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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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All I Want For Christmas

Any moment now we will enter into the acceptance stage of the holiday season. The music is already being piped in. The displays are up and the ads are out. Our bodies and souls will catch up (probably around the same time we realize there really is no such thing as a perfectly browned turkey and who cares anyway, carving should be do in the privacy and sanitizing friendly confines of one’s kitchen.)

So what better way to herald in this magical time of giving than to remember holiday gifts past? There have been so many wonderful gifts over the years: the thought of them still causing me to smile. There was my first handbag (with matching scarf and hat) that made me feel terribly grown-up. I was rendered speechless by the baby bunny shyly hopping into my bedroom one Easter morning. The toys I remember most fondly were not ones I had requested but ones that were selected by people who knew me better than I did. It is these memories that fill my being with warmth and gratitude and offset the seemingly endless bestowing of dreadful gifts.

The maternity sweater (for my most definitely non-pregnant size four self), and the Winnie-The-Pooh sweatshirt (for my 35 year old self) are offset by the fabulously posh stockings a boyfriend’s brother once gave me. The countless teddy bears given by well meaning if not very imaginative boyfriends are tempered by the excruciatingly romantic gift of a Harry Connick Jr recording. For my 30th birthday my parents and brother gave me crystal champagne glasses and a Waterford ashtray; I’m not sure I had ever felt so fully understood! (To be fair my brother does have a gift giving super power that few can rival: He was still in college when he gave me a dramatic yet work-appropriate hounds tooth suit.)

It’s a ridiculous generalization but here we go: women don’t really care for gadget gifts. A VCR (back in the day) is an unromantic gift from a boyfriend (unless it comes with a stack of favorite films.) Installing a CD player in my car (and tossing the only cassette player I owned) is not such a great gift either. In fact stay away from my car. That loving gesture of a remote starter (when I lived in a cold climate)? It shorted out my car. A good rule of thumb is that if the gift comes with batteries, we’re likely to be offended (seriously; think about it.) You can run the risk of offending with the gift of; “I think you should be doing X” as well. Cross-country skis and all of the necessary accessories would be a fantastic gift if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a consummate indoorsy gal.

Some of the greatest gifts I ever received involved time. A friend once planned an entire weekend in L.A. for me (including lots of brushes with celebrities, dinner at Spago and long chats in our jammies.) A workaholic boyfriend swept me away for a surprise birthday weekend in between two business trips.  Shortly before Christmas, a bronchial me spent the entire afternoon playing board games with my (non-custodial) father. These gifts of time and attention accomplish the very best intentions of gift giving. They say in a clear and distinct manner; I care about you and I’ve put thought into what would make you happy. We feel that we are seen, that those who matter most to us in fact ‘get us.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Holiday

 

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The Fun Of Getting There

Millions of dollars are spent on selling travel as glamorous and/or restorative. There are entire magazines dedicated to this pursuit and big chunks of space reserved for it in newspapers & travel blogs aplenty. Television shows and networks are dedicated to the cause. There are clothing and accessory manufacturers specializing in travel accouterment. The fashion industry still adheres to a season-ette known as Holiday/Cruise in mid-winter. Everyone’s in on the action (except for travel agents, g-d rest their souls.) Let the good times roll.

Yet have you ever heard (or experienced) anyone traveling commercially, return and declare; “Well bust my buttons that certainly was glamorous and/or restorative?” Probably not. Getting there (and sometimes even being there) can often be one big pain in the bum.

