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Category Archives: Holiday

Be Mine ♥

valentine

I came across an advert for bespoke classroom Valentine’s Day cards. Remember those lovely flimsy boxes of 35-40 (yes, classes were that large once) cartoon festooned cards? The envelopes were whisper thin and there were always a couple of extra tossed into the cellophane wrapped box for the inevitable grade school penmanship mishaps. A grade school consumer could choose from a collection of cherubic animals holding hearts and coyly asking the recipient to “Be Mine” or from themed collections (e.g., Winnie The Pooh, Charlie Brown, Strawberry Shortcake, etc.) The themed collections always posed a minor quandary as to the intent of the card exchange. Should a card reflect solely the interests of the giver (and thereby be best supported by the sender’s favorite characters?) Or should a card be chosen to please the recipient (no matter how little is known about the recipient?)

When giving a gift (and what else is a greeting card but a written gift) it’s best to think of the recipient. You might feel most comfortable/joyful in a novelty shop, but a whoopee cushion for your humorless uncle is going to fall flat. The point of giving something to someone else is to think of what pleases him or her and act on that thought. (This is why re-gifting is merely passive-aggression in a pretty package.) No one wants to receive something (card, gift, etc.) that merely communications; “Phew, checked You off the list!” Ouch.

So what to make of the advert mentioned above. This offer, from a photo-processing company, was to convert a head shot of one’s tyke into fetching classroom Valentine’s Day cards. Now unless my child is Elizabeth Taylor (and her signed photo is serious money in the bank for a second-grader) or (G-d Forbid!) missing; why would I want her/his photo plastered on distributed flyers cards? Does the parent (who would have to do this kind of high level card selection) honestly think’ “You know what would make my kid’s classmates really feel special?…” as they crop and save? Doubtful. My guess is that unlike the small child (with his/her developing sense of empathy and otherness) the parent thinks; “OMG how cute!” It’s not a crime to think one’s child is just precious, in fact the human race is dependent upon it. It’s just that it misses the point. We do things for other people to make other people feel good. That’s it. It really is that simple. Don’t believe me? Ask a child.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Holiday

 

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A New Year’s Resolution

confetti

January is not the cheeriest of months. Unless you celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in an exceptionally festive manner, there’s not much to break up the long cold dark month. February has Valentine’s Day, March has St. Patrick’s Day and (depending on the year) some festive religious holidays. April has hope that the winter is over, and so on. But January is tough. It lands right at the shortest day, longest night time of the year and after months of anticipation of frivolity. Depending on the degree of anticipation or frivolity, January 2nd can be quite the bummer.

The noisemakers have hushed, the streamers swept and the glitter has flaked from our party hats. The decorations have been put back or tossed and it’s just the same old home again. Gone are the pretty distractions and “I’ll think about it tomorrow”-ness. We look around and the world (our own and the larger one) is crying out for our attention. Our work misses us, as do the mundane chores of our lives. The world is desperate for our attention both internationally and right here. We wake refreshed from our New Year hangover having to give serious thought to realistic gun control, mental health policy and fiscal matters. We toss out stale holiday carbohydrates as we consider local lives still upended by disaster. It is all quite sobering particularly after weeks of festivity.

There are those (during any time of year) who choose not to face the sobering reality; their tolerance level cannot bear it. They tuck deeply into their work, focus on family members and/or employ their substance of choice and manage the best they can. But somewhere between being swallowed up by the world’s ills and responsibility for repairing them, and turning away (literally or figuratively) is a sweet balance. Humans are responsible for the world they inhabit. People are also responsible for their own happiness. There are people whose very definition of happiness is caring for others and/or repairing the world, and we are grateful to them. For the rest of us we are most happy when are lives are a mix of internal/external and work/play. There is no greater feeling than doing something (anonymously) for others. But going out to lunch with a dear friend can be a kick in the pants too.

As we go forth in this new year let’s commit ourselves to being near and far-sighted in our view of the world. Let us be kind to ourselves, but never at other’s expense. Let us find ways to repair the world; at home, in our neighborhood and worldwide. Let us also find reasons to celebrate regularly. Let the calendar guide you (a full-blown MLK birthday party) or just your mood (take-out pizza is only to be eaten in formal dress.) Every month (if not every week and every day) there’s a reason to celebrate the fact that we’re still here! And everyday there are countless reasons to help to create the world we want to inhabit.

Happy New Year!

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

santa

I’ve been thinking about Santa lately. That’s not really all that unusual given the time of year and all. But as I have not accepted Santa as my personal gift-giver, thinking of him at all is moderately novel. I’ve always had deep affection for him in all his fictional forms. Edmund Gwenn (as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street), Mickey Rooney’s voice (in two classic animated tales) even the Norelco (shaver) cartoon Santa have swept me off my feet. But the real Santa? I hadn’t given him much thought.

