Plan Your Own Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties (Videos)

Ugly Sweater Party 2006


For more help with your party planning, read our guide.
Ugly Sweaters are everywhere, but there is an especially high concentration of them at this party.

Christmas Sweater Party


It's a trend that's sweeping the country. The ugly, bad, Christmas Sweater Party. Check out these guys and their sweaters. Next up: little old ladies and their Christmas jewelry!

Christmas Sweater of the Year


His mother must be so proud--until she realizes he raided her closet!

Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Montage


Hey, keep your hands off my...ornaments!


Can't Get Enough Ugly Christmas Sweaters! (Videos)

Christmas Sweater Documentary


A documentary on the "Life of a Christmas Sweater" gives you some insight to the joys and pains of being a Christmas Sweater.

Christmas Sweater Party and Sing-Along




Alaskan Ugly Holiday Sweater Party


One cold and dark wintery night in Homer, Alaska, several friends gathered together to share the horrifying holiday sweaters they had locked away in forbidden places. This is their story.

Annotated Ugly Christmas Sweater Party


Where'd you get that ugly sweater?

Christmas Alone

This is my first Christmas alone. During my 20s I lived near my family and spent Christmas Day with them. But I was single, so I went home alone after the family festivities, glad for the solitude. It was fun and peaceful to unload my presents, pack the refrigerator with leftovers and sit down in front of my own Christmas tree and the twinkling lights of the Harman-Kardon stereo system I'd bought at a discount when I worked for Audio Times.

This year is different. It's the first since my husband and I separated after 20 years together, and he has our son today and tonight. I've been alone since noon and will be alone tonight. I've been looking forward to reading by the fire, and brought down a stack of new books, gifts for Christmas and my December birthday. I'm simultaneously reading Then We Came to the End, Born Standing Up, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and Why Is Sex Fun? as well as a couple older ones I've been meaning to get to: Saving Stuff, Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How to Talk to a Widower.

I put the Christmas Story marathon on TBS, stacked up the firewood and dug in. I started slowly with a magazine and a catalog, while munching an upscale version of Chex Mix my Aunt Geri gave me last night. Soon I had cruised through two books, one and a half showings of the movie and about a pound of snack food. I made a couple of calls about competing dinner invitations for tonight, for which I need to get dressed (yes, I'm still in my Paul Frank flannel PJs). And then I got depressed.

I'm not depressed that I'm alone. I've always liked being alone. As the eldest of four children, I craved peace and quiet and growing up felt fortunate to have my own bedroom while my younger sisters shared. When I finally got my own place with no roommates, I was never lonely. And I'm not lonely now, just reflective.

I look at my Christmas tree and see more than 25 years of ornaments, some predating my marriage (sequined orbs made by my grandmother, gifts from years of tree-trimming parties I hosted in my various New York hovels), others from trips we took together, or marking the birth of our son, or all the various Star Wars and Star Trek incarnations we shared, whether I wanted to or not.

I'm thinking about how much changes in life. People come and go, sometimes leaving a deep impression, other times barely a memory. Parents die, sometimes friends too. Relationships and marriages end and with them certain types of connections and traditions you took for granted. The major life changes get a lot of attention for a reason: they're traumatic and gut-wrenching, calling into question the very foundation upon which your life is built. They leave you permanently changed.

My divorce was a mutual decision and I don't regret or second-guess it. But I do need to adjust to it. I enjoy time by myself. I just never figured I'd have so much of it.

Hellish Gifts

When did gift-giving turn hellish? When did it go from the joy of presenting friends and family with thoughtful items selected just for them to a hideous game of chicken? I'm talking about the negotiations involved in holidays these days: the demands that you participate in some twisted gift-giving scheme based on keeping financial outlay equal among parties, or establishing a competition for best gift, or just generating a pile of useless crap.

My family used to draw names so that every adult who came to Christmas Eve dinner--a couple dozen siblings, cousins, parents, in-laws and family friends--would have one special person to buy for, and a reasonable budget. I loved this approach because you thought carefully about the person for whom you were buying, the purpose of giving gifts in the first place. You also received a gift from someone who had been considering your own interests.

At least a decade ago the plan switched to an anonymous gift exchange. Now you bring a gift for your gender, gift-wrapped and addressed to "Man" or "Woman." Then everyone picks a number: #1 picks first and opens a gift. #2 can take that gift away or select a new wrapped gift. Some gifts are desirable and move through the group, while others are left with the poor man or woman who picked them the first time. Of course, the gifts are anonymous, but many givers do end up being identified and inevitably there are hurt feelings. I participate, but I always seem to pick a low number, and spend the game having any decent gift snatched away. I end up going home with something I would never have selected for myself, and that no one selected for me.

At least this approach is a step above the "gag gift" exchange where everyone is told to bring something useless and possibly insulting. It's schemes like these that keep landfills in business.

Then there are the families that have a complex set of rules designed to make gift-giving as bloodless as possible. The bossy members of the family decide they don't want to receive anything they didn't have a hand in selecting. They're not looking for the personal touch. They don't mind telling everyone what to give--typically a gift card to a specific store for a specific amount. Perhaps they already have years of experience and just can't take any more gifts that come home and go straight into the "Yard Sale" pile. Or maybe they've had to return something every December 26th for the past decade and are just too drained to go through that again. Or, more likely, they just have decided they don't want to "waste" a gift. This is a chance to get what they want and they're not afraid to ask for it--and to insist everyone else goes along with the self-serving plan.

Factor in the children ("Give my child a gift card to Abercrombie and Fitch for $100 and I'll give each of your two children $50 gift cards to wherever you want") and this attitude just takes all the joy out of giving. Children have special interests--animals, music, dinosaurs, reading, Manga, painting--that it's fun to nurture through a carefully chosen gift. Control freak parents kill that element. I still have Christmas presents my grandparents, aunts and uncles and close friends gave me years ago. It gives me a warm feeling to see them and know the thought that went into them. A certain gift may have been rooted in a suggestion from my mother or father, but it wasn't purchased and wrapped by them, and if it had been, I certainly wouldn't feel the same way about it.

Gift cards do have their uses. They're great for teachers and teens, for example. But mostly they benefit the issuers who get to make money on the "float" and who bank on most cards being lost or only partially redeemed. For the stores, 'tis truly the season to be jolly. For the rest of us, well, get ready for the gift jockeying.

Navy Niece: Third-Toughest Job in the Navy

My Aunt Joan married young and was the first person I ever knew to get divorced. I don't remember much about husband #1, Uncle Bill, except that he was tall (a rarity on both sides of my family), and he gave me my first beer when I was eight or nine. To this day I can't stand the smell of beer, much less the taste. They had one son together.

