The 12 Days of Christmas… and the 12 Men I’d Need to Get Me Through Them

Look, I know it's Ryan Gosling and not a lumberjack, per-say... but It's Christmas.
Look, I know it’s Ryan Gosling and not a Lumberjack, per-say… but It’s Christmas and I’m allowed a wish-list. 

Dear Santa,

2014 has been a good year for me, and while I’ve been enjoying myself, I’ve been sure to do all the right things to get on your “Good List” again for the 27th out of my 29 years (let’s not talk about that one year in college…)

So while I’m in full-on Holiday Elf mode (the stockings are hung by the chimney with care!) here’s a list of things I want, no NEED, to make my Christmas a success for me, my family, and our guests. It’s reasonably straight forward and I’ve designed it as a kind of “installment plan” — one gift for every day leading up to Christmas. Advent-style. Amen.

So here goes:

On the First Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a lumberjack with a pick-up truck

The best day to buy your tree is the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a truth no one wants to tell  you, but all the trees you see in nurseries or on the side of the road have all been cut down and shipped at the same time. Even the ones you buy on Christmas Eve were harvested in mid November. A lumberjack would see my tree is the freshest on the block.

One Second Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a fireman with a sizable hose.

In case said lumberjack fails, and the tree is a little dried out, it’s always handy to have a fire specialist on hand…

Let's just not
Let’s just not

On the Third Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a chauffeur with a trailer for my shopping victories.

I drove into the mall parking lot on Sunday only to drive out of it 15 minutes later — there were exactly ZERO spots available. Several people are going to be short stocking stuffers this Christmas… a shortcoming that could easily have been avoided with my own Chauffeur and a Royce.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a man with an electrician’s degree.

Lights on the porch. Lights on the hedges. Lights on the family Christmas tree. Lights, lights everywhere… and broken bulbs, wiggling wires, and frizzing fuses to go with them. For some men, the front yard Christmas light display is a sparkling, LED-enhanced demonstration of their masculinity. But whether or not he approaches the strings of bulbs and illuminated snowmen with a competitive edge, he should, in the very least, know how not to electrocute himself…and how not blow the entire East Coast grid.

Clean my blinds then make me a drink.
Clean my blinds then make me a drink.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a butler with a feather duster… and a stiff martini. 

Where did all this dust come from? And all this stuff? Someone needs to see that it’s all sorted out… and while they’re at it, pass me the Tanqueray.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a masseur with strong hands and open timetable.

Does this one need explaining? I think not.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a free-range organic farmer. 

If you think the malls are bad in the final days before Christmas, try the supermarkets. I’m a big fan of farm to table — this would make it all possible.

On the Eight Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a top chef with a knack for catering.

Tree-trimming party, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Year’s Day, Post-New Year’s Day — the final two weeks of the year are full of parties. And it would be so much easier if I had a chef to do all the work for me… ideally one that looks a lot like Curtis Stone, but with better recipes…

Curtis, any day you're in my kitchen is a holiday. I'll bring the mistletoe.
Curtis, any day you’re in my kitchen is a holiday. I’ll bring the mistletoe.

On the ninth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a personal trainer.

Oh, God. Have I really eaten this much already?! Preparing a 4-course meal is physical work. I need a trainer to not only help me shed those holiday half-dozens, but to help get be buff and ready for next year’s cooking marathon.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… 10 Lords a Leaping.

I used to go to the Nutcracker at the NYC Ballet every year. The Candy Canes were always very impressive, and it isn’t a party unless someone is dancing… and why can’t it be 10 athletic, land-owning, titled gentlemen?

On the eleventh day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… a plumber. 

Because all of a sudden the radiator in the living room isn’t getting hot and the guests are coming in an hour… like I really need THIS!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, please Santa send to me… Benedict Cumberbatch.

Because it’s Christmas, and why the hell not.

Benedict can be my Santa any day... #naughtyelf
Benedict can be my Santa any day… #naughtyelf

I thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter. As you’ve probably witnessed (since you know when/where/with whom I am sleeping and you know when I’m awake) the internet and real-life social networking have come-up short in fulfilling these needs. I hope you can come through where all else has failed.

Merry Christmas to you and Mrs. Claus. I’ll leave the cookies and the milktini on top of the fireplace mantle this year — sorry the dog got to the coffee table first last year…

Many thanks,



Talking Burpee Before It was Fashionable

There’s a chance you read the recent NYTimes Sunday Styles piece called “CrossFit Flirting: Talk Burpee to Me.” I read it too and rather than inspire me to use my morning work-out site as a potential pick-up spot, I was reminded of the story of the rugby players and the tea cups, or how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff…

Real men play rugby... and drink herbal tea.
Real men play rugby… and drink herbal tea.

