Busy Stay-Cation

I usually make the excuse that I write at work because I’m there so much and I have no time for writing at home…  That sounds nice, but since I’ve been off work since December 23rd and I didn’t write a thing between December 22nd and really, yesterday, that’s not much of an excuse.  You’d think there would have been many blog posts during this stay-cation.

This has been one of the best vacations I’ve had in a while, I mean, you know, for not having gone anywhere.  I received an infusion of cash (insurance reimbursement for my therapy bills) just as this stay-cation was beginning which enabled me to comfortably purchase Christmas gifts for all the people on my list to buy gifts for; fancy coffee for my mother, A GPS for Michelle, an Afterglow PS3 controller for Lil’B as well as art supplies for his birthday (which is 12/31), a cordless drill for my oldest niece (this is what she wanted.  Don’t judge me.), a horse game for my second niece and a little plush, radio control fire truck for my nephew.  Everything arrived on time and was properly distributed.  As far as I know everyone appreciated their gifts.  I was concerned that the art supplies would pale in Lil’B’s eyes compared to the controller, but he said he was excited about the art supplies.

I have spent a lot of time at home during this stay-cation, which is fine ’cause it was kind of the plan.  Stay home, clean, organize, generally get things in better shape.  I haven’t accomplished nearly as much as I had hoped I would, but I’ve gotten a lot done and I’m quite happy about hat.  One of my Christmas gifts to myself is something I’ve wanted for a long time but just didn’t convince myself to spend the money on.  I decided recently that I was determined to get the item and so when I got the cash infusion, I took my 20% off coupon and headed right out to Bed, Bath and Beyond where I bought a Roomba, robot vacuum cleaner.

You guys! I’m so glad I bought this thing and I wish I had gotten it a long time ago!  It’s awesome!  It does a very effective job and it requires almost no effort on my part.  I say almost, because I do have to empty the little bin pretty much every day and I do have to push the button to turn it on…  Well I don’t have to.  There is an auto start feature, I just haven’t enabled it.  I also have to make sure there is nothing on the floor to get in its way.  This thing is surprisingly assertive and I have found that I have to make sure that all cords and cables are well out of the way or it will run over them and cause problems.  Though it is smart enough to stop running before it gets too tangled up in something, it will try a bit to vacuum the thing up, before it gives up.  My biggest fear was that it would not be able to get over the lip into the kitchen, which is the messiest room because that’s where the cat litter is, but the Roomba jumps the curb like it’s no big deal.  The other concern I had was how Mischa would react to it.  He has always been afraid of vacuum cleaners and whenever I would turn one on, he would run and hide behind a chair or something.  He doesn’t seem overly concerned about the Roomba which is louder than I had hoped, but far and away quieter than any manual powered vacuum I’ve ever owned.  What’s really funny is that the Roomba, which has a built-in extra-dirt-detection sensor, seems to identify Mischa as a pile of extra dirt and it routinely targets him and heads straight toward him.  Mischa, being the mental giant that he is, just stands there until the Roomba actually bumps into him and then he acts indignant that it came after him.  Roomba has a little side brush which is designed to brush debris away from walls and out into it’s path.  Sometimes this side brush will bump against Mischa’s feet and then he tries to pounce on the brushes.  It’s really quite funny.  But I can run the Roomba everyday without causing any great turmoil for Mischa and that’s what I wanted, so I’m really quite thrilled with my purchase and wish I had done it long ago!  Now I really want a Scooba.  It’s made by the same people and it’s designed to wash hard floors.  The problem is, it says it’s safe on “sealed hardwood floors” and I’m sure mine is not sealed.  Bummer!

 

Michelle had a “lounge” party, on Christmas Eve at her apartment.  She insists it was always a lounge party (wear lounge pants and t-shirts) but her sister kept calling it a pajama party and I swear Michelle called it a pajama party the first time she mentioned it to me.  I pointed out that I don’t wear pajamas and that no one wants to see that, and that’s when she started calling it a “lounge” party.  It was a nice time.  Her three-year-old great-nephew was there and Michelle handed him my Christmas present and asked him to bring it to me.  Somehow, between that time and the time he handed it to me, the paper… ahem… fell off the gift.  She gave me a heated mattress pad, which is something I had been wanting for a while, only, you know how when you build something up in your mind and it’s going to be so wonderful and then you actually get the thing and it can’t live up to the expectations you built…  Yeah, that.  I felt badly ’cause I want to take it back, but I didn’t want to hurt Michelle’s feelings.  When I got over to her house this past Friday to do my laundry (since Saturday was New Year’s Eve) she was in the process of repackaging the one she had bought for herself to take it back.  She didn’t like it.  She let me off the hook and told me that I could return the one she got me if I wanted.  I told her I would probably do that and that I’d bring it back to her (since she had the receipt) and she could take it back and get me something else and wrap it up for me, and then maybe I’ll get to open MY OWN Christmas present.

