Navigating Dietary Restrictions

Like many others, over the last few years I learned I have gluten and dairy dietary restrictions. As someone who made it to her twenties with no dietary restrictions this has greatly changed the way I approach parties, work functions, and going out for meals. In an effort to not draw attention to the changes or make others unsure of how to accommodate my dietary needs, I have found the best way to navigate the situation is to plan ahead!

Here are my tips for navigating social interactions around food as someone with dietary restrictions, as well as, my tips for hosts who may encounter a guest with a dietary restriction:

  1. Research the menu/restaurant before you go!
    • With almost all restaurants having their menus online and so many restaurants aware of the common dietary restrictions, it is easy to take a look and find out what your options are before you arrive for the meal. Personally, this helps me to not feel like I am being put on the spot for taking too long to decide my order while also allowing me to know ahead of time the exact accommodations I need for my order rather thank asking a lot of questions.
    • If you have trouble finding something on the menu before you arrive, call the restaurant and let them know you have dietary restrictions. Giving the host notice allows them to let the chef know and often they will do what they can to assist with your dietary needs.
  2. Alert the host of your dietary restrictions well before the gathering. Letting your host know far in advance, allows him/her to implement your dietary needs into the menu.
    • Some individuals are unaware of how to cook for your dietary needs and as the person who knows your restrictions best, it may be better to keep the cooking in your own hands. When this is the best option, offer to bring your own dish! You may even be able to cook it along with the main meal and often times, other guests will not even realize your plate is something different.
    • When sending in an R.s.v.p. which requires a meal selection, choose the menu item that best fits your dietary needs then add a note of any accommodations needed so the chef is aware. (i.e. check “Salmon with vegetables” then add to the side “Dietary Restriction: No gluten, no dairy”)
      • When not prompted to select a meal, ensure you include your dietary restriction in the registration information for work events/conferences, travel bookings, and on all R.s.v.p. cards.
  3. Have a snack before you go!
    • I have learned it is best to be on the safe side when going to a cocktail party, sporting event, concert, or similar large scale, non-seated dining event. Try as I might to scout out the menu beforehand, sometimes I simply do not know what options will be available to me. When this happens, I find it is best to have a snack before I go. That way, if I show up and I am unable to eat any of the dishes being served, I will not be left starving; however, if there is something I can have, I am not so full that I cannot enjoy it.
    • This is also important when traveling especially to other countries. If you are traveling and experience a language barrier, you may not know how to communicate your dietary restrictions. In these cases, it is always best to have a handy dandy snack bag in your suitcase in case you get in a pinch!
  4. As the Host
    • Consider your menu and research the ways to make it fit your guest’s dietary restrictions. If you have no experience cooking in the way your guest needs, look into local restaurants, specialty stores, and bakeries who offer that type of food and special order something.
    • Offer your guest the opportunity to bring a dish, but ensure he/she knows it is not necessary. Some guests appreciate the opportunity to bring their own food and welcome sharing their cooking with others.
    • If you are having a larger party where the food is served buffet style, include a display next to the dish with the name of the dish and a note underneath as to if it fits in a certain dietary category (i.e. gluten free, nut free, vegan, etc.)
  5. Food for Thought: As someone with dietary restrictions, it is often awkward to answer the question, “Why do you have dietary restrictions?” Whether an individual is not eating something due to an allergy, medical condition, or food intolerance, he/she may be uncomfortable going into the explanation. Maybe the person learned he/she is not allergic to a particular food, but get sick every time eating it. This person does not want to have to explain his/her bodily functions to you or worse, a whole group of people.

Although having dietary restrictions can be challenging at times, I try to think of it in a positive way: Now that my foods have to be different, I have been learning to cook/bake with a lot of alternatives and trying out new dishes! I hope these tips help everyone navigate personally having dietary restrictions or hosting someone who does!

Cheers y’all!

AB

Email Correspondence: Client vs. Professional

In your professional life, you have emails down to a science, but when it comes to your personal life, do you know how to transition from the expert to the client? While we are all boss ladies (and gentlemen) in the office, many of us struggle with how to communicate as a client in our personal lives… Ever been stuck waiting to hear back on an email you sent? I think we all have. As the thought crosses your mind, “Should I email him/her again.. call instead? How long should I wait for an answer? Did I write too much?,” you start to wonder how to best communicate and follow up with others. Truthfully, this can be one of the more frustrating things we face in everyday life as part of a technology reliant society. So, here are my tips to help alleviate some of this stress!

