The Gifts of Christmas Boyfriends Past

Truth: knives work just as well
Truth: knives work just as well

“Can I just get rid of these?” My mother turned around to show me a pair of scissors in a neon-green sheath.

They’re herb scissors, which are really just adapted ribbon cutters and sold to culinary tool junkies at a premium. They were a Christmas gift last year from my then boyfriend and were put to use at exactly one family gathering before being promptly relegated to a bottom drawer.

“They’re stupid. You can use a knife.”

Like the knock-off Pop Phone he had also given me, I decided these were fated for an afterlife courtesy of the Good Will.

This time last year, I was in a not so unserious relationship with Frank Hampshire, a nonathletic but good-humoured project manager. In early November, he started fussing over what to get me for Christmas. He was an online shopper — I mean, he bought EVERYTHING online, from pots and pans to couches, to dinner, to dry cleaning — and wanted to get his orders in early enough, in time to use any “frequent shopper” coupons he had earned since Black Friday the previous year (seriously, I’m pretty sure the guy will never have to pay for another dumpling again on Seamless.)

His gift-wrapping method was the best part of the exchange
His gift-wrapping method was the best part of the exchange

I had a fairly simply list. In fact, it included only one item: gold hoop earrings. I had mourned the loss of half a pair at a dance party at MoMA a year earlier, and missed having such a staple in my jewelry box. They didn’t have to be real gold, I said. I was sensitive also to budget, (even if his salary was exactly twice the size of mine), and to ease of access. So I gave him a list of 4 pair all that clocked in under $100 and all available at stores within walking distance from his apartment.

“I haven’t bought a girl a pair of earrings since high school,” he told me. “It turned out she didn’t even have pierced ears.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that. My ears are pierced. Remember that time my earring got caught on your scarf?”

“Yea. No. Isn’t there anything else you want?”

So instead of earrings, I got a stocking full of nick-nacks — the sum of which totaled to well over the $50 of those Middle Kingdom Cylindrical Bead earrings I saw at the Met. A red Pop-Phone knock-off, a case of my favorite pens (Pilot Percise, fine), the aforementioned herb scissors, ear buds, a “fairy bottle” jump drive loaded with 2 pirated movies, Molton Brown Bath Gel in Pink Pepperpod, Kheil’s body lotion, and another item or two I can’t recall. 85% of the items were put to good use, and I suppose that meant I had won, even if I didn’t get my earrings. The herb scissors and the pens were supposed to be the thoughtful gifts — he knew I liked to cook, and sometimes we cooked together, and he knew I wasn’t allowed to buy those pens on my office account (too expensive for a not-for-profit pen.)

Gold (plated) hoop earrings were also thoughtful. But I suppose, that was too much of a meaningful commitment.

There’s a gigantic, golden hard-cover book on my nightstand, and it’s been sitting there for two years now. “The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present” was a 2012 Christmas present from my already-ex-boyfriend. We had broken up not even a month earlier and the gift exchange had been unplanned. We met for a fancy dinner as a way to usher in our new era as “just friends.” We split the bill. And then we surprised one another with “a little something.”

I knew he traveled and got painfully dry skin in the winter, so he got a bar lotion (with a manly scent) from Lush. I got the academic art-history meets sociology tome by a Columbia professor.  His gift was absurdly thoughtful and meaningful. On our first date, he compared me to a Klimt painting, and when I opened the paper to see the cover, the significance of the subject didn’t escape me.

“You can read it so I don’t have to,” he said when I hugged him. “It’s too many pages.”

“There aren’t enough pictures.”

I made my way through the first 50 pages — there’s underlining and a note or two in the margins. Unlike the Pop Phone and the pens that have been lost or have run out of ink, it’s a less disposable gift. A metaphor perhaps for these two relationships past.

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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,

Kathleen

We All Need a Little Christmas

“Wishing people a Merry Christmas feel wrong right now,” my mother said as she put her stack of to-be-written Christmas cards aside and moved on to the monotony of ironing my father’s shirts. “It doesn’t seem like there’s much to be merry about.”

