Thursday, January 27, 2011


Every January, we like to surprise our high school students with a Mystery Destination. We load them up on a bus and they have no idea where they’re going!

Our high schoolers have often been our students since they were very young. We’ve witnessed them grow into future leaders. Our Mystery Destination is a way to honor their presence in our lives, but it’s also a reward for us to spend quality time with these young men and women. Of course, there’s an educational aspect to it, too, as you’ll see.

We allow no technology - including iPods and cell phones - while on the bus. For the whole drive to a nearby camp, the students had real conversations with their friends, chatting away with seatmates and the people sitting in front and back of them.

We spent the day dancing (remember - we teach social dance, among other things), grilling hot dogs and s’mores...basically, having a wonderful time with each other. All the while, our students honed their conversational skills, something they definitely need to succeed in their futures (and they will).

One hilarious activity we did was “Cinderella Shoes.” The young men stood on one side of the room, their backs turned to the young women who each took off one shoe and placed it in the middle of the floor. Each young man had to choose a shoe, find its owner, get on one knee and ask the young woman to dance.

Are you thinking that there is no way on earth any teenager would consent to this activity? Guess what—they loved it. It’s amazing what happens when young people strip away the buzzing distractions and allow themselves to have pure, unadulterated fun. And it’s good for the adults to see it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Celebrate Hot Tea Month with our expert tips!

January is National Hot Tea Month, and we couldn’t be more excited. At this very moment, our town has had a record snowfall. Are you cold, too? Put the kettle on – but first read these tips from our guest blogger Bruce Richardson, tea expert and author of several books about tea, including The New Tea Companion (co-authored with Jane Pettigrew) and Tea and Etiquette (co-authored with Dorothea Johnson). Bruce kindly allows us to share these words from his blog. Thanks, Bruce!

Six Steps to Better Tea

1. Clean out your old teas
Yes, tea does have a shelf life. That tin of tea you bought at Harrods in 1995 is past its prime. Toss the tea leaves on your garden and keep the tin as a memory of your London experience, or better yet, fill it with new tea and reach for it more often. Old tea won't hurt you but it will taste flat and flavorless.

2. Invest in a kettle
I am amazed at the number of people who ask me how long they should microwave their tea water! Let's get down to basics - if you want to make good tea you have to have a proper kettle. You can invest as little as $20 for a simple electric model or $35-$75 for a solid stove top kettle. There's even an Asian kettle that sells for under $50 and doubles as a kettle or teapot. A good kettle will change your life!

3. Filter your water

I wrote a story about good water for tea in a previous blog. It boils down to this, get the chlorine and iron out of your water. In most instances, a simple counter top filtered pitcher will suffice. I use an under-the-counter two-stage filter for my water at home that cost under $100. Don't use bottled distilled water because it has no minerals and avoid most spring waters because they have too much mineral content. Bottled drinking water usually has the best balance of minerals for tea.

4. Buy a teapot or two
Your tea will taste better if you brew it in a pot rather than a cup or mug. I suggest a small porcelain or iron pot for single users and a larger 4-6 cup pot for sharing tea with friends. After all, tea is the universal beverage that brings people together. There is no better way to show hospitality than to share a pot of tea on a cold day in January!

5. Switch from teabags to loose tea

Americans have fallen in love again with great loose teas. The taste is far superior to bagged teas. Plus the proliferation of so many infuser baskets, brewing sacks, and other infusing devices has made steeping easy. Anyone can steep tea at home or in the office. It's not rocket science!

6. Water temperature matters
Every tea family has a optimum steeping temperature and time. It's easy to remember that the darker the tea leaves, the hotter the water. Here's a simple guide to the four tea families:

* Black tea: 4-5 minutes at 212° F
* Oolong tea: 2-4 minutes at 195°-205° F
* Green tea: 2-4 minutes at 175° F
* White tea: 3-5 minutes at 165° F

My benediction for you during these cold days of winter is to go forth and make good tea!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Adults, children, and wedding invitations

Today’s post comes from Robert Hickey, Deputy Director of the Protocol School of Washington, author of “Honor & Respect: The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address,” and one of our trainers at ELI. Here, he answers a question that likely many of you have wondered about, although he’s changed the names and address from the original query. Thank you, Robert!

Should an adult child receive his or her own wedding invitation?


I received an invitation to the wedding of a first cousin’s child addressed to us as The Wright Family. My daughter Jessica, now 20 and in college in Florida, was not listed by name, but is, I believe, invited. I think a proper invitation should have been mailed to her in Florida as she is an adult and not living at home.

I am trying to remember the rule about how all grown children over 16 should receive their own invitation at their proper address: not Mommy and Daddy’s if they don’t live there. I want to explain the rules to my cousins!

Robert says:

OK, there are a couple of parts to your question!

First, are adult children sent their own invitations?

Yes, family members living at another address are sent their own invitations.

But, to me, it’s defendable to believe Jessica in college is still “a minor in the nest,” and your address is still her best mailing address. So either sending Jessica her own invitation to your address, or listing Jessica by name on your invitation, is better than sending an invitation to her Florida address.

Whether the cut is 16 years of age: sending an invitation to a young adult of any age is always considerate and appreciated.

And, whether she is “Miss Wright” or “Ms. Wright”: Either is correct. “Miss” is more traditional (maybe old-fashioned?) since every young woman older than 12 might choose to be a “Ms.” nowadays.

Now, part two: How to address the envelope!

Everyone who is invited should be listed on the envelope for clarity. For your family—if Jessica’s invitation is sent to your home—a very formal example would be:

Mr. and Mrs. William Wright
Miss Jessica Wright
445 St. Elmo Avenue
Severna Park, MD 21146

If there is an inside envelope, the invited guests are listed again:

Mr. and Mrs. Wright
Miss Wright

On the inside envelope the tradition is to use the “conversational” form of their name. The above form is a formal “conversational” example. Certainly, your cousins could write “Uncle Bill, Aunt Val, and Jessica” on the inside envelope if they wanted to be less formal.