Have you ever received one of those weaselly I'm-sorry-if-you-were-offended apologies that only make you madder? Worse, have you ever sent one?

I asked Sarah Kidder, a professional etiquette expert and event planner in Oakland, for tips on how to apologize properly.

Tip No. 1: Mean it. "The most important ingredient in an apology is sincerity," says Kidder. "An insincere apology adds insult to injury."

Tip No. 2: Less is more. "When you're late for my birthday party, would I like an acknowledgment that you're sorry? Yes. But should you stop the party for a 10-minute monologue on your amazing adventures in traffic, hijacking the party and boring the entire room? No.

"Of course, when you've done something that truly hurts someone's feelings, a fuller apology may be required. But that doesn't mean throwing in a bunch of justifications. It's not about you; it's about what you did. Why you did it is irrelevant."

Tip No. 3: If you break or lose something, replace it. "Again, the bother and the cost should not be borne by the person who owned the item, but by the person who broke or lost it," says Kidder. "They already did you one favor by lending it to you in the first place. They shouldn't have to keep doing more."

Speaking of borrowed stuff, Kidder says few things hurt a friendship more than not returning stuff.

"Trust and respect disintegrates with each month that you don't give the stuff back," Kidder said. "Since embarrassment and forgetfulness are often to blame, I've created Return To Sender Day to make it easier for people to ask for their stuff back without sounding like a nag, and to take the shame out of returning something two years late."

Return To Sender Day -- RTS Day, for short -- is held twice a year: on the spring and fall equinoxes, which means the next one is Sept. 22. To make it easier, Kidder has set up a website and Facebook page with some downloadable reminders to send your friends. Among them:

"Missing: Deep Fryer. Last seen: Your house. You said you'd bring it back Monday. That was nine months ago. I'd like it back on RTS Day." "Wanted: Faux Vintage Telephone. You borrowed it for a theme party. You don't even have a landline. Please return it on RTS Day." "I have your DVDs. I'll drop them in your mailbox on RTS Day. Sorry it's taken so long to get them back to you."

To access the Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/RTSDay. To access the website, visit www.sarahkidderdesigns.com.

"I don't know where this is all headed, but I hope it goes viral," she says. "I think it would be wonderful if people had a way to get their power drills or Tupperware back and keep their friendships." What's on your RTS list?

puddles turns 10: Finally, happy birthday to Puddles the Duck, one of the most popular residents at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, who celebrated his 10th birthday last week. That's twice the normal life expectancy of ducks like him, which goes to show how much TLC the animals at Fairyland get.

Puddles is a very friendly duck who will jump up in your lap. But don't let him stay there too long. They don't call him Puddles for nothing.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.