Tag Archives: Holiday

How to Build a Better New Year’s Resolution

30 Dec

 

How many New Year’s have you resolved to lose weight, quit smoking, spend less, or exercise more? Research shows that most people make the same resolution for at least five years before they achieve even six months of success. While about 40 percent managed to continue for six months, over a quarter of all resolutions are abandoned within the first week.

People make the same resolution an average of ten times and even all these failures don’t reduce future plans for self-change. Over 60 percent make the same resolution year after year. As you might suspect, behaviors with an addictive quality are the most difficult to change. Relapse rates for these behaviors are extremely high (around 50 percent to 95 percent).

The main reason for failure is having very unrealistic expectations. Like the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, we all believe we are “above average.” People routinely overestimate their abilities, including the amount and rate of self-change they can achieve. In one study 60 percent of adolescents and 47 percent of adults believed that they could smoke for “just a few years” and then easily quit. Self-change is just much harder and takes much longer than most of us realize.

Also we tend to greatly overestimate the benefits obtained from the change. For example, many overweight people believe in what has been called “the power of thinness.” Not only will you lose weight, but you will also be vastly more attractive, popular, successful, and of course happy. The Duchess of Windsor once said that a woman can never be too rich or too thin and today popular culture icons have carried this shallow ideology to the extreme. While such anticipated benefits can motivate future attempts at change, when they are not immediately forthcoming, people are deeply discouraged.

Anther cause for failure is that many people frame their goals negatively — don’t overeat, don’t gamble, don’t drink, don’t spend, etc. Each individual breach of the prohibition is seen as another failure, which can rapidly lead to a total collapse of the change effort. You have a much better chance reaching your goals if they are couched in positive terms over a longer term.

When asked why they didn’t succeed, people usually misinterpret their failures. Typically they blame external factors like, “I was on the wrong diet” or “It just wasn’t a good time to start.” They also blame themselves for lack of will power. They believe minor adjustments can lead to success the next time-like picking a better diet or just trying harder. Since most individuals try to do way too much, it is important to redefine success in terms of modest and realistic goals.

Another major factor contributing to self-change failure is that most people are not at the stage where they are really ready to change. Dr. James O. Prochaska from the University of Rhode Island has worked decades researching self-change and has identified five basic stages:

1. Precontemplation: You have no intention to change your behavior in the foreseeable future. People in this stage lack awareness even about the need to change. They may, however, “wish” to change and often make resolutions without any plans whatsoever.

2. Contemplation: You are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about changing, but have not made a commitment to action. People often get stuck in this stage.

3. Preparation: You make up your mind and start planning. You intend to take action in the next month and have a definite plan in mind.

4. Action: You actually modify your behavior, experiences, or environment in order to achieve self-change.

5. Maintenance: This where you work to prevent relapse. Most people do not maintain their gains on their first attempt. With smoking, successful quitters made three to four attempts before they achieved long-term success. Most of us move through these stages in a spiral pattern. Typically we progress from contemplation to preparation to action to maintenance, and then relapse. During relapse, we often return to an earlier stage. However, each time we recycle, we learn from our mistakes and can try something different the next time around.

So this year if you really want to change, level with yourself and decide what stage you are at, then select some modest goal that can help you progress to the next stage.

For example, if you are still in the precontemplation stage, don’t try make some large impossible change. Instead commit to becoming more aware of the problem and how it affects you and your environment. Read about it, talk to others (friends, family and professionals), see films and try to fully experience and express your feelings regarding the issue.

If you are in the contemplation stage consider making a careful and comprehensive written cost-benefit analysis of the problem, listing all the pros and cons. Fully assess how and what you think and feel about the problem. What needs does it meet, are these needs still relevant, and are there other ways to meet them?

If you are in the preparation stage, this is the time for a resolution. Candid discussions with others, self- help groups, and counseling can help you decide and commit to a course of action in this stage.

Finally in the action and maintenance stages, you can benefit most from acquiring techniques to facilitate change, such as establishing self-rewards and learning how to relax or be more assertive. Developing alternatives for problem behaviors, finding sources of social support, and avoiding situations that lead to problem behaviors are other important strategies than you can learn more about through reading, counseling, or attending self-help groups.

So this year don’t set yourself up for failure. Know your readiness to change and strive to make those small achievable steps that lead to success.