I do have vivid memories of husband #2, Uncle John, a career Navy man. He brought two sons of his own to their doomed marriage, and together they had a daughter around the same time my youngest sister Lisa was born.

Joan, her seaman and their blended brood relocated numerous times along the eastern seaboard over the years, moving north from Maryland to Maine. Once I visited her on a Naval base whose commissary used brown paper grocery bags bearing the slogan, "Navy Wife: Toughest Job in the Navy." I had to agree that being married to Uncle John and taking care of their children was a lot tougher than whatever he did all day.

Anyway, by 1977 the family was living in Camden, Maine, the same year my mother (Joan's sister) had moved from the suburbs of New York to a newly built highrise on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan's East River. It wasn't enough that she worked full-time and had two kids at home, my mother also had to start a small newspaper, The Island View, to serve her new neighborhood. I was her typesetter, since I had a part-time job tied to my Journalism studies at NYU. I fit in her stories and ads between typing up coverage of the Armenian community for my part-time employer, The Armenian Post.

At Christmas my mother was too busy to celebrate because she was working on The Island View. She felt she'd done enough cooking, cleaning and Christmas for her lifetime, but if we didn't feel that way we were free to make other plans. She suggested I take my sisters Lisa, 9 and Helen, 15, to Maine to stay with Aunt Joan and her family. We'd have a traditional family Christmas, albeit with a nontraditional family group. There would probably even be snow! (Oh, there was, plenty of it.)

It's hard for me to remember why this plan was acceptable to me on any level, but I guess I hadn't yet learned I could say no to my mother. So off we went, in the big red Ford station wagon left over from our time in suburbia that I was the only one old enough to drive. It was 400 miles each way.

It felt wrong to be in someone else's house at Christmastime--but especially in this one. I liked Joan a lot and the kids were OK, but Uncle John was a beast. He was the type of screamer for whom anger management was invented. He huffed and puffed, he berated and insulted, he yelled and bellowed. He may have been low on the Naval totem pole, but in his own house he was Admiral and commanded respect, not caring that what he was actually fostering was despair.

If we'd stayed longer than the allotted four days, I'm sure I would have developed a tic, or maybe even homicidal tendencies. It was so hard to see my aunt, cousins and step-cousins trying to cope with abuse. It was hard not to haul off and slap a man who felt it appropriate to throw a salt shaker at a teenager when he didn't think the gravy was being passed quickly enough. It's 30 years later and I can still relive the horrors of that dinner table.

I called my mother once to complain but she was on an Island View high, enjoying her independence. "Oh, he's a little Napoleon," she told me. "Just ignore him." Even though his rancor wasn't directed at me or my sisters, it was impossible not to feel its impact. The 400 miles of dense traffic home were a breeze compared to four days in that house.

None of them escaped unscathed. One of my step-cousins, whom I remember fondly as a kind boy with a great sense of humor, took to calling himself Santini after the abused son in Pat Conroy's The Great Santini. Rage, like physical attributes, can be handed down intact and efficiently from parent to child, a gift that keeps on giving, but not in a good way.

Joan finally got out, a decade after this hellish Christmas. Her life is calm now, and the holidays very different for her now.

Hellish Holiday Coverage on the Web

I'm not the only one taking an unjaundiced look at the holidays. Here's some other recent coverage from around the web.

Wired: "Stranger in a Strange Land of Wretched Holiday Excess"
by Tony Long

Tony rants about "retail hysteria" and "narcissistic greed" and examines over-the-top gift recommendations.

Newsweek: Huckabee Plays the 'Christmas Card' on the Campaign Trail
by Andrew Romano

Mike Huckabee's new can't-miss slogan: "Merry Christmas."

The Telegraph (U.K.): "O Christmas tree, O Christmas Tree, Why Is Thy Cost So Exorbitant?"
by Carl Martished

The Danish Christmas Tree Growers Association is accused of fixing the price of firs and withholding shipments to create shortages credited with increasing prices 25% this holiday season. To quote Huckabee, "Merry Christmas!"


Wired: "Nightmare Christmas Movies You'll Never See"
by Lore Sjöberg

Lore suggests bad Christmas movie ideas, including "Santa Claus Has Cancer and Will Die Soon" and a remake of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" starring Jim Carrey as good ol' Charlie Brown. Wait, some of those ideas sound better than real Christmas movies I've seen recently!

CNN.com: "Taking the kids: Surviving the Relatives This Holiday Season"
by Eileen Ogintz

Eileen's been there, hosting way too many relatives and doing way too many dishes. She offers some good advice, but the best is: stay in a hotel.

Minnesota Monitor: "War on Christmas Ignores the Reason for the Season"
by Jeff Fecke

A fascinating history explaining how "Christ is but a bit player in the development of Christmas."

The Office Party

Office holiday parties are fraught affairs. According to a survey by the website Vault.com, 15% of employees have either been disciplined or fired because of their actions at a holiday party, presumably related to overindulging in some way. Another 18% get romantic at these parties--drinking is up, inhibitions down, and warm holiday feelings encourage hugs that can turn, shall we say, inappropriate.

My favorite hellish office party memory isn't quite so debauched, and after all these years it still makes me laugh. It was circa 1992. My boss had just had a whirlwind romance and married a woman he'd dated for only a few weeks. She was quite the package: statuesque, blonde, and oozing charm, she made us worker bees feel frumpy and inarticulate. She had a background in television, radio, Vegas...she'd done it all. And oh, the stories she told! Long, detailed epics with herself as the centerpiece, not really bragging but not exactly humble either. You were left wondering why these things never happened to you--or indeed if they actually happened at all.

She swept into that year's office party in a tall mink hat, announcing, "Don't blame me! It was dead when I bought it!" We all gathered 'round because she was a startling new addition to our corporate family and we were still trying to determine whether she was the wicked stepmother or benevolent aunt. And she regaled us. She told a story of giving a voiceover audition in her convertible on the 405 freeway, doing the voice of a parrot in stop-and-go traffic. She squawked while young men in nearby cars gawked. (She got the job, of course.)

Then came the main event, a long tale about her days as a helicopter traffic reporter. It was somewhere around the time that a U.S. rescue attempt of the Iran hostages had ended in tragedy, when the helicopter went down in the desert. On the air, she said that if she had been there, it would have ended differently: she would have made sure to get those men out.

