Monday, November 29, 2010


Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall.

*** Dave Barry

HANK: On the spectrum of organization, with ten being obsessive and zero being chaos, I'm confessin' to being a nine or so. I have lists, lists of lists, I know how many words I'm supposed to write every day, I know (pretty much) what we're having for dinner a week at a time ("Going out" is included.)I have memos I'm supposed to write about news story ideas, and I do that just fine, I make my news deadlines and my writing deadlines and I have three calendars and my dinner party dishes are all done at the same time.

So. Why is it, then, that holiday shopping is just impossible for me? I start thinking about it in, March or so. I'll think, oh, plenty of time, I know exactly who needs presents, this year, I'm going to get AHEAD. Summer comes, summer goes. I have purchased holiday gifts during that time, however I have no idea where they are by the time fall comes around.

So now that Thanksgiving is over, everyone is out there, buying stuff. And I think, plenty of time really, why did I worry. Four whole weeks. But know what's going to happen. It's what happens every year. I wait, I'll procrastinate, I'll have terrific ideas that never pan out, I'll send my holiday cards as New Years cards, and some people won't get presents at all til later. I'm just warning you.

Why do my organizational abilities collapse when it comes to holiday presents? Who of you has a closet full of already wrapped gifts? (Say it ain't so.) Any great ideas for this year?

JAN: One year I actually did start early and I wound up spending almost twice as much. Now, I deliberately leave it for the last two weeks. I start getting a few ideas and jot them down, but don't go to the stores until the bitter end. If I'm really being good -- I leave it all to a couple of days before Christmas.

ROSEMARY: This is going to sound really pathetic but I have almost no one left to buy presents for. I used to love making the lists and tracking down the perfect gifts but the relatives are all but gone, the friends have scattered or changed (no disrespect, but, has anyone else noticed that since getting published they spend much more time with mystery pals than "friends.") And buying presents for "new" friends can be awkward - will they be embarassed if they didn't buy anything for you?, or "OMG, did she think we were really FRIENDS?"

In Nepal, I bought dozens of smallish gifts for people I'd be seeing over the holidays. That's my current strategy. I shop when I'm away. For Bruce - I could get him a boat or a sweater from Barney's and he'd smile and hug me. I've never met another person so disinterested in possessions. For eleventh hour presents, I go to Sephora. There's something there for every woman I know.

HALLIE: I really detest shopping for Christmas presents, but I love HAVING SHOPPED (just like writing, in fact!) And it's a great feeling to ace it and give just the right gift to someone you love. For my husband, though, that usually involves making up a batch of dark-chocolate covered orange rind or a duck pate. And opening gifts is so much fun.

RHYS: Shopping early doesn't work for me. I hide the presents then forget where I put them and what I actually bought. Actually I'm now smart. I check online, order the gifts shipped to my kids' houses for the grandchildren and everyone is happy. Adults usually want money/gift cards which makes it easy too. But I do like to find small stocking stuffers as well. And sometimes get creative. Meghan, aged 8 wants to make clothes for her American Girl doll so I've bought patterns and fabric and am going to buy her a little sewing machine and we'll make them together. I love stuff like that.

My husband is impossible. If he needs something he goes out and buys it--even three days before Christmas. I can never surprise him/delight him and there is no point in adorable little stocking stuffers.They sit IN the stocking until next year. He doesn't want clothes, has all the electronics ever invented.
So... and I hope he's not reading this... I plan to give him coupons for one theatrical performance of some kind once a month. That way we'll both get to see things (that I'd like to see!!!)

HANK: Brilliant, Rhys! Last year, I gave my grandson Eli the Elijah-T-Shapiro book of the month club--every month, I sent him a list of categories, (he was six years old) and each month he'd choose a category, send it to me by mail, and I'd send him a book from that category. It was terrific...and like your coupons, had a lot of togetherness-benefits.

ROBERTA: Chiming in a little late because I was out shopping (no kidding!)

(HANK et al: Oh, sure. :-) )

ROBERTA: I start early--last year I went to some sales the day after Christmas. If I had to wait until the last 2 weeks like Jan, I'd have a heart attack. We have trimmed our list down quite a bit as various relatives agreed it was silly to keep buying and spending. But it still ends up being a big job so if I collect ideas and gifts over the year, it works for me! Love the idea of theatre tickets and the book of the month club and the homemade goodies. I'm thinking jars of granola this year. It's really yummy!

