Holiday gift of company and time

I’ve been very lethargic this past holiday season. We didn’t do a Xmas newsletter at all.  No lights went up, and neither did the advent calendar. We did the lagniappe rather late. 

I made Joe do all the shopping for Christmas presents. That’s pretty drastic, considering how he loathes to shop. But I still got what for me is the best part of Christmas: wrapping the presents. I love raiding the stash of used gift-wrap from previous years to wrap new presents in the vain hope that maybe this will be the year the recycled stash will be depleted and we would be forced to start using virgin new gift wrap next year. The challenge of gauging the just-the-right size paper for the item, without too much excess to avoid trimming it down.  How to strategically positioning the paper to minimize the sight of creases, rips and scotch tape scars, etc. Editing the old label on the wrapping paper so that it says “To From Joe; To From Linda”

But I did feel a bit guilty for being so Scroogey and Grinchy; so in a fit of desperate inspiration, I came up with the following gift certificate letter . . . which I have only managed to send to half of my intended recipients (folks who would normally get an Xmas letter from us.)

Friends and family who got this reacted so fabulously, I’m publishing it here as well. If nothing, I figured it was the gift of a chuckle. I did two versions, one for friends/family, and a more sedate version for work colleagues.  I thought about doing a version for out-of-town friends, i.e. there are some things that can only be fulfilled in person. But it was hard enough to get around to posting this here . . .


Seasons Greetings!

This Christmas, I’m not getting you anything that can be gift-wrapped, because I have no ideas whatsoever for the perfect gift for you. I’m lazy, I’m cheap, and I can’t overcome my anathema of Christmas carols played ad nauseum in stores. Besides, you’re better off without the reindeer mug with petrified peppermint-hot-cocoa mix, pungent bath salts, or the snowflake-shaped candle, which I could have resorted to, if I caved in to the convention of gifting for the sake of giving.

Instead, this greeting/message represents a far better alternative for you: a gift certificate of my time. Time is money, but the currency I offer you is my invaluable assistance, my undivided attention, my entertaining company, or some priceless combination thereof. The side-benefit of this offer is the chance for me to spend quality time with you.

We all have busy schedules. We are also isolated, by distance, or even by bad traffic and poor transit. It is that much harder to make the effort and time to spend with each other. It’s ironic because I make a living making transportation system improvements.

Redemption of this gift certificate is by your request to me at any time in 2013, subject to my ability and availability, and whether it will be sanuk (fun) to fulfill your request.

Below are some examples of redemption: this is not an exhaustive list. You may request other items or favors for my consideration. (No illegal or unethical ones. Morally dubious, maybe.)

  1. Trip-planning: you need ideas on where to go, what to do, and where to stay in (fill in name of country I’ve been to.)
  1. You need a ride to and from the dentist for your wisdom-teeth extraction.
  1. Your delayed flight from Shanghai arrived at 3 AM at SFO. Transit has stopped running. You may call me up for a ride from the airport.
  1. You spotted your ex at a party with a new partner who is twice your height and net worth. You may bawl and/or bitch to me, and I will commiserate with a sympathetic ear. Even at 3 AM. (So long as I’m not picking up someone from the airport at that time.)
  1. You need to vent about your work-related issues: pointless bureaucracy, clueless colleagues, excessively long meetings. I will commiserate with discretion.
  1. You need help decoding a menu or map that’s in Thai, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian or German. (Accuracy not guaranteed.)
  1. You want to attend an opera/Amharic poetry reading/Monster Truck Jam, but can’t get anyone to go with you.
  1. You need to deliver something via sustainable transportation (bike, transit, walking.) I may subcontract this to my friend Anne.
  1. You need a ringer for your trivia team.
  1. You need someone to volunteer/work at your fund-raiser event. I will do so with charm and efficiency. (Fulfillment subject to my approval of the cause.)
  1. There’s a unique restaurant you really want to try and you can’t get anyone to go with you because it features bizarre ingredients (all ingredients start with the letter ‘v’) or an unusual setting (involves climbing 7 flights of stairs.)
  1. You need a bridesmaid, or a secular marriage commissioner at short notice. (The former is conditional on the dress.)
  1. You’re trying to decide if you should take the new job you’ve been offered, stay at your old job, or start your own artisanal toothpaste business. I’ll listen to, bounce ideas, and analyze with you. (Results, however, are not guaranteed.)
  1. You need someone to do the swim portion of a triathlon a training buddy to bike, swim or hike with you. (I ABSOLUTELY do no running.)
  1. You want to take a class in music sight-reading/foraging for mushrooms/Bollywood dance, but can’t get anyone to sign up with you.
  1. You need to put together a menu for a ten-course Chinese banquet, where the diners will include one vegetarian, two people allergic to shrimp, and one person who will eat nothing with onions or eyes.
  1. You need help editing your writing: resume, memoirs, grant proposal, etc. (For the latter, I’ll even throw in checking the math.)
  1. You need help harvesting produce from your backyard. (Especially if some of it is going to a local food bank.) If you need help weeding, I will subcontract this to my grandmother Lydia.
  1.  You need a babysitter for 3 hours while you and your partner go on an adult date. (I will not change diapers. However, I will let your kids jump in puddles – you are forewarned.)
  1. You’re looking for perspective on being only child, the superiority of fruit at farmer’s market over supermarkets, why black is a terrible color for clothing/accessories, the advantages of regular soap over anti-bacterial sanitizer, why you should always carry reusable chopsticks and swimming goggles, etc . . . I’ll give you an earful.
  1. You need someone to explain and discuss the birds and the bees with your pre-teen.
  1. You want to travel on your dream-trip, but can’t get anyone to go with you – visiting forts in Rajasthan, hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a week in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, a road-trip across the lower 48. (But if it’s the Taj Mahal or the Forbidden City, you’re out of luck.)

Happy New Year 2013! 



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