Sunday, December 20, 2009

Have an H1N1-Free Holiday....

Forty percent of U.S. adults intend to change their holiday plans due to the risk of being exposed to the H1N1 flu virus this year, according to a nationwide survey commissioned by JohnsonDiversey, a leader in the commercial cleaning and sanitizing industry.

Another survey, this one by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that one in 10 Americans stopped shaking hands because of concerns about H1N1. An equal number stopped hugging and kissing.

Meanwhile, the pork and ham producers are doing everything possible to make sure everyone knows you can’t get swine flu from their meat products.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the H1N1 Holidays.

If you've got holiday events coming up, you might consider heeding the advice of the Columbia University epidemiology professor who recommends you “party cautiously.” That means keep things clean, be careful with finger food, forget the punch bowl and maybe avoid the mistletoe.

But other experts say a kiss or two on the cheek under the mistletoe actually might be safer than shaking hands. But what I want to know is: Do people actually put up mistletoe these days? I must not be going to the right parties.

Instead, I'm reading articles about how to have a H1N1-free holiday, such as the one that declared: Do not throw or attend a party if you have a fever, cough or other flu symptoms. Well, duh. This is news?

Just in case, according to the JohnsonDiversey survey, 23 percent of U.S. adults will require guests to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer upon arrival this holiday season. How do you do that graciously? “Great to see you, thanks for coming and now go wash your hands or use sanitizer before you do anything else at my party.”

Some people recommend not shaking hands at all because who knows what viruses they’ve touched? Should we bump elbows instead? One etiquette expert suggests saying something like: “Excuse me for not shaking hands, but it's great to meet you.” I suppose another option is to shake hands and say, “Nice to meet you, now I must go wash my hands.” Or you could whip out the bottle of hand sanitizer and use it immediately, making clear you suspect the person you just met is a flu carrier. This may diminish your chances of a continuing relationship, however.

Party planners are recommending that people place bottles of hand sanitizer and tissues in plain view to encourage people to use them. Just tell me where to find some that match my evergreen centerpieces and candles because there’s nothing that says Christmas like tissues and hand sanitizer.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of warnings about bowls at parties in the H1N1 era. Most people know it's far from sanitary to dip a used cup back into the punch bowl for a refill and while using a ladle may reduce the risk, the experts claim “bowls still offer a large surface area for germs to land on.” So do cars and trucks, but I won't go there. Needless to say, the experts don't recommend repeatedly sanitizing the punch bowl -- the aftertaste might not be too pleasant.

We’re also supposed to avoid putting things like candy, nuts, chips or anything else in a big open bowl that people will reach into and spread their germs around. One article recommended putting nuts in little pleated cups or votive candle holders. I’m going for the candle holders because they don’t match the sanitizer anyway. Other articles suggest putting out cheese cubes with toothpicks, or shot glasses of dips and salsas. Maybe there's a possibility for a book here – something like “Holiday H1N1-Free Hors D’Oeuvres.”

My favorite warning, though, concerns alcohol (and not the stuff in hand sanitizer): “Remember that water, not alcohol, will keep you healthy days after the Christmas party is over, so make sure to consume an equal amount of both.”

Ho, ho, ho and Happy H1N1-Free Holidays!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Great Debate

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In fact, I’ve been eating them my entire life but until this past weekend, I had no idea that I was making them wrong.

At least that was the pronouncement from Husband No. 1, the same guy who just an hour earlier returned from Market Basket -- crazed with grocery store rage -- because the Cool Whip had been relocated with “no advance notice”(he emphasized) to a new location that he insists makes no sense. “I asked why it was moved out of the freezer case where it’s been for 15 years and they said they thought it would go better near the frozen pies but if you come down the aisle from the other direction, you see the pizza first and not the pies. Who’s going to look for Cool Whip near the pizza?” he ranted.

OK, I stopped listening then. My concerns these days tend more toward world peace and whether I’m ever going to get the Christmas shopping done. But I thought I should include this information so you can understand why one probably should not give too much credence to the PB&J opinion of a guy who thinks they should post a sign at the entrance to the grocery story that says “Cool Whip Moved to Aisle 15,” which he really did say, by the way.

