Monday, December 15, 2014

Needed: Santa's helpers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Back a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I was visiting (i.e. having a glass of wine) with my interior designer friend. She said, plaintively, "I don't have all my Christmas
presents wrapped."

"Wrapped?" I asked. Was she speaking English? "You mean you've already done all your Christmas shopping?"

She said, oh, yes, but she usually had everything bought AND wrapped by the beginning of November.

Big sigh from me.

It is now the fifteenth of December. A week ago I made a list. I have actually bought some of my gifts. (Saving hubby for last, as he's the hardest to shop for.) But have I wrapped anything? ARE YOU KIDDING? There are two presents under our tree. One is for my daughter and I had it boxed and wrapped at Anthropologie. The other is hubby's gift to me, which he has not only already bought BUT HAS WRAPPED IT HIMSELF!  Very nicely, too, I must say.

But that's not the worst thing. I have gifts that need to be mailed, some of them to the UK. And I haven't done it. I suffer from severe post-office-phobia. I am apparently incapable of getting a package together and getting it in the mail.  At this point I may have to resort to FedEx-ing things to England. Big OUCH.

So, REDS, where do you fall on the Christmas shopping/wrapping/sending scale?  Organized to a T months beforehand? Start after Thanksgiving but get things done in a timely manner?  Or...will anyone admit to being a frantic Christmas Eve last-minute-shopper???? (Or wrapper? I don't think I've ever shopped on Christmas Eve, but I can't count the Christmas Eves I've spent wrapping. At least I get to watch Christmas movies while I cut paper and tie bows...)

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: FORGET ABOUT IT.  I am so behind, it doesn't count as behind, it's just--pitiful. And when I try to get ahead, it doesn't work. Two years ago,I bought a gorgeous scarf for my agent, in June, and it was perfect.  And I was so proud of myself! . I still cannot find it.
Oh and the post office? NO way. I am big on overnight mail. Oh! The grandchildren! See you later...
(But first, the up arrow on my keyboard suddenly doesn't work. Down, fine. Sideways, fine. No up. Any ideas?)  Now back to--holiday cards! Oh NO.

HALLIE EPHRON: Hank, you buy a present for your AGENT? I wish I didn't know that. I barely manage close relations. CARDS? Ack.

Truth to tell ( :-) ) I have bought almost all the gifts. Almost.

Most of it on the Internet and promised to arrive in time. Surprisingly this year nothing from Amazon. It all piles up in what was my "walk-in" closet. I don't wrap anything until Xmas eve... if you can call it "wrapping." I've saved gift bags (picked up at yard sales or used and reused from earlier years) and I'll get a package of tissue paper. To my mind it feels wasteful to spend a lot of money for wrapping paper that's just going to get thrown away.

LUCY BURDETTE: I start shopping right after Christmas, if I see things I believe people will like. And I did some book shopping at Crimebake this year! Though I still have holes...hmmm, since I just had a Christmas book come out, chances are a few people will see that in their package. If their package arrives...The Key West PO is the worst. The line snakes around two-three lengths even on normal days, cannot face the holiday mess! (I'm hoping John will buckle and go...)

The other funny thing about Key West is they don't seem to carry gift tags on this island. It's a mystery to me...and honestly, it stops me cold. Because how can you wrap if you have no way to label the packages??? I suppose if I were Martha Stewart, I'd have an easy fix...

HANK: Lucy, I am so thrilled to say, though I am nowhere near Martha, I have a gift tag solution. Easy and so rewarding! Save the holiday cards you got last year--and cut them up. Just cut off the back part that has the signature, and use the pretty stuff on the front. You can cut them in random ways so the picture is obscured, which looks fabulous, or cut out a tree or an design. It's beautiful, and I love how well it works. (I cannot believe I know something crafty!)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: OK, I'm with Hallie. I really only buy presents for the Kiddo. I'm not all that great about cards. The Hubby likes to choose photographs and get cards made and, I think, he emails them and then sends out hard copies to our friends who don't have email. But, honestly, I don't think I've really checked in years.

Just in case you think I'm totally Scrooge-y, I get really into cooking for Christmas dinner and having folks over (this year two Jews and two Wiccans). And this year one of the Kiddo's presents is a total bedroom re-do, with a Harry Potter theme that has given me ridiculous amounts of fun to plan and shop for! We're going to have him sleep in our bed Christmas eve and then redo his his room during the night. This is a present from mommy and daddy, though -- the fat guy in the red suit shouldn't get all the credit!

