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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

When — if ever — do we just stop shopping?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, urban life, US on December 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Every day, my email in-box (guilty!) fills up with notifications of sales from flash-sites like Gilt and One King’s Lane and Ideeli or from retailers I’ve purchased from before.

I delete almost every single one.

Every weekend, (yes, we still read some of our newspapers in print), a thick, glossy pile of flyers tumbles in a nasty tree-wasting avalanche from within the folds of the Times, each imploring us to spendspendspendbuybuybuybuybuybuy!

Consumer Spending

Consumer Spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Between the easy availabilty of on-line shopping — a boon to the home-bound or retail-underserved — and a consumer-driven culture urging us to buy everything we see, right now, it’s an ongoing challenge not to spend money. Not to buy even more stuff.

The U.S. economy, a statistic that always somewhat horrifies me in its implications of rampant consumption, is based 70 percent on consumer spending — gas, food, diapers, gum, Manolos, trucks, Ipads, whatever.

So if we actually stop shopping, or slow down our spending on consumer goods, the economy slows. If you live in the U.S., and have any disposable income (such a bizarre phrase!) it can feel like some civic or patriotic duty to go spend some more money.

When I worked retail for 2.5 years in an upscale suburban New York mall, I saw the insanity — truly — of holiday shopping firsthand. People staggered into our store already so loaded with bags they looked like pontoons. They pawed through the racks, threw our stock onto the floor and shouted with anger when we didn’t have exactly what we needed when they needed it.

Ugly!

And yet very few Americans, even those with decades of earned income, have saved enough money to ever stop working.

In October 2013, USA Today reported:

A new report paints a rather grim assessment of how prepared we are for retirement. “The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is it Worse Than We Think?” from the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute on Retirement Security, says the typical American family has only “a few thousand dollars” saved for retirement.

“We have millions of Americans who have nothing saved for retirement,” says Diane Oakley, executive director of the NIRS. “We have 38 million working-age households who do not have any retirement assets.”

For people 10 years away from retirement, the median savings is $12,000. “Of the people between 55 and 64, one third haven’t saved anything for retirement,” Oakley says.

I read those statistics and wonder what is going to become of them; not everyone has children able or willing to rescue them.

Fortunately, (partly because we never assumed the costs of raising children), we’re way ahead of that $12,000 figure. We drive a 13-year-old vehicle and live in a one-bedroom apartment and I set aside the maximum for my IRA, even when I’d really prefer to spend that money on a long and fantastic overseas vacation, or some gorgeous new clothes or to take in all the shows, plays and concerts that Manhattan offers us.

Having significant savings is, for me, a much deeper comfort than anything I could buy.

Here, from Harvard Business School, why buying an experience (if you must buy anything at all) wins:

Conventional wisdom says that money can’t buy happiness. Behavioral science begs to differ. In fact, research shows that money can make us happier—but only if we spend it in particular ways.

In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton draw on years of quantitative and qualitative research to explain how we can turn cash into contentment.

The key lies in adhering to five key principles: Buy Experiences (research shows that material purchases are less satisfying than vacations or concerts); Make it a Treat (limiting access to our favorite things will make us keep appreciating them); Buy Time (focusing on time over money yields wiser purchases); Pay Now, Consume Later (delayed consumption leads to increased enjoyment); and Invest in Others (spending money on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves).

I try to adhere to all five of these principles:

Paris - Île St. Louis: Berthillon

Paris – Île St. Louis: Berthillon (Photo credit: wallyg)

– I can still taste the salted caramel ice cream we savored at Berthillon on the Ile St Louis in Paris five years ago.

English: Ile St-Louis - Paris Français : Ile S...

English: Ile St-Louis – Paris Français : Ile Saint-Louis – Paris IV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– I’ve chosen to work fewer hours, (which restricts my ability to shop, given that I save 15 percent of my pre-tax income every year as well), to better enjoy my free time and have experiences I value more than buying more things — to take a long walk mid-day or have coffee with a friend or read a book instead of flogging myself into another 10 or 15 hours’ paid work. I ended up in the hospital in 2007 for three days with pneumonia after chasing money too hard, too fast. Never again.

– I tend to hoard gift cards for as long as a year before finally using them, as I did recently with a Christmas 2012 gift card from my husband, (it bought two great pairs of shoes on sale.)

