New Year’s Goals Are Nice, So I Made Them Thrice…

Four champagne glasses etched with 2,0,1,3 for New Year's Eve 2013

There was a time when I partied every New Year’s Eve, like it was 1999.  Living in New York City after college, I’d buy a new dress, splurge on an overpriced prix fixe meal with friends, drink bad champagne and wake up with a fistful of ATM receipts I couldn’t explain, a hangover, and a lingering disappointment because the previous night hadn’t met my overblown expectations.

Ironically, by the time December 31, 1999 actually rolled around, I had moved to California and abandoned such revelries in favor of a quiet night in – and I’ve never looked back.

I used to worry I was a nerdy recluse for boycotting most New Years’ Eves, but now most of my 40-something contemporaries have also embraced ringing in the new year like a bunch of almost-Amish. Today my Facebook news feed was dominated by friends’ predictions that they would be sound asleep before the ball dropped. It’s as if my entire Facebook network is scheduled to milk cows at daybreak.

My forbearance doesn’t mean I lack New Year’s Eve traditions, though. I always kick things off with the practical; I take down my Christmas tree and drag it to the curb, so that San Francisco can mulch it for some eco-friendly use. I then spend several hours cleaning up pine needles (this will continue until at least March) and washing tree sap off my hands.

Next, it’s time for the aspirational; I jot down my resolutions. Well, not really resolutions – just goals for the year. I’m not much of a planner. I’ve traditionally been more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. But it’s important to have goals, and I usually set one each related to health, career and personal/social.

To make sure my New Year’s goals are at least somewhat attainable, I also map out high-level steps to reach each one. So if I aim to read more for fun, as I did several years ago, I may target reading two books per month, plus the Sunday New York Times each week.

This year, I’m delighted to NOT count stepping up my job search among my goals. For the first time in years, there is no need to overhaul my resume (did it in the fall), rewrite my LinkedIn profile (ditto) or submit X job applications per week. I’m only just entering my third month in a job I’m very excited about, so I still have plenty to learn by staying put. That said, I’ll need a goal around professional networking, which is a year-round necessity these days. Otherwise I won’t do it, because I enjoy networking about as much as I enjoy breaking large rocks in the hot sun, with a small hammer.

For better health, I’ll try a new tack in 2014. Instead of setting a goal to lose a specific amount of weight, I will continue my strict no-carb regimen until June. (I’ve been following it on-and-off since May, and the results when I’m disciplined have been impressive.) I will put forth 100% effort, but won’t focus on a number. Whatever I weigh in June… I will work to maintain afterwards. Done.

In other words, in 2014 I hope to make peace with myself, so that my 2015 health goal can be completely unrelated to dress size. Now, that would be bliss!

Personally?  I’m still mulling that one. My sports photography class kicks off in a few weeks. Once that’s done maybe I’ll find a book club? Or a volunteer gig? Thankfully, there’s no LAW that says I must decide by midnight. Perhaps I’ll just set a goal today… to choose a goal by March.

Oh, and blogging! I nearly forgot about a blogging goal!  Friends, you’ll hopefully be hearing more from me in the new year. Ideally three times per week, if I’m being precise.


And, Happy New Year!

Fireworks as London rings in 2013.
Photo: London Times

That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

Photo of me, about age 4, on Christmas morning surrounded by gifts.
Yep, that’s me. Look at how happy I was, and not a gift card in the bunch.

Every Christmas season, I methodically make my way through a stack of holiday DVDs.  Tonight’s film is Miracle on 34th Street – the 1947 version — in which an eight-year-old Natalie Wood is completely captivating. (Unfortunately, the film is colorized. I’m a purist, and looked long and hard for black and white, but eventually had to admit defeat.)

I love the holidays. From just before Thanksgiving through December 26th, I’m all in, for all of it: Thanksgiving dinner with friends on Thursday, followed by Christmas tree buying and trimming that weekend. And while I am resolute in boycotting Black Friday, I otherwise enjoy holiday shopping and the challenge of finding a fitting gift for everyone on my list – ideally without having to ask for suggestions.

