Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Embracing the Spirit of Giving

Embracing the Spirit of Giving

“Giving is the style of the universe. Giving is woven into the fabric of existence… Giving is what we do best”. Eugene Peterson

Every year—at about this time—I start writching around to crank things up a notch. To pull out all the stops. To get the house fully decorated for Christmas, get friends and family fully fed with a meal or two, and get special Christmas treats baked, ordered or picked up for festive holiday entertaining. I confess to anticipating the arrival of Christmas every year with a spirit open to its marvelous story. But I engage midway through Advent with a palpable anxiety about getting everything “done.”

Sometimes the pace of the four weeks leading up to Christmas wears me out, and I almost collapse at the mere thought of getting preparations done with even the tiniest bit of flair. And other times, I get a sudden burst of energy and am able to stand in long lines at the post office, the grocery store, my favorite shops or my wrapping counter without breaking a sweat or reaching for a dark chocolate bar. Sometimes, I can go for hours on end without nibbling on a single thing nor feeling the teensiest hunger pang; other times, I feel like I need to have an elephant in the passenger seat of my van so that I can take a bite after every Holiday errand.

Unfortunately, energy levels—and mood swings—are unpredictable. We oftentimes greet the day with the best intentions only to find ourselves surprised at how quickly a traffic snarl or an impatient clerk can make monsters out of the best and most energetic amongst us.

Part of the secret of preparing for the Holidays is to set a pace with which you can be comfortable for the entire month leading up to Christmas, so that along with meeting deadlines and fulfilling all of the season’s commitments, you find yourself truly enjoying the days. Experiencing joy on Christmas Day healthy and happy—rather than haggard and hapless—should be one of your primary goals. Moving closer to the One who forever changed the world—embracing the message and the miracle of Christmas—is, of course, the reason for the season.

I’m passing along, as promised, some strategies I personally use to prepare for Christmas. I don’t pretend to be smarter or more clever or more creative or more anything. I only hope that some of these tips will help you make more sense or obtain more order to these next few days. If you gleam even one tiny idea, this Newsletter will have met its goal. So here goes:

1) Outline the month. In broad, general terms. Believe me: I’m not that organized, I hate detailed bullets and anything even hinting of “red tape.” (This includes budgets set by my husband, time lines set by my kids and artificially-imposed deadlines set by moi). But getting a general sense of some of the things you hope to accomplish during the Holidays is extremely helpful in getting your act together. Do you want to invite the neighbors over for coffee? Host a luncheon? Babysit a toddler so her mom can go shopping? Take an elderly friend to the mall? Map out your idea of how you’d like—ideally—the month to play out. My own personal goals are to host a girlfriends brunch, to host dinner parties for four to five different families, and to host my daughter’s fourteenth birthday party. Admittedly, it’s taken some finely-tuned organizational skills to pull all of these off while simultaneously staying on track with all of my other Holiday responsibilities. But I’m more than halfway there….

2) Take this broad outline and look at it in context. Do your kids have violin recitals two weeks before Christmas? Are school concerts on your calendar? Do you need to work the pre-school party? Is your daughter coming home from college? Do you need to budget in some travel time? What’s on your calendar that is absolutely mandatory—barring illness or emergencies—and what can be done or enjoyed only if all of your little duckies line up in perfect rows? In our own family, we’ve already attended three violin recitals, three school concerts and look forward to our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, where two of our kids will perform violin solos. Holiday entertaining—along with shopping, wrapping and shipping—will fall into place within this context.

3) Pick your entertaining dates well in advance and get the word out expediently. I know I know. It’s considered tacky to issue invitations via email. Miss Manners would wring my neck if she only knew. My day will come when engraved invites to my annual Christmas brunch will seem perfectly normal…but that day is not today! For the sake of expediency—not to mention sheer economy—email invitations are the only way for rocket moms to go. Being sleep-deprived with young ones exhibiting serious signs of the barnacle-syndrome hardly leaves room for endurance runs in creativity. I admit that in not too many years past (two, to be exact) I hand-wrote, hand-addressed and hand-stamped every invitation that left my house. These days, I prefer to spend that time doing other things. You have my official permission to be tacky if you so desire. So go online and either write your invitation in Word, copy and paste it into your browser and send it to the group you’ve created in your email system; or get more official and go to, which will record RSVP’s automatically, send updates, and streamline the whole process for you.

4) Start getting your act together early. I’ve forever been of the mindset that I’d rather give simple presents to many people than give a mere handful of extravagant gifts to a select few. You might feel entirely differently. That’s fine. But to stay in line with my guiding principle, I start shopping for Christmas as soon as Christmas has past. No, I don’t deal with the day-after-Christmas-madness-at-the-malls (been there done that. Yuck). But I do keep my eyes constantly open for gifts throughout the year, I keep my list in my Filofax and refer to it frequently, and I always stay on the lookout for good shopping deals. Out of town and out walking around a few cute gift shops? Keep your friends and family in mind. Hitting a great clearance sale at the mall? Think Christmas gifts. Your favorite shop offering a one-time special? Buy in bulk. Or decide on a theme well in advance and buy things along that theme whenever you see them on sale. It might be wonderful soaps or candles or papers or stationery or perfumes for all the girlfriends on your list; or musical toys or books or games or puzzles for all of the kiddies; and robes or slippers or ties or unusual t’s or books or coffee or gift certificates for the men on your list. Start thinking along theme lines early on in the year, shop for such, and you’ll find that by the time Christmas comes, you’ll be in pretty good shape. You can shop this way and still be creative in your gift-giving. For example, I bought homemade natural olive-oil soaps for a few of my girlfriends this year and chose scents according to personal preferences or lifestyles, giving lemongrass-scented soaps to my gardening girlfriends, pine-scented soaps for those who use fresh trees, etc. The key is always keeping your eyes open and keeping your family and friends ever-present in your mind as you shop. Store purchases in your gift closet or on a few shelves in an obscure place in your house, record what you bought for whom, and feel the enormous satisfaction of greeting Advent with lots of things already checked off on your list.

5) Set your color theme early. You can’t imagine how tickled I was to watch the HGTV Holiday special on The White House Christmas and see that the decorators and florists opted to use a lime-green-and-red color theme throughout the mansion. Wow! Lime-green bows held up every wreath, lime-green bows adorned the ornaments and lime-green tablecloths draped every table. I’ve been using a lime-green-and-red theme for the last few years in an effort to feed my lime-green addiction (OK, obsession…or illness…depending on who you talk to) and it makes me happy to see that I’m not the only one out there who sees Christmas colors with this unusual twist. If you love using the traditional Christmas green and bright red, that’s perfectly wonderful, too. But perhaps you’d rather use hot pink. Or burgundy .Or purple or blue. Splendid. Go for it with gusto. Start purchasing ribbons and wraps and gift tags and gift bags early, so that when you line up all of your supplies, you have a very color-coordinated look. For example, I bought red striped cellophane bags, lime-green tissue paper, lime-green silk ribbon, white gift “tags” and wrapping paper that is all red-lime-green-and-white so that no matter what I’m wrapping, I can reach for a supply and know that it’ll work with whatever else my hand has grabbed off my wrapping counter.

6) Set up a wrapping and shipping schedule to beat the Holiday rush. Even before Thanksgiving, I laid all of the gifts I had purchased throughout the year on my wrapping counter, organizing by theme and by family. I laid out all of my supplies—including tissue paper, ribbons, tags (I buy rings from the office supply store), shipping boxes and bubble-wrapped envelopes—and mapped out an organized production line. As gifts were wrapped, they were immediately placed into my van, so that if I ever passed the P.O. and saw an open parking space, I could make a quick shipping stop. But I blew it this year in that I’m at least a week behind schedule. Dag-gone-it. With Thanksgiving hitting a week late, I am late accordingly. As I generally ship anywhere from thirty to forty gifts out-of-state, I need to make three or four runs to the post office in order to ensure that gifts arrive on time. I try to get this done in late November so that I can: save on shipping charges (by shipping parcel post rather than priority), beat the excruciatingly long lines at the P.O. (no one ships in November), and get the immense satisfaction of crossing this off my list early on in the season. I must have been a slacker mom this year, as I still have one more trip to go, I wound up being forced to ship everything priority, and I’ve endured excruciatingly long lines at the P.O. with this weekend’s record forty-five minute wait hardly being a super-fun way to spend my time. There’s always next year…

