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The Season of Giving

candles

They say this time of year is the “Season of Giving.” I’m not sure who “they” are…perhaps wise old sages? Or retailers? Being mandated to give something to everyone you know, based on their order of importance in your life, and on a specific date is pressure enough. But add to that the knowledge you are also simultaneously competing against the rest of the world for the limited supply of desirable gift items available! This is enough to produce feelings of hysteria, grief and guilt in anyone. Pass the egg nog, please.

Please be advised that our gift choices must live up to the strict expectations of others, or….or ELSE! Keep the receipt and hope for the best as that wrapping paper is torn open. Was that a smile, or a smug smirk? If the recipient’s eye is welling up with a tear, just hope it’s a good one.

Starting in November, we ask kids and adults alike to make a list of what gifts they’d like. I feel strange buying my brother-in-law that I never see a shirt and tie set, size 17. This is more personal information about him then I’ve known in the previous eight years of being related to him through marriage. But, it’s on his list…so it’s now my mission. Dare I ask my cousin what size slippers she needs? Do I estimate a size? Gasp! What if I overestimate her foot as a size twelve? The icy stares and silent treatment would last until the spring thaw, I’m sure. What if I underestimate the size and a return is in order? Then I’ll need to include a gift receipt. Hassles. Grief. This “Season of Giving” is giving me an ulcer. How about the “Season of Giving” gives me a drink?

So the real question is why are we trying to buy the people in our lives happiness? Do they look miserable? Maybe we are conditioned to feel an empty void this time of year that only a Jean Nate bath set can fill. Thank you, Madison Avenue. But seriously, can purchased happiness last longer than it takes to open the present itself? Probably not. Unless it was a sack of gold coins. REAL gold.

So here is a crazy, brandy-soaked fruitcake of an idea…why not give of ourselves instead? We routinely undervalue our abilities to make a direct impact on the lives of those around us. Can our love and encouragement really compete with a new pair of Isotoner gloves? How about giving some compassion, sympathy, encouragement or support and see for yourself. These are gifts I’d be happy to get any day of the year. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t willing to let go of these higher level gifts. Perhaps we don’t value what they could mean to others. Or, maybe it’s just easier to buy a blender and be done with it.

I’ll tell you now that whenever anyone asks me what I “want” for Christmas my mind just goes blank. My mom always wants to buy me jewelry. That is not what I want. I tell her that, and she gets upset that she needs to have a “wrapped present to hand me.” I then start to think that giving presents is more for the giver than recipient. My relatives always want to know sizes. I feel pressure to tell them I need something stupid just so I can be left alone. “A travel mug!” I’ll blurt out and then retreat back into myself. Back into where I think of things I’d like that I’d never ask for, because I’d never get them. These are gifts of emotion and spirit. No slippers, travel mug or gift certificate could take their place.

Here’s a story. When I lived in New York City, I volunteered at a soup kitchen one Thanksgiving morning. It was really on a whim. Actually, I just wanted to feel like I could make a difference in the lives of others in a city of such great anonymity.

When I first showed up at the soup kitchen I had no idea of what to expect. I really thought I’d see crazy people, wild and scary. I knew that people who lived on the streets of New York would have to be tough to survive out there. I stood behind a table and poured coffee into small white Styrofoam cups and started handing them out to people as they passed through in line. As I handed out my Styrofoam coffee cups, one after another, I noticed something I didn’t expect. A connection between what I was giving and what someone else needed. Every single person smiled and said “Thank you” to me. That part seems trivial, but I realized I had something within me that I could share and was valued by others. Being helpful and caring were things I could give that others truly needed.

I never had such a meaningful experience of helping other people before. By the time I left there I felt like I could move mountains. That Thanksgiving I was given a gift by the many homeless people I met that day. Giving what I could on a human level to help those in need was an incredible and powerful feeling. It’s something I hope everyone can experience sometime in their lives. Value your worth. And again I say, value what you have to give of yourself to others.

The Most Wonderful, Amazing, Exhilarating, Euphoric, and Spectacularly Happier than Happiest Time of the Year!

