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The Christmas Card Letter

12 Dec

One of the reasons that I love the holidays is that I see them as an opportunity to be creative by baking, crafting gifts, and writing a Christmas card insert. Before Facebook and Blogs, annual Christmas card inserts or letters were the only way to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family. Folks have very strong opinions as to what should and shouldn’t be shared in a Christmas insert. Growing up, my family made a sport out of reading the letters aloud to each other – and every holiday season named the worst of the year, which usually went something like this:

1993 has been an interesting year with some real ups and downs.  Mother had bowel surgery and lost a 4 foot section of her intestines. Uff-da! She’s recovering ok, despite needing round-the-clock care (including hot sponge baths provided by my sister-in-law Greta) and a colostomy bag.  Went on vacation to Minneapolis for a weekend with Marge and the girls.  Marge really knows how to make a hot dish, I tell you. Some of my favorites are hash brown casserole, and everone’s favorite: green bean casserole. Maybe this year Marge will find the husband that she deserves.  She’s a real gem, fellas!  Wink. Wink.

This would continue on for a full single-spaced page.  Here’s why the letter doesn’t work; it includes:

  • Personal (and specific) medical information about a family member,
  • Vague details about a trip to the local big city,
  • Notes on casseroles (although Jell-o salad can and will make it into my Christmas letter), and
  • Comments on a friend or family member’s marital status (this is a personal pet peeve of mine and happens more often than you would think).

Let’s try and re-imagine the letter in a more appropriate way:

In March, I visited my cousin Marge and her two daughters at their beautiful new home in Minneapolis. She’s become quite the chef and we enjoyed many wonderful meals together.


Thank you to everyone who has kept my mother in their thoughts and prayers.  We celebrated her 82nd birthday as a family and look forward to many more birthdays together.


Not everyone has a jet-setting, fabulous life.  We don’t all make yearly trips to Europe or the tropics. This year I struggled with my Christmas letter because the farthest I traveled was Lancaster, PA.  I thought, “I’m such a loser, I didn’t do anything anyone cares about!  Even my crafts suck!  I hid my sewing machine in the closet because it was upsetting me!”

The truth is, people don’t care. They just want to see what you are up to in under 200 words and with a couple of photos – especially if you have kids.


  • In addition to your Christmas letter, write something by hand. Just a couple of words expressing good tidings, best wishes, or whatever floats your boat. There is nothing worse than a Christmas card with no signature, no note, no nothing. Take the time or don’t bother.
  • Include pictures (hopefully not all of you, this isn’t
  • Feel free to send cards late or not at all.  This should make you feel good, and not be a source of stress and bad feelings.
  • Have fun with fonts and graphics if its your thing, if not just keep it simple.
  • Inject some humor, or if you dare…irony!

I hope I’ve covered the basics and that you’ll enjoy constructing a quality Christmas insert!


Sow’s Ear of the Month – Manners by Madonna

10 Sep

By now you’ve probably heard about Madonna’s major faux pas while promoting her new film, W.E.  To summarize: A fan gave her hydrangeas.  The fan walked away. Madonna made a nasty face and said “I loathe hydrangeas.”  This was of course caught on tape.  To make it worse, instead of apologizing or expressing genuine gratitude her rep (with typos) told CNN:

She’s entitled to like any flower she wants and she didn’t want to hurt the feeling of the hydrangeas of the world…No disrespect to the hydrangeas lovers of the world but she prefers different types of flowers.

Not only did Madonna sign up for a life in the spotlight, she’s been a world-famous celebrity for almost thirty years.  You would think in that time she would have learned that its easier to be gracious and kind than to be rude and thoughtless.

Eight years ago (fresh off the boat from Ohio) I met Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenowith at an event to promote  a special “Wicked” line of makeup.  It was thrilling!  The gals were signing CDs and little packages of expensive lipgloss at the Sephora store in Times Square.  When my turn came to meet Idina, I said, “thank you for all you do, you are an inspiration.” She looked at me, tossed her hair, and rolled her eyes. I could have cried it was so mean! Here I was, a little actress new to the big city and this extraordinarily talented performer that I admired made me feel like I didn’t exist. Of course, when I met Kristen Chenowith I received a big smile and most importantly a, “Thank you.”

I understand that it’s difficult to be a celebrity (I’m serious). Constant criticism of your hair, cellulite, and fashion choices must really get tiring. The difference is, when you sign up for the life of a performer and you are successful, you will be a public figure.  That means that part of your job is to be gracious and kind and smile and say thank you to fans who you may not feel like talking to. If you aren’t up for that challenge, then get out!

Madonna, its time to be put out to pasture, there is no excuse for your rudeness. I understand that the reviews for W.E. weren’t so hot. Too bad.

Sow’s Ear of the Day – Bad Subway Manners

23 Jul

Friends, I beg you, never, and I mean never, ever pick your toenails on the subway. This is gross. This is wrong. People will stare at you and judge.

Last Tuesday at approximately 6:15 on the Q train, I witnessed a young woman (I won’t call her a lady because she doesn’t deserve it)  reach into her ingrown toenail to pick at something—I don’t know what. Eventually the nail started to bleed…when she was done (and found whatever it was she was looking for) she put her finger into her mouth as a means of cleaning it.  It was so awful that fellow commuters were tsking in agreement and shame!

Let’s talk a little about subway etiquette.  In Miss Robin’s ideal world, we would all be wearing hats, gloves, closed-toe shoes, slips, and full coverage girdles during our commutes.  We wouldn’t talk on cellphones, or listen to electronic dance club music, or speak loudly to our neighbors.  Instead we would all read quietly or knit.  Friends, I know this is a fantasy—even I wouldn’t squeeze into a girdle for traveling.  However, we can all employ a few tactics that will enable us to share a better ride.

Remember the key subway senses!

Smell. Ask yourself, did I forget to shower?  Have I neglected washing my hair this week?  Did I mask up my personal smell with fragrance?  If your answer is yes to any of these questions you get a big NISH NISH!  Wash yourself fully before going public!

Sound. Remember that not everyone likes hip hop.  I listen to German cabaret music from the early 20th century during my commute.  I understand this could be distressing to some, so I choose to keep the volume low.  Think of others first.

Touch. When digging in your bag, remember that someone is sitting next to you.  Don’t shove them with your elbows.  When entering a train, wait for others to exit first, please.  This goes without saying.  There is a special place in H-E-double hockey sticks for people who use this tactic to board.

I could go on and on.  Give up your seat when you see someone who is pregnant, elderly, or disabled, don’t eat Chinese food while riding, leave two-way radios at home—but I know I don’t need to. I trust that my readers are not only well mannered but experts at personal hygiene!

Happy riding!