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Archive for November, 2012

I LOVE the holidays.  I love decorating, cooking, baking, enjoying a beautiful fire on a rainy evening, and the smell of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg throughout the house.  Whether you are sharing Thanksgiving dinner in your home, hosting a glitzy cocktail party for Christmas, visiting family, attending a holiday wedding or just relaxing in the warmth and blessings of your home throughout the holidays, your children will most likely be taking part in one or more of these events and pastimes. 

It is important to begin instilling the value of good manners and proper etiquette at an early age so that each passing year, not only are you proud to have your children with you on these occasions, but you will never tire of hearing the compliments and kudos you receive about your child’s “good manners”.  Teaching children on a daily basis that their manners are a reflection of themselves…and their parents or guardians, is how we manage civility in a sometimes restless world.

 I think there was a time….long long ago….when one heard only about children with “bad manners and deplorable behavior”.  That is because most children behaved well…or else!  I find that in today’s times, people are almost surprised when they see a child with excellent table manners in a restaurant, or a tween that gives you a firm handshake and makes eye contact; a rarity indeed.

Children as young as four and five years old are very capable of setting a proper table, using their utensils with dexterity, chewing with their mouth closed, keeping their elbows off the table, placing their napkin in their lap, and even raising their glass of juice or water to toast their wonderful parents.  It is truly just a matter of repetition and frequency.  Much like advertising, the more you see and hear something, the more ingrained it becomes…and certainly, the more you practice anything, the better you are at the performance.

Dining and social graces are a learned behavior, but also a performance of sorts and I am confident that most children “love to perform” if given the stage.  With the holidays approaching, you will want to get a head start on preparing your child for what is expected of him or her during these special occasions.

If the holiday event will be in your home, consider the following:

  • Involve the children in setting the table

  • Have them help set out decorations

  • Have them create a place setting craft such as a glittered mini pine-cone with name tag attached by thread for the Christmas table 

  • Have a practice session prior to the big day over an evening dinner by going over some of the most basic table manners, as mentioned above 

Holding one’s knife and fork properly for the younger children might seem impossible at first, but if you keep changing the position of the hands from the “club-hold” to the “pencil-hold”, they CAN develop the proper American and/or Continental style of dining and gain confidence in their abilities.  There is no reason a child over the age of three should be holding his or her fork like a cave man’s club and it is much easier to break that habit sooner rather than later.

Should your holiday travels take you to the comfortable and casual home of Grandma or the elegant and impeccable home of your boss, client, or dear friend, remind your children to take their manners on the road.  Discuss with them ahead of time that if they don’t like certain foods that are offered, it is impolite to express this sentiment to the host.  It is good manners to try at least one bite of every food that is offered unless one is allergic.  If there is a chance of a scene over something you know the child despises, teach them that a simple “no thank you” when offered, is sufficient.

The easiest and best way for your children to impress your guests or hosts is to remind them to use the “Magic Words” that help us all get along with graciousness and civility.  They are:  Please, Thank you, May I, Excuse me, and I’m sorry. These are simple words and phrases that can never be overused.

Here’s hoping you have a very blessed and mannerly holiday season! 🙂 

One of my favorite things to do almost any time of year is to visit the Ronald Reagan Museum and Library…but to visit it over the Christmas holidays is such a beautiful experience.  This holiday season we will, once again, drive up to Simi Valley for a lovely weekend of educational and historical enlightenment as we tour “An American Christmas” at the museum.  

We will enjoy twenty-five beautifully decorated and warmly lit trees representing defining  moments in America’s road to greatness; from the Revolutionary Era to today. Each tree reflects the life and times of American society and culture during each decade between 1770 and 2010 and beyond, thus tracing the evolution of America. Through the use of lights, ornaments and decorations, each tree becomes its own piece of magnificent art. Also on display will be a collection of beautiful hand-crafted Menorahs that were given to President Reagan while in the White House.

