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Front Porch: Santa’s bag overflows with ideas

It’s that festive time of year.

Holiday lights twinkle from the garland on our banister and glow on the Christmas tree. The Play-doh nativity set sits once again in the place of honor atop the piano. The delicious aroma of Christmas baking fills my kitchen – and emails from The International Parking Institute fill my inbox.

You see, while others may receive holiday greetings and cookie recipes via email during the weeks leading up to Christmas, journalists receive press releases. Lots of them.

Companies desperate to get their products or organizations featured in newspapers and magazines, send out mass emails, hoping to snare a story.

For example, the International Parking Institute seemed convinced that I’d like to publish their tips for parking during the holiday season. I must admit the subject line got my attention: “You can’t shop if you can’t park.”


But their “tips” weren’t exactly scintillating. Number one: Exercise caution when backing out. Number two: Obey the law.

You get the idea. Still, I guess it’s nice to know there’s an International Parking Institute, in case I ever have questions about parking in Belgium.

Then there was the column idea from “an expert source on divorce recovery.” She wrote to inform me that the holidays are hell on the newly divorced. Well, I’m sure they are, but after reading her press release about how to cope when “your ex-spouse is no longer there to bake cookies or put up the tree,” I felt so depressed I ate a half-dozen frosted Christmas cutout cookies. The ones I’d put in the freezer to hide from the boys.

Then there was this heartwarming winner: “While the holiday season is full of fun-filled traditions, family time and parties, it is often one of the most stressful times of the year. There’s a proven relationship between stress and decreased immune function that increases your susceptibility to the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.”

I dozed off after that opening paragraph. Napping is my antidote to holiday stress, and naps are free!

That’s not to say all the press releases were boring or depressing – not at all. The invitation to attend the 2012 Adult Entertainment Expo was interesting. Alas, the convention isn’t until January, and that’s much too late for any last-minute stocking stuffers.

No worries. I received dozens of pitches for timely gifts. One nice lady wrote, “Hi Cindy, I was hoping that our story of headache free toys for the holidays might be a good fit….”

Now perhaps Spokesman-Review readers might be interested in “Battery free, assembly free, headache free toys,” but I’m afraid a story like this conflicts with my principles. I’ve long believed that noisy, complicated, pain-inducing toys that result in frustrated parents and screaming tots are hallmarks of the holiday. Who am I to deprive other parents of the joys I’ve experienced?

One enterprising business skipped the Christmas story ideas altogether and went straight to New Year’s Eve. They offered to send me information about “a new FDA regulated drug – the first remedy to effectively treat all the symptoms of a hangover with an effervescent tablet you dissolve in water and drink the morning after a big night out.”

Sorry, I’m pretty sure Alka Seltzer’s been available for many years.

Some PR firms were more concerned about wrapping gifts, than the presents themselves. I received a few notes about “green gift-wrapping.” Evidently, they didn’t know they were writing to a woman whose mother washes and reuses paper plates.

I haven’t thrown away tissue paper since 1999. I have enough used tissue paper to cover the town of Ritzville. That paper is tucked into gift bags which are used until the seams split. Trust me, I was green when green was just another color in the rainbow.

However, one press release intrigued me. The email read, “Cindy, Even the manliest of men’s men can be caught unawares when an unusual situation arises.”

For one thing I’d never seen the phrase “the manliest of men’s men” used in a sentence. And by golly, nothing’s worse than a man caught unaware in an “unusual situation!”

The writer gave the following examples: “a broken shoe lace, a snapped computer bag strap, or a life-threatening emergency like a serious cut that requires a tourniquet.”

It turns out all a guy needs to deal with these unusual situations is a bracelet. Well, they called it a “wearable emergency kit,” but it’s basically a 16-foot length of rope crammed into a bracelet.

I declined to write a feature about the product, but I immediately ordered one for my husband. Unfortunately, they provided no information on how to get that piece of rope back into bracelet shape after using it for gear repairs or shoelace fixes, but I’m sure Derek will figure it out.

After all, he’s the manliest man’s man I know.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists.