My Experience as a USO Elf

USO_LOGO_Project Elf_Script-01

This article is not related to protocol or etiquette; however, I found this experience so special, I knew I had to share it.

This Holiday Season, I had the privilege of being the Program Manager, or “Head Elf” as some affectionately referred to me, for USO-Metro’s Project Elf. Project USO Elf supports military children of junior enlisted service members, E-1 to E-5, by pairing them with Corporate and Community Wish List Donors who sponsor the children. These Wish List Donors buy the children gifts from their Wish List for the Holiday Season. This year, I am very proud to say USO-Metro supported over 1,200 military children in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan region!

While this program was quite an undertaking, coordinating 1,200+ Wish Lists between 2 distribution locations from hundreds of Wish List Donors proved to be no small feat, it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Planning for the program started as “Christmas in July” and gained momentum throughout the Fall. The build-up to the program was amazing!

On October 1st, the “North Pole” began receiving Wish Lists from children. The notes I read honestly made my day several times. One of my personal favorites was for a 6 year old girl, “She is girly and happy go lucky, very artistic, loves play dates and gymnastics! She has asked for: stuffed Hello Kitty doll, silver pageant crown & wand, ribbon baton twirler, Frozen Anna dress, sparkly silver Mary Janes, Melissa and Doug craft projects. She also likes Chick-Fil-A, My Little Ponies, and fun sparkly colors of Zoya (nontoxic) nail polish.” How adorable is that?! That is just one of the over 1,200 Wish Lists I received that reminded me of the pure joy and excitement the Holidays bring to children. Come November, Wish Lists were distributed to Donors and they were set loose to hit the stores while I stayed at the North Pole organizing the program logistics!

As soon as December 1st hit, I spent the first week of the month on “Sleigh Stops” visiting our Corporate Wish List Donors and receiving hundreds of Wish Lists from several companies. The level of excitement I saw in these donors and the giving atmosphere the companies built around my program was incredible. One company even had so many employees want to give to the program, that the employees started buying popular gifts for us to add to other children’s gift bags saying, “the more the merrier!” Once all the Wish Lists were collected, my amazing volunteers set-up and decorated the distribution sites.

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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #1 with over 800 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!


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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #2 with more than 400 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!

When distribution night arrived, I was instilled with an overwhelming sense of calm. That day, I knew all the hard work and long hours I put in were about to pay off – big time! Seeing the smiles and hearing the words of appreciation from service members who received gifts for their children was the only “Thank You” I needed. Realizing we (I would be remiss if I did not thank my amazing USO-Metro teammate and our HUGE volunteer corps. Without the volunteer hours put in by these dedicated, patriotic individuals, my job would not have been possible) had really made a difference in the lives of others was incredible.

This year, the Christmas spirit has not quite “taken hold” of me in my personal life. However, today I realized when over 1,200 military children wake-up tomorrow morning their Christmas wishes will come true thanks to so many generous citizens who wanted to give back and say “thank you” to our service members. Personally, the opportunity to play Santa for these military children has been a privilege and truly an honor. This year, Christmas took on a new meaning for me. I hope to continue to pay it forward to those so deserving of this special program.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all, a Good Night!”

Project USO Elf “Lead Elf”

To learn more about Project USO Elf, please watch Elizabeth Prann’s Fox News coverage of Project USO ElfFor additional photos from Project USO Elf, please visit the USO-Metro Facebook album.

 

Holiday Traditions!

Merry Christmas

Photo Credit: BoatHouse Restaurant

In the spirit of Christmas, this week’s post is about traditions. From those we have been celebrating with our families for generations to those we have created on our own with friends, they bring us together and make so many special memories. The link between traditions and etiquette may not be apparent, but I have a few important thoughts well-worth sharing:

  1. Participate in the cheesy stuff! You may think you have grown up too much to do the childish activities, but trust me you have not. The smile it will put on your parents’ or grandparents’ face is well worth it! Plus, it’s your job to teach the next generation!
  2. Include others in your traditions. If you have a significant other or friend spending the holidays with you, be sure they are included in the fun. Teach them about what your family does and have them fully participate in the festivities.
  3. If you are not able to spend the holidays with your family, ask the people you will be with if you can share your tradition with them. Whether it is eating a certain dish, singing a certain song, or a certain activity you always do, most hosts will welcome your addition! Just be sure not to take over the occasion. Something small is good, but do not interfere with the traditions already in place.

As I get ready to celebrate my traditional Italian Christmas Eve, I know I am blessed to have family, friends, and loved ones celebrate with me. Cherish these moments and enjoy them!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Handling Holiday Stress with Grace

As we shop for gifts, welcome house guests, and prepare for parties and holiday meals, the joy of the holiday season has a tendency to also bring quite a lot of stress. While stress levels increase, our positive attitudes and mannerly ways often times decrease. This year, let’s not have that happen! Here are some of my tips to ensure you have a merry and bright holiday season!

