A Little Birthday Gift

As we’ve gotten older, my husband and I have found that we don’t need as much as we used to. Food, clothes, pay the bills, and a few toys here and there. What IS different of course, is the size of the toys: no longer are we content with jigsaw puzzles and a “Please Don’t Break the Ice” game. Now the toys we want are more likely to have multiple zeros on the end, which of course makes it challenging to figure out what to get each other for birthdays and Christmas without breaking the bank, or more appropriately, what I need to get my husband for his birthday or for Christmas. By contrast, I’m easy to buy for. I’ll make a list for him…a long list with many options as a matter of fact, which he will then proceed to ignore, try to figure out what to get me on his own and tell me I’m impossible to buy for. He on the other hand, will not put together a list, and there is a reason for that

You see, Mike can’t seem to resist getting little treats for himself right before his birthday or Christmas. No matter how often I have asked, begged, pleaded, cajoled, demanded, and insisted, I just can’t seem to get him to understand that he’s losing husband points when he does this. I keep telling him ‘do NOT buy things for yourself in the month before your birthday and in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s likely you’ll get that thing for said upcoming event”, but it doesn’t matter.

So, when I do come up with an idea for something he doesn’t have, it really feels like a ‘eureka!’ moment for me. I get really excited, I’m happy, feel giddy, and wonder if I can pull it off. Then I get the gift for him and hide it where I pray he won’t find it before I can have a chance to wrap it up. Pulling this off successfully, however, requires cooperation from my husband, which in 19 years together I am sad to say I have only been able to pull off once. Doing the math, that’s 1 out of 38 chances, an only 2.6% success rate. To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, that’s horrible.

It happened again today. We have a tiki hut outside – a screened porch that we’ve decorated with a fun tiki theme. Of course, if you have a tiki hut you have GOT to have tiki cocktail glasses, right?

Well, about 2 weeks ago, I decided I would buy a set of replacement tiki bar glasses for him, since we’d broken one of our original ones a few months back. We’d talked about getting the backup set but never did it, and I thought “what a perfect birthday gift!” Screen Shot 2019-09-04 at 10.23.02 PMSo I found it on Amazon, ordered it, prayed it would arrive when he was at work (it did), hid it in a closet and waited. Since he’ll be camping when his birthday is this year, I figured I’d give him the glasses this weekend. This morning, while I had a small break from working, he came into my office and said “oh by the way, just thought I’d let you know I just ordered another set of the tiki bar glasses as a backup set for ours.” I just sat there and finally said “you have got to be kidding me” then got up, went to the closet, pulled out the box, handed it to him and said, “well, hell, Happy Birthday honey!” He peeked in the box and just started to laugh.

I guess the good news is we’re set if we break a few more or have lots of folks over for cocktails in the tiki hut.

A Trip to the Twilight Zone

Several years ago, my husband brought a proposal for a trip to witness an event to my attention, and at the time I really didn’t think he was all that serious about it. Fast forward to a few months ago when he brought up the topic again, and it was readily apparent to me I’d significantly underestimated his interest in this event, so we began planning how we might be able to be among those who watched the 2017 Solar Eclipse, and in August we took a road trip down to Columbia, Missouri for the big show. We are terribly fortunate, my husband’s brother and his wife live there, so we were able to stay with them, and his nieces were in the process of moving from Florida to Jefferson City which is about 30 minutes south of Columbia. One was there already and was gracious enough to let us stay with her for the first two nights in spite of the fact that she didn’t even have towels or pillows unpacked yet, items we were happy enough to bring along. (Thanks Mary!!)

The trip down was mostly good, up until the last half hour before Jefferson City, when we hit a heck of a rain storm. Suddenly our long drive got even longer, when hubby had to slow WAY down just to see the road. Fortunately that didn’t last terribly long, and after winding our way on a curvy, hilly road in the dark, we got to Joanna and Mary’s house, a couple of weary travelers stumbling out of the car and into an unexpected wall of warm humidity. Yeah, that wasn’t planned for at all, after all that time in an air conditioned car and we were instantly dripping wet. Fortunately his nieces’ house had AC, so we were quite comfy inside. What we didn’t realize is that Missouri is known for it’s humidity, and the air conditioners go on May 1, and don’t go off until the end of October. The other thing we didn’t know, is that there are armadillos in Missouri…yep, you read that correctly, armadillos. We saw a couple of dead ones on the road, and fortunately other drivers hit them, not us, as I’ve heard they can do some awful damage to your car. I guess it’s because they have this weird startle reflex causing them to jump straight up in the air…so when cars drive over them, they jump up, and that lovely armored shell causes all kinds of damage to the undercarriages of cars. Ugh.

