be the one using it now, are you?
  • Avoid those obligatory “just because” gifts. Really. If your heart’s not in it, don’t waste your time or money because the recipient will know you picked it up at Home Depot or Staples on your way to the party and it will either be re-gifted, tossed in the trash bin, or sit on a shelf in the closet collecting dust. If etiquette calls for a gift and you don’t know the person well, do some research to find out what they’d like or opt for a gift card.
  • Be sure your gift is lifestyle appropriate for the person receiving it. A large box of Godiva chocolates may be a fantastic gift for one person, but it would be incredibly insensitive for someone with diabetes. Likewise, a gorgeous, personalized Christmas stocking might delight one person, but giving the same gift to someone who is Jewish, Muslim, or does not celebrate Christmas would be disrespectful and could even be perceived as offensive.

Appropriate Gifts for Your Boss

The “women in business” page on About.com had some interesting advice about gifts for the boss. The gist of the question was about the appropriateness of giving your boss a hand-made gift … but the advice is more generic and actually quite helpful.

Generally speaking, the appropriateness of a handmade gift depends on what it is and how well you know your boss. Scented candles are nice and may demonstrate your talent, but not everyone appreciates scented items. Art is also a matter of personal taste, so before you wrap and present that opus magnum into which you’ve poured days and weeks of your life, be absolutely certain it will be appreciated. If you do give a painting, pottery, or any sort of display item, you probably want to keep it small.

No matter how talented you are, the last thing you want to do is make your boss feel obligated to display, use, or consume anything you make.

Like we discussed earlier, you must give the gift with the recipient’s tastes in mind, not yours. While your friends and/or family might appreciate a hand-made gift from you because of the close relationship you have with them, your boss is not necessarily going to have a similar response. And you cannot make him/her wrong for that!

Your boss will be most likely to appreciate something that has a practical use. Your goal with a gift to a fellow business professional is to communicate that you value and appreciate them … not so much the “handmade with love” message.

Christmas Stocking Etiquette

  • Make sure you’ve got a stocking for everyone! If you will have a house guest celebrating with your family at the time you will be opening stockings, be sure you’ve got a stocking for them, too.
  • Allow the guest to take the stocking with them when they depart. This question came up in response to my Google search for “Christmas stocking etiquette,” and my first thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me!!” Of course your guests should take their stockings home with them! Why on earth would you buy/make them a stocking if you didn’t intend for them to take it home? Just have enough sense not to designate as theirs an expensive stocking or family heirloom you prefer to keep. Yes, there’s something to be said for having all the stockings match your decor perfectly. There’s also common sense. Pull it out of the linen closet at the last minute, if you don’t want the guest’s stocking to clash with your decorations.
  • On the other hand, just because you offer to allow them to take it, realize they may politely decline. Who knows – perhaps they’ve got piles of stockings at their house and just don’t need another one. Whatever their reason, unless they are ungracious (and even if they are), suggest that your guest take the stocking, but be flexible and fine with it if they prefer not to.
    • Fill the stockings proportionately, but don’t make yourself crazy about this. When you’ve got little kids (and maybe even older kids), it’s sometimes really important to do things proportionately. If Johnny gets 7 items in his stocking, Janie gets 7 in hers. But sometimes trying to be fair and equal can get preposterous. Just don’t go overboard and fill one stocking to the brim, while all the others look like they each contain a miniature Hershey bar and a stick of gum.
    • Take care with the size of your stockings! The bigger it is, the more it will take to fill it. I still think the dollar store is a great place to find stocking stuffers … but even that can add up if you’ve got four or five giant stockings with big gaping mouths.

    Post Script

    Gotta love the rant about Christmas carol etiquette … where else? At the Christmas Rants blog.

    Saw a sign with these words on it

    this morning when I dropped my mom off

    at the adult daycare. Wow – what a life

    we’d all have if we followed this simple recipe!

    wish-dream-believe-smile-give

    Question: Are there reasons to give Christmas
    stockings once Christmas has passed?


    Answer: You bet!


    Wedding

    Although the wedding register is a now-traditional aspect of bridal fever, I tend to eschew the itemized “want list” in favor of a more personal gift. Nothing could be more personal than giving a pair of Christmas stockings to a newly married couple.

    The stockings need not be identical to work, as long as they complement and flatter each other, rather than clashing horribly by being mismatched in terms of size, color, fabric choice, or general design. It helps if you know the couple’s tastes, colors, and/or home decor theme.

    Whether you make the stockings yourself or purchase them elsewhere (here!), consider stitching the wedding date somewhere onto the face of the stocking to commemorate the couple’s union.

    Baby Shower

    When a woman or couple is preparing to welcome a new baby (either through pregnancy or adoption), the last thing they likely are considering is the baby’s first Christmas. As with the newlyweds, if you know them well enough to know their taste, color preferences, and/or home decor, a Christmas stocking can be a welcome gift for a new baby. Depending on the couple’s tastes, a stocking that incorporates baby-themed flannel or cotton prints in bright or pastel colors might work well.

    If the couple has opted not to learn the child’s gender or name the baby ahead of time, you may want to include a note offering to affix the baby’s name to the stocking after the birth, once the name has been determined.

    Like the wedding date for the newlyweds, it can be a nice touch to add the baby’s birth date to the stocking.

    Housewarming

    Kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, houseplants, bottles of wine … all make great, but boring, housewarming gifts. A great gift for the new homeowner – particularly a first-time home buyer – is a Christmas stocking that matches their taste and decor. Most people move earlier in the year, so when the holidays roll around, your friend or loved one will likely be grateful to you for your thoughtful gift of a personalized stocking.

    New Office or Business

    Have you ever seen stockings used as decorations at places like banks, the dentist’s office, or your dry cleaner? Ever wonder where they come from and who puts the names on them? I do!

    If someone you know is opening a new business or storefront, a set of Christmas stockings can make the perfect congratulatory gift. Like the case of the new baby, you can always offer to personalize the stockings at a later time – or make them so festive and gorgeous that names become completely unnecessary.

    The fact is, stockings are still primarily a facet of the Christmas celebration … but they make wonderful gifts year-round.

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