It used to be you would pack your bags, grab your ticket and head to the airport. Today, after packing your bag with teeny tiny sample sizes of health and beauty aids (in ziplocs or out, depending on the airport) planning an outfit without metal embellishment or laced shoes, packing enough food to make it through the flight and the predictable delay; you are, woohoo, on your way. But to where exactly? You booked your flight on one airline (or so you thought) but these days they are cross-listed. You trek to the USAir terminal only to discover that USAir flight 6403 is in actuality a United flight 760 (and listed as Lufthansa 23, but that’s too odd to even address.) If you’re lucky those two terminals have a shuttle system. So maybe, just maybe, if the g-ds are smiling upon you, you make it to your gate. You must go buy a bottle of water however since bringing one with you would jeopardize national security (as would a nail clipper which is amusing when you think that a punch to the jugular is far more impactful than threatening to manicure someone.) Your $7 bottle of water secured, you bypass the food-like options that fill you with a school (or prison) cafeteria wistfulness. (Airports might be the only place where a chef known for inventing gourmet duck topped pizzas is now serving orange slop in containers emblazoned with his name.) You sit and watch the parade of (pajama-clad) humanity elbow their way to special treatment; “We’re a family, we’d like to sit together.” “My husband needs a seat without an armrest” What century are you people in? You will be lucky to get on this overbooked flight even with a seat assignment, checked luggage and wearing an airline uniform.

Getting onto the plane takes all the chutzpah and sharp elbows usually reserved for a Macy’s white sale. Overhead space is the holy grail. As the plane fills the desperation is palpable. Your goal is to avoid the attendant being “pleased to check your bag for you.” You’ve made it this far; you will not give up without a fight. Finally as the passengers settle down and it looks as if every bag is secured, the stand-bys appear. These people have made it onto the plane. They have a killer instinct and a rugged determination that is certain to squash your hat or break your duty-free liquor bottles. The more extreme sport of these stand-bys will make it work. The guy sauntering on with both his case of wine and of entitlement? His attempts might not end as well.

But everyone’s seated and here we go! Here we go. We’re not going. Why are those reflective vested people walking on and off the plane? Why is it 20 minutes past our departure time and we’re still sitting still? Ah, an announcement. It seems a light bulb is out. Well better safe than sorry (whatever the hell that means on a plane with over a hundred bulbs.) So we wait. And wait some more. An hour after departure time the mystery unfolds and a lesson is learned. Don’t ever have your light bulb go out during a maintenance worker shift change. The (it’s almost the end of my shift) worker refused to get the bulb and would not tell the (it’s the start of my shift) worker about the need for a bulb. One hour and fifteen minutes later, the bulb was replaced (at a cost we won’t even begin to imagine) and we’re on our way. So glamorous, so restorative.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Travel

 

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Where The Boys Are

St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Spring Break.  What do these springtime festivities have in common?  Alcohol and ensuing wantonness.  There are other events that involve excessive drinking as well (New Year’s Eve, sporting championships, four years of college, etc.) but without as much (ahem) carousing. Perhaps it is due to the time of year, but the trinity of St./Mardi/Break also seems to entail disrobing.  Of course the wearing (or not wearing as the case may be) of the green can occur in rather chilly clime.  But a green beer/whiskey induced snogging marathon knows no geographical boundaries (and can be accomplished while wearing a jaunty plastic green derby.)

There is nothing new about springtime debauchery, or drinking and impromptu romantic entanglements.  MTV didn’t create the bacchanalian beaches, they just filmed it.  (Cameras may alter people’s behavior, but when people are that far gone, it’s probably just incremental changes.)  Phone cameras, social media, and youtube didn’t create opportunities for regret.  Ruining a reputation has always been as easy as pie.  People love to talk about other people; it’s simply what we do.  We don’t need technology or tabloids to do so, we just need a willing listener.  It’s neither bad nor good, it just is what it is.

What is bad and not good, is that it is only women whose reputations we are discussing.  Since the dawn of time (or at least since the first caveman slurred; “take off those pelts baby” and flung a string of purple stones at her – which probably really hurt) it has been women whose bodies have been the entertainment and who have been punished for their cooperation.  Even when a woman has kept her bikini top on and engaged in the same overindulgence of spirits as her male companions, it is her reputation that is at stake.  Almost any (absurd) behavior a drunken male engages in is followed (in the clear light of day) with slaps on the backs or guffaws of; “Dude, you were off the hook” (or some other vernacular which also makes no sense.)  The male’s behavior is seen as “normal” and a way of blowing off steam.  His random romantic interludes (if there were any) are heralded. While in the girl’s hotel room next door…The kinder mascara smudged friends are unconvincingly cooing; “everyone does it. don’t worry about it. in a couple of weeks no one will even remember.”

