Posts Tagged ‘holidays


the holiday party dress code

Reader E. G. writes:

My boyfriend’s office holiday party is next weekend. Being a dude, he has no idea what the dress code is, and I don’t know any of his coworkers. It’s the holidays, so I want to get dolled up, but I don’t want to overdo it. What do you recommend I wear?

Dear E.G.:

As a lady, it can be difficult to toe the line between well-dressed and over-dressed, as you obviously know. But usually if there wasn’t a formal paper invitation that clearly states “black tie”, you are more likely to be risking overdressed more than under.

I’m sorry your boyfriend doesn’t provide you with the need-to-know dress code thing. Not all guys are that socially careless, just so you know. But typically, guys who don’t know or don’t care about dress codes tend to work in offices that also don’t care so much about dress codes, so there’s your next clue.

Um, yeah, it would have been nice to know it was a "Saturday Night Fever" them, thanks.

Image: photostock /

My very best advice to you is to wear whatever you do with utter confidence, even if you find you’re the only one there in a skirt and heels. If you’re not embarrassed about what you’re wearing, it’s unlikely anyone else will be, either. You want to get dolled up? Do it, and don’t look back. If you stay in the upper to middle ground of “dressed up” and avoid the ballgown or sweat pants extremes of the spectrum, you’ll probably be fine.

Also, take a cue from wherever the party is taking place. If they’re holding it in the office, be prepared for people to wear whatever they wear to the office (in this case, I’m guessing jeans and polos, max). If it’s at a restaurant, you can probably assume things will be on the nicer side. The location is information I’m sure your boyfriend will be happy to provide.

Wherever or whatever the party ends up being, here are a few ideas to help you blend in while allowing yourself the opportunity to dress up, whether this party ends up being a classic New Mexican “well, you could wear your dress boots, I guess” barbecue or a more upscale sort of soirée:

– Wear a dress. Unless you’re the kind of girl that never wears a dress, in which case, wear nice slacks that aren’t jeans. Skip the suited look, however, because that can make you look like you simply can’t leave your own office. You can typically get away with a cocktail dress that’s at or above the knee — a longer dress can edge into “over done” territory pretty fast.

– Keep it simple, but don’t be afraid of fun, classy, party-ready textures. A simple shift or a-line dress can be completely glamorous in the right material, like silk chiffon, taffeta, or lace. There are sequins and patterns all over the place right now, so go for it. Plus, if you don’t know any of his other coworkers, they may just assume you’re always this chic and well-dressed.

– Use your accessories to really shine. Carry your best bag, wear your good jewelry, and put on those heels you never wear. Your good pearls can dress up a tee shirt dress, and a sparkly belt can take your office job sheath to festive party in a snap. Get a cocktail ring and bling your way through the evening. And if you feel overdressed, you can easily remove accessories easily to take it down a notch. (But c’mon, who wants to do that?)

– Wear red lipstick and get your nails did. If you read any of the fashion mags, red lips are apparently the only thing anyone is doing these days — it’s like 1945 out there. If you wanna’ add a bit more sparkle to your evening, paint your nails in one of those glitter colors that are lining the shelves at salons. It may take you back to fifth grade, but that’s partially what the holidays are about anyway. Or put a little shimmer on your eyelids. And remember that a little goes a long way. As in, don’t go smoky glitter eyelids + red lipstick + glitter nails + body glitter + sequin dress. Let one or two elements speak out and keep everything else neutral.

– Smile. Meeting your boyfriend’s coworkers can be like meeting his parents. Decide before you get there that you’re going to have a good time, and that if you’re the overdressed arm candy for the evening, it’ll be a great story for the grandkids, even if they don’t end up being this boyfriend’s grandkids.


a little potluck etiquette

Reader E.W. writes:

It’s potluck season! Can you please write a post about etiquette for these gatherings? Not for me, for my clueless friends.

Dear E.W.:

Why, sure!

Potlucks are supposed to be a way for a host or group to diffuse the burden of feeding the group among the group’s members. That way, no one person has to do all the work. (That’s the goal, anyway.)

