Freedom’s Just Another Word For, “What The Hell – I Already Look Like A Doofus”

freedommuddyhiking

 

I love to hike.  Scrambling up hill, down dale, fording streams and generally giving Mother Nature a run for her money, I like to think I’m as nimble as a young mountain goat.  Turns out I’m not.

In the natural order of things, right about now those of us in the Midwest would be slipping & sliding on ice, shivering & yearning for the first non-parka day of early spring, which won’t arrive for another month yet.  Instead we’ve got summer.  We had 68 sunny degrees here this weekend, while my kids were shivering in the mid-50s in San Francisco.  Bizarre.  I’m not complaining mind you, but it is none-the-less bizarre.

I woke early on Sunday planning to pack that gift-of-a-day with activities, including a hike in the Great Outdoors and some recreational shopping.  I got to Matthiessen State Park by 10:30 figuring I’d beat the throngs, but it was already too late.   I used to have the place to myself before tourists discovered it a few years ago.  Now the parking lot was full to bursting and they were repelling boarders.  Everyone and their dog had decided to commune with nature.

“Don’t people go to church on Sundays anymore?” I grumbled to myself as I drove through, back out to the highway, and considered plan B.  I didn’t even bother with the main parking lot at Starved Rock State Park– it’s even more popular than Matthiessen. Instead I went to a lesser-known trail on the outskirts on the park, and got one of the last open parking spots in the lot.

I wish everyone would get out and experience the joys of nature.  In theory.  In practice I wish they would wait to experience those joys when I’m not around.  People in general are an annoyance when one is seeking solitary contentment and screaming children are, in particular, a menace to peace. Helpful parenting tip here:  Why not keep your children at home until they are old enough to behave in polite society?  Around age 25 seems about right.

As usual, my first task upon hitting the trail was finding a suitable walking stick.   You never know when you’ll need one to help climb steep trails or ward off unfriendly dogs.  Or children.   Our way-too-early spring thaw drew moisture out of the frozen ground and turned most of the trails to muddy quagmires intersected by spontaneous streams, but I trudged on joyfully, accumulating ½ inch of mud on my shoes every yard, and breathing great, gulping lungsful of the fresh, warm air.

My first major obstacle was a stream that’s a problem in all but the driest times.  It is about 15 feet across, it spans the valley and there’s no way to get around it; the only options are up and over or through.  I wasn’t turning back this soon so I reconnoitered and found 3 likely spots to cross, each fraught with danger.   I chose a jumble of fallen branches and rocks at the far end of the stream up against a canyon wall.  I chose badly.

The walking stick came in handy here and I plunged it into foot-deep water to steady myself as I inched slowly across the 10-inch diameter log which formed most of my bridge.  But it was round and slick with mud and just as I reached the end and was considering which rock or branch to leap onto, gravity had her way with me.

I went over with an undignified flailing of arms.   I’m sure it looked pretty funny, and I would have laughed heartily had it happened to you.  I landed on one foot, teetering and tottering on the rocky, branch-strewn creek bed and managed to stay upright by sheer luck.  I trudged the remainder of the way through the water, through muddy quicksand aggressively trying to keep my aging sneakers, used a low-growing sapling to scramble inelegantly up the opposite bank of slick clay, and stopped to take stock.

My tennies wore mud overboots and the bottom eight inches of my pants were soaking wet.  A quick look around revealed nobody had witnessed my dunking, thankfully, but it’s not as if I could hide the evidence.  One look at the tell-tale ombré of my jeans, light blue at the top blending to indigo at the soaked bottoms, would tell all and sundry of my hiker’s shame.

I didn’t give up then, not precisely, but slow and careful seemed rather pointless.  This was just the first of the many streams I encountered, and I wound up with about a 30% failure rate.  Not impressive.   I wasn’t cold or uncomfortable, just a tad self-conscious.  I squelched when I walked.