 

I took Lil’B to Benihana for his Birthday dinner…  Actually it was kind of confusing. I took him, on December 26th and I told him, this is a special dinner to celebrate his Birthday, where he will get his Christmas present, and then at the next dinner on January 2nd, he would get his Birthday present.  I hadn’t been to  a Benihana in many years and while I knew it was a lot of fun, I also thought I remembered that it was a long and drawn out affair so I made reservations for 5:00.  He was out of school so it wasn’t a school night, but I figured we shouldn’t be out too late.  Dinner was over at 6:50 and Lil’B didn’t want to go home yet.  I called his mother and got her blessing and we went to a movie after dinner.  I got to take him to one of my favorite Movie Theaters.  It’s just and AMC theater, but it’s in the middle of San Francisco and it’s in an old building they renovated.  It’s a 12 screen cinema, but there are only four theaters to a floor, and there are three levels of theaters.  Since they are stadium seating, each theater is two stories, so this building is about 8 stories tall and I just find it fascinating.

We saw Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.  This movie was horrendous!  I mean, truly, truly, terrible!  Now I know, this movie is not geared toward my age group, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two so it was sadly disappointing to me that I didn’t like this one as much, but on the plus side, there was a moment in this wretched movie that actually made Lil’B laugh out loud and if you’ve been coming around here long, you know what an accomplishment that is.  I’d sit through it again just to hear that!

The next day, I went to therapy, did a little shopping and went over to hang out with my friend Karin and her two kids.  I ended up staying through dinner and had a nice time.  She introduced me to some fancy operations that my iPhone is capable of and I wasn’t even aware… Giving me pause to consider the value in some new equipment purchases.  I’ll have to give that some thought.

 

Friday I went to Michelle’s house to do my laundry and hang out.  I got there early and after I started my first load, she and her great-nephew and I went to breakfast.  The boy was quite rambunctious and energetic.  It was fun though.  He runs kind of hot and cold when it comes to me, well, anyway, hot and luke warm.  Apparently, since he was a baby baby, I’m the only male, outside his immediate family that he would let hold him.  Other men would pick him up and he’d immediately squirm and cry and want to get away and with me, he was fine.  Now that he’s a little older and has a personality, he doesn’t dislike me, but he often doesn’t want to engage with me.  But this day, as soon as I walked in he was all over me, asking me questions and talking to me and wanting to sit with me.  It was almost too much, but it was still nice to see.

 

I’ve mentioned in the past how I do not want to be home on New Year’s Eve.  My mother never went anywhere or did anything and all we ever did was sat in the living room and watch TV.  Theoretically, watching “the ball drop” only my mother was forever surfing channels trying to get away from all that horrible secular music that was always on the network shows.  We would watch something from Washington, DC on PBS, which was always live and therefore an hour early, plus fireworks on TV just do not have the same effect.  From 11:00 to 11:58:30 she would surf around trying to find something that wasn’t rock and roll music and then at the last second (sometimes after the last second) turn the TV to one of the networks.  We’d say “happy new year” and then go to bed.  I swore that when I had it in my own power I was not just going to sit around at home on New Year’s Eve.  This has proven to be problematic from time to time because I hate crowds too, but I make the best of it.

In years past I’ve gone out of town for New Year’s Eve spending a few days in another place away from home and with more excitement than I’ve got here.  Most of the time, New Year’s Eve was just the excuse I needed to go on a trip, but I still enjoyed myself.  I’ve been to Las Vegas a couple of times, Los Angeles a couple of times, Reno a couple of times.  Last year we got a room a the Embarcadero Hilton in San Francisco and had a really lovely evening, but it ended up costing as much as a three night trip out of town.  This year, Michelle and I had 10:00 reservations at a restaurant called Skates on the Bay, which is, as you might imagine, on the San Francisco Bay.  I had never been, though Michelle had a couple of times.  The plan was to have dinner and then stroll out side to the water front where we would watch the fireworks from San Francisco at midnight.  In an all too familiar scene, Michelle was in the bathroom at midnight and I stood by the windows of the restaurant where we had JUST gotten our check and watched the fireworks by myself (le sigh).  It’s okay.  This is kind of terrible for me to say, but I feel like midnight on New Year’s Eve is a moment that, ideally should be shared romantically and I don’t have any romantic feelings for Michelle, maybe being alone at that moment was better.  The fire works display was nice, though I feel like it looses some of its splendor when you can’t hear, and just as importantly, feel them.  The display was the same one we watched last year, which means it was shot off from a barge outside the San Francisco Ferry Building, about six and a half miles away.  I’m always caught a little by surprise at how small they are from what seems like such a short distance.

After dinner, I took Michelle back to her sister’s house, dropped her off and came home.  I would have liked to have been somewhere else for a little vacation and I got a wild idea that may not really be financially feasible that I’d really like to go to Australia for next New Year’s Eve, but as long as my 19 1/2 year old cat is with me, that can’t happen.

Last night was another dinner with Lil’B.  We went to a local place I’d never been to called The South Shore Cafe.  It was very ordinary, but it was something new for both of us and I’m trying to expose him to new things, so it was fun.  We talked a little bit about his birthday.  He said he couldn’t remember what kind of cake he had but that it had Oreos on it.  I asked him if they had ice cream and he said no, so I had to rectify the no birthday ice cream problem.  We went to a local ice cream shop called Loard’s (I learned it is supposed to be pronounced “Lo-ard’s” as it is a compilation of the two founders last names.)  Loard’s is a 100% local company that makes its own ice cream in a local factory and it was really quite good.  When I was looking at the flavors on the board I was caught by surprise and was a little grossed out by “Avocado flavor” but I had to taste it.  It was surprisingly good, although, honestly, it tasted mostly like Vanilla.

