December 22, 2008

Christmas Letters – A Bad Wrap

Posted in Just Darn Clever, Parenting tagged , at 4:21 pm by Andrew

Yes…fine…the title is a groaner. But as far as puns go, that’s not bad. In the spirit of the Season, I ask you to deal with it.

Now, onto Christmas letters — those printed recaps of a family’s year. Why has it become so popular to trash them? Commentators love to mock Christmas letters and then act as if they were the first to voice such brilliance. I have news for you, Mr. Don’t-Deserve-a-Column: Not only is your opinion trite, it’s false.

People chirp that it’s impersonal to receive a mass-printed letter. I guess the alternative is a lengthy hand-written letter? And exactly how many such missives do you receive each year? Better yet, how many lengthy hand-written notes do you receive from anyone under the age of 70?

So, if Christmas letters are unacceptable, what’s the alternative? Ahh yes, the classic Christmas card with the pithy printed greeting and…wait for it…nothing else but a signature.

The public should transfer its scorn from the “letter writers” to the “card signers.” How can it be tacky to make an effort to update people on your life but sending a Christmas card with nothing beyond a signature is socially acceptable? (Of course, plenty of people send cards without even signing them.)

People also gripe that letters consist of nothing more than parents bragging about their kids. Again, this rings hollow. Letters I receive update me on the kids’ activities and yes, accomplishments. What kind of Scrooge gets offended by that? I just learned my cousin’s kid is quarterback of his high school team. Who knew? Not I. Face it, you don’t communicate with most of these people enough to know details about their lives. The Christmas letter is your only shot to catch up.

Letter Critics think they’re branding themselves as counter-cultural, salt-of-the-earth old-schoolers. Yet I’d bet these cynics either don’t send Christmas cards at all, or simply slap their signatures on a Hallmark and call it a day.

Ease off the criticism, and keep those letters coming.


December 19, 2008

Cookie Exchanges are the new Black

Posted in Just Darn Clever tagged , , at 12:13 pm by Andrew

Among the many invitations this holiday season, there are plenty of events that won’t make your calendar. But if you’re invited to a Cookie Exchange, and you’re tempted to dismiss it as outdated or schmaltzy…don’t! I don’t care if you’re not a baker, or your busy, or if you’re a guy…just go.

Where else can you walk in with 5 dozen sugar cookies…and walk out with 5 dozen miracles of baked awesomeness? That’s how it works. It’s like a magic room with a trap door through which cookies fall like rain…and you’re at the bottom with a basket.

To put it another way — a cookie exchange invitation is your ticket out of Baked Boredom. If the only cookies you know come from Wal-Mart, with an occasional homemade chocolate chip, it’s time to expand your horizons.  Finagle your way into an exchange, and you’ll be introduced to cherry winks, tea cakes, date fingers, rum balls, and a flurry of toffee-bar-brittle-bark concoctions.

So lose the idea that  exchanges are stodgy. Open the door, people…and walk into baked goodness this holiday season.

December 17, 2008

Raid a Forest…Extract a Tree

Posted in Parenting tagged , , , , at 10:31 pm by Andrew

It’s hunting season, and the family bagged a 25-footer this weekend. Of course, we were hunting Christmas trees, and by “25-footer”  I mean…a 25-footer!

If you live near a national forest, like I do, you may be lucky enough to enjoy the practice of procuring your tree the old fashioned way — wandering into the woods and dragging it out. We’ve done so — legally — every year since we moved to Colorado Springs in 2002, and we love it. Pike National Forest sells permits for just $10, so it’s certainly cheap, and the experience is rich.

It starts with the drive up Highway 24 into Woodland Park. Watching the cars driving back down with trees tied atop is always a hoot. One year we counted 200! So this is a very popular program. In addition to the great experience, the program makes for a healthier forest by reducing the fire hazard (fewer trees make it easier for remaining trees to grow while reducing the fuel and potential intensity of future wildfires).