If you are invited to a potluck, be prepared to bring a dish. If you’re a good cook, it’s your time to shine. Prepare to make that thing you make that everyone loves. If you’re not a good cook, prepare to order something from your favorite bakery/deli/bbq joint and bring it with you.

If you are hosting a potluck, be gracious. Prepare something big so that if the people in your group don’t read my blog, you can feed them anyway. The world is full of mooches who don’t recognize their own mooching, and they probably have a great rationale for why they don’t bring food with them (I’m a bad cook; everyone else makes more money than I do; whatever). Appreciate their company if nothing else. The only thing you can do to a shitty potlucker is not invite them to the next potluck.

For you shitty potluckers who don’t want to get kicked out: You probably run with a group of people who do potlucks all the time. Think of the people who consistently bring good food. What do they bring? Can you ask them for advice? And can you relieve them of the inevitable “I’m the provider” fatigue that accompanies being the person who always brings good food to the potluck?

Here are a few good pointers to being invited back:

My potlucks never look like this.

Image: Rosen Georgiev /

Make a main dish or at least an exciting and substantial side. The problem with potlucks is that it is a diffusion of responsibility, so people don’t think they need to bring anything important, and you end up with a bunch of chips and salsa and 2-liters of diet soda.

If you’re really smart, you will contact other people going to the potluck and see what they’re bringing, so that it’s not a battle of the enchiladas or a spread of slaws. A great host will even assign you an item to bring, or at least a category of food to prepare.

Bring enough food for yourself and everyone else in the group. If you’re bringing alcohol, bring enough for you to drink, and enough for everyone else to drink. One bottle of wine? Okay, if there are only three people at the potluck. One six pack? Same rule. Bring more. And bring a variety. As a friend recently said, “If you bring a bottle of wine and drink the whole thing yourself, you are NOT contributing.”

If you have a food allergy or “alternative” diet, this is not the time to preach about it. Also, a potluck is not the time to try and punish people for not subscribing to your extreme vegan diet. Bring a dish you can eat and make sure there’s enough for everyone else. Make sure it’s something delicious so they’ll say, “Wow, maybe she doesn’t just eat hay all the time!” Be kind about it. Food is a tough subject and people are crazy, and that includes you.

Make something that is easy to reheat or doesn’t require reheating. Something in a crock pot is a good idea, or something that will maintain heat from your way over to the event (potatoes!), so you don’t have to line up for the microwave or oven. If you’re bringing a tray of something, be careful about meat and milk. Food poisoning sucks. Being the person who poisoned everyone at the potluck sucks more.

Also, be prepared to bring your own serving utensils, and keep track of your dishes. It’s a good idea to put masking tape on the bottom of your dish with your name on it. If you buy cheap kitchenware like most people, it’s highly likely they saw the same sale you did and stocked their kitchens in an identical manner. If you are a host, have extra utensils and serving available, in case someone forgets them. (Nothing quite like microwaving something in a tupperware container and getting melted plastic as part of the meal.)

Be prepared to handle leftovers, either by taking them back home with you or having your own tupperware. Your host may want to keep the leftovers, so offer to give them to him/her, but don’t just assume he/she wants a fridge full of other peoples’ food. Don’t expect the host to wash the dish for you, either.

Finally, when you do go to a potluck, try every dish that you can, at least a little bit. (“Can” is determined by food allergies or dietary restrictions, too.) There will probably be dishes that are preferred over others, and when you go back for seconds, you can have those. Just make sure you’re not eating so much that other people don’t get food, or so little that it’s obvious you’re picky and ungrateful.

Remember that the word “luck” is in the title of this event, and so what you get to eat is at the whims of the other people involved. But you can make your own luck by bringing something you like.


holiday gift ideas for the hopeful BF

Reader M. B. writes:

The holidays are fast approaching and I am at a complete loss about what to get my girlfriend this year. We’ve been together for a while and I want to really get her something special. I’m not really good at getting gifts, and I really don’t want to mess up. So what do you suggest?

