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Some of you are lousy gift givers. I know because in the past you’ve given me a gift. Thank you. The person I regifted it to loved it. I did not. To help you succeed at giving gifts this year, I’ve compiled a convenient gift buying guide so that when the recipient of your gift says thank you, they’ll actually mean it.
1) Use your brain. This handy tool is critical when creating your Christmas list. Think about the person and what they like. Try to buy something they like. Hint, just because Mom vacuums once a week does not mean she likes it. Do not buy Mom a vacuum. Instead, notice that she’s read almost every book written by John Grisham and buy her the one she hasn’t read.
2) Your obsessions are creepy. Do not give gifts that you hope to receive Christmas morning. Your all consuming passion for Metallica is both strange and dated. No one wants their greatest hits collection including their mothers. Instead, learn that your friend has a strange obsession with Kenny G. Buy him a Kenny G CD. Then try not to be in the car when he’s playing it.
3) Your taste in fashion is just that: yours. Grandma thinks Miley Cyrus shows less skin than you do. To improve your image, she’s bought you a velour jumpsuit. It covers from neck to ankles and pairs nicely with plain white tennis shoes. Grandma knows eschewing modern fashion in favor of tasteful clothing is what makes a strong character. It also guarantees you’ll spend every Friday night with your cat and a carton of Butternut Crunch.
4) Don’t mistake a passion for a sweater. Some people enjoy riding horses. They think it is fun. However, wearing a sweater covered in appliqué horses may not evoke the same joy. If they’re over the age of 13 and you’ve never seen them wear a “horsie” sweater, keep shopping.
5) Handmade gifts are a thoughtful and charming way to show your love but only if you have talent. Or if you’re four. “Golly, Dad. Your use of macaroni and construction paper is amazing! I can barely see the glue. How do you like your new Blu-ray player?”
6) Be original. People like receiving gifts that are unique. If you want to give unique gifts, avoid shopping at AllMart and other big box stores. Uncle Bill doesn’t want four hand crank radios. Uncle Bill doesn’t want one hand crank radio. Instead, shop at local stores. After all, you can’t give a duplicate gift if what you buy is one of a kind.
With this handy guide you’ll disappoint the habitual regifters. Buy the presents people actually want. Now, get out there and get shopping!
When I was a kid, Christmas was my favorite holiday for obvious reasons. As I entered high school, and hit my “drama freak” stride, I embraced the theatrics of Halloween. Now that I’m older and wiser, I know that Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday.
What makes Thanksgiving the best? Is it reuniting with relatives who moved away? Is it the lovely fall weather? Is it football? No, it’s the food.
Ah, glorious piles of wonderful, yummy, delicious food! Is there anything like Mom’s turkey? Or her pumpkin pie? Or the cranberry dressing? Or the green bean casserole? Or the dinner rolls? Or the stuffing? Or… well, you get the idea.
Though I’m conscious of diet and exercise, I have a rule that calories don’t count on major holidays so I’m free to eat with abandon. I also believe calories don’t count on birthdays, vacations, certain weekends, certain weekdays and anytime I’m sick or in a funk. Consequently, I work out a lot.
One year, a friend announced that she and her family were going to celebrate Thanksgiving like they do in other countries. I wondered how she was going to pull that off since what we call Thanksgiving is strictly an American holiday.
I decided not to ask. Why risk friendship over so trivial a thing as a major cultural holiday? Sure, every school child, even in today’s educationally challenged schools, knows that Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first year of surviving in America but why mention it? I’m sure she figured it out when she Googled traditional Thanksgiving dinner recipes of Italy.
My family has a tradition all our own. We make homemade dumplings to serve on top of our mashed potatoes. No one understands when we try to explain this particular side dish but everyone who has eaten it gets seconds.
We quite literally prepare pounds of the stuff. It’s the sort of food that makes a carbohydrate lover foam at the mouth and run to the end of their rope. Not getting dumplings and potatoes on Thanksgiving would be a disaster more epic than Santa crashing his sleigh.
Whether your family celebrates Thanksgiving with a traditional meal or with your own spin (lasagna anyone?) be sure to eat all you can stand. Remember calories count again the day after Thanksgiving; unless you’re in a funk, that is. If so, dig in and I’ll see you at the gym!
Have a happy Thanksgiving!
Remember this when Christmas shopping.
“How’s the new job going,” I asked my friend Jennifer. She was recently forced to take a dramatic step back in her career. Though she had years of experience and education, a bad economy meant the only job she could find was part time at a coffee shop.
She groaned. “I forgot how rude people can be.”
“What do you mean? You deal with rude people every day,” I replied.
“Yeah but there’s rude and then there’s retail rude,” she explained.
I didn’t follow. “Retail rude?”
“Retail rude,” she repeated. “It’s when little, powerless people feel justified dumping on someone they view as beneath them, someone who works in retail.”
“Okay,” I said slowly.