HANK: Someone's always the over-acheiver...Roberta, we salute you. Hallie! May we have the orange rind recipe? I hope you're planning to sounds fantastic. And maybe it would be better if there were some kind of "give a pal or relative a present whenever you want" kind of deal. But hey, don't we have that?

How about you all? Organized? Or not so much? What's your holiday gift hint? We need 'em!


  1. My sister (the one with the finish-your-holiday-shopping-in-August gene) has been known to send back presents, saying (more or less) "I don't want this." Kind of discouraging. Her son and spouse make more money than I do, and I see them once every five years, so what do I do for them? But their older child, who just turned four? Books! He loves animal books, and he's just on the cusp of reading. I'm headed for a bookstore!

  2. SHeila, that's--amazing. HIlarious. Seding BACK presents! Oh, it could be a new trend, I bet.. Would any of you ever consider that???
    We could call it--"de-gifting."

  3. One year I created a family cookbook for my three daughters, converting 130 of their/my favorite recipes to Word files. Each of the girls received a CD with all the recipes, as well as a binder, heavy paper, and plastic sleeves. The binder has inside pockets and clear sleeves, front and back, in which I placed a photo montage of family gatherings that included food. It was a big hit, although it was also a big job.

    This year, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I'm giving each of them a large-capacity portable hard drive containing all the family photos I've collected. My oldest daughter is from my first marriage, so she will receive somewhat different photos from her two little sisters. And I will be great relieved when all the family photos are not in one place.

    Rhys, I taught sewing for several years, including to children, and may I offer some advice? Don't waste your money on a "child's" machine for your granddaughter; get her a real sewing machine. She's old enough to use it with supervision, and it will be a good investment. Every household needs a sewing machine. I've never seen a kids' machine yet that is worth a hill of beans. Most of them don't sew a proper stitch and the child becomes too frustrated to continue.

  4. You guys made the Huffington Post his morning!
    Hmmm. Yes. Holiday shopping. I do it almost all over the Internet. My idea of hell is Black Friday. Didn't leave the house.
    Books still make the best gifts.


  5. Good heavens! Did we really make the Huffington Post?? I read it all the time (when I should be writing or shopping). Thanks for the 'heads-up' Judy!

    Oh Sheila, that really is too much. I have people to whom I send gifts and never hear a single peep back.

    Karen, I LOVE those ideas! Really priceless. My sister once gave me a little photo album, copies of family photos I didn't have. It was lovely.

    Recipe! Promise, later today...

  6. Hallie, a friend brought me a box of dark chocolate-covered orange rind from Amsterdam. It was amazing, so I'm looking forward to your recipe!

  7. Karen, thank you for the advice. Her mother has a lovely sewing machine with all the bells and whistles, so maybe we'll use that instead.

    And Sheila, if someone sent back a present to me it would be the last gift they got. A present means that someone has been thinking of you and making a choice to the best of their ability and the recipient should honor that thought even if my mother did still think I loved flowers on my clothes some 20 years after I really did!

  8. What can I say, I'm a Virgo and if the shopping isn't completed before Dec. 1, I get more than a little mental. And that isn't pretty. So yes, the presents are all bought, most have been mailed and now I just have to wait for the bills to come in.
    Now I start obsessing about what to cook for Christmas dinner!

  9. I have been less than enchanted with a few gifts from my husband over the course of the years. Last spring I even sought online advice - do I keep the wrong Chanel bag or exchange it? (Survey said keep it. I kept it.) At this stage if anyone wants to buy me anything, I'm very grateful! "I don't want this"? Send her coal licorice this year!

    Hi Tiger lady,
    I have a recipe for Chestnut Soup Shots that went over very well last week if you're interested.

  10. Tiger, you're amazing! I'm a LIbra, so it's like, yeah, I could do it now, or do it later. And what if it's not the perfect thing? So maybe I'll wait...

    Now I'm wondering about astrological Christmas shopping.
    **Do our shopping habits reflect our sun signs???