Dear M.B.:

I’m so glad you asked! You might remember this piece once upon a time, wherein I spent several hundred words consoling a lady to be glad her husband got her any gift at all for their anniversary, and telling her that it was her job to let her husband know what to get her if she didn’t like his gifts.

That still goes — it’s your girlfriend’s job to let you know if your gifts are terrible. But the fact that you know you’re a terrible gift-giver to begin with and are asking for advice means maybe you don’t want her to have to have that conversation with you. Good job!

Gift-giving around the holidays can be a pretty stressful event, but there are a few things I can say for sure about what you should look for. It all depends on your girlfriend, of course. You’ve got to know what she likes, However, most of the ladies I know have the following rules for gift giving on “major” occasions (aka anniversaries, winter solstice holidays, and birthdays):

  1. Give me something I wouldn’t just buy for myself (either because it’s too expensive, or it’s impractical, or any other number of reasons).
  2. Give me something that I will actually like or use (i.e. not something you’re getting because you actually want it).
  3. Give me something whimsical and romantic.

Now, let’s be honest: there are girls out there who don’t care about gifts. These girls are actually angels, and as we all know, angels are sexless, so be careful with them.

If your girl does care about gifts, then you’re going to have to figure out what she likes for yourself and go from there. If she has said over and over again how much she loves X, get it for her. She’s making life easy for you.

Low on money? Services count, too, but not IOUs for services. Don’t give her a promise that you’re going to clean the house; actually clean the house. It’s a much better surprise if you just do it without promising beforehand than if you say you’re going to and then never get around to it.

I decided to conduct one of my highly scientific surveys and ask my girlfriends what they want for Christmas this year. I told the girls to “dream big”. Here’s what I heard:

"Yay! Presents!" Image: photostock /

  • A massage and/or spa day (mani, pedi, facial, soak). This was definitely the one all my girlfriends could agree on. These can get expensive, but they’re extremely thoughtful and say “go on, pamper yourself”.
  • The house cleaned (not just “picked up” but seriously scrubbed). The laundry done. The dishes done. Not just now, but forever. In other words — buy her a year’s worth of a cleaning service. Even just one visit from a cleaning service can make everything better for a long time. It doesn’t sound really romantic, but it’s extremely thoughtful.
  • A trip somewhere (with you!). “A vacation” came up more than once (we must be a stressed out group — massages and vacations for all!) Of course, you can take her somewhere that isn’t too far away and isn’t too expensive. Even just cleaning up your apartment, lighting some candles, and turning off the phone for a night can be good. Your time can be your greatest gift.
  • A CSA or Co-op membership. If she’s a foodie, being able to get amazing ingredients at lower prices will matter immensely. Having them delivered to her door every other week? Amazing!
  • A wine club membership. So you can share a bottle or two together every month.
  • Extremely nice lingerie. Nope, not Victoria’s Secret — try La Perla or Aubade. Worth the price upgrade, plus you’re going to have to do a little detective work to get the size right. And, you know, it’s kind of great for you, too.
  • An iPad or Kindle pre-loaded with some of her favorite books or magazines, and a few new ones to boot. Technology + you’re thinking about what she likes to read.
  • All the work done on the car (oil change, tune-up, a fix for “that clicking sound” — this is stuff you can maybe do yourself!)… Followed by a nice little drive to a romantic dinner (food you made yourself counts!).
  • A piece of designer clothing (“boots” was a big response among my friends) that you know would look sexy on her and is maybe a bit out of her price range. Again, you’ve got to know the girl’s taste, and her size. When you get this one right, you get it exactly right. Also: consignment stores and good antique shops are excellent for this. And the women who run those shops will be tickled that you’re looking for your lady.
  • Tickets to a show — her favorite band, opera, or musical. Bonus points if you get them a few months in advance. Extra bonus points if she didn’t even know the show was coming through your town.
  • Jewelry. Girls love sparklies. BUT WATCH OUT. If she’s expecting “the ring” and you get her diamond studs, it’s going to be a really awkward moment. Furthermore, if she’s not sure how serious she wants to be and you get her a really expensive necklace, you’re heading for doom. Just put some thought into it and be smart. If you know a jewelry designer and can have something made for her, that’s pretty awesome.