Sunday morning we headed up to Columbia, where we had the unique experience of attending church where my husband’s brother is the pastor. It’s not an ordinary church, but rather is an international church on the campus of Baptist University. There were attendees from a number of different countries and cultures there, so his brother is kind of acting as a missionary right here in the United States. His wife teaches Sunday School to the children, and she said it can be really interesting as some of the children don’t speak any English at all. She finds she has to be creative, and uses lots of crafts to teach the kids. Look out on glitter Sundays!

Monday dawned, and was the big event. We set up our lawn chairs and waited, then watched in dismay as hazy clouds started to fill the sky. Apparently this isn’t an unusual phenomenon with eclipses, as the moon begins to cross in front of the sun and the temperature drops, it causes clouds to form. So on top of the partly cloudy sky we already had, we got more haze blocking our view. We did get to experience and see the eclipse, and while it wasn’t nearly as good as some parts of the country, I can’t really fuss because back home in Minnesota, I understand it rained all day and where they were hoping for a partial, they got nothing so I really shouldn’t whine.

The experience – now that was something else. While I can’t say the four of us were moved to tears or were overwhelmed, like some folks seem to have been, it certainly was an awesome and amazing sight. IMG_9633Perhaps if the sky had been clear it would have been different for us, but the sun/moon were periodically disappearing and reappearing behind clouds, so we had less than the 2 min of viewing the corona that a lot of others got. (I want a do-over!) It was beautiful, eerie, and kind of otherworldly. My husband and I took some photos that unfortunately were also a bit on the hazy side. The thing that was weird though, is that it got dark out, but not as dark as I thought it would. IMG_9651The light that remained literally made you feel like you were in the Twilight Zone, and then all of a sudden it was done, the sun peeked out, warmth came back and the haze disappeared.
We also got a few photos on the “exit” side. You’ll note that the sun looks orange, which is more from the color of the filter covering the lens of the camera than anything.

So would I travel again to see an eclipse? You’d better believe it! They happen about every 18 months somewhere in the world. There are total, annular and partial eclipses. I’d never heard of an annular eclipse before and had to look that one up. That’s when there is a ring of the sun that is still visible, where the moon isn’t quite covering all of the sun. In that case you can’t remove the protective glasses at all. It’s like having a “ring of fire” in the sky. I think that would be interesting, but not nearly as much fun as a total eclipse. So who knows, maybe we’ll plan some around the world vacations around the coming total eclipses. There are a couple that go over Australia, and I’ve always wanted to go there. Can you imagine what a trip that would be? Dive the great barrier reef, visit New Zealand AND see a total eclipse? Truly a trip of a lifetime for us. Have you gone anywhere that you considered your “trip of a lifetime”? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

How to Raise a Tyrant

I was in a department store one evening recently, and overheard a father and his toddler daughter having a “conversation”. They were about 30 feet away from the exit, standing with their cart and she was hanging on the side of the cart, whining rather loudly about wanting to get back into it to ride to the exit. Daddy was trying to reason with his little darling, saying “but we’re almost at the door already”. Too bad she was having none of it. Of course you can already see the punchline to the joke coming a mile away…”you can’t reason with a terrorist“…and I’m thinking to myself “Oh that poor, poor man. She’s three and he is SO screwed already. What he really needs is to grow a pair and say ‘no’ to her”. As in “no, you can walk” and take her hand and start walking. Oh I know, I’m probably going to have a boatload of parents jump on me and tell me you have to pick your battles, and yes, I’m sure you do. But come on, you lose one this early, are there any you can seriously hope to win?

