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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Post Holiday Report--Gift-Giving 101

Well, it was just a day or two after Christmas when I read an article, the definitive gift-giving guide. How’s that for timing?
Anyway, the article,
(Research suggests that you might consider giving gift cards — because the less specific the gift, the more it will be appreciated.)

claims what almost everyone really wants is—no, not money, not new clothes, not a new Rolex or even a Rolls, is, wait for it--a gift card. Certainly not gifts the giver has loving picked out. There’s just too much pressure on both the giver and receiver when actual gifts are exchanged. The giver has to really know the recipient. And the recipient has to act like the gift is perfect.

If the gift isn’t just right the recipient feels bad.  And even if it is, the recipient takes the perfection for granted and the giver doesn’t get much reward in having found that perfect present. Sometimes, if the present is too perfect, the recipient will already have it.

Even cash supposedly is not the prefect present since recipients will feel  they have to use it for something useful as opposed to buying what they want. Hence the gift card is the only perfect present. Or so says the so-called expert.

I’m wondering--was this article was sponsored by the companies promoting credit card gift cards? Maybe that’s my suspicious nature. Or maybe it’s my experience with other people who have given me the perfect gift.

I don’t know if my “giftees” wished I’d just bought gift cards. But I, for one, received the prefect gift, several times over. And I found those gifts offer an interesting commentary on how well, and how many different aspects of my personality, my family knows.

In addition to some lovely and particularly treasured presents, such as hand- made gifts from my grandchildren (the best presents ever), jewelry, hats and all things warm and cuddly (no, I didn't get a puppy for Christmas--we already have one), most of my family also gave me reading material for Christmas and my birthday which follows Christmas in short order.

The fact that they gave me books is not a big revelation. It’s well known in my family I was the type of child who went to the library once a week and carried out the maximum permitted number of books. And then couldn’t wait to return them after reading all, and check out another back-breaking load.

But the variety and range of books is what’s particularly of interest. From our older son and family I received a serious book, “The Sixth Extinction (An Unnatural History)” by Elizabeth Kolbert that has been described by David Grann as an “An epic, riveting story of our species that reads like a scientific thriller” and also a subscription to Harper’s magazine. That son recognized my interest in science and all things political.

My husband gave me mysteries, one by Dennis Lahane and another by David Baldacci. He knows how much I love to read thrillers and mysteries. There go some hours I should be sleeping and am instead trying to figure out the plot. My brother and his significant other gave me a literary novel as well as a subscription to "Poets and Writers". He knows my love of writing. And our younger son and his boo (as best I can tell that's young people talk for sweetheart) gave me a game, “Apples to Apples", a not too complicated but fun diversion for a small group involving word play. He recognized my joy in sharing fun with family and friends and also my love of words.

Somehow, each family member knows and tapped into a different aspect of my personality in their gift-giving this year when they chose my presents. And that, even more than the presents was priceless. If my gift selections were not as thoughtful and well planned as theirs perhaps my “giftees” would rather have gift cards next year. But I certainly would not.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays: The Spruce Report

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and New Year, and all the holidays in between and after.

There’s still way too much to do before any of the holidays can arrive.  Was it Noel Coward who said “Christmas now has us by the throat?” Well he should know—since he’s named for the Christmas holiday. As for me, I’m just in a mild panic. The presents aren’t ordered, the cards not yet sent and our Christmas tree is not yet up or decorated. If I were Santa’s elf I’d be on overtime or maybe out of a job. 

At least we have a wreath on our door. If we can get the outside lights up no one will be the wiser we’re so far behind. So this year we are multi-tasking: I’ve started this Christmas note while my intrepid spouse is looking for the timer for the outside lights. 

Real Time Report:  Was that Santa rushing by with presents as I typed?  No, that was my husband.  He was in the attic looking for the timer. 

Usually I report on the holly berries I can see from the window of my office. That is, in those years when we’ve not yet had cold and snowy weather. Once real winter arrives the birds eat all the berries. I could try to make some climate change point that the weather must be warmer this year since the birds haven’t eaten the berries yet.

Real Time Report:  Now my spouse is back from the basement, grumbling about things not being put in their place.  And then he’s dashing by to check the garage.  No timer in the garage.  

Instead I’m going to report on the astronomical growth of our blue spruce in the front yard. I don’t have any idea what that means as far as climate change. But I do have some idea of the practical implications for putting Christmas lights on a tree that has grown to be almost as tall as our two-story house.

        Real Time Report:  my husband has made another trip to the attic.  The timer was hidden in a   plain, unmarked bag.  The better to stay hidden each year.  But that means it’s time to start stringing those lights.  So I’m taking a short “break”.

Every year, for the past twenty-two, we have strung little colored lights on the blue spruce in the front yard.  When we first moved to this house the spruce was about ten feet tall.  My husband could easily toss a few lights around the spruce without any help and it looked fine.

       Real Time Report:  I’m back working on the lights. My job is to check the strands to be sure all the lights work.  It’s too cold to stay out here and do any more right now.  Maybe I better go back to my Christmas note, with a hot toddy so I don’t catch cold.

Now that damn spruce is nearly two stories high and twenty feet across.  So why are we still doing it?  First, there’s the satisfaction of knowing we’ve nicely decorated our front yard.

Real Time Report:  As we string the lights I discover my job also was supposed to include separating the polarized strands from the non-polarized strands.  Oops—need to unstring the last few strands.

 Then, there are the neighbors who start to say things in July, like, “Sure looking forward to seeing your tree all lit up again.”  Finally I suppose it’s the idiocy of not wanting to give up something we’ve done for years.  And the fact that a few years ago when I checked with a couple of those outdoor light-hanging companies they wanted $5,000 to string lights on our tree.  If we should get good at this light-hanging thing we’d have a new career opportunity for our old age.

Real Time Report:  We’re halfway there.  Time for the ladder.  And maybe another hot toddy break. 

Each year after we get the lights on we feel that wonderful sense of accomplishment.  Yeah, right.  Stringing this tree is more like a recipe for disaster than for a hot toddy.  Half the time the lights don’t work, the ladder isn’t tall enough and the jerry-rigged extension pole doesn’t extend like it should to reach those top branches.  

Real Time Report:  All that’s left is to flip the switch.  Fingers crossed.  Good thing it’s getting dark.  The better to be wowed by the lights.  And . . . we are.  Yippee!  They’re all lit!  Until we turn away.  When we turn back only the very bottom lights are lit.  Argh!

Tomorrow we’ll try to diagnose what’s wrong.  For now I’ll close by saying we’ve had a good year, and been healthy, happy, and lucky enough to see our family and friends, though not as often as we would like.  Best wishes for a happy, healthy and great holiday season.  

Don’t forget to drink your hot toddy.  It helps mellow out that Christmas decorating experience.