 

This morning I had an orthodontist appointment, I wasn’t holding my breath, though I was hoping today would be the big day.  No such luck.  In fact based on the conversation I had today with “Dr. Jeff”, (I always wondered how the staff differentiated between the father and the son, now I know) it looks like two to three more months.  The day Dr. Jeff put them on he told me 12-18 months, this is the 13th month.  On the plus side though, I paid my final payment today and have one few debts hanging over my head! Yay!

 

Tonight I have dinner with an old friend of mine, and tomorrow Michelle and I are going, over-night, to Cache Creek Casino and Resort.  It’s an Indian run casino about 90 minutes north of here.  We’ll go and play for the afternoon, then spend the night in a hotel room, have breakfast and head back.  That’s about as long as I can leave Mischa on his own since he’s confined to the cage and he eats canned food, but it’ll be nice to get a little tiny break anyway.

 

*Oh by the way, I guess I’m supposed to say that despite my glowing report (and despite the two additional people I’ve about talked into it – my mother says I should get a commisison) I am not being compensated in anyway by Roomba, or Bed Bath and Beyond or any other products or merchants I may have mentioned here…  Dammit.

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On Being Published

Speaking of sentimental and thoughtful gifts…

Karin walked into my office today and handed me a small blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and said, “I wanted your book to be published.”

Karin is one of my biggest supporters, as far as my writing is concerned.  We’ve talked at length about my book, tentatively titled, “The Teacher”.  She’s only seen what I’ve posted here on this blog, plus one additional chapter.  She’s chomping at the bit to read more and I get no small amount of pleasure out of tormenting her by dangling tidbits in front of her but not letting her see the rest.

It is thanks to Karin and people she knows, who know people, that I am going to be attending he writers workshop/class/group/thingy in February that I hope will give me greater insight into my writing ability, this book and the industry in general.  I’m treating this workshop (or whatever it is) as a step in the process to publication.  I hope that turns out to be true.

Anyway, Karin is a huge supporter and she wants to see my book published, which led her here.

I opened the blue tube-box with sparkly blue ribbon tied around it and turned it on end.  It’s contents slid into the palm of my hand, wrapped in simple tissue.

Karin found a store on Etsy.com that makes these:

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It’s a Christmas tree decoration, about the size of a matchbook, with a cover page (I guess it has to be titled The Teacher, now!) and the first sentence of my book printed inside, and it is bound, hard cover.  I love it!

And it gave us an idea.  Somewhat accidentally, I began work on my second novel, (I know, go figure!) yesterday.  Perhaps, I can get one of these ornaments made for every book I write.

What do you think?  Will “The Man With Too Many Names” fit on one of those teeny tiny pages?  🙂

Counting Thoughts

Some people say that Holiday’s like Christmas are all about giving.  “‘Tis better to give than to receive,” and all that hooey.  I have very mixed feelings about the gift giving holidays.  I want to get presents.  Let’s be honest, don’t we all?  I think anyone who says, “I don’t care about receiving presents.  I just like giving things to people and watching their faces light up when they open the package,” is lying through their artificially whitened teeth.  (I don’t know why the teeth are artificially whitened, that’s just the first thing that came to mind and we’re going to go with it.)

I like to GET presents, but I HATE to give them.  I do.  It’s not because I’m stingy or selfish.  I’m not.  I do like to give people presents that they genuinely enjoy and appreciate.  There is a commercial that keeps playing on the radio right now: I think it’s for Roku (Obviously not a very good commercial because I had to try six different spellings, “Orocu, Orokoo, Arocu, arocoo, etc.” before I actually found ROKU with no O or A in front of it.)  The commercial says something about knowing the different between genuine appreciation and fake appreciation when you give a gift.  I?  I get the fake appreciation most of the time.

I don’t usually try to give people gifts that will blow them away.  I don’t make any sort of effort to surprise people, because I suck at it.  I ask people “What do you want?” and then if I can afford it, I give it to them.  If I can’t afford it, I ask, “What else?”  I hate it when they tell me, “I don’t know.”

I’m just not very good at gift giving.  I suck at gift giving and I come by it naturally.  Observe:

One year, when I was about fifteen, my mother decided, seemingly on the spur of the moment, that she was going to give us something for Christmas.  She ran out on Christmas Eve, in search of some kind of gifts for her children.  The next morning, after we had our traditional Pillsbury cinnamon roll breakfast, we each opened a small package with our name on it.  Each package contained one embroidered dish towel and one pot holder…  with Santa Claus on them.  Again…  I WAS FIFTEEN.

Last year my mother sent me a green t-shirt with a giant Grinch face screen printed on it.  She couldn’t have known by looking at the shirt that the dastardly smiling mouth on the shirt only serves to highlight my much maligned and despised gut.   I also don’t appreciate being referred to as “The Grinch”, which is what she calls me when she’s not calling me Scrooge.  I never have and never will wear the shirt out of the house.