On the way back I stopped at a stream I had safely navigated on the way out, and now found a line of people waiting to pick their way across a bridge improvised out of rocks and fallen limbs not big enough to be called trunks.  One young woman, obviously terrified, was moving as tentatively as if she was The Great Santini crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope without a net.

In the immortal words of Janis Joplin, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. “What the hell!” says I to me.  I skipped the line and splashed the 10 feet across the stream. The water was a measly schmeasly inch deep.

I didn’t mind about my wet pants after that.  That last dunking was my choice, and that choosing cancelled out all the inadvertent wettings, at least in my mind.

As I neared the parking lot a crop of fresh hikers came toward me on the trail.  They glanced at me, took in my wet pants and muddied shoes, and hastily averted their eyes.  “So what?”  I silently rebelled.  “At least I put myself out there.  If others think I’m a clumsy doofus, well, to hell with them.  I’ll bet good money more than one of these people will be similarly soaked on the way back.”  I held my head up high as I squelched by the pristine newbies.

I ended up skipping the shopping trip after the hike.  It’s not because I was ashamed of my soaked pants – I wore them proudly.   They were badges of honor.  They bore witness to my determination to get up off the couch, go out in the fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty that is one of God’s greatest accomplishments!

The thing is, I was exhausted.  What with the 5 gallons of water that had soaked into my jeans and 10 extra pounds of mud on each shoe, my little nature hike wound up being a total cardio workout.

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Make Valentine’s Day Special With A Gift From The Vascular Organ

valentinesheartsurprise

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  If you’re smart, gentlemen, you’re already wracking your brains for gift ideas that will show that special someone how truly special she is.

Candy?  Ho-hum.  Flowers? Pu-leeze

Take a tip from artistic-types who often use their professional skills to create romantic Valentine’s Day gifts.  For example, a singer might compose a song, an artist paint a picture, or a chef may whip up a delicious meal.

“But I’m a plumber,” you say. “How could unclogging a drain possibly be romantic?”

What you do is an important part of who you are.  It doesn’t matter if the world thinks your job is boring; you can still come up with a creative gift even if you don’t work in a creative field.  Here are some suggestions for memorable gifts that incorporate your unique skills, with bonus hints on how to make them truly special.life-insurance-policy-sealedwithakiss

Insurance Agent:  You think she looks like a million bucks.  Tell her so by presenting her with… a $1 million life insurance policy that you took out on her, with you as beneficiary.  (Bonus hint: skydiving lessons are a great go-along gift.)

Cardiologist:  “You hold my heart in your hands,” your mushy card proclaims.  Imagine the look on her face when she opens the gift to find an actual cadaver heart.  Nothing says lovin’ like a vascular organ wrapped with a fancy bow. (Bonus hint: include some potpourri to help mask the mood-killing scent of formaldehyde.)

o-weddingringsMechanic:  You exchanged rings on your wedding day as symbols of your forever bond.  Remind her of that special commitment with a box of O-rings.  (Bonus hint: Score even more brownie points by having them gold-plated and diamond encrusted.)

heartonfloor2School Janitor:  Don’t regurgitate those same old, tired Valentine’s Day card sentiments.  Show and tell how much you love her by drawing a big heart on the floor with that pencil-sharpener sawdust you use at school to soak up the vomit when a kid barfs.  (Bonus hint: Be a sweetie and offer to sweep it up for her!)

Attorney:  She’ll be disappointed when you say you can’t go out for dinner on Valentine’s Day because you have to work on filing a brief.  The mood will improve considerably when she discovers that the briefs you have in mind are of the tighty whitey variety, covered with hearts. (Bonus hint: show you’re a true friend of the court by giving her matching lingerie.)

rosesboxwithplumbersnakeRoto-Rooter Man:  A long, white box wrapped with satin ribbon will make her think you bought long-stem roses.  When she opens it and sees a drain snake nestled in the tissue paper, tell her that yours is bigger.  (Bonus hint: prove it.)