What is it about Christmas that is so magical? When I was a kid there was no other time of the year better than December. My sister and I would make a red and green paper chain to count off the days until the 25th finally appeared. I made it a tradition to buy one new unique ornament for our tree every year. I would also spend days creating Christmas ornaments of my own from things like sequins, glue, yarn, styrofoam and old jewelry pieces.

Starting at the age of seven I remember pouring over cookbooks to find the best cookie recipes and start baking for the big day. I’d make cutout cookies, chocolate crinkles, walnut toffee, gingerbread men, and anything else I could find that involved butter, eggs and at least two different kinds of sugar. Christmas cookies were my domain for most of my childhood. My mom would always tell me to make a list of whatever ingredients I would need and she would buy every last one of them. From coconut, to candied cherries, pecans, sweetened condensed milk or cardamom. Whatever I needed she bought. My cookie baking became such high art that I remember one year hand painting holly berries and leaves onto each cookie of one particular type I made. I was obsessed, but it was all part of the tradition.

As soon as the toy catalogues started appearing in the mail my sister and I would start writing out our Christmas lists. Yes, our toy lists were a project unto themselves. It was imperative that Santa know not only what we wanted, but the color, the product code and the page number of each item in the catalogue we were looking at. I thought if he didn’t make everything himself, Santa could at least know where to buy the gifts I needed. This worked out very well for us for years. Christmas was also a time of giving for us. At our elementary school we’d have a rummage sale where the kids could buy small affordable items for their parents. It was really a nice idea. My sister bought me a perfume called “Sunlight” at this sale. I always wondered who owned this perfume before me, but I realized it was the thought that counts.

Christmas Eve was always the best and most magical night by far. I was still baking cookies up until that day, but I also made a special bread for Christmas morning. The Christmas bread was made out of yeast and candied fruit and it would sit out to rise while we were at Church for Christmas Eve service. Afterward I’d bake it to have ready for the following morning. Later that night we’d drive around and look at the Christmas lights on display at the mansions in the rich side of town and then come home to have cheese and crackers and other treats before bed. The best feeling I had was lying on our couch in the living room, with every light off but the tree lights, listening to Christmas music with my mom and sister and looking at the shadows from the tree branches and Christmas lights on the walls and ceiling. It was usually snowing out so that was an extra nice bonus to the magical Christmas feeling. It was this way for years. This was our Christmas tradition.

My mom always said “Christmas is for children.” The older I got the more I saw this was true. There was less magic and more stress. And sadness. Missing the magic of childhood Christmases, where the only worries were getting the right toy product code written down and baking as many cookies as could physically be done in a month. I thought that after I had kids the magic would return to the holidays. In many ways it has – their wonder and amazement at Santa. Their neverending questions, such as if Santa has email or if he shops for things that he couldn’t build, like a Nintendo DS, always make me laugh. I love seeing their happiness and wonder and amazement everytime it snows as they dream of that magical Christmas night.

But our society has built the idea of the holiday season up to unreasonable expectations. It is supposed to be a time of family, togetherness and cheer. But not everyone has that in their lives. Spend money on everything that you can to buy happiness for others. Don’t worry about the bills until January. So…what if you aren’t Martha Stewart? What if you don’t host big holiday parties? What if your family is fractured and can’t all be in one place? What if you aren’t religious?

Now as an adult, Christmas has become a time of questions. Questioning my beliefs. Questioning my faith. Questioning my past, present and future. I think the spirituality of the season makes me wonder about life and what is beyond, if anything. It is a time for me to wonder where I fit into the whole world. Am I on the right path? Where is it heading? It is a time of deep reflection, likely due to the fact that a new year will begin soon after. A clean slate and a fresh start on tackling the things I have put off too long. Time to clean house and get my life in order. A tall order from someone who just wanted to make the perfect Christmas cookie.

Fortyteen Candles:

Oh, the humanity!