This all started with the (not nearly as distressing as it might first seem) thought of sitting on his lap as an adult. I wondered what would I, as a grown woman capable of filling my own stocking, ask from the bearded stranger. This led me to thinking of his raison d’etre. Santa, it would seem, exists as a repository of dreams. Children visit the jolly fellow and (if they’re not crying uncontrollably or rendered speechless by his Oz-like presence) tell him what the really want. This dynamic works well as children will rarely filter with Santa. They will not tell Santa what they think he wants to hear, but instead what they in fact want. Many is the Santa (post 1970) who has heard “I want my mommy & daddy to get undivorced.” Children know what they want and rarely have shame in asking for it.

How does this scenario play out for an adult who has been (somewhat) socialized and mostly expresses herself with a (somewhat flawed) filter? What it seems to entail is doing a little hard work and digging deep to uncover what one really wants. Santa (to my understanding) cannot cure disease or enforce cease fires. Santa seems to deal on an individual basis, addressing only the personal. So then what, if given the chance, would I ask Santa to bring on Christmas morning? An idea sprang to mind, and then one more, and before you know it I had a score. They all seemed to be of a similar ilk and to the untrained eye would appear to be New Year”s resolutions.

And that’s when it dawned on me for the first time ever; New Year is Christmas for grown-ups! The eve of the New Year is spent in sparkly clothes sipping sparkling wine, waiting for something to happen. Instead of listening for hoof sounds on the roof, or jingling of sleigh bells, our ears are primed for noisemakers and countdowns. When the moment arrives we whoop and holler and when it’s all over there’s a big mess to clean. And the next day is when we receive the gift of fresh starts and begin to play with the resolutions we’ve made.

There is still plenty of time to write your letter to Santa. When you’re standing in line (at the bank, the post office, the store, the wrapping desk) let your mind wander. Ask yourself; ‘what do I want?’ Let your imagination run wild. There is no wrong answer. “I want to be more patient with my teenager” is just as valid (and perhaps as daunting) as “I want to become a doctor.” Discovering what you really truly want is not complicated but it isn’t easy either. You might just need to jump start the process with a little visit to Santa. Sure you might feel a little self-conscious, but trust me, Santa’s seen it all. You needn’t sit on his lap, maybe just a “hello” and a hearty handshake will do the trick. The thing is, once you’ve stage whispered, “I’m working on my list” to Santa, you’re going to finish the list. Santa never loses his power to motivate. This is a man who knows when you’ve been bad or good.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Keeping Our Gift Giving Heads

spearman5

You’d have to be living under a rock (or someplace wonderful that I’d love to hear about) to not sense the holiday retail desperation/frenzy. The sales and offers are coming in multiple chaotic waves. Online prices are jumping up and down like an untrained puppy. This curated and cultivated frenzy is designed to be contagious. There is nothing as frightening to retail as a cool, calm and collected shopper. List makers with moderate blood pressure and blood sugar are kryptonite to retail. So bring on the confusing and conflicting offers and the wonky gift items. (Is there really anyone with candy cane scented body lotion on his or her wish list?) It’s the time to convince shoppers that strangers know best. “Gift” items are positioned strategically in and around key areas of shops. Reindeer corkscrew? Who wouldn’t just love to have that in their junk drawer? Sugar plum flavored lip gloss? Okay, but does anyone even know what a sugar plum is? Personally, I’d prefer partridge in a pear tree scent.

The items being pushed as ‘perfect’ for every and anyone on your list aren’t merely Christmas themed. The latest (excruciatingly distasteful) fashion trend seems to be apparel usually seen on people very down on their luck. A torn sweatshirt with a ragged and fringed hem is being sold for $185. This is a garment you would not allow your partner or child to be seen in. You would wrestle it from their hands and relegate it to the rag bin. The full page newspaper advert showed this pathetic piece of cloth draped over the sharp and glossy frame of a highly styled young woman otherwise dressed for a night out. Ordinarily this would just be stupid and ridiculous, but five weeks after a devastating natural disaster which has left many people choosing their clothes from mounds of discards, it is just distatesful. Distasteful, but not unique. Today’s full page newspaper advert shows a similarly glam model wearing a pair of shredded jeans. The jeans are not decorated with strategically placed signs of distressed. No, the holes are stringy and show pronounced areas of skin. These can make that special person on your gift list happy for just $205.

Not sure if $200 rags are the perfect gift? Fear not, you can now pay someone to tell you what your friends and family would like. These clairvoyant personal shoppers will advise you as to what will make someone who means enough to you to warrant a gift, happy. Nifty, no? Keep in mind, they don’t purchase the gift or even wrap the gift. No no. They ask you the recipient’s age and gender and tell you what to buy. It’s like paying Santa to sit on your lap.