 

Based on a Column that appeared  in the Southern Indiana News Tribune

Banishing Black Friday

22 Nov

 

The   day after Thanksgiving  also known as Black Friday, has traditionally served as the start of the holiday shopping season since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924. So it’s time to snap out of your turkey-atropine induced stupor and head for Wal-Mart, the mall, or at least fire up the laptop. The term, “Black Friday” can be traced back to the 1960s, when policemen and bus drivers in Philadelphia used it to refer to the terrible traffic jams cause by the rush of holiday shoppers.

The phrase also harkens back to 1929 when “Black Tuesday” was the day the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression, which is maybe a little too close to home this year. “Black Friday” also suits the day because many businesses depend so heavily on holiday shopping to make their year profitable and being profitable is referred to as being “in the black”. Black ink was traditionally used in bookkeeping ledgers to record gains while red ink was used to record losses. Black Friday is often thought to be the busiest shopping day of the year, but this is not always true. While it has been among the top 10 shopping days for the past 20 years, it has risen to first place only a couple of times. Days towards the middle of December usually rank higher. When I was growing up in St. Louis, I remember a well-known local radio DJ getting in serious trouble for saying that this is the day when the merchants downtown dance around their cash registers, singing What a friend have in Jesus.

In 2005 the National Retail Federation coined the term “Cyber Monday” for the Monday following Black Friday, to mark the beginning of the on-line shopping season. Like Secretaries’, Bosses’, and Emergency Medical Technician’s Day, Cyber Monday is essentially a marketing ploy, intended to whip us up into a buying frenzy, as if we needed one. Even so, Cyber Monday is not the busiest on-line shopping day of the year. This also takes place later in the season, when we start to feel really desperate. With greater broadband availability, many people start their on-line shopping Thanksgiving Day itself or earlier. For some, on-line shopping has taken the place of the traditional Thanksgiving walk, nap, football watching, or family argument. Many on-line retailers have responded by offering their sales a day earlier. For the past few years DealTaker.com has created a special Black Friday website (www.dealtaker.com/blackfriday.html). You can find out what promotions are taking place in stores, as well as get access to items that are available online, at the same or better price. There are lists of the hottest toys, electronics, household items, and latest fashions. as well as exclusive coupons. You can even compare bargain hunting strategies on one of the discussion forums. So what is the outlook for today? According to Deloitte’s annual survey, more than half of all consumers plan to reduce holiday spending this year and the average reduction is about 14%. People blame higher food and energy costs and job uncertainty for the cutbacks.

About one in ten say they are still paying off last year’s holiday debt. People plan to cut in the areas of home improvement, household furnishings, clothing, charitable donations, and entertainment. Spending on gifts showed the smallest planned decrease (only 6.5%). Shoppers plan to spend an average of $532 on gifts this holiday season and buy around 21 gifts (down about 2 gifts from last year). This year’s shopping strategies include buying lower-priced goods and sale items, consolidating shopping trips and using coupons whenever possible. And the top gift this year? – same as the last five years– the gift card. Retailers love these things. Last year the Tower Group consulting firm estimated that unredeemed gift cards totaled nearly $8 billion annually, about 10 percent of all purchased. It is like tithing to VISA. Over a quarter of us have had at least one gift card expire before we could use it. Although I’ve personally given a lot of these cards, I’m still not sure I understand it. Sure it’s easy, especially since you can get almost anything at the checkout counter of the grocery store. Most of us were taught, however, that giving cash was lazy and impersonal, but somehow retailers have convinced us that if we convert our cash into a plastic card decorated with a holiday theme, then its okay to give it as a gift. We can pretend it is really a dinner, shower curtain, or maybe a book. Shoppers are somewhat concerned that stores might go out of business before the gift cards can be used. I should mention that the phrase “Black Friday” achieved special recognition a few year ago. Along with words such as “perfect storm”, “webinar”, “water boarding”, and “surge”, “Black Friday” has made it onto Lake Superior State University’s 2008 list of banished words. For the past 33 years language experts at this school have complied a tongue-in-cheek list of words, that they say should be “banished from the Queen’s English for misuse, overuse, and general uselessness”. Also making the list this year are “organic”, “wordsmith”, “give back”, “Blank is the new blank.”, “sweet”, “decimate”, “pop”, “throw under the bus”, and “It is what it is.” I would say the list is awesome, but they banned that word in 1984. “Black Friday” probably made the list because it reflects our country’s current obsession with the economy. Also many pretentious columnists run this phrase, into the ground thinking it makes them sound more knowledgeable and cool.

All this reminds when I was in high school and our freshman English teacher told us that there were two words that never should be used– one word was “nice” and the other was “swell”. So, of course, someone immediately asked, her, “So like, what are the two words?”

Psychoanalyzing your Christmas Cards

8 Nov

 

 

Did you do the Christmas card thing this year or did you just e-mail “Happy Holidays” to everyone in your address book? Maybe it’s technology or just the times, but people don’t seem, to take Christmas card giving as seriously as in the past. Banishing someone from your Christmas card list was the ultimate in social rejection. Lists were carefully saved and even passed down from generation to generation. Ironically most of the cards I get now come from companies wanting my business.

Over the last several years, the number of Christmas cards sent by Americans has declined, probably due to communication technology and increased social isolation. Some of the personal touch remains, however, as a number of people include messages, or their annual Christmas letter, in their cards, bragging about their latest family triumphs in order to get one up you. Last night Diane wouldn’t open the card from her cousin before dinner because she said she did want to ruin her appetite.

Christmas cards began in London in 1843, the same year Charles Dickinson’s “Christmas Carol” was written. This current holiday season the Greeting Card Association estimates just over two billion greeting cards will be sent.

Christmas cards do have some appealing features. They connect us to others, help us put our emotions into words, and provide a tangible keepsake to preserve memories. Most of us feel inspired to reciprocate if we receive a card.

In one of the few scientific studies of holiday cards, Karen Fingerman and Patricia Griffiths from Pennsylvania State University found that people who received many cards believe that a large number of people are thinking about them and feel less lonely. Also people reported having a significant emotional reaction to about one-third of the cards they received, sort of like Diane. Younger adults view cards as a way to establish new social ties, while older adults see them as a link to their personal pasts.

Dr. David Holmes, a psychologist from England’s Manchester University says the choice of a specific Christmas card inevitably gives away an awful lot about the personality of the sender. Psychologists just love to interpret things-inkblots, dreams made up stories, drawings, and also any decision you make (or don’t make). It’s sort of an occupational hazard and analyzing your Christmas cards may be going a bit too far.

Anyway, Dr. Holmes says people who find it difficult to express their feelings often hide their timidity behind the humor of a comic card. Introverted people are drawn to cards that picture Christmas trees, especially those that are devoid of baubles or presents. Winterscapes are sure signs of loners, as are cool colors such as silver, white and blue. Holmes also suggests people who value tradition; tend to send the same sort of cards their parents sent. They often prefer Victorian or cozy fireplace scenes that evoke the past.

Snowman lovers tend to be very sincere softies with keen intellects, while penguin fanciers demonstrate taste, style, sophistication and a good sense of humor.

Even card shape may be meaningful. Square cards suggest practicality, while tall, slim cards suggest concern with style and an artistic flair. People who send round cards are the most unconventional, often in a chaotic sort of way.

I am not convinced about this, but below are some of my interpretative guidelines that I thought might help you this holiday season as you look at you cards.

• CANDLE: Suggests warms feelings, but a tall candle can be interpreted as being a show off.

• DOVES: Unconsciously thinking about chocolate when they bought the card.

• ELF: Suggests small but highly industrious features, sort of like Switzerland.

• FROSTY THE SNOWMAN: Drove by Wendy’s before choosing the card.

• GEESE: Possible goosaholic. Do their front steps have plaster geese dressed up in red capes?

• GINGERBREAD MAN: Suggest fear of being “consumed” by others, tendency to avoid situations by running away as fast as you can.

• GOLD: May have attention problem and is attracted by shiny objects.

• MUSICAL CARDS: This is the sort of person who would buy your kid a drum- significant latent hostility.

• NUTCRACKER: The scary teeth and military uniform add up to oral aggression in my book.

• CHRISTMAS PRESENTS: Generous, but maybe be a bit materialistic. The actual meaning may depend on the choice of wrapping paper, but let’s not get into that.

• SANTA: Jolly, but some possible paranoia (“He knows if you have been bad or good”). “Making a list and checking it twice” also suggests possible obsessive-compulsive issues.

• TOY SOLDIER: These are adorable, cute and smiley characters that are packing heat –denial of aggressive impulses.

• STARS: Stars are distant, aloof, impersonal, and grandiose- sort like our cat.

• STOCKING: Suggests some fetish possibilities that are best not discussed.

• TEDDY BEAR: The Teddy bear is the international symbol for cuteness. On the positive side, if some person sent you this card, maybe they think you are cute.

