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

The 6 Things I learned Organizing a Holiday Craft Boutique

1. A little holly goes a long way to deck the halls.

some found Christmas ornaments made 5-year old discarded centerpieces into something new. That's right Martha, watch out. There's a new kid in town.

My task: create a joyous, festive backdrop for a local artisan craft boutique. My operating budget: microscopic. My best friends: the dollar store and our building’s basement.

After a morning of rummaging through ghosts of openings and Christmases past, my assistants and I took $10 worth of dollar store ribbons and transformed discarded gala centerpieces from 5 years ago into brand-new ornamented decorations. A few bows, a wreath, a string of lights, and a bippidy, boppedy, boo were all it took to transform a white-walled gallery was instantly a winter wonderland.

2. There’s no crying at the holiday boutique.

At 11AM the morning of our opening, I was still rolling on the final coat of paint over freshly-patched walls. My artists were strolling in, looking for tables that still needed to be built (yes, BUILT) and the floor needed vacuuming. My team of 3.5 had been working round the clock for 4 days straight, de-installing our New York Times reviewed exhibition, finishing paperwork, and turning over the gallery. Had I been a different girl, this might have been the point when I sat on the floor, cried, and screamed “I don’t want to play anymore!”

A sample of the hand made goods we had

But as I helped the designers and painters unload, I couldn’t help but smile.

“Are you in the union?”

“Head of the teamsters! Would you like some mulled cider?”

3. Being a gracious/fun-loving hostess gets you free stuff.

A mini-holiday-themed-top hat + Sequins galore + A sense of humor made up my daily uniform at the craft fair. Before long, I was a walking mannequin for all my vendors, donning everything from a tailored red silk blouse to silver bracelets to knitted hats and scarves.

a little flare and a sense of humor gets you free stuff.

“You need some sparkle,” one of my jewelers proclaimed as she handed me a pair of crystal earrings to wear and keep. How could I say no?

4. A watched pot of mulling cider never simmers. An unattended pot of mulling cider, on the other hand, leaves you with a cinnamon-scented gooey mess.

I thought it was a good idea to pass out hot mulled cider to shoppers. It was a good idea…until one of my assistants called in sick, leaving me short-staffed on our busiest day.

A lot of cider was mulled that day… but not a shopper saw a mug.

5. Just because you have a degree in economics from an Ivy League University and a talent for shopping doesn’t mean you know shit about working in retail.

None of this prepared me for working in retail.

Adam Smith never taught me how to do basic book keeping. Neither did Maynard Keynes. And getting an A in Calculus 4 doesn’t make you an accountant and while I know how to swipe a credit card, don’t ask me how to work a cash register.

Luckily, I’m a quick study…

6. Never put Mistletoe over the cash register.

‘Nuff said.

nuff said

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.

Driving Home for the Holidays? How a Highway Pitstop can keeps those Holiday Pounds in Check…maybe

It’s the final week before Christmas. People are grabbing their kids and packing up their hybrids to head home for the holidays. We all know what that means: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific!”

After hours slogging along the interstate in bumper-to-bumper traffic, rest area visits are a given. One thing I learned while making my way around the eastern seaboard this week is that a pitstop on I-95 can not only revive the spirits, it can change your life.

Freshen up. Refuel. Grab a latte. Check your weight. Receive an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary.

Wait, what?

For 25cents, get your weight, lucky lotto numbers, and an inspirational message from the Virgin Mary

Have you ever noticed that, in addition to food and gas, highway service plazas always have a pay-for-your-weight scale in the bathrooms? Considering that TCBY, Cinnabon, Burger King, and McDonald’s account for the majority of the food vendors at these interstate pitstops, I thought the scales might be the federal government’s feeble attempt to curb the obesity problem in America. Want a double-whopper with extra cheese and a super-sized fries to eat en route to grandmother’s 4-course holiday feast? Why don’t you check your BMI first?

Over the years, I’ve frequented many a highway rest area, but never before had I seen a coin-operated scale like the one in the Clara Barton Service Plaza on I-95 South.  Sitting in the entrance way to the ladies bathroom was a bilingual machine with a technicolor image of the Virgin of Guadalupe plastered front and center. There was a scale in the men’s room too, but it was plain vanilla white with “Get Your Exact Weight!” scrawled on it in purple. Was someone trying to send the ladies on I-95 a message about ideal femininity? Thin, pious, and virginal?

For a quarter, you can get your “exacto peso,” an inspirational message, and today’s lucky lotto numbers. Being an intrigued sucker, I dropped in the change from my grande awake tea latte. Considering it’s the post-Thanksgiving, pre-New Years Resolution 30-day all-you-can-eat challenge, this was probably not the best idea for my ego. None the less, I proceeded. And what did the Scale of the Virgin tell me? That I gained 6 pounds in 2 days.