Here are a few gifts I’d steer clear of:

  • Any pet. Yes, kittens and puppies are cute, but they’re also a huge responsibility. No one should ever be given a pet as a gift unless a lot of discussion has gone into it first. (Don’t even get me started on people giving bunnies as gifts. Oh man.)
  • Any exercise equipment or gym memberships unless she has specifically asked for it. Are you encouraging her new running habit, or inadvertently telling her that you think she’s fat? Careful!
  • Nothing. This is absolutely the worst thing you can get a girl for a holiday, even if she swears she doesn’t want anything. Get her a card, at least.

Now, again, I must stress that every girl is different, and my girlfriends are probably crazier/funnier/awesomer than most, so don’t just trust what I write. Listen to your girlfriend and take some time to think about what she likes. That’s the most important thing about gifts — the thought. If you really, really can’t think of anything, ask her for a list. It’s a bit lame, but you can’t go wrong that way. You already know you’re not great with gifts, and if she’s the right girl for you, she’ll be able to accept that, too.


last minute xmas gifts in ABQ

sales galore!

Image: Filomena Scalise /

I know a lot of you are probably going a bit crazy today getting your gift shopping done. At the same time, I was looking over the last-minute gift-buying guide over at the NYTimes and NOTHING on that list was < $150. (Also all of it was only available in NYC.) So I thought I’d make my own list of last-minute Christmas gifts, which then turned more into a guide to where to get stuff in Albuquerque. Luckily, everything on this list is gettable for under $100. (Take that, New York!)

FOR DAD or other male relatives:

– Armagnac. This is really for the fancy dad. Armagnac is basically a type of brandy from a different part of France than Cognac. Bonus: It’s cheaper than Cognac, according to the New York Magazine sommelier. You can get a pretty nice bottle of the stuff for $50 or so (or $1,500 if you want to go all out), leaving you perhaps enough money to grab dad two brandy snifters to go with it. ABQ Place to get it: Jubilation Wine and Spirits off Carlisle & Lomas. If your dad is less fancy than Armagnac might suggest, you can get him a nice bottle of Scotch, too. Or just a six pack of microbrewed beer.

– Anything from Kauffman’s West. You cannot go wrong with finding something for dad at this store. It’s full of extremely interesting manly things, from military or police stock to Oakley sunglasses and Luminox watches or political gag gifts. You can get dad camping gear, too. I really like their hat selection. You’re sure to find something here for under $100, although if you wanna’ splurge, those watches can get pretty pricey pretty fast.

FOR MOM and other female relatives:

– A day at the spa. Moms do a lot of work and often don’t have the time (or money) to pamper themselves. Get your mom a massage, facial, mani-pedi thing for Christmas. Most of the spas around town are doing gift certificate specials, so you don’t have to set up the appointment for mom now — let her pick when she wants to go. Or you can surprise her and go with her. Prices vary from location to location, and for service, but you can probably get mom a good mani-pedi for $25-$50, with packages going up from there.

There are a few places to check out in ABQ, depending on your price point:

Mark Pardo’s — there are several of these around town. Mark’s the juggernaut of Aveda stuff in Albuquerque.

Betty’s Bath and Day Spa — this is the favorite local spa spot of everyone I know.

Picaflor Day Spa — a cute little spot in the heights that is a bit less expensive than some of the bigger day spas.

Any of the spas at the major hotels in the casinos will probably be good, too (Sandia, Isleta, Tamaya at Santa Ana, etc).

I also happen to know a few licensed massage therapists who do work around the area, including in-home massages, but I’m not comfortable putting their contact info up on here. Send me a message and I can get you in touch with them if need be.