7) Determine a “signature gift” and send it every year. Last year, for the first time (and as an experiment of sorts), I shipped and hand-delivered a custom-ordered, custom-made candy-cane fudge from our local candy shop. The reviews on it were so hearty that it’s become my signature gift again this year. I ordered dozens of boxes and it’ll wind up everywhere from Texas to Florida to New York. Easy. Festive. Hassle-free. Already gift-boxed. Perhaps there’s something clever—signature—that you can do: turn digital photos of your artwork into stationery or greeting cards; paint miniature canvases; bake an unusual cookie from your ethnic heritage; make your special cocoa or spiced tea? One of my girlfriends has been making homemade vanilla extract for almost twenty years; it’s her signature gift. She pours it into old-fashioned brown medicine bottles (which she buys wholesale and in bulk) and affixes a festive sticker to the front. I look forward to receiving a bottle every year…..

8) Get your cards out as soon as possible and build in plenty of margin time. Ok. You got me here. I am never organized enough to get this done early (even though I vow to be better each year.) Taking a good pic of four kids, sending them to the printer, and addressing and stamping almost two hundred envelopes is sheer hard work. It always gets done, but it always takes a back seat to other, more pressing responsibilities. I figure, if I can slack on my timeline somewhere, it’ll be here. I always buy my cards on sale the year before (generally picking them up at half-price), buy Christmas stamps before Thanksgiving, and buy my paper at the office supply store in bulk. I still haven’t gotten the whole digital picture thing under control over here at our house even though we’ve been using digital cameras for the past three or four years (it’s that whole business of shifting over from print to online photos that’s still got me confused as how to best organize and execute); surely you’re better at this than I am. My advice: make it a priority if you enjoy the tradition, but give yourself some freedom in getting them out as no one minds receiving them after Christmas.

I pray at Christmas that you embrace the spirit of giving. Not just in your thoughtful gifts to friends and family. But that you practice generosity in your time and in your talents, too. That you sing in a choir if you acknowledge your talent as a songbird; cook a meal for a friend if you grasp the joys of hospitality; take an elderly neighbor to the grocery store if you understand the importance of sacrificial love. That you take dinner to a family in crisis because you realize the physical and emotional tolls of illness or injury. Or lift up someone in need because you’ve witnessed the power of intercessory prayer.

Eugene Peterson, one of my most beloved authors and translator of THE MESSAGE, writes: “Giving is the style of the universe. Giving is woven into the fabric of existence… Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations. Our life is for others. That is the way creation works.” (*)

May you be filled with all blessings on Christmas Day—and everyday—by fully embracing the spirit of giving.

Merry, merry Christmas!


*NOTE: Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 42, 43.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rocket Mom Shops New York City

It was over-the-top, being treated to four days in New York City at Christmastime by the generosity of a Fortune 100 company. Its beauty was breath-taking, with a heavy snow preceding our trip blanketing Central Park; and lights, garlands and trees accenting everything from doorways to ceilings (Saks’ twinkling white lights strung along its ceilings and through tree limbs arching over every aisle is nothing short of glorious) to rooftops; and the temperatures, while nippy, were hardly bone-chilling. From Rockefeller Center to Times Square to The Met to The Park: New York was magical.

My promise to bring to you New York City bargains was ever-present in my mind as I pounded the pavements throughout mid-town Manhattan and much of the lower West Side. Due to the nature of our trip, I confess to spending much more time on Madison and Fifth Avenues than I did in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Chinatown, where bargains abound and where shops carry everything from the edgy to the kitschy to the fake to the cheap. So I’m going to share a little of both worlds with you. I also observed that in our corporate—and global—group, travelers from different parts of the world very much wanted to buy very different stuff. While this will seem overly-simplified and perhaps a bit stereotypical, the Western and Eastern Europeans desired American clothing (especially blue jeans), Clinique make-up, iPods and digital cameras, while folks from the Asia-Pacific rim shopped for expensive (Italian and French) handbags. Almost everyone was in search of some type of electronic device, with iPods and digital cameras being in the highest demand. The non-New Yorker Americans shopped for the run-of-the-mill, A-to-Z type bargain, looking for anything and everything that was either less expensive or more available than it is back home. As this Newsletter spins ‘round the globe, I’ll try to give everyone something to check out. Here goes:

• If you travel to New York City during the Holidays, be prepared to pay dearly—or in blood—for a hotel room. They are simply not to be had; ones that have availability are in extremely high demand with prices out the roof. Our room at The Essex House overlooked Central Park and was absolutely glorious, but my pockets wouldn’t be deep enough if I had to pay for it with my own MasterCard this time of year. One of NYC’s best-kept secrets is the Riverside Tower Hotel at 80 Riverside Drive (corner of Riverside Drive and West 80th Street; phone 212-877-5200.) Check them out first before calling hotels at more popular locations.

