Return to Sender

I got a Christmas card returned as Undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service yesterday. Yesterday, as in the second week of March. As in I’m a third of the way through the bottle of perfume my husband bought me. As in the leftover turkey and ham are long gone from the freezer, having been casseroled to the nth degree. Where has this card been for three months?

This makes me wonder if we shouldn’t rethink this thing we call sending things through the mail.

When the people of the future excavate our landfills and realize that we spent valuable December hours addressing and stamping cards, many containing photographs that had to be scheduled, shot, rejected, reshot, bickered over, paid for, printed and decorated, some of them blood spattered from paper cuts, they will surely say, “What the eff? All that work and money, just to express the hope that these quasi-friends will have a happy holiday or that the season will be greeted? What a bunch of shits-for brains.”

And just wait until they get a load of the yellow strips saying UNABLE TO DELIVER.

“And they just kept on sending them,” Excavator Nicole will say. “Looky here. This one chick in San Francisco seems to have just kept sending cards out to the wrong address for five freaking years.”

I’ve got three words for you.

Jacquie. Lawson. E-Cards. (more…)

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Putting the Ar! Back in Christmas Cards

This is going to be short because like all of you, I’m buried alive in ho-ho-holiday red (and green) tape. When I sit down to write, my computer defaults to opening up my shopping list, this week’s Macy’s ad, and recipes high in fat and sugar. A blog post template or even a blank Word document is not easy to get to this time of year.

In addition to the shop-bake-decorate-apalooza that has been spawned from the unrecognizable Christmases of yore, I’ve got my son’s college graduation out of town days before Christmas. I can’t imagine the bitter daily life of the pagan who scheduled commencement ceremonies in late-December, but you can bet he’ll be getting coal in his stocking this year and not the clean kind, either.

And I’ve got my house renovation at Level Orange right now. Because I’m not the brightest bulb in the string of lights, I repeated last month’s mistake of scheduling too many things going on at once. Today I had visits from both a roofer and a pair of color consultants, as well as phone convos with a security guy, a window-tinter-putter-onner and a kitchen designer. None of them were willing to help me put up the big wreath out front.

So I’ve been muddling along trying to get holiday tasks done in small snatches. This is no way to run a Christmas operation. I prefer the assembly line method, where you break a job down into small individual mini-tasks and do them one at a time, in proper chronological order. Some years, no matter how I try, I end up doing the exact opposite of that.

Take my Christmas cards. Please, really, take them to the post office for me, I beg you, because I’ve been there four times in the past eight days and my cards still aren’t all mailed. The post office clerks have invited me to their holiday party, I’m there so much. (I’m bringing a cheese ball and spinach dip, if I can get the roofer’s assistant to help me make it.) Not only that, I have no idea to whom I’ve mailed cards. Last Thursday, I sat down and sent Facebook messages to three people, asking them if they received a card from us, because their names were on a sheet of labels that I came across and there were signs that I never printed it out. So the S-through-Wh’s are either going to get one or two cards from us.

If they get two, they’ll wonder why one has a festive return address label that coordinates with the stamp, and the other one has our return address scrawled in a red pen that is running out of ink and a stamp of Althea Gibson playing tennis. Also blood on the envelope from a paper cut on my tongue from licking the envelopes too fast. That’s because the first card was processed at my dining room table when everything as all organized and I sat down to do the cards in a fashion that would make Martha Stewart proud, with holiday jazz on the radio, a red cashmere sweater across my shoulders, and the Christmas village all lit up on the buffet. I had a cup of peppermint tea and I was wearing lipgloss. I was a spokesmodel for how to do Christmas right.

The trouble started when I ran out of return address labels. I forged ahead, making a separate pile of cards that needed them, while I pondered whether I could get another batch sent to me in time. Then I ran out of stamps. I made another pile. Then I added my husband’s work people to our list and ran out of cards. Another new pile and a new card order, this time one where you could actually read our signature and the Christmas letter, explaining who we are, was not necessary for those cards.

When the new cards came in I was feeling ambitious and decided to stuff them into the envelopes while watching The Big Bang Theory reruns one night. But then I didn’t know which envelopes had the cards with a legible signature and which ones had our white name hidden in my white blouse in the photo. The piles were starting to get mixed up about now.

