Monday, December 18, 2006

On gifts, with seven shopping days left to Christmas...

I got a present in the mail today from Avnet, a technology distribution company that I cover for my magazine, and inside a nice wooden box I found a box of mixed nuts. Delightful! Hooray! I put a Weakerthans sticker on top of the Avnet logo, and now I have mixed nuts AND an indie rock wooden box.

My co-worker got some fruit, or some other such corporate-gift nonsense. But I'm not complaining.

It made me think as I was walking to the loo about all of the gifts I'd gotten for family and friends for Christmas this year. Some are more special than others, even though all of my recipients are equally special. I mean, how sentimental is a gift card? But as my mind wandered over the things I'd decided to bestow upon my loved ones, my mind wandered back to what I'd been given that meant most to me.

The first thing that came to mind was a ring -- a plastic ring with a green plastic stone that my dad gave me when I was maybe five or six when we were at my grandparents' house for some reason. I remember putting it on and thinking it was the most precious thing in the whole world. I had this little token on my tiny hand that probably cost a quarter, but made me feel like a princess.

I also remember my thirteenth birthday, when my mother gave me a wooden chest (still unpainted! She promised paintings!) filled with mementos of my childhood – my blanket, my christening dress, a silver rattle. Since that time I've added things – programs from my graduations. Trinkets from plays I'd acted in. But it was the gift itself – a place to keep tiny pieces of my past – that made it stand out in my memory.

But the most wonderful thing I ever received, I still keep in my jewelry box.

After having surgery to help restore hair to my head when I was in… I believe it was fifth grade when it was finally enough to cover my head… I remember my father giving me two enameled barrettes. They're gold with ivory enamel with blue purple flowers and green leaves. One is missing, but I have the other. I carry it with me to each new apartment, nestled somewhere deep in a box full of the things I don't think I could bear to lose. It was the first gift I received after years of surgeries and presents that made me feel like a normal little girl. Something pretty I could wear in my hair.

Should I ever decide to get married, I'll wear that in my hair instead of a veil.

Sure, gifts come and go. Things get lost. Things break. But the one thing you can never replace is that feeling of safety and love when someone you love gives you something that shows you they care, or when you, in turn, get to give that gift to someone else.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

I (heart) Gingerbread Lattes

Just before Thanksgiving every year, Starbucks brings back its line of wintery delights: the pumpkin spice latte, the peppermint latte, and the beyond-delicious gingerbread latte for a few short months of coffee-shop bliss.

Back in the winter of 2000-2001, I learned a harsh lesson when Starbucks failed me.

I had just been dumped by a weasel that I for some reason had been dating, and I was crushed. Devastated. Beyond consolation. And in my despair, I turned to the Starbucks Chai Latte. Spicy warm tea-milk on cold Boston mornings. It made life worth living again.

And then they ran out.

The Starbucks at Beacon St. and Berkley St. ran out of Chai mix, and told me they wouldn't be getting any more for at least a few months. Come back in February. It took all my willpower not to hurl myself into the Charles River, which would have been especially painful as the darned thing was frozen solid.

How is this relevant? Because it made me realize that even coffee drinks have their season and that if one isn't paying attention, good things will pass them by. I had a Chai-less winter that year, but I'm determined that this one will be as gingerbready as can be withstood.

Why are they so good? Here's the description offered by Starbucks..

(and no, I don't think they're evil. The CEO came from the Brooklyn projects. Turned his job at a Seattle coffee shop into an empire, and now has some of the best benefits packages that low-wage jobs offer to their employees. Prices went up five cents recently to make sure they could continue to offer health insurance..)

Anyway: A holiday combination of full bodied Starbucks® espresso, steamed milk and spicy sweet, gingerbread flavored syrup. Topped with whipped cream (optional) and a dash of nutmeg.

What could be nicer on a cold New York City afternoon than a quickie with the gingerbread latte? Well, I perhaps shouldn't go there. But in this season of thanks and giving, I offer mine to Starbucks for its gingerbread latte. A seasonal favorite for several years now. May they never run out of syrup.

Small Acts of Kindness

This is a re-post from MySpace, as I had no idea I had loyal readers in spite of my inability to remember to blog in 2 places...

One evening while sitting at home, I decided to watch Frontline - the PBS newsmagazine. In between a story on Myanmar and something else, they did a profile on a group called Kiva, a San Francisco based company that funds microloans through donations.

Essentially it works this way: would-be entrepreneurs in mostly third-world countries submit proposals (there are usually locally-based organizations that help and decide who applies in some cases). The project is then posted on the web site:

Then, potential doners worldwide can contribute a small sum (or a large one!) to the business owner. The site describes the business, what the money will be used for, and how long the estimated time of repayment is.

As of the filming of the Frontline episode last month, no one has defaulted on their loans.

This holiday season, instead of buying someone a trivial gift, why don't you try donating to a small business owner somewhere in the world and put it in your friend's name. What better way to spread the love?