"Bring your favorite recipe on an index card. We're going to put them all together to make Natasha a special cookbook from her friends as an extra shower present."

"Well, that's easy," thinks the recipient. "If I can't think of something, I can use one of my mother's recipes or copy something out of a book."

Then she notices the word "extra" and realizes that she is expected to do this in addition to bringing a regular shower present. "But that's fine," she muses. "It's really a charming idea, personal and all, and it doesn't cost anything. At least I'm not being asked to contribute to paying for the honeymoon, like that last shower."

However, there is lots more mail:

"We're making our parents a memory book for their anniversary. Please write out your fondest memory of them on plain white paper, eight by ten, good quality. You may use as many pages as you like, but only write on one side. Anecdotes may be funny or touching, but should be illustrative of what we all love about them."

"Oliver thinks he can escape us when he moves away, but we're going to make sure he doesn't forget the gang here so we'll have somewhere to crash. Draw a caricature of yourself on this paper and put down your phone number and e-mail address, and don't forget to add your name in case you can't draw well enough for him to know who it is."

"You're probably wondering why we've sent you a piece of cloth. It's because you're going to contribute your talent and love to a unique quilt to welcome Lauren and Dirk's twins and keep them warm! Fill your square any way you want--collages, cross-stitching, you can even draw on it. The only limit is your imagination. Just be sure it's washable--no glue or ink that might run or come out--because we hear that babies spit up sometimes."

"We're all going on Meghan's great adventure! You may think there's no room in her car for all her friends, but that's where you're wrong! The price of admission to her farewell party is a tape of you singing her your favorite song. Can't carry a tune? Hey, this isn't about music, it's about her hearing our voices as she goes."

Contemplating these invitations with dismay makes Miss Manners feel like a meanieboots.

The people who issue them share her beliefs that thoughtfulness is the most important ingredient of any present and that homemade ones are more precious than anything that can be bought. They probably also share her distaste for the way present giving has deteriorated into money collecting, either directly or through passing around the recipients' own shopping lists.

Miss Manners's dismay is on behalf of many of the recipients of these invitations, and it is probably nothing in comparison to their dismay.

True, there will be recipients who are delighted. Relieved of the problem of how to please a friend, that person unleashes his or her creativity to help produce something special.

The people Miss Manners worries about are those who get the invitation even though they don't know the honoree very well (heavy mailings are customary to enlarge the project), or who had a different original idea, or who are embarrassed to demonstrate a serious lack of skill. And, now that the idea has spread, about those who can't manage to do that much homework.

Dear Miss Manners:

Due to a gross miscommunication, word recently circulated on my mother's side of the family that she had passed away, when in fact she has not--an aunt of the same first name on my father's side of the family died.

I received a sympathy card from one of my mother's college roommates who had been given the erroneous news. I have already written to let her know that her old friend is still alive. But do I return the card to her so that she can re-send it at the appropriate time?

If I keep the card, has she acquitted herself of her obligation to send a card when my mother finally does return to her Maker?

Do you have reason to think that your mother's college roommate hated her? Miss Manners can't imagine why else you would suppose this lady to be thinking, "So Emmeline's alive--and to think I wasted that card!" Or that when your mother does die, she will say, "Been there, done that"?

Nor is the lady likely to think better of you if you send back the card. It would sound like, "Not yet, but hang on to this, we shouldn't have to wait much longer."

{copy} 1999, Judith Martin