Of course, this isn’t for everyone. I’ve heard many a parent gripe about the process. It takes too long, it’s too cold, “we almost got lost,” the trees are ugly, and “the Abominable chased us out” are all common complaints. These people all have the same problem — their expectations are too high.

Don’t expect it to be warm.

Don’t expect it to be quick.

Don’t expect to find a 6-foot, 150-pound, ultra-dense Scotch pine for $75.

And don’t expect the trees to be planted in rows, 40 x 200, divided by species.

It  just don’t work that way. But you also won’t find a single tree that has been spray-painted green. Fortunately, we’re always on the lookout for a tree that’s ideally suited to the 10,000-foot hills and dales of Pike National Forest — a tree tall enough to reach our vaulted ceiling, light enough to carry a mile back to the car and spacious enough to accommodate the countless foot-long paper snowflakes, angels, candy canes, stars and snowmen ornaments the kids have made over the years.

I use the term “spacious.”  Those less charitable (some referenced above) might describe the trees as “thin,” “bare,” or “sickly.”  So I’ll admit these are not shaped evergreens designed from birth to fulfill their destinies as Christmas Trees. Rather, these are free-range trees, and let me tell you…they’re good-eatin! Ummm…I mean, they’re great trees.

The Gift of Gas

Posted in Just Darn Clever tagged , , , at 10:29 pm by Andrew

How are the weather and the price of gas similar? Both are seemingly inane topics of conversation, yet we’re drawn to them over and over. I admit, I check the price of gas every time I drive by a station. These days, with gas at $1.59 in my beautiful part of the world, I’m tempted to stop and buy it every day.


So I’ve come to a decision — For Christmas this year, everyone’s getting gas. And I don’t mean gas cards or gift certificates. I mean the real thing. Honest-to-goodness, regular unleaded gasoline.


I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, if I’m buying a bunch of plastic 5-gallon containers or what, but gas should be the hot gift for 2008. Sure, gasoline under the tree may raise some concerns, but trust me…gas is the new black.


So forget the power tools and jewelry, the Wiis and skis. The gift of gas is the best way to capture the spirit of the season this year. Because after the sweaters have pilled and the pants gone out of style, the memory of free gas in their tanks will drive smiles all year long.

Dangerous Christmas Memories

Posted in Parenting tagged , , at 10:28 pm by Andrew

Last weekend we took in some Christmas magic by heading to the Broadmoor (the posh resort hotel here in the Springs) to enjoy its incredible holiday decorations. From the gingerbread village and ice sculptures to the garland and light displays, the Broadmoor truly creates a winter wonderland – the kind a kid could see when he’s eight and fondly recall the rest of his life. The kind of amazement I enjoyed 30 years ago when my parents took my brother and me to the model train display downtown at CG&E (Cincinnati Gas & Electric).


For parents of young children, that’s the thing about Christmas – a lifelong memory could occur at any moment…so you better make sure it’s not embarrassing! Talk about holiday stress.


We have no way of knowing what will stick with a kid forever. I may set up a dream outing for my children to watch a French pastry chef create Santa’s sleigh out of 300 pounds of gingerbread and frosting, but the only thing they’ll remember is how I sneezed so hard the chocolate Prancer was sent flying off the marshmallow roof and impaled on a candy cane fence. (That didn’t happen, of course…far as you know.)


Parents strive to create holiday magic, yet we have no control over what our kids remember. If we work too hard to make it perfect…our kids will remember us working too hard. But if we go all laissez-faire and let be what be, my kids will remember how I tried to pass off saltines as Christmas cookies (again, this didn’t happen…far as you know).



So I guess I’ll forge ahead, and try to take a “creationist” approach to Christmas memories: I’ll put things in motion to create positive, pro-parent memories, but ultimately my kids have the free will to remember what they will…be that Nat King Cole, awesome food and family fun…or injured candy reindeer and lame Christmas crackers.

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