• Dining in NYC is a sport. Be prepared to play with the professionals. We enjoyed dinner at Michael Jordan’s in Grand Central Terminal, lunch at the 21 Club and a dinner party in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center, among many other special dining treats. (I can hardly mention our private dinner party atop the ABC Studios in Times Square as it was one of the most incredible views…as well as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had and one which I’m sure I’ll never have again). When my feet landed on NYC soil and I had to pay for things with my own nickel, I enjoyed a pressed sandwich at Europa CafĂ©. Also check out Cosi for cheap eats in the Big Apple. You would do just fine for a long weekend eating at either one of these places for breakfast, lunch and dinner…and they’re scattered throughout the city.

• Want something somewhere between Michael Jordan’s and Cosi? Try Cafe Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Avenue); Bloomingdale's Le Train Bleu (1000 3rd Avenue); Bergdorf Goodman - Goodman's Cafe for Women (2 West 58th Street); Bergdorf Goodman - Goodman's Cafe 745 for Men (745 5th Avenue) or Fred's at Barneys (660 Madison Avenue). I also have always had good luck at little bakeries strung along the Upper East Side on Madison. There’s nothing wrong with coffee and a bran muffin for lunch after all. Or hot roasted chestnuts from the street vendors. Yum!

• Allen Edmonds (551 Madison Ave. around 55th St.; phone 212-308-8305) is having a sale on men’s shoes right now. Men I spoke with found this to be irresistible. As most of their shoes are in the $200-300 price range, it’s nice to think that one might save a little by buying now, if treads are wearing thin. And one of the best reasons for buying their stuff: you can send your shoes back to Allen Edmonds for re-soling….at least once before buying again.

• Loehmann's (101 7th Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets; phone 212-352-0856) remains one of my longest-running favorites and is, by all counts, the grand dame of discount stores. I bought a fabulous pair of beaded flats by Kenneth Cole for less than $30. With black and red beads on a black satin background, they’re perfect for Holiday parties (with longish black-sequined peasant skirts and glittery tops). Loehmann’s stuff changes daily, so it’s hit or miss. Keep checking. And get into “shopping mode” before you head over there; lines will be long, the building is on the hot-ish side and you may have to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for something wonderful in your size. But it’s worth it.

• Century 21(22 Cortlandt Street-- Between Church and Broadway in Chinatown; phone 212-227-9092; has been billed by native New Yorkers as the best discount place in the city and Zagat has given it top billing as well. Our guide dropped us off there for an hour’s worth of shopping and I walked out with nothing. Nadda. Zero. Truthfully, it didn’t grab me. Too much stuff. Poorly displayed. Not enough variety to make me want to pull out my wallet. But the Europeans on-board were thrilled. Great boots and shoes, apparently. And lots of Ralph Lauren fashion jewelry at ridiculously low prices. Handbags, too. Also spotted: trendoid Oliver Peoples sunglasses at rock-bottom prices. And if you’re shopping for Clinique cosmetics, you can find it here at really decent prices.

• Almost next door, check out J&R for great deals on electronics of all types (Park Row across from City Hall Park; phone 212-238-9000; Fax 212-238-9191; Travelers on my tour found iPods, digital cameras and video cameras there that made their hearts sing.

• DSW is theeeee place for designer women’s shoes. (102 N. End Ave in Chinatown; phone 212-945-7419) Very hit or miss. The stuff—because it is so wonderful—moves out extremely quickly. I once eyed a pair of Lilly Pulitzer’s at a DSW store in Miami, hesitated, went back the next day and found that the entire stock of Lilly’s was gone. If you gotta have it, get it as soon as you find out it fits.

• While you’re in the lower west side, check out the deals on Canal Street. Cheap. Fake. Fun…if you must. Everything from fake designer handbags to cheap jewelry to hats and scarves to t-shirts.

• If you gotta have a drop-dead gorgeous Italian leather handbag for Christmas, call the good folks at Suarez on Park Avenue at around 56th St. (450 Park Ave; phone 212-753-3758). A family-owned business for something like three generations, their staff is courteous and their stuff is super-pretty. Their bags come in fourteen colors, including an absolutely incredible Tiffany-blue. But your pockets better be deep: prices start at $300 and rocket on up from there. They’re having somewhat of a sale, with their $550-on-up bags currently at 20% off.