– I splurge on small surprises for Jose whenever I can, whether a book or a pair of colorful socks or a dinner out.

In a season where so many of us are rushing about madly shopshopshopping, it’s easy to forget that a more valuable gift can be as small and essential as a hug, a night or two of babysitting for a weary friend, making a meal for an elderly or ill neighbor.

It doesn’t have to come in a shiny Apple-designed, (cheap Chinese labor made), plastic shell or turquoise Tiffany box, no matter what their ads insist.

 Are you sick and tired of shopping?

33 fab holiday gift ideas

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, family, Fashion, life, love, Style on December 8, 2013 at 3:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

For some people, holiday gift shopping is hell — you have no idea of your recipients’ sizes or favorite colors or you’re on a super-tight budget and/or the thought of a crowded mall makes you want to give up before you start.

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

English: Gift ideas for men – wrapping paper example. Please source http://www.giftideasformen.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take heart, Broadsiders!

Every year I make a list for you of fun, lovely practical gift ideas for men and women of all ages. A few are big splurges, but I’ve sought out a variety, many chosen for their combination of charm and affordability.

Enjoy!

From Plumo, one of my favorite fashion online retailers, this watch, with an owl on its face, $122.  And these great socks, with chartreuse hares on a field of blue, $38.63; they also come with foxes or crows.

I didn’t expect to find housewares at this new site, Saturday by Kate Spade. But this simple, black pitcher is gorgeous and large enough to hold a bunch of tall flowers or a lot of martinis; $75.

And, maybe for the same kitchen or dining room, here’s a great little black and white cotton rug, in an array of sizes, starting at $33. This site, Dash & Albert, has a huge selection of terrific colors.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

O’Brien’s boots! Any of you who are addicted to Downton Abbey will crave these terrific Edwardian-era black leather boots; $298.

Love these ceramic, printed measuring spoons, with imperial and metric; $25; add this gaggle of gold-edged geese — ceramic measuring cups. Adorbs! $36

It is a sad fact that many American schoolteachers — and their students — don’t have enough of the supplies they need. This site allows you to choose what to give and where.

As someone who loves to entertain and set a pretty table, I love this colored flatware, in a variety of colors, from tortoise to deep blue; $150.

Love this linen tea towel – made by a Broadside follower, Edinburgh-based designer Niki Fulton — of an industrial crane in the harbor, bright pink on black; $13.26.

You probably know Zara, the fast-fashion Spanish retailer. But do you know Zara Home? I love their unusual designs and colors, and splurged this year on a duvet cover and shams on sale. The quality is excellent! I adore this duvet cover, in a dusty grey and soft red paisley, (the sort of thing you’d pay three time as much for an antique version if you could even find it), $89-109.

The worst thing about flying? Tough to choose! But an overweight bag is a nasty surprise. Here’s a portable luggage scale. (We have one. It works!) $12.

I use Windex and Q-tips, but here’s a computer keyboard brush that looks like something from a Victorian hotel. Steampunk! $24.

I use candles and votives in every room of our home. I love their gentle, flickering light — a lovely way to wake up slowly on a cold winter’s morning or soothe yourself during a long bath or illuminate an intimate meal. This set of three, in white ceramic, resemble sea urchins, from one of my favorite catalogs, Wisteria; $19.

Oh, admit it…you’re dying for a little (maybe a lot of) cashmere. Feel less guilty if you buy it for your brother/father/sister/bestie (after getting one for yourself.) This V-neck sweater, a classic, is a delicious heathery teal; $225.

Speaking of cashmere, they call this thing a snood; I call it a cagoule. Either way, it’s a cozy, gorgeous way to wrap your throat from chilly gusts; in three soft colors, $108.

Can you resist a small fox door knocker? I can’t! $24

Do you know the Moomins? They were one of my favorite children’s books, by Finnish author Tove Jansson. A Moomin mug is sure to start your day with a smile; $22.

I love my Lamy fountain pen; this one is a sharp, matte black. $28.

These gold-plated Herve van der Straeten clip-on drop earrings are divine! Bold but organic. $376.

I serve on the volunteer board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, and am proud that we’re able to help non-fiction writers facing financial crisis. We have absolutely no administration costs so every penny goes directly to the people who need our help. We can give up to $4,000, which we send out within a week of receiving and approving an application. Writers, no matter how talented or experienced, often live a somewhat precarious life financially. Please keep our culture thriving with a donation to WEAF!