– A handbag from Tres Boutique. Does their name mean “very” in French, or “three” in Spanish? Oh, who cares. This place has shoes, clothes, jewelry, and accessories, too, and nothing costs too much. Everything in there is pretty darn cute, so you ladies could probably find a thing or two for yourself while you’re in there.

FOR THE BF or close guy friend:

– A shaving kit. I’m talking about a real shaving kit, with a badger fur brush, lathering shave soap, and an old school razor. Boys in our generation have lost the knack for getting a real clean shave, and it’s really a shame. I know I’m trying to keep this local, but for the most part, I recommend the kits from The Art of Shaving, although it’s way too late to have that delivered by Christmas this year. Check out Crabtree & Evelyn in the mall. Sometimes Target has kits like these, but I’m not going to send you there.

– A gift certificate to Astro Zombies or Burning Paradise Video. Yes, I generally recommend against gift certificates, but if you don’t know exactly which strain of XMen comic your BF is following, or which zombie movies he’s already seen, the only surefire bet is to get him a gift certificate. The main thing about this gift is introducing him to these stores. These places are havens for any geek or nerd who’s into movies, comics, or other geek cultural artifacts.

FOR THE GF or close girlfriend:

– If you’re capable of figuring out her size (with or without asking), head to Seventh Goddess for the sexiest lingerie in town. Stockings + garters, nighties, cami sets… whatever you want to see her in, they have it there. And the staff is amazing. They also have toys and accessories in the back, if you’re feeling a bit more, ahem, adventurous.

– If you want to get her a piece of jewelry that’s not overly ambitious (I mean, not a diamond engagement ring or the like), Carolyn Pollack has some very reasonably priced and fun, funky jewelry. Most of it has a very Southwestern feel to it, but there are some very simple pieces you can find in her favorite color.

For the booty call:

I’ve gone over the etiquette of getting your fling a gift, and if you decide you want to but want to keep it “bedroom only”, head to Self Serve. They’re completely woman-owned and they know exactly what you need. Hell, you can probably find something for everyone on your list there, as long as they’re sex-friendly. Massage candles make awesome presents.

For the coffee or tea connoisseur:

My absolute favorite coffee shop in ‘Burque is Moon’s Coffee and Tea. Moon roasts her own coffee and blends her own tea. You absolutely cannot beat her piñon — she uses real piñon nuts! (Be sure to get it ground if you get it as a gift — a lot of coffee grinders can’t handle the nuts.) She also has accouterments galore, from pots for loose tea and French press kits to coffee filters and tea cookies. You can’t go wrong at Moon’s.

For the music buff:

Charley’s Records and Tapes is the place to find the music your beloved wants. Pick up a few CDs or some vinyl, and/or a tee shirt to match. This is another place you can get a gift certificate, just to introduce your friend to the store. Bonus: there’s a chocolate shop next door if you want to spruce up your gift a bit with a truffle or two.

For the heavy reader:

There are a few independent bookstores in Albuquerque, but my favorites fall in the Heights and the Valley:

Page One on Montgomery has basically every book you could think of, and if they don’t, they’ll order it for you. They also stock used books, and you can sell your used books there, too. If your friend is a serious book nut and you know exactly what first edition you want to look for, Page One does antiquarian, too.

Bookworks on Rio Grande (next to the Flying Star) is chock full of books for everyone, and toys for kids, too. They sell autographed copies for that fan you know, too. (Are people really huge fans of writers anymore? Really?)

For the kid in your life:

Out of the Blue has toys for every kid in your life, and many of them are of the educational sort, too. (I love being that aunt.) You won’t find the usual plastic subjects like Barbie here, but there are Legos! And the sales folk there can gift wrap like pros.

Anyone else got any ideas to share? Go ahead, post ’em in comments!

And have a happy, safe, warm holiday.


new fling gift protocol

Reader L. S. asks:

I am in a very new relationship, and I think I want to get my new fling a gift for Christmas.  I don’t want to be presumptuous that we’re more than we are. But at the same time, I want him to know that I like him. So, what is the protocol on new relationships over the holidays — present or no present?

