Friday, December 28, 2007

Quote of the Week

The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.
- P.J. O'Rourke

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Crescendo

Christmas would not be the same without all the wonderful music that fills the airwaves throughout the season. Inspired by Nursedude to pen my list of holiday favorites, the list below reflects my top 20 Christmas songs with favorite performances:
  • The Chipmunk Song (Please Christmas don’t be Late)- The Chipmunks
    It is obnoxious and you can belt it out of tune just like the original and sound great; and who doesn’t like a song that contains the words “hula hoop.”
  • What are you doing New Year’s Eve- Harry Connick Jr.
    His smooth, jazzy voice delivers this song perfectly and allows me to imagine Harry is inquiring about my plans for December 31.
  • Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms
    This is on the list not because of the song, but because of the dance. Any female who attended Carle Place High School during the tenure of gym teacher Mrs. Snhnaars knows the Jingle Bell Rock dance and years later it is still ever engrained in their heads. As annoying as the week before Christmas was “learning” the same dance year after year it is very funny to be in a room with a bunch of alumni break out the jazz hands when this song hits the radio.
  • Dominick the Donkey- Lou Monte
    A staple of NY radio and slowly moving from sea to shining sea, this song is a cheesy little story about Dominick the Italian Christmas donkey and makes this Italian sing every time I hear it.
  • Baby it’s Cold Outside- Dean Martin with Martina McBride (posthumously)
    Dean’s original version was with a chorus of women which was kind of weird and very risqué for the day. This remixed version takes the smooth voice of Dean Martin and blends it with a single female voice making it much more appropriate… and well done. Had Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey performed this years ago with Jessica taking the male part, begging Nick to spend the night, they would have had a major hit that could have potentially saved their marriage.
  • Silent Night- Perry Como
    Such a beautiful song that there are so many performances worthy of the top ranking, but this is Perry Como’s best. Second place would be my church solo at 6 years old; I still remember my child’s voice filling the sanctuary in my first, and only, solo.
  • White Christmas- Drifters
    Bing Crosby performs the classic version, but this one is just so much fun.
  • We Need A Little Christmas- Andy Williams
    Another fun song which always makes me thing of the Christmas special ”Yogi’s First Christmas.”
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High- Roger Whittaker
    Just love this song and really cannot think of anyone else who performed it.
  • Silver Bells- Doris Day
    So many forget that Doris Day was the Bing Crosby of female singers with a host of holiday songs in her playlist.
  • All I want for Christmas- Mariah Carey
    With my well documented love for karaoke I will also admit I dance around the house singing this song and dreaming I had the kind of body that could wear the cute little Santa outfit Mariah wore in the video for this song.
  • I'll be Home for Christmas- Frank Sinatra
    Ole Blue Eyes delivers an emotional performance of this song and captures the pain of not being able to be close to family on Christmas.
  • Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy- Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet
    An unlikely pairing led to a classic recording of The Little Drummer Boy only a month before Bing Crosby’s death. Reportedly David Bowie did this performance because his mother liked Bing Crosby and now he is probably making more residuals on it then any other of his recordings.
  • Linus and Lucy- Vince Guaraldi Trio
    No holiday song transports me quicker to childhood then hearing this classic from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
  • Carol of the Bells- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
    The crescendo of this song, especially this version, reflects the same dynamics of the holiday season itself; it starts off quiet and builds a tremendous energy until the finale which is quiet, like Christmas morning itself (before everyone wakes up!).
  • The Christmas Song- Nat King Cole
    Nat might have replaced Bing Crosby as the King of Christmas carols had he lived long enough to contribute more performance to holiday standards. His approach to this classic is timeless and touching.
  • Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus- Carle Place Choir Singalong
    There is no recording of this version and I am not sure in the age of political correctness if it is still performed but one of the most special memories of my hometown was the annual “all-sing” at the end of the Carle Place High School Holiday Concert. The whole auditorium stood tall and joined the choir and band in a thunderous rendition from Handle’s Messiah. While the residents of Carle Place might be no Royal Philharmonic they possessed a power from above granted the entire town perfect pitch one time a year.
  • O Holy Night- Josh Groban
    Powerful, dramatic, intense, beautiful, mystically, captivating; these are just a few of the many adjectives that come to mind with this song. Josh Groban performs with an understated brilliance as he lets the beauty of the music as it was written capture listeners rather then trying to embellish the song for the sake of performance. The close brings tears to my eyes and chills down my spine each time it is played.
  • Santa Baby- Eartha Kitt
    Madonna has nothing on the original version of this holiday masterpiece which finally gave the naughty girls something to sing about.
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas- Judy Garland
    It is almost sacrilegious to choose a version other then Perry Como’s, but Judy sang it first in the movie “Meet me in St. Louis” and sang it best. This song captures so many Christmas emotions; happiness, loneliness, nostalgia, grief, elation. I prefer versions performed by female artists for no reason other then believing this song requires a feeling of holiday emotion that only a woman can convey.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