Apparently the CIA was listening because she was contacted shortly thereafter and asked if she would be willing to serve her country on a top secret mission. Her expertise was needed in El Salvador to help extricate some CIA agents caught up in civil war there. She described the situation, which of course was extremely dangerous, as well as her arduous decision-making process. Yes, she knew she could make a difference. Yes, her government had recognized her abilities and attempted to recruit a qualified citizen to help out in a troubled region. But she was single mother to a young boy and ultimately she chose to put his needs first. She regretfully declined--not out of fear, since she would have had no hesitation to do whatever was necessary. She simply couldn't take the chance of leaving her son without a mother.

She finished this tale to dead silence and dropped jaws. We were literally speechless. Except for one person: my husband. Not employed by this woman's new husband, he was unencumbered by the decorum that prevented the employees among us from reacting honestly. After a long pause he asked, "Are you sure they didn't say El Segundo?"

For those not from southern California, I should point out that El Segundo is a relatively small area within Los Angeles near LAX best known for its excellent school system. It was, in fact, just down the street from the restaurant where our office party was being held.

The expression on her face at this deflating comment was almost more painful than the story itself had been. She may have been an egomaniac, but she was no fool, and she knew she had been dissed. I felt my heart stop. Involuntarily, I started to back away from the group, trying to escape a) before I burst into laughter and b) before she connected me to my husband. If she didn't know he was with me, maybe I could continue to climb the corporate ladder.

Getting drunk and publicly making out with one of the company's many engineers wouldn't have been half as career-ending as knocking the wind out of the puffed-up sails of the boss' wife. In fact, given the choice between making a drunken fool out of yourself at the office party and just making a fool out of yourself, go for the booze. At least you'll have an excuse the next day when HR comes calling. I know that's what I was prepared to do. But this heroine endeared herself to me forever by sloughing off my husband's comment and moving on to the next story. She never spoke of El Salvador again.

Or El Segundo.

Diagnosis: Pleurisy

The early 1980s were surreal for me. Then in my early 20s, I had a dream job as Video Editor of Billboard in the early days of MTV. I traveled a lot, moderated industry panels, chaired the Billboard Video Conference and Awards Show and was even interviewed on Entertainment Tonight. Never mind that I was making a living as an expert on a quasi-art form that I secretly prayed would die a quick death. I had a column in Rolling Stone and lots of friends and went out every night to restaurants, clubs and concerts in a Manhattan I remember as glittering.

Then there was my family life. My mother had moved into the city while I was at NYU and inserted herself and my two sisters back into my daily life in a way I had thought I was done with. She called almost every morning before I left for work--often before I even woke up--to be sure she didn't miss me with her instructions for the day.

I spent my 20s trying to break away from my family (except my youngest sister Lisa!) and finally, at 29, I succeeded, picking up and heading west where so far no one has followed. But back in those days I was forever pulled into family dramas and mini-vacations. One, to Ocean City, Maryland, involved the humiliation of my mother trying to set me up with Kevin Kline, who was in town making a movie called Violets Are Blue.

And yet, in December 1985, I went back for more. I agreed to go to Williamsburg, Virginia for Christmas with my mother, grandmother (aka Mimi) and Lisa, at the time a teenager. The dream of a normal family was dying hard for my mother, who still believed she might someday hear her WASPy mother say "I love you."

I boarded Amtrak in New York with a hacking cough. By the time we reached Washington, where Mimi joined me, I was hugging myself with every cough, trying not to crack a rib. I had a seat to myself--the only one in the crowded car.

My grandmother took one look at me and said, "You've got pleurisy." She knew her illnesses. Despite a marriage of more than 40 years to a devout Christian Scientist, she was an equally devout hypochondriac who stood firmly on her knowledge of all things medical and had a prescription-filled medicine cabinet to back it up.

That night we met my mother and Lisa at the Williamsburg Inn, an elegant re-creation of 18th-century style that rarely saw the likes of our motley crew. Mimi announced her diagnosis to my mother and said we would need to find a doctor the following day.

"Pleurisy!" snorted my mother. "They don't have that any more!" A debate ensued. I recall polio being mentioned as a disease that had been eradicated--in contrast to pleurisy which indeed still existed. Or didn't. At this point I didn't care what I had, I just wanted it to stop.

The next day we headed for the local clinic. After my examination the doctor was giving me instructions for treatment when I interrupted him to ask, "What do I have?" He told me I had fluid in my lungs, and some other symptoms. Again I interrupted him: "Would another name be pleurisy?" I asked.

"Well, we don't really use that term," he answered, "but yes."

I excused myself and hurried, clutching the opening on my skimpy gown, out to the waiting room where the three women in my life were bickering about something in a magazine. "Just wanted to let you know I have pleurisy!" I croaked gleefully. I will never forget the expressions on my mother's and grandmother's faces, pure representations of hatred and victory, respectively.

Yes, I had my diagnosis, and the unending bitterness of my mother. But our time in Williamsburg was not yet over. There was more bitterness-building left to do.

On our final day we went out for a walk. It was cold and the definition of crisp: everything looked and smelled more vivid, more defined, which made it really easy to notice a beautiful golden retriever wandering on the hotel grounds without a collar. "Oh the poor dog!" my mother said. "We have to take care of him!"

"This dog isn't homeless," Mimi insisted. "He's obviously well cared-for."

"A well cared-for dog does not wander without a collar and tags," my mother the dog expert said (and I don't use the word "expert" lightly: she currently has more than a dozen dogs of her own--don't ask). "This dog needs a home and we're going to give it to him." She moved the dog in and, as we checked out, told the front desk of the hotel that we had found a stray, in the unlikely event that anyone reported a missing dog.

Looking back, I'm shocked that I went along with what came next, but then I'm older, wiser and much more hardened to my mother's schemes these days. We canceled our train tickets and rented a car, since Amtrak doesn't allow pets. Mimi refused to take in the dog, and my mother lived on Roosevelt Island, a dog-free environment. It therefore fell to me to take the newly christened William (Williamsburg, get it?) to my co-op apartment on West 16th Street. By the time I got him there, I already had a message on my answering machine from his irate owners demanding his return. The next two days were spent getting William vaccination certificates and escorting him to LaGuardia Airport for his flight back to Virginia.

That was the last time I vacationed with my mother until Key West a decade later. But that's a hellish story for another day.

The Hellish Wish List

My 14-year-old son's Amazon.com wish list reads like a training program for a mass murderer. I'll be honest: it concerns me.

I asked him to put together a few items that my brother and sister could pick from to do their Christmas shopping. He built a list of more than a dozen games mostly categorized as "shooters," killing how-to's that would send even the most cavalier parent looking for guidance.

Just reading the descriptions of these hellish role-playing games gives me the heebie jeebies. The fact that he not only wants them but will most likely be good at them makes me long for the days when he got scared by a Wishbone video.

Virtually all of the titles are rated T (Teen) or M (Mature). They contain "violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language" and "intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language," respectively.