  1. Timeliness
    • As a client, it is just as important to be responsive in a timely manner in your personal life as it is in your professional life. While you may be the client, the person you are communicating with is a professional and this is his/her business so he/she is relying on you!
    • If you know you are going to be away for a while or unable to communicate regularly, let your contact know that in advance. Anyone appreciates a heads up that allows them to know when the appropriate time to follow up will be. If you are off enjoying a vacation, no one wants to be the individual who nagged you during it! 😉
  2. Include all the details
    • Rather than bombarding someone with piecemeal emails each containing one question, send one concise email including all the details and questions you have on a topic. Be specific so your contact knows what to expect from you as a client, but also has all the tools he/she needs to do the job well.
    • If you are unsure about something, ask the professional. I guarantee he/she prefers to answer your questions ahead of time rather than be in a situation where a misunderstanding happens.
      • Side note: If you have been provided with resources from your contact, be sure to read and review them. It is very possible your questions will be answered there!
    • Schedule a call or meeting to discuss everything. While email is great for keeping a record of things, it is always possible that something will be understood differently by the recipient. Having the opportunity to talk through everything will clear-up any questions or differences of ideas!
  3. Know the best form of communication for the person you are contacting: This is possibly one of the most important factors in following up with an individual.
    • If your contact prefers email, then stick to email. Depending on the importance/deadline of what you are discussing, that will give you an idea of when to follow up (i.e. a week for something further out, two days for something upcoming in the next week, etc.). If it is an urgent matter, I highly suggest flagging the email when sending and honestly, simply call the person. Sometimes, if you need an answer, you just need the answer and promptly.
    • Despite the fact that we all have technology, it does not mean it is the way we all prefer to communicate. For some, receiving an email is simply a method to get the information in writing or have the needed documents provided to them; however, for these people, the true preferred means of communication is a phone call or in-person meeting. For an individual with this preference, send the email and then immediately follow it up with a calendar invite for a call or meeting to discuss the information. For something on a smaller scale, it is always OK to call your contact after sending the email to quickly talk through it or even to leave a voicemail explaining.
    • Similar to the individual who prefers a call, some people prefer to communicate over text message. While I do not recommend this as your primary source of communication, it can be a great follow-up tool! If you are awaiting a response to your email and you know your contact is OK with and prefers texting, send a respectful text message following up. Something similar to, “Hi Ann! Checking in to follow up on the email I sent a couple days ago. Will you let me know when you have a chance to review it? Happy to setup a call to discuss or feel free to email back with your feedback. Thanks!”

Now lets get out there and dominate the communication world on all fronts! For more information on general email etiquette, read my previous post!

Cheers y’all!

AB

Interacting with Individuals Who Have Service Dogs

Through my work, I have the privilege of interacting with individuals who have service dogs as well as working alongside facility and therapy dogs. The other day, it was pointed out to me that a lot of people feel unsure about how to properly interact with service/working dogs. That inspired me to do some research and reach out to the people I know with service/working dogs. Here is what I learned along with some tips for the next time you interact with an individual with a service or working dog!

  1. Service and Working Dogs serve many purposes!
    • Guide/Seeing-Eye Dogs and Hearing Dogs assist their companion in navigating their surroundings and alerting them to situations needing attention (a car coming when they are attempting to cross a street, someone at the door, the fire alarm going off, etc.).

    • Service Dogs assist their companion living with other types of physical or mental disabilities (i.e. Mobility Assistance, Seizure Alert, Autism, Psychiatric Disabilities, etc). These disabilities may not always be apparent which is why it is important to be sensitive to the individual’s privacy.
      • I commonly see veterans with mobility service dogs who assist them with everything from pulling their wheelchairs to acting as a “brace” for someone with a prosthetic as they stand up or use the stairs. These dogs also assist with opening doors, turning on lights, retrieving things that have fallen or the service member/veteran is unable to pick-up, and so much more! These service dogs increase the service member’s/veteran’s independence and assist with re-integration.

        Service Dog, Bravo, bracing for his veteran as he uses the stairs.

    • K-9 and Military Units use working dogs to effectively secure areas, detect bombs/drugs/etc, and search for/track individuals.