One could argue that branding a woman was an effective deterrent to behavior that in fact could have had dire consequences.  Effective birth control is a relatively new invention.  Women died in childbirth on a somewhat regular basis.  A girl/woman could fall pregnant and have absolutely no means of supporting herself or her child.  She would no longer have access to the only acceptable profession; matrimony.  Her matrimonial chances might be diminished if there was even a hint of behavior that could render her unsuitable.  Whether she did anything or not, she could be ruined just the same.

Women now support themselves and (hopefully) have access to reliable birth control.  What possible reason, anthropologically speaking, do we still have for branding women who drink in excess and physically exploit themselves and/or others?  While our culture has ratcheted up the sexualization of girls and women (to extremes never before experienced) we have remained stalled in our judgments.  Fashion, celebrities, video, film, television, and music have not just progressively disrobed women but have objectified them to cartoon proportions.  Through modern science (and photoshop) women now look more like Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit.  When women are depicted engaging in acts of romance, they are almost always done so from the perspective of what pleases a man.  Girls and women in videos (and real life) dance to simulate an act that can only pleasure their gentleman dance partner.  The objectification of women is, shall we say, off the hook.  Yet, we cling to our scarlet A ways.  Could it be that at our core, we are not comfortable with our cultural objectification of women?  Are our judgments a way of saying; “No, go back, we’ve led you astray?”  The alternate explanation; that we are in a backlash to the second wave of feminism that simply knows no bounds, is more likely, but far more disturbing.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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May Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

The eye of the holiday hurricane has almost passed and the residual New Year storm is right behind. New Year’s Eve, a holiday only second to Valentine’s Day for its ability to make people feel badly. Even if you choose to eschew the societal pressure to have the best night ever!, you may very well still succumb to the resolutions.

I am all for self-improvement and living with intention, but I am baffled by the resolutions. The fact that that may be made while drunk doesn’t disturb me. Some of my best moments of resolve have come when having gone just a bit too far. No, what bothers me is the time of year of this universal resolving. Come January 1st, we enter into the longest, darkest, bleakest stretch of the calendar. Not counting Valentine’s Day (see above) we get no break in the mundanity until spring (birthdays of political leaders notwithstanding.) An informal survey indicates that the majority of resolutions involve physical improvement. Yet our bodies and minds cry out for carbohydrates and alcohol this time of year. Layering of clothes offer no incentive to tone, and darkness does not invite activity. Our relationships with our screens becomes borderline obsessive (there is a reason television programming peaks during the colder months.)

Come mid-January, the bills and regrets start to appear. A fiscal resolution would be appropriate this time of year. And fear not, six weeks along, when resolve tends to lag; it’s tax season! Your accountant can take on the cheering role of a personal trainer. But short of resolving to not spend more than I have or to increase savings, I shy from New Year’s resolutions.

I tried it once. In my twenties I resolved to not have any regrets. Ah, youth. How charming, how utterly near-sighted and self-involved. Sweet. With the determination of a four-star general, I went forth and conquered.  Regrets? No. Creating a version of my best self? Not exactly. But what a great learning opportunity. I discovered that New Year’s resolutions were not entirely for me. I also discovered that behavior change works best (for me) when aimed outward. Resolving to; experience more generosity of spirit, seek out those who need a kind word or smile, offer help to strangers, all help to create a personal world in which I’d like to live. The very fact that I engage in this resolution year after year after year, does nothing to support the efficacy of resolutions. But just like physical fitness, spiritual fitness does have muscle memory.

As I struggle to stay awake on my couch, nursing a glass of bubbly, I will wish to you kindness. May you experience kindness towards yourself (eat the chocolate!) and kindness towards others this new year.

Happy New Year

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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