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Our cards did not contain a Christmas Letter which is not unusual; we have never included a Christmas letter in our cards but we love hearing news from our friends and thought we would share suit. Even with our desire to share our year with these friends it came down to one thing; when we thought about what to write we made a frightening discovery, we were boring. But it is okay being boring, right? Isn't drama highly overrated.

As holiday cards began to pour in it was nice reading letters outlining all 2007 brought to the lives of our loved ones. Whether a letter contains words of great sadness or reports exciting news they all bring comfort through understanding the struggles and triumphs of those we hold so dear. For the most part the letters were quite ordinary but we were still happy to receive them. We also realized our life together was not as boring and mundane as we thought. I guess it is all relative; our boring could be someone else’s extraordinary.

The Van Betta Family Year in Review

The year began with fireworks and fanfare in Sydney, Australia as we began 2007 celebrating the amazing beauty and culture unique to that region. The experience made me thankful for the opportunity to attend the wedding of a good friend and appreciate how technology has made it possible to grow friendships despite great geographic distances. While Australia has long been Chelle’s favorite destination, New Zealand quickly climbed to the top of the list with such a wide array of activities, intense physical beauty and the kindness of every person we met. We fell in love with the vineyards of Marlborough and love to buy wine at our local liquor store and declare “we’ve been there.” For those wondering if the long trip is worth it stop wondering; it is the only place to see snow capped mountains, the Pacific Ocean, pristine lakes, lush farms, desert plains, deep forests and city streets all in a single day.

We were front and center at the social event of the century in February attending the wedding of Chelle’s sister Renee’. The ceremony was beautifully presided over by Wade’s brother Mark while Wade read one of the most touching poems ever recited and Chelle served as the Best Broad. A great time was had by all at both the wedding and the all-night after party. Everyone was jealous that Renee’ and Matt escaped the cold of winter for a honeymoon in St. Thomas and proved that getting married in the winter has its advantages; the wedding is only one day, but warm anniversary vacations are for a lifetime!

Although we both remained with the same companies throughout the year each one of us had some major job changes. Wade’s hard work was finally rewarded with a promotion to Senior Project Manager in May. Chelle took a position with a new team but after several months realized the move was not good for her career or her sanity. Luckily there were plenty of other opportunities available and she is now in Nurseline Operations. Wade’s work took him to Connecticut and Chelle’s travel schedule, although not nearly as crazy as in the days of consulting, had her visiting Princeton, San Antonio, West Virginia and Long Beach.

Our College Ten year reunions snuck up on us this year; where does the time go? Chelle traveled to the Mary Washington campus in Virginia in June and is still in awe of how much the whole city of Fredericksburg has changed. While in Virginia Chelle got to catch up with some good friends and is hoping to schedule another visit in 2008 as Mary Washington celebrates its centennial year. Our reunions also marked a little anniversary for us; we met in the summer of 1997 in Chicago.

Family events dominated our travel schedule in the latter half of the year; NY for a cousin’s graduation, Toronto to celebrate Wade’s brother’s 20th year in the Lutheran ministry, a surprise trip to NY for Chelle’s mother’s birthday and our annual holiday trip which was for Thanksgiving this year. When home for Thanksgiving we drove to Philadelphia to see Chelle’s friends Diane and Victor, caught up with another friend Wes in Princeton and spent time in New Jersey with relatives. Chelle’s sister Kristen visited for Labor Day and we rented a pontoon to christen her in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and attended the Minnesota State Fair to sample a wide variety of foods on a stick. John, a friend of Chelle’s from her days in DC, came from Rhode Island in May to see us and attend a couple of Twins/Red Sox games. That same weekend we participated the Humane Society’s Walk for Animals and rose over $1000 for local shelters. Chelle once again completed the Northshore Inline Marathon in Duluth and survived the most grueling test of her strength and endurance with cold temperatures and heavy winds while meeting their friend’s new daughter; Nola. Chelle’s Mom visited twice and after years of getting the timing wrong (or right!) and finally experienced winter; her March visit saw two blizzards and in December temperatures below zero. Our home is always open to our friends and family but we highly recommend targeting July – September.