 

Teacher:  Setting the right mood is as easy as 1-2-3 for a teacher with a little imagination.  You’ll get an A for effort when she walks in and finds you lounging on the bed wearing nothing but a dunce cap, strategically placed.  (Bonus hint: encourage her inner Magellan with a geography lesson that explores brave, new personal territory.)roachmotelgift

Exterminator:  Make reservations at a fancy hotel for a romantic little getaway.  Announce your surprise with a gift box containing a Roach Motel.  (Bonus hint: Make sure the place you choose for your rendezvous is not one of your repeat customers.)

Proctologist:   When you come right down to it, there’s nothing wrong with flowers and candy.

Your one-of-a-kind gift will tell your one-of-a-kind lady how special she is to you.  With a little ingenuity, this can be your best Valentine’s Day ever!

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To Punxsutawney Phil; A Reasoned Rebuttal

groundhogday

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On The Off Chance You Notice That I Unfriended You

facebook-rant

Enter at your own risk! Hazmat suit recommended.

Dear Friend,

Maybe I should have addressed this “Dear Ex-Friend.”   After all, I just unfriended you on Facebook, and many would consider that the very definition of an ex-friend.  But I don’t consider you any less my friend.  I did it because I am no longer willing to slog through the hate-filled swamp that your Facebook page has become.

One of the best things about Facebook is how it helps old friends like us reconnect; we who were close before time, distance and circumstances caused us to drift apart.  How I’ve enjoyed learning about the ups and downs of your life today.  I’ve oohed and ahhed over your adorable grandchildren.  You’ve congratulated me on my kids’ triumphs.   I’ve sent heartfelt thoughts and prayers during your health struggles.  You’ve laughed at my goofy jokes.  It’s obvious you’ve become a person of strong political conviction, and I honor that passion.   But you’ve gone over the line.  It’s not an exaggeration to say your passion has turned to hate, and I’ve had enough of it.

People I care about run the gamut of the political spectrum, from far left to far right.   I have no problem with that.   I don’t pick my friends based on their political views, and none of us get to pick our families, much as we might wish we could.  Differences of opinion and robust debate are crucial to a strong, vibrant democracy, and people of good will should be able to disagree.

This election cycle has seen negative, ad hominem attacks ramped up like never before and you’ve embraced this corrosive rhetoric more than anyone else I know.  You rightly condemn those who hate others based on sexual preference or skin color, but you are obviously filled with hate yourself.  You reserve your discrimination for those whose ideas are different from yours.  You spew your intolerance with the same spittle-flecked, wild-eyed screeching as legendary hate-mongers like Adolph Hitler, the Grand Wizard of the KKK and Louis Farrakhan.

Every day you post new, toxic political screeds on your Facebook wall.  I don’t know how you find the time to track them down – it must  be a full-time job.  That poison vastly outnumbers the pictures of your cute grandkids.   I wonder if you realize what you are teaching them; that those who disagree with you are not worthy of respect or courtesy.

Time and again I’ve wanted to comment; to suggest that perhaps people can have different ideas without being intrinsically wrong or evil.  I’ve been tempted, but I’ve seen so often what happens to others in the public square who suggest multiple points of view might have merit.  The response pays lip service to the concept of a free exchange of ideas, but the bottom line is a variation on the same theme:

“Diversity should be respected and celebrated!  Except diversity of thought.  If you disagree with me, you’re bad.”

So instead of pleading, arguing or cajoling, I slipped quietly away.  Maybe I’m a coward, but daily life sends us enough pain and anger without going to the trouble of seeking it out. You’re selling toxic, and I’m not buying – not anymore.

I don’t post on Facebook very often, so you may not notice that my little picture has gone missing from your wall.   I hope you read this.  I hope you take a moment to think about what you want from life.  I want to surround myself with people of integrity; honorable people who speak the truth as they see it with quiet conviction, and with respect for ALL their fellow men, no matter their skin color, sexual preference, religion, gender, economic status or political views.