This will be my 8th time visiting the museum…I think.  I’m beginning to lose count.  It will be my son’s 3rd and my husband’s 4th.  Maybe I just need to begin combining all of those and start using vague terms like “multiple times”.  This year we have invited another couple – long-time friends who have never been to the museum so we are excited to show them our family name in the Flight Registry of Air Force One. (something you could have easily purchased with a certain donation amount).

We will enjoy a relaxing weekend at the beautiful Grand Vista Hotel Simi Valley where the Sports Bar and Restaurant will no doubt be one of the highlight’s of my son’s trip while I will opt for a therapeutic swim in the heated pool!


Visiting the museum can take anywhere from three to five hours if you truly want to enjoy the experience.  Throughout the year there are rotating exhibits (like An American Christmas, The Cavalry, and others) as well as the permanent exhibits, which include of course, The Oval Office (a stunning replica of President Reagan’s Oval Office with some original furnishings and art), The State Dinner, The Berlin Wall, Air Force One, The Limosine (where Reagan “forgot to duck”), The Theatre Room (looping videos of historical moments in Reagan’s life and administration as well as famous clips from his movie career), and incredible displays of diplomatic gifts, home at Rancho del Cielo, and gorgeous evening dresses donned by the petite-sized 2 Nancy Reagan.

The museum is ever-changing to stay fresh and exciting, which is why I love to go back often.  I am excited to see that the newly renovated museum will feature the following interactive and I bet you can guess on which one I can’t wait to participate:

  • Act in a movie with Ronald Reagan
  • Deliver President Reagan’s inaugural address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol
  • Set the table for a state dinner
  • Discover President Reagan’s economic policies while playing six interactive games
  • Read the president’s handwritten diary by digitally turning the pages
  • Ride a horse alongside President Reagan at Rancho del Cielo

So…if you have the opportunity to visit the Ronald Reagan Museum and Library, I highly encourage it…and I offer these few Museum Etiquette tips when visiting any museum:
  • Listen to the docent:  The very first thing upon entering a museum is to give your attention to the docent (fancy name for tour guide).  This is your most elementary etiquette characteristic – respect.  The docent will proceed to give you the rules to follow when inside the exhibit (most of which are below).
  • Pack lightly:  No need to lug in a bulky backpack or huge purse that can annoyingly bump into others or heaven forbid, knock over a gorgeous glass item in the Gift Shop (another amazing part of the museum you won’t want to miss).
  • No cameras – unless stipulated by docent in certain areas:  Constant flashing by cameras disturbs the tour for others and are usually prohibited in most museums.
  • No food, drink, or gum:  Do we really need to say this?  
  • Voice level:  Keep your voice level low to moderate so that others may concentrate on their own interpretation of what they are viewing at the time.
  • No touching:  Items can be damaged, broken, and/or lose value.  If  items are encased, keep your oily fingers off the glass.  Museums usually have a high standard of impeccable cleanliness and The Reagan Museum is the pinnacle of this standard.
  • Patience:  Take your time.  Give others a bit of distance.  Allow tourists to enjoy the art, artifact, film, etc. without you breathing down their neck and rushing them.  Part of the pleasure of visiting a museum is to take the time to interpret a piece, relive a bit of history, and absorb the plethora of information and effort put into the exhibit.
  • Unplug:  Turn cell phones to vibrate mode, remove your ear buds (teens who like to multi-task by listening to music at the same time they are viewing the exhibit – not good) and take a few hours away from the fast life. 
  • Thank the docent:  Docents take the time to explain different aspects of the exhibit as well as direct the tourists along the way.  Be sure to thank them after each effort and upon your departure, thank them again.  They are volunteers who love what they do and being appreciated for that is a well-received moment in their day. 
I hope I have inspired you to visit a museum near you or if you are in the southern California area and have a chance to visit The Ronald Reagan Museum, where I am sure you will walk away with increased awareness and education and more than likely, a desire to visit again…and again…and again. 



This will be our third year hosting U.S. Marines in our home for Thanksgiving.  It is such an honor to be able to participate in this fabulous program offered through the ASYMCA (Armed Services YMCA) and I am excited again to start the preparations for their arrival. As our families live out of state, Thanksgiving for us is often spent with just the three of us – so we consider these boys our extended family.  Pictured here are two of our dearest connections from an earlier Thanksgiving, U.S. Marine Corporal Mat Wollman and U.S. Marine Nick Bernal.