Long distance relationships grew closer over the year as each one of us realized facebook was not just for teenagers. It is nice finding long lost friends and keeping up with the everyday lives of those both far and near making it much more bearable having friends and family who span the globe. We both continue to expand our creativity through writing and publish some of our work on our websites; Simpleprop and Explosive Bombchelle.

Wade’s Dad gave us the scare of our lives suffering a broken hip with a fall in our home on Easter weekend. His recovery had him in the Twin Cities for about 3 weeks and he was happy the hospital was a pet friendly facility; Luna and Solei lit the faces of many patients recovering in the orthopedic ward. We considered officially licensing them as therapy dogs, but Luna’s love for Cheerios would make her a menace in any ward. Luna and Solei keep us busy, provide us endless hours of love and entertainment and continue to surprise us with their abnormal level of canine intelligence and incredible athleticism wrapped in such little bodies. Although the year had us very busy at work and home we still ventured out to see friends, attend the theatre and enjoy our Vikings season tickets.

We are looking very forward to the holidays with family and friends and are especially excited for the mystery and excitement that 2008 can offer. Even if it is just as quiet and eventless as 2007 we continue to have the best time together after all these years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote of the Week

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.
- Jay Leno

Monday, December 17, 2007

We're all family

There is nothing I despise more then a trip to the mall on a weekend during the holidays. With the advent of online shopping there is really very little reason to suffer the torture of mall shopping. I will, however, brave the snow, cold, crowds and children awaiting their turn with Santa for one reason and one reason only; to use my sister’s coveted Macy*s Friends and Family discount. It is fast becoming a tradition to brave the crowds, the lines and the frostbite for the opportunity to get a substantial discount on presents for myself and others. This bravery was once well rewarded but this year the Ho Ho Ho was taken out of our holiday shopping when we discovered posters all over the store offering everyone the friends and family discount.

It is a treat each year to go shopping with an additional 20% off everything coupon, even sale items, granting the opportunity to give very generous looking holiday gifts for a fraction of the cost and allowing a few new items to enter the personal closet rotation. We are incredibly excited to be in the special circle of friends and family lucky enough to get such good deals and it makes our sister so happy to share this with us. This year the circle was expanded and not all that special to be in; everyone was given the discount and the piece of paper in our pocket was worthless. What was more upsetting is the Friends and Family discount was being used as a store sale meaning nothing else was discounted; no opportunity for legendary stories of getting an additional 20% off items that were already marked down to nothing, no jokes that the store almost had to pay you to walk out with the item.

Realizing that there was little reason to actually go on a spending spree, I had to know why the decision was made to cheapen the meaning of the discount by offering it to everyone. After enquiring with a sales woman on why the largest department store in the US would resort to giving the discount to everyone she gave me the following answer; management found that people get upset at promotions they didn’t get it. Have we gotten so selfish and childish as a society that Macy*s has to pretend that everyone is family? Has our entitlement culture really become so out of hand that people are being petty enough to demand a store discount they don’t deserve?

What infuriated me more then having a pretend sale by including everyone as friend was the thought of thousands of coupons printed for actual employees to share with their loved ones; what an absolute waste of natural resources! In this time of environmental consciousness to be so utterly irresponsible as to waste that much paper is an abomination. A rainforest in Brazil was probably stripped clean so Macy*s could print the coupons AND the signs for the stores saying everyone got the discount.

Even worse then the filling landfills is how this employee perk, used to recruit people for both full-time and seasonal employment, is now worthless in the hiring process. There is no industry worse then retail during the holidays and the ability to get discounts is a tool used to convince people to work the insane hours and deal with irate customers. The sales women I talked with was very upset as she believed the friends and family discount was a perk of her employment and a “gift” she could give those she loved who put up with her stress and crazy schedule during the holiday season. She was absolutely right to feel slighted; her terms of employment and compensation were altered so Macy*s could engage in this badly executed sales ploy.