• After sleeping on a Suarez purchase by my husband (for my Christmas gift) not one, not two, but three nights…I decided that with four kids to put through college (and two sofas to reupholster and yada yada yada) that an expensive handbag was a little bit too over-the-top right now. Ernie and I opted instead to buy a gorgeous Italian handbag, the “Kelly Bag” (think Grace Kelly) at a wonderful handbag store that is losing its building and combining two stores into one and therefore discounting all of its merchandise by 80%. Yes. As in 80% OFF. Their gorgeous $650 bags have been discounted to about $130. At that price, you can perhaps think about buying one in a color you wouldn’t normally entertain…and if you accidentally ruin one, you won’t be crying all the way back to the city to get a replacement. And you might even be able to justify buying two. Call Michel’s Bags (510 Madison Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Sts; phone 212 355-8309). Ask for Kathy and tell her the-gal-from-Connecticut-who-couldn’t-decide-which-bag-to- buy-but-who-finally-bought-the-Kelly-bag-on-Monday sent you. She’s lovely. And hurry up! The sale ends December 31 and they’re quickly running out of stock.

• Pearl River Mart (477 Broadway, between Grand and Broome Sts.; phone 212-431-4770; has not only cheap stuff with which to decorate—china bowls, tea services and placemats—but fun little no-nothings for stocking stuffers. I found—though did not buy—the cutest paper lanterns on the planet, and if I needed yet one more thing to put into my daughter’s bedroom, they would quite probably be it. I did, however, make my only afternoon purchase, because I hadn’t seen them elsewhere: pretty glycerine soaps for children with embedded “cute-isms” like “smile,” “joy,” “laugh,” “love,” etc. I bought a half-dozen to give to a family with four young daughters, along with silk draw-string bags in orange-with-white-polka-dots for festive packaging. All for something like $18.

• Kate’s Paperie (phone 800-809-9880; is still the best shop in NYC for stationery and super-pretty papers. Hands down. No contest. With four locations on NYC (its SoHo shop at 561 Broadway is incredible) it is a must-see if you are a paper lover or simply need some eye candy. Call to order, but if you’re in the city, do not miss the Kate’s Paperie experience.

• Dean & Deluca in SoHo (560 Broadway; phone 212-226-6800 or toll-free 800-221-7714; is the place to find all food-related things that you cannot find elsewhere. Glorious olive oil “brick” soaps, pots and pans, and gourmet candies are amongst my favorites there. See if they can special order you some chocolate-covered gummy bears. The best.

• Baking a lot for Christmas? Need cookie cutters? Baking pans? Icing tips? Try New York Cake at 56 West 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. Incredible selection. Phone or FAX orders: 800-942-2539; FAX 212-675-7099.

• Lee's Art Shop (220 W. 57th Street, between 7th Avenue and Broadway; phone 212-247-0110) has fantastic kids’ art supplies, stuff for adult artists, creative stocking stuffers and the best art tools in the city. If your area lacks a great art supply store, this is it.

• Museum gift shops cannot be ruled out as amongst the best outlets for creative gift ideas. I had a wonderful time—after a two-hour guided tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art —in their large gift shop (1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd St; phone 212-570-3894), which is a destination in and of itself. If you can’t find that art book you’ve been looking for, give them a call. Beautiful silk scarves and ties. Jewelry, too.

• Also check out The Museum of American Folk Art Shop for wonderful gifts, most made by American artisans: 45 W 53rd St between 5th and 6th; phone 212-265-1040.

• The Holiday Gift Shops at St. Bartholomew's have some unusual gifts that you won’t find elsewhere, but you’ve got to be in the city to access them. If you’re in the city, check them out at Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets.

• If you do get into the city, do not—and I repeat, do not—rule out the fabulous pashmina and cashmere shawls that you can pick up from the street vendors for $5 or $10. OK. I haven’t exactly checked out the fiber content with a magnifying glass, but hey, for ten bucks, how can you go too wrong? I pick one up each trip into the city and have found some real beauties. The color range is quite wonderful. Yum. The latest have a gorgeous jacquard weave and I find one wrapped around my neck at every venture out of doors. Particularly good locations? Try just west of Fifth Avenue around 50th or 51st Streets.

