Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Service of Contrasts: In Your Face Excess & Merriment vs. Poverty & Tragedy

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021

2021 Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Photo: Bob Gula

Striking contrasts seem even more vivid this Christmas season.

If you watch commercial TV you’ll notice the shattering contrasts of some commercial lineups and you might wonder who determines their order in a typical 4 minute run. One station plays gut wrenching videos of emaciated, starving young Africans to generate donations to Save the Children immediately followed by extreme jollity as a family rips open presents or welcomes a child to the grownup table that is groaning with food. These are sponsored by Walmart. Obviously the company doesn’t control placement.

Image by Kai Pilger from Pixabay

Nothing new: There have always been unfortunate pairings in print of advertising and editorial subjects placed together on a page or across from one another. My friends in advertising had to frequently deal with the fallout: Their clients’ ruffled feathers.

I wonder if some who position ads are paying attention.

The headline of Valentina Di Liscia’s article illustrates a similar point:  “While 11% of Staff Was Laid Off, Guggenheim Director Made Record $1.5 Million.” She wrote “The museum says its director, Richard Armstrong, took a 25% pay cut during the pandemic — but the reduction didn’t apply to ‘compensation earned in prior years.'”

As you walk around a city like New York you see homeless huddled in doorways or holding pleas for help spelled out on cardboard. In contrast holiday lights and decorations in office and apartment lobbies, store windows and in front of landmarks dress the city, brighten chilly short days and punctuate early nights. Nevertheless they seem jarring while so many suffer. Big money is spent on some of these seasonal pick-me-ups. Could we dim the lights just a bit and help the hungry and unfortunate at the same time? The 50-foot high tree outside of Fox took 21 hours to install and had 10,000 glass ornaments and 100,000 lights. News reports estimated the damage–a mentally ill homeless person set it on fire–at $500,000.

What strident contrasts have you noticed?

Child promoted to grownup’s table in WalMart commercial. Photo:

Service of Planning Way Ahead

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Does everyone plan way ahead these days?

As early as August people had rented homes and hotel rooms to gather with family members for out of town Thanksgiving celebrations.

Daily we’re warned to buy Christmas gifts now. Wait and we will be unable to purchase the ones we want.

Michelle Fox at reported that a survey forecasted that 27 percent of holiday shoppers plan to start before the end of September and 13 percent started in August. In addition to bargain shopping and threats of rising prices that inspire early purchases, supply chain clogs and shortages of computer chips and other key components inspire shopping now.

Toys are particularly at risk. Fox wrote: “Some Lego advent calendars are already selling out, Ellsworth noted. Other hot items include Squishmallows and a plush toy of the Morris character from the Marvel movie ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.’” Kate Ellsworth is the executive editor of commerce content at Reviewed.

Lisa Baertlein, Reuters, reported in mid-September that “A record 60 container vessels are at anchor or adrift in the San Pedro Bay, waiting to be unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach seaports and another 20 are due to arrive in coming days.”

An article on reported; “According to data from the Bank of America cited by CNBC, overseas shipping container costs have significantly ballooned since the beginning of the pandemic.” The article: “Costco Warns of Higher Inflation Ahead of Holiday Season, Dismantling ‘Transitory’ Narrative.” Reporter Hermina Paull continued “A 40-foot container shipped from Shanghai to New York was priced at approximately $2,000 just over one year ago; now, that price tag has soared to around $16,000.” She predicted that with upcoming holidays consumers should expect to cover such increased costs.

Have you noticed that people are making plans unusually early this year whether holiday related or otherwise? Are “buy early” warnings real or an attempt to stimulate or increase sales?  Are you shopping early or resorting to gift cards? Is this a one-off due to the pandemic or may we expect it for years?

Image by Sabrina Ripke from Pixabay

Service of Terrible Decisions: Pay Bills or Buy Gifts for the Children?

Thursday, December 17th, 2020


I saw a Facebook posting in which a single mother grieved that she was overwhelmed by debt with no end in sight. She was jobless. She worried that she didn’t know how she’d manage to buy Christmas gifts for her children.