Dear L.S.:

Here is my hard and fast rule on gift giving: If you feel like getting someone a gift, do it. If you don’t, don’t.

Giving someone a gift is about your feelings for them. It has nothing to do with their feelings for you, or at least it shouldn’t. Giving a gift says “I know you; I know what you like; at least, I think I know you and I think I know what you like, and here’s my best attempt at showing you this”. This is why we get so disappointed when we get ugly sweaters from our mothers-in-law or vacuum cleaners from our boyfriends. It’s because we feel like they just proved they know nothing about us. In these cases, it’s almost better to give nothing than to give something that’s actually not in line with what the person wants.

It’s also why I hate sending people lists of what I want for Christmas. It shouldn’t be compulsory, in my opinion, and if they can’t think of something to get me, then they shouldn’t feel they have to. That need to get someone something without knowing what is the exact compulsion that leads to bad gift giving.

Furthermore, it’s why we get upset when someone tells us they don’t want us to get them anything for Christmas. It’s a let down. When you have the need to give someone a gift, it doesn’t matter whether they have expressed their desire for it or not; it’s you showing that you care.

All I want for Christmas

Image: Suat Eman /

So if you want to get your new fling something, and you have an idea of what you want to give him, absolutely do it.

However, you may want to think about how he’s going to take this gift-giving, too. Even though my hard and fast rule says you shouldn’t care. Maybe there can be a difference between caring about what he might think and just being aware that he may have an adverse reaction. Let’s try that on for size, shall we?

I am glad you recognize how your new fling could take the gift-giving (i.e. presumptuous that you’re more as a couple than you actually are).  Or he could react by being ecstatic. I must reiterate that while you should not take any of these reactions into your gift-giving plans (because you may not know how he is actually going to react), you should at least be prepared for a reaction from this new fling of yours. How he responds could speak volumes about the future of your relationship. For instance, here are a few scenarios:

– He says, “Thank you, this is perfect! Now open what I got for you!” And you live happily ever after.

– He says, “Thank you, this is perfect! But I haven’t gotten you anything!” And you’ve taken the relationship up a level he wasn’t expecting, but is happy about.

– He says, “Dammit, now I have to get you something.” And you’ve taken the relationship up a level he wasn’t expecting, and is not happy about.

– He says, “Oh. Thanks.” And hides the present away or never uses it, thinking you don’t know him at all and probably you two shouldn’t be together.

– He says, “Oh, uhm, thanks.” And hands you a present that is as unsuited to you as yours is to him. And you both feel awkward and break up a few weeks later.

– He dumps you because he’s totally uncomfortable and thinks you’re taking things too seriously.

See? So many outcomes! Or he could react in a way I haven’t listed here at all! Be prepared.

Still, I say take the risk. Since you’re sure you like this person and you want to show him this, I say there is nothing wrong with getting him a present without caring how he could react. It’s basically just like telling someone you like them. If they don’t feel the same way, you can deal with that after you’ve told them. But you’ll never know unless you go through with it.

You can lessen the risk a bit by broaching the subject with your new SO to give him a heads up. Just ask, “Are we planning on doing presents for Christmas this year?” Notice I used “we”, not “you” or “me”. Yes, it implies a lot of intimacy, but it’s also not accusatory. Asking this will let him know that you’ve been thinking about it. He’ll probably say, “I don’t know, are we?” At which point you can confess that you were considering getting him a present, and he can know what to expect.

Surprises are fun, too, though, and the holidays are all about surprises. Maybe you can try being brave this season and expressing yourself without expecting reciprocation, or caring what the other person might think. It’ll be fun.


how not to drink

Reader B. L. writes:

I’ve been drinking too much booze lately. I’m starting to think it’s affecting my health, and I want to stop drinking, or at least cut back a lot. However, the holiday season is upon us, and I have quite the social calendar. Social calendar usually means free booze. What can I do to cut my alcohol consumption while still making merry?