How can we have peace between countries if we can’t have it between friends????

I want peace in my life.  And that is also what I want for you, my friend.  My dear, ex-Facebook friend.

 

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I Will Always Be Fat

Before...after...more afterer

Before…after…more afterer

I was born fat.  I have been fat, chubby, overweight or on my way to or from one of those adjectives my entire life.  It’s time to stop kidding myself that I will ever be anything else.

Some are yo-yo dieters, but not me.  I’m a mini-tramp dieter.

I made the cheer-leading squad in 8th grade because, despite my size, I had spirit, yes I did.  None of the factory-made uniforms in the school supply locker fit me.  The neighbor lady made mine from a generic pattern, which meant the style, fabric and colors were noticeably different from the rest of the squad’s.  That was mortifying, but I got over it.   As the biggest I was always on the bottom of the human pyramid and the tiny girls climbed all over me.  Jennae pulled my hair or poked me in the eye every time, accidentally but inevitably.   I learned to live with that, too.  My nemesis, however, my Waterloo, was the mini-tramp.

A mini-trampoline is like a regular one, except it stands only 1 foot off the ground and is about 3 feet in diameter.   The plan for our big cheer finale was for each of us to run at the mini-tramp, jump on, and then bounce up into a straight-back, 90-degree, spread-eagle, toe-toucher in mid-air.  We were supposed to yell our names and finish up by landing lightly and skipping off to the side, all the while smiling and clapping.

I did fine with the smiling, clapping and name yelling; every other part was a disaster.

I’m not athletic.  My run up to the trampoline was hesitant, I climbed on rather than bounded aboard, and I couldn’t do the splits.   I wound up doing a pathetic, hunched-over, leg-lift a mere foot in the air.  One time I landed flat on my face.  The worst part, though, the very worst, was whenever I jumped on the thing it hit the floor with an audible “whump.”  Every performance was gleefully watched by a gym-full of sneering, name-calling adolescent boys and smiling-in-your-face-while-stabbing-you-in-the-back junior high Barbie dolls.  Or so it seemed to the impartial observer, namely; me.

This has been the metaphor for my life-long struggle with weight;  I’m either gearing up for the jump into weight-loss, going down, hitting the bottom or, inevitably, springing right back up to where I started.  I can never stick the landing and run off cheering.

Guess which one has trouble stopping at one graham cracker for an afternoon snack?

Guess who can’t stop with one graham cracker for an after-school snack?

Check out this groovy family picture circa 1970.  Ignore, if you will, the funny clothes and hair styles, and concentrate on the people.  All 9 of us kids were raised the same way and fed the same food.   Yet there is only one chunkster in the bunch – the blonde butterball in the back.  That would be me.

A couple of years ago I took part in a well-publicized family weight loss challenge.  It was well publicized because I announced it here on the blog thinking that going public would be a powerful motivator.  It was.  I lost a lot of weight and won universal admiration and a bunch of my siblings’ money.  Four years later I’d gained most of the weight back.   I’m sure only good manners kept my sisters from demanding a refund.

We fat people give a lot of excuses, which we know in our hearts are bogus.

“I don’t know why I can’t lose – I never eat anything!”  That’s Selective Eating Amnesia. We eat so unconsciously we don’t realize we’ve consumed the entire contents of a co-worker’s candy dish while standing at her desk.  We finish off the kids’ plates, snack in the car and by the light of the open fridge and it doesn’t register in our brains.  It does register on our thighs.

“But I’ve got glands, metabolism, big bones, depression, age, take meds, etc.”  That’s crap and you know it.  I know it.  Granted, each and every one of those factors makes it harder, but the bottom line is if we take in more calories than we burn, we gain.  Take in less calories than we burn, we lose.  Period.