  1. The Shopping Experience
    • Be prepared to handle the crowds. Do not push your way through people, simply say “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” as you move.
    • Always thank the sales associate who helped you find the gift you wanted, the right size, a pretty color, etc. They appreciate polite customers ūüôā
    • Avoid fights with other shoppers over the last item in stock. You will find something else and let’s be honest.. Getting dragged out of the store by mall security is not worth it. ūüėČ
    • Give people their space while looking through clothing racks, items on the shelf, and standing in line.
    • Speaking of standing in line, do not huff and puff because the line is long. Instead, use that time wisely. Get your coupons and method of payment ready so you can be quick at the register.
    • When you check out, do not be on your cell phone. Give the sales associate your full attention and be sure to wish him/her “Happy Holidays.”
  2. Welcoming House Guests
    • Create a welcoming guest room.
      • Make a cute sign/photo frame that has the WiFi password posted.

        Graphic Available for Download on Life of Verde's

        Download Sign at Life of Verde’s

      • Put extra pillows and blankets in the closet.
      • If you use your guest room for extra closet/storage space, be sure to clear some room for your guests to hang their clothes or put them in the dresser.
      • Have a luggage rack in the room.
      • Put together a travel toiletry basket (toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, cotton balls, band-aids, etc.) and leave it on the bathroom counter in case your guest forgot anything.
      • Ensure the room smells clean, but avoid using too much fragrance – some people get headaches from overly scented rooms.
    • Plan your menu and/or make reservations far in advance.
    • If there are things you know your guests like (a snack food, certain type of soda, etc.), try to stock up on a few things. For example, I do not drink coffee, but I know most people do so I make sure I have it prior to guests arriving.
    • It is certainly easier said than done, but try to check as many things off your to-do list as you can before your guests arrive. That way, you can enjoy the time with them. For example, make sure gifts are wrapped and any food preparation you can do early is done.
  3. Hosting the Party/Holiday Meal
    • Set and decorate your table ahead of time.
    • Plan out where you will place the food and make sure the serving dishes fit so when food is ready to come out of the kitchen, it goes directly to the table.
    • Do not wait until the last minute to shop for ingredients. It is better to stock-up early and have enough for the season so you do not have to run to the store at the last minute.
    • Prepare as much as you can before the day of the event. If you can make certain dishes and freeze them, go for it. If you can cut up ingredients and store them before making a mix or tossing them into a recipe, get all the prep work out of the way.

I hope these tips help you to have a low-stress holiday and one you can find some time to relax during! Remember, as busy as your schedule gets, always be polite and think positively.. You will get through it! Enjoy the time with your family, friends, and loved ones!

Happy Holidays!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Going to the Theater!

2014 Christmas Concert for the Troops

2014 Christmas Concert for the Troops at the Kennedy Center

I recently had the pleasure of attending the USO-Metro and Gary Sinise Foundation 2014 Holiday Concert for the Troops. The night was wonderful and the performances were truly amazing! With the Holiday Season upon us, I realized many people will be attending holiday concerts, plays, and musicals. The theater is traditionally known as a place for elegance, grace, and the best of manners. In that spirit, I am sharing my thoughts on how to be a positively proper “theater-goer!”

  1. Dress the Part
    • Most theaters will be business or casual cocktail attire. Think professional yet fancy and also a little fun.
      • Ladies: A pencil skirt or dress pants with a pretty blouse is perfect! Also, a casual cocktail dress fits the occasion well.
      • Gentlemen: A suit is absolutely the way to go!
    • For the regal setting, think elegant formal wear.
      • Ladies: A formal cocktail dress or tasteful, floor length gown is appropriate.
      • Gentlemen: Wear a formal suit and tie or tuxedo (for the fanciest of occasions).
  2. Arrive Early
    • Give yourself plenty of time to find parking, check your coat, and pick-up your tickets.
    • Often times, you can buy concessions or have a drink and socialize prior to entering the performance.
    • Use the restroom prior to entering the performance.
    • When the lights dim or the the bell chimes, start making your way to your seat.
  3. Mind Your Manners
    • Silence your cell phone and put it away for the duration of the show.
      • The ringing of a phone can ruin a song or interrupt an important moment in a performance.
      • The back-light from your cell phone ruins the ambiance of the theater and can even mess with the lighting depending on the size of the theater.
    • Taking photos during the performance is highly discouraged. (I took mine before the show began and the lights went down ūüėČ )
    • Chatting with your neighbors throughout the show is absolute no. It is disrespectful to the performers and the people around you will not appreciate it as you will certainly cause a distraction.
    • Refrain from singing along with the performers (unless encouraged to do so). I am sure you can belt out the tunes, but the audience came to see/hear the performers, not you. ūüėČ
    • Stay in your seat throughout the show.
      • It is very rude and can be quite distracting if you are walking around during the show.
      • Wait until intermission or the end of the performance.
    • If you need assistance during the performance, signal an usher. They will gladly help you.

Now that you are well prepared to attend a holiday performance, go hit the theater! Remember to support your local schools, community theaters, and benefit concerts during this time.