Last week I received a text from my mother:

“I’ve ordered you some Christmas goodies from Harry & David.  Don’t know when they’ll arrive but be on the lookout.”

By chance I came home that night to a box on my front steps.  I opened it up and found a metal tin inside with three different flavors of Moose Munch.  If you don’t already know, this is Muse Munch:

And these are my teeth:

Give or take a few months and a different color rubber band.

I texted her, “This is some awfully mean stuff to send a guy with braces.  😉  Good thing they’re coming off soon.  :-)”

“I completely forgot about the braces!” she told me.

I answered, “It’s OK.  They’ll be off in a few weeks.  That stuff will certainly keep.  Thanks for sending it.  Should be tasty.”

She asked, “Did you get both boxes?”  I told her I only got one.  “The other one will be a little more braces-friendly, I think.”

The next day a second box appeared on my steps.  “This box has air holes…” I texted to her.  “Did you send me a puppy?”  This box had six pears, a small bag of mixed nuts and a block of cheese.  (See the picture of my mouth above.)  I’m not particularly fond of fresh pears, though I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect that she ought to have known that.

It’s clear my mother doesn’t know how to give good gifts, though certainly she means well.  I wrote yesterday about all the pressure, expectations,  and demands on holidays and this is just part of it.

I’ve been thinking, these last several days, about gifts and how I feel about them.  There was a time when I bought into the addage, “It’s the thought that counts” only, I don’t think I believe it anymore.

I’m fully prepared for the one person who actually comments on my blog with any regularity (and the one person who just has to talk to me in person about it because she’ll explode if she puts her thoughts down on the blog instead of – or maybe in addition to – talking to me about it in person) to give me all kinds of grief over this, and that’s okay, but just hear me out.

I have so much stuff.  Way too much stuff really.  I don’t need more stuff.  And I’m beginning to feel like gifts for the sake of gifts? are just stuff.  It’s stuff I can’t throw away, or give away or return, because if the giver catches wind that I got rid of his gift so that it won’t be just stuff, the giver will get his feelings hurt.  The thing is, if the giver gave me a good gift, then it wouldn’t be just stuff it would be something of value, something I might treasure and therefore, would not get rid of it.  I’m coming to a point where I feel like, if  I don’t need, or didn’t already really want, the item the giver is giving me, it’s actually a burdon.  And because I feel this way, I feel very ambivilant about giving gifts because I don’t want my gifts to be seen that way, and so I’m just adding to the pressure on myself to give good  gifts so that they won’t be just stuff and I’m no good at it.

If you’re like me, though, you buy yourself all the affordable things that you need or really want and it’s the things that you can’t afford that you really want someone to give you, only they can’t really afford it either and so there’s nothing for them to give you because you’ve already bought all the things that people can afford that you want.  It’s a vicious cycle.

I’m not sure, now, where this post was going to go, though I’m certain it was a very different direction.  What I do know, now, though, is…

Give money!

I think that’s what I’m going to do from now on.

If everyone who was going to give me a gift, just gave me money instead, maybe I could pool all that money together and spend it on something I really wanted, like an iPad or a new television instead of a box of pears and a —  Well, I don’t know what else, because I really only expect to get one other gift and I have no idea what it will be…  probably Glee DVDs.

Apparently, Michelle was going to buy me a new printer since the one I had doens’t work with my new-ish computer…  But I bought myself one on Saturday so now she has to come up with something else.  Way to go, me!  But in “me’s” defense, Michelle stood right there and watched it happen and didn’t say anything until we got back to her house with it.  She could have stopped me.

OH!  I know where I was going with all that!

I’ve been struggling for the last several days with the idea of gratitude and appreciation vs. expectations and dissappointment.

When I opened the box of Moose Munch, I was dissapointed that my mother sent me what amounts to caramel corn and chocolate chips.  (You Moose Munch enthusiast can just back-off.  I’ve never had it and I can’t eat it for at least another two weeks and probably six.)  It’s food.  She sent me food for Christmas.  I can afford to buy my own food so this didn’t fill a need.  A quick glance at the Harry & David website tells me she probably spent close to $30.00 on this caramel corn and chocolate chips.  Plus she sent the pears and cheese.  Another $40.00? At least it is food and will go away.  It’s not just stuff.

On the other hand, there were lots of years when she didn’t give me anything.

So I can’t help but wonder…  Am I making too much out of this?  Is it really “the thought that counts”?  Am I just ungrateful?  Is it my own fault for having too high expectations when I find out someone sent me anything at all?

Then again, it occurs to me that since I can’t remember any of the gifts I did get when I was a kid, and more often than not, I can’t remember a few months later what I gave anyone or what anyone gave to me…  Maybe it is the thought that counts…

The truth is, I’m feeling simultaneously grateful and dissapointed, I just would like to open a package and just be delighted by what I find.  But the fact that I feel grateful and dissapointed at the same time is soemthing in itself.  I’m certainly not accustomed to the ability to acknowledge two contradictory feelings at the same time.

By the way, the pears are awesome, much to my surprise.

The Reason For the Season?

Like pretty much everyone else lately, I’ve been thinking about Christmas and holiday spirit and gifts and so on.

