My friend announced shortly after the Thanksgiving holidays that she had finished making hand-decorated Christmas ornaments out of dough -- a project she had undertaken with her 5-year-old. This resulted not only in creating traditional ornaments for her tree, but also in fulfilling her son's gift-giving obligations to relatives. My friend made her announcement with a great sense of accomplishment and a smidgeon of superiority, as well she might, since she knew full well that not a single thought of Christmas had yet crossed my mind.

Then she delivered the news that all of her out-of-town gifts had been wrapped and dispatched, with the exception of one, which had not yet arrived, and this was beginning to worry her. Out-of-town gifts had also not yet crossed my mind.

None of this would have bothered me if my friend were a mother who stayed at home, but as it happens, she works full-time outside the home in a rather demanding job. As such, her triumph of seasonal organization stood in rather dismaying contrast to my management of these matters.

The holiday season is once again upon us, and once again, instead of being organized, I am thinking envious thoughts about people I know who send checks to their grown children, then take off to the Caribbean the day before Christmas and come back looking rested and sporting terrific suntans, utterly oblivious to the madness that went on in their absence.

Some of this madness, I submit, can be put squarely at the door of women's magazines. Open any one of them, and you can find 50 recipes for Christmas cookies to bake with your children, 10 new ways to cook sweet potatoes, three never-fail methods of producing a perfect roast turkey, seven new recipes for oyster and nut stuffings and pages of directions for mixing exotic holiday punches and grogs. Also: eight pages of sweaters, hats and argyle socks to knit for your loved ones; several pages of needlepoint designs to whip up for assorted great aunts, as well as a few pages of directions for making beaded evening bags and holiday blouses for yourself, so you don't go to office Christmas parties looking like last year's version of the perfect wife and mother.

These trend setters of modern living invariably contain another five pages of elegant holiday table setting designs, three pages of directions for making your own tree ornaments, two pages on making your own yule log, and another dozen or so pages on how to decorate your house for the holidays complete with detailed directions for making wreaths, creating your own candles and centerpieces and lighting designs fit for the White House.

In my house, we need directions for finding last year's ornaments.

I have nothing against Christmas, mind you, which is a good thing when you have three children whose affections you do not wish to alienate. On the other hand, I am beginning -- once again -- to feel that it is closing in on me, that traditions are about to overwhelm reality. While some people may be worrying about how to string lights on their roof, I am worrying about getting the gutters cleaned. While some people are putting the address labels on this year's out of town gifts, I am, truth to tell, still completing two orders for things I intended to send last year.

No wonder, then, that we are starting out behind this year. Children have yet to make lists, which means by the time I get around to placing catalogue orders the stores will be out of stock, and by the time they get around to informing me that the items my children have their hearts set on won't be available until Jan. 16th, it will be three days before Christmas and the stores will be out of any viable substitutes. I don't even know what the "in" toys I won't be able to find are. A recent newspaper article declared that various robot toys were the "in" gift this year, but at a cost of several hundred dollars each, they were clearly out of our league unless they could clean the gutters.

My gift-giving problems are compounded by the fact that a detailed survey of my children's earthly possessions revealed that they are not in dire need of anything particularly useful or constructive. The same can be said for my parents and my nearest and dearest relatives. And while this is going to make shopping more difficult than ever, I'm finally starting to get into the Christmas spirit with the realization that, all in all, that's a pretty nice problem to have.