Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Monday, December 13, 2010

What My Holiday Office Gifts Say About Me

I am an office gift schizophrenic. I don't want to be. I desperately want to be the person who gives gifts of the same genre, year in and year out, because I do believe that what you choose to give people says a lot about who you are, and I want my gifts to say "internal cohesion" and "highly developed sense of personal style." Instead, I fear that my gifts scream, "This b**** is crazy."

Here are a few blasts from my office gift-giving past:

1) Apple baskets lined with linen tea towels and containing artisan bread and locally made spreads. This was the year that I committed to keeping things rustic and simple - as in, I was going to procure cookbooks for the neighbors, wrap them with kitchen towels, book cover-style, and tie them with twine as a sustainable "green" alternative to gift wrap. Except I never got around to buying the cookbooks, or the kitchen towels, or the twine, but I did do the apple baskets. I believe that they were accented with sprigs of actual evergreen.

2) Kalanchoe plants presented in straw hats tied with tartan plaid ribbon. There was an ornament somewhere in the mix - tied to the ribbon, I think. Still a hand-assembled gift, but a little less "Martha-Stewart-crafting-at-her-country-estate-where-the-livestock-is-color-coordinated-with-the-exterior-paint-color-of-the-barn" and more - well, purposefully whimsical. In other words, more me. But still somewhat internally cohesive with the bread thing, right? At this point in my gift-giving evolution, I feel like I was hitting my stride - refining my angle, perhaps.

3) Bottles of wine. Nothing says, "I went to a lot of time and effort in preparing your gift" like bedecking an apple basket with fresh evergreen or hand-picking blooming plants and lovingly nestling them in a hat. And nothing says, "Hey, I did the straw hat thing, and the evergreen sprig thing, so this year I'm entitled to coast" like a bottle of wine. In my defense, it was good wine - a wine that I discovered at a local wine bar and had to special order by the case, because it was a "restaurant wine" and not ordinarily available at liquor stores. So, you know, I didn't just walk into a liquor store and buy the stuff. I walked into a liquor store, had them look up the product on the computer and locate a case for me, and then I had to GO BACK to pick it up. Okay, full disclosure, I sent my husband to pick it up. And then he left it outside overnight, on a night that we happened to have a hard freeze. I guess that was his subtle way of telling me, "Pick up your own damned case of wine next time." The silver lining: after much Internet research, I now know exactly how cold a bottle of red wine can get before it's toast. (Answer: colder than it was that particular December evening. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I went ahead and handed out the wine, offering up prayers that the stuff remained remotely drinkable. Later, I opened a bottle and was relieved to learn that it was, in fact, none the worse for the wear. Why I didn't think of trying the wine BEFORE I gave it away is beyond me. Certainly, I needed the drink after the whole "you left WHAT WHERE overnight?" spousal tiff.)

4) Bottles of some sort of coffee liqueur stuff that you serve over ice cream, accompanied by a dusting of chocolate shavings. If I'm light on the details, it's because my coworker discovered the stuff, asked me if I wanted to go in on the stuff together, and I wrote her a check. At one point, it was going to be my responsibility to buy the little Parmesan cheese-style shakers that we put the fresh chocolate in, but then she happened to run across some - so I wrote another check. I think I did secure the plastic wrap to the tops of the shaved chocolate shakers, and it's likely that I wrote out the cards, since I have the more distinctive handwriting. But that's it. So, points for continuing with the "stuff in a bottle" theme, but points deducted for completely staffing out the gift to a friend.