The process is really inspirational.  You sign up with the ASYMCA (if there is one in your area) and after you complete an application that is mailed back to them – and upon approval – you are then sent a vehicle pass and number that allow you to enter the base gate (in our case – near San Clemente – about 2 hours round trip from our home) and into the “queue” as you await your car’s spot at the front of the line where two Marines will load into your car.  In years prior, we were allowed to have as  many as we could take – one year we had five; but the program has grown so rapidly and there are so many people wanting to host, that they have limited us to two.  My husband and son will leave by 7am as the Marines need to be picked up by 9am and they will spend the day from 10-4 with us; at which time, they will be transported back to San  Clemente to be returned by the deadline of 7pm.  

I am so proud of my husband and son, who spend four hours driving on Thanksgiving Day in order to give the Marines a special Thanksgiving while they are away from their family.  The program is geared specifically to new recruits who are usually between the ages of 18-21 and who have just completed basic training.  

So…about those preparations:  About this time (2 weeks out), I begin the sautéing of the “Holy Trinity” (celery, scallion, bell pepper) and the chicken livers for my “Louisiana Dirty Rice” and my “Homemade Bread Stuffing”.  This knocks out a decent bit of chopping, cutting, frying, cleaning and storing ahead of time.  I pop those in the freezer until the day before Thanksgiving when they will move to the “ice box” (as we called it when I was growing up) and on Thanksgiving morning, will combine with their dry/cooked, etc. ingredients to complete the finished dish.

Another pre-prep-step during this week will be the baking of the Pumpkin Pie, which can also be frozen.   I will save baking  the Almond Frangipane Tart with Cranberries and Pears until the day before.  Since I am in charge of the Cranberry Sauce for our local fireman that are on duty Thanksgiving Day, I will also whip up a big batch of homemade Zesty Orange & Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce (another freezable item) sometime during this week – at my leisure and divide it up for the firemen and our Marines.

On the day before, I will peel the potatoes (Yukons and Yams) and place them in cold water overnight and while hubby and son are driving, I will be boiling the Yukons and baking the Yams.  The Weber grill charcoal can will be fired up and the Roasted Honey Bourbon Glazed Turkey with Sage Butter will be tenderly roasting on the grill with a pan underneath to catch all those delicious juices for the “First You Make a Roux Turkey Gravy”.

Meanwhile, over on the BBQ Rotisserie Spit, my husband will be roasting a deliciously moist and beautiful Australian Leg of Lamb (which he does divinely every time!) to be served with an Egyptian Mint Sauce (mind you, NOT GREEN JELLY which would be an insult to such a piece of heaven.)  This sauce is a delicate blend  of Egyptian mint leaves and malt vinegar and it is THE BOMB!

Now…onto the table-dressing.  The week prior to Thanksgiving, I will make sure all my stemware is “crystal clear”, silverware is spot-free/clean, linens are ironed and formed into a pretty napkin fold, placemats and chargers are out and the centerpiece design is placed and ready to create my tablescape around that centerpiece.  A few small votive candles will dot the table – sometimes at each place, sometimes down the center; that’s something I figure out as I’m dressing the table. 

Next is printing a pretty fall-leaf Place Card for each place and while I won’t know the names of the two Marines we will host until they are on their way; my husband will call me once they are in the car so I can get that done before their arrival. 

Once the gang is all here, we will enjoy time in the Family Room getting to know “our boys” and like many families – football will be going on all day (other than when we sit down to eat – at which time we will be “Thanksgiving Unplugged”, thanks to my friend and colleague Diane Gottsman of The Protocol School of Texas) and Thomas Farley – aka “Mr. Manners”.  We’ll play board games like Buzz Word and Taboo and then head to the table for the feast of blessings and the blessings of feast.

I hope you have a blessed and memorable Thanksgiving with family, friends, or with unknown persons to whom you have opened your home for a special day.

~ Jonnie Fox Flanagan



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