Dear B.L.:

In most western cultures, imbibing the punch is such a natural part of our day-to-day lives, going without seems almost sacrilegious, especially at the holidays. But there are ways to navigate the happy hours and holiday parties while keeping your liver in tact, if you decide you must. (And way to go on being in touch with your body, buddy. Seriously.)

Decide on your level of wagon-riding.

Are you totally giving up booze this season, or just limiting your intake? Apparently, it’s easier to stay on the wagon if you go with the drinking-less option than the no-drinks-at-all option. Of course, it’s a lot easier to say yes to more drinks once you’ve broken the seal with the first one. But cutting back does not have to mean cutting off, and if you can handle having a single beer at the holiday party, you won’t have to beat yourself up for going cold turkey. Regardless of your goals, set them, write them down, and decide what your punishment is for failing. (More on that below.) You’ve got to decide if this is going to be a lifelong change, or just something you’re trying for a few weeks or months. Sometimes smaller goals are easier to accomplish and can lead to bigger goals. Just know what you’re allowed to let slip and when. Planning a single night during the month where you’re allowed to take part in the mulled wine gives you something to look forward to and will make it that much easier to stick to your plan.

Be the DD.

The number one way to limit your gin intake is to make sure everyone else has a stake in it. And the number one way to do that is to be their ride home. Volunteer to be the sober skipper for every party you possibly can. When anyone at the party asks if they can fill up your champagne glass, you just tell ’em you’re the safe ride home, and they’ll probably honor you somehow and bow to your will power.

keep these empty

It's hard to keep these empty during the holidays. Image: Paul /

Enlist a buddy who’s also not drinking.

This is why AA works. If you have someone else whose sobriety is as important to you as yours is to them, it’s easier to stay on course. Ideally, they should attend the parties you go to with you, but in the end, you can probably just have an accountability partner that you call after the parties to swap stories about how little you drank. In fact, why not try You get a “commitment contract” that will force you to pay money to a friend or charity if you don’t meet your goals. It’s like betting on yourself to win. Set a goal of not drinking for a certain amount of time, and voilà. Roll with it.

Advertise to friends and family that you’re not drinking.

This goes along with finding an accountability partner, but people need to know why you’re skipping out on happy hour after work sometimes. Probably your parents will be relieved. Sometimes drinking is one of those peer pressure activities where people will call you names for not taking a shot when they’re good n soused themselves. I think it’s a “share-the-guilt” moment, but who knows. Just let them know beforehand that you’re not interested, and while they may tease you, at least they’ll have foreknowledge so you won’t have to explain the situation to them when they’re wasted and want you to join in.

Get a soft drink in a fancy glass.

I don’t know about you, but half the fun in drinking for me is the glassware. Sometimes I’ll order a ginger ale or a Sprite in a martini glass with a twist so I have something in my hand that isn’t booze. It pisses off the bartender a bit, but it gives me the same look as a martini and keeps my BAC at zero. (And as long as you tip well enough or tell the bartender you’re the sober one of the evening, the work they have to put into your fancy soft drink generally loses the irk factor.) Bonus: nobody will ask why you’re not drinking, because really, you look like you are.

Add ice.

While it’s kind of tacky and I hate it when older women do this, getting a glass of white wine and adding ice will slow down how much you’re drinking because the ice will take up more volume, and will water down the booze as it melts. If you want Kat to smile upon you rather than scowl, get a drink that’s mixed with a soft drink (rum and coke, or vodka cranberry) and then just have the bartender refill the soft drink and ice as you go. Hell, you can even skip the booze part of the equation and people will be none the wiser. Once again, it’ll look like you’re boozin’ and cruisin’, even though you’re not.

Find something to replace the booze.