RHYS BOWEN: I always plan to buy presents throughout the year, but it never happens. And I never buy things half off in the craziness after the holiday. But this year my presents are all bought and wrapped and under the tree (apart from a couple that Amazon haven't delivered yet). It is because I have a minor surgery on Thursday and may not feel like braving crowds after that. And I'm with Hank. I buy presents for my agents and editors. I've already sent out around 100 cards all over the world.  This week I plan to make and freeze several large meals as we'll be having 14 people in the house for a week! I have to bake mince pies and sausage rolls (traditional British Christmas fare)

I'm married to a man who will come to me on Christmas Eve with a pad and pencil and ask "So what do you think I should buy people for Christmas?" In the good old days he gave everyone six audio tapes and two video tapes. Now he's at a loss. I once told him to surprise me and he bought me a biography of Winston Churchill (I had meant something more on the lines of jewelry, cashmere, scarves).

I'm happy that the whole family will be here this Christmas so I don't have to mail anything (I did brave the post office once and that was enough).

DEBS: Okay, I feel a wee bit better now! At least I know most of the things I'm getting, and on an hour long wander through Home Depot with hubby on Saturday night (isn't that how everyone spends Saturday night???) he saw something he wanted, so maybe the big one is solved. (Do I get points for having a gift for the postman and the housekeeper, by the way?)

Hank gets the crafty award, by far, and Hallie, I save gift bags, too, and love that you end up wrapping on Christmas Eve, too.

Rhys, we love you. You are superwoman.

Susan, I want the Harry Potter bedroom.

But as for the post office, just.. ack. Can I put it off another week??

How about you, dear readers? Which RED is your closest match in the Christmas preparedness stakes?


  1. Like Hank, if I buy things too early, I hide them and then forget where I hid them . . . I hunt for them but they still stay lost.

    I love the convenience of bags, but I wrap as well. This year, everything is bought, but only about half are wrapped and I have to get the rest done before the grandbabies arrive on Thursday.

    Cards? ::sigh::
    I'm definitely planning to mail them . . . perhaps in the week between Christmas and the new year. After all, it will still be holiday time . . . .

  2. My daughters started doing the wrapping when they were kids and continue to enjoy the job. And I found a secret USPO counter at the back of the hardware store! Never a line and I browse in paint chips on the way out.

    Last year I couldn't find the ornament hooks and used paper clips instead. And instead of gift tags, we used sticky notes.

    It all works out.

  3. Margaret, you are the queen of flexibility!

    Hank, love that idea. I'm pretty sure I threw out last year's cards, but I can root around...

  4. I have another tip for gift tags - from FB, I think. If you have a large big box hardware store or even a small one, go to the paint section and grab your choice of paint chips.They make great tags if you can punch a hole in them. :-)

  5. Yes, yes, put it off, Debs! I'm all for it. It's whatever holiday we say it is, right? Happy New Year! And voila, another week!

    And whew Joan, at least it's not just me.

  6. Margaret, don't you also live in Cincinnati? Care to share which hardware store? Hmm?

    This is going to be a very weird Christmas for us. We don't send out gifts any more, although I used to spend weeks making presents for the nieces and nephews to mail all over the country. Now they're all lucky we even remember they're around, since my husband is in charge of the holiday greetings. But our kids, and my mother, and my grandson are the big present receivers in our family. One of my daughters is currently a nomad, and will not have anything remotely like an address until sometime next year. I'll probably put money into her brokerage account.

    My oldest daughter and her husband, very difficult to buy for, will be here before Christmas, but launching out to central Florida on Christmas Eve so the grandboy can finally see Disney World, etc. And my youngest may or may not also be here in that same time frame.

    Rhys, your husband asking you what to buy "everyone" on Christmas Eve is so like my husband. Except he is only on the hook for a gift for me. And he waits until the very last minute, every single time.

    I used to send cards, well over a hundred of them. But my husband and his family have sent out calendars with bird photos (that they took and sold to the calendar company) for more than four decades, and I finally realized we were overlapping. Some years ago I started adding names to the list, and now have full control of the master list. However, I don't have control over who gets calendars, because my husband and his brother send them out.