Then I added a couple of updated addresses and my address label sheets got messed up. I couldn’t remember which labels I had printed out, attached and mailed, because in yet another on-the-ball moment I had already made a couple trips to the post office to mail the cards I had done.

At this point, every time I glanced at the dining room table that contained the piles of cards, I was so confused about what I should do next, I walked straight to the kitchen and had a cocktail and four cookies.

Yesterday, my friend Toni answered my note that yes! – she had received a Christmas card from me, meaning that the mystery labels sheet had indeed been mailed out. Then I realized Toni was on my list twice. Another drink, four more cookies. Later that day, my mother-in-law mentioned she got her card and had two letters in her envelope “so if someone didn’t get one, I have theirs.”

Next year, I’m mailing her 200 Christmas letters, along with some label sheets, and suggesting that, hey, if you happened to get any extra letters, could you distribute the extras for me? There’s more than one way to share the love at Christmas.

If you don’t get a holiday card from me this year – and let’s be honest, you probably won’t – let me say now, I hope all of you have a very wonderful holiday, full of friends and people you love, laughs and jokes, cards that made it to their intended destinations, and all-round happiness. See ya next year.

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Christmas in September – But It’s a Dry September

It could be worse. We could be sending out this card.


I’ve shared with you our practice of taking a family photo for our Christmas cards every year. It’s fun for the whole family. And by whole family I mean me. And by fun I mean not at all fun.

Last year, you saw the result – a picture of three kids with so much hate in their eyes, they would have all gotten a Chia head for Christmas if so much time hadn’t passed before I started shopping.

This year we’re adding another element into an already painful process – triple digit temperatures. We’re having a family photo taken in Phoenix, because it’s where we’ll be during the only 6 hours during which our entire family will be all together in the same room/parking lot/restaurant/hotel lobby/desert canyon for the next year.

It will be the end of September and we may have to Photoshop out the squiggly lines of radiating heat coming up from the ground. Some poor sucker is going to draw the Santa hat straw. We may have to prop each other up. We may have to pack our feet in ice. But we’re taking a family picture because that’s what we do.

When the kids were little, before the inventions of digital photography and a work ethic at Walgreens, it used to take weeks to get photo Christmas cards made. It took me more weeks to get the envelopes addressed and write little notes in each one. (“Come visit! We’re bored silly with one another!”) So we took the Christmas card photo in late summer. You’ve seen those age enhanced photos of missing children? I toyed with the idea of age-enhancing my kids’ faces because they were nearly unrecognizable by the time people received our card in December.

I’d dress the kids up in sweaters and once we even got a fire going in the fireplace. If there was a baby that year, he screamed from wearing wool. If there was a toddler, he cried because we had to tell him that no, Santa isn’t coming tonight. Pay no attention to those stockings hanging behind you. They go right back into the closet after this photo session. We’re going to the pool as soon as I peel the double-knit and Velour off of our skin.

For this year’s photo, we probably won’t be able to lug along our tripod, so some poor Phoenician is going to have to do the honors. If you’re reading this and are going to be in Arizona between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. that day, look for us: We’ll be the ones in the red and green sweaters and scarves.

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Christmas Cards

I’d like to be able to report that all my Christmas cards are in and I’m ready to give you the results of the Unofficial Fitzpatrick Christmas Card Contest. I’d also like to say I got all my cards mailed out with the correct addresses and with real stamps on the upper right corner instead of old Simba stickers and Easter Seals. But life isn’t perfect.

I’m still getting Christmas cards. Which gave me the idea to create a new category in the Christmas card contest: Most Creative Excuse for Sending Cards Out in Early January. So far the winner is Jim from Lexington, who starting out his letter, “Happy Groundhog Day!”

Other clear winners in their own categories are Nicola and Jonathan from Sparta, N.J., who wrote this year’s Longest Christmas Letter. It was actually not even padded with boring stuff like report card grades and birthdays. It was chock full of vacations in Colorado, Savannah and Charleston, skiing in Vermont, new carpeting, trips to England and France, a new Mazda MX5 convertible, and celebrities living next door. After reading it, I felt a little dirty, like I had just finished a Danielle Steele book.