Growing up in a Christian family, I was always tought that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus; “Jesus is the reason for the season” and all that.  I don’t exactly dispute that, it’s just that, growing up in a Christian family, I always felt like Jesus should be celebrated all the time and “Jesus is the reason for every season”.  I don’t need a special day to remember Jesus.  I remember Jesus every day.

Christmas was usually a bad holiday for my family.  My parents split up when I was two yeas old and when I was a really little kid, everybody thought I was lucky – and I kind of did too – because I got to have two Christmases.  I remember huge holiday events at my dad’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio where I lived until just before my 9th birthday (in Cincinnati, not my dad’s house.)  My brother and sister and I would go to my father’s house for the week leading up to Christmas.  My father’s wife’s oldest son worked for a local establishment called Swallen’s.  Swallen’s was a “department store” of sorts though it was more along the lines of a Walmart Superstore.  Their tag line was “Anything you want, everything you need, you’ll find it at Swallen’s” and it was pretty much true.  The location where this pseudo relative worked had everything I could think of (except automobiles) right down to a boat dealership and a lumber yard across the street from the main store that had housewares, electronics, clothes, groceries, you name it.  The store offered employees and their “families” a 20% discount so we did all our Christmas shopping there.

On Christmas Eve, we would have a big gifting extravaganza.  I remember one year specifically.  My father was renting this enormous house on hundreds of acres of land.  The living room was on the back corner of the house, with a screened in porch off the back.  On the inside wall of the room was an enormous fireplace and on the outside wall was a gigantic bay window-type floor to ceiling protrusion where the Christmas Tree was set up.  Santa had been very generous that year and there were so many presents under and around and behind and for several feet in front of that tree, I, at about six years old, was beside myself with anticipation.

The Swallen’s employed pseudo sibling was fond of trick gift wrapping and I remember that year he gave two gifts that completely stumped the crowd.  He gave my sister a small stuffed bear, but to wrap it, he bought a large flat box of Puff’s tissues and carefully opened the end, removed most of the tissues, and stuffed the bear in underneath the top layer before sealing the end with glue so it looked unopened.  My sister later admitted that she was almost in tears at the idea that this person had given her a box of tissues for Christmas until he told her to open it and she discovered the real gift inside.

He had also given my father an axe for Christmas, but the way it was wrapped it seemed certain he had gifted my father with a guitar.  It was only after the outer layer of paper was removed and my father discovered a layer of cardboard and another layer of paper that we realized he was up to his tricks again.

Ironically, I do not remember a single gift that I received that year at my father’s house.  I suspect it was a lot of clothes, mostly second-hand and garage sale purchases, I’m sure, and all to be kept at my father’s house (my mother wouldn’t let us bring clothes to my dad’s house because they always came back dirty, she said.)

There were seven of us in this party and by the time we finished unwrapping all the gifts, we were swimming in a waist-high sea of wrapping paper.  I have vivid memories, which I’m certain in my older and wiser years are not real, of us shuffling that sea of paper, with our feet, into the now roaring fireplace.  Surely that would have resulted in burning the house down, but that’s how I remember it nonetheless.

With all the paper burned and all our gifts put away it was off to bed and up early for the long, cold drive back to my mother’s house on the other side of town.

My father, at that time, drove a beat up old Ford Maverick he didn’t even own, comprised of spare parts from two different Maverick’s left on the property he rented.  It was an ugly amalgamation of baby blue and lime green side panels with rusted out floor boards and it ran on scavenged parts held together with chewing gum and desperation.  There were holes in the floor we had to actively keep our feet out of as we watched the roadway fly by beneath us.

That Christmas morning was bitterly cold, the temperatures having dropped to below zero, and an ice storm had passed through overnight.  After 14 years in California, I can’t even conceive of sub-zero temperatures and ice storms anymore.  I remember sitting in the back seat of that beat up old Maverick with my sister, huddled together and teeth chattering like…  Well, like this:

My oder brother sat in the front passenger seat next to my dad, and at some point I remember my father becoming concerned about my sister’s and my feet becoming frost-bitten and so he told my brother to wrap his scarf around our feet and rub them to keep them warm…  Well warm enough.  I didn’t really feel like we were that bad off, but my brother, who I sort of hated and who resented if not hated me, was being forced to do something nice for me so I wasn’t about to speak up.

Eventually, we were back at my mother’s house and we walked in to another bright Christmas Tree, overflowing with gifts.  It was the early 80’s and my mother worked for a tech company that still gave out Christmas bonuses.  While we were at our dad’s house she had been out shopping up a storm making it a very exciting Christmas for us kids.  I remember anxiously looking through all the gifts, wondering which ones had my name on them and my mother telling us we couldn’t open any presents until after we ate the big breakfast she had prepared for us.

I don’t particularly remember any of the presents she got for us either, interestingly.

A couple of years later, my mother and siblings and I moved from Cincinnati to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where we never had another good Christmas, ever.  My parents unofficial custody agreement when we moved was different, depending on who did the telling.  They began to fight over who we should spend the holidays with.  My father felt that he should get us for Christmas, since we lived 900 miles away and he hardly ever got to see us (he had a point.)  My mother felt like it wasn’t fair to her that he should get us for every holiday (she had a point.)  At some point they decided that we should decide… We, their 9, 12 and 14-year-old children, should decide who we were going to spend our Christmases with, placing us in the unenviable position of having to disappoint and hurt one of our parents.