    This year, the costs for sending them are astronomical: $3 apiece!

    On the plus side, calendars are a dandy gift for all kinds of people, like my hair stylist, who really look forward to receiving them.

  7. You must live near me, Gram... now I know why all the red and green paint chip cards were missing at my local Home Depot.

    Tags? A ball of string, 3x5 cards, and a hole puncher? Actually we don't do tags. We just pile each person's up in a corner of the living room (no tree makes this easier.)

  8. Karen, Ace Hardware in the strip on the corner of Galbraith and Plainfield, near Deer Park HS.

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  10. Instead of tags, and to discourage snooping by inquisitive daughters, I used to use all the same wrapping paper for each kid. Only I knew which was which.

  11. I'm still looking for the jewelry gift I bought ahead of time for my niece a few years ago. I kept thinking that if I found it I could give it to her for the next milestone: 8th grade graduation, Confirmation, birthday, Sweet 16 birthday, high school graduation, ANY birthday, ANY Christmas... Yes, she has graduated from high school, and good old Aunt Deb still can't find it. So no more buying things in advance...

    I do on-line purchases for a friend and her husband who live far away, and I do that for my brother and sister-in-law and the family, also at a distance from me. His older daughter and her hubby will be visiting me a few days after Christmas so I need something for them but decided I don't need to rush on that one. Because I feel no pressure, I am almost certain I'll buy it BEFORE Christmas.

    As for the others, we do a Yankee Swap, which is easy for me to handle. Except I think there's one set of relatives who won't be able to make it to that celebration so I'll probably see THEM later on and will want to give them something.

    So, yes, I am behind. Sigh...

  12. My brother's first wife came from a family that was very into Christmas/Chanukah gathering and gifting. Back then, my parents were still alive and my sister's sons were young. And I worked in a law firm with secretaries and other staff. I shopped, I wrapped, we gathered, we gave.

    But my brother remarried, to a woman who didn't want anything to do with our family. (They discarded-- didn't return, but disposed of-- gifts sent to their daughter.) They avoided family celebrations and even memorials. My sister's boys grew up and have their own lives. My parents died. And I moved my practice into my home and have no staff.

    The days when I had overlapping invitations for Christmas brunch/dinner at half a dozen homes are long gone. Many friends have died or moved away. I do have one dear friend of more than half a century who invites his friends for a Christmas dinner/open house; his guest list is down to around forty from a high of over 400. And there is a neighbor family who invites me for brunch if they are in town.

    So my obligations for giving are reduced to the point that shopping is quick and easy. I mentioned Penzey's yesterday-- it's one-stop shopping, and I have enough wrapping paper left over from the old days to last a dozen lifetimes.

    With e-mail, Facebook, and Jacquie Lawson, I only send out two or three real cards these days (though I have a cabinet full of boxes of them). But since year-end for tax purposes coincides with the holiday season, I'm actually grateful for the extra time.

  13. So glad to hear that I am not the only one way behind.

    Not sure if it is because Thanksgiving was so late this year or maybe a November Bouchercon got me out of wack. Or maybe I just procrastinated too long. Whatever the reason, I really need to kick things into high gear.

    I have some online stuff in route, so there is that. I have a list of most of the things I still need to get. And oddly (but not really), there are a larger than normal number of gift cards being given by me this year.

    We must have pics of the Harry Potter bedroom, Susan. I'm heading to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in early February. Can't wait!

  14. I generally start shopping around Thanksgiving, spend a lot of money on stuff for myself, feel really good about having gifts done "early" (which means by December 15th or so), then make a list of what I got for who and realize that I've stiffed a couple of people so I have to run out and shop some more. I only have one gift to mail, and I'm very lucky because my office is across the hall from a small satellite post office. I can just watch for the line to go down from my desk, then hop up and run it over. Check the website for post office locations (you want Post Office and Approved Postal Providers, then refine the search and check everything except alternate places to buy stamps). We have a location in a local Stop N Go that seldom has lines.

  15. Sandi, that's what happens to me if I actually go OUT shopping!! Several trips to Anthropologie so far, ending up with "Merry Christmas to me" among the other gifts!

    Now looking for an excuse to go back...