How do you sell material rated M to a kid who's not all that M? The games are all dark and ominous, contain lots of ammunition and reasons to kill, enemies--and a $60 price point! What's to like? Let's just say there will be a few surprises under the tree: books and socks. Heck, even Season 10 of South Park looks good next to this lineup.

Here's a rundown of his wish list:

Soldier of Fortune: Payback Rated M
This one boasts that it features technical advances that allow for "accurate hit detection and detailed damage modeling." More than 15 enemies ("including terrorists, mobsters, insurgents, enemy soldiers and more") will react to the body part where they've been hit as well as the power of the weapon that hit them. They'll feel pain! And you want weapons? This game offers "one of the most lethal collections of weapons ever assembled...including sub-machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, projectile explosives, weapons attachments and futuristic prototype weapons."

Yes, you play a good guy, trying to rescue a diplomat or infiltrate a terrorist organization, but really, when the firepower is that strong is the good guy/bad guy message really coming through?

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men Rated M
"This is the violent and chaotic journey of two men - a flawed mercenary and a medicated psychopath. Each hates the other but must work together to save themselves." You wouldn't want your kid hanging around with these guys in the real world, so why let them meet the virtual versions?

Medal of Honor Airborne Rated T
With this one you get "an arsenal of historically accurate weapons." Hey, maybe it will help him in History class. Of course, he's studying ancient Greece. Any slingshots in there? Yeah, right.

Blacksite: Area 51 Rated T
In this one you have troops that you can command to do such uplifting challenges as "planting C-4 to blow doors, sniping enemies in guard towers, or taking control of vehicles."

Haze Rated M
Not only does this one offer "deadly weaponry," it features "the performance-enhancing drug Nectar." Yeah, pseudo steroids! Good lesson! The game is set in 2048, "in a world where governments have outsourced military operations to private military corporations." Well, at least it's teaching him about the real world--but unfortunately of the present rather than the future.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Rated T
"Uncover the clue to Sir Francis Drake's last great adventure and seek out the fabled treasure of El Dorado..." Hey, I think I like this one!

Stranglehold Collector's Edition (Includes Hard Boiled Movie) Rated M
This game is "the authentic Woo experience"--OK, he's a decent director. So how does it work? "Prove you are the ultimate renegade cop...Using the Massive D physics engine, bring the world down on your enemies, carve your own realistic path of destruction through environments and maneuver through unique piles of debris which persist in the environment."

OK, they said "physics." I'll cling to that.

Need for Speed: Prostreet Rated wait, could it be? EVERYONE? That hasn't happened since the Pokemon era.
"The raw power of street racing with a brand new physics engine." More physics, but somehow I have the sense that the "physics" aspect is overshadowed by the message that illegal and dangerous street racing sure is a lot of fun! And what parent doesn't want her kid learning that?

Ghost Squad (hey, only $30! How did that sneak in there?) Rated T
25 different tactical weapons include "sniper and assault rifles, submachine guns, hand guns, and more." And that's for the Wii!

Time Crisis 4 Rated T
Oh, this one's $80! Makes up for the cheap one. Probably because it includes a "Guncon," which seems to be some form of gun.

Heavenly Sword Rated T
Weaponry includes "rapid fire crossbows and massively damaging bazookas." But even without the weapons players can throw debris at their opponents, "kick tables to halt an oncoming surge of fighters, smash the enemy into the scenery, or throw bodies into other enemies."

Assassin's Creed Rated M
What parent wouldn't rush out to buy a game that screams "Be an Assassin! Plan your attacks, strike without mercy, and fight your way to escape." Yes, folks, there's a new entry on the "what I want to be when I grow up" list.

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Rated T
Here the well-respected Tony Hawk encourages kids to "sneak into spots only you can find - use ladders, ledges and wires to skate secret spots, find rooftop ledges, secret pools and hidden sewer tunnels. Avoid security guards who will toss you out of the choice locations. Use skate checking on jerks that get in your way."

No skate parks for these users! Break rules or don't bother. Great lesson, Tony.

At the point my son put these on his list, many were only available for preorder, but when I raise this issue he points out that all will be released by Christmas. I think the fact that he knows every release date concerns me even more than the bloodlust. Why is he blanking out during Math if he's this good with numbers?

This is a kid who has his own game site where he reviews games and writes about systems with a passion missing from any writing for which he will receive a grade.

I miss the days of toys and plush.

The Fake Tree

This year I bought a fake Christmas tree. Over the past 25+ years I've bought a real tree every year, with only a couple of exceptions. (One year my husband and I strung fishing wire in a criss-cross pattern across our high, arched living room ceiling and hung ornaments up above. It looked festive but I missed the tree.)

I figure I've spent at least $2,000 on Christmas trees over the years, but I never really felt I had a choice. You're either a real tree person or a fake tree person, and I was confident in my identity: A living thing had to die and travel a long distance for me to feel it was truly Christmas. Now, looking back, that attitude seems myopic. I don't know why I resisted for so long.

Of course, part of it was the poor quality of most fake trees. They were too green, too, well, fake-looking. Their shapes were too perfect and their metal "trunks" visible through foliage that resembled sprigs of Astroturf. Or worse, they were some fake color like white or pink that just intensified the artificiality of it all.

These days, though, you can get a real-looking fake tree for a reasonable price (I paid about $240 for mine). I was a big proponent of Martha Stewart's line, which sadly no longer seems to be available. She obviously forced her minions to study actual trees, needles and ornament-hanging needs to develop a product that works well (hinged branches and twigs are well-made and highly adaptable) and looks even better.

Having a real tree is a commitment, and in my revved-up, complicated life I'm just not willing to make that commitment any more. Here's what I'm (gladly) giving up:

1. The overall aggravation factor. It's a lot of work to go to a Christmas tree lot, deal with whatever non-local might be in charge, hand over a big chunk of cash, have the thing strapped to the roof of your car, drive home hoping it doesn't slide down your windshield and blind you, and get it off the car and into the house, dropping needles all the way. Then you have to remember to water it, sweep up after it when it sheds despite your efforts, and lament when your best ornaments are too heavy for its wimpy branches.

2. Haggling. I may like bargains, but I hate haggling. When I see a price, I like to know that I can pay it without feeling like a lazy sucker for not working hard enough to get a lower number. I didn't have to haggle when I bought my Martha Stewart at K-Mart. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at checkout to find that my tree was on sale and was even cheaper than I had expected. Now THAT I like!