Christmas shopping can make otherwise reasonable people a little crazy. Whether it’s skipping Thanksgiving dinner to pitch a tent outside Best Buy, or trampling over salespeople at Wal-Mart – all for the love of the new Xbox One – there’s no question that we can lose perspective this time of year.

Thankfully, I can’t think of anyone, over age 15, who displays that kind of avarice and materialism. In fact, most adults I know lament how much STUFF they have already accumulated, and insist that they DON’T NEED ANOTHER THING. Yet they (and I) all want gifts to open on Christmas Eve/morning.

Enter the gift card. I am ambivalent about gift cards. They certainly make shopping for the-person-who-has-everything easier. But I can’t escape the feeling that they have diminished the fun of Christmas – the giving, and the receiving – just a little bit.

First off, gift cards are awfully quick to open, and the surprise is over in, like, 10 seconds. There’s no fumbling around tissue or packing noodles to figure out what’s inside the box. No holding it up to admire the workmanship, or show it to others. It’s all right there in an instant: gift card, Bed, Bath and Beyond, $50.

If you don’t pace yourself, Christmas gift opening can be completed in approximately four minutes.

Sally, from a Charlie Brown Christmas, starts her letter to SantaWhat’s more, the act of requesting gift cards is tricky. Do I like to receive them? Duh, YES! But I still can’t bring myself to proactively ask for them. It reminds me of the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when little Sally dictates her letter to Santa:

“Please note the size and color of each item, and send as many as possible. If it seems too complicated, make it easy on yourself: just send money. How about tens and twenties?”

I can’t shake the feeling that being prescriptive when requesting gift cards is a lot like asking for cash, right down to the preferred denominations. As a kid, that was a definite no-no.

Tonight on cable news, an author and “expert” on gift giving discussed what makes the perfect gift, and sought to dispel some common misconceptions. It seems it doesn’t matter if you give one big gift, or lots of little ones, provided the recipient gets something he/she wants. You can even buy the same gift for multiple people. As long as it’s a really good gift, no one will complain about your lack of creativity.

Yes, someone wrote a book about that – but I don’t think any of us really needs a book.

When someone gives you a bad gift — like the year my bearded father received a shaving cream machine — I suggest you follow the protocol you (hopefully) learned as a kid: acknowledge the generosity with a gracious thank you note, then stash that white elephant in the attic or give it to charity. You can also drop subtle hints, from time to time, about the kind of gifts you prefer. Try mentioning (but not shamelessly gushing about) how much you liked the gift of XYZ from Uncle Joe.

And don’t forget “wish lists” at online retailers like Whether you use a Kindle, or prefer to consume books on paper, you’ll get something you want, and the gift giver will get the satisfaction of knowing he/she chose a gift rather than filled an order. It’s a win/win.

Despite your best gentle hinting and skill at listing your wishes, there are probably well-meaning people who love you but will always give you gifts you don’t want. No one knows why, but I doubt they are trying to annoy you, so don’t get mad: get gracious and… get directions to the nearest Goodwill truck.

If all else fails, try reminding yourself that yours is a very first-world problem. According to the non-profit “Feeding America”, one in six Americans (and one in five children) will go to bed hungry tonight. In the Philippines, hundreds of thousands are homeless thanks to November’s typhoon Haiyan. Sadly, I could keep listing.

I guarantee that instead of counting your gift cards, you’ll wind up counting your blessings. Like me, I’m sure you have many.

Merry Christmas.

Happy Fourth of July!

1917 sheet music cover for George M. Cohan's hit song, "Over There".

It was a stunning Independence Day in San Francisco, with uncharacteristically balmy temperatures and not a smidgen of fog to interfere with tonight’s fireworks. Some neighbors and I sneaked up to the roof of our building to watch — strictly verboten around here.  Luckily our always-vigilant building manager (somewhat of a tippler) must have been pouring extra strong G&Ts this evening, so we eluded his capture.  I feel like such an outlaw!

Earlier, while I waited for darkness, I re-watched — for probably the twentieth time — Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), the biopic of entertainer, playwright and composer George M. Cohan.  It’s a great film, with patriotic, toe tapping tunes like “Over There”, “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag”.  A very worthy Fourth of July tradition.

Behold the pics!

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