Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ End-of-the-Year Round Up

Don't you just love those End-of-the-Year articles that start coming out this time of year in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet? They tell the best and the worst stories of the year, the big events that occurred and also, remind of us of people that died that year. I do a similar round up myself when I transfer birth dates and anniversaries over from my old calender to my new one. As I am copying the dates, I read what occurred, month by month in the year that is almost over. So, as I reviewed the year: In January I saw the Eagles in concert and then stayed in a Haunted Hotel while I visited my niece in Colorado. In February, I hosted six couples for an aphrodisiac dinner party at my house. Very sweet (and naughty!) In April I fulfilled a life-long dream and surfed at Cocoa Beach! In June, my hubby and I celebrated five years of married bliss and in July, I took my daughter to Italy for two weeks. November proved to be eventful as I had an article about my Aunt Josie published in the Miami Herald, my youngest son turned 21 and I turned 50! All these events, milestones, benchmarks mean something and I think the end-of-the year is the perfect time to review them. What did you accomplish? Where did you go? What did you do? What is left to be done? As for me, I still want to have a Spa party (for girls only), a wine tasting party (for couples), I want to publish an article I've written and write some short screenplays that have been brewing in my head. I like to look at my New Year's Resolutions from the year before and see what I've accomplished and what is left to be done. Some items may no longer be things you want to do, so lose them. As for me, I didn't learn Spanish or lose weight this year, but hope springs eternal each New Year. Happy New Year Y'all and Feliz Ano Nuevo!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Top 10 Christmas Albums

One of my favorite things to do in this hectic Christmas season is sit by our Christmas tree, with it's twinkling white lights, and listen to Christmas music. Sometimes I have a glass of vino, this morning it was a cup of coffee. I used to have a strict rule about "no Christmas music after Christmas", but I've loosened up a bit and figure until New Year's, it's okay. One Christmas, I spent eight hours in the car driving from Tallahassee to Miami and I think I heard every Christmas song ever known to man. The other day in the car, my 11 year old stepdaughter said "I hate when they don't sing the real song!" She was talking about all the covers of Christmas songs that are playing on the radio, but since she was born in 1998, the "real" songs for her were probably "covers" of originals. "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of my favorite Christmas songs, originally sung by the great Judy Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis", but it's been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Pretenders. I just found out that another favorite- "Christmas" (Baby Please Come Home) sung by U2 on A Very Special Christmas was sung before that by Bruce Springsteen. And I love the Boss's version of "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town". Sometimes we end up loving the covers more than the originals. I make sure to buy a new Christmas album each year to add to my collection. This year I purchased Andrea Bocelli's "Christmas" and I think it's a keeper.
Here are my Top Ten:
1) A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi
Charles Schultz credited the music in this special for making it so popular. This is my absolute favorite album- sometimes I will play it in the summer if I need cheering up.
2) A Very Special Christmas
The original and, I think, the best! Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" was one of my first exposures to rap. If you can call it that.
3) White Christmas Bing Crosby
A classic- love the movie too!
4) The Christmas Song Nat King Cole
What would Christmas be without Chestnuts roasting on an open fire?
5) Ally McBeal with Vonda Shepard
The TV series is gone, but the music lives on in this album my daughter gave me. Love it!
6) Kenny G Miracles
Not a big Kenny G fan, but digging this album's quiet holiday jazzy spirit. Perfect for sitting by
the fire with a hot toddy or wine.
7) Elvis's Christmas Album
I'll have a "Blue Christmas" without it.
8) The Nutcracker
I played this album to prepare my little daughter for the ballet. Unfortunately, she fell asleep
during the production but still love this classic fairy tale's tunes by Tchaikovsky.
9) Time Life Treasury of Christmas
Some great classics (and the Chipmunks) are included in this collection.
10) Merry Christmas from The Beach Boys
Perfect if you're spending the holidays in a tropical location.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Caroling

When you ask someone "Are you ready for Christmas?", usually what you're really asking is: "Are you done with your shopping?" Why do we correlate Christmas with shopping and presents? (and crowded malls and cranky shoppers?) Why indeed? Of course, there are other duties associated with Christmas- decorating, baking, sending Christmas cards, hosting parties, but most of our energy lies with buying, buying, buying. Maybe I keep thinking about this because I have done so little shopping (the Grannymobile is dead and we've been relying on one car), but I really object to the obsessive pressure to purchase. I am really thinking about the day when Christmas is just spent with family and friends and the gifts are not relevant. The day of Christmas, I am sometimes cranky because I didn't get what I wanted, it wasn't the right size or color and then I think about taking it back and having to fight the after-Christmas crowds. Really? Is that what Christmas is all about? I sound like a bratty child. And speaking of children, don't you find it disturbing...Kids ripping savagely into gift after gift, wrapping paper flying, not even getting to appreciate one gift while searching for the next, bigger, better, more promising one under the tree. I always tell my kids about Kathie Lee Gifford and how she only gave her children three gifts for Christmas- like the Wise Men. Of course, they moan and groan, but you would certainly savor those gifts if you only got three. Wouldn't it be wonderful and revolutionary NOT to shop for Christmas? To write thank you notes to people we appreciate, to spend time with them, to reflect on Christ and his meaning for the holidays? Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of caroling with my childhood friend Chrissy and my family around our neighborhood. We continued the tradition into our adulthood with caroling parties after we had children. Singing Christmas carols really puts me in the Christmas spirit and of course, once again, costs nothing. I watched Elf last night and he says "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loudly for all to hear." I have to agree. So here we come a caroling... But I refuse to shop till I drop!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Nanny Money

