Monday, December 22, 2014

Easy, Quickie, Last-Minute Gift Ideas for the Randoms in Your Life

It’s crunch time. I’m only halfway done with my holiday shopping, and don’t particularly care. These are all just items and objects. This is the luxurious kind of stress.

Shopping for my friends and family is no problem. I know exactly how to satisfy their needs and tastes. However, most of us have people in our regular lives we’re not close to, but have that obligation to buy holiday gifts for. Constant-contact co-workers, lovely neighbors, great new acquaintances, etc. These are the types who used to be responsible for my worst retail angst. Cologne? Lotion? Gloves? Xanax? A decorative basket filled with tangerines and Triscuits? How the hell do I know what they could use, when the only talking we do is small?  

Many years ago, it all became clear to me. Chocolate or wine. If I teach you anything, let it be: when in doubt, gift chocolate or wine.

Neither are unhealthy, neither are as impersonal as a gift card, you never need to pay more than $25 for either, and - most importantly – you get the peace of mind that neither will go unused. Even if it turns out the people you give the chocolate or wine to don’t eat chocolate or drink wine, they’re sure to know at least one person who does who they can re-gift it to (while making themselves look good in the process). You don’t have to worry about your money going to waste.

One holiday season, my first NYC boss at my first NYC job got me an Armani Exchange scarf. “That’s a little extravagant,” I thought, “We ain’t tight. But, so what, he’s rich and I do so much for him.”

He left the tags on. That scarf came off the A/X clearance rack, after getting marked down about 5 times before a final price of something like $21. The following year, he got me this:

Each holiday season, I gave him a bottle of shiraz or syrah. His face lit up every time he opened the bag, lifted up, and studied his spoils.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OK, Now I’ll Admit It – Having a Bad Thyroid Sucks

My childhood/teenage asthma often led to an annual bout of bronchitis that kept me out of school for two weeks, mostly because I milked it for all it was worth. Nobody could lower her head in agony, or sabotage a thermometer reading, like me.

“But you’re not wheezing anymore,” someone would insist.

“Purely due to your catching me at a good time,” I answered weakly but firmly, fluttering my eyes. “All I need is one more day. What does it matter if I miss a Friday?”

Friday was usually a big day on Days of Our Lives. After two weeks of catching it promptly at its air time, not far from my beloved grandmother, I dreaded having to slum back to settling for the recorded version.

In college, I caught one virus, which didn’t last more than 72 hours. In my early twenties, I once lost my voice for another 72 hours or so. Sickness- and symptoms-wise, that was pretty much it for the rest of my twenties. Aside from dental visits, I rarely bothered to book check-ups because I didn’t need them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started having “symptoms” that turned out to be a thyroid condition I didn’t take too seriously.

I went through a major health scare last month. Something much worse than a thyroid problem. I netted about 35 hours of sleep in 3 weeks, just based on all the anxiety. My symptoms’ worst-case scenario was that bad. Some words of advice - never obsessively Google your weird symptoms and come to an airtight self-diagnosis. The hyper-Googling will quickly convince you it’s the worst-case scenario; and the specialist you frantically schedule an appointment with will most likely look at you like you’re nuts. I didn’t mind that latter bit.

Last week, all the test results (have you ever had a 7:30 a.m. trans-vaginal ultrasound, before a long day of work?) for the worst-case scenario came back negative. The great kind of negative. The only tests that came back positive (the not-great kind of positive) were re: my thyroid levels, which I’d thought I had under control via nutrition and exercise, but now it’s back to the endocrinologist I go, for the first time in years. Never in my life have I had so many doctor’s appointments in a one-month interval.

“All I want for Christmas is my health,” I said, 3 weeks ago. “Nothing more than a continuation of this annoying but manageable thyroid thing.”

And I got it! Until the grand dame of a head cold I came down with, earlier today.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Mug Shot, Just Mug Shame

Although I rarely remember it’s there, when you walk into one grocery store in my neighborhood, the first thing you might notice is the Shoplifters Wall of Shame. Floor managers take a picture of every thief they catch, print out a black-and-white copy of that picture, and hang it above a towering stack of red shopping baskets. In each photo, the shoplifters hold up the item(s) they tried making off with. Many of them smile pretty for the camera.

“How could someone do that? I’ve never stolen anything,” I’ve thought, shaking my head.  I mean, dammit, one time I was the only visitor at a tiny museum in England, where nobody manned the front desk that sold postcards for the equivalent of twenty-five cents. I took a postcard, leaving behind that twenty-five-cent equivalent, along with a note detailing how honorable I had been.

It’s so easy to forget that I actually have stolen something. It’s so easy to block that night out. Ten years ago. A beer mug from a local beer garden. I was blindingly drunk when I stuffed it into my oversized handbag, after the guy I was out with not only suggested but encouraged it, as a way to avenge the epic fight I’d gotten into with a bartender who accused me of underpaying him when I hadn’t. I found that mug in the back of a cabinet earlier this year and now keep it at the edge of my desk, as a writing-utensils holder, as a reminder. In 2015, I’m giving it back. That’s my New Year’s Resolution. That way it’s simply something I’ve borrowed, like an overdue library book.

Meanwhile, I recently went to the grocery store, picked up a red basket, and happened to glance at the Shoplifters Wall of Shame for the first time in months. The first photo I saw was of the security guard I blogged about a couple of months ago, holding up the same bottle of wine he once tried handing over to me in my office. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

6 Reminders I Got While Volunteering (as a Tribute) at a “Small Business Saturday” Event

*The most down-to-earth New Yorkers live in Queens. Salt of the city.

*I’m cut out for standing in the cold, glovelessly handing out free stuff to people who weren’t expecting it. Makes me feel like Oprah. I could do it twice a week, if provoked.

*It takes more grit to maintain a small business than it takes to start one. Anybody can start somethin’. Not everyone can keep it going.

*Kids, including the shy ones, love getting a balloon. The way their faces light up when you ask if they’d like one is a thing of beauty. Surprise any young kid in your life with one balloon a few times a year.

*By kids, I mean developmentally, emotionally - not just people who are kids due to their chronological ages. Some of the biggest kids in the game are well into their 30s and 40s. They need balloons too. If they catch you holding a batch, they’ll straight up approach you to ask for one (of a certain color) for themselves. Why not surprise them with a balloon a few times a year as well?

*I’m very proud of what my friends do for a living and for their communities.