“I’ll explain,” she said. “Imagine a guy, we’ll call him Jack. Jack gets up in the morning and his wife yells at him. Jack goes to work and his boss yells at him. Jack hates his home life. Jack hates his job. Jack doesn’t even like his dog very much so Jack looks for an escape. Jack finds it in an 850-calorie drink called white chocolate mocha. Jack comes to my store to buy the happiness his life lacks. But there’s a problem.”
“Uh oh,” I said.
“Uh oh is right. Our delivery truck didn’t come and we have no white chocolate syrup. I politely explain this to Jack and suggest another drink instead. Jack, who has no control over his life, decides to claim authority over white chocolate.”
“You mean he yells at you.”
“Boy does he. He screamed at me over a coffee drink. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so rude. It was as if I woke up that morning and thought to myself, ‘A stranger named Jack is going to come into the shop today. How can I ruin his life? I know! I’ll hijack the delivery truck and steal all the white chocolate.’” She laughed diabolically.
“You sound like a cartoon villain,” I laughed.
“Jack should have thanked me for saving him all those empty calories.”
I glance guiltily at the donut on the plate next to the phone. I slide it away.
“The sad part is that when I was the head of a company there were real things that went wrong. No one, absolutely no one, spoke to me that way even though they might have been justified. It just goes to show, we live in a society where we think it’s ok to dump on people at the bottom.”
“Well the perceived bottom,” I interjected. “Jack looked at you and he saw a barista. He doesn’t know that you were the head of a company or that you will be again as soon as you find another job.”
Now she gave a real diabolical laugh, “Jack better hope that when I’m the head of a company again it isn’t the one he works at.”
Yikes, I thought. If anyone who worked for Jennifer was “Retail Rude” absent white chocolate would be the least of their problems!
November, it’s the time of year when we pause and give thanks. I’ve seen many displays of true thanks in my life but none so poignant as the one I received from a ragged kitten one cold autumn evening. It was a remarkable event. Never before have I seen someone or something so utterly appreciative. Even more astounding, thanks isn’t usually a trait one associates with cats. Condescension is more in keeping with their reputations.
Seti, as he would later be named, was an ugly kitten besides; I already had three cats and a dog. I needed a kitten like I needed a new pair of shoes, which is to say I didn’t need a kitten; I wanted a kitten. When that hapless little face with it’s too big ears and giant nose stared up at me from the hay bales I knew I was taking him home.
“I’ll find a home for him,” I later explained to my husband Brian. “I couldn’t leave him in the barn. Something would have eaten him. Something has already tried to eat him,” I told him and it was true. The kitten had teeth marks on his hind leg.
A friend helped me catch the shy little black cat. The tiny thing fit easily inside my hand. I put him in a large, clear storage container and loaded him into my car. On the ride home, he sat still and quite, resigned to his fate. When we arrived at my house, I carried the storage bin to my office, shooed the adult pets out of the room and set the tiny kitten on the floor.
He took no notice of his surroundings. He did not play or investigate. He sat still and waited. His whole demeanor was of a cat who knew he was going to die. My heart broke for him.
I sat on the floor and placed a bowl of cat food between us. He sniffed it and was gripped with sudden understanding; the little cat knew he was safe. Though he was undoubtedly hungry, he walked around the food bowl, climbed into my lap, purred and kissed me extravagantly. He put his whole body into it rolling around on my leg and shaking with a deep, rumbling purr. He seemed far too small to have such big emotions. Though he must have been hungry, he didn’t eat until he had exhausted his appreciation.
Never before had I seen someone or something so grateful for a simple act of kindness. Perhaps it takes a simple creature to display an emotion so pure or perhaps it was his desperate situation that brought on such a genuine display. I scooped him up kissed him.
I heard my husband Brian sigh. “Yeah, you’re going to ‘find’ him a home alright,” he said.
He was right. I found the grateful little kitten a home: ours.
Early November, a magical time of crisp air and orange leaves when the world shakes off the heat of summer and prepares for a long nap. Coffee shops serve spiced pumpkin lattes. Stores stock the newest trends in scarves and hats. The short days make for cozy nights before the fire with a loved one. Long sleeves, warm socks, pots of simmering soup. All is tranquil.
And then your doorbell rings.
The holidays are here! Aunt Phyllis arrives critiquing your decor, Uncle Joe hogs your favorite arm chair and friends and family descend on your dining table like starved gorillas.
Oh, holiday season, how I’ve learned to hate thee with your Christmas trees for sale in September and your turkeys on sale in May. Once upon my childhood, you were three agonizing weeks of longing for Santa’s arrival. Now you’re a parking lot filled to capacity blasting Feliz Navidad in mid-October.
Once again, we’ll put on our holiday best and create memorable family moments like the time your sister lit Grandma’s hair on fire or the time the cat threw up on the turkey. We’ll perform gastronomic feats of daring as we eat Thanksgiving lunch at Mom’s at 2 and Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws at 4:30.
