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Wattle Twaddle

turkey

It’s two weeks until Thanksgiving! You know what that means? Any second now the talking heads and “experts” will rise up and moan and rail against retail. Suddenly the plight of the employee and the sanctity of family will take on grave importance. The siren song of the big box store will lure people away from the sacredness of their nuclear hearth! How dire it is to impose commercialism onto such a pure holiday! Never mind the millions of turkey and pilgrim tchotcke festooning tables and mantels. Disregard the families barcalounged in front of football games all. day. long. It is shopping that threatens to erode this holy Norman Rockwell day!

“People shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving”; the bobble talking heads will shout. I suppose we should close the hospitals, police force & diners as well. Lots of people work on Thanksgiving. Do we expect the secret service or any branch of the military to lay down their arms and hoist a drumstick? I’m not sure anyone would want pilots, gas station attendants or bus drivers to have the day off. It’s interesting that retail employees are often the concern during this sacred poultry time. Retail workers regularly work evenings and weekends and often quite erratic schedules. Depending upon the shop they can be forced to wear a uniform and carry a see-though bag containing their belongings (the assumption being that they steal.) Retail workers are often on their feet all day long, not allowed to use the same bathroom as the customers and not given their week’s work schedule until the last minute. Throughout most of the year their interests aren’t exactly a priority. Let us just assume the moaners/ranters are just grasping at (cheese) straws and spouting twaddle.

But what of the family?! Whose family exactly? Is there a family so functional and fun loving and their time together so sacred? Is this fictional (if not entirely creepy) family so enamored with each other yet powerless to resist the charms of a doorbuster sale? Many many people do not have a family or one with whom they’d like to be sequestered. To impose some ideal onto every single person is if not callous than surely annoying. Would anyone care if family members went to the movies (spending obscene amounts of money to sit in dark silence together?) What is it about shopping that rankles the pundits? Is it that the shopping in question is for Christmas? Is the melding of holidays the equivalent of “my corn is touching my sweet potatoes!!!!”? If that’s it I suggest they take on the Thanksgiving/Chanukah synchronized celebrating of 2013.

I suspect that at the core of the whining is that any kind of change can make people cranky. Thanksgiving is nothing else if not a holiday revered for its stasis. We eat the same exact foods every year (heaven help the host who changes the stuffing recipe!) We go to or watch the same parade or movies. We take the post-feast walk or nap. There’s nothing wrong with clinging fast to the comfort of tradition. But there are lots of people out there with lots of different needs and desires. The idea that there is only one way to do something is a bit offensive. There’s a reason we serve more than one kind of pie.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2013 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

 

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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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On The Second Day Of Shopping…

Today is Small Business Saturday. Yesterday was Black Friday and in a couple of days it will be Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of, but we’re an odd/even day gas, opposite side of the street parking kind of people. If we were to create a timeline of seasonal consumer events; Black Friday would be on the far left and Giving Tuesday on the far right. Cyber Monday is more towards the left but is only as old as clicking technology. What is wonderfully fascinating/encouraging is that right side of the timeline and the recent creation of Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday.

Shopping local independent shops and artisans is always a great way to support communities and their individual residents. Local independent shops stock unique, lovely things that are often locally made. Many communities hold arts and/or craft holiday fairs and local restaurants and pubs are always happy for the foot traffic. Today (and for the next five weeks) we can shop meaningfully and give creatively. Giving (and receiving!) a framed watercolor, a glass pendant, a crochet miniature giraffe is more memorable than the exchange of a chain store gift card. If gift cards must be exchanged, consider a certificate to a restaurant or shop in the recipient’s neighborhood.

In the tri-state area, Small Business Saturday comes at the perfect time. Yes, there are businesses still struggling to open, but there are plenty that are up and running. Find a community (perhaps your own) that suffered in the storm and shop a little (or a lot.) (And while you’re there think about local restaurants for on-site holiday parties or catering.) Consider gift certificates to theatre companies and performing arts organizations forced to close for days or weeks. Is there someone who’s been particularly nice this year? Perhaps a season subscription to a downtown theatre is in order.

On Monday office productivity will plummet as workers click their way down their gift list. This Tuesday will be the day to take a closer look at that gift list and consider a charitable gift. You needn’t worry about sizes, makes or models, colors or cuts. Not for profit organizations large and small, international, national or local will be a grateful recipient. This is the best holiday grab bag opportunity ever created. You choose what to give to whom. The gift feels meaningful to you and the recipient and you needn’t pretend to love the bath beads or Santa coffee mug you receive in exchange. You can broaden the reach of your gift by giving in someone’s name. Is there someone on your gift list who loves animals? A gift to the The New York Aquarium will help to repair the damage of the storm and delight the ‘benefactor.’

We like to think of leisurely slow roasted family dinners, skating parties at twilight or evenings by the fire with a glass of port and a musty smelling Dickens this time of year. But the reality is that it’s mostly several weeks of frenzied shortening days. Our social lives ramp up (or sputter back to life), our workloads increase in preparation of days off and our to-do lists prod us awake at 3:00 AM. There isn’t much resting or merry gentlemen/women to be found this time of year. However an interesting thing happens to our innards when we feel we’ve done some good. There is an underlying tranquility beneath our frenzy. Things might not go as planned, crowds might wear us down but we’ve coated our soul with a thin layer of “I made a difference.”

Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday make it effortless for us to do some good for ourselves and for others. We needn’t limit ourselves to these two days but they are a great start to a wonderful habit!

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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