Originally posted on The Opposite of Bestseller:

From the era of macrame, puppetry and shrunken apple heads, it’s no wonder that every craft book I find from the nineteen seventies reflects artwork that would be only be available today in the home arts wing of a museum of the grotesque. If there was such a thing. I can’t see these objects ever being considered priceless folk art on a future edition of Antiques Roadshow. But what do I know? As a child of the nineteen seventies, I had to endure this time of burlap, felt and corkboard, for crafts and home decor alike. And that was some good living! But I digress.

The book I found as my third homage to the trees of yore, is just an average craft book from the nineteen seventies. Pretty much any one would do. Through each hideous and horrifying page I turned I channeled in the spirit of a mighty oak, a whispering pine…

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Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander

I feel so bad that I haven’t been posting here on my blog lately. I’d been doing so well with my strict schedule of a new post every three to four days.  I miss everyone here as well, so I thought I’d drop you a post to let you know I’m still alive.

I’ve been so busy with life, work, kids, two blogs, the election, wondering about life and death, doubting that it is possible to ever find true love, rediscovering old friendships, feeling pains of doubt, paranoia, insecurity, fear, seeking solace in going shopping, seeking solace in going to the eye doctor, blah, blah, blah. As you can see, I’ve been busy. With life. I know that none of this is relevant to any of you, but the more excuses I list the better I feel about not having written an official post here in such a long time.

Today I finally got tough with me, and told myself that I have to write something here tonight! It has been a week since my last post, and as with many things in life….you can become out of habit with things. Even things you love. Life is work, and so is this blog. But nothing in life comes easy, I guess.

Now I’m sure I sound like I’ve been dipping into the chardonnay….but I assure you I haven’t. I’m just in the midst of my usual midlife crisis-mode. With a touch of sadness. And a whisper of exhaustion…actually a great big loud yell of exhaustion.

In summary, it’s been a long day, and this post is making even me depressed! I’ll have a better post soon, if I can fit it in after the eye doctors and before I take my mom out on errands. But whenever it happens, it will DEFINITELY be before the chardonnay. Or not.

Fortyteen Candles:

Post number two on my new blog…”The Opposite of Bestseller” Warning: Blushing Ahead!

Originally posted on The Opposite of Bestseller:

The second book I’ll honor is from a genre I never understood. The romance genre. Here in this post, it is the historical romance genre. Granted, many people enjoy this type of reading. I tried to, but just couldn’t. Sorry if this selection offends anyone, but this is just my eulogy for a tree that gave its life for the arts.

Today I’m honoring the trees that gave their lives so the world could better know, “His at Night” by Sherry Thomas.  A Bantam Books Mass Market Original. Published in 2010. This is a work of fiction.

Good gracious, I’m blushing already! I think the plot of the story is right here. The biggest clue to a historical romance is the clothing the people are wearing (or losing!) on the front cover of the book.

“Bum pinching”? “Watering of the beer”? “Saintly patience”? “Not altogether right upstairs”? Am I putting the question marks in…

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Hey Kids! There’s a New Blog in Town!

Well, in my spare minute a day I started a new blog. I think you can never have too many irons in the fire, right? Anyway, it’s just a silly look at the many books out there that never quite made it to “Great American Novel” status. It just went up today, and if anyone is bored…please stop by and check it out! I plan to update it very often. Hope you like it!!

The Opposite of Bestseller

http://theoppositeofbestseller.wordpress.com/

Fortyteen Candles:

Scorpios stand united!!

Originally posted on Write On:

It’s Scorpio season! I’ll let you other stars peek into the mind of a Scorpio just this once.

Scorpios can be difficult to really know, and it takes time to understand. Upon first meeting one, most see them as serious, though polite, or a bit quirky and uptight (mainly at work or in a professional atmosphere). Once a Scorpio feels connected with you, they’re laid back and always looking to have fun.

Scorpios finish what they start, no matter how much time it takes.

This sign doesn’t forget anything, ever. They’ll remember all they’ve collected about you, even if your lives crossed for a short period of time.

If you hurt someone a Scorpio loves, they’ll hurt you three times as bad. They like revenge and enjoy personally designing it.

shitthesignssay.tumblr.com

shitthesignssay.tumblr.com

If a Scorpio goes out of their way to talk to you, they either care about you, or you…

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