Biggest Surprise in a Christmas Card – Our friends Mike and Lynn, who always dress their four kids up in beautiful matching outfits and pose them in front of a color coordinated, elaborate Christmas setting with those humongous packages, sparkly trees with burgundy bows and fake reindeer. This year, among the props was a little doll. No, wait a minute. That’s not a doll, that’s a 3-year-old real girl. Her name was added onto the signature along with the rest of the family, so apparently they acquired a toddler sometime between last year’s card and now. There was no letter or explanation, so we had three days of fun, making up stories as to who she is and where they found her.

There were some smaller surprises. Sandy and Bill from Boardman are among the most religious people I know, but their card could have come from Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the American Atheists. A black and white photo of an ice covered stone stairway (my tailbone hurt just looking at it) with “Journey” written simply at the bottom. Inside, a spartan “Wishing you a season of new beginnings and a wonderful journey into the year ahead” was all she wrote, so to speak. Happy freakin’ Kwanza to you, too, Sandy and Bill.

In the Knock My Socks Off Why Don’tcha category, my sister Reenie did it again this year. She made her own card and it was a layered masterpiece of the prettiest card stock papers from that store in San Francisco that she’s allegedly addicted to. There were also rhinestones and different colored fonts and graphics. The only reason I know she made it is that I know all too well what an overachiever she is.

We got many, many Great Photo Cards. Too many for even my husband to pick a favorite (although he would probably pick our niece Lilly on Santa’s lap because he’s biased). I might pick my cousins Sherry, Bill and Logan, because Logan is the cutest and most photogenic little boy and they’re in front of Cinderella’s castle in Disney and they look like they’re in a photo shoot for a magazine ad for antidepressants. If you sent us a card with a photo in it, chances are I went, “Awwwwwwww!” and showed it to strangers and set it up on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. And if there were kids in the photo, I probably was halfway to writing a ransom note and plotting their kidnapping. (I’ve got to figure out a way to get a cute baby into this house, come hell or high water, by the time Santa comes next year.)

It’s hard to say what My Favorite Card was. I liked the regional cards, the full moon over the Washington monument from two people I don’t know, the Jupiter lighthouse painting from Barbara, and “An Ohio Christmas” from my friend Barb in Hubbard that started with “A Partridge Rocking on the Hall of Fame” and ended with “Twelve Pennant Flags Waving.” I love a good, rah-rah card. Go town!

But I also liked the non-traditional cards, the ones that spit in the face of red and green convention and which had a giant purple shell on a black background with JOY inside. Polka dots and Frank Lloyd Wright designs were big with me this year, too.

Keep ‘em comin’ – it’s only the second week of January.

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Charting a New Course

My obsession with keeping track of things has come to a ridiculous head. More like the multi-headed black lab in the Harry Potter movie, all snarly and foaming at the mouth.

I’m doing Christmas cards today. I put it off as long as I could, first grabbing onto the excuse that I didn’t want to send them out too early, lest people think I’m a braggy overachiever housewife who’s had too much coffee. From the too-early point, I made a sandwich, blinked twice, found the TV remove, and found myself at the now-I’m-dangerously-late point. So today is it. I’m finishing the Christmas cards.

I use an Excel chart to track who I send cards to. You all know how obsessive I am about my lists. I feel an uncontrollable urge to have a complete listing of every card I received and every card I sent since 1983, which is either the year I got married or the year someone implanted a chip into my brain making me a slave to writing things down. It is that bad.

In 1983 my sister Pam bought me a little white index card box with pictures of lilies and bows on the top. Inside were 3-by-5 index cards that I was supposed to fill in, one for each person who was invited to my wedding. On the front were spaces for their name and address, and little boxes for me to check off whether I sent them an invitation, whether they RSVPd, what they bought me for Shower #1, Shower #2, Shower #3 and Wedding Gift, thank you notes, announcements, etc. On the back was a chart with 15 years worth of spaces for filling in whether I sent them a Christmas card and received one from them. (Why 15 years? Possibly because odds are a marriage won’t last longer than 15 years. It’s true, most of the divorces I know were victims of that love-killer, Year 14.)