When I was in college, my father volunteered to help coach my school’s men’s rugby club. He had “professionally” and briefly coached a rival college team when I was in high school — I think he thought helping the fledgling club at my college would be a good way for us to “bond.” (I hoped this would lead to a hunky piece of arm candy,  while he hoped it would mean I would have a team of bouncers keeping other college men off me when I went out on a Friday night… much to my chagrin, my dad’s plan won.)

While my father was up in Riverdale teaching former football players how to tackle like real men, I was in the Varsity Weight Room in Morningside Heights with my female team mates… and the football team.

“Yesterday, I worked in an extra set of push-ups with the 25lb plate,” the girls and I were swapping training stories one afternoon when my father offered to play the part of father and give us a ride back to campus after we came north to watch a rugby match.

“I really like the new plyometeric work-out with the resistance bands the trainer gave us. Think it would be too much to do that with the other lower body work out we’re already doing?”

“Did you see the plan for next week? 150 abs warm-up. I can’t wait!”


My father, who couldn’t help eavesdropping burst out into almost uncontrollable laughter.

“What!? What’s so funny? Get a hold of yourself, you’re going to drive into a lamppost,” I shouted.

Getting good at picking things up and putting them down was how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff

“Well, it’s just, 15 minutes ago I was standing in a huddle with my rugby players,” he started. “There was this big 6’4 Greek, a 6’2 body-builder, and your buddy ‘Bruiser,’ and they were swapping tea advice — you know, green tea versus oolong versus herbal, cups versus mugs, ceramic versus cast iron pots. And now, here I am, in a car with my daughter and her girlfriends and they’re talking about kettlebells and how much they can bench press…”

“Dad, might I remind you we’re not just any girls. We’re athletes.”

The following week my father sent me a note to say one of his players was in a bluegrass band and that I should go to his concert.

“He likes tea and plays the guitar. He’s sensitive… but he’s also one of our best guys on the frontline, so he can pick things up and put them down. You can talk to him about how many burpees you can do, Tanya Knockyouballsoff.”

Tanya Knockyourballsoff was, according to Dad, a Russian female shot-putter. My affinity for kettlebells, apparently, inspired this new nickname…

Meanwhile, I put his note about the burpee pick-up line in the “shoulda listened to my father” column, along with his suggestion we open a father-daughter business together — a gourmet hotdog shop called Kat’s Dawgs… maybe next year #FathersKnowBest





Dressing My Mother

“Look Aunt Winn, I just want to prepare you,” I heard my mother hollar into the phone. “I don’t wear pantyhose anymore. I wear jeans. And I wear Nikes. They’re cool Nikes, like really cool, but they’re Nikes… Yes. That’s right. Those are sneakers. I wear sneakers. Everywhere.”

My mother’s version of dress shoes.

My mother and I were loading up the car, getting it ready to take us to Canada, when she stopped packing to place the call. It was an unplanned midweek trip to attend my Great Uncle Bob’s funeral. The day before, Aunt Winn, his wife, had asked Mum to “say a few words,” because my mother is, apparently, the funny one in the family.

I could feel the panic radiating across the room.

“I just had to call her and warn her,” Mum said as I gave her the stink eye.

She was folding my favorite brightly-hued Club Monaco blouse into the suitcase. “I’m the New York Niece. They’re expecting Madison Avenue. Since I stopped working, I’m more Gap… on my fancy days. I just don’t want her to get a shock when I show up to Uncle Bob’s funeral in running shoes.”

(My mother doesn’t believe in black at funerals, which was why, apparently, I was to wear royal blue pants while she asked to borrow my “big bird” yellow silk blouse.)

“What do you plan to wear at my wedding?”

“White Nikes… actually, I hate white sneakers. They’re such old ladies shoes. Maybe green ones? I don’t know. Let’s see what your colour scheme is — I’m sure I can ID something.”

When my mother retired from “The Bank,” she retired a certain corporate executive dress code. I remember coming home from school and seeing a pile of pantyhose in a Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag. There were one or 2 unopened pairs, and these were passed on to me. The rest — burned, or might as well have been. Her St. John’s suits were moved into the guest room closet. The year I graduated college, she had her first hip replacement. This shelved her Ferragamo high-heel collection. Her second hip replacement after my grad school graduation sealed it — the pumps were toast. I was free to salvage any that fit, but the majority went to Dress for Success.

She lost 50 pounds, and then eventually, she turned 70.