3. The dryout factor/Fear of fire. I rarely light candles because my only phobia is of my house burning down. Sure, I worry about other things, but not in the way that I can visualize the complete and utter destruction by fire of everything I own. I don't know where this phobia comes from, but I figure I should take it seriously. Every Christmas season I was obsessive about watering the tree, and throwing it out when it became so dry it wasn't safe to light a match near it. This year, for the first time, I don't have to think about it. Except for the candles.

4. The mess. Many is the June when I dig a needle out from between a crack in the floor. I'm not much of a housekeeper, but I don't need to have my nose rubbed in it.

5. Ancillary damage. I have a water stain on the living room floor from a faulty stand and dinged doorways from bringing in the tree. One tree fell over and destroyed only those ornaments that had been handed down from my grandmother and meant the most to me. Odds of any of those things happening with a fake tree are minimal.

6. Post-Christmas disposal. Here in Los Angeles, you can't just dump your tree at the curb, although many obviously didn't get the memo. You have a couple of options: slice it into pieces and put it in the green bin (not too feasible for me since a long-ago worker at the house stole my chainsaw) or take it to a "local" dropoff point for recycling. In my case, the nearest place is the Hollywood Bowl. With Highland Avenue all torn up this month, the Bowl is even more difficult to get to than LA traffic usually makes it. No thanks.

7. Environmental impact. By going fake I get to bask in the greenness that is my Christmas this year, and for many years to come. That's "green" in the most trendy, can't-hide-from-it way. One fake tree saves many real trees from being cut down and transported by gas-guzzling trucks. Sure, most Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms and were grown specifically to be cut down. Sure, plastic trees do generate some pollution in their manufacture. But you have to admit, killing a tree is a pretty environmentally unfriendly approach to decorating.

8. OK, it is partly about the money. My K-Mart purchase was about the same as I would have spent in two and a half years on the real thing. By Year Three I'll be feeling really virtuous.

So this year I have my tree all set up already and will enjoy it for a month without any worries. But ironically, I still have to make a trip to the tree lot at the corner. Because when my son learned we would be getting a fake tree, he was beside himself at the thought that we would not be seeing the guys who run the tree lot. They're a motley group of Rastafarians and hard-sellers who make every tree hunt an adventure. Since this year has been tough enough on him, what with his parents splitting up and all, I gave in and told him we could get a small tree for the upstairs landing. Now that the clutter of the past decade has been removed, it's quite spacious and a tree will look good there. If only I could be sure that he would keep it watered. But based on my experience with the dog, I won't get my hopes up.

The Dreaded Christmas Letter

When I was younger I eagerly awaited Christmas card season every year. It wasn't for those dreary religious scenes, nondenominational holly, fluffed-up family portraits or hokey animals in a snowy woodland. I wanted the soft chewy center: The Christmas Letter.

Every year my mother and I would remove the mimeographed (yes, I'm that old!) papers from inside the cards and set aside time to hoot over them. Over the years since then, Christmas letters have become fodder for many parodies, but, as Ashford & Simpson would tell you, ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

There's a special joy in analyzing twisted truths and translating their hidden reality. For a real holiday treat, cook up some Swiss Miss and settle in while you develop the psychological profiles that explain the underlying insecurity, narcissism and lack of humility behind the blatant bragging and truth-stretching.

"Our beloved son is exploring his professional options, and lately has been considering the legal field." Translation: He's trying to get his felony conviction stricken from the public records so he doesn't have to keep putting it on his fast food job applications.

"Currently I'm involved in a new nonprofit organization to try and make meaningful changes in the status quo in my area. It's an uphill battle but as those who know me can attest, nothing can stop me in my quest for justice." Translation: As the lone voice of opposition to a project everyone around me favors, I've become a neighborhood pariah and have taken to sleeping with a gun under my pillow.

Also amusing is poking fun at the letters with gimmicks, such as those written by the family dog. ("The big one I call Master was congratulating the little one I call Tail Puller the other day. Something about 'good grades,' whatever that means. They walk on two legs, so their voices are somewhere up around the ceiling and I can't always tell exactly what's going on.") Parodies of Martha Stewart and Santa Claus making out his list never fail to fail to amuse.

Then there are the ones that are unintentionally hilarious by nature of their somber tone: "We've calculated that 67.4% of our extended family suffers from 'Morgenstern Toe,' a painful condition where the fourth toe bends over to scratch the third. We're voluntarily participating in DNA testing to identify the gene that causes this and are hoping our dedication can help others who have similar 'crosses to bear.' So we can't say 'at least we have our health,' but we can say 'we're working on it.' "

Travel, marriages/births and family achievements are popular Christmas letter topics, offset by the perennial death, divorce and public humiliation. Where did you go this year and how exotic can you make Cleveland sound? Who got married and had a kid, not necessarily in that order? Who was named a Rhodes scholar but never comes to visit any more? Who died and from what? Who was cheated on, abandoned, or otherwise left by the side of the marital road? Who was indicted, prosecuted, deposed, exposed, run out of town on a rail or picked up in a men's room in Minneapolis--and how can you make it sound like a good thing?

The letters I loved the most were from my mother's high school and college friends I had never met and she hadn't seen in decades. Their entire relationship had devolved into that of Christmas Correspondents, a special category of former friends about whom you know nothing current except what you can glean from their Christmas Letters. When I read about obscure Little League games in which some kid I would never meet hit the winning home run, or the cum laude graduation of a stranger I could despise sans guilt, I felt a special bond with my mother. There was a reason she wasn't in touch with these people the other 11 months of the year, and she enjoyed my company enough to share with me the reasons why.

Thanksgiving Letter

Some people like to get a jump on sending out Christmas letters by sending out Thanksgiving letters instead. Here's one passed along to us recently.

Dear All,

Chef Gordon Ramsay would be proud. Todd, Ted, Daniela and I managed to create a delicious Thanksgiving meal despite our horrifying lack of experience, equipment, and the confounding uber-organic Turkey, which we discovered upon unwrapping still had it's [sic] feathers on! A quick call to Jen and Judy reassured us that the feathers, while annoying, would not ruin the meal.

We ate 2 hours late because when they say 20 minutes per pound, they lie! But, it was scrumptious and we had a great time.

Annie has become a very smiley baby especially in the last week. She smiles after being fed, after producing a particularly stinky diaper (as if to say..."Ha! Now change THAT!") and Molly and Daddy are completely hilarious.

Annie also has the special talent of doing a great imitation of Grampa Walsh. We think of him often when she gets a little Irish twinkle in her eye or when she gives us that "You're a half-wit." look. We pulled out a special Thanksgiving newsletter/gaelic lesson he sent to the grandchildren in 2001 and thought it might be fun to share in the spirit of the holiday. The text is in the post script below.