I have not done much Christmas Shopping this year and I don't plan to do as much as usual. I asked my kids if it was okay for me to give them a check instead of a bunch of presents. My daughter was delighted with this idea and, along with the check I will give her at least one other gift just "to open up". Although this may seem like an impersonal gift, let me tell you a story about "Nanny money". My grandmother started giving us checks, instead of stuff, when we became adults. She also always gave us one gift so we had "something to open up." Oftentimes, it was perfume. As we got older, the checks got bigger. Around October, I would start thinking about how I would spend my "Nanny money". I kept a running list of ideas. One year I got a colorful pastel Aubusson style rug for the living room, another year I got a beautiful oak sideboard which my husband nicknamed the "widow maker" when I sent him, alone, to go pick it up from the antique store. Some years I used it to get all the gifts I wanted, but didn't get, for Christmas. Other years, it was used for trips or classes I wanted to take. The last year I got it, I used it to pay for my first semester of graduate school and my daughter's private school. I don't know how I would have managed to swing that without my "Nanny money"; it was a lifesaver. The point is, the anticipation of the "Nanny money" lasted for months before it was actually given and set my imagination spinning wildly. It promised hope, dreams fulfilled and, most importantly freedom. Who can put a price tag on that?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Top 10 Holiday Movies

Haven't blogged in a week. Can you say Holiday Stress anyone? Shopping this week with hubby hoping to get it knocked out (for at least part of the family) this week. I proposed to the girls last week: "Wouldn't it be fun for Christmas to just watch Holiday movies, listen to Holiday music, sing Christmas Carols and forget about all the presents?" Needless to say, they were not too fond of that idea and of course, I am neglecting to mention that Christmas is really supposed to be about Jesus's birth, not gifts. But, when you are young, Christmas, at least for most of us, is all about the "stuff". For adults, however it's all about shopping in madness, eating and drinking until we're ready to explode and being stressed out over too much to do, to buy, to accomplish before December 25th arrives. I have no illusions that we will ever have a Christmas where I don't buy ANY gifts, but I will give you my top Holiday movies to watch. This costs nothing if you watch them on TV, not too much if you buy them and they will give you years of Holiday pleasure without having to step foot inside a store. Hallelujah!

Top Christmas Movies

1) Charlie Brown Christmas

2) How the Grinch Stole Christmas

3) A Christmas Story

4) White Christmas

5) It's a Wonderful Life

6) Miracle on 34th Street

7) Holiday Inn

8) A Christmas Carol (with Alistair Sims)

9) The Bells of St. Mary's

10)The Santa Clause (I am actually not too fond of this one but my nephew swears by it)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Gifts

I just read two interesting articles regarding gifts and happiness. The first talked about a survey given to people of all income levels regarding the satisfaction they recieved from different gifts. Surprisingly, those who had gotten pricey gifts, such as sports cars, were less satisfied with life than those who treated themselves to: long walks, warm baths and bars of chocolate. The little luxuries resulted in "short bursts of positive emotions" which led to happiness. The pricier items, I'm supposing, lost some appeal after the novelty had worn off. The second article, actually a column by George Will, discussed the findings in a book (Scroogenomics) by an author from the Wharton Business school. His conclusion was that gifts that people buy for others are usually poorly matched to the recipient's preferences. In other words, the gifts we get from others are not what we would have bought for ourselves. While sometimes this can be a good thing (a day at the spa or box of Godiva chocolates), it can definitely also be a bad thing. I know I've gotten gifts that were either grabbed at the last minute, or re-gifted. A photo box from Walgreens and Hickory Farms knockoff gift box with bloated salami and cheeses, comes to mind. I've also been on the other end, dashing out at the last minute to get something... ANYTHING, for someone I forgot. Usually, these gifts end up being a waste of time and money - two things I hate to waste. One option that seems to be foolproof- giving a gift card- has a surprising downside. 10% of the gift cards purchased are never used! Billions of dollars are spent, but never redeemed.

So, what are we to conclude from these studies? #1 Expensive gifts don't make us happier and #2 Most gifts are a waste of money. What is the solution? Obviously, think about what the person wants or needs. Listen to the person when you're together to find out what they're dying to have or are interested in. If all else fails, just flat out ask them. I also have luck when I buy something for a friend, that I would like to get for myself. Certificates for services rendered (car wash, hug, homemade dinner) are always great and don't cost a lot, but if you give them, make sure you follow through and actually do it. This time, it's not just the thought that counts, but the action. And, Santa Baby, I wouldn't mind an expensive sports car underneath the tree, for me. I'