Christmas every four years

cohn0001b-01This month, “Coach’s Corner” travels into dangerous territory that will no doubt reduce my popularity with the 12-and-under crowd. Yet, due to its importance, I persist. The risky topic of December’s column is making Christmas, and the entire holiday season, like the Olympics by celebrating them every four years instead of every year.

Now, before I present my clearly lost and hopeless case — and before you suggest renaming the column “Grinch’s Corner” — let me first state that I love the holiday season. I truly do.

The decorations, the family gatherings, Christmas music, the cheerful holiday spirit, the gift giving, office parties and all the trimmings are splendid. Indeed, some of my greatest memories as a child were of Christmas mornings, coming down the stairs and seeing all the presents under the tree. Those memories still give me goosebumps.

the_grinchSo, no: it is not due to a dislike of the holidays that I suggest the once-every-four-year “Olympic” idea. It is more the sad reality that, as you get older and time goes by faster, the holiday season simply comes too often.

This month, our beautiful New Eastside will be all decked out in holiday regalia. The Santa sightings and the Mag Mile shops and the condo parties will deliver some holiday cheer, but, for many of us, the relentless “here it comes again” feeling will pervade.

How special it would be — with the anticipation and the wait of four long years — when Christmas season finally arrives. We would really be celebrating! Buying gifts, sending cards, attending parties, cooking, and gathering with the family would be truly special.

Anyone with me here?  Christmas once every four years instead of every year?  Anyone?

Maybe I will present this to our local alderman. That is, if I can get past the legion of angry 12-and-under protestors.

Jon Cohn is a native Chicagoan. He has worked as a high school coach, youth coach, recreational director and sports official. He has been a radio and TV sports announcer for many years.

Besides the New Eastside News, Cohn writes a weekly sports column for a suburban paper and has completed his first book, Stuff, People Might Want To Know (From Someone Who Really Shouldn’t Be Writing A Book).

— Jon Cohn

Afternoon tea, an Autumn respite

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As the days get shorter and the air gets colder, you may be tempted to tuck into one of the gorgeous hotels along the sprawling Magnificent Mile for afternoon tea. Great idea, but do you know proper high tea etiquette? Let’s look at some often-overlooked fundamentals.

Always tea first, and then cream.

Back in the day, the upper classes were the only ones who could afford the fine China capable of withstanding hot tea poured before cream, which was used to buffer the impact. The lower classes, particularly the service classes, used inexpensive pottery that would shatter if hot tea was poured directly into it.

Never put your pinky finger out while sipping the tea.

I’m not sure how this affectation took root, but it’s bad manners. We’re drinking tea, not liquid gold. No need to make a horse and pony show of it.

Don’t stir like a hurricane.

Proper etiquette is to take your spoon and stir the sugar by moving the spoon from six o clock to twelve o clock and back and forth again. We don’t want to swirl or churn the tea, and we especially don’t want to clink the silver spoon into the fine china.

Never place your hand on the saucer.

When we’re having tea, we want to hold the cup and saucer together and place our hands under the cup. Never put the hand on top of the saucer to stabilize it unless you feel you are about to drop something.

Respect the dress code.

Most afternoon tea reservations will require a dress code of you. The best guideline is to dress in business casual at the very least. Jeans are often tolerated, as long as they are smart-looking and of a darker wash. Flip flops will be towed at the owner’s expense.

Mischaela Advani is an international etiquette expert whose knowledgebase includes instruction from protocol instructors formerly employed by the Royal Household of HRH Queen Elizabeth.

Keep your head on a swivel

I heard a football coach recently talk about a lesson he imparts to kids, and it hit the nail on the head for living in today’s unpredictable world.

His advice? Have fun. Live your life as you wish, but always “keep your head on a swivel.” To appreciate the beauty of that wisdom, let’s discuss what it means.

In football terms, it refers to an offensive lineman who gets down in his stance and — right before the play — turns his head left, then right, then left again and maybe right yet again, all the while searching for unexpected moves by the defense.

tom-brady-new-england-patriots-nfl-oyo-sportstoys-minifigures-12Coaches teach their players to consider all possibilities and advise them to keep their heads on a swivel. Their bodies must remain motionless to avoid a penalty. As in football, so in life.

We all know that things can be pretty dangerous out there these days. You don’t want to live life in fear; but on the other hand, awareness can go a long way toward avoiding trouble — sometimes of the serious variety.

In restaurants and stores, know where a second exit is, just in case.

Walking down an empty street, look around occasionally, just to make sure no one is following you.