I see it a lot, kids telling the parents how it’s going to be. Say what? That would have bought me a one way ticket to the flat of my dad’s hand! And before all of the child protectionists are up in arms, I was never beaten. Down boys and girls! I was just spanked. There is a difference, and there were times when I – and my sisters – deserved it. There was never any doubt who was in charge in our house. Dad said “Jump” and you asked “how high” as you were already poised to leap. It wasn’t blind obedience, either, but trust. I knew that he loved us and he always had our best interests at heart so if he told us to do something it was with good reason. I might not understand or like it, but there it was. As I got older, and started to question it more, well, that became an entirely different conversation, and of course by then I was too old to spank as well. But as a child, I listened to my daddy because he was in charge. End of story.

Another thing, what ever happened to vacations that were things like summer road trips, or camping in state parks? It’s like the line that Max Kellerman says in Dirty Dancing “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want. Twenty-two countries in three days.” That’s nice. They can see Europe and the Caribbean when they graduate from college and have jobs. For now, have they seen a state park in their home state? Mount Rushmore? Yellowstone? The Grand Canyon? The Smithsonian? The Everglades? Stars in the sky when there is no city light pollution, and they realize for the first time what galaxies are? If not, maybe you’re doing them (and your bank accounts) a big disservice. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “well it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t go to [insert your favorite thing here: Disneyland/world, Bahamas, St. Martin, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, etc.], or “I just want my kids to have all the things I didn’t have”. But did you turn out so rotten? The answer is, you didn’t, and in fact you have an appreciation for those things because you didn’t have them as a child. So perhaps it would be better to not just hand all of them to your kids, but let them work for them as they can as well. Or provide some sparingly.

I remember my parents renting a Bethany pop-up camper when I was little, and pulling it behind the car as we went different places on vacation. We would find KOA campgrounds, and park the car and set up the camper. The top would go up, the sides pull out and voila, 2 beds, a microscopic kitchen and living room. I don’t remember much about the specifics of any of the trips, but snippets…the thunderstorms scaring us half to death…the long walks to the community bathroom, especially at night…the community showers. My recollection  is that it was fun, although it’s possible I’m viewing it through a lens clouded by many years gone by. I can also remember some vacation trips we took to the Black Hills, the Wisconsin Dells, Brainerd MN to see Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, which scared me to death when Paul talked to me on the loudspeaker and greeted me by name! screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-18-57-pmHow could he possibly have known that? Of course, when my dad paid for the tickets, he gave our names to the ticket taker and the ticket taker gave them to whoever provided the voice of Paul, who then talked into the microphone and it came over the loudspeaker. What? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Paul and Babe? screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-32-12-pm

 

They’re part of the lore here in Minnesota. Paul Bunyan was a legendary giant lumberjack of superhuman strength and skill, and Babe was his blue ox that usually accompanied him everywhere.

There was an amusement park named after him in Brainerd many years ago, with a giant seated Paul that talked, and an equally large Babe. It was a rite of passage that sometime in your childhood you went there. Today the park is gone but there are still a couple of Paul and Babe statues around the state, and you can often find things named after them. Next time you meet a native Minnesotan of a certain age, ask them if they saw the “talking Paul Bunyan” as a child, and chances are they’ll smile and say “yes”. Now, many places claim to have been his birthplace, but as Minnesotans know, he truly loved the north woods of this state so much, that when he died he was buried here. Need proof? His gravestone marker which is near Kelliher, MN. screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-10-42-04-pm

I wouldn’t give up those memories for all the trips to Hawaii for anything. They’re so precious to me, and Hawaii will always be there, but things like this aren’t, and I’m so glad my parents had the insight to put their collective feet down with us and made us appreciate what we had, and made us learn how to behave in public, and to work and play well with others. Now if that were only criteria for running for public office.

Ho-Ho-Ho, Merry What?

….”aaaaand we’re off!!” To to the non-stop insanity that is the pre-Christmas season (and I’m using Christmas here more in the calendar sense, rather than religious right now, so am intending it to be viewed as inclusive.) The goofy commercials have started with the Hershey’s kisses bell ringers, the obligatory ones telling us it’s a “Lexus to remember December” so that every woman can imagine that day when she wakes up to a new snowfall and a shiny new Lexus with a huge red bow in the driveway of her picture book two story home, or the one that always tugs on my heartstrings – when Tommy comes home unexpectedly and brews Folger’s coffee to wake up his family. Our trees are going up, decorations are coming out, lights are on outside. It’s always fun too, for new neighbors in the neighborhood as they get to see who decorates their home and yard like it’s a Charlie Brown tree, and who’s competing with the Griswold’s. It can be a pretty bad culture shock for the unprepared…unless of course they ARE they Griswold’s. Then of course there are the ones I REALLY hate. Engineers. You can tell when an engineer has decorated the outside of his home, the lights wrapped around the trees look so evenly spaced it’s as if they were put on with a ruler (which they were, trust me, my old neighbor did it.)