It’s not that I don’t know how to lose weight; I do.  It’s not that I lack discipline; I’ve done it countless times.  Most of us have.  10, 20, 40, 60 – I once lost close to 80 pounds.   I could use all the weight I’ve lost to form a small army, which would be great to have.  They could follow me around and provide constant reassurance that I’m still fabulous.  The problem is that my army won’t leave me.

They say you shouldn’t think in terms of diet.   They say in order to succeed at permanent weight-loss you have to change your life.   “They” can kiss my grits.   It is true you only have to change one, simple thing to succeed at permanent weight-loss, but here’s that thing:

You have to be on a starvation diet for the rest of your life.

I’m not about excuses, truly, but it’s clear to me that some of us are hardwired differently about food.  We’re missing the automatic on/off switch when it comes to eating.  Food is an addiction for us, and I think it’s the clingiest monkey you’ll ever try to throw off your back.

I smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day for over 15 years so I know a little about how tough it is to kick addictions.   I quit for 3 years, then started up again, then quit again and this time it stuck.   I haven’t had a puff in 20 years.  I finally got it through my thick skull that I can never have another cigarette.  Never.  Have.  Even.  One.   Because one is all it takes with an addict.

I’m not minimizing the brutality of addictions to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, but the thing is that we CAN quit them.  We can quit those things cold and never touch them again.  We can’t quit eating.  People like me have an angel sitting on one shoulder and a demon on the other and they are perpetually locked in mortal combat.  We have to pick sides every single time we open our mouths.

I know I’m not alone in this.  I hear you, Kirstie Alley.  I AM you, Oprah.

One time I was balking at the high cost of yet another diet – Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem; they all kind of blend together – and my husband said, “If there was a magic pill you could take to lose the weight, wouldn’t you buy it at any price?”  Point taken.  Signed up, lost a ton, gained it back.

There’s a reality show on TV called My Big Fat, Fabulous Life.   It’s about a lovely fat girl who advocates exercise for everyone, along with self-acceptance and no body shaming.   That’s great.   We should all love ourselves and we should get up and move as much as we are able.  I agree.  I’m also positive that girl would give anything to be thin – 100% positive.  If that magic pill did come on the market, even if it cost $1,000,000, she would be right in there with elbows jabbing, trying to get past me and the other Fatty McFatties stampeding to buy it.  She’s a lot younger than I am and probably in much better shape, but I still think I could take her.

I have a lot more years of desperation driving me.

This is the place where you might be expecting some sort of uplifting, self-affirming declaration like, “I’m through with diets.  I’m OK just the way I am, and so are YOU!”   Nope.  I want to be thin.  Thin looks better, thin is healthier, I know that and I want that.   We ALL want that.

Shoots of self-awareness have sprouted anew, curbing my eating and encouraging me to get outside and walk.  I’ve joined a gym.   I might even visit it someday.  I jumped on the diet mini-tramp and I’m losing weight again because I’m not giving up – I never will.

But I am weary to my bones of the endless, Sisyphean process of rolling this body up and down the same hill.  The truth has finally dawned on me; regardless of where I am on my mini-tramp journey, regardless of how my body looks on the outside at any single point in time, I will always be fat.

And that realization makes me sad.

Can I get an amen?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I wrote most of this last February when the third picture shown above was taken and I was only weeks into my latest attempt to lose weight.  The piece has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost 10 months.  I’ve revisited it since then, tweaking words and rearranging paragraphs, my finger hovering over the “Publish” button a dozen times.   I couldn’t bring myself to hit it.

If I’m being brutally honest with myself, something I usually try to avoid at all costs, I didn’t want to publish this for a couple of reasons.