At a concert or sporting event, keep eyes and ears open for anything a little suspicious. Sometimes it requires not much more than looking around and checking out the surroundings.

Repeat above recommendations for outdoor parks or public buildings.

Crossing the street when the light signal indicates walk is an exceptionally important occasion. I notice a lot of people see the walk signal and put their heads down and proceed to meander across a busy street, often while looking down at their cell phones.

Your friendly coach here doesn’t need to tell you that there are lots of “distracted” drivers out there.

When you cross an intersection don’t assume cars are stopping. Despite warnings and training, many behind the wheel continue to text or check emails while driving. All it takes is one distracted driver who doesn’t see a red light and we have big trouble.

Finally, you don’t want to go through life paranoid and devoid of spontaneous enjoyment, but “keeping your head on a swivel” is a good habit.

As Cohn-Fuscious would say: “If you are busy rowing the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.”

The Joffrey Ballet’s “Romeo & Juliet”

rj000003In a riveting and passionate rendering of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the dancers of The Joffrey Ballet displayed raw emotion and palpable tension, beautifully and artistically weaving romance and tragedy into this twentieth-century version.

Taking place in roughly three periods in Italian history — Mussolini’s 1930s, the rise of the Red Brigade in the 1950s and Berlusconi’s rule in the 1990s — the production layers in austere-looking videos with minimalist set pieces. By the second act, the black-and-white aesthetic gives way to a warmer color palette, lending the production a more familiar and sensuous feel.

Bonus: Look for real-life couple Dylan Gutierrez and Jeraldine Mendoza in the title roles 10/15, 10/20 and 10/22.

Until 10/23.

— Angela Gagnon / Tricia Parker

Halloween etiquette: a cultural perspective

MISCHAELA3-01Halloween is one of my favorite holidays personally. Busy office hours, social engagements, and the gravity of life give way to a holiday in which everyone can be a kid again for a day. Fanciful costumes and seriously sweet treats abound — and you can be an angel or a devil depending on what color of marabou you pick out.

However, as with all things, there is a certain set of etiquette to follow.  Here are my guidelines on how to behave during the witching hours.

Make sure your costume is culturally appropriate.

Every year there are always a bevy of culturally and racially insensitive costumes online and at every costume shop. It’s up to the consumer to use good judgment. The shock jocks among us might just be gunning for the shock factor, but please consider the feelings of others. Embodying a stereotype or joke at their expense, if even for the day, is bad manners.

gg-designs-embroidery-happy-ghost-applique-powered-by-cubecart-lqshpg-clipartIf trick or treating, follow protocol.

If you’re going trick or treating, please follow the standard universal rules. Only go to homes or apartments with the porch light on, don’t take more than one piece of candy unless invited to take more, and definitely don’t walk anywhere that isn’t a pathway or driveway unless specified. Be a good Halloween citizen, this way your neighbors and friends are encouraged to participate year after year.

Understand other cultural traditions.

The day after Halloween is the beautiful Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This is not “Mexican Halloween,” despite how your fraternity or sorority positioned it to you back at university.

Dia de los Muertos is an occasion when Mexicans and the Mexican diasporic populations take time to visit the graves, vaults, or resting places of their relatives and ancestors to give them an offering of food for their spiritual journey and take time to remember them. On the night of the 31st, celebrants prepare items for the deceased children who will be coming back.

Respect the Mexican culture and sacred elements by avoiding masquerading around the city in a bustier and your face painted as a Mexican sugar skull.  Save it for your wedding night, Mildred.

Mischaela Advani is an international etiquette expert whose knowledgebase includes instruction from protocol instructors formerly employed by the Royal Household of HRH Queen Elizabeth. She happily resides in Lakeshore East with her husband and English Bulldog.

Sitting is the new smoking

Against all odds,  “Coaches Corner“ is back! The early line was one-and-done, so we’ve exceeded expectations.

A special thanks goes out to our New Eastside editors and their apparent,  but appreciated, lapse in judgment.

Now, on to our topic this month — and I hope you are not sitting down when you read this.

Recent studies suggest that too much sitting is bad for your health.

I heard one expert say it in rather striking terms: ”Sitting is the new smoking.” Bad for the heart. Bad for the digestive system. Bad for blood circulation. To sum it up: just plain bad.

Now don’t take this personally, but sometimes we acquire activity-challenged habits without thinking. No worries, Coach’s Corner is here to help.

Here are some examples of the phenomenon known as, don’t sit, stand!