• WREATH: With no beginning or end, the wreath suggests a well-rounded personality.

How do your friends and family stack up? Is someone lonely or in need of cheering up? Do you want to cheer someone up? Maybe you should consider sending a last minute penguin.

(Based on an article  appearing originally  in the  the New Albany Tribune)

 

My Picks for the Scariest Halloween Movies in the World

25 Oct

Real life is full of real  scary things, like layoffs, newly discovered lumps, registered letters, or grown-up children threatening to come back home.   While we hope to avoid these things, Halloween is a time when people consciously seek out scary experiences as a form of entertainment.                

             If you’re the sort of person who wants to be scared this year, below are my recommendations for the scariest Halloween movies ever.

  1. Psycho: Somehow I saw this Hitchcock movie, accidently when I was about 10 years old.  It’s a good thing we didn’t  have a shower at the time  or I would have been stinky until high school.
  2. The Exorcist: I read the book first and it gave me nightmares. When the little girl’s head spun completely  around in the movie,  I almost displayed what they call in the Haunted  House trade a loss of “yellow control”.
  3. IT: Pennywise, the demonic clown played by Tim Curry, is the scariest character ever.  I still don’t look down storm drains, because he  just might be there, looking up.   
  4. The Amityville Horror: After watching the begining of this movie, Diane and I actually walked out of the  theater , so we could rush home and check on our children.  
  5. The Pet Sematary: I started this book,  but  never finished it. When I got to the point in the book where the little boy gets run over by a speeding transport truck, I threw the book against the wall and never read another word. A friend at work, who had read the whole thing, asked me, “Haven’t these people ever heard of a fence?”
  6. The Shining:  Who can forget Jack Nicholson bursting through the door, screaming  “Heeere’s Johnny”.
  7. Alien: I could never get past the scene where the alien creature bursts from John Hurt’s  chest.
  8. Jaws: My popcorn went all over the theater,  when  they found the corpse in the  sunken boat. I still  swear that they flashed a picture of a shark in that scene,  right before they showed the body.  
  9. Frankenstein: When I was a kid my older brother Norman insisted on watching all of these old Universal horror movies on a local Friday night television show called Spook Spectacular. I was terrified.        
  10. The Turn of the Screw: I never really understood the book,  nor the film version, called The Innocents, until it was    explained to me. Now I think the ghosts were real and it’s very creepy.

     Finally if you prefer something a little more current you might try the  Paranormal Activity 3, The Grunge, or The Ring.  Happy Halloween!

It is interesting that all the villians have the “square mouth” expression that psychologist Paul Ekman indentified  as signalling  unbridled rage as in the illustration below.  

 

Sage Advice for Thanksgiving

22 Oct

 

Like many holidays Thanksgiving can evoke strong emotions. I knew a fellow who told me how much he dreaded Thanksgiving, ever since he got into a knife fight with his brother-in-law. His story reminded me of a character in the movie The Ladies Man, who said that he always carried at least two knives and a gun to Thanksgiving dinner.

Comedian Al Franken once said that his family celebrated holidays by sitting in the living room viciously criticizing one another, until someone had a seizure and then they had pie. Thanksgiving is often a time when family members, who manage to successfully avoid each other all year, are suddenly forced to spend an entire afternoon together. It is not coincidental that Hollywood chose Thanksgiving as the backdrop for dysfunctional family movies like “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Avalon” and “Home for the Holidays.”

Although this is a time, when we should set aside our petty grievances to give thanks, the nerve-racking nature of the occasion often puts everyone’s teeth on edge. At one family gathering it was suggested to my overweight brother that perhaps he was eating too much. He responded by throwing a plate of spaghetti against the wall. Perhaps you also remember my story about how my father pitched a roasted turkey out the kitchen door one New Years day. Throwing foodstuff unfortunately is one Stawar holiday tradition that Martha Stewart never considered, even while in prison.

Holiday stress often reaches its peak during dinner conversation, which frequently serves as a trigger event. Seemingly innocent remarks can quickly escalate into open warfare. For mystified outsiders, with no person experience of dysfunction to fall back on, I have decoded several classic dinner table comments below.

1. How’s work going?

Translation: If you are working you deadbeat, when are you going to pay me back the money you owe me.

2. Who made the lime Jello mold?

Translation: What could they have possibly been thinking?

3. What’s your boy Jimmy up to these days?

Translation: Still on probation?