    • Therapy/Facility Dogs are used in settings such as hospitals, mental health services, senior citizen/assisted living homes, universities, and schools/libraries for companionship and emotional support. Often times, these dogs presence helps to ease individual’s anxiety and bring a calming presence to a difficult situation.

      Therapy Dog, Bobbie, visiting patients at a hospital.

      Therapy Dog, Bobbie, visiting patients at a hospital.

    • A Major Distinction Between the Types:
      • A Service Dog is specifically paired with one individual to aide him/her with his/her disability and increase his/her independence. Ultimately, the dog is meant to assist it’s companion, not to be distracted or draw attention from others.
      • The job of a Therapy/Facility Dog is to interact with patients, the public, etc. and to be pet. They are handled by a facilitator who works with the dog in various settings with the public.
  2. Approach an individual with a service dog the same way you would someone without a service dog, but be aware of the following:
    • If the dog is a service dog, it should be wearing some type of vest/jacket, “backpack,” or harness. If the vest says, “Working Dog. Do not Pet.” then do not focus your attention towards the animal.
      • NOTE: K-9 Unit Dogs and Military Working Dogs should not be approached or distracted while they are “on duty.”
    • Before interacting with the dog, always ask it’s companion/handler if it is OK. Sometimes, interacting with the dog can disturb it’s focus and take away from the purpose he/she is serving for the owner/handler.
      • If the owner/handle does not want you to interact with the dog, do not become embarrassed or upset. The owner/handler has specific needs and reasons why it is not the appropriate time to interact with the dog.
    • Do not feed service dogs unless the owner/handler has given you permission. They are specifically trained with different methods and some only receive treats at certain times.
  3. It is OK to ask about the dog, but you should avoid asking about it’s purpose, especially when it is not obvious, because that is a personal matter.
    • If you are interested in the dog, you can ask questions such as:
      • What breed is your dog?
      • What is your dog’s name? (NOTE: Sometimes people will not answer this question so that the dog will not be called or respond to others)
      • How old is your dog?
      • Which organization trained your dog?
      • Have you worked with dogs in the past?
    • Do not ask personal or invasive questions such as:
      • Why do you have a service dog?
      • Is it necessary for you to have a service dog?
      • May I see it do something for you? (i.e. open the door, push a button, pick something up, etc.)
    • For business owners, restaurant/retail staff, etc. the only 2 questions you can legally ask according to the Americans with Disabilities Act are:
      • “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
      • “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
      • “Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”
  4. If you have a non-service dog with you and you come across someone who is using his/her service dog, do not let your dog interact with his/her service dog. Keep your dog under control and always ask if it is OK for your two dogs to interact prior to letting your dog have a little “freedom of the leash.”

Service Dogs are truly wonderful and have an amazing capacity to enhance the lives of their companions. Next time you come across an individual with a service dog, I hope these tips will serve you well!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

How to Have a Friendly Debate

I recently had a difference of opinion on a “manners moment” with someone close to me. We both believed different actions should have been taken and that got us to talking about seeing other people’s points of view. As a result, we had a casual, light-hearted banter to present our own viewpoint. After our discussion, I got to thinking… How do you have a “friendly debate” without it turning into an all-out brawl where every stakeholder has dug in and refuses to agree or see another opinion?

***NOTE: This post is indeed about “friendly debates” and not about matters of great importance such as financial issues, health matters, family decisions, political debates, romantic relationships, or business deals. However, some of these tips may help!***