    But I will get to the post office today. I will, I will, I will. (Clicking heels thrice.)

  16. Oh, Christmas cards. Rick and I have done our own Christmas cards as long as we've been married. We used to do really nice fold-over photo cards--our own photos, our own message inside, and we had a big list. But a few years ago, when the combined cost of the card and postage hit about $4, we started sending e-cards from Paperless Post. You can do your own photo, the cards open up and unfold on screen, and the recipients can message you back, which means we get nice notes from people we don't see very often.

    But have we done our cards this year? No. It's always hard when you've lost a pet, especially when the dogs are usually the stars of the Christmas cards. Maybe this week we'll come up with something. The nice thing about e-cards is that you CAN send them at the last minute:-)

  17. Let's see.

    1. We bought a new tree (pre-lit) this year and it has not arrived. Nor have we taken out any of the Christmas decorations to put out anything else.

    2. I ordered my daughter's gift from Amazon yesterday. Have not bought for my son. The hubby and I rarely get each other anything. Still waiting to hear from my sister (charity donations made for brother/sister-in-law and dad/stepmom).

    3. I will be wrapping on Christmas Eve. I'm always wrapping on Christmas Eve.

    4. Cards? Please don't make me laugh. We used to, but, um, yeah, that time thing.

    5. Tags - small squares of spare wrapping paper, folded with the name inside.

    Between the total lack of preparation and the rainy/gray weather, my Christmas spirit is definitely a little thin on the ground right now. Which is a shame, because it really is my favorite holiday.

  18. For the great-grandkids who live far away, I coordinate with their mom and usually have Amazon ship directly to them, since she has kindly agreed to wrap. Once I discovered Flat Rate boxes from the Post Office and that I can weigh my own boxes and envelopes, print labels and arrange for the post office to pick them up right from my porch - all while still wearing my PJs - I don't hesitate to buy and send that one more special thing anymore.

    I think the Harry Potter room will be a big hit! My husband did that for my granddaughter's room (lives here) when she was about 9 and she loved it. (She is a big girl now and went to Bouchercon with me this year! ;-) ).

  19. Let's see, I'm closest to Hallie in the organization stakes ... mostly done (though I'm having the last-minute panic of not having gotten enough for mom--can't skimp on mom!). But I haven't wrapped anything, and much of it is still in transit (fingers crossed for timely arrival).

    I sometimes do pick things up through the year, but my problem this year was picking things up for my step-sisters, only to get their husbands' names in the annual gift draw. DRAT.

    I come from a family of paper-recyclers, so I've got plenty of slightly crinkled tissue and wrapping paper along with my bags. Sometimes I think that's weird (to gift someone with pre-folded/used paper), but then again, my father still rips everything to shreds anyway. So why not?

    I ADORE the gift tag ideas (paint chips and last year's cards), thank you! And Susan, I also want to see pics of the bedroom! I have a HP wand, but no bedroom suite. :-)

    Happy shopping and wrapping, all!

  20. My shopping is all done. I spent Saturday on the internet doing on line shopping. Picked up a few things from brick and mortar stores.

    I have not started wrapping yet, but that is the project for this week. If I do just a little bit each day, I won't have to spend all day Saturday wrapping. That's the hope, anyway.

    But decorating? Most of my ornaments didn't even make it out of storage this year. I was sick the first weekend of the month, and I just can't seem to get the motivation to dig out more. At this point, I don't think I will bother. My trees look good. And it will be easier to undecorate come New Years.

  21. In the past, having worked at a mall at Christmas, I pretty much only do online shopping now. (BTW, best place on Christmas Eve to be working is a jewelry store -- you can point to anything and the men will buy it. Seriously).
    I WAS done but today I ordered something else for my husband and I hope it gets here in time because it's through a third party via Amazon. He is the WORST person to buy for. I once gave him a digital camera for Christmas and he made me return it because it wasn't good enough though it was the best I could afford at the time. I mean, really? I'm this close to just wrapping money.
    We used to exchange names on my side of the family to give gifts but have given that up as we're spreading out more. I do still get gifts for my parents and brother. I'm usually giving books (surprise!) and my divorced brother gets a classic pinup calendar every year. :)

  22. As to cards--any that are mailed prior to 25 December are, according to me, Advent cards. Christmas cards should go out during the twelve days of Christmas. But that gets confusing when it's already time to deal with all the Valentines Day promotions.