Love,

Ashley, Teddy, Molly and Annie

P.S. From Grampa Walsh - Thanksgiving 2001

Ciotach no Deisealach

You may have noticed your grandmother's shoes scattered around the house, on the porch and in her car. She has numerous dozen pairs and usually goes barefoot in the house and around the yard but does put them on to go downtown, etc. The other day she came home in the evening and announced that she had worn two left shoes all day long *(same color) and they were very comfortable. It was then that I noticed, for the first time, that the big toe on her right foot was on the outside and the little toe inside. No wonder her feet felt better with two left shoes. Now I understand at least part of the reason she has been in such a mean, miserable mood for the last sixty-eight years. (SORRY GRAMMIE)

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, you may express your gratitude for this epiphany by sending a tax free contribution to:

GRANDMOTHERS LEFT SHOE FUND
(address deleted)

(below that he drew check boxes ranging in amount from $1,000 to Other $)

Another true story:

I saw a little girl in the office the other day and asked her how she was. She said, "I'm fine, thank you."
I said, "Why don't you ask me how I am?"
She said, "Because I don't care."

Seanathair, Altu (Thanksgiving) 2001.

Hellish Customer Service

I'm home now and I don't want to go out again. I can't. It's too discouraging. I can't get anything done due to the incompetence of virtually everyone I come in contact with, so what's the point?

Unfortunately, staying home isn't the answer either because even online solutions aren't working for me. It's like changing lanes and having your new lane come to an instant stop: whatever you try to do to save time and make your life easier will come back to bite you on the ass. So happy holidays and bring on the excuses!

I'm having a dinner party Sunday to celebrate my upcoming birthday, one of those terrifying ones that end in a zero. My husband and I recently separated and I have spent the past week trying to put the house back together since he moved out. There are lots of empty spaces and disorganization, but I'm working on it, with the party as a motivation.

The problems started this morning with an email from the shoddy company from whom I ordered 48 wineglasses in mid-October. OK, I'll name names: it was wineglasses.com, (un)fulfilled by winestuff.com. They managed to get me champagne glasses right away, but not any of the other three kinds. On the site, when I ordered, there was nothing about them being out of stock but of course if they'd told me, I might have gone elsewhere and they didn't want that! Almost six weeks later and not a peep out of them, and I need the glasses by Sunday.

The phone number for winestuff.com on the October Visa bill (billing me in full for my order) was a nonworking number, which never builds confidence. So last night I emailed them for a second time, after no response to my first email two weeks ago, asking them when I could expect my glasses. I received an email this morning informing me that it would be next week at the earliest. So now I need to borrow or rent glasses for my dinner party.

That annoyed me enough, but there was plenty more to come. On to my first errand of the day, dropping off four items to be framed. When my husband moved out, he took the majority of the artwork. I called the framing store first, around 9:30, and was told they were open and to come on in. When I arrived, a few minutes later, I found a couple ahead of me with a major project spread out all over the counter and one worker, Randy, who informed me he would be with me shortly. I picked out four different frames and still the couple was obsessing over mat colors and frame styles. This was obviously going to take a while, but Randy assured me someone else was coming in at 10:00am, in just 10 minutes. He encouraged me to wait.

At 10:15 when no one else had shown up and the couple still hadn't made it halfway through their project, I gathered up my things and headed for the door. Randy rushed over to recommend I go to another branch of the store and mention his name, which he reminded me was Randy. Then he asked me for my name, which I refused to give him. He had taken more than a half hour of my life and that was enough.

I headed to Errand #2 (Errand #1 having been an utter failure), picking up a small table for the front hall. I girded myself for a problem, since I hadn't called ahead, but no, the table was there and pickup took just a few moments. Score one for Plummer's!

Next, to Rug Warehouse to pick up the pad for a rug I bought last week. Naturally the rug was not in stock and had to be shipped from New York at a cost of $175 to make it in time for the party. The rug is 8x11' and I needed a pad the same size. They tried to sell me one about the thickness of a Band-Aid, but, I wanted one that might actually protect my wood floor. So I paid for the thicker one and George, the salesman, asked a worker to go in the back and cut it for me. The guy was back there for quite a while, during which time I played "Bejeweled" on my phone. Finally the pad was brought out. It was 7x12'. Hence my return visit today.

I had called George on my drive over from the frame store to make sure he would have the pad, since the rug is being delivered tomorrow. He assured me it would be ready. And it was: the Band-Aid thickness pad was all tied up in a tiny bundle, ready for me to take it. The salesperson (George was nowhere in sight) cheerfully told me that I was even due a refund because this pad was cheaper than the one I actually wanted.

I asked to see George who reluctantly came over. We went back and forth about the pad: really, this one would be fine. I asked him why he didn't have the thicker one and he said because the big roll had run out and a replacement had not yet arrived from the East Coast. The way he said it, I obviously was expected to say, "Oh, the East Coast! That's really far away! No wonder it's not here after eight days." He even pointed out that I had paid extra to order my rug as a "rush," the inference being that certainly he shouldn't be expected to do the same.

I told him that, as a rug store--a "Warehouse," even--he really should stock pads the sizes of his rugs. I said that when it looked like I was going to run out of paper towels, I made sure to get another roll ready so I wouldn't have to go eight days without any paper towels and have to use toilet paper instead. He offered to cut a strip off the 7x12 pad and tape it together to make 8x11. I told him that was an unacceptable compromise, and that if he really thought it an appropriate solution he could have done it last week and saved me a trip. He offered to let me take the skimpy one now and send someone over with the thicker one when it arrived. I started crying, much to my dismay, and through my tears I pointed out that instead of solving my problem this would create a new problem: I have to schedule a time for someone to come over. I have to move all the furniture off the rug, roll it up and then reverse the process after the new pad is in. I told him I was having a party and had been trying to get everything done before that. He got excited: Oh, a party! That will be fun! Yes, I'm getting divorced, getting old, and having a big wineglass-less and rug pad-less celebration. Hooray for me!

In the end, I left with the skimpy pad. What choice did I have?

I returned home and brought the pad and the table inside. When I opened the box with the table, one of its top corners was completely warped, curling up like a sultan's shoe. The table was also covered with white fingerprints. Someone had actually handled the table, putting it into a box and sealing it, figuring, "Ah, whoever gets this won't care that it's deformed." I cared. I called the store to tell them I would be bringing back the table. I got switched around to several people--"Picky bitch on line two!"--until the warehouse manager finally agreed to take back the table. Reverse Plummer's score of one. In fact, give them a negative one because now I have to drag myself back to return it. Now I have accomplished less than nothing on my to do list; I have actually extended the list, which was too long to begin with.