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has punched the nation in the gut, taking the air out of our collective lungs and with it, the joy out of the season. Elementary schools are more than institutions of learning. They are supposed to be community builders and safe havens for our children. Something sacred has been desecrated.

“We’re being extra sensitive. People don’t feel like celebrating. People just need Christmas to be over with,” the publisher of a news paper observed in a phone conference with me and my boss.

Indeed, our hearts are all heavy. Making merry seems out of place.

People just need Christmas to be over with.

The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree makes me feel like a happy 5 year old.
The 2012 Rockefeller Christmas tree turns us all into children, full of wonder

As I walked up Manhattan’s 5th Avenue from Bryant Park Friday night, watching families walk hand-in-hand to take in the Saks windows and Rockefeller tree or make their way to the Bryant Park skating rink, I was struck with a realization — we don’t need Christmas to be over with.

What we need is a little Christmas.

Christmas is about family. Christmas is about togetherness. Christmas is about healing. Christmas is about transcendence.

Think about it: here we are in the middle of winter, the trees are bare, the thermometer low, and yet the world is lit-up with beams of multicolor lights. Christmas is something we can rely on — it comes back, year after year, no matter what the circumstances. It’s a time to remember and to be thankful, and this year we must all be thankful for each other, for having a Christmas to share.

26 families in Newtown, CT are having a hard time in finding joy in the season, of this there is no doubt. For those of us that are lucky to be with friends and family, this is the year to hold everyone we care about a little closer and acknowledge how precious these moments of togetherness are.

Life is short.

Embrace the season.

Let yourself be joyful.

Get caught under the mistletoe.

Drink that extra cup of cocoa.

Hug your child/parent/spouse an extra time.

Leave cookies & milk out for Santa.

Look in wonder at your bedazzled Christmas tree.

Be a kid at heart.

And at the end of the night, say an extra set of prayers — one for the families in Newtown, whose Christmases will never be the same, and one to say Thank You for the Christmas you have today.

christmas time 2009 002

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

Unwrapping Christmas Presents Past: an Inner-Child Grows-Up, but Only Just a Little

It was a snowy Christmas morning when I was 4 and found myself standing in front of a large, me-sized box wrapped calico-style and adorned with a shiny, red, stick-on bow. I had asked for an Easy Bake Oven and given its size, I was sure this box was not my easy Bake Oven. I was somewhere between being tickled pink with anticipation and overwrought with disappointment.

It wasn't my Easy-Bake Oven. It was a lavender bike with a wicker basket and streamers. And it was snowing outside.

As I tore away the paper, I quickly saw I was right: this was not my Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, Santa had given me a lavender bicycle with streamers and a white wicker basket. I looked at the picture on the box then turned to the window.  The snow on the lawn was blinding white and the ice clean-up trucks chugged noisily down my street spraying salt and sand as they went. I was doubtful that this present would produce any immediate gratification. But I had seen enough Christmas movies and heard enough stories from my friends to understand that a bike for Christmas was a big deal. So I followed convention and starting jumping with joy, encouraging Daddy to put it together ASAP so I could ride it around the living room.

“No. You can’t ride the bike in the house. We just refinished the floors.” My mother didn’t realize what lasting effects this command would have.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 17 and I never mastered turning. Now, the only bike I ride is a stationary spin one. Meanwhile, despite never having got my Easy Bake Oven (I asked for it every Christmas up until I was 11), I’ve become a bake-o-holic. My parents claim that it’s because I never had an Easy Bake that I’ve become such an able-bodied, all-from-scratch cook — I had to learn how to use a real stove, not one powered by a light bulb. One can never argue with a parent’s logic.

So far, my dinner guests have gotten more use out of my guitar than I have. But it's not too late for me to become the next Jewel

Yet while I can now churn out cakes, cookies and pies like nobody’s business, I’ve never gotten over the Easy-Bake Oven. Determined to prevent Santa from once again confusing “bakeware” with “bicycle,” I started writing elaborate Christmas Wish lists, complete with figures, web links, and product numbers. Each list has reflected whatever stage of my life I had entered — from preteen to early adulthood. A remote controlled plane, Backstreet Boys concert tickets, a watercolor box set, a Play-Station 2 with Guitar Hero, a real guitar, books by my professors, Kate Spade flats — for sure, with each item comes a flood of memories from not only that Christmas, but from that year in my life.