Over the past few weeks I quickly discovered that this sales tactic was not isolated and retailers nationwide were jumping on the Friends and Family bandwagon. It must be the latest fad in sales and marketing because suddenly emails and coupons came pouring in for a wide variety of stores offering the friends and family discount; Kenneth Cole, H2Oplus, ArtsyTartsy, Gap, Eddie Bauer- the list goes on and on. Each “offer” made me angry for all the people who sacrifice so much of their time and energy this time of year and are now receiving even less compensation for surviving the over-commercialization of Christmas. Perhaps I am overly sensitive since I did not get a cashmere sweater for $8 this year, but after a short time working in retail people who survive sales in December deserve this one little bonus.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote of the Week

Santa is very jolly because he knows where all the bad girls live.
- Dennis Miller

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nothing Special

The advent of the VCR and subsequent technologies aimed at bringing instant entertainment into the home have all but ended one of my favorite childhood holiday activities; watching Christmas specials. Immediately following Thanksgiving the major networks would begin airing a long list of timeless classics building into a crescendo of holiday excitement until Christmas Day. While it is no longer necessary to plan life around a television schedule I cannot help but wonder what it is we lose when all our entertainment is available on demand.

Viewing Christmas specials once required use of the TV guide, a relic in weekly publications, and serious time management skills to juggle the long list of programs. December would not the same if we missed Charlie Brown’s Christmas and had to wait a full year to see it again; a modern day tragedy. Revolving evening activities around annual airings led to a certain air of excitement and giddy anticipation, almost as exhilarating as the arrival of Santa Claus himself! The real thrill of all this had very little to do with the actual quality of the show itself and more to do with the traditions around the evening; our whole family piled on the couch, cuddling with our Velveteen rabbits, eating popcorn, laughing.

Tradition also dictated that we repeated conversations and observations year after year; arguments over the quality of A Muppet Christmas Carol versus Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Frosty Returns not being nearly as good as Frosty the Snowman, how Stupid Karen was wearing a skirt to the North Pole, the Grinch’s poor dog being the most tortured character on television. These types of discussions and moments in front of the tube together were not limited to December; ever wonder who actually gave kids rocks like in Charlie Brown’s Halloween or why Peppermint Patty didn’t have parents to cook Thanksgiving Dinner? How many people remember all the commercials and build up to the twice a year showing of The Wizard of Oz? These were not just television programs, they were events cherished by both children and adults.

The anticipation and excitement of television specials are things of the past for most people, replaced by instantaneous satisfaction and the ability to view these programs over and over. How many of us treat watching a television special as the social event of the week; entertainment on demand has taken the “special” out of television specials and made watching them quite ordinary. It was not until many years later that I began to appreciate how wonderful evenings with my family around the television was, especially around Christmas; during the hustle and bustle of the season we took the time to settle down for an evening or two.

Television specials gave us more then just time together; we also learned so many other lessons that are lost today. Waiting for our favorite show required a great deal of patience because we could not see them any time we wanted. Once the time came to watch we learned to be quiet and pay attention because we couldn’t rewind to see what we missed. We also learned to time our bathroom breaks quite carefully; there was no pausing the action for bladder issues. These changes could be part of the reason children of today come off as demanding and impatient; commercials are fast forwarded, live action paused, any show they want available at the click of a button. It is actually quite sad that families do not get to feel the same simple joy and togetherness that TV used to provide and must go to further and more expensive means to experience anticipation and togetherness. It could also be the reason I avoid watching television; it’s really just not all that special anymore.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CSI Dublin

I was quoted in yesterday's USA Today article "Should you say yes to rental car insurance? It depends" written by Gary Stoller after being interviewed about an experience in Ireland we had in 2005 which we affectionately refer to as "CSI Dublin." The quote relates back to the biggest lesson we learned after damage to our rental car was discovered upon returning it; always get the insurance when renting a car overseas.

We can laugh about the experience 2 and a half years later, but the only thing more stressful then driving on the roads of Ireland is dealing with a damaged rental car. To see more then just the inner city of Dublin we rented a car for two days and drove around the countryside dodging animals, stone walls and oncoming traffic with ease. After two days we had enough driving and returned the car to the airport, leaving us the opportunity to explore the city on foot for a few days. When the agents inspected our car they found the bumper stripped of paint with a small dent. Upon much protest, we were charged a $750 Euro deductible.

Examining the car, it became apparent that the damage was consistent with the car hitting a cement object, like a pole. We realized that the valet at the hotel must have damaged the car and the rental car company informed us to inspect the security tapes at the hotel to prove we did not cause the damage. The manager of the hotel was very helpful and sifted through the security tape from the evening before and we could not find any evidence that the car was damaged during that time. We then turned to our own camera where we saw the damage on a digital image that indicated that the accident happened two nights prior. Upon reviewing even more security tape we discovered there was a significant amount of time that our rental car was not accounted for on the tape leaving us no option but to head to the garage and find the scene of the crime ourselves.

We headed to the underbelly of the hotel with the general manager to inspect the area of the garage where the security cameras did not capture any footage. After some inspection it became obviously where the incident occurred; a huge amount of blue paint consistent with the color of our rental was on a pole and chips fresh on the floor. The manager apologized profusely as I took some photos and saved some paint chips in an envelope.

The hotel agreed to pay for the damages, however, would not pay the deducible outright before the car was fixed and a final bill was sent to them with the actual amount, which we all believed would be far less then the exorbitant deductible. Months later, the rental car company sent the hotel a bill for charges that were obviously unrelated to the incident, fixing much more then just the scratched bumper and sticking the hotel with the full deductible amount. So, four months later I received a $750 Euro check (which was worth $61 less then it did when I paid the deductible the first time), an apology and a voucher for 2 free nights at the hotel whenever life had me back in Dublin.

The experience left me quite bitter about rental car companies; the dishonesty of fixing more then just the damage incurred during my rental taught me that if you damage a car you will ALWAYS pay the full deductible amount. Yes, my own insurance would probably have covered some of the damage but the phone calls to Ireland to deal with the bills and the idiots at the car company would have cost me more time and money then the claim's worth. While I still decline the extra insurance domestically, the money it costs to get the extra insurance overseas is well worth saving an already expensive vacation; the experience almost ruined our European adventure.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Survey

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper; except for wine which goes into cute gift bags.
2. Real tree or artificial? This year... both!
3. When do you put up the tree? Early December.
4. When do you take the tree down? Ideally on or around January 6 (epiphany).
5. Do you like eggnog? Yes, with a shot (or two) of Captain Morgan, nutmeg and cinnamon.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? Hard to remember, we got so much. I remember getting a kitchen set which might have started my love for cooking, a cabbage patch doll named Erika Leigh and a 15 speed bike. We always got a Barbie doll as well, which stayed in the boxes (I still have them, in the boxes)
7. Do you have a nativity scene? We have Lenox figurines of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus.
8. Hardest person to buy for? Wade’s cousin’s husband Joe, he is the man who has it all.
9. Easiest person to buy for? My Mother, slap a few photos into a calendar and she's very happy.
10. Worst Christmas gift ever received? A book of poetry and a candle from Wade on our first Christmas together... might not be the worst ever, but I got a little nervous since I thought this was a precursor of years to come (he’s become infinitely better since).
11. Mail or email Christmas card? Mail, personalized cards complete with photos of the fur-children; this year 240 cards
12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Miracle on 34th Street
12a. Favorite Christmas TV Special? Olive the Other Reindeer, and I love those end of the year "best of" specials.
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? July
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Does it count if you recycled a wedding gift and gave it as a Christmas gift?
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cheese Fondue (at our annual fondue party, this year hosted by Rachel and Jason)
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? C o l o r e d
17. Favorite Christmas song? That's so tough! Santa Baby, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas or Dominick the Donkey
18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? We travel to NY every other year (when we aren't in Australia like last Christmas)
19. Can you name Santa's reindeer? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (Rudolph is only an urban legend)
20. Do you have an Angel on top or a star? Neither, we put fun picks on top of the tree. This year we have little presents on one tree and candied fruit and twigs on the other. (Photo above is last year's tree)
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Growing up we opened our family gifts on Christmas Eve and Santa gifts on Christmas Day. We don’t do much for Christmas Eve when home in Minnesota.
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Weight Gain

Friday, December 07, 2007

Go Elf Yourself

Office Max has joined the "Simpsonize Me" craze with their own holiday version of fun with photoshop; and it is pretty darn cute. Click on the photo below if you want to see my brother-in-law get his Jingle Bells on with me and my sisters.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quote of the Week

Wishing everyone a very Happy Hanukkah.
Christmas brings enormous electric bills. Candles are used for Hanukkah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.
-KOACH Humor, "Holiday Distinctions Finally Explained"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Many happy return addresses

‘Tis the season to update the old address book and ensure Christmas and Hanukah greetings have a one way ticket rather then a roundtrip right back to your mailbox. Each year this is one task that is met with a variety of challenges and profanities, always taking me far longer then anticipated. Every December I make the same declaration; next year I will make address book updates throughout the year, yet this month is no different then year’s past as I sit here with my list of contacts preparing to send out cards and seriously contemplating on whether it would be easier to just say "bah humbug."

Adequately performing yearly address updates require intense person by person data analysis. From A to Z, each entry is studied in an effort to dust off the brain and remember if the contact experienced any major life changes; moved, got married, got divorced, had a child, adopted a pet. As an emotional person this task can at times be taxing. Joyous and painful moments of the year are experienced all over again with each stroke on the keyboard. Edits are most often for happy reasons with the name of a new child or spouse added to a record. The most painful moments come with the deletes; strained friendships and deaths seem so much more permanent when people no longer live in my address book. Updating an address book is like writing a new chapter in your autobiography, adding detail to the storyline of your supporting cast.

As a self-proclaimed geek I find data analysis extremely interesting and I noticed the following trend: in our twenties friend’s changed their addresses almost as frequently as their underwear. Growing responsibility equals greater stability; it is more likely a “return to sender” comes from retiring family who trade in their family homes for condos in the south then from friends with minivans and car seats. Even my own data has remained unchanged since shortly after my 30th birthday when I moved into my present home and we adopted the youngest member of our furry family.

Performing this update once a year, although time consuming, provides time to really sit down and reflect on the past twelve months and what it meant to the lives of those we love, and to our own. It is so profound to focus on the names of all the wonderful people in my life and the days when we did not have to write Christmas cards because we saw each other at parties and gatherings instead. Each year we write promises in cards, letters and emails to call and write more; easier said then done. While it is sad to see another year pass without those promises fulfilled, it is still comforting to know that the chill of winter is made more bearable by warm wishes from around the world; that is what the holiday season is all about. Long after the decorations are packed away, gifts are forgotten and holiday pounds disappear, memories of cards and letters, news and photos from friends and family remain. While 2008 cannot bring us more time to see family and friends it helps to slow things down, even if only for a day, to take a walk down memory lane and make sure your holiday wishes are not returned.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gift Giving for Dummies

It is better to give then to receive, but finding perfect gift for everyone on your shopping list makes holiday gift giving stressful for many. It is easy to express anger and disappointment at those who are unable to give suitable gifts, accusing them of being lazy or thoughtless, but we must recognize that the human genome contains genetic coding that predisposes certain individuals to inferior gift giving. If you suffer from this serious condition there is hope. For those unable to pick up on the subtle clues, random comments or blatant advice dropped throughout the year there are options other then gift certificates and fruitcake that will have your loved ones gasping “Wow” rather then “Why” over the holiday season. While Oprah’s famous list of favorite things would break the bank of the average shopper, my favorite things for 2007 gift giving fall into a wide variety of price ranges for those who were naughty or nice on your shopping list.

Design-her Gals Stationary: A good gift for a good cause. Visit to create a wide variety of stationary bearing the likeness of a special woman on your list. Design options include body type, skin color, hair color and style, clothes, shoes and accessories. A percentage of the proceeds from each purchase support women with Stage 4 breast cancer. Just make sure to run the avatar design past another friend to ensure the design really looks like the recipient. My personal favorites are the checklists and notecards (as pictured).

Spa Wish: I know people see the purchase of gift certificates as both easy and practical but honestly, it is the ultimate sign of thoughtlessness. It is better to actually put the time and effort into understanding what someone would like from a store then to give them a gift certificate to that same store. And here is what retailers don’t want people to know; so many people forget to use those gift cards before they expire, meaning free cash to businesses. The only exception to the no gift cards rule is for experiences and services; pedicures, massages, sky diving, etc. My personal favorite is Spa Wish where the lucky recipient can get a wide variety of spa services from participating salons and spas. These can be purchased on or at a variety of stores who sell gift cards. Costco currently carries the cards at a discount meaning more massage for less moolah.

Personalized Greetings: There are so many ways to design and print personalized calendars these days that I’m surprised that traditional calendars bearing the photos of random animals, people, places and things, often seen in the middle of malls in temporary kiosks, even sell anymore. Broderbund has software bringing creative calendar creations to your home computer, but I personally prefer to use online printers to make calendars for family. Most online photo sites have calendars, but I prefer to use (formerly ofoto) for their quality product. To add an extra touch to a calendar, purchase a good acid free photo pen from a craft store (like Michael’s) and include birthdays, anniversaries and other special dates to add a special touch to an already perfect gift. If calendars are not appropriate, Kodak Gallery has a wide variety of fun gifts from picture books to coffee mugs that are sure to please.

Skin of Soft and Clean: Some people find the gift of fine soaps and toiletries impersonal which is completely valid if giving a random gift set purchased at Walgreen’s on Christmas Eve. Much more personal is giving luxurious products that most people resist indulging in due to cost considerations. If you know your recipient has brand loyalty to a certain line of products, then fill up a stocking of their favorite things. Otherwise, I recommend anything from H2O+. All their products are water based and use natural vitamins and minerals found in the sea, meet a wide variety of skin needs and are ideal for those with super sensitive skin. H2O+ also takes a firm stand against animal testing, a very important quality for animal lovers. My personal recommendations include; Milk hair products, Aqualibrium skin line, Spa Sea Salt body wash and skin smoother, and Mint foot cream to avoid winter dry feet.

Memories: Most people can’t remember the gifts they received in years past, but everyone remembers an amazing experience long after it is over. Check out local theatres for upcoming shows, see if a favorite performer is coming into town, rent a limo for a night out on the town, book a stay at a bed and breakfast, plan a trip to a favorite or new destination, get tickets to the Superbowl; the level of extravagance can vary to any budget or time constraint.

Class Act: Taking a class with a friend or loved one can be both educational and fun. Check out your local continuing education programs or community colleges and centers to see what kind of programs they offer. Some classes meet a night or two a week for an extended period of time while others are only one time affairs. Does someone special to you want to learn Thai cooking, photography, ballroom dance, or underwater basket weaving? Give them the gift of knowledge and fun that lasts long after the egg nog is done.

Holiday Spirits: If you need hostess gifts for holiday parties, thank you gifts for co-workers or want to spread the holiday spirit to neighbors invest in a case (or two) of Brotherhood’s Holiday Wine brought to you from America’s oldest winery. The spiced wine in a holiday themed gift bag is the perfect gift on the go. Lucky recipients will enjoy the wine heated up with cinnamon sticks and served in a mug. Delicious!

Start a Tradition: The gifts that are given year after year are often the most memorable. If you have someone on your list who has a collection, give them a new piece every year. Holiday Villages, crystal, toy trains, remote control cars, carousel horses; the choices are a unique as the people you are buying them for. Even if they know what they are expecting, they will be happy to grow their collectables. Another idea is beginning a Christmas ornament tradition which is especially nice for children; a special ornament a year will show how they and times have changed and give them special decorations and memories for their own tree long after they leave Mom and Dad’s.

Framing: Whether you take the expensive route of a professional framing or head to a store and buy a pre-sized frame, finding a special photo, poster, painting, childhood artwork, baseball card, stamp, anything really and framing it is an amazing gesture. The growing ease and sinking costs associated with photo restoration can also be a way to give a memorable and special gift in a beautiful frame; restore an old wedding photo, baby pictures, special vacation shot. Keep memories alive by fixing those old photos, writing the names of those in the shot (with a photo safe pencil), and preserving it for generations to come.

A Girl’s Best Friend: Jewelry is of course a very nice gift for those demanding people on your list but random jewelry purchases without meaning are just as impersonal as a gift card. Jewelry purchases should be memorable and have special meaning to the recipient so they remember years later who purchased the piece and when they received it. Understand what type of jewelry a person likes; are they an earring person, pendants, rings, bracelets. Get timeless pieces, those that never go out of style. Get something special like a mother’s ring of birthstones. When in doubt, diamonds are a girl’s best friend and Costco is a man’s best friend; all diamonds are guaranteed to appraise at double the purchase price and are procured through legal channels adhering to the United Nations anti-conflict diamond process.

Presentation: Someone once said life is 10% substance and 90% presentation and that same logic applies to the holidays. Have fun with the wrapping and presenting. If you get that limo ride to a show then buy a matchbox car limo and wrap that with the tickets. Heading on a tropical vacation, then put the tickets into a beach bag. Be creative and fully experience the joy of giving.