No matter how good our intentions not every gift will be perfect or even happily given. It’s inevitable that we will be socially forced into a grab bag situation or find ourselves spending the holiday with someone’s new partner. The important thing is not to panic. Let us not focus on checking off the list, but of keeping our heads. As we get closer to the big day keep your resolve. Write a little message to yourself if you think it will help; “Would I want to receive a glitter embossed cardboard box shaped like a gingerbread man?” For grab baggers consider something edible. If the spending parameters allow, how about something edible and a modest gift to a food pantry? Now how about that niece, colleague, stranger who you don’t know well enough to select a nice gift but feel compelled to give them a gift nonetheless? Money works. Money always fits and can’t be returned. Gift cards are usually to benefit the store/business and are no less crass than money. They are no less crass and more offensive. “I’m giving you money and telling you where to spend it.” isn’t the most giving sentiment. Still feel that cash is cold? How about giving an equal amount (in the recipient’s name) to a local charity or not for profit organization? Who wouldn’t be touched by that thought?

Less landfill more goodwill.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Holiday, Style

 

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Spend A Little Time With Me*

Been shopping lately? By the looks of mall parking lots and the bruises on my knees from shopping bag laden pedestrians, there’s a reasonable chance that you have in fact been shopping lately. It’s early enough in the season that you may have been aware of your surroundings. In three or four weeks your shopping awareness will narrow to whatever stands in your way of finishing your list. But right now, unless you’re shipping gifts around the world or creating eight nights for eight people in two weeks, you still have hold of your senses while shopping.

If you’ve shopped more than one store you may have noticed a dichotomy in customer service. There are shops; chain, department or independent, that subscribe to the “we want to help you spend your money” retail mission statement. You will know relatively quickly if you will be a serviced customer. The clue is not the robotic yet eerily chirpy; “Hello” or “Welcome to _____” as you walk through the door. That unfortunate selector of the short straw is not there to help you. They are there to give the party line and watch who’s sneaking out with a mysteriously lumpy mid-section. The first indication you have of a customer service oriented staff is being able to identify individual staff. If they are in a huddle you’re on your own, good luck to you. If they look no different than a shopper (gazing around without intent, checking their phone, playing with their hair/clothes/make-up) you’re on the ice floe. This distracted disinterested display is not distinct to seasonal staff. All through the year you can walk into many stores and be ignored. (Ex. I asked for a smaller size four weeks ago and would still be waiting hopefully in that dressing room of “unnamed chain store” if it wasn’t for a pesky eating habit.)

No doubt some of this disinterest in extracting money from customers (via some modicum of service) is due to a non-commission structure. But it’s also simply a matter of corporate (or independent owner) philosophy. There is at least one chain store (to whom the First Lady is rather partial) that must use commissions. The sales person mentions his/her name far too many times for it to be anything else (the staff exhibits no other shared tics.)  They know the inventory and can assess one’s size in a second (a sure sign that a customer is actually being seen.) This particular chain is really no different (in style and market) than many other retailers. Yet shopping there is a dramatically different experience. You could walk in off the street and ask; “I’m in need of a sweater, but not a really sweatery sweater, just something that makes you think: sweater” and be shown several options. Try making this request in the BananaTyalorGap and you will receive a glazed eye; “uhm you need to find a manager.” (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that I need to find a manager. I need to. As if I work there.) There are independent shops and department stores that vary as dramatically as chain stores in their customer service philosophy. It’s always fun to walk into a boutique filled with exquisite one-of-a-kind odor absorbing clothing and hit a wall of curried lunch. The sales person is eating at the counter while engaging in an impassioned and excruciatingly personal phone conversation and glaring at you for listening. If that doesn’t make you want to hand over your hard-earned money, I don’t know what does.

That is why when you hear those words; “May I start a fitting room for you?” “Is there anything special you’re looking for?” or “I brought you a few other things I thought you might like.” you never want to leave. The rarity of this shopping experience is all the more baffling as online shopping becomes more robust and ubiquitous. It would stand to reason that customer service is how you lure people out of their homes. Yet sales staff training seems to consist of 3 parts folding lessons and 1 part cash register lesson. I dare suggest that the job would be more interesting if there was an actual sales component. Employees might just stick around and perhaps consider retail as a career. The majority of sales staff eating, chatting/texting and sulking are doing so out of boredom (the minority just dislike people and should seriously consider a move to a health insurance call center.)

Retailers: in a world of indistinguishable goods and competitive pricing the way to differentiate oneself is through the shopping experience. Make it easy for customers to happily part with their money.

*Big Spender – (1966) Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Holiday

 

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