Anyway, Husband No. 1 informed me Saturday, after 30 years of marriage mind you, that he could not believe that I am so wrong when it came to sandwich-making. The jelly should go on first and on the bottom of the sandwich, he said, so that it works the best with your taste buds – you bite into the sweetness first.

Say what? First of all, I never analyzed how I make the sandwich beyond my preferences for the varieties that go into it (natural peanut butter and jellies that involve berries) so I had to stop and think about how I do construct a PB&J – and which layer ends up on top when it goes into my mouth. And second, I never even noticed that my beloved husband makes his sandwiches in a different order than I do, wrong though it may be. Could this mean my marriage is in trouble?

As it happened, my parents were present during this heated PB&J discussion and of course, agreed with me. So then we wondered, was it a Kansas thing? (We tend to blame all of Husband No. 1’s oddities on being from a different region of the country. It's just easier that way.)

I decided to take the question to the Internet. I went to and typed in “how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” and up popped several sites with very elementary instructions. Some even had video to go with them. Guess which ingredient they said should go on first? Yep, the peanut butter.

But surprisingly there were no instructions on which piece of bread should be placed on top or how to put the sandwich in your mouth. So I need you, dear readers, to settle the argument: when the PB&J sandwich meets your taste buds, should the peanut butter -- or the jelly-- be on top and, even more important, does it matter?

(I thought this issue might be a whole lot more fun to discuss than Tiger Woods, although I suppose there is somewhat of a connection since both incidents involve husbands who are wrong, wrong, wrong.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A season for truth

The truth is that lots of women hate the holiday season, although most of us don't dare to admit it to anyone beyond our closest friends.

We don't want others to know we're not perfect or that we may have difficulty dealing with the harsh December reality: holidays are a ton of work and most of it falls on women -- and not because we "enjoy it," despite what some people want to believe.

Even broaching the subject violates some taboo - we're not supposed to admit that we might dread the time of year that's supposed to be all filled with happiness and light.

But in reality, December is not a time of joy for many women, especially those already taking on most of the child-rearing and other domestic duties in the home -- often in addition to working full-time and sometimes also caring for elderly or sick relatives. For the already overburdened, the stress of trying to create the perfect holiday for everyone else is enough to push them near -- or beyond -- the breaking point.

Some people say it's our own fault for trying to live up to some fantasy of what we think the holidays should be, but I notice none of them offer to take on any of the "stuff that's got to get done" like the holiday shopping or standing in line at the post office with an armful of packages.
I've been thinking about all the holiday chores many of us take on to make everyone else happy and I'm already exhausted. Here are just a few examples:
  • Coming up with an idea for the perfect gift, finding it, and then most likely also wrapping it -- and not just for one person, but for several;
  • Putting out the decorations;
  • Cleaning to make the house presentable for entertaining;
  • Choosing, purchasing, addressing and sending holiday cards;
  • Planning the holiday menus, buying the food and then preparing it;
  • Keeping track of the social events for everyone else in the house that often require us to do even more cooking or purchasing (finding a Yankee Swap gift for your husband's office swap also takes time, for example);
  • Making special seasonal foods, whether it be Christmas cookies or latkas;
  • Finding/purchasing appropriate clothing for the season's social events;
  • Attending the extra holiday events, such as religious services, parades or craft fairs, etc.

Add a job to the mix and when you flip the calendar to December, you break out in a cold sweat and wonder why you didn't start planning in July because at work, everyone is also pushing to get things done before the holidays and that mean more work -- and possibly extra hours -- for you.

People say we should just remember the "reason for the season" and be mindful of the importance of family, but they don't come over and help you vacuum or fight the crowds at the mall on your behalf, do they? It's easy to spout platitudes when someone else is doing all the work.

What's the solution? I wish I knew. Maybe talking about it is a good start. And maybe we all need to start asking -- or demanding -- more help from others in our lives to make sure EVERYONE enjoys the holiday season this year, including we women.

Some of you are probably thinking "she needs more wine and less whine," but I suspect others understand all too well what I'm talking about. I hope this helps them know they're not alone in struggling to maintain the spirit of the holidays in the face of all the extra work that comes with them.