I guess it’s a good thing I opted NOT to order the venti gingerbread latte with whipped cream.

always a sucker for fortune tellers, there goes my latte change

Obviously, 6 pounds in 2 days is impossible, but being a typical female, I couldn’t help but frantically assess my eating/exercising regime over the last 48 hours. After all, the machine claimed to give me my exact weight up to 500 pounds! But, Kathleen, let’s be sensible.

Consider it: my sweatshirt easily weighed  5oz, that extra-long scarf was an additional 3oz, my sneakers were worth half a pound… my wallet – a long, quilted thing with a heavy zipper, metal embellishments and $5 worth of nickles– clocked in at a pound… and my car keys, I can’t forget my carkeys… together, my accessories surely accounted for about 3 of the 6 pounds. There’s a reason why I generally refuse to stand on a scale wearing anything but my birthday suit.

As for the other 3? Well, those were just a lie. “Exact Peso,” my ass.

Due up next up on the little screen  was my inspirational message. I half expected a note that said “Find enlightenment… go eat a bar of soap, fatty.” Or “Gluttony is a sin. Find redemption through the FRUIT of the earth,” or “Many a martyr found salvation through self-denial. Consider a self-denial of food your path.”

Instead I got “Adore A Dios Sobre Todo.”

I translated it as: “Love God Above All… Particularly, Above All Carbohydrates.”

Love God Above All... Particularly Above All Carbohydrates

Friday Night Winter Coat Woes: To Check or Not to Check?

“Enjoy the chilly weather,” a friend said in a text message. “Sometimes it seems I’m the only one who enjoys it!”

“Not so! I love the cold! It saves me blush step when I’m ‘putting on my face!'” I enthusiastically typed in reply.

Getting ready for a summer night on the town has its appeal, particularly in the lack of clothes required...

The late sunset, the empowering “good-bye” to layers, wool tights, and a multi-moisturizer makeup regime — certainly, going out on sultry summer nights has its appeal. But as any girl who has found her foundation dripping down her face and sweat stains stretching to her waist knows, getting ready for a carefree (read: humid and blistering) summer night is no carefree task. The onset of the winter chill is a surprising relief.

“Scarf appropriate” earrings must be considered (you don’t want your chandeliers snagging your cashmere), but otherwise, winter nights on the town are reasonably low maintenance. When things turn frosty, I can use a hairdryer without the extra 2 coats of antiperspirant. I can look to sensible, rugged flat boots for almost all evening occasions. And thanks to movement-friendly leggings with figure-flattering sweater dresses, I can transition from day into night with a mere swipe of red lipstick.

The catch? That whole “coat problem.”

Hats stay on heads and scarves swirl around necks as parts of an ensemble. Gloves slip into pockets and earmuffs into purses. But those long, inflated, element-proof outerwear garments don’t fade into the background so easily.

If you’re lucky to find a lounge with a coat check, problem solved. At most, all you need to worry about is a dollar tip at the end of the night. But make your way to the typical crowded bar, and things get more complicated.

Hats and scarves become part of an ensemble, while mittens and earmuffs dissapear into purses.

I walked into the dimly-lit Keats on 2nd Avenue and took a quick survey of the throbbing alleyway of pint glasses, rosy cheeks, and navy sweaters. “Are there coat hooks anywhere?” my friend asked. Apparently, somewhere at the back of the pub there were small brass hooks triple hung with peacoats and ski jackets. Was there room for her black wool coat among the sea of like-styled black wool coats? Didn’t look like it.

Sometimes, hooks are strategically pinned under mahogany bar tops. Supply is usually scarce. If you happen to find yourself at a bar with back-rest enhanced bar stools, you’re in luck – a built-in coat hanger at your seat. Find yourself at a bar sans the aforementioned amenities and your MacGyver instincts have to kick-in.

This many accessories does pose a challenge at the local Public House

I stood at the bar, with a pint of Blue Moon in one hand, my knee-length quilted mauve Burberry in the other, backless stool in front of me, and awkwardly attempted to find a solution. “You could hang it on your knee when you sit down” was one suggestion. Okay, here goes. Before I could take a sip from the glass, my coat was in a heap on the sticky floor.

Why don’t you sit on it? That seemed like a good plan until I wiggled onto the coat-draped bar stool, watching the head on my ale teeter-totter close to lip of the glass. It was then I hooked my heel on the coat’s pocket instead of the stool’s support rut.

The rip was audible and the footprint insoluble. Mild panic.

As I slipped off the stool, my butt sent my coat tumbling to the floor again. To add insult to injury, while on the ground, it had picked up the powdery remnants of a bowl of peanuts. The 5 second rule is a lie. I still had a full pint in my hand. It was too early to retire. I picked up the coat, examined the stool, and proceeded to re-drape my now wounded outerwear. Sigh. The damage had already been done, the least I could do was finish my drink and make sure I had a place to rest my feet.