It’s also the season of ridiculous gift buying. I don’t know why we don’t just buy ourselves a gift card and be done with it. Isn’t that what it amounts to? It isn’t even fun anymore. I love Christmas as a kid. My parents found us the best stuff. I look back at the pictures, and I remember playing with our gifts all year long. One year I got an umbrella that was clear plastic  and had flags  from around the world all over it. christmas-69-a-1I’m not too sure why I didn’t look very happy, probably was the horn rimmed glasses. But trust me, I LOVED that umbrella, and I don’t think my parents mortgaged the house to buy it or anything else that year (or others.) We got a game called “Tip-It” that you can see, “Game of States” which is behind my sister’s legs on the floor and our big gift that year to share (yes kids, you can share gifts, you don’t all need your own) was something called a “Show ‘N Tell” which had a record player, film player and AM radio all in one. We had some books on a small filmstrip that went into the machine, with an accompanying 45 rpm record, and you’d start it up. It would automatically advance the film strip as the story narrated on the record. I remember listening over and over to “The Count of Monte Cristo” on that. One of the most fun things were our Christmas stockings. Mom hung them on the mantle until Santa came and then he took them down. Because of course they would simply be too heavy to stay tacked up on the mantle with the thumbtack she used to put them there. And boy, were they ever filled…with a roll of lifesavers, a pack of gum, an orange, some socks, maybe some pencils or pens with your name on them. Little things that cost almost nothing. It’s a tradition that I’ve continued with my husband. I like having lots of stuff to open. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, and it’s better that it doesn’t, so the little funny stocking stuffers are a great way to do that.

This morning I was surfing CNN and saw a story that caught my eye…”Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers” and I thought hmm, wonder what they come up with. Not one thing was cheaper than $29, and most were $49 and up. WHAT? I don’t consider things that cost 50-60 and even $70 stocking stuffers. How the hell much are people spending on Christmas gifts anyhow? We don’t have kids, if you read this blog regularly you know that, and we don’t go over the top on gifts at Christmas. (Well, there was that one time. Last year  in the fall we bought a hot tub, so we did decide that was an early Christmas gift, and that was that.) But otherwise we generally keep it under the national debt. We don’t put anything on credit cards for Christmas. If we can’t pay for it in December – other than the aforementioned hot tub – it ain’t getting bought. No one needs anything that badly that you need to put something on a credit card you’ll still be paying off 6 years from now at 22% interest. Seriously? You really gotta do the math on that. It should scare the crap out of you what that will actually cost you in interest and probably a late fee or 6. You think I’m kidding? Here are some sobering statistics:

One quarter of the parents surveyed have taken drastic measures to fund their purchases: 11% have dipped into their retirement account, 14% used funds from their emergency savings and 11% have taken out a payday loan. 

from Here’s How Far Parents Will Go to Pay for Christmas Gifts CNN.com 12/10/16

Get back to the things that mean something and don’t cost your soul. My grandmother gave me a jewelry box in 1969. I can still remember sitting on the floor at their house and opening her gift, and finding that, and how excited I was to have my very own jewelry box.

christmas-at-farm-1969-c

 

img_0825That same jewelry box is 47 years old, and I still use it, and think of her every time I open it. It doesn’t look as pretty, the female ballerina dancer is long lost (although I still have the boy) as is the cover to the small inside box with the red tassel  and the key to the outside. The metal piece over the keyhole fell off but I have it, and the musical mechanism works.
For the eagle eyed of you, yes, same horn rimmed glasses and dress as the first photo. I should say this isn’t me, but my sister. (I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog, so it’s a good test!) Hey that’s not me, that’s my youngest sister. I’m cuter.

Seriously though, I hope that your holiday season is special, however you celebrate.