Waiting for a table at our favorite restaurant (my next book could be titled, “Waiting at Wildberry’s”). Here’s the key. You’re going to be sitting during your entire meal, so why not walk around, move about, or at least get up and stretch while you wait

Waiting to board a flight at the airport. You’re going to sit on the plane, sometimes for three or four hours. It makes no sense to sit before bording.

You’re at a play, or concert or movie and you got there a bit early. Don’t sit and wait — you will be sitting during the entire show.  Get up and circulate. Walk the halls a bit.  Whatever it takes.

There are many other examples, but hopefully you get the point. The old coach is just trying to keep you as healthy as possible.

Remember how Groucho Marx answered the question “what happened to your get up and go?“

“I think It got up and went,” he said.

Back to school with the Second City

Fall is associated with students returning to school. But one autumn, despite having long ago finished my academic career, I decided to attend classes of a different type — comedy classes.

Chicago is a worldwide mecca for improvisational comedy. The list of comedic luminaries who have trained or performed at Second City, Improv Olympic, and the Annoyance Theater is a who’s who of stage and screen.

Classes at these institutions are offered for every skill level, even beginners. And while some require auditions, most do not. I started with a “Level A” Improv course at Second City. There were approximately 15 of us in the class, and most us graduated together from the “Level E” course a year later. We formed a tight-knit group during that year, often staying late to catch a Second City Mainstage show or chat over drinks at Corcoran’s.

img_2067aImprov has a unique ability to bring people together. One of the first mantras students learn at Second City is “Yes And.” Essentially, it means that the best moments in comedy come when players accept what has been presented, and then add to scene. The “Yes And” mantra is designed to thwart the overpowering instinct to say “No.” I have had moments onstage in which I have repeated that phrase in order to keep from rejecting someone’s idea in favor of my own. The best comedy comes from honest collaboration, letting go of the fear of failure, and trusting your partner.

So, why does improv matter, especially to those who are not aspiring comedians? Because the techniques that make for good improv also make for good life skills. Collaborating, listening and reacting to your partner, embracing others’ ideas and adding your inspiration to them. These traits can be used and expressed on a daily basis. I took a leap of faith and I feel that I am a more well-rounded person because of it. It’s never too late to go back to school.

(312) 664-3959, www.secondcity.com

Uber and Lyft etiquette

As urban dwellers, many New Eastsiders use ride sharing apps Uber and Lyft to get around. Technology has equipped us with the ability to connect with our own personal drivers at the touch of a button. Here we highlight the do’s and don’ts of ridesharing.

MISCHAELA3-011. Be polite.

You’re not a foreign diplomat; you’re just trying to get to Dunkin Donuts.
Your Uber or Lyft driver isn’t your chauffer, and he or she certainly isn’t your servant. Many people have never had a driver, so when robbed of the commercial feel of the yellow taxi cab and sitting in a plush SUV, they tend to let their inner Daddy Warbucks fly.

It’s proper etiquette to treat your Uber or Lyft driver as you would an acquaintance or colleague giving you a lift. Don’t bark orders such as “Left here. Slow down. Right at the light.” A gentler, friendlier tone is appropriate.

2. It’s not weird to say “thank you.”

It’s actually much weirder not to. For some reason, people tend to forget to thank their Uber or Lyft drivers because they were paying them to perform the service. This is poor etiquette, and wars have started over lesser indiscretions.

Although you are paying for your Uber or Lyft driver to get you to your destination, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a kind and genuine “thank you.” They opened up their Ford Explorer to you and allowed you to sit in the back seat and hum along to Journey without judging you. Your friends don’t even do that – well, not without judging!

3. Don’t open food or beverages in their car. This isn’t a Cubs game.chauffeur-clipart-chauffeur01

Although it’s right as rain to tuck into a soda and hotdog at a Cubs game, you shouldn’t be eating or drinking in your Uber or Lyft driver’s car. Even if they say it’s OK (and you shouldn’t be asking), a core part of etiquette is thinking about those who will get into the car after you.

While we’re on this tangent, though, please refrain from doing anything you’d do at a Cubs game in your Uber or Lyft.

4. Help them help you.

One of the cardinal rules of Uber and Lyft etiquette is to put the push pin where you truly are. This isn’t the time to get creative or indicate where you spiritually, metaphorically or ironically are. Push the pin or type in the address to inform your driver exactly where you’ll be. Then – and this part is critical – be at that place.