We always stayed with our mother, quite possibly for no reason other than the fact that if we chose our father we would be subjected to her pouting and guilt tripping for the weeks leading up to his arrival to whisk us away and if we chose our mother, we’d never see his pouting and feeling sorry for himself.  This is just one of many examples of us being responsible for our mother’s feelings and behavior.

I don’t know when Christmas bonuses went out of style, but my mother never received one after we moved to Oklahoma (and I’ve never received one at all.)  Christmas became harder as she had three teenage children to support and no extra money to spend on gifts.  Before long, we had chosen to stay home with our mother who couldn’t afford to do anything for us and so, in spite of having chosen to stay with her so that she wouldn’t pout and guilt trip us for leaving, she pouted anyway, because she couldn’t afford to do anything special.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t until this time that my mother really started pushing the “celebrating Jesus’s birthday” angle.  I think I always resented it because it felt more like a justification, or at least an excuse for why it was okay that we didn’t have gifts at Christmas.  It felt disingenuous because it was new and contrived, just something to soothe the ache; whether it was her ache or our own, I do not know.

I grew to hate Christmas.  All the holly jolly and the cheer, the incessant Christmas music everywhere you go, the pressure to be happy and “feel the holiday spirit”, all the togetherness and FUCKING HAPPY PEOPLE!!!  And most of those fucking happy people?  Aren’t!!  They just act like they are because it’s what people expect of them.  I hated the season, the build up, the antics and attitudes, and I just couldn’t wait for it to all be over!  My mother took to calling me Scrooge, because she thought it was funny to make a literary reference and a dig at her most sensitive child, all at the same time.

So naturally, I worked for three years in retail, because where else should a Scrooge work during the holidays, than AT THE MALL!!!

I had enough.  Not just of the holidays but of the family togetherness and the expectations and demands and general atmosphere of my life.  I moved away… As far away as I could get, without crossing a body of water.  I spent my first Christmas with another family, because that’s what you’re supposed to do… apparently.  Because being alone on Christmas is somehow shameful and pathetic.  I spent the afternoon with a family I didn’t really know, in an environment I didn’t really enjoy and watching as they all exchanged gifts and I had nothing to give and received nothing in return.  They were perfectly lovely to me and I’m still friendly with that family today, but I came to realize that Christmas is a time for family togetherness.

The first two years after my first niece was born, I went back to Tulsa for Christmas.  I stayed with my mother and visited with friends and spent time with my family… and experienced all the same old strife and resentment and pressure and bitterness and general sucky, sucky time.  The second year, my mother was completely unreasonable, and when I stood up for myself, she acted as if she was going to hit me.  I vowed then and there never to spend another Christmas with my current family again.

I realized, Christmas is a time for Family togetherness, as long as the family is your own family and you can stand to be around them.  I spend Christmas alone now and I’m content to do it.  Sure I’d like to spend it with people, but I’d like to spend it with the right people and at this point, I haven’t found the right people.  I’d like to spend my Christmases with my Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Monica and Joey.  (I left out Chandler, because several people have told me that I remind them of Chandler – or at least my sense of humor does.  Could I be any more different?)

Deb asked me at our least session how I felt going into the holidays.  Our next session won’t be until after Christmas and she just wanted to know how I was doing with the looming occasion.  I told her I’m fine.  And I meant it.  I am.  Yes, spending the holiday alone is a bummer, but I’m used to it, more importantly I’m fully aware of the fact that I choose it.  If I was going to spend my holidays with other people, I would want it to be like the friends on Friends.  A bunch of people who are like me either in that they don’t have family locally, or they do not want to spend this time with their family if they do.  Until I find those people – Deb referred to them as my “chosen family” – I will spend it on my own and be perfectly content to do so.

 

Christmas and New Years and Knitting, Oh My

I had planned to write again, sooner than this, but as usual I allowed many various distractions to prevent me from doing so… including working… I know!

My next planned post was going to be very clever.  It was going to be titled Brace Yourself and the first line of the post was going to be, “‘Cause I did.” and it was going to be followed by a picture of my smiling face in which you’d be able to see that I now have traditional braces on my still imperfect teeth.  The problem is, I’m about the least photogenic person you’ll ever meet.  And I’m not even calling myself ugly.  I mean, I’m not anything I would be interested in, but I’m not grotesque or anything.  Just, I can not take a good photograph.  As such, it proved impossible to take a photograph in which I looked neither horrible,  nor cheesy, and yet still showed my braces in a natural looking smile.  COULDN’T.  BE.  DONE.  So you’ll just have to be satisfied with my word that I now have traditional braces on my teeth to finish the process that Invisalign was unable to complete (possibly due to my own non-compliance with the process… maybe.)

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Christmas came and went without much excitement.  I had lunch with Lori again and after further discussion about her family dynamic, which out of respect for her privacy, I will not repeat here, I decided to decline her invitation to go with her on Christmas Eve.  Sure, I was already leaning in that direction, but even if I had planned to attend, I would have opted out after that conversation.  We talked about getting together on Christmas Day after her children went to their father’s house, but when the time rolled around, the weather was terrible and neither of us felt like getting out in it.