If you’ve ever been to the Paris flea markets, you know what fun (and madness) they can be. I always score a few fab finds. Here’s  the next best thing - a hardcover book with lots of photos and stories about them, from the elegant publishers Assouline; $75.

Scarf mavens, unite! I want this one, quite desperately, a mineral print in tones of blue, turquoise and brown, on silk, exclusively from one of my favorite shops in the world, Liberty of London; $120.

Beautiful department store.

Beautiful department store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love the elegance of a silk pocket square; this one, in deep blues and blacks, is also from Liberty; $56.

Have you ever tasted tamarind? Here’s one of the world’s best gourmet/spice shops, Kalyustan’s, on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Delight your favorite foodie or cook with a basket filled with exotic, hard-to-find ingredients — and hope for a dinner invitation!

Y’all know I’m a big fan of sending lovely thank-you notes. Check out these letterpress thank-you cards, made by a woman in Silicon Valley; $15.50

This creamy, dreamy soap, with a tangy citrus-y smell, is the signature fragrance of the five-star hotel Le Sireneuse on Positano and…swoon! We’ve been using it for the past month in our bathroom and the whole room smells divine. Eau d’Italie, a box of three bars; 36 euros.

And speaking of lovely scents, my favorite is Blenheim Bouquet, a man’s fragrance created in 1902 by the British firm Penhaligon’s. It’s crisp but rich, and I wear it year-round. “Reserved Victorianism, telegraph style. But fresh. Colonial lemon/lime meets Scarborough fair. Splendid, old boy,” says one reviewer; $136.68.

Shameless plug here; my latest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, or a one-on-one coaching session on any aspect of writing, journalism or publishing — or perhaps a headshot by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer who has photographed three Presidents (aka my husband, Jose)? Just the ticket for an ambitious pal (or one for yourself.)

Who doesn’t want a baby elephant? Sponsor an orphan through the Daphne Sheldrick Foundation. From $50.

This squid’s dangling arms — designed by a Swedish kite-surfer — offer a fun, funny way to gather and keep your shampoo, conditioner and body wash in one place; $36.

What do you expect? Too much — or too little?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting, US, women on December 26, 2012 at 12:46 am

For those who celebrated Christmas, it’s often a time of dashed — or dazed — expectations. Some people were lucky to receive any gift at all, while others sulked at getting the “wrong” ones. (Jose, as always knocked my socks off, with a historic photo of Betty Ford, taken by photographer David Hume Kennerly, as my biggie.)

That photo was taken on January 19, 1977, when I was in my third year of university, working already as a freelance photographer and journalist, selling to national publications. I was living alone, on very little money.

At 20, I knew to expect to do a lot of stuff for myself.

What we expect is a fundamental question.

It drives how we see the world and react to it, whether we hunch instinctively in a defensive posture or spring forward with a hopeful smile and the confidence it will all work out, somehow.

Burning Money is Financial Crime and Waste in ...

(Photo credit: epSos.de)

Jose was born to a Mom who never expected his arrival when she was 49, but deeply valued her surprise baby.

So what we each grew up expecting from the world — from work, lovers, friends, family — was in some ways very different. I’ve shown him he can ask for much more than he thinks he deserves, and he’s taught me how to be happy with much less than I think I need to be happy

I like this new blog, The Broke Girl’s To-Do List, for its tart, pull-your-socks-up-ness and its attempt to lower expectations, especially those of frustrated fesh grads in a horrible job market:

I know you didn’t go to college to wait tables, serve coffee, or assist customers in a clothing store (I didn’t either). The hardest part of being a Broke Girl is learning to be humble. You need to continue making money somehow to support yourself- or at least to maintain your savings. Unfortunately, that might mean taking a job you never thought you would need after college.

I know that it might feel like a step down, especially at first. However, these are hard times, and your finances can’t afford for you to hold out for too long.

I am not saying that you need to give up and “settle,” if that’s what taking this kind of job would mean to you. I am encouraging you to remember that 1) doing nothing while continuing to search for dream jobs will look a heck of a lot worse than making productive use of your time and 2) you need to be saving money. Can you tell I’m a big fan of saving money? Maybe it’s because of the whole my-father-is-a-finance-guy thing. But seriously, long gaps of emptiness on a resume look way worse than making an effort to contribute to society, even if it’s not the task you want to be doing.