  1. This is intensely personal. It’s as close to seeing me naked as the vast majority of you will ever get.
  2. I wanted to be able to say, “That was old-me. I’ve lost a ton since then, see? Now-me doesn’t look so bad!”  Like we used to do in the good old days of regular cameras when you took the picture, waited to finish the roll, waited to get it developed and finally saw the finished product when you picked it up at Walgreens 4 months later.  By that point you had full, self-deniability.  We can’t use that excuse in the modern era, sadly, when smart phone pictures are posted on Facebook before your smile muscles have recovered from saying “cheese.”
  3. I am ashamed. I am a reasonably intelligent, reasonably attractive, reasonably etc. woman and I cannot seem to conquer this.  The first thing the world notices about me is my body, and they judge me by this failing.  To a large extent, so do I.

I know you analytical types want the cold hard facts, so here’s where things stand:

  • 62 pounds: lost 5 years ago
  • 55 pounds: gained over the next 4 years
  • 48 pounds: lost in 2016
  • 5 pounds: gained over the holidays
  • 1 pound: lost in 2017

Welcome aboard my mini-tramp.

Posted in Biggest Loser: Family Edition, General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 117 Comments

My Retroactive 2016 New Year’s Resolutions

I had a very good year.

I had a very good year.

Right about now, a lot of you are thinking of ways to improve yourself in the coming year; in other words, you’re making your 2017 New Year’s resolutions.  Bad idea.  Nobody keeps those for more than a week – two weeks, tops – so you’re setting yourself up for certain failure.  If we’ve learned nothing else in the last 10 years, it’s that aiming high breeds winners, but also creates the possibility that there will be losers.  That must be avoided at all costs in the interest of building self-esteem.

In the same spirit as abolishing class ranking and giving participation trophies, I propose everyone make their resolutions AFTER the year is over.  That way our goals are more realistic.  I’ve been doing it this way for years and my levels of self-esteem and self-love have never been higher.

Here are my Retroactive New Year’s Resolutions (aka Old Year’s Resolutions) for 2016 along with a report on how I measured up.  I think you’ll be pleased with the results – I know I was:

  • Lose weight…then gain it all back.  I really overachieved on this one by losing 50 pounds.  Not all at once, of course, but if you count all the times I lost 10 and gained back 15, it really adds up.
  • Get in shape…approximately the same shape as Jabba the Hut.  Nailed it.
  • Improve my mind…by watching educational programming on that university of the airways, The Learning Channel.  Spent hours studying “Little People of —-,” “Real Housewives of —-“ and “Family With A Whole Boat-load of Kids of —–.”
  • Give back…tacky gifts that I wouldn’t be caught dead using.  I successfully unloaded all such losers on unsuspecting recipients, and only regifted back to the original giver once.  Awkward.
  • Get involved in politics…by voting.  Also by welcoming diversity in ideas as well as race and sexual orientation.  Showed this by biting my tongue until it bled instead of telling others what I REALLY thought of their lame-ass candidate.
  • Do unto others…before they do unto me.  I practiced what I preached by not letting anyone into my lane if their lane was ending and they waited until the absolute last second to merge.  Dipwads.
  • Be more patient…with those who are deserving, a group that does not include rude drivers and clueless customer service representatives who are trying to get on my last nerve, I swear to god.  Otherwise, Mother Theresa could take notes from me.
  • Stop buying useless junk…which, of course, doesn’t include any of the incredible values and labor-saving devices I snagged on Amazon, QVC and similar fine, 2am shopping venues.
  • Save money…Save the planet…Save the whales…I covered all of these “save the whatever” do-gooder goals by saving those perfume-impregnated postcards that come stuck in fashion magazines.  Then I reused them as sachets in my underwear drawer.
  • Finish writing my book…or finish reading a book; that’s almost as good.  I highly recommend “The Calvin & Hobbes Cartoon Anthology” and even returned it to the library only a couple of weeks overdue.
  • Get smart about investing…in $10 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets every week.  Upped investment goal during weeks when the Mega Lottery payout was over $200 million.
  • Plan for retirement…see “Get smart about investing” above.
  • Stop swearing…except at all the @#$&-wads who must be deliberately trying to annoy me, I swear to god.
  • Drink less…prune juice.  Done and done.