We’ll catch the sales at Walmart beginning at 6 Thanksgiving evening. Sleeping all night is for sissies! Black Friday starts at 2AM, soldier! On your feet! Hurry up and wait in line for the store to open. Little Susie will just die if she’s the only kid without a cyber gerbil.
We’ll agonize over what to buy for Great Aunt Lilly and we’ll buy her fuzzy reindeer slippers, again. We’ll rip sales tables apart like a lion through a gazelle. Other shoppers are potential enemies, hunting the same prey. We’ll tear their throats out to get the last toaster. Someone call the EMT’s cause that baby’s going home with me!
Up goes the tree no longer filled with nostalgic ornaments of Snoopy ice skating or tin Santas. Move over Martha Stewart! This house has matching ornaments! Dad will string the lights on the front of the house and grumble that the Johnsons were smart to leave theirs up year round. Marathon wrapping sessions punctuated by reruns of classic Christmas movies in turn punctuated by TV commercials screaming their wares at decibels loud enough to be heard over your neighbor’s garage band.
Down to the wire, Christmas Eve, 20 minutes until closing three names left on your gift list. Sprint through the store! Buy whatever you can lay your hands on: hand crank weather radio for Grandma, Snuggie for Dad, electric nose hair trimmers for your boss.
Parties, fruit cakes, Secret Santa, Dirty Santa, the recession ate my bonus, tinsel, stockings, stuffing, the madness doesn’t end ‘till January!
So enjoy your forty-five seconds of fall without the bustle then strap on your helmet, lace up your boots and prepare to drop kick your way through the next six weeks. The season of peace is descending upon us but only the strong will survive.
While shopping at the mall, I found myself in need of the ladies room. As I entered I glanced at my reflection in the mirror and frowned at the yellow pall the florescent lights cast on my complexion. Is it possible that mall management tries to make us look worse so we’ll buy more stuff? That reminded me to stop at the Estee Lauder counter and pick up more foundation on my way out.
I entered the stall and hung all seventeen of my shopping bags and my purse onto the only hook on the door. I shoved the door shut with my shoulder and wriggled the bolt until it finally slid home. I turned to do my business.
When I reached for toilet paper, I unspooled it all the way to the floor. I wadded it up. Four feet of toilet paper and all it made was a cotton ball sized amount. I tried again taking twice as much and had enough for a mouse to blow his nose. I unrolled again and stopped abruptly. My blood ran cold. The dispenser was empty and I was four cotton balls short of a full wad.
“Hello,” I called tentatively. The only answer was the drip of a faucet. I hinged forward at the waist and looked under the stall doors. No feet. I was trapped alone in a bathroom with not enough toilet paper.
I reached under the stall next to me and felt for the paper dispenser. I couldn’t quite reach. I wriggled my hips to my right and stretched further. My fingers brushed plastic. Encouraged I leaned a little further and, splat, I slipped off the toilet seat and landed on my knees.
“Ouch!” I frowned at the bruises already starting to form. Since I was in the floor anyway I fished on the other side of the stall and found the toilet paper. I finished and left the bathroom.
On my way out a man stopped me. “Excuse me,” he said politely, “but you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe.”
I sighed exasperated. “Buddy, you have no idea.”
The passing of time changes all things, Halloween included. Gone are the weeks of pestering my mother to hurry and finish my costume and naturally so, I’m 35. Now, I’m forced to sew my own or don my skimpiest black dress and a headband with ears and call myself a “cat.”
In my childhood, only the kids with creatively challenged parents had store bought costumes. We pitied the poor losers and sniggered at their plastic capes and masks with eyeholes that didn’t quite line up. Now, work schedules force harried parents to dart desperately to the Halloween stores that sprout overnight like mushrooms. They are frantic find little Timmy’s retro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume.
It’s rare to see kids in my neighborhood on Halloween. My elderly neighbors don’t decorate or give out candy having lost the thrill of the supernatural years ago. Thrilling to them is NOT having four hundred kids high on sugar ring their bell. Instead, parents in my neighborhood bus their kids to better neighborhoods in a sort of Halloween Desegregation. Equal candy for all!
And who can blame them? It seems no one knows their neighbors anymore. Who is safe? Who is unsafe? How do the neighborhood hooligans know which crotchety old man to play pranks on? It’s best to play it safe and find the neighborhood with the brightest street lights.
Another new trend is Halloween costumes for pets. My husband and I agreed that we would not dress our puppy up. She would only eat the costume. However, we did reserve the right to cram our cats into costumes for the sake of laughing at them. Sadly, that comes with a certain peril of claws and teeth that makes the scariest haunted house seem tame.
All things change, even the great things like your childhood Halloweens but as long as there is Halloween, two things will remain the same: on November 1st, children will have stomach aches and on that same day adults will tote extra candy to work to “share” with their co-workers.
Wherever you choose to do it, whatever you choose to wear, have a happy Halloween!