Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category

Service of Guardian Angels

Thursday, February 8th, 2024

The tiny framed picture was one of the surprises among the letters the guardian angels sent me last week.

A dear friend was admitted to a memory ward last year. His only relatives are distant cousins, one who lives 1,800 miles away and the other in his town. In addition to rescuing him and finding a place where he’ll be well cared for and safe, they emptied his house and sold it, an exhausting, miserable chore.

I never met them, but we’ve been in touch. My friend seems to recognize the local cousin though probably doesn’t grasp their connection, he wrote. My friend no longer knows how to open an envelope.

These guardian angels did something over and above. They’d set aside and sent me a stack of cards and letters my husband and I had mailed my friend over years—even a fax–and included two surprises. One was a box of chocolate from their town’s oldest chocolatier founded in 1902. Why the chocolates? They’d delivered a box to my friend from me from Li-Lac. The store had celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Li-Lac was his favorite when he lived in NYC. The other surprise was a tiny image of an angel in a frame purchased at a craft fair that we’d sent him for Christmas, 2018. [It’s the smallest of all the pictures in the photo above.] He’d noted this on the back.

I’m overwhelmed. The cousins work, by the way. Can you imagine having to sort through all the things a person accumulates in a lifetime and taking the time, trouble and expense to segregate a pile of things for a stranger? Can you share examples of extraordinarily caring gestures such as this?

Service of It’s Still A Thing for Some People

Monday, July 31st, 2023

A pal suffered a bad upset stomach recently and I suggested ginger ale, saltines and apple sauce—my mother’s Rx. This friend said her dad recommended tomato juice for its potassium if you feel faint.

I thought of this conversation as I slipped a dollar in a wallet before wrapping a gift. My father used to say it would help ensure prosperity. He also recommended giving some change to the recipient of a knife or scissors so as not to cut your friendship.

When we bought a house we were given a decorative iron cricket for good luck.

Speaking of housewarming gifts that bring luck, a friend stopped eating lunch to look up a memory: the present of bread, salt and wine. The George Bailey’s gave the Martini family these things in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Your Christmas tree decorations should include a red cardinal for luck.

Do you follow practices like these?

Service of How Much to Spend on Gifts for Children

Thursday, July 20th, 2023


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

A reader asked Philip Galanes, who responds to reader questions on “Social Q’s” in The New York Times, if it was OK to ask guests invited to the joint birthday party for her four- and seven-year-old offspring, to donate to their 529 college savings plans instead of bringing gifts.

His reply to this question*** wasn’t nearly as interesting as his comment about part of the mother’s query. She’d written: “My children don’t need any more toys, and it pains me to see a $50 toy ignored when that same $50 could help pay their tuition someday.”

Galanes wrote: “I may be out of step here: I would not be giving children $50 gifts, either. (Put me down for a book or a fun craft project at $20 a pop.)”

I’m with Galanes. Imagine having to drop $100 for your kids to attend a birthday party for these two?

I would further surmise that if the mother’s circle routinely gives $50 toys to her children’s young friends, she should be able to cover the kids’ tuitions when the time comes by putting aside enough money yearly from her income and by substituting expenditures on overpriced toys with creativity.

***For those who don’t want to link to the column, here’s Galanes’s advice regarding the reader’s question: “But I don’t think a backyard birthday party for small children is the right venue for soliciting contributions to college savings plans.”

If you’re not a close relative, how much do—or would–you spend on children’s birthday gifts? Have you been asked to donate to a child’s college fund?

Service of Gifts with Strings

Friday, November 25th, 2022


Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Strings are what often accompany political donations. You scratch my campaign and I’ll scratch your project–or go easy on you or your company.

However, the figurative kind of strings don’t belong on personal presents. We knew a wealthy woman who gave generous graduation checks to her grandchildren and then complained if some didn’t put the money in savings. She didn’t recognize that it wasn’t a gift if she was to control what they did with the money.