One comment caught my eye. The writer reprimanded the mother for thinking about gifts when she owed money. She should pay her bills and forget presents, she scolded.

I empathize with the mother. Imagine if you’re faced with eviction, starvation, and possibly illness without medical care for you and your family. The looks of disappointed children who may understand what’s going on at home but nevertheless hope for a surprise would add to an already astronomical heartache. [I am sorry I rushed by the post at the time and didn’t track down the mother.]


Churches, organizations and clubs around the country traditionally had giving trees this time of year, all cancelled now, while at the same time the need for basics by millions has exploded. There was nothing frivolous about the wishes I took from such trees. Written on paper ornaments or tags were requests for a warm coat for an infant; a housecoat for a senior. Real estate companies at some of the larger buildings in NYC showed off the bicycles, games and dolls slated for children associated with a charity.

Not this Christmas.

The economy isn’t going to snap back even after 70 percent of us are vaccinated. Millions will continue to suffer.


As I pass residential and commercial lobbies in Manhattan I see gargantuan Christmas trees decorated to death. They cheer for the moment tenants and guests dash by. What if co-op and condo boards and tenants in rentals voted to skip the trees and donate the budgeted money for food, warm clothing or gifts for little ones? There might be a collection in each building to buy a few poinsettia plants for a lobby instead.

But such efforts are miniscule potatoes.

All around the country small businesses have crumbled and with them the hopes and savings of the owners. Thousands have been let go by giant corporations. I fear another stimulus check–$3,600 for a couple with two children–while better than nothing won’t make much of a dent on past due rent, electric, phone and credit card bills.

I’ve written before about the thrill of sending a surprise to a child through the Letters to Santa program. This year the link is The site reported that 23,244 letters have been adopted so far! In addition, when I looked early this morning I read: “There are none left now, but check back later. We add more every day.” Aren’t Americans wonderful?

There are 630 $billionaires in the US according to It would help if each tossed in one of those billions to pay the rent and essential bills of the unemployed. A compensation lawyer such as Kenneth Feinberg who deftly handled the 9/11 and BP cases, among many, could organize and direct the distribution.

What might non-billionaires do?  What choice should a mother in such a predicament make?


Service of A First: Two Billboard Top 100 Songs Celebrate Christmas–What Does It Mean?

Friday, December 27th, 2019


Gary Trust reported that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” represent the first time the Billboard 100 had a twofer of Christmas songs at the top.


In “Mariah Carey No. 1, Brenda Lee No. 2 in Billboard Hot 100’s First-Ever ‘Christmas’ Double Up,‘” on, Trust went on to write that “a record-tying four seasonal songs rank in the Hot 100’s top 10, as Burl Ives’ ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ climbs 10-6 for a new high and Bobby Helms’ ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ rolls 15-9.”

You can’t extrapolate with certainty the significance of this development but it’s fun to try. Are we becoming more traditional? Is music more accessible to people through their smartphones so they can easily add seasonal tunes to family gatherings? What are your favorite Christmas songs?


Service of Self Restraint

Thursday, November 30th, 2017


Many stretch their money to give a little or big something to family and friends at this time of year. If you don’t put self restraint to work, you literally pay the price. I had a great idea for a gift for 2 good friends but to implement it meant spending a ridiculous sum. It’s not every day you think of the perfect gift for people who have everything but common sense said “move on.” I did so far.


There’s a new bakery that also sells sandwiches and salads near my office. I’ve been in twice to reconnoiter and I’ve left empty handed. One small beautiful pastry, that may or may not be tasty, costs what a scrumptious, though not as glam, cake does at Trader Joe’s. The price of an éclair, gone in two bites–far smaller than standard size–is $4.95.