    Gift tags? I write the names on the wrapping paper, carefully placing them in fun positions relative to the design.

  23. My great excuse for everything this Christmas is the painting that is still going on inside and the floors that will be installed after Christmas. It's rather a relief to put off any tardiness to something I don't control.

    I do have most gifts bought, with the main gifts being those for the granddaughters. I am giving them both American Girl dolls and an outfit. I also padded their Santa gifts a bit, as my daughter is a bit too minimalist for my tastes. Although, now that I think of it, maybe she only pretends to be minimalist so that I will pitch in. Hmm.

    I also have daughter and son and their mates to buy for, but I think that's done. There is a question about the daughter and son-in-law's, but no big deal. With my daughter and son-in-law, it's usually more practical gifts, like money towards something they want, a new TV, or this year a new radio. Daughter is a big listener of NPR. For my son and his fiance, I can get a little more creative, as they love whimsical like I do. My son, among a couple of practical items is getting a woodburnt picture of Snape from Harry Potter (we shared those books and both still love them). I'm actually waiting for its delivery. Husband is easy because, while it might not suit others, we buy our own gifts. I have a bag of books. Big surprise. I always get the kids, grandkids, and my husband a book, too. That's done.

    I only have a couple of friends for whom I buy gifts. One friend is easy because she loves reading like me, and one of her gifts is Lucy's Death with All the Trimmings. The other friend's gift is driving me crazy. I don't seem to be able to come up with something. I was going to do a food gift this time, with country ham and fudge, and then she went to the doctor last week and her cholesterol was up. Sigh.

    Nothing is wrapped yet, and I'm hoping to get that done by this weekend. We'll see. I've gotten a little lazy over the past few years and used bags and tissue paper mostly, but this year, I want to wrap, too. I worked on Christmas cards yesterday and will finish those today. I love that I can connect with people I don't see much with the Christmas cards, but I hate writing them out. I make myself because I'm one of those who lament the passing of written communication.

    Great idea for tags, Hank. I've even used part of the wrapping paper and folded over to make a tag. Gram, your idea is cool, too, and, Margaret, I think you and my practical daughter would see eye to eye on the sticky notes.

    Susan, you get mother-of-the-year and gift-giver-of-the-year, too. A Harry Potter room and done overnight on Christmas Eve!!! That is just the best! And, yes, please post pictures.

  24. Oh my god, Hank, using old Christmas cards as tags! My mom used to do that when I was growing up. I thought it was because she was cheap--but maybe she was just a crafty person. Thanks for revisiting me (improper verb, yep, but I like it for this) to these memories.

    I'm pretty good when it comes to Christmas gifts, and I don't know how that came to be because I'm generally chaotic. For some reason, I have great Christmas present karma. It's my superpower. I can always find or think of great gifts without fuss and in plenty of time. And I'm a great gift wrapper too--as learned from the crafty mom of mine.

    Christmas cards? That's another dealio altogether. I always write personal notes to everyone--takes forever. I might send out New Years cards this year. :-)

  25. I just ordered some gifts online yesterday! Hope they get here in time. One recipient will get local cheeses and chocolates. Actually, I should just do that for everybody. And if I get cards off in time only for immediate family, I'm lucky.

    Wrapping gifts in a piece of pretty cloth is nice, and reusable. We also use newspaper and brown paper, decorated with markers.

    I think I'm, gulp, skipping a tree this year. Candles in the windows - always. Pepper lights strung in the kitchen. Nutcrackers and the manger scene all set up. But it's only Hugh and I plus one son, no parties here, so ... I'll use all that putting up and taking down time for writing!

  26. gift tags! I just remembered that my mother bought gorgeous, unique, gift tags from someplace like Italy, carefully inscribed each family member's name on them, and then used and reused them every year. No scotch tape could mar those tags; they were tied to each gift with care. She justified it as a time saver and a way to dress up a plainly wrapped gift. Miss you, Mom.

  27. Debs, I'm usually with you and Hank--last-minute shopping in weeks before Christmas. (Although I long ago gave up sending Christmas cards.) This year, however, I knew I wouldn't be up to the strain of Christmas shopping after all the surgeries, so I was forced to spend two days searching online and now have everyone taken care of (without using Amazon for any of them). Wrapping will usually take place Christmas Eve and consists of gift bags and tissue, usually including some recycled gift bags.