Sometimes people threaten beneficiaries of a will. If they don’t kowtow, they’ll be stricken from the document. A longtime friend of my mother’s suddenly tried to control and question her choices of whom to see and how often. Once mom determined the behavior wasn’t a one-off, it lasted only minutes more. She objected; the woman threatened to alter her will so that her daughter wouldn’t receive her antique gold coin collection. “Keep it,” said mom. That was it. Mom was right.

My friend Nancie suggested another kind of gift-with-string: The pads and address labels that accompany fundraising requests. We both admitted putting the “gifts” to good use and not filling the return address envelopes with checks.

It’s holiday tip time in apartments and offices around the country. Do tenants demand to know what workers do with their gifts? What about recipients of giant Wall Street and corporate bonuses—are they expected to divulge to employers what they do with their $millions? NO! So why do some people feel that they are entitled to control when they give a present?

What examples of gifts with strings have you noticed? Has anyone tried to tie you up? Do you use the “gifts” that charities include with requests for support without sending money?


Image by Steve Norris from Pixabay 

Service of Good & Bad Houseguests

Thursday, August 11th, 2022


Image by 5460160 from Pixabay

I’ve been both host and guest many times, the latter since childhood when in addition to packing my clothes my mother sent me off with clear guidelines. “Check the bathroom sink and leave no hair in it;”  “Make your bed in the morning” and if there was a cook, “Thank her as well as Mr. and Mrs. ___ when you leave.”


Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

An acquaintance awaits a two week visit from someone who doesn’t sound like house guest material. Long before arrival she announced demands regarding her accommodation reflecting countless quirks including dietary ones. For starters: “I need silence to sleep. No light.” Her host’s apartment is on a main thoroughfare. On learning about her foibles, were I the host, I’d suddenly develop chronic migraine and postpone the stay until 2035.

Most have had some memorable house guests. For this post I dredged a few out of my memory that mercifully had otherwise been long forgotten. There was an American stationed in Ankara, Turkey, who stayed with us in Adana for R&R. He sat for hours in the living room, drank whiskey and smoked nonstop without paying attention to where the ashes went. I envisioned holes in upholstery and rugs not to speak of fire and he wasn’t good company.

There are those who make a shambles of your home, leaving their stuff all over the place and the guest bedroom a disaster. If you’ve planned a dinner party coinciding with the unfortunate visit, and you like to entertain in a tidy home, the stress on the host is palpable.

Still others act as though you have hot and cold running help. I’ve lived through them too. That’s why, on the last morning of my visit I strip the bed and ask for clean sheets to prepare the guestroom for the next visitor. I volunteer for KP as sous-chef peeling and cutting as instructed, offer to wash dishes and if appropriate, invite the hosts for a meal.

I was told by someone who owns a shop that guests don’t bring house gifts anymore. Do or would you? Have you had spectacular house guests–either good or bad? To be a welcome house guest a person needs to be flexible, don’t you think?


Image by Anna Moskowitz from Pixabay

Service of Disappointment

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

The saying “less is more,” may apply to interior design but I’m finding that more and more we get less for our money.

What Happened to “Neither Rain nor Snow….”

There is a postbox about four blocks from my apartment in a commercial neighborhood with pickups three times a day, the last at 5 p.m. When I went there this week the times had changed: Now its once a day at 11:00 a.m. not only there but in all the boxes I checked nearby. That early in the day might be a good time for postal workers perhaps but not so hot for customers.

Yes then No

A friend was scheduled for surgery which entailed three days in the hospital and a week at a rehab facility. She knew the drill from a previous operation and all was approved. The day before hospital discharge she learned that her insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of rehab. She lives alone. Don’t you love how insurance companies–not doctors–determine how we are treated?

Poor Training

I tried to buy a gift online and the system wouldn’t work so I called the 800 number and placed the order. I opted to pick up the item at the store, a short walk from home because its feather weight and tiny size didn’t warrant the $6.99 shipping fee. The customer service rep said they’d send it home, as it was easier, [not sure for whom], and he’d remove the shipping fee. Long story short, when I was charged the fee I called and customer service told me I had to work it out with my credit card company. This didn’t set well so I contacted headquarters and eventually it was sorted. No more online purchases for me from these folks. Customer care operators should be trained not to turn off customers.