I love flowers but daily pass by the many delis that sell tempting sunflowers and roses in peach, yellow and magenta. It makes no sense to buy them for myself. In summer, our apartment gets too hot when we’re not home so they don’t last long and in winter, the shock of the overheated apartment, when they come in from the cold, kills them pronto. And anyway, I have a collection of orchids, many of which, as I write, show signs of blossoms to come. When they bloom in winter I’m enchanted. In spring I cut daffodils, lilacs, peonies and daisies.

Self restraint isn’t any easier if faced with dietary restrictions. It rarely fails: people are forced to give up things they most love to eat. Was anyone advised to avoid grouse or liver ? [the two foods I most dislike].

Are you good at self-restraint? What are your tricks for avoiding temptation?


Service of Nameless Friends

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Craft Santa 2016 turned

I love traditions and one I’ve kept for 15+ years is to visit the Dutchess Community College Foundation annual craft fair in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Thanksgiving weekend. I arrive by 9:45, after a stop for coffee and munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts, to get a good parking spot—it starts at 10—and to stand at the door when it opens to be among the first at an exhibitor’s booth. Stephanie Stillwell has a fan club and sells out of her best pieces early. [See an example in the photo above.]

A mother with grown daughters—also Stillwell fans—usually wait with me. We recognized each other the second year and enjoyed chatting ever since.

Last year they weren’t there.

Stephanie told me that one of the daughters, [in her 50s], had suddenly died and that the family was having Thanksgiving out of town. She promised to send me contact information so I could offer my condolences—I don’t know their names or where in Dutchess County they live.

Again this year they weren’t at the entrance so I rushed to Stephanie’s booth with others. The first thing Stephanie said, even before saying “hello,” was that she couldn’t find the mother’s address and apologized for not getting back. I started to pick some wonderful quirky gifts when the mother appeared. We hugged for a long time and spoke for a short time. She said she was OK.I still don’t know their names.

When I was a kid, my mother said “hello” to countless people on the street and in the grocery store in our Manhattan neighborhood. She was better than I at names but often she’d respond, when I’d ask, that the person she’d greeted was Miss O’Reilly’s friend or someone she saw repeatedly at Mr. DiMaggio’s deli and that she didn’t know their name.

Are there people whose paths you cross of whom you’ve grown fond and/or are happy to see whose names you don’t know?



Service of Naughty and Nice

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Park avenue lights 51st

On the eve of December 24th, this seemed like an appropriate topic.


I love lights and decorations in office buildings and on brownstone and apartment doors, on Park Avenue Christmas trees, in parks, on lampposts and in the garden outside our apartment. I especially appreciate these familiar sights after a cold, gray wintery day. Have you seen the dancing Salvation Army bell-ringers on Vanderbilt Avenue? My heart sings when I see kids skipping to keep up with their mothers or fathers in happy anticipation of Christmas.

In spite of email, there are friends I hear from once a year and it’s great to catch up. And I adore real cards—they are so decorative.

thumbprint cookiesI welcome the scent of baking Christmas cookies I’ve eaten since I can remember and made since I was old enough to help. We refer to the thumbprint recipe as my grandmother’s but it’s a standard ground almond/butter/sugar cookie with red currant jelly in the dent. After they are baked, I sprinkle them with confectioner’s sugar for a snowy look. The bright red currant jelly I’ve always used is impossible to find in NYC but I was lucky to find it at a store in the country.

I found at least two perfect gifts but can’t mention what they are yet; attended some lovely parties with a few more to come; ate amazing goodies—whiskey cake, fudge, chocolate and pears, jams and homemade applesauce from generous gift packages.

Barnes & Noble is selling kits for children to learn to crochet and make extraordinary origami—offering relief from hours staring at smartphones and tablets.

The checkout people at Trader Joe’s on 14th Street are forever cheerful even though they don’t have a moment to breath, especially with the relentless lines at this time of year when they have their stresses and obligations to contend with as we all do.

I saw the doorman at our office help the letter carrier lug boxes of mail into the elevator at 4 pm one day. The carrier, who had been at it since 7 that morning, appears to have severe osteoporosis and yet he perseveres, always cheerful. This is not the doorman’s job; his desk is quite a distance from the elevators.