Another thing I needed to do was replace a TV. So last week I ordered a flatscreen from Amazon.com, along with mounting hardware. Yesterday I received an actual phone call from the company that will be delivering the TV tomorrow, scheduling an actual delivery time. How professional! How rare! I have my fingers crossed that they aren't just setting me up for disappointment. I have made arrangements with a friend to help install it.

Unfortunately, the mounting hardware was coming from another Amazon vendor. It arrived via FedEx this morning while I was driving all over town accomplishing nothing. It required a signature. So now I don't have it. I can take my chances and hope they bring it tomorrow somewhere around the time the TV arrives, or I can drive WAY downtown tonight between 6:30 and 8:00pm and hope they can find it so at least I know I'll have it. Add another item to the to do list, plus the bonus of rush hour driving in downtown Los Angeles.

And now the baking begins. Do I really need to point out that I'm not in the mood?

Going Public with My Hellish Holidays

It feels strange going public with the truth about my formative years. The inconsistencies and idiosyncracies that made me who I am today were sometimes painful to live through. Why share them with anyone other than close friends - or maybe a therapist?

Enter YouTube and blogging and everyone's personal lives suddenly public. I jumped in, but mostly as a voyeur. My partner and I launched HellishHolidays last year, focusing on other people's TMI videos and only occasionally posting a blog of my own. I was grappling with emotions the site raised within my family about taking a negative attitude toward holidays and telling personal tales.

The bottom line is that not everyone signs on to the new tell-all mentality. When I sent my mother a link to Hellish Holidays, she wrote back to tell me that "for some reason” she was unable to access the site. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “and it'll be hard for you to believe, I'm not big on reliving bad memories, of holidays or anything else. Haven't found it to be very productive and certainly never amusing. Once I can get it to open I'll check it out and try and think of anyone I know who might be a good candidate for terrible memories of past holidays. Actually I don't know anybody I talk to about such things. What are you selling?"

Well, I for one can find that amusing! She finally got broadband last month at her casita in Puerto Rico, and has been practically bathing in multimedia ever since. Yet somehow she can’t get her daughter’s site to load. I’m not complaining, though: if there’s some Freudian reason she can’t see what I’m up to, that’s one less conversation I’ll need to have about my blog.

I do worry that my family will be offended by my sharing embarrassing tales. This must be a huge issue in today's YouTube era, where posted personal moments can provide international humiliation for friends and family, where millions of blogs snipe at celebrities as well as those near and supposedly dear.

Opening up about traumatic childhoods is not new, nor confined to the web. In an attempt to put my own past in perspective, I became addicted to memoirs featuring dysfunctional families. Among my favorites: The Liar's Club, The Tender Bar, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Sweet and Low, This Boy's Life and the mother (and father) of them all, The Glass Castle and Angela's Ashes. It was hard to read these books and feel like I'd had it too rough. I was merely a lesser, unpublished member of the same club.

The authors of all these memoirs share a willingness to dig deep and get at the root of who they are today, and I respect that. What I am less able to understand is their willingness to alienate their parents, grandparents and/or siblings, even though those twisted family members had made their collective childhoods just the wrong side of crazy.

Dredging up and publicly presenting a hellish past is more than likely to offend the subjects of any interesting personal stories, who surely remember things differently. Even if they hurt you years ago, you may want to remain on good terms with them today, as shaky as the bonds may be. In my family, cutting off contact, whether between mother and child, siblings, or grandmother and grandchild, is just one well-timed comment away. So I figured as unique as my life had been, I wouldn't be able to write about it unless I outlived all my relatives. Last one standing gets to be the normal one!

Now, however, I've come around to the confessional life, at least within reason. I'd like to think I have a healthy attitude toward my peculiar background. My past informs my present but does not define it. Finally, like Nora Ephron, I have come to accept that "It's all copy."

"The Fruitcake Story"

Every family has its personal fables, oft-repeated chronicles of big achievements and, more commonly, painful humiliations starring siblings and grandparents, cousins and children. Like madeleines to Proust, sensory reminders call them back: Richard still has tine-marks on the back of his hand from the time he tried to take food off his brother's plate. Sue, who spilled the chicken soup in the backseat of the car on the way to Grandma's, gets mentioned every time a family member smells rotten food or buys a new car (the stink never came out of the broth-soaked Volvo and it had to be sold).

By the way, names have been changed. You don't see me airing family laundry. Do you?

In my family, every holiday season brought out "The Fruitcake Story," in which I was the star. Year after year, the world "fruitcake" could not even be spoken around the holiday table without knowing glances escalating into howls of laughter. And then someone would, redundantly and unnecessarily, repeat the saga. I would try to deflect: "Oh, everyone's heard that one! Let's talk about the time Paul..." But then Paul would jump in and continue the tale.

In "The Fruitcake Story" I am perpetually a toddler, optimistic, easily bamboozled and highly motivated by food, three traits I still have. That's the defining mark of a family saga: the main characters invariably show early signs of the adults they come to be. The best stories become shorthand for their subjects' most dependable qualities.

My father was usually the ringleader of "The Fruitcake Story," the one who brought it up and made sure the details were right. In fact, I sometimes suspected that my father only wanted to have more children after me so he could regale them with the story. Since he died 12 years ago, I'm not sure I've heard it brought up even once. I don't go back east for the holidays any more, so the word "fruitcake" generally doesn't come up. We're too busy talking about "The Amazon Wish List."

OK, by now you must be wondering: What's the story? Well, it really wasn't made to be told in the first person, since like most of these fables it's not something to brag about. However, in the interest of full blogging disclosure I will do my best.

I was probably two years old. It was December, and holiday preparations were in full swing. Fruitcake was already on display in the kitchen, and I was fascinated by it. Two of my favorite things, fruit and cake, in one package! What a brilliant concept! I could see cherries and raisins...I was enthralled.

My father decided to use the fruitcake as an incentive for me to make the final leap in my toilet-training. I had already achieved, shall we say, Goal #1, but was having some difficulty with Goal #2. My parents were looking for an answer, and since Everyone Poops had not yet been published, they had to come up with their own ideas. Fruitcake was held out as a reward. All I had to do was one little, well, poop in the toilet and fruitcake would be mine.

Who knows how long it took--the way the story dragged out it was days of disappointment and grunting as I kept my eye on the prize and my butt on the toilet. Finally, about 15 minutes into the storytelling, I made a raisin of my own and went running down the hall, training pants flapping, demanding my reward.

Of course the punchline was that I took one bite of that bourbon-soaked, nut-filled hockey puck, spit it right out and burst into tears. Whenever I wonder about any issues I have with food, I think of that story and it all makes perfect sense. Every year at the holidays I miss my dad, but I don't miss "The Fruitcake Story."