We have got to stop taking ourselves too seriously, ladies. Tons of hard-working, intelligent men and women are out of work right now as well. Who are you (and frankly, who am I?) to think that you are above anything?

This recent New York Times story really showed how much our expectations, for good or ill, can shape our lives. It follows the lives of three Hispanic girls who all went off to college with high hopes, yet none has yet graduated and some carry shocking debt.

They struggled, but were unwilling or unable to ask for help:

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”

The American narrative can really be confusing as hell — Do it yourself! Don’t ask for help! All it takes is hard work! Only losers fail! — but those who do best in this country are often those who don’t hesitate to ask for help or more money or more time to finish a paper or negotiate a higher starting salary. So you’ve got to figure out for yourself how to navigate the corridors of power and influence, even if you’ve never seen them before.

Jose and I mentor a few young Hispanic women, students of journalism, several of whom have turned to me for guidance and advice about how to negotiate the balance of love and career, as they face significant pressure from their parents to marry and have children, career — even college — be damned. I’m honored they trust me enough to ask my advice, and I encourage them to kick professional ass as hard as possible, knowing full well this sometimes places them in direct conflict with their culture’s expectations of obedient or admirable Latinas devoted more to family than anything else.

What do you expect from your world these days?

What does it expect of you?

Has that changed in recent years?

Why or how?

Related articles

For Christmas 2012 — 25 fun gift ideas (and a bonus!)

In beauty, design, domestic life, Fashion, food, Style on December 14, 2012 at 12:26 am

Enjoy!

For the home

There’s nothing nicer than a set of unusual and stylish plates — for hors d’oeuvres, salad, dessert — to complement your everyday china. These four black plates, all different and each resembling the face of a vintage watch, are stunning; new this season from Pottery Barn, $50,00.

I love ZaraHome’s products, newly available this fall in the U.S. These purple paisley towels are gorgeous and unusual, $18.90 for hand towels, $59.00 for the bath towel.

This 15.5 inch square throw pillow isn’t cheap — at $87 — but looks like something three times the price, embroidered in cream on white, also from ZaraHome. Pretty for the bedroom, or a nice touch on the sofa.

A glossy olive green enamel thermometer, made in France, $28, is a nice touch for your window; imported by Boston-based entrepreneur Kit Mitchell.

These 8″ plates — each painted in rich jewel tones in a geometric pattern — are $60, from Mothology, a fantastic house wares, lighting and furniture site with a vintage look.

I love an array of pierced-metal lanterns scattered throughout my living room, like these. Nothing sets so romantic and calming a mood.

20121130165647

Here’s a terrific small lantern, with a glass lining, that’s round, soft, weathered green cut-work metal and looks like it was discovered at some Mongolian archeological dig. From Mothology, $34.oo.

For women

This black burn-out velvet dress — something Lady Mary from Downton Abbey might wear — is spendy but exquisite; $554.73, from Plumo, one of my favorite women’s wear websites.

These metallic silver slippers are pretty enough to wear outside the bedroom; from ZaraHome, $49.90.

Oooooh la la! These red and black panties, $52, from Bergdorf Goodman, are to die for.

If she has pierced ears, these stunners from Swarovski, $75, are a great choice; (in my photo on this site’s Welcome page, I’m wearing them.) In gray crystal, they’re a gorgeous neutral elegant enough for evening but simple enough for day. I get compliments every time I wear them.

For men

I love this Timex watch — with a Hudson Bay striped band, in classic primary colors. These are the colors of the classic “point blankets” introduced by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1780 to trade with Canadian natives.

If you’re going to wear a warm hat, go for a tuque, (pronounced took); this one has the insignia of the Montreal Canadiens, aka the Habs. If you can get through a Montreal winter, you’ve survived some serious cold. From Canadian retailer Roots, $30.00.

If you’re looking for a messenger bag, this is it! A man walking his dinosaur, $48.00, from Etsy seller Matt Snow.

A soft indigo henley is a classic; $59.50 from J. Crew.

For fun

I discovered this fast-paced word game this past summer. So fun!

Need help with your snow-ball-making skills? Buy this, $7.50.

Can you really bear to leave home without travel Scrabble? The classic holiday-at-home sanity-saver, $39.00.

Build your own cardboard biplane, from the fab Japanese chain store Muji, $12.50.