The opposite of the doorman/letter carrier interaction are the countless doors that people let slam in the faces of others, even during the holidays when fellow pedestrians’ hands tend to be full. Holding the door for one second wouldn’t affect them and yet it might help out someone else. I must figure out what to do about this as it gets under my skin.

Hermes handbagIn contrast to $700 scarves and $5,000++ handbags, I am seeing an increasing number of beggars on streets and in the subways. The problem with giving money to beggars is you don’t know if your donation is feeding a drug habit or an empty stomach.begging

I welcome the cross at 200 Park Avenue made by the building office lights left on—and off—strategically. It was a stunning seasonal punctuation to the start of the elegant avenue. This year the building was bathed in green and red and blue lights. A friend pointed out that the cross is symbolic of Easter, not Christmas. Nevertheless the colored lights are not the same.

arrogant salespersonI was off put by the snotty treatment I received at a so-called upscale store. I got a gift box—begrudgingly. The saleswoman placed the gift in tissue paper and the box by its side in a shopping bag. The store was almost empty with nobody nearing the cash register—plenty of time for her to pop the gift inside the box. Her attitude until then was equally appalling as I wasn’t perusing big-ticket items. If it weren’t for the recipient–who loves the store, needs the item and is treated well there–I’d  have walked out never to return, leaving the gift behind.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope that you have enjoyed seasonal get-togethers, anticipate some time off, get to a movie, concert or play, eat delicious treats and catch your breath. Do you have special plans? Can you add to the Nice or Naughty sections of this post?

 Christmas house



Service of Favorite Gifts

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011


I love giving and getting gifts.

At this time of year I like to think of some of the best gifts I’ve given.

My definition of best means perfect for the person. When my oldest nephew John was five, I gave him a football outfit. Other adults thought he was much too young for this extravagance [for me] but I had a gut feeling he’d like it. He did: Especially the shoulder pads and helmet. He wore the helmet everywhere, or at least when he’d spend the night at his grandparent’s home [where I lived then too].

knitting-and-yarn1One Christmas I knitted sweaters although I hadn’t knitted in eons and had made only one–for a child–before. Most of the sweaters were an embarrassment. Only one turned out: It was my Dad’s. It was handsome.

I can’t list the many favorite gifts I’ve received because there are so many. And I like to keep my posts short and to hear from readers–not do all the “talking.” Also I don’t want readers of this blog, some of whom have given me wonderful, thoughtful, toothsome and/or stunning presents, to feel miffed if I don’t mention one of theirs.

I’ll nevertheless share a few:

My stepdaughter once sent a huge box filled with every color of lilac that she’d picked in New England and carefully packed [obviously not for Christmas].

When I had chickenpox, my sister gave me a felt dog with sad sack expression and circular markings that I loved to shreds.

pandaMy aunt gave me a soft and fuzzy panda when I was a child far too old to officially receive such a toy. It was perfect for me: I still love stuffed animals.

More recently, Homer gave me my cat, Caramelli, my digital camera and [not so recently] a wedding ring.

What gifts have you most enjoyed receiving and giving?


Service of Holiday Traditions

Monday, December 12th, 2011


One year I wrote about favorite holiday treats and another, I took the pulse of Christmas.

This year I’m focusing on holiday traditions.

One of my favorites is the gathering of a group of friends, some of whom are pictured above. We meet at a Manhattan restaurant–Circus, a charming Brazilian–to celebrate the season: It’s the company holiday party for the entrepreneurs currently, or at one time, associated with the design/architecture/building industries. Elaine Siegel, PR pro and special events planner extraordinaire, is in charge. We chat and feast by ourselves in the back room with its skylight and cheerful atmosphere.

happy-new-yearLast year we were invited to a wonderful New Years Eve party in Connecticut which we were invited to again. Maybe you could call this a tradition-lette. I have disliked New Years Eve parties my entire life-with the exception of two: that one and one my senior year in high school (but who cares about ancient history). Dinner is fabulous in a house dressed for Christmas and our friend’s friends are interesting and welcoming.