Have you been disappointed by a service lately?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Service of Conversation Starters

Monday, February 14th, 2022

Not since my broken foot was in a boot ages ago has something attracted as much attention as my Kusama tote bag [photo above and right]. Then, strangers stopped to ask me how I broke it and to share their story. At the time I thought I should lend it to friends who wanted to make new acquaintances.

T

Now, when I carry the bright yellow bag it receives a compliment several times a week. Sometimes people recognize that it came from the New York Botanical Garden gift store because the pattern features the sculptor’s trademark polka dots. Her sculptures enhanced the garden last summer. Other times they simply say “nice bag.” It’s happened on the bus, in stores and at cash registers.

What’s extraordinary is that in NYC women carry tote bags everywhere. I have for years. None of my others have attracted as much attention.

The bag has a history. On a warm winter day I walked from home to Bryant Park and halfway there I realized the tote was no longer on my arm. It is feather light and dropped off the arm of my slippery leather jacket without my noticing. My heart sank. I ran halfway home retracing my steps and couldn’t find it.

I returned to the park and the Christmas shops to distract myself from the sinking feeling I get when I’ve lost something I love. I stopped on the street to try to buy one on my phone from the garden shop website but there were none left. In addition to liking the tote, a good friend who knows I love polka dots, bright colors and that I had enjoyed Kusama’s sculptures gave it to me. Another friend, following the same intel, gave me a pair of Kusama-inspired socks! Am I lucky for having such caring and observant friends–or what?

Not enjoying myself in the park I soon went back home. As I reached Lexington Avenue and 41st Street I saw a bright yellow bag on the sidewalk. It was mine–my Christmas gift to do list was inside. The Pandemic saved it for me: there weren’t many people on the street that day and the few who walked by didn’t want to touch a stranger’s bag.

Does something you wear or carry attract cheery conversation?

Service of Expectations III

Monday, December 27th, 2021

I wrote the first two in this series in 2012 (though I suspect there are many posts in which dashed expectations are at the core).


Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay 

In one I covered highlights of irritants identified in a customer service survey where rudeness, passing the buck, waiting too long for problem resolution and having to follow-up too often topped the list of complaints and disappointments. In the other I described a person who didn’t send a message that he was kept waiting for his doctor’s appointment for three hours. He refused to own a mobile phone and didn’t ask the receptionist to borrow hers. Friends expecting his visit that afternoon were frantic when he didn’t show and didn’t call–which they expected him to do.

In a recent Social Q’s column in The New York Times, Philip Galanes responded to Ally who asked “Why Doesn’t Anyone Put as Much Effort Into Secret Santa as I Do? A reader feels consistently disappointed by her family’s gift exchange.” In part of his response he wrote: “This is like shopping regularly for heirloom tomatoes at the hardware store. You will never find them there! Try to lower your expectations before the unwrapping begins. Consider the other ways your relatives show they care.”

How many viewers of Face the Nation expect to be able to walk in heels as high as the ones Margaret Brennan wears [photo above]? Here she was this Sunday interviewing Vice President Kamala Harris. Do you think she walks far in them? I was on a set before a client’s TV interview where the host slipped off Uggs boots and put on heels just before cameras rolled.

Some friends respond to emails and texts and expect others to as well–but they don’t or it takes them ages to do so. Others generously share their contacts but that favor is never returned. These situations generate feelings of disrespect.

I see signs in windows for “quick turnaround PCR tests” for Covid and understand that there will be laws to punish those who lie as there must be plenty of them. They promise results in a day when the reality is closer to five.

My advice for happiness: Drop expectations. Agree?


Image by Samuel F. Johanns from Pixabay 

Service of Choosing Gifts

Thursday, December 2nd, 2021

‘Tis the season: Will you, too, be scratching your head to find perfect gifts?

Some of Evan Polman’s findings may shed light on final decisions. He reported them in “That Product Will Work Well for You. But for Me? Not So Much,” in The Wall Street Journal. Dr. Polman is associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business in Madison.