Upon receiving this white box from my sister, I spontaneously wet my pants. Someone at Hallmark had my number, had detected the chip implanted in my brain and had designed this little box of joy just for me. I bought a special pen to fill in the cards. I used my finest penmanship. If I made a mistake, I threw out the card and started over with a new one.

For 15 years I used this little white box as my Rolodex. Other people had address books, I had the box. I added cards when I made new friends, but rarely subtracted cards, even when people died, divorced or pissed me off enough to not be my friend anymore.

Then, 10 years ago, I made a new Excel chart for my Christmas card list and inserted cute little ✓s in a webdings font. The chart is three pages long because I can’t remove people and their checkmarks from the list. People have come and gone in my life, but they’re still on the list because they have a checkmark from the past. My daughter’s piano teacher, Mr. Cupcake from Sparta, is still on the list and I’m sure if I sent him a card today, he’d be all, “the Fitz-who’s???”

Therein lies my problem: What to do with all this old information? I can’t throw it away, can’t delete it. My house is becoming overloaded with old charts and lists. At any given moment I can tell you what my Aunt Edna bought me for Shower #2. I can tell you how many people have viewed my article on Dinnertable Conversation Starters at Suite101.com down to the day, week, month and cumulative year since it was posted in November 2007. I can tell you how much I earned from each freelancing job I’ve worked and what I spent the money on. I can tell you what I made for dinner for every person who came here to eat since 2000, and what I wore to various functions.

“There’s got to be a place where you can store old papers that you don’t really need anymore, but that you’ll have just in case,” I’ve said to my husband.

“Oh there is,” he says. “It’s called the landfill. Here, give it to me. I’ll take care of it for you.”

He is the opposite of me. He has a chip in his brain, too. But it’s a chip that makes him want to hurt me in unspeakable ways, like by throwing away old papers when I go out of town for a couple of days. I like to point out to him that it could be way worse. I could be addicted to something else, like vegan cooking or crack. He should be counting his blessings. And writing them down . . .

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A Christmas Letter I’d Like to See

Dear Family, Fiends, and Those of You Who Ended up on My List for Whatever Reason,

Can you believe Christmas is finally here? I’ve been waiting for what seems like eons for it to finally arrive. This year has just crawled. As I get older time just goes slower and slower. I got out my decorations months ago and with all this time on my hands, I’ve just been waiting for the appropriate time to start celebrating this holiday.

Although time marches on and our kids are getting older, we don’t have enough to do. The kids go to school almost every day, but they’re not involved in anything else, so we do a lot of sitting around waiting for holidays to come up and mini-marathons to come on TV.

Ralph hates his job. He hasn’t had a promotion in years and hasn’t gotten any awards or incentives and this year didn’t even quality for a free turkey. It’s only a matter of time before they realize he’s still working there and stop giving him the measly paycheck he brings home.

Becky is as slutty as ever and she’s only 13. We took the door off of her bedroom this year, so now we all get to listen to Marilyn Manson.

Bill watches a lot of TV. He hasn’t applied to any colleges yet, even though he’s pretty sure he’ll finally graduate this time. His guidance counselor seems to think he could get a job in Hollywood what with all the TV he watches. She thinks he might be an expert. But he really only watches it. Very little of it sinks in, except the violence part.

Like I said before, I don’t have enough to do and some days don’t even use the car at all.

We did go to our annual block party in June. I made a new recipe I found on the online, for parsley salad. No one at the block party touched it, so we got to bring it home and eat it for supper.

Our dog and all but one of her puppies died in September. We thought we were going to lose Dad this year, but he just keeps on breathing, despite all the surgeries. I would go into more detail about them, but it’s really, really gross and I don’t want to ruin your winter like ours has been ruined.

So that’s about it. We didn’t take any vacations this year. Ralph was afraid to take any time off work for fear they would remove his desk and stapler while he was gone. He has to stay under the radar, but still be in his chair every day, just to be safe.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday and a bright and cheery New Year!

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