• Gotta hit the large department stores? OK. So do I, but not for bargains. They remain, I admit, a feast for the eyes and a veritable New York experience. You’ve got to get the salespeople spritzing you with the latest perfumes and schmearing you with the latest anti-wrinkle creams upon arrival. No one does this better than the good folks at Saks Fifth Avenue (50th St. and Fifth Avenue) Very elegant. Very expensive. Really, no bargains to be found except after Christmas, when discounts of 50% will be commonplace. I love their contemporary sportswear and their private label. Beautiful night show of dancing snowflakes in the windows timed to Christmas music. Magical. Bloomingdale’s (Third Avenue and 59th Street or in SoHo at 504 Broadway; phone 212-729-5900) is trendy, bustling and exciting. Their tagline it's like "no other store in the world" is true. They carry some pretty cool stuff that you just won’t find anywhere else. Watch for deep discounts…but not until after Christmas. Some bargains can actually be found at Lord & Taylor (38th St. and Fifth Avenue) as they are continually bringing in new merchandise. Granted: most of the NYC stores are doing the same, but Lord & Taylor does this consistently and does it well. One of my favorites. Bergdorf Goodman (754 Fifth Avenue at 57th St.; the men's store is located across the street. Phone: 800-558-1855) is not a store that you necessarily shop in, and is certainly not a place in which to behold a bargain. It is simply a place to train your eye. To look at beauty (and the beautiful). Their windows are the best-dressed and the same could be said for their (real) customers. Lines of gawkers outside their blue-and-white china window were five deep. I could hardly take my eyes off it. If you make the trip in to the city, you must make a quick stop here. ‘Nough said.

• Crate&Barrel (650 Madison Avenue at 60th Street; phone 212-308-0011) is beautifully decorated for Christmas and contains enough low-priced stuff that it’s certainly worth a visit. If you’re looking for a small kitchen appliance, especially, it beats the prices at Williams-Sonoma. This should be part of your Madison Avenue experience; a phone call is also worth it if you know what you’re looking for.

• For stuff for the home, I have two favorites: ABC Carpet and Home (888 Broadway at 19th St; phone 212 473-3000) is filled to the brim with treasures—and rugs—from around the world. Not to be missed, you’ll find things in all price ranges, including arguably the best baby department in the city. Pierre Deux (625 Madison Ave at around 56th St; phone 212-521-8012) is not only for the Francophiles amongst us; it is a jewel box in the heart of Madison Avenue. Roosters lurk in every corner; gorgeous French fabrics fill every square inch; expensive furniture lines the downstairs footage; and reproduction paintings and lamps and shades and china take center stage through this large retail space. Ahhh….A little retreat into wonderful.

That oughta do it. Stay tuned: next week, I’ll share with you how I shop for the dozens of family and friends on my list, as well as the menu and recipes from my annual Christmas Brunch.

Happy shopping!


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Where Hustle Stops Bustle

“At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.” Thomas Tusser

After spending a good part of last week hustling to prepare for Christmas—“determined-with-list-in-hand-shopping” all afternoon Wednesday; one last getaway and leisurely shopping experience with Nick in New York City all day Thursday; and “smart shopping” at the outlet mall a little bit on Friday—it was so wonderful to kick back and relax with dear friends from Kentucky, who visited us for the weekend at our home in Connecticut. We spent our time on a leisurely stroll around town, in leisurely conversation on sofas around the fire, and by breaking bread around my dining room table. No scurrying around. No serious deadlines to meet. No long lines to contend with.

As I sit here and look at my own calendar for December, I imagine that it looks very much like yours. Too many appointments in too little space. Double-bookings in the same exact time slot. Near panic at the realization that something will get left out of the mix: that perfect gift will not be found; that perfect lunch date will not work out; that perfect party will not be attended.

The nearly universal common denominator among all mothers is the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed by the demands of spouse, kids and home life. The near-constant shuffling of little people from school to lessons to activities to friends’ homes; the never-ending cycle of grocery shopping-meal preparation-cleanup-and-laundry; and the nearly-impossible requirement of keeping ourselves in peak-performance physical shape—all on too-little sleep—baffles and confounds even the best of us. And “the math” never gets more complicated than during the Holidays. We become overworked, overstretched, and overburdened. I feel it every year. I know you do, too.