4. Cousin Billy, what a surprise to see you here.

Translation: Is your television broke?

4. And just exactly how much whipped cream do you intend to put on that thing anyway?

Translation: Don’t count on me administering CPR.

5. How’s your Atkinson’s “diet” coming along?

Translation: Hey, everybody, doesn’t he look just like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

6. How does little Johnny like junior high?

Translation: Is the little monster any smarter than that dimwitted husband of yours?

7. How is your writing “career” coming along?

Translation: Have you got them up to $10 dollars a column yet?

8. Isn’t this turkey really moist, honey?

Translation: You’ll never be able to cook as good as my mother.

9. This wine is great, Bill.

Translation: I didn’t know Wal-Mart had a wine cellar.

10. Did you make this pumpkin pie?

Translation: We can’t expect much in terms of domestic skills from an overeducated egghead like you.

11. No thanks, I don’t need any help.

Translation: As a daughter-in-law you are not qualified to handle actual food.

13. It’s amazing how all this stuff just magically appears every year.

Translation: The fact that you are exhausted from cooking since 3:00AM this morning has completely eluded me.

12. No children yet?

Translation: You may have a big successful career smarty pants, but you will never be the woman I am.

Good luck making it through the minefield that is the dinner conversation and here are a few final tips to help you survive Thanksgiving.

1. Remember this is not a marathon family therapy session and not the best time to resolve lifelong resentments.

2. Keep communications superficial. According to some of Randy Newman’s lyrics “Feelings might go unexpressed. I think that’s probably for the best. Dig too deep who knows what you will find.”

3. Discourage alcohol consumption since that generally promotes uncensored disclosure, aggression, or flirtatious behavior, none which is particularly constructive at a family gathering.

4. Unless you have been up all night making stuffing and baking rolls, don’t rhapsodize about how much you just love Thanksgiving. That could engender some resentment on the part of the food preparer. Forty seconds of carving a turkey is not the same as actually fixing the meal.

5. Keep everyone busy. Watching parades or holiday movies usually puts everyone in a good mood. They limit actual interaction and avoid the latent hostilities that competitive activities bring out. Tryptophan induced naps can also serve this purpose.

6. Although it may annoy many women, marathon football watching is usually ok, so long as everyone is rooting for the same team or doesn’t care who wins.

7. Avoid touch football, Twister or any other activity that might involve physical contact of any sort.

8. And keep in mind the cardinal rule, no weapons allowed

(Based on a   article previous  in the Southern Indiana  News Tribune)

Happy Franksgiving America

29 Oct

We are only a month away from Thanksgiving Day — the holiday that more than a quarter of Americans claim is their favorite. My exhaustive research shows that families gather together to give thanks in the manner of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans’ harvest celebration of 1621. My source? None other than that repository of all knowledge: the Weekly Reader magazine. It’s a sort of Huey, Dewey and Louie’s Junior Woodchuck Manual for us baby boomers.

But according to sociologists Melanie Wallendorf from the University of Arizona and Eric Arnould from the University of Colorado, Thanksgiving also serves multiple social functions as a “collective ritual that celebrates our material abundance through feasting.”

They contend that our elaborate Thanksgiving Day meal is a way of reassuring ourselves that we have the ability to more than meet our basic needs. We stuff our turkeys, as well as ourselves, to show how well we’re doing. Perhaps that’s why we add so much butter to everything. When I was growing up, my family only served real butter at Christmas and Thanksgiving time.

Since this abundance ritual — in its basic form (turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie) — is widely shared, it also serves to binds us all together and increase social cohesion. But unlike the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, those of us born since World War II come to believe in a “permanent abundance.” We aren’t sitting in clover just because it’s harvest time or because we had a particularly good year. We view continually increasing material abundance as a defining feature of what it means to be an American.

These days, however, the unpredictable price of energy, rising food and health care costs, the mortgage credit crunch and the stock market meltdown have challenged this cherished belief. In a Newsweek cover story titled “A Darker Future for Us,” business writer Robert J. Samuelson says that fundamental changes in our economy have put us on the cusp of a new era, in which continually increasing prosperity cannot be counted upon.

Conservative columnist George Will has recently emphasized the historic link between Thanksgiving and the economy. He pointed out how President Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week to extend the Christmas shopping season to help battle the Great Depression. Back then, it was unthinkable to advertise Christmas merchandise before Thanksgiving. Will says that FDR did not defer to the calendar any more than he did to the Constitution, even though over 60 percent of the country disapproved of his actions and the public was outraged. FDR’s critics mocked the early Thanksgiving by calling it “Franksgiving.”

Unless it gives them a three-day weekend, Americans just don’t cotton to anyone messing with their traditions. Jeffersonville Mayor Galligan recently learned this after his attempt to change the date of Halloween, or as they now call it in Jeffersonville — “Tommyween.”

Over time, major corporations have become integrated into our traditions. So despite our stated preference for the “old fashioned” and “homemade,” most of us are preparing to eat our Butterball turkeys, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Pepperidge Farm stuffing. While those three companies seem recession-proof — with strong annual earnings from Ocean Spay, a new corporate headquarters for Butterball and Pepperidge Farm being the most profitable division of the Campbell Soup Company — many other corporate icons have fallen on hard times. Like many Americans, in recent months the companies that handle my mortgage, retirement fund, insurance and major credit card have all faced serious fiscal difficulty. Even R. H. Macy & Company, the sponsors of the New York City Thanksgiving Day Parade and the setting for The Miracle on 34th Street, filed for bankruptcy in the 1990s and the brand only survived through a series of mergers and reorganizations. As recently as early October, the reconstituted Macy’s slashed its 2008 profit outlook, due to the softening economy that has consumers scaling back on spending.

So what do we have to be thankful for this year in the present era of mortgage foreclosures, dwindling retirement accounts and trillion dollar bailouts? I asked a number of people and there were many of the customary responses: faith, family, friends and health. Many people were also thankful simply to be Americans, with all the freedoms we enjoy. Others were thankful for the election outcomes; even those whose candidates lost were at least glad that the long campaign is finally over. A surprising number of people said they were thankful for their “jobs,” perhaps in recognition that the unemployment rate just hit a 14-year high.

In the field of mental health in which I work, the watchwords of our profession are “hope” and “recovery” and such an ideology of optimism is more relevant today than ever. When FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself in his first inaugural address in 1933, the Great Depression had reached its greatest depth. FDR was the man for those times, precisely because he could convey the those optimistic values which are at the core of the American character.

In the same speech, FDR also said these words that may be more relevant today than they were when he first said them. “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.” Or as John and Paul (The Beatles, not the apostles) put it for us baby boomers — “We can get by with a little help from our friends.”

Happy New Year

1 Jan

It is officially 2010, hope you all have a great new year!

Terry

Evaluating Your Children’s Presents this Christmas

16 Dec

This article will tell you if you bought enough and the right kinds of presents this year to make this Christmas one of wonder and awe for your children. Christmas eve is almost here. You must soon decide if Santa’s presents are sufficient to surprise and delight your children. Consider using the following five tests.
Things Required:
• Spreadsheet of all presents bought broken down by child
• Lastest credit card statement
• Your last ounce of strength
Step 1
Are there enough presents to unwrap Christmas morning? Unfortunately a dozen presents is about the minimum for a successful Christmas today. Don’t wrap each crayon separately but save batteries for the stocking. One Christmas Eve we came up short, necessitating a crisis visit to Wal-Mart. With our last ten dollars I rescued a refugee from the clearance bin— Milky the cow. This oversized Holstein with latex udders could actually be milked. Although creepy, it did put us over the top. We also scored priceless photos of our bewildered daughter examining Milky’ s underside Christmas morning.
Step 2
Did you pay enough? If you have not reached your limit on at least one major credit card, then back to the mall. Snooty toy shops can quickly increase net expenditures with bizarre educational toys from unpronounceable countries. On-line purchases also provide a great opportunity since shipping always adds 15%.
Step 3
This is critical. How flashy are the presents? Will the kid next door eat his heart out? Cheap toys with lots of lights, smoke, and noise can shore up this department. Don’t worry if they break before New Year’s, the future is now.
Step 4
Do they take up enough space? If you don’t have a bike, you might be in trouble. One year we failed to have a huge present under the tree. Christmas morning the kids said those seven words guaranteed to break your heart, “It doesn’t look like Santa Claus came.” We learned our lesson and always bulked up the haul. Inflatable toys can accomplish this in a cost effective way. Life-sized crocodiles can help set that perfect holiday mood of avarice.
Step 5
If you have more than once kid, there must be perfect balance. We have often switched gift tags at the last minute or doubled down and assigned the new X-box to two kids. This not only achieves balance, but guarantees months of holiday squabbling.

Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow (1978)