Mischaela Advani is an etiquette expert and founder of Cygnet & Spade — an etiquette, image, and branding consultancy. As a child, she was fascinated by the work of Emily Post and the proper names of flatware, cutlery, and glassware. She has been taught by etiquette and protocol experts formerly employed by the Household of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in American, British, and International etiquette. Mischaela resides in New Eastside with her husband and their English Bulldog.

How to drink like a pro at a business dinner

Business dinners can be pretty nerve-wracking. In addition to stressing about how to sound clever in the conversation, you worry about basic things such as what to wear or what drink to order.

You’re on your own when it comes to what to wear. However, I’m pretty firm on not going with penny loafers containing actual pennies unless they were issued in the year of your birth. Call me strict.

Here’s the skinny on drinking wisely and appropriately when dining on the job.

MISCHAELA3-01Never go with the most expensive beverage, but don’t go with the cheapest either.

The safe bet drink choice is neither a cheap domestic beer nor a preposterously expensive glass of wine or scotch. You aim to impress, but not alienate. Something down to earth but with quiet refinement is best.

Never outspend your boss or the guest.

It’s proper business etiquette not to order more extravagantly than your boss, his or her boss, or the guest of honor. This is a quiet way of communicating your respect for them and for the time and effort they’ve put into getting where they are. Cheers to that.

Know the customs of your company.

I don’t mean your company as in your firm. I mean, know who is in your party and their prevailing culture. If you have business associates or clients who are from Sweden, take the time to Google how to do a proper Swedish toast. If you are drinking with Germans, it’s a great compliment to them to say “Prost!” while clinking glasses.

The most important reason we practice etiquette is to show care and consideration to those around us. By observing the rules of etiquette with your dining companions, you are communicating: “I care that you are having a good time and want to share in your culture with you out of respect and in the spirit of camaraderie.”

DRINK001a-01Don’t try to be the hero.

Just because you can drink like a sailor just docked for the evening, doesn’t mean you should – unless, of course, your firm is the Navy and you actually are sailors docked for the evening. Don’t try to be the showoff and drink like a fish. Everyone is here to conduct business and enjoy each other’s company.

No one wants to see you sloppy drunk and forgetting everyone’s name and title.

If high jinks ensue, take the high road but not on your high horse.

Drinking games may be common in the country where you’re doing business or among the guests you’re dining with. Drink and be sociable, but don’t drink beyond sobriety. A good rule of thumb is to take the high road and avoid any antics. But don’t take that high road on your high horse and pass judgment or chastise others for having fun.

Mischaela Advani is an etiquette expert and founder of Cygnet & Spade — an etiquette, image, and branding consultancy. As a child, she was fascinated by the work of Emily Post and the proper names of flatware, cutlery, and glassware. She has been taught by etiquette and protocol experts formerly employed by the Household of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in American, British, and International etiquette. Mischaela resides in New Eastside with her husband and their English Bulldog.

Frequent fireworks, wonderment fizzles

It’s painful to admit, but living in Lakeshore East for eight years has made me a bit jaded about fireworks. “Oh, are there fireworks? It must be a Wednesday.” The ubiquitous nature of the spectacle has dulled its impact. But last summer I found a way to make them fun again.

Navy Pier fireworks

I still remember my very first fireworks extravaganza: Fourth of July in Fort Benning, Georgia. I was six years-old, and I stared at the sky with my mouth open, shouting gleefully every time one of those fireworks sent its lazy tendrils look like a weeping willow tree back towards the earth. Sure, I had a sore neck and an eye full of ash, but I didn’t care. This was the greatest invention of all time. I would never get bored with fireworks; I just wished I could see them more often.

Flash forward 40 years. I am now living my childhood fantasy, and it has become part of the background. For a time, I enjoyed watching the fireworks reflected in the glass of the buildings across the river, and it meant I could watch the show without fighting the spiders on my balcony. But lately, I’ve felt like a curmudgeon, unable to take pleasure in an event whose sole purpose is to entertain.

But wait! All of that changed when I decided to partake in a firework cruise. There are probably many such cruises, but this one was part of the incredibly worthwhile “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” event. The boat took off into the dark waters of Lake Michigan and came to rest near the lighthouse by Navy Pier.

When the fireworks began exploding all around us, the boat was under a beautifully colored siege. That alone brought a few gasps of wonder, but what really sold the moment, and brought back a sense of childhood awe, was seeing the lights of mighty Chicago framing this pyrotechnic spectacular. All these years, I’ve been staring out at the lake, taking for granted what I see every day. I just needed a change of perspective.

Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

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