My visit with old friends this weekend validated what I’ve always known—but have often been simply too busy to stand back and rightfully acknowledge: hustle stops bustle around a table.

When all—and I mean all—is said and done, the holidays really boil down to: faith, family and friends. And if we whack that out of perspective, if we wrongly juggle the mix, or if we lose track of the things for which we’re scurrying, we miss out on the season.

When my husband and kids and I sat down around our dining room table to share several meals with two of our dearest friends in the whole world, I was able to leave the hustle and bustle of Christmas behind me. We were able to enjoy the food we had prepared, the catching-up-with-each-other-conversation we had longed for, the break in the routine we had looked forward to, and the ambience we had lovingly designed. With candles aglow and silver sparkling, the cocoon of home and friendship took over to do what it has always done best: provide love and safety and shelter—and relief from the busyness of the world. Hustle stopped bustle this weekend at my dining room table.

I know this sounds trite. Oversimplified. Almost like a “duh, yeah.” But when we’re too busy running around, too busy making everyone else happy and too busy “doing” the Holidays, we truly lose sight of what it takes to fully enjoy and appreciate them. Stopping smack in the middle of the Christmas season to sit down at a table with best friends—to eat and to drink, to laugh and to cry, to share and to pray—was one of my favorite gifts. I told Kathy: “You are my Christmas gift.”

One of my favorite Scripture verses is: “There is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother.” We all know that we can’t choose family, but we can choose friends. Some of us are blessed with family who we would also choose as friends. We acknowledge that we are blessed indeed. And that we are doubly blessed when we have good friends whom we can count on and lean on, through the good times and the bad. With whom we can both celebrate and mourn.

And it’s rarely more obvious than at Christmas.

As you go through these next few weeks leading up to Christmas, I encourage you to gather around a table. Your own or that of your friends. Or at a club or favorite restaurant (as I got to do in New York when Nick and I met an old high school friend of mine for lunch. Wow! Two “old-friend-treats” in one week!) It’s going to be hard for you to fit this in during this month. It’ll stop your momentum. Break your shopping rhythm. Interfere with your chores. Or your workout or your hair appointment or your pedicure. But the mere act of stopping—of deliberate pause, deliberate slowing down and deliberate dining—may possibly prove to be your best Christmas gift ever.

I feel truly blessed to enjoy an overflow of friends. I often feel that my cup runneth over. That people move into my life in the most surprising ways. And enrich it and expand it by encouragement and compassion.

I pray that you also have not only an abundance of friends with whom you can celebrate the Holidays: I pray that you take the time to do just that.

Blessings on your week,


A Nick Note

Nick and I kept our promise to each other that we would spend a day together in the City during the Christmas season; we went in on Thursday and shopped and yes—dined around a table. Hustle stopped bustle at the Cuban restaurant Havana Central on 46th St. between 7th and 8th. One of his Christmas gifts was a night at the theatre. If you’re a Billy Joel fan—as we both are—you’ll get a charge out of Movin’ Out. But hurry! The show leaves Broadway on the 18th. Nick’s counts are terrific and he’s gaining strength each day. His renewed health is my greatest gift this Christmas.

A Special Request Note

I received a sad email from a dear friend and fellow rocket mom this week who asked that I use this forum to circulate a special request. The Kaufman family lost their 12-year-old daughter, Alexa, unexpectedly and swiftly to leukemia over the Thanksgiving holiday. She died within three days of her diagnosis. A fund has been started in her memory. Please check out the Kaufman story at: and help us stamp out childhood cancer.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The site for the new forming Rocket Mom Society will be up and running this week. Granted, it will not yet be fully loaded. Tons of resources will be added, both as quickly as I can write them, as well as how quickly we can develop them by personal experience and direct observation. In other words, at our monthly Rocket Mom Society meetings, our talking points will be accessible to all society members—chapter members and virtual members alike. Audio streams and video clips will also be added as available. As with all large undertakings, these things take time. Please be patient with me! It is the Christmas season, after all…..go to and click on Rocket Mom Society.

A Quick Note

I’ll be giving the keynote presentation “Mary’s Response” at the Princeton Alliance Church on Thursday, December 8th. Discover how Mary responded to the Annunciation by Gabriel...and how our own responses to life's annunciations profoundly impact our lives. If you live in the Princeton area, please contact the church for details.