For pure pleasure

These handmade marbled papers from Thailand are gorgeous — use them to cover a lampshade, line a picture frame or wrap gifts. (I got this paper from Papyrus and painted some plain frames to match it.)

20121130155434

Do you know the extraordinary scents of Paris-based Diptyque? Try a candle for $60.

I love this seasoning, from Penzeys’ spices, whose selection is mindboggling.

A box of Jacques Torres chocolates. Yum! $36.00.

For a good cause

Who wouldn’t like to adopt an orphaned baby elephant? Through the work of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who runs a foundation in Kenya, you can.

You can help prevent malaria — for $5 — by buying a bednet, through this organization.

This is the writers’ aid organization on whose volunteer board I serve; we can write a check of up to $4,000 within a week to established non-fiction writers who meet our criteria.

Please consider helping writers in your charitable giving this year!

BONUS: I’ll send you a signed copy of my new book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — for you or as a gift, signed to someone else — if you donate $25 or more to WEAF, the writers’ aid organization listed above. Email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com with your mailing address; checks should be made out to the Writers’ Emergency Assistance Fund, or you can donate directly to WEAF, here.

Thanks!

The Best Present Is…

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love on December 26, 2011 at 1:25 am
Christmas gifts

Image via Wikipedia

Good health?

Ready access to excellent medical care?

Love?

A warm, dry safe place to shelter?

Dear friends?

The most materially fortunate spent today unwrapping their Christmas gifts.

Jose, as is his wont, gave me a lovely mixture of the practical and flattering, from a new workout wardrobe to get me back into the gym in style to a book about the mountains of Antarctica to…a folding telescope!

Not at all what some men might buy a wife for their first married Christmas but I was, and am, totally thrilled. I feel like a pirate woman. The ‘scope is powerful enough that I can tell if someone’s standing on the balcony of the apartment building on the opposite side of the Hudson, a distance of three miles. Essential!

My gifts to him this year included “1493”, a new work of history; a paisley silk pocket square and bright blue tattersall shirt and a road atlas. I like that our gifts to each of us combine a sense of adventure with the tools to enjoy it.

It’s a quiet Christmas for us; my father is in Canada with my two half-brothers and my Mom is in a nursing home far away. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with our New York family, whose daughter Jose dated some 15 years ago, all of whom have remained dear friends of ours. We went to church this morning, part of a very small group of perhaps 20 others.

I hope your Christmas was lovely!

What was your best present, given or received?

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love on December 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm
christmas 2007

Image by paparutzi via Flickr

– Christmas dinner in Montreal with friends, then flying BOAC with tinsel garlands hanging across the aisle, to have Christmas Day dinner with my aunt and uncle in London

– Living in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother, and trimming the smallest, weediest little tree we’d ever seen (think of the tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas)

– Coming out of midnight Christmas Eve service at church, just as it’s starting to snow, and Jose suggests we go to the lych gate — where he proposes!

– Getting stuck on the 401, the world’s most boring highway, heading back to Montreal from Toronto, in a scary blizzard, trying to stay warm until the tow-truck came

– The first Christmas living with my Dad, at 15, years after my parents split up when I was seven, showered with lovely and thoughtful gifts I used for years, like the cheery red, yellow and blue patchwork quilt for my bed

– meeting a dishy, blue-eyed engineer, home from Khartoum, on a flight from Dublin to Bristol, and running off into the Welsh fog for a few days with him, back in my crazy single days

– getting frisked by the cops after attending midnight Mass at the cathedral in Cartagena, Colombia

– Heading into the insanity of Boxing Day sales with Jose

– Jose’s first Christmas dinner with my fractious, loud family of table-thumpers. As we sat around expounding and bloviating, interrupting and opining, he finally slammed the table himself, to our enormous shock. “Take turns!” he said. Stunned, like dogs who’ve had the hose turned on us, we did — for a few minutes. Welcome to the family, sweetie!

– My first Christmas with Jose, in 2001, when my gifts included a toaster and a colander. Not sexy, but useful and still very much appreciated

What was your best — or worst — Christmas memory?

Broadside’s best gift is  you — such smart, fun readers worldwide — now 560 worldwide!

Have a great holiday!

Christmas In A War Zone

In behavior, cities, Crime, History, journalism, Media, men, photography, politics, religion, the military, travel, war, world on December 21, 2010 at 1:34 am

As we unpacked our Christmas tree ornaments this week, my sweetie, a former photographer for The New York Times, (now an editor there), pulled out a Ziploc bag and handed me a small reddish brown booklet, the length of my middle finger, crumpled and water-stained.