Happy Theater Going!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Do’s and Don’ts of the Office Holiday Party

In most offices, it is tradition to have an Office Holiday Party. From the potluck luncheon at the office to the after-hours party at the boss’ home, there are a variety of celebrations that take place! No matter the setting, many of the same etiquette rules applies. This week, I am sharing my Do’s and Don’ts of the Holiday Office Party.

  • ūüôā Do:
      • Keep it professional!
      • Dress appropriately and professionally. If you want to add a touch of festive decoration (holiday colors, a little bit of shimmer, holiday jewelry) that is perfectly acceptable.
    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    Graphic Credit: The Classy Cubicle

    • Take a host/hostess gift if the party is being held at the boss’ home.
    • If it is a pot luck, be sure to sign up to bring something and bring what you say you will.
      • If you are not a good cook, sign up to bring utensils, decorations, or something other than food. You can also bring something store-bought; however, you should put it on a pretty platter and not bring it in the store containers.
    • Have a little snack before you go. It is not proper to pile up your plate because you starved yourself all day and want to pig-out.
    • Arrive on time and stay for a good portion of the party.
      • Do not be the person who shows up for 5 minutes and then leaves.
      • Do not linger at the end of the party and be the last person to leave.
    • Socialize with everyone, not just your closest friends. The Holiday Office Party is about boosting morale and enhancing the office community so, reach out to those you do not see/talk to on a regular basis and start building new relationships.
    • Participate in the gift exchange, games, etc. that go on during the party.
    • Find your boss and the host/hostess before you leave and thank them for having the party and including you.
  • :/ Do Not:
    • Miss the party. Unless you have an urgent matter or a conflicting obligation, you are expected to be there.
      • If you have a conflict, express the situation to your boss and apologize for your absence.
      • If it is a potluck, still send something to contribute to the party. If it is hosted by your boss, still send a host/hostess gift.
    • Dress like a houchy-mama! An after-work party does not mean you are going to the club.
    • Take a guest if you were not invited to bring one. Check your invitation to be sure.
    • Talk with food in your mouth.
    • Get drunk at the party. No matter how many times you are told to “have a good time,” it will reflect on your professional reputation if you say something inappropriate, become sloppy, and in general, embarrass yourself.
      • Stay professional! You can always go out with your friends afterwards!

Remember these tips as you head to your Office Holiday Party! Most importantly, be professional, but still enjoy yourself and the time with your colleagues!

Happy Holidays!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

The Essential Table Manners

As the holidays approach, we will all soon be gathering around the table with family, friends, and loved ones. In the spirit of enjoying such divine meals, having good tables is an incredibly important asset yet so commonly overlooked. From social to professional settings, food defines our culture and is present everywhere. Whether you are with family, friends, coworkers, a new client, or distinguished guests and dignitaries, it is always important to mind your manners, especially at the table.

This week, I am sharing my list of the essential table manners everyone should follow.

  1. “Sit Pretty” aka Have Good Posture at the Table
    • Sit straight in your chair with your shoulders back.
    • Keep both legs on the ground in front of you. If you want to cross your¬†legs, cross at your ankles.
    • Pull your chair up to the table so¬†you can comfortably reach everything at your place setting¬†and your legs are under the table.
  2. Use a Napkin
    • Place it in your lap when you take your seat and keep it there the remainder of the meal.
    • Wipe your mouth with your napkin, not your hands.
    • If something gets on you fingers, wipe it on your¬†napkin.¬†Licking your fingers is not a good look!
  3. Avoid Gulping, Slurping, and Playing with Things
    • Drink your beverage slowly and smoothly. Do not gulp it down.
    • Avoid playing with your straw, chewing on it, and¬†making sucking noises with it.
    • Leave your utensils where they are until you are ready to use them.
    • Put the spoon in your mouth when eating soup or cereal to avoid slurping it off the end.
  4. Basic Manners Run Down
    • Wait to begin eating until everyone has been served and the hostess begins eating.
    • Use the butter knife to cut a piece of butter from the¬†full stick and place it on your bread plate.¬†Use¬†your own knife to spread the butter on your roll/bread.
    • When eating bread, gently pull off one bite from the roll and butter that piece only. Do this for ever piece.
    • Always pass the salt and pepper together. Even if someone¬†asks for¬†only¬†salt, pass them both.¬†Salt and pepper are “attached at the hip.”
    • If eating “family style,” the Guest of Honor (seated¬†to the right of the host)¬†is served first then pass the serving dishes to your right around the table.
    • Bring¬†food up to your mouth. Do not bend down to the plate to get food in your mouth.
    • Cut one bite of food at a time, eat that piece, then cut another piece. Repeat for the whole meal!
    • Do not talk with food in your mouth.
    • Always use your knife (not your fingers!) to get a piece of food onto your fork.
    • When eating spaghetti, use the side of your plate to twirl the pasta on your fork. A spoon should not be used.

Please keep these essential table manners in mind, not just during the holiday season, but all year long. These tips will truly help you in both the social and professional setting by giving you that little extra touch of polish! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to send them my way!

Happy Dining!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra