Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Out with the Old; In with the New 

In the past few weeks an inordinate number of people have expressed to me that they cannot wait for 2003 to be over and done with. It doesn't seem as though anybody was really fond of 2003 very much. And while I can't say that I blame them (after all, everybody has the right to judge their own year), I also can't say that I necessarily agree with them.

Personally, I don't want time to pass any more rapidly than it already is. And by saying things like "I can't wait for 2003 to be over with," you are literally wishing time to go by even faster. This makes no sense to me. Personally, I would like time to slow the hell down. With each passing year it seems as though the hours in a day fly by at an even more rapid pace, and I don't like it one bit.

When I was a kid, a weekend would stretch ahead of me like a long winding road, full of possibilities and promise. I might meander through the woods and along the stream in the park across the street, ride my bicycle in hundreds of figure 8's in the driveway, or climb into the willow tree in the backyard with a hot dog and a good book. I might go next door to visit my neighbor Pop-Pop who would create beautiful oil paintings of horses while I watched, or meet friends at the corner bank and roll down the steep grassy hill, or design, draw, color, and cut out clothing for my paper dolls. I might walk around the corner to my grandparents' house and play on the tire swing, or play cards with my Grandpa John, or root around in my Grandma Anna's sewing scraps box to see what I could make.

Back then I had what in today's world would be considered an unheard of amount of free, unstructured time. No parentally-planned play dates; no gymnastics/ballet/karate classes; no soccer/softball/basketball practices. For the most part I had no place I had to be, other than home on time for dinner. And I was rarely -- if ever -- bored.

Those were the days!

Nowadays a weekend rushes by in a blink of an eye, with lots of things crossed off the ubiquitous "to do" list, yet typically nothing memorable or worthwhile accomplished. Sometimes it feels as though I am just treading water.

If I had one wish for the New Year it would be that I would somehow figure out why this time compression happens and what I can do about it. Is it just the ageing process and there is nothing that can be done? Is it something to do with my fierce dependence on technology? If I became a luddite and (GASP!) disposed of my TVs and computers and cell phone, and read more books and took more walks, would time itself slow down? Or would the world continue in its mad swirl while I simply sank to the bottom?

Here's to a happy and healthy new year -- with time to spare.
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Friday, December 26, 2003

Happy Boxing Day! 

Haven’t you always wondered what Boxing Day was? It always appeared on our calendars on December 26th, yet we never roasted a pig or cooked a goose in honor of it, let alone baked a cake or listened to Boxing Day music.

When I was a kid somebody told me it was the day you had to dispose of all the empty Christmas boxes. (The “somebody” was probably my clever mother who was more than a little ready to be able to see the carpet again.)

Thanks to the Internet, I now know more about this holiday. Boxing Day is celebrated in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. It falls on December 26th, which is also St. Stephen's Feast Day (St. Stephan was the first Christian matyr). The traditional celebration of Boxing Day includes giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, needy individuals, and people in service jobs (such as postmen).

The holiday dates from the Middle Ages (A.D. 400's-1500's), but the exact origin is unknown. It may have begun with the lords and ladies of England, who presented Christmas gifts in boxes to their servants on December 26th. Or it may have begun with priests, who opened the church's alms (charity) boxes on the day after Christmas and distributed the contents to the poor.

Now you know!
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What did YOU get for Christmas? 

When I was a kid, December 26th was the happiest day of the year. There was no school, I was allowed to eat a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce for breakfast if I wanted, the pesky cheek pinching relatives were out of the house, I had a bunch of new stuff to play with and best of all – so did my friends.

The day usually started with a slew of “What did YOU get?” phone calls, followed by fun-filled visits to one another’s houses to play to our hearts’ content. Everything was bright and shiny and new. Games still had all of the pieces, dolls still had all of their shoes, and everybody still had a plethora of Christmas cookies in the house. Bliss.

Even though I am an adult now, and I understand the true reason for the season, and I actually do enjoy giving as much as receiving (sometimes more, actually), I still wanna know: what did YOU get for Christmas? And when can I come over and play?
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

In Praise of the Holiday Letter 

I think the much-maligned Annual Holiday Letter has gotten a bad rap.

According to many popular media outlets (see this article from Pioneer Press as one example), I seemingly am in the minority when I boldly state that I am genuinely happy when I spot a Holiday Letter tucked into a Christmas card. It's so much better than a plain old greeting card hastily signed, addressed, sealed and stamped in assembly line fashion. While I do realize that Holiday Letters are necessarily mass-produced, I think it takes a lot more creative energy and sincere thought then scribbling your name a hundred times.

Warning: I am climbing up on my soapbox now!

These days, I am astonished at how many people buy those bizarre pre-printed cards, or worse yet use a pre-printed label to sign their name. (Yes, it's true -- I get a couple of those every year.) HELLO!? Are you so busy and important you can't even sign your own name, let alone write a cheery "Merry Christmas!"? Cut me a freakin' break! Unless you are business, or a movie star, or have a broken arm, sign your own name to a card! And if you ARE a business or a movie star, don't send those impersonal pre-printed cards to your best customers or close friends, DUH! What does that say about what you mean to them?

And while I am still up here on the box, how difficult is it for you to write the recipients' names at the top of the card? (As in "Dear John and Karin.") I get dozens of cards that are so astonishingly impersonal I truly wonder why they were sent in the first place. (I.E. the envelope has no return address; the card has absolutely no writing on it other than a scribbled name at the bottom.) I mean, are you sending me a card to wish me a happy Christmas and to let me know that you are thinking about me, then SAY so! If you are just sending a card out of some sort of twisted obligation, then just don't trouble yourself -- please! It only pisses me off.