And so, with Retirement, 2 hip replacements, and being “over 70,” as her Get Out of Jail Free Cards,  it was: Good-bye, formal! Hello, comfortable!

My mother may have as many sneakers as Imelda Marcos had shoes — 3,000 pairs? Sure. It’s getting there.

She has become the Imelda Marcos of sneakers while her collections of designer handbags and jewelry remain her main source of pizzazz.

Most “occasions” result in an “I have nothing to wear!” crisis. This includes evenings when Mum and I decide to have a mother-daughter girl date. Eventually, she gives up.

“It doesn’t matter what I wear,” is usually her final remark before she settles on jeans, Nikes, and an embellished t-shirt. “If I decide I want a good table, I’ll just shove you in first. You’ve got great clothes. People think you’re cool, so you’ll just look good for both of us. Don’t forget your pink lipstick. I’m not going anywhere with you if you don’t wear your pink lipstick.”

I guess that just because she’s given up skirts and suits in favor of a wardrobe of leisure doesn’t mean she’s given up taste… there’s no velour in this retiree’s future. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the cast-offs. One can never have too many Ferragamos.





The Loose-Leaf Worries

carton (c) The New Yorker

At 4AM my eyes shot wide open for no particular reason, as far as I could tell. For the next several hours, until my alarm clock went off, I spent the minutes tossing and turning, my brain operating at full-speed, dreams mimicking all the awake moments of days past and days to come.

It’s a scene I’m used to: Late August Insomnia.

Sometimes, I sit up in bed and read or write until my body finally agrees to a system shut-down. Other times, I attempt yoga breathing exercises hoping to force a blank-slate on my brain. In theory, I’m supposed to wipe it clean of my thoughts and hide the chalk. This is a method I’m new at and therefore find it largely unsuccessful. So most nights, I just try to tough it out, hoping the physical exhaustion of flipping from my right side to my middle to my left will eventually put me back to sleep.

I realized this is an annual occurrence. A sort of seasonal allergy. But instead of ragweed or pollen, the root cause of sleeplessness is loose-leaf.

Yes, loose-leaf.

I used to believe that my Late August Insomnia was the result of excessive sleep stores. Perhaps I had slept in too much in July and my body was some how trying to return to equilibrium? No. It was because of loose-leaf.

Loose-Leaf. The root cause of my Late August Insomnia

It was usually around mid-August that I began my back-to-school supply shopping. It was, as the Staples commercial is so keen to say, the most wonderful time of the year. Fresh notebooks. Clean binders. New pens and just sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. It was exciting: Nothing holds as much potential as a clean first page in a brand new notebook.

But with back-to-school shopping and my new stacks of loose-leaf, so came a boatload of concerns to keep my head spinning into the wee hours of the morning.

Worries that I hadn’t completed all my summer reading assignments on time or to standard.

Insecurities about lunch-time cliques.

Aspirations for athletic glory.

Hopes for young love.

Concerns that I hadn’t bought enough loose-leaf.

All of it kept me awake at night.  The funny thing is that it’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve had to do back-to-school shopping, and yet I still find myself suffering from Late August Induced Insomnia.

First-day-of-class anxieties have been replaced with real-world “grown-up” worries. In the art world, a gallery season often kicks off in September. My next opening looms right around the corner. Offices return to full-steam-ahead. Galas and fundraisers sneak in before the close of the fourth quarter. Holidays creep closer. Somewhere in all the hullabaloo of responsibility, I have a social life, a family life, and a romance to maintain.

It’s past my bed time as I put my head to my pillow on Labor Day night, but I’m far from sleepy. For a fleeting moment, I wish my biggest worry was a book report on The Great Gatsby due in class tomorrow.

…But maybe that’s only because I know the grown-up me would ace it.

Writing Christmas Cards Makes Me a Real Adult, or Revelations on the Address Book of a 20-Something

Cards? Check! Little black book? Check! Holiday cheer? Double Check!

The first December after I graduated college was the first time I had ever sat down to write and send Christmas cards. My friends had scattered around the globe and as a great believer in the galvanizing powers of the holiday season, I turned to snail mail as a way to reunite. My university athletic department had sent an alumni donation-ask letter accompanied by a page of mascot-embossed address labels.

I threw out the ask letter and kept the address labels. They were happily put to use on festive red and green envelopes that contained messages of merriment and well-wishes.

My family has never been particularly good at sending Christmas cards, so when my mother saw me in front of the fireplace one blistery  afternoon with my address book and a stack of glittery “Seasons Greetings!” cards beside me, she looked puzzled.

“What are you doing?”