  11. ALSO! TOMORROW! Free legal adivce for your novels..on True Crime Tuesday. All your questoins answered by our in-house legal expert...

  12. Here it is, time consuming but simple...

    Chocolate dipped candied orange peel a la Hallie Ephron

    - Remove the peel from 4 oranges in lengthwise sections
    - Put peel in saucepan covered with cold water; bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until peel is soft
    - Drain peel and scrape off inner white part with a spoon (I use a grapefruit spoon w/a serrated edge)
    - cut peel into thin strips with a scissor
    - Place in saucepan:
    * 1 cup sugar
    * 1/2 cup water
    * 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
    * strips of peel
    - Cook slowly until clear (230 on the candy thermometer)
    - Drain in coarse sieve
    - Cool peel on wax paper
    - Melt dark dipping chocolate in a little frying pan
    - Spill out a little mound of granulated sugar on a plate
    - Dip 1 end of each strip of candied peel in melted chocolate, dip the other end in granulated sugar (so its not so sticky and hard to handle), and let sit on wax paper until chocolate hardens

  13. I've become downright Pavlovian with the Borders email coupons. They send--I must buy!

    Actually, the generic coupons are a pretty good deal (33 percent to 50 prcent off anything you want to buy, and not from some prescribed list) but I do have to restrain myself because they send a lot of them.

    I did manage to buy my mother a very nice gift this year using one of their 50 percent coupons, so maybe that will become my approach: Show character and discipline with the 33 percent offers and then go hog wild with the 50 percenters.

  14. Okay, so here's the experiment. We guess Vinny's sun sign using his shopping techniques as a guide.

    Anyone? Taurus??

  15. Thanks, Hallie!

    Hmm, I think Vince is a Virgo, Hank. So many details.

    Can you tell I have two daughters in that sign?

  16. Oh,Karen, very wise...hmm.We shall see!

    Anyone else? (And then I'll let him know we're discussing him...:-)

  17. Ah, discounts... I once returned a purple tablecloth someone gave me, only to discover the person had bought it on sale for $5. I exchanged it (and a buck fifty) for a rubber spatula.

  18. Hallie..,that's so sad. But you got a great spatula out of the deal...

  19. I think my shopping habits are some kind of weird hybrid of all the JRW gals' habits. I buy early, but sometimes can't locate the gifts (just found the prezzies--after a week-long search--I bought my sisters-in-law in July)and I know I spend more money buying early and often; I love fun stocking stuffers and my hubby and kids would need Yeti-sized feet for them all to fit in their stockings; I'm totally stoked that my daughters are now old enough to like Sephora-ish things and plan to head there on Thurs (after turning in the SWIFT JUSTICE sequel for my 1 Dec deadline); and I do almost all my shopping for people I have to mail to on the internet. And I can't wait to start wrapping! Carols on the CD, a mug of cider or tea, lots of ribbons and adornments and beautiful paper . . .

  20. Without cheating and looking at Facebook, I'm guessing Vinny is an Aries, like me.

  21. Hey Rachel! oxox (I DID look--after I guessed.) But crafty Vinny--it's not there--so don't even think about it, gang...)

    OH, Laura. Can we all come to YOUR house???

  22. You're welcome any time! :-)

    PS: I'm a Virgo, too.

  23. I'm blushing over here. Terribly flattered by the various guesses about my astrological sign (although I did misread "Virgo" there for a second) but I'm afraid the Borders-induced shopping habits have no connection here. I'm a Sagittarius.

    I just re-read some of the other posts and have to agree that if someone ever "sent back" one of my presents it would be the last one they ever got. How rude.

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  25. I think its the DEMAND of christmas that's taken the fun out of it.

    Its wonderful to buy presents until you have to start worrying if you are living up to expectations.

    I love buying presents for people who don't expect a a present. Then its really fun.

    My aunt Clare though had the best system. She never bought us anything for our birthdays or Christmas (I think this was under my mothers rules), but if she found something that she thought was perfect for you, she'd give you a present in March for no reason.

  26. Yes Jan, I love that! Think we could get away with it??

    VInny, I'm lookng up Sagittarius.

  27. Hey Vinnie,
    I'm a Sag, too. We're straight arrows.