Together for the Holidays

This year, my family will be together for Thanksgiving. I don't mean my extended family, I mean my husband, son and I will eat together. That may not sound like a big deal, but considering that my husband and I separated recently, I think it is.

My parents divorced in the 1970s, the Dark Ages of splitting up. No one knew what the hell they were doing back then. Oh, there was some vague understanding that one parent shouldn't badmouth the other, but no collective wisdom beyond that. No Oprah. No Elizabeth Gilbert. We had Dr. Spock and Elizabeth Taylor and had to piece it together from there. If there was actually a divorcee in the neighborhood, which was unlikely, she was considered a dangerous hussy or a pathetic loser, possibly both.

Holidays were especially fraught, as embarrassed children had to explain to their friends about "Daddy's new apartment." Yes, at the time kids were ashamed when their parents got divorced. They didn't have the examples of scores of classmates, teachers, neighbors and celebrities to reassure them that they weren't "different."

For the first Thanksgiving after my parents divorced, my mother invited my dad to come for dinner. She felt intuitively that holidays should be spent as a family. Well-meaning, yes, but intuition-wise, not so impressive: dinner was a disaster. I've learned the hard way that holidays should be spent in a way that provides the least possible anxiety and the most possible calories and, if relevant, presents. But 30 years ago all we had to go on was our flawed gut, and that gut called for togetherness at all costs.

We all like to believe we're different from our parents, but I think we just make different mistakes. Certainly I know my divorce will be different from my parents'. My (still current) husband and I respect each other and our joint savings account too much to get into a long, drawn-out, bitter legal battle. We love our son too much to have a Thanksgiving dinner that is more about posturing than pumpkin pie.

So this year we will head over to the home of a close and understanding friend. I'm sure the day will be calmer than last year, when a blow-up in the car on the way to dinner almost killed Thanksgiving completely. Of course, my own intuition isn't always on target either. Let's just cross our fingers.

Hellish Holidays A to Z

Added Pressure
Blown Budgets
Custody Negotiations
Denial Meets Reality
Exactly What You Didn't Need
Family Drama
Great Expectations
Harping and Carping
Inevitable Letdowns
Jealous Posturing
Kodak Moments? Ha!
Longstanding Rivalries
Misguided Gifts
No Politics Please!
Oh, Don't Come Then!
Pine Needles Everywhere
Quirkiness Wears Thin
Regifting
Suicide Spikes
Turkey Again?!
Ugly Christmas Sweaters
Vicious Circles, Around and Around
Why? Because We Have To.
XO But Not Feeling It
Yet Another Long Drive Home
Zero Energy After It's Over

The Birthday Sacher Torte

I have always loved to bake, so when I first started working in New York, I became the official Birthday Baker. Whenever there was an office birthday, I would bake a cake. Of course, sometimes it was a labor of love, others an obligation.

An example of the latter was a cake I had to bake for a coworker named Steve. Steve and I worked together on a magazine about audio. It drove me crazy that he was constantly in our editor's office, hanging out and wasting time, while I slaved away writing deathless prose about in-dash tape decks and new tweeter technology. (Actually, not that deathless. It's long gone and completely obsolete.)

Anyway...because Steve and I worked so closely together, it would have looked strange if I didn't show up with a cake on his birthday. So casually, several weeks before the dreaded date, I asked him what his favorite cake was. Being a pretentious sod (just the kind of word that Anglophile would drop), he responded that it was sacher torte, an Austrian pastry. I could almost hear the gauntlet hitting the indoor-outdoor carpeting. Of course I had to make sacher torte.

I found a recipe in Vogue, gathered the diverse and expensive ingredients and, the night before Steve's birthday, went home to bake.

I hadn't read through the recipe until I actually started the process. I just kept cooking and cooking and still I wasn't done. The thing I remember most was that the recipe involved making, and then crushing, almond brittle. That alone would have been more than enough effort to expend on Steve. The cake had multiple layers, spread with, among other things, apricot preserves, whipped cream, chocolate glaze and, of course, crushed almond brittle. All told, it took five hours to make the sacher torte.

The next day, pissed off and exhausted, I carefully carried the creation to work on the subway. Because I couldn't wait to see Steve's reaction, we had the birthday party at 10:00am. He came into the room, shrugged and said he wasn't really hungry. I snarled, "It's sacher torte, and you'll have a piece."

To this day, many years later, the thought of sacher torte makes me slightly nauseous. The thought of Steve does, too!

New Year's Resolutions

I've never been big on New Year's resolutions. I mean, why make promises I won't keep? How will I learn to trust others in this heartless world if I can't even trust myself? And I can't trust anyone who can't keep a New Year's resolution for even one stinking week. Which is a milestone I was never able to achieve.

It's like Lent. Back in the days when I tracked these things, I knew when Lent was coming and planned accordingly: no dessert for 40 days. Because I always look for the silver lining, I'd like to believe that my failure at Lent helped hone the skills of bending rules and lying to myself at which I'm so successful today. Hey, I finished dinner an hour ago, so this is a snack, not dessert.

Nora Ephron, my guiding light since her Esquire days in the '70s, has a much more practical approach to resolutions: she sets the bar really, really low. She resolves to eat more waffles, not read Proust and dump AOL once and for all. Wait, that last one has been proven to be virtually impossible. Well, the others seem attainable at least.

In her blog on huffingtonpost.com Ephron says: "I resolve to be a better human being this year, and that includes trying to remember the names of people I have just been introduced to." I'll try this one too! (I mean remembering names, not being a better human being.) I won't officially "resolve" it, because it's probably too hard for me to pull off. I'm famous for gazing cluelessly at people I've known for decades when expected to make introductions. But I'll try to implement one of those memory tricks you always hear about, like visualizing something that the name reminds you of. If only I met people named "Cindy Schnozz" or "Handsome McEyelashes" the name game would be a lot easier.

Anyway, in perusing videos about New Year's resolutions this past week, I've been alternately impressed and horrified at the things people resolve to do or not do, just because the annual calendar is adjusting by a digit. If you want to look better, find a mate, get organized, improve your vocabulary or make more money, why wait? Or, to argue the other side, if you didn't care enough to do it the other 364 days of the year, what makes now so different?

I guess my fatalistic attitude is that we are who we are, so let's not kid ourselves. If we do decide that a new year is cause for a new body/relationship/job, that doesn't mean we have to get all official about it, posting videos and telling the world about our current failings and longed-for future improvements. A few well-placed Post-Its on the fridge or bathroom mirror can help keep motivation up any time of year. And it's a lot less embarrassing if you haven't gone public with a resolution when December rolls around and nothing's changed.