He found it in a ski chalet in the mountains of Bosnia, in December 1995, that had been turned into a war hospital.

Its black and white photo shows a clean-shaven man wearing a dress shirt, woolen vest and dress jacket. His name, it seems, is Sokolac Mehmedovic, born May 9, 1950. My sweetie found his identity papers, for this is what they were, lying on the floor.

Was the man dead? Fled? In that bleak, freezing, terrifying place and time, one could only guess.

He also brought home a beige piece of paper from IFOR, the UN peacekeeping force of 60,000 sent to Bosnia after the Dayton Accords, negotiated by the late Richard Holbrooke.

The paper, a list of Serbo-Croatian words and phrases, contains normal things like Hello (Zdravo), and Please (Molim).

And:

Cease fire (Prekid Vatre)

Don’t shoot (Ne Pucajte)

Mine  (Mine)

Sniper (Snaiper)

Drop Your Weapon (Spustite orujze)

He arrived in Bosnia on December 6, according to one of his battered press passes, the one issued by the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Zagreb. He came with 20 power bars, long underwear and a carabiner, a light, strong metal clip used by mountain climbers.

Why would he need a carabiner?

It ended up saving his life.

His vehicle, containing a reporter and interpreter, got stuck in deep snow at dusk. Two German UNHCR peacekeepers, one named Wolfgang, a former photojournalist, towed them out — attaching their truck to the car with a cable they looped through the carabiner. My sweetie had picked it up, as an afterthought, at the checkout counter at Eastern Mountain Sports on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

A little voice had told him: “You’re going to need this.”

For a month, he was cold, wet, tired, scared. On Christmas Day, he was alone in a hotel in Tuzla.

His New York Times colleagues had packed a pile of trinkets for him, knowing how hard that being far from home in so frightening a place would be. One enclosed two packs of Marlboros, and several pairs of women’s stockings, with a card that explained: “This worked for my father in WWII. Maybe this will work for you.”

By 4pm, he hadn’t eaten all day. No one else was staying at the hotel and he found the restaurant closed. Begging the manager, he was given a piece of bread and a bowl of hot chicken soup — broth only.

That was his Christmas meal.

This week – warm, dry, employed, safe from guns and knives and rage and freezing cold — we celebrate our Christmas.

Grateful.

Don’t Kill The Cat! Ten Ways To Be A Great Houseguest

In animals, behavior, parenting, travel on November 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm
House Sparrow

Respect their nest! Image via Wikipedia

As the holidays approach, and hosts everywhere hope for the best, a few handy tips:

Don’t kill the cat, (or dog, or fish or parakeet.) I once rented a Parisian apartment, a tiny studio at the top of six (!) flights of stairs. It came with a cat. Within minutes of setting down my suitcase, the cat was gone. Where? I peered six stories down into the courtyard. Nope. Looked every-bloody-where. Asked a neighbor. Kitty had hidden under the duvet covering the sofa. Great. I might have sat on le maudit chat.

Whatever animal(s) come with your host’s home, treat them with kindness and care. Keep doors locked and windows closed when necessary.

Bring loot. It might be lovely soap, fine chocolate, wine, some CDs, a coffee table book. If you arrive empty-handed, be sure to send a gift or flowers within a few days after you leave. With your hand-written thank-you note, mailed. Even if your hosts are loaded and seem to have everything, you can come up with something they would enjoy.

Help out. This means you, missy. Even if you snooze ’til noon, you’re still fully capable of washing dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor or wiping down the kitchen countertops. Not everyone is as haus-frau-y as me, and I do love a little housework, so I do windows, polish silver and even clean out fridges on occasion.

Buy meals. When you and your host(s) go out to eat or drink, pay for them. If you’re on a super-tight budget, do it anyway, at least once. Be thoughtful about their generosity in inviting you into their home. (i.e. you’re not paying to sleep there.)

Bring food and drink. Again, especially if your host(s) are on a budget, this means less of a drain on their scant resources. If you must consume something very specific (and/or expensive) — soy milk, quinoa, spelt, gluten-free bread? — bring it with you.

Sex. Don’t. Really, it’s just not that urgent. If you must, be quiet and tidy and don’t spend all day locked in your room. Whatever little treasures you enjoy at home, stash ‘em when not in use. No matter how wildly in love/lust you are, limit the PDA. It can get a little scary.