  1. Keep the Topic “Light”
    • A common saying is, “Never discuss money, politics, or personal life (aka sex).” If a topic you are uncomfortable with gets brought up, politely decline to engage in the conversation.
    • Ensure the conversation/debate stays on topic and does not turn into a discussion about other issues or previous grievances.
    • Laugh about things, laugh at yourself! Sometimes when you get into a debate and outlandish ideas are being discussed, you have to take a step back and just laugh at the crazy debate you have somehow ended up having.
      • NOTE: If someone is strongly expressing an opinion, be cautious about laughing. Some people get extremely offended if they feel like they are being laughed at or mocked for their viewpoint.
  2. Present Your View Strongly, Yet Democratically
    • If you are expressing something you truly care about, ensure you express that sentiment while still making it OK for the other person to potentially disagree with you.
    • Do not force your opinion/viewpoint on the other person.
    • Be knowledgeable of what you are discussing. If you are not knowledgeable on the subject, politely decline the conversation and never make up information you are unsure is true.
    • Never act like you are better than the other person’s opinion and be sure you are truly ready to hear their side.
  3. What Do You Do If Someone Offends You?
    • First, ask him/her to clarify what they meant by the comment. Sometimes, people say something without thinking about how it will come across or they simply use the wrong words. Before getting upset with someone, be sure you have the same understanding of what was said.
    • After clarifying, if what was said truly offends you, stand up for yourself. Be confident in yourself yet gracious when you say, “Excuse me, the comment you just made is extremely offensive/hurtful/unkind of you to say.”
    • Explain why. It does not have to be a lengthy or personal description, but explaining why something is offensive/hurtful in a polite way allows the other person to learn how to correct the behavior in the future.
    • If the person refuses to back-down from the comment, it is time to end the conversation.
  4. When It Is Over, It Is OVER.
    • After both parties have described their thoughts/viewpoints allow each other to ask and answer questions.
    • Once the conversation is done, move onto something else. Do not continue to rehash the same argument.
    • Do not be the person who has to “have the last word.” No one likes someone who always has to prove a point or have the last say on a matter.

Often times, you most likely will not come to a solid answer/compromise. What is important to recognize is that you have the ability to not only standup for your own opinions/viewpoints democratically, but you also have the ability respect for others who may be different than you. Many of these “friendly debates” will teach you something new and push you to think in ways or consider things you have not. Just remember to keep an open-mind and always be cordial during a difference of opinion.

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Email Etiquette: Handling a Busy Inbox

In both our professional and personal lives, we often receive a high volume of emails on a daily basis. On those days when your inbox is so full you are almost scared to open it, how should you handle the massive amount of inquiries that need a response? Here are my tips for managing a busy inbox!

  1. Wait at least 30 minutes before checking your email in the morning
    • Help yourself to start the day on the right foot. No one wants to wake up and start answering emails right away. So, give yourself 30 minutes to get your day started without the distraction of technology. If there is a work or personal emergency that requires your immediate attention, you will get a phone call about it, not an email.
    • If you start answering emails, I am rather sure you will never be ready for work on time. Get yourself ready to conquer the day then go conquer!
  2. Skim your inbox to find the high priority subjects
    • When you first open your inbox, start by looking through the recipients and the subject lines to ensure you read the high priority emails first.
    • Make a mental list of the priority of the rest of your emails and work from that point.
    • If you know it is junk mail, delete it.
  3. Read your inbox emails and your written replies more than once
    • If you have an email that you know requires your undivided attention or further research, mark it is as unread and return to it once you have all the information you need. Nothing is worse than responding to an email and realizing you missed the key questions that needed a response or you left out the bulk of your reasoning and needed follow-up questions.
    • Read your reply more than once to ensure you hit the key points and your grammar, delivery, and thought process come across as you wish.
    • If you have an assistant or co-worker, ask them to proofread your reply if you are unsure about something.
    • If you are writing about a sensitive or emotional topic, write a draft response then step away from it for a while. Come back to it when you have thought about it more and then edit it. If you need to, do this a few times to ensure your email reads as you wish.
  4. Unsubscribe to the hordes of advertisements you receive
    • Every store, news outlet, etc. wants you to be part of their listserv… It is OK to say no or to unsubscribe.
    • Keep the places/sources you regularly use and unsubscribe from those that simply clog your inbox with the daily/weekly reminders.
  5. If you are going out town or will be unavailable by email, use an out-of-office automatic reply
    • Not only does this help to manage people’s expectations of when they will receive a response, it will also provide them with contact information in case of an emergency.
    • An example of a simple, yet effective out-of-office reply is:
      “Sir/Ma’am,

      Thank you for you for contacting me. I am out of the office without access to/with limited access to my email and will not return until Monday, 23 February. If this is an urgent matter, please contact my office (or specify a co-worker if he/she is taking over your work in your absence) at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.

      I look forward to speaking with you soon. Have a great day!”

