Bah! Humbug!

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December brings all kinds of weird customs.  Not just Santa Claus.  (There is no sanity clause. Chico Marx said so.)  When we had our place in New York, I always dreaded what we called he annual extortion: tips for the doormen, concierge, package man, handyman, et al.  As part-time residents, we scarcely partook of these people’s services, save the doormen, whose services we had no choice but to use — yet we were expected to cough up a ridiculous amount of money as a courtesy, or perhaps to keep up the karma that we wouldn’t need the services of, say, the plumber.  I remember the first December we owned the apartment, calling up an old boyfriend who’d lived in a doorman building his whole life.  I knew he’d understand my question and give me a straight answer.  When he said $150 a person I practically spat.  The building management company used to provide a convenient list for residents so that nobody would get left out of this bizarre annual ritual.

When we sold the apartment, I figured I was done with that particular custom, but I hadn’t realized it would eventually reappear in my life in the form of teacher gifts.  Call me scroogey, but I don’t feel like I should have to give Akiva’s nursery school teachers extravagant gifts.  After all, I pay tuition.  Still, the social pressure is just too strong, and I do in fact adore and appreciate his teachers.  I learn a lot from them, and I want only the best for them.  Some of the families give gift cards or elaborate creations.  In years past we gave home-baked cookies or organic maple syrup in decorative bottles.  We’re low-tech and low-key all the way.

This year, I’d had it in mind again to make things for Akiva’s teachers, partly because it’s homey and friendly, and partly because it’s all we can really afford.  At Small Notebook I found a link to a recipe for salted caramels drizzled with chocolate.  Although I’d never made candy before last Saturday, I decided that would be the perfect gift for Akiva’s teachers: a fistful of caramels, handmade and prettily wrapped.

Little did I know.

The recipe is preposterously non-specific, and the first batch ended up a little tough.  I thought I knew what to do to fix it, but the second batch came out too gooey.  Hope for the Goldilocks batch was in vain, but I somehow had the idea that they were still usable.  A little time in the refrigerator and they’d be fine.  Meanwhile, I went to the craft shop, bought individual foil wrappers, small boxes, and a rubber “thank you” stamp.  I wrapped all 120 caramels, stamped a lovely red “thank you” on each of eight small boxes, and set about filling the boxes and writing little notes to the teachers.

Then I decided to taste one of the extra caramels.

Goo, goo and more goo.  They stuck to the paper.  Mercilessly.

In all, I just threw away four batches of caramels, handmade and prettily wrapped.  Meanwhile, the red ink on the boxes smudged, rendering them more like a nursery school art project than clever crafty gift boxes.  Which is just as well since there’s nothing to put in them.  Into the recycling they go.

I’m just going to write the teachers notes, enclose a family photo, and be done with it.

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One thought on “Bah! Humbug!

  1. First of all, thank goodness you decided to taste one of them. Better to find out first-hand. 🙂

    I know what you mean about holiday angst, and I even celebrate (and mostly enjoy) Christmas. This year I have a spreadsheet of everyone I wanted to remember with treats (this is not including people who get “real” gifts) — teachers, babysitters, kids’ therapists, etc. I think I have something like 27 people on the list.

    I’ve made cranberry breads (little ones) and three different kinds of cookies, plus two batches of fudge. I’m getting ready to make pumpkin breads today and more fudge. Then I’ll check my supplies against the spreadsheet and see what more I need to make.

    There is something of a tradition at the preschools here in Milton where the class parent collects money from each family who wants to participate and pools it to buy an AmEx gift cheque or something similar. We’re not doing that this year — two boys, three schools, just too much. I figure, everyone likes food, and if they don’t, they can re-gift it, bring it to a party or feed it to the dog.

    Having said all that — I think the family photo and note is a lovely, lovely idea. There is a lot of social pressure to do things perfectly, especially this time of year. It really and truly is, however, the thought that counts.

    Too bad the doormen didn’t think so. We actually remembered to do a little something for our newspaper deliverer last year, who promptly quit right after Christmas. We’ll see if we have another new person come January.

    I was feeling all inadequate, reading about your caramels and pretty wrapping. Thanks for being real.

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