No public grooming. Ever. Ever. That includes: shaving, flossing, plucking, picking, moisturizing, depilating, coloring, the noisy and disgusting trimming of your nails, filing/painting/unvarnishing your nails. No one needs to see, hear or smell these behaviors, however necessary.

Find a room and shut the door and do it there. Then tidy up.

Respect the space. Even if you think your host(s’) standards of housekeeping, design or cleanliness oddly high or low, it’s their place. If it’s really that dirty or gross, leave. If it’s so anally all-white-don’t-touch-the-sofa you’re scared to relax, ditto.

Ask about preferences and allergies. I almost ruined my friend’s job interview this week by starting to spray (a little) perfume on my wrists. Turns out she is wildly allergic and would have sneezed for hours.

Adjust your schedule. You don’t have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate or jog with your host(s), but it’s their home and their life you’ve come to fit into for a few days or more. If you normally wake up especially late, make sure this isn’t going to pose a problem for them. Find out who needs the bathroom when and for how long. If you get up much earlier or stay up much later than they do, be quiet and considerate of others’ needs for silence and rest.

Staying with a friend or relative can be a lot of fun and a great way to get to know them better, and vice versa.

It can also, quickly and efficiently, forever kill even the best of relationships as people seethe, sulk and wonder whose idea this was exactly.

Give good guest!

Greetings From The Frozen North — Merry Christmas!

In travel on December 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm
A group of Santa Clauses walks through snowy w...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

We’re home with my Dad in Toronto, staying as warm as possible. You know it’s a Canadian Christmas when:

Your friend  wants the cold to be so bitter that her front lawn will freeze so the moving truck can pull right up to her front door.

Her sister is marrying on Boxing Day, but because they are Sikhs, it’s a three-day affair.

You eat the traditional French-Canadian Christmas meal of tourtiere, a meat pie, sort of hamburger in pastry. The cook, my old friend Marcia, is the grand-daughter of Nellie McClung, who is featured on the $50 bill for helping to win Canadian women the vote.

You try to prepare the turkey and — like so many in Canada — it keeps leaning to the left.

Your Dad buys the oysters for Christmas dinner unshucked. Talk about an ER visit waiting to happen. That’s what free healthcare will do — give you that delicious sense of abandon.

You buy Chinese food from a dive-y joint in a shady neighborhood, called Yummy Food, and it’s some of the best Chinese we’ve ever eaten anywhere.

You lie awake, barely able to sleep with anticipation. No, not Santa Claus — Boxing Day sales! The Canuck equivalent of Black Friday, but even more so, because there are many fewer stores and their profit margins typically higher than in the U.S. You think a hockey scrum is fierce? Hah!

You find out the secret to getting someone helpful when dealing with voicemail hell. When they ask if you want English or French, hit the button for “French” — because operators in Montreal speak English, but those in Bangalore don’t speak French.

You can re-stock the most essential of supplies: Big Turk, Crispy Crunch, Crunchie and all the Canadian candy bars unavailable south of the border.

Hoping your holiday is filled with warmth and fun.

Happy-Merry-Politically-Correct-Whatever! On Hiatus For A Few Days

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2009 at 9:07 pm
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New Y...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ll be off duty here from the 22nd to the 27th., heading north to Canada for Christmas.

Thanks to all of you regulars for being there and the rest for stopping by to visit. I was perhaps the most dubious of bloggers when I first posted here on July 1, 2009, Canada Day, but it’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot, made some new friends and am enjoying the challenge of trying to be lucid and interesting with some regularity. This month, I achieved, in 21 days, almost 6,000 unique visitors. And none of them are my Mom!

While we finish out 2009, and the decade, I’m deeply thankful for the gifts that don’t come wrapped in shiny paper:

your time, attention and thoughts; healthy parents; a lovely partner who’s even managed to keep his journalism job; loyal friends, both old and new; wise colleagues; good health; a cool book to write and a smart young editor, thanks to my tough new agent — and a smart place to hang my hat in the blogosphere.

For someone in a dying industry, I feel oddly optimistic.

May your holidays, and 2010, be filled with joy, friendship, work you value, hope, solvency, health and love.

I offer you a favorite poem by one of my favorite poets, Willam Butler Yeats, written in 1899:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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