But in 2010, I couldn’t be bothered writing a list. Surely, after 25 years my parents knew I was easy enough to please that as long as it wasn’t a bicycle, I would be happy. My mother cursed me as she roamed the mall and racked her brain.

“Look, why don’t you just get me a cookbook or something.”

“You don’t need another cookbook.”

It was nothing short of a miracle that, come Christmas morning, there were presents waiting for me under the tree. My mother handed me an armful of crudely wrapped items with a look of both pride and concern on her face. “I don’t know why I bought you these,” she said. “But I figured we’ll need them later.”

I felt like I was 4 again as I shook the boxes. The sound of liquid sloshing around had me stymied. As I ripped away the paper and bows I was surprised to see a set of martini glasses, a bottle of Tanqueray, a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice, and a copy of “Vintage Cocktails,” a book featuring recipes from Pegu Club, my favorite cocktail lounge in New York.

“Now, just remember, when you make things out of this recipe book you’ll not only get fat, you’ll get drunk,” Mum said as she cracked open the gin.”Go easy.”

I guess that’s why she neglected to give me a drink shaker.

Unlike the lavender bike, it didn't take me long to put these Christmas presents to use... despite the missing cocktail shaker

 

Solving the Hard-to-Shop-For-Mother Quandary: A Little Macaroni and a lot of Inner Child

“Remember when you used to make me cards and presents for Christmas?”

I should never have made her that scrap-wood jewelery box when I was 8 -- I set the bar too high.

My mother, my wing-woman, is an Italian-Irish Catholic Canadian, but I swear, she’s got that New York City Jewish Mother knack for instilling a stomach-churning sense of guilt.

“I always liked it when you made me cards and presents for Christmas.”

She said this to me one December 22nd as she drove me home from college. I had just grumbled something inaudible about being behind on my gift-buying. Not 30 minutes had passed since I was freed from the relentless push of the semester’s end and I was worn out from two weeks of exams and term papers. There had been no time to eat and sleep let alone tackle the NYC holiday shopping crowds. Not surprisingly, I was in that typical student mode of pure selfishness. Forget holiday shopping and bow making. Forget fa la la la laaaing and joy to the world. I was going to sleep for the next 24 hours… some one else could deck the halls.

My mother, like all mothers, is a notoriously bad person to draw in Secret Santa. Shopping for her Christmas gifts makes me sweat, ties knots in my stomach, and often causes hyperventilation — I started carrying a brown paper bag with me when I hit the mall in Santa mode. Yet, once upon a time, all I had to give her for Christmas was a glittered construction paper and doily card gingerly assembled during afternoon craft hour.

Mum had made a good point (one I’m not entirely sure she meant to make) — homemade presents are not only more thoughtful, they’re also easier: standards are lower.

A summer vacation scrapbook? Who doesn't love a sentimental photo album, witfully assembled?

At home, bedraggled but eager to please, I rummaged through drawers and bins on a hunt for stowed-away crafting supplies. I should never have made her that scrap-wood jewelery box when I was 8 — I had set the resourceful bar high. Many years later, the only materials at my disposal were faded construction paper, colored string, and macaroni.

“You’re an art student,” my father, who escapes the thinking/shopping challenge through gift certificates, said encouragingly. “Surely, you can come up with something.”

“Dad, it’s Art History. I don’t make stuff. I analyze stuff other people make.”

Sitting on my living room floor, in front of the fire, I consulted my creative side and got to work. A humorous scrapbook from our summer vacation? Who doesn’t love a sentimental photo collage?

A construction paper collage card? It would be just like kindergarten. Half the fun of Christmas is rekindling your inner child, isn’t it?

But the piece de resistance of that Christmas? The pasta necklace.

Despite its aesthetic qualities and the diligence with which it was crafted, like many a Christmas present past, it never got any use. But my mother’s hearty laugh and big hug upon opening it said it all: this time, it really was the thought that counted.

 

A construction paper card and macaroni necklace made by a 20-year old college student. Without a doubt, it was the thought that counted.