I received exactly two gifts, a check from my father and cash from Michelle.  Both of which have been set aside for a specific purpose.  I’m going to buy a half sized deep freezer.  My refrigerator is not quite full-sized, because there’s not room for a full-sized unit in my kitchen.  For three years now I’ve been fighting with my too small freezer and struggling to keep the balance between economical “bulk” purchasing and having enough room to store stuff.  With the extra freezer space, I can keep “bulk” items and left overs in the deep freeze while keeping immediate use items (like ice cube trays – which I have no room for now) in the main freezer.  Now the only problem is, how to transport the freezer to my apartment, and how/where to plug it in.  I’m concerned about overloading circuits.

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A friend of mine was in my office one day when the conversation somehow turned toward the fact that I crochet.

When I was a kid, my three-years-older sister, Erin, couldn’t sit still while the family watched television.  My mother taught her how to crochet so she’d have something to do with her hands.  My brother, Jonathan, and I never got along.  He’s five years older than I am and always resented me.  As a result I was always closer to Erin and wanted to do whatever she was doing, so I learned to crochet too.  Over the years, I would make something and then rip it out to make something else.  I had a collection of scrap yarn that I had tied end to end, until I had a huge ball of yarn.  Eventually, the ball grew to be about 18 inches in diameter.  I would make granny squares, and athgans and placemats and when I finished one thing I’d take it apart and make something else.  It was just for my own entertainment.

When I was about 18 I decided I wanted to actually make something real.  Something that would not be taken apart again.  Something that would endure.  So I bought a book of patterns and some yarn and I made my mother a really simple blanket.  It was supposed to be a “throw” but by the time I was finished it was a queen sized blanket that she put on her bed.

I’ve always enjoyed doing things that show tangible results.  I much prefer to dust after many weeks when I can actually see the difference, rather than doing it regularly.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have a dust free home – I just want someone else to do it.)  So once I got “a taste” of making the blanket, I decided to keep doing it.  I don’t make them all the time because the yarn is not cheap, but when I get the urge, or a reason to make something for someone, I pick out a pattern and buy some yarn and go to work.  I’ve made quite a few blankets, over the years, for both adults and children, but I never really found anything else I could make by crocheting.  I always wished I could knit because I felt like knitting was a far more flexible medium.  My mother doesn’t know how to knit.  I only recently found out that my father knitted when he was young (he was on the front page of an Australian newspaper once with the caption “American boy knits on plane”.  He doesn’t remember why) however, he says he doesn’t really remember how to do it and wouldn’t have been able to teach me if he did, what with us being 2000 miles apart and all.

A few years ago, I made a baby blanket for K to send to her brand new nephew and as “payment” (which I didn’t request) she bought me a “Teach yourself to knit” kit.  I tried to teach myself but it really didn’t go very well.  I found it very stressful and as I would sit in my recliner trying to make the needles and the yarn do what my mind was clearly telling them to do, my feet would move and point and cross with the intended motion of the needles.  I gave up after a few tries, figuring that knitting was just something I’d never be able to do.

I mentioned to my friend, Juana, that I wished I knew how to knit and while it wasn’t a request, or even an inquiry, she walked away from that statement thinking that she needed to teach me to knit.  I’m not really complaining.  I wanted to know.  But she showed up at my office two days later with a small roll of cotton yarn and a couple of knitting needles and began teaching me to knit… whether I liked it or not.  She taught me the basic stitches, Knit and Purl and sent me home with an assignment.  “Cast on 40 stitches, knit two rows, purl two rows and repeat until you have a square.”  So I did.  Or at least I tried.  It was the first thing I’d ever done and I really didn’t yet see the delineation between rows.  I’d get confused or lose track and as a result the pattern of the finished product is inconsistent, but she said it was pretty good for a “newbie”.

A couple of days later she came back with another roll of cotton yarn and the first 20 lines of a pattern.  She told me I’d only get the pattern in pieces and she wouldn’t tell me what I was making.  I wouldn’t know until I got into it.  It turned out to be another wash cloth with an Eiffel Tower in the pattern.  I made one or two errors but nothing major and I was still learning.    A few days after I finished that, she came back with another pattern, a couple circular needles and a full skein of wool yarn.  It proved to be a cap which I made in a few days and with not too many errors.  I’m not really the knit cap kind of guy and I’m not sure if I’ll ever wear it out of the house but I might.  I decided if I was ever going to wear it, I’d need a matching scarf.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough left over yarn to make it and I couldn’t easily get more of the same yarn so I compromised.  I’m using a nice light tan yarn with the purple at the ends of the scarf as a coordinating accent color.

Juana came back a few days later and told me “My husband says, when you learn a new skill you have to keep going or you’ll forget what you learned.”  Makes sense.  She guided me to a website where we downloaded a pattern for a relatively simple pair of socks using larger needles and thicker yarn than is traditionally used for socks, but which is supposed to be good for beginners.  This time I was on my own for yarn and needles but that was bound to happen sooner or later.