Another tradition that’s also  just two years old for me is a concert, “A Judeo-Latin-Jazz Holiday Adventure with Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble,” at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. It’s guaranteed to put you in a good mood. It takes place this Thursday, December 15 at the Engelman Recital Hall, 55 Lexington Avenue. If you want to go, let me know and I’ll find out if there are any tickets left.

toytrainsAnd if you know of any toy train exhibits in NYC so that my husband can enjoy one of his traditions–lost since Citibank discontinued their display–let me know.

So as not to be totally Pollyanna, I must add a holiday peeve: Businesses that do silly things to associate the season with what they sell no matter what. I passed a bar with a sign in the window, decorated with candy canes, for “Peppermint Martinis.” Yech. That’s one tradition that stops soon I hope. I have nothing against peppermint. One of my favorite desserts that a now-defunct restaurant in Dover, NY served all year long was peppermint stick ice cream with homemade hot fudge sauce. Sigh.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? Can you also name a few that are real stretches, that seem to fall flat?


Service of the Pulse of Christmas 2010

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Here are some observations of this holiday season:

**I passed by a silent Salvation Army bell ringer yesterday and looked to see why he was quiet and if he was OK. He was texting.

inline**An officemate, Bambe Levine, told me about her happy experience at J. Crew. She went to return some boots last week and had 20 minutes to spend before her lunch date. Her heart sank when she saw a line that, in spite of a generous number of cashiers, promised to take at least 40. She asked a manager if she might leave the boots and return to wait in line after lunch. The manager said to her, “Let me take care of it,” and did so immediately.

**Meanwhile, I tried for several days to buy a gift at a boutique in Grand Central Station. Can’t go into too much detail as 1) the recipient reads these posts and 2) I don’t bash brands here. The staff was pleasant yet clueless. I hung around for over half an hour waiting for one to bring the size I requested from basement storage. Nobody seemed to realize that people have other things to do. Eventually, I told the cashier that I had to get back to the office and she suggested I return after work, which I did. The item wasn’t upstairs yet. She promised the basement retrieval man would call me. He never did. I gave it another try on Friday and this cashier couldn’t have been nicer, more apologetic, and she repeated how responsible the man is both before and after she found the gift in the back room. To sweeten my mood [my face wasn’t happy when I had to wait at the back of the line to pay], she gave me her employee discount.

**Unforgiving sticky price labels continue to plague gifts I buy. The hairdryer trick to dry the adhesive so I can scrape off the price works although it takes forever; burns my fingers and gets glue on the appliance. This year, the heat melted some of the packaging which is annoying. Simple solutions: Barcodes on sticky labels combined with prices clearly marked on store shelves just as they are in grocery stores.

**Garish, tasteless trees are the style in office lobbies this year-minus gifts for children that have been there for as long as I can remember. What a sad turn of events. Some tinsel is better than nothing. It could be June in the lobby of my office building where there’s not the tiniest nod to the season. Menorah lights and a simple wreath–I know just the place–would cheer.

xmas2010wreathsmall2**An anemone greenhouse/tree farm outside Rhinebeck, NY has traditionally sold beautifully decorated wreaths. Normally, if you don’t go early in the season, they sell out. We dropped by yesterday on a whim. They still had quite a selection, and the wreaths were slightly discounted.

**ABC TV covered the Santa letters program in “Sad Santa Letters Tell of Economic Woes, USPS Says. New York’s Operation Santa Chief Says More Letters This Year Asking for Coats, Food.” Pete Fontana, who directs the USPS New York Operation Santa, said: “Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn, it appears that more people are struggling this year, both from the letters and the decreased amount of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers’ wishes.” There’s a website of participating post offices if you want to pick up a letter and fulfill the wishes of some of the neediest writers. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery in time to pick up all those letters and fulfill the wishes?

 Any changes–good and bad–or observations to share about this holiday season?


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