“Attempting to be a real adult.”

there's nothing like some holiday cheer to warm the heart

Besides letting people know that they’re being thought of, sending holiday cards is a declaration of stability — I have my act together; you have a home I can send something to; I have a return address. To me, sending Christmas cards was something responsible adults did and I was going to try my hand at being a responsible adult.

I’ve gotten a new address book since then — an upgrade to the prodigal little black book.

I mean, physically, it’s a small, black moleskin book that fits easily in my back pocket. The fact that more than 2/3s of the names in it belong to men really says very little about my romantic life — don’t open it expecting to find a sophisticated coding system ranking fellas from bootie calls to potential soulmates.

To avoid having to buy another address book, I started using pencil

As I began addressing envelopes this year, I realized this is actually my third address book  in the 5 years since I graduated college. The previous two had been so marked up with changes as friends moved from New York to New Zealand, Hong Kong to Houston, or united in marriage or found domestic partners, or terminated relationships bound for happily ever after.

In an attempt to save myself from having to make another investment in an alphabetized notebook, I began writing only names, mobile numbers, and email addresses in pen. Spouse’s name and addresses were added in pencil.

If Christmas card writing/receiving represents a kind of adult stability, then my address book stands as a testimony that life as an early adult is anything but stable.

“You could just send an emailable card,” someone suggested when I told her I was sending “address verification” emails to a handful of friends.

Sure digital greetings save a certain amount of angst around the holidays, but I like writing Christmas cards — and not just because it’s an affirmation of a kind of grown-upness. Because it’s a reminder that even when life is unpredictable, there are always a few things you can count on — your friends, family, and a little Christmas spirit.

Life is uncertain, but you can always count on Christmas... and all the hilarity that goes with it

Please Pass the Gravy, or: Please Mum, I Know it’s Thanksgiving, But Not Another Turkey!

Cranberry Relish? Can eat it all year.

I know, I know. What I’m about to say is un-American. Sacrilegious. Blasphemy in its definitive form. But I can’t pretend any longer: I hate turkey.

Cranberry relish? Can eat it all year, goes particularly well with pork. Mashed potatoes? God’s food. But turkey? If it’s not semi-synthetic and deli-sliced on my sandwich, accompanied by sharp mustard, gouda, and bread & butter pickles, then I’m not interested.

“My mother’s turkey was always usually good,” my own mother said, trying to convince me that the oversized poultry really is delicious. “Except for that time she put all the cayenne pepper in the stuffing. She was a lot like you — always experimenting in the kitchen.”

I never knew my grandmother, but clearly, she and I were a lot alike. She understood what I understand — turkey is bland and needs all the help it can get. She may have been heavy-handed with the cayenne, but she meant well.

The one good thing about turkey? Being able to drink wine in front of the fire while it roasts... and roasts.



Free range.


Organic Free Range.

28 pounders.

12 pounders.

There isn’t a bird on the market at any weight we haven’t tried and tried again. Some have more “turkey taste” than others, but even after tons of culinary TLC, all have proven a disappointment.

There have been test turkeys in October and re-test turkeys in early November. Sometimes, we walk away hopeful. Most of the time, we end up with a lot of unsavory leftovers (thank goodness “turkey is bad for dogs” is an urban legend.)

We've produced many a turkeys worthy of a Rockwell painting, few worth remembering as an entree

We’ve bounced from method to method, hoping something would finally produce a succulent dinner centerpiece.

For years, we clung to the “tent and baste” system in which my father slathers butter all over the bird, creates a tin-foil tent to shield it, and we all take turns basting it on the hour. But after several rubber-like final products, we began to experiment.

  • There was the brining experiment gone terribly wrong. The garbage bag leaked in the fridge, spreading salmonella-laden water over all the vegetables and side dishes. There was only turkey that year. And far too much of it.
  • We then tried the cheese-cloth soaked in wine and butter method. Wine and butter are flammable when not properly watched. Luckily, we keep a compact fire extinguisher in the kitchen for just such incidents.

Over the years, some of these approaches undoubtedly produced a bird worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, but all resulted in an entrée better left forgotten.

I'm good at homemade ravioli. Can't we just have those for Thanksgiving?

The best turkey we ever made was the result of an extended hospital stay – my mother broke her rib while vacuuming. The whole family rushed off to the hospital where we passed the next 7 hours. Luckily, before we left the house, we turned the oven down and quietly forgot about the turkey.

“Mum, can’t we just have a chicken this year?” I asked as we stood at the holiday order counter at Whole Foods.

“No. You want stuffing don’t you?”

To this I could of no retort. Thank goodness I’ve at least mastered the art of a delicious gravy.