    There are no little kids in my family any longer. No grandkids, at all, and the youngest nephew is a college graduate who's several years into his post-graduation career. I'd like to turn to drawing names to take the financial burden off everyone, especially the young adults, but my sister lives for Christmas--50,000 Santas, shops all year for gifts, etc.--and always protests when I bring up that possibility. I guess I'm kind of bah, humbug-y right now. Often I make gifts for everyone, but since I still haven't regained full use of my right arm after radical mastectomy and lymphedema, that ain't happening.
    Still, I told my husband that my big present to myself and everyone is just being here when I could so easily not have been earlier this year.

    Happiest of all holiday greetings to all of my Jungle Reds family! xoxo

  28. And we're all grateful you're here, Linda!

  29. Linda, I didn't realize you'd been ill. Your continued presence here is a PRESENT to all your faithful readers!

    I didn't mention earlier that I did still have other gifts to purchase. Right this minute I'm finishing up my lunch break and while I was out I got several more crossed off my list. Tomorrow I'm taking a vacation day to do more Christmas "stuff"/chores, etc.

    Yesterday I bought gifts for ME, including Lucy/Roberta's latest!

  30. Oh dear. I really should get the cards to the US (from Canada) finished before the 5 pm pickup today, but there are these blogs I keep reading instead. At least the overseas cards have gone.

    Then the domestic cards, THEN the hard stuff. I mean presents.

    3 hours, 9 minutes until pickup time.

  31. Linda, I'm also happy you're still with us!

    Margaret, thanks for the tip. That's not especially convenient for me in Anderson--I might as well wait in line for a few minutes! But it's good to know, and I bet there are other places in our area, as well.

    Hank and Lisa, your moms were amongst the original recyclers! I mean, what the heck else could you do with old Christmas cards, except to pitch them, or (I confess to this one) save them forever. Why? I don't know. Probably time to get rid of everything but the Christmas letters, which I love reading. Year to year, they're such an interesting type of diary of a family's life.

  32. Debs!!! It's the 15th? Of December? You're kidding?

    Linda... we are so glad you are here to celebrate. I know how you love to make your beautiful gifts... disability changes so much. But Linda, I bet your family is grateful to have your presence as a gift... as I am glad to have Steve.

    We have pared down our celebrations so that we are doing things we like to do. And eating out. Giving to the food drive for animals and people. Auntie-Mom and Uncle Mike are driving over on their way to my cousins for Hanukkah. They're taking us out for dinner.

    This smaller and more intimate Christmas is looking much better for us, now. And we are enjoying the season.


  33. My new son-in-law is a pretty strict eco-type, so I bought some Christmas fabric from a local store with the idea that it would be reusable wrapping paper, but then (1) ARSON at the darling local fabric store and (2) the newlyweds will be honeymooning in Patagonia so I decided to save the fabric for a project and I bought a couple of rolls of wrapping paper.
    That said, I do re-use cards as tags, save paper and gift bags from year to year.
    We will have three daughters, two sons-in-law, one dog, and four grandkids here on Christmas Day -- I am suddenly concerned about "evening out" the piles.
    But I am mostly done.
    On the road tomorrow to visit my mother, an uncle, and others --- bringing a basket of soups and crackers to Mom and lots of little packets of homemade cookies for those I see along the way.

  34. Linda, Reine said it--thrilled to have you here! Hope you're feeling well...

    Lisa love that you have Christmas present karma superpower!!

    Denise, you are all set--hope I'm on your cookie route:) xo

  35. Oh, Linda - what an ordeal... I'm so sorry to hear. The holidays can gang up on us... or make us appreciate the people in our lives and not so much the stuff. xx oo xx oo

  36. Linda, we have missed you!!! So glad you are recovering. Love to you from all of us! xox

  37. Wow! I have this tradition of collecting things to give as Christmas gifts ALL year. I put them in my "Christmas" closet with Christmas and Hanukah wrapping paper rolls.

    I sent off the Gifts the first week of December.

    However, I am in the midst of sending Christmas cards to relatives and friends.

    So, I am not sure which of the Reds I am more like.

    Happy Holidays, everyone!