  6. Keep all your emails in archived/organized folders
    • You never know when you may need to reference an old email or find someone’s contact information.
    • Once you have responded to an email, move it into the proper folder. This will let you know you have replied to the email, reduce the number of emails in your inbox, and give you a place to look back to if you need to review a message in the future.
  7. Some emails need an in-person or phone response
    • If you receive an email you know you need to respond to, but do not feel it is appropriate to respond via email or that a more in-depth conversation should be had, call the person or schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.
  8. Have a technology curfew
    • Set a time for yourself when you put your phone/tablet/laptop away at night.
    • Do one final review of your inbox and ensure nothing urgent came in or that you missed anything from earlier in the day then turn it off until tomorrow! As I said about the morning email check, if there is a work or personal emergency that requires your immediate attention, you will get a phone call about it, not an email.
    • A lot of research has been showing exposure to blue-light (the light in tech gadgets) at night, prevents a good night’s sleep and reduces the amount of time you spend in REM sleep. A recent Washington Post article speaks to research on the matter.

I hope these tips help you to manage your busy inbox more successfully! Most importantly, remember everyone deserves a response, but be mindful of how and when you respond.

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Sitting Like a Lady

The other night, I was watching an entertainment news show and noticed a small, yet very prominent difference about the three women on camera. Two were sitting with their leg over the other knee while the third sat with her legs crossed at her ankles.

Crossing at the Knee vs. Crossing at the Ankle

Crossing at the Knee vs. Crossing at the Ankle

Seeing this difference, it hit me.. Sitting like a lady truly makes a difference!

Photo Credit: Zimbio

Photo Credit: Zimbio

To sit like a lady,

  1. Cross your legs at your ankles and keep your knees together.
    • Aside from the idea that this is the “traditional” way to sit like a lady, it really matters in today’s world of changing fashion. As shorter hems and high leg slits have become fashionable, crossing at your ankles prevents you from showing too much leg and saves you the embarrassment of someone seeing up your skirt.
    • Side note: Crossing at your ankles relieves pressure on your knee and can help to prevent spider veins!
  2. Sit up tall with your shoulders straight.
    • Not only is this good for your posture and a way to reduce back strain, this is a much more inviting and attentive posture than being hunched over in your seat.
  3. Keep your head up.
    • Your chin should be slightly up to ensure you are looking forward rather than down which can also lead to slouching.
  4. Place your hands in your lap.
    • Keeping your hands in your lap helps to maintain your upright posture by avoiding leaning on one of the arm rests.
  5. Face the person to whom you are giving your attention.
    • This may require you turn slightly in your chair, but it signals the individual that you are giving them your attention and are focused on what they are saying.
  6. Smile! 🙂
    • Everything looks better with a smile!
  7. Variations?
    • Leaving Legs Uncrossed: If you choose not to cross your legs, ensure you keep your knees and ankles together with your legs straight or slightly off to the side.
      Photo Credit: People

      Photo Credit: People

      Photo Credit: Beaumont Etiquette

      Photo Credit: Beaumont Etiquette

As you can see, the one lady who has this truly mastered is the Duchess of Cambridge. So, let us all take a lesson from her and add this piece of etiquette into our repertoire!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

New Year, Confident You

Welcome to 2015! The typical January/New Year post is about resolutions and a new you, so I am taking a bit of a different twist on this idea. In 2015, let’s focus on improving the amazing qualities you already have and putting your best foot forward in all situations!

The following are a few of my thoughts on the basic things you can do to improve yourself everyday:

  1. Be Positive
    • Think happy, be happy. The power of positive thought truly is amazing!

      Photo Credit: Ascension Kitchen

      Photo Credit: Ascension Kitchen

  2. Dress the Part – Always!
    • Whether I am getting all dolled up for a fabulous event or just running a quick errand, this has always been a favorite guiding principle of mine…

      Photo Credit: Beauty Woo Me

      Photo Credit: Beauty Woo Me

  3. Present Yourself
  4. Perfect Your Table Manners
  5. Be Knowledgeable of Current Events
    • If you do not already watch the news or read the paper daily, I highly suggest signing up for the Skimm! It is a daily newsletter delivered to your inbox that summarizes the biggest stories and adds a little fun to your morning news report.

As we embark on this new year, let’s all do so by promoting the best versions of ourselves. As I have said from the beginning of this blogging journey, protocol and etiquette are really about putting your best foot forward and being confident as you do. Being positively proper gives you that touch of polish to make you stand out from the rest. Stayed tuned for my protocol and etiquette posts so we all conquer 2015 with grace, elegance, and style! 😉

Sparkle On,

Alexandra