Also -- do you think you could possibly spell my name right? It's really NOT THAT DIFFICULT: I instead of E! There are only five vowels (ok, sometimes six) in the American alphabet: PICK THE RIGHT ONE!

OK, I am climbing down off the soapbox now -- it's safe to read on.

A Christmas card is often one of the ways we reach out to those we don't see on a regular basis: an old college girlfriend, a neighbor who moved away years ago, a colleague you used to work with -- whatever. Around the holidays I tend to get a little sentimental, so if I haven't spoken to somebody in a while, I almost always try to include a brief personal note in the card to let them know I am thinking about them and that I am still alive and kickin'. The Holiday Letter does this much more efficiently and creatively and quickly.

I am not advocating that you send EVERYBODY on your card list a mass-produced Holiday Letter. For example, the people you see or talk to all of the time don't really NEED to get your Holiday Letter -- they already know what's going on in your life, right? I think that you should consider who you would welcome a Holiday Letter FROM, and send your letter to that select group of people. I also think that you might consider writing more than one version of your Holiday Letter -- one letter for family members that focuses on the kids or vacations, and perhaps another letter for friends that focuses on your travels or career moves.

It's too late to write a holiday letter for this Christmas, but it's not too early to start thinking about it for next year. In fact -- why not start your holiday letter in January, adding a paragraph each month as the year progresses? If you are not big on writing, but enjoy taking pictures, why not make an all-photo-plus-caption holiday letter, using photos from throughout the year?

Here are a few websites that offer some ideas for composing your holiday letter:

The perfect holiday letter (by Carrie Schmeck)

Writing the Holiday Letter (by Jim Heynen)

What makes a good holiday letter? (by Molly Millett)

I am looking forward to receiving YOUR Holiday Letter next year!
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Friday, December 12, 2003

'Tis the season to get busy! 

I am singing in a concert tomorrow night (preceeded by a 2-hour dress rehearsal).
I have a 3-hour rehearsal in the city on Sunday.
I have a 3-hour rehearsal on Tuesday night.
I have a 3-hour rehearsal Thursday night in the city.
I have a concert in the city on Saturday (preceeded by a 2-hour dress rehearsal).

I have not written a single Christmas card yet.
I have not wrapped a single Christmas gift yet.

By Sunday, my husband will have worked 6 12-hour shifts (72 hours) in 7 days. On his one day off he spent 8 hours at the mall finishing his Christmas shopping, coming home practically mute from exhaustion.

We have a tree...but it is bare and will remain so until Monday night.
None of my decorations are up!

I am blessed to have a houseful of family coming for Christmas Eve and another houseful on Christmas Day, but I have not begun to plan the menu! (Other than knowing that a ham and a turkey will play center stage!)

Life is FULL!

So you, my faithful readers, will have to forgive me for not writing so much between now and Christmas. I will get back in the groove after the holidays -- you have my "word"!
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Thursday, December 11, 2003

What's not to like about Miami? 

If you've ever been to Miami, then you've probably stumbled across some of their tourist pitfalls. The tourism industry there has some very strange ideas about how to treat tourists.

Some examples:

Other things not to like about Miami include the following:

'Nuff negativity...I enjoyed my trip, but suffice it to say I learned a few things about Miami.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

What's to like about Miami? 

Sorry for the blog blackout, but was away on a mini-vacation in Miami and had no access to a computer.

OK, I am lying. I could probably have had access to a computer, but I chose not to. So sue me. I can't remember the last time I had that many days away from a computer!

I must admit that it's been nice having so many people send me e-mail asking where the heck I've been! That's how I know you are reading my blog!

Miami was fun. Here's a list of my favorite things about Miami:

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Monday, December 01, 2003

The Friday Five (Shopping) 

  1. Do you like to shop? Why or why not?

    • I like to shop when I don’t HAVE to, but I don’t like to shop when I HAVE to – too much pressure. I like to shop when I have lots of money, but I don’t like to shop when I am feeling less than flush. I like to shop for myself (especially when I am supposed to be shopping for others), but I don’t like to shop under pressure for others…especial those who are difficult to buy for.

  2. What was the last thing you purchased?

    • I was Christmas shopping yesterday and bought myself a pair of aerobics sneakers and three identical sweaters in three different colors. See...I LIKE to shop for myself, especially when I am supposed to be shopping for others, especially when everything is such a big bargain!

  3. Do you prefer shopping online or at an actual store? Why?

    • It depends on what I am shopping for. If I am looking for buy something technical or electronic, I prefer to shop online because it’s so much easier to look up reviews and compare prices. I also prefer to shop online for unusual items that can be difficult to find at local stores. However, when shopping for shoes or clothes I prefer to shop at an actual store. I cannot buy a pair of shoes online – they would never fit as I am way too picky about comfort. Also, when shopping for clothing I like to feel the fabrics, which you can’t do online. For me, buying shoes or clothing online is just too hit and miss – I end up spending too much shipping stuff back.

  4. Did you get an allowance as a child? How much was it?

    • I did, but I don’t have any recollection of how much it was. Not enough, most likely.

  5. What was the last thing you regret purchasing?

    • Since I almost always have buyer’s remorse immediately upon leaving the store, I would have to say that I regret buying the three identical sweaters in three different colors that I bought last night. It’s not that I don’t still like them (I do!), or that I won’t get a lot of use out of them (I will!). It’s just that, even though they were a real bargain, I always feel guilty if I buy something for myself when I supposed to be shopping for others. Sigh. I probably need a tune-up at the shrink’s.

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