“In 15 studies involving thousands of participants, we found that people believe that scores of products—including moisturizer, granola bars, calendars and online classes—will have a greater positive effect on others than on themselves.” The less familiar the product, wrote Dr. Polman, the stronger this belief. [He observed that some think medicines work better for others hence they opt to overdose, which obviously isn’t healthy…but I digress.]

Dr. Polman wrote: “When buying gifts for others, for example, we might worry less about whether something will be as effective as advertised because we assume it will have a relatively positive effect on the recipient.” That’s why, he posited, gifts are less practical and more creative than what most would buy for themselves. “This would suggest that people have a blind spot when choosing gifts for others, preferring gifts that dazzle in the short run but have less usefulness in the long run.”

I don’t think this happens when buying gifts for children who often have their hopes pinned on specific toys or games. Fanciful substitutes won’t do.

His research also has impact on a company introducing new products or entrepreneurs launching a business: “New products—and businesses—often fail, and this could be because marketers and entrepreneurs overestimate the benefits that their products will have for others.”

Given that the recipient already owns the basics, do you look for something special that is considered a treat, even an extravagance, that a beneficiary wouldn’t buy for him/herself? An example could be as simple as a luxury Swiss or Belgian hot chocolate powder vs. a generic grocery store brand that might already have a place in the pantry. Wouldn’t this also explain how people choose gifts, even if they don’t exactly “dazzle,” in Dr. Polman’s words? How do you decide?

Service of I Can Get It for You At Full Price

Monday, May 10th, 2021

Line at the Gucci shop-in-a-shop at Macy’s

Last fall Meghan McCarty Carino reported in marketplace.org  that according to a McKinsey & Co./LeanIn.org survey, one in four women were considering leaving the workforce. Working women juggling children and jobs have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

I wondered: Are children sure their mom wanted something extravagant this year? A hug, surprise visit or day off from daily chores would seem to be the most precious gifts. Yet on Mother’s Day eve there was a line outside the Gucci shop-in-shop at Macy’s at Herald Square. There were thousands of gifts to buy in that oversized emporium. The iconic Gucci brand isn’t known for bargains. Crucial sectors of the economy are still in upheaval in this neck of the woods.

New store on Second Avenue and 47th Street

To illustrate, pedestrians can’t miss a recent gut wrenching epidemic of small retail closings in downtown Manhattan as workers don’t seem to be returning to offices anytime soon. My heart leapt with happiness when I saw a handsome new store, Stellar Hardware and Bath, open at 900 Second Avenue in the 40s. Someone sees promise in the city!

We hear about available jobs–seasonal businesses in southern N.J., gearing up for summer, are short on employees. Some reporters use the crisis word to describe the scarcity. But salaries connected with these positions don’t allow for luxury gifts.

“Both the unemployment rate, at 6.1 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 9.8 million, were little changed in April,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on May 7. “Notable job gains in leisure and hospitality, other services, and local government education were partially offset by employment declines in temporary help services and in couriers and messengers.”

Topsy Turvey–right? Clearly there’s a hunger for expensive things. Kanye West’s Nike sneakers recently sold at Sotheby’s for $1.8 million and a computer file with a digital creation by Beeple sold for $69 million two months ago.

Beeple, Mike Winkelmann, is a Charleston, S.C.-based graphic designer whose costly digital creation is a nofungible token–NFT-based art. Digital art is a hot trend in the art world. In a New York Times guest essay Albert-Laszlo Barabasi wrote that NFTs “use blockchain technology to certify authenticity and proof of ownership. (Beeple’s piece was a collage of images that he had posted online every day since 2007.)”  Techterms.com describes a blockchain as “a digital record of transactions. The name comes from its structure, in which individual records, called blocks, are linked together in single list, called a chain. Blockchains are used for recording transactions made with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, and have many other applications.”

Do you give, receive or expect extravagant gifts these days? Do you see value in digital art, uber luxury goods or in anyone’s sneakers?

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