I now have three separate projects in the works.  Since Variety is the spice of life, I like to rotate between them.  One day I work on the scarf, the next day I work on the socks and the next day I work on this very intricate blanket I’ve been crocheting for a very long time but I keep putting down.  It’s going to be beautiful when it’s finished, but it’s the most intricate thing I’ve ever made and I needed breaks from it from time to time.  I’m determined to finish it this time, though.

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New Year’s Eve, this year, was fairly low-key, compared to past years.  I have an unreasonable hang-up about New Year’s Eve.  When I was a kid we usually spent New Year’s Eve at home, doing nothing, half the time, already in bed before midnight even rolled around.  I always felt like I was missing out on something; like it said something derogatory about me not to be out and celebrating with the rest of the world.

As a growed-up person I know that’s not really true, and yet, I can’t help it.  I have this almost desperate need to be somewhere and do something for New Year’s Eve.  It’s bad too.  Over the years it has escalated.  When I first moved to California, I was perfectly content to go to Fisherman’s Wharf with Michelle and have dinner and drinks and watch the Fireworks and go home and go to bed.  Michelle, being the lightweight that she is, would usually be too drunk to drive back home and she’d spend the night at my apartment.

After I got laid off and moved in with her and then got a new job, we had to find a new way to celebrate that didn’t involve a lot of driving on the day of.  One year we drove to Reno, Nevada for a couple of nights.  It’s in the mountains, there’s actual snow on the ground, there are casinos and shows and fireworks at midnight.  It cost more than dinner and fireworks in town, but it was fun and we were out and about and we didn’t have to drive after partying.

Two years in a row we went on a Hornblower Cruise for New Year’s Eve.  The package we bought was a five-hour cruise, five-course gourmet meal with open bar and lovely views.  Just before midnight, they’d “park” near the Bay Bridge where we had “front row seats” for the fire works display.  We only did it two years because they had the exact same menu both years.  There were other reasons as well.  We stayed at home those years, because the apartment we lived in at the time was only six blocks from the BART station and we could walk to and from.

After we moved from that apartment new plans would have to be made.  We have gone to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and finally last year back to Reno.  Reno is dead.  There is nothing going on there anymore.  We want to go on a cruise, but they’re expensive and neither of us can really afford it.  These trips have gotten progressively more expensive and while we have the best of intentions when we schedule it, November and December always seem to be fiscally challenging for me.

Mischa is very old now and he spends all his time, when I’m not home or when I’m in bed, locked in a cage because he can not be trusted to potty exclusively in his litter box.  It is no longer reasonable for me to look to someone else to take care of him so I can go away, so a trip out of town for a few days is no longer possible.  We decided to scale back our plans for once.  We planned to get a hotel room in San Francisco, so there’d be no driving-after-partying involved and we were going to have a reasonable dinner and watch the fireworks.  I’d feed Mischa a full can of food before leaving and then I’d come back early the next day.

We ended up staying at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.   It’s a four star hotel and they deserve every one of those stars.  The cavernous lobby was beautifully decorated for the holidays.  The room was beautiful (I did not take this picture. I just happen to have found it on Google images.  But unless they have multiple rooms with the exact same finishes (pictures, lamps, linens, carpets, etc.) this happens to be the room I stayed in.) and had an awesome view. See:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I did take this picture.)

This was one of the nicest rooms I have had in quite a while.  As part of the package we bought we had a room on the second from the top floor with exclusive card key access.  We also had access to “The Regency Club”.  The Regency Club is a lounge on the very top floor of the hotel.  Until last year this space was occupied by a revolving restaurant with beautiful views of downtown San Francisco, and the bay. I was disappointed to find out that the restaurant had closed, but the regency club (which no longer revolves) is an exclusive lounge that only people who purchased the package we did could go to.  They had complimentary soft drinks and coffee, tea and juice, as well as complimentary deserts.  There was also an “honor bar” where you write down what you drank and leave it in their drop box and they charge it to your room.

Because the lounge is circular shaped, we walked around to find the best place to sit.  We arrived around 9:00 and were lucky enough to find a table facing out toward the San Francisco Ferry Building which was between us and the barge from which the fire works would be launched. Short of being on a boat on the water, this was possibly the best place from which to see the show.  In fact, this year at least, it was probably better.  It was bitterly cold that night and rained off and on.  It even started to rain right after the fireworks.  Meanwhile we were warm and dry inside.

When the fireworks started, I whipped out my iPhone and set my camera to “video” and began to record the display.  Thirteen minutes of really cool fireworks.  I wondered if my phone would actually record it all and whether I had enough room for that much media but it showed no signs of giving up.  When the display was finally over, I touched the icon that represents the “record” button on the screen to discontinue the recording.  When I did, a counter appeared in the top right corner of the screen and began counting seconds.  I couldn’t believe it!  Thirteen minutes of NOT recording really spectacular fireworks!

Our “scaled back”, less adventurous, less expensive New Year’s Eve plans ended up costing as much as a three day trip to Las Vegas by the time we added the package for the hotel and dinner to the mix, but I’m not complaining.  It was a really great experience and I didn’t spend New Year’s Eve at home, or alone.  Since I couldn’t leave the cat alone this year, this was a pretty decent way to celebrate!