Beyond just replacing the booze with other drinks, you should probably find other activities to fill your time, too, to limit your exposure to temptation. While I don’t think you have to eschew every social commitment this season, you can cut back on the happy hours you usually go to. Find a gym class that you simply must attend, or go for a run, or volunteer somewhere at least once a week so you have one less reason to show up drinking somewhere. Why not organize your friends to participate in the fun? It can be like an after school special, where you prove that not only do you not need booze to have fun, but riding bikes brings you closer together as a friend group. Or something.


the right gift for the new her

Reader Z. N. writes:

You talked about what to get your new mother-in-law for the holidays, but what about a new girlfriend? If you’ve only been dating a few weeks or months, what’s the expected gift from new boyfriend?

Dear Z.N.:

Expectations vary from girl to girl and from relationship to relationship. I don’t know your GF, so I can’t tell you if she’d prefer a book to a pair of earrings or bath salts.

a present!

Image: Francesco Marino /

There are other factors that go into what you get a lady for Christmas or Hanukkah beyond how long you’ve been together. For instance, how serious are you two? I know you said she’s your girlfriend, so I’m assuming you two have had the exclusivity talk at least. If you’ve only been “dating”, and aren’t exclusive, a nice card and a flower or special candy or something is probably fine. If you’ve only been hooking up, I don’t even know if I’d advise giving her that much. It depends on how much further you want the relationship to go. Giving someone a gift or card at the holidays means, “I care about you and want to continue getting to know you better.” Giving something to a hook-up could give a signal that you’re interested in more, so be careful with that.

Furthermore, if you guys were friends for a long time before you started dating, you might be more serious with each other than a girl you’ve just met. You probably also know a lot more about her, and buying a present should be that much easier for you.

While I can’t say for certain what your lady friend would like or what’s totally appropriate, I do have a few tips to steer you clear of asshole boyfriend territory:

Get her something. Anything.

I could say that if you’ve only been dating for a few weeks, she probably isn’t expecting anything for the holidays. But that would be a lie. Even if a girl says she doesn’t expect you to get her something for the holidays, and even if you’ve only been dating for a day, GET HER SOMETHING FOR THE HOLIDAYS. I don’t care if it’s a single rose from the gas station down the street or a box of wine, you give her SOMETHING. Same goes for birthdays. Otherwise, you’re that asshole boyfriend who couldn’t be bothered to get creative. Trust me on this one.

Don’t get her something you want.

Apparently guys do this all the time. It’s probably something you won’t have to worry about until later on in the relationship (i.e. when you’re actually living together), but it’s something you should check yourself for anyway. My major advice here: Avoid electronic equipment unless she has specifically asked for it. A pair of nice headphones? Okay, not a bad idea, especially if she’s been complaining that her earbuds are busted. A new Wii controller because you play Wii a lot at her place? Mehhhhh that’s not very personal. Even if you play Wii together, that could be seen as veering more into “I’m a guy and I will use this” territory. The reason we give gifts is to show people that we’re thinking of them, not of ourselves. Keep that in mind.

Don’t spend too much.

If you give her diamond earrings after your first two weeks together, you’re setting the bar pretty high. Diamonds after two weeks? What happens at your first anniversary? A house? If you can find her something nice for under $50, go for it. I’d say $25 is almost steep if you’ve only been together two weeks. There are lots of inexpensive gifts out there. Don’t blow your load early — save a little something for a few months down the road. Expensive gifts are typically gifts that are supposed to last, and should be saved for relationships that have lasted and/or will last.

Show off your knowledge of her.

This is your chance to prove to her that you’ve been listening. Even after two weeks of being with her, you should know at least some of the things she likes (and dislikes). Don’t go out on a limb with something you’re not sure she’ll enjoy. Play it safe. Even if it’s just something small like a bottle of wine or a gift certificate to a place she’s said she likes, you’re sure to win if you show that you know what she likes. It’s probably too early to know her taste in jewelry, too, so unless you’re sure you know her inside and out, I’d advise you to watch out in that arena. Food or a gift certificate are probably your best bets here, too. (And no, I don’t think a gift certificate is a bad idea for a new relationship, as long as you get it for something or somewhere she really likes. Just don’t play this card after you’ve been together longer than two months.)

And my number one advice for you: Don’t stress out about it. Remember that it’s the thought that counts, and a little can go a long way.

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