5) Collapsible market baskets. You probably have seen these - roughly oval in shape, made out of the same ripstop nylon as backpacks and some luggage, aluminum handles, and the whole thing folds flat. I have a couple of these, and I use them tons. You can find them just about anywhere these days, but back when I gifted them they were a bit of a rare find. But that's not why I selected them. Market Basket Year was the year when I started to become disillusioned by the whole gift-giving thing. Not just vis-a-vis office mates, but vis-a-vis people in general: I had come to terms with the fact that I didn't really need anything, that it was an increasing chore to think of gift suggestions when asked for same by others, and quite often finding room for the new stuff was a burden that outweighed the actual social utility of the gift received. And, I figured, if I felt that way, perhaps much of the rest of the world had the same hangups. So the market basket was a compromise - it was useful beyond the holidays, it took up precious little space and was, in fact, designed to be unobtrusive, and YOU COULD USE IT TO CORRAL THE JUNK THAT OTHER PEOPLE GAVE YOU. I even included a poem:

It's an age-old dilemma - what to give that's not junk?
Nothing excited; we were in quite a funk.
then the light bulb went off - a gift to fit all
A (collapsible) basket for your holiday haul!

Kind of cute, right? In a Seussian way? But also Seussian in a preachy sense, a la "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees." My own little snide commentary on consumerism. So, recap: theme 1, simple gifts from the heart. Theme 2, stuff that comes in a bottle. Theme 3, "I'm not anti-holiday because I'm lazy; I'm just taking the moral high ground."

6) Charitable donations. I had run out of ideas, and the moral high ground thing was at its zenith. I simply could not bring myself to throw another dollar at a holiday-scented candle or Christmas tchotchke. So I thought about the interests of my various colleagues, and things that generally might make them smile, and I wrote checks. Then I wrote a letter explaining the donations that I had made in their honor, and why I selected certain charities. This year will live in infamy as "the year that Kathryn bought the office shares in a yak and a llama through Heifer International." Hey, how often do you get to say that you own a share in a yak?

I actually felt good about the charity thing. Discussing charitable gifting options and making gifts as a family is somewhat of a McGlinchey tradition, and one of the traditions that means the most to me, but the problem with non-gifts that are designed to substitute for gifts is that, notwithstanding the noble intentions behind them, you start to feel a little chintzy for not providing something tangible. So you end up getting the holiday-scented candles anyway, and you completely blow your budget. (I liken this to justifying a destination wedding on the basis of not having to pay for a full-blown reception, and then the bride and groom return home, see all of the gifts and decide that they need to throw a full-blown reception as a thank you to all of the well-wishers that missed out on the junket to Maui.)

So, on to this year's idea, which I actually think is a great one. Purchased these holiday calling cards last season from my favorite stationer, Carrye Campbell of The Invitation Monkey:

(Mine don't actually feature the names of Carrye's immediate family members; they have our names on them.) I love calling cards - you can use them in place of a greeting card, and they can be attached to anything - punch a hole in the corner and tie them with a ribbon around the neck of a bottle, or attach them to gift wrap with double sided tape. I have recouped the cost of the boys' cards, and then some, in terms of birthday cards not purchased for friends over the years, and I also have converted them into ID tags for backpacks, sports bags and the like (a couple of bucks at the copy shop will get you a package of five or six precut laminating tags, into which you simply insert the card, remove the backing, press and seal).

I distinctly remember getting a big box of enclosure cards personalized with Parker's name shortly after his birth, and I remember thinking, "Wow, what a GREAT gift." Personalized stationery, I think, falls into the category of things that we enjoy having but justify living without based on a "need versus want" analysis.

Thus, the folks at the office are getting these:

and also some of these:

While I was placing my order, I picked up sets for hostess, teacher, neighbor and friend gifts, tailoring the design to the interests of each recipient. Thus, a good college friend as well as one of Connor's teachers will be getting these:

I think that I may be on to something - next year, instead of the calling cards, I could get folks folding notes, and we could move across the personalized stationery spectrum from there. I like what the calling cards say about me - or, more specifically, about the recipients: "You deserve something with your name on it, something a little indulgent that you don't have to pay for and that you might not buy for yourself." Also like the reminder that sort of big things tend to come in very small packages.

Check out The Invitation Monkey's Web site ( for holiday specials. Carrye is a smart cookie, and if you place a big order with her she will work with you on pricing.

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