2016 was obviously a stellar year for me, and I can hardly wait to find out how I do in 2017.  There are only 365 days to go.  I can practically guarantee I’ll exceed expectations once again.

What are your Retroactive New Year’s Resolutions for 2016?

 

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Last Minute Gift Ideas To Keep You From Being Ebenezer Screwed Again This Year

Christmas is the season for celebrating old traditions.  Around this blog, that means dusting off posts of Christmas past, posts that are staler than re-gifted fruitcake.  Enjoy. 

Bah humbug!

Bah humbug!

Christmas is only a couple of days away.  The cards are written, the presents are bought, wrapped and under the tree, and now everyone can sit back and enjoy the season.

Everyone except you.

You haven’t done anything to get ready.  You have no presents, no ideas and no money again this year.   You’re basically screwed, right?

Wrong!

Don’t despair!  You don’t have have to spend Christmas in the doghouse, just because you’re lazy and broke.  Borrow some of these last minute gift ideas:

1)      For the book lover:  Does someone on your gift list always have his or her nose in a book?  Have you priced hardcovers lately?  They can be $30 and up – ridiculous!  Trot down to the local library, check out the newest bestseller and wrap it up.  When the recipient opens your gift and looks bewildered, start on a long-winded diatribe about what an outrageous assault on the environment it is to cut down defenseless trees for books, and the importance of sharing resources.  Add a bit about the great history of Carnegie libraries in America and by the end of your presentation the book lover will be feeling vaguely guilty for ever having bought one.  Be a Christmas angel and remind the recipient they’ll incur overdue fines after 2 weeks, so they should read fast!

2)      For the wine lover:  With your Annie Green Springs tastes, you have neither the budget nor the knowledge to please a true wine connoisseur.  Don’t even try.  Take a card and write, “Here’s a little something to toast the season”.  Wrap up a box containing …2 pieces of dry toast.  I suggest using whole wheat bread since wine snobs also tend to be health food snobs.  They’ll look like poor sports if they even hint that they would prefer a real gift to your clever gag. (Thrifty suggestion: Cut a square of wrapping paper, fold in half and use this as a card.  You can write on the inside and it matches the package for an expensive, coordinated look.)

3)      For that special woman:  Is there anything a woman loves more than a truly spectacular piece of expensive jewelry?  Since THAT’s not going to happen this Christmas, you can still score points by hitting her other hot button: a love of schmaltzy romance.  Just write in a card, “You own the key to my heart.”  Wrap up a small, jewelry-sized box in which you’ve placed…a key.  Any old key will do –could be the key to your locker at the gym.   Make sure it’s not your car key, though, as it might be awkward to have to ask for it back at the end of the evening.

4)      For your kid:  Every parent has experienced this.  You get your kid a Suzy Homemaker kitchen, or Little Tykes workbench and they run right by the big, expensive toy to play with the box.  Encourage their creative spirit with an Imagination Kit: an assortment of cardboard boxes, rolling paper and toilet paper tubes, rubber bands and other stuff that you have around the house.  Pontificate about the importance of creative play, developing building and imagination skills and getting back to basics.  This will confuse the in-laws so they can’t be sure if you really believe all that stuff, or you’re just a cheap Scrooge.

5)      For the kid’s teacher:  Teachers get so much lame junk: ornaments, bubble bath and candles, they could open a gift store.  What do they really, really want?  Some relief from the unrelenting torment of having little monsters like your kid in their class.  Make up several coupons “Good for one day without Johnny”.  On days when your offspring has been acting even more like the spawn of Satan than usual, Teacher can send one of the coupons home with the kid.  You promise to keep him home “sick” the next day, thereby giving Teacher a much-needed break.  Be careful not to give so many coupons that all his days off catch the attention of the health department or truancy officer.

6)      For the brother-in-law:  Your lush of a brother-in-law is always getting in trouble with the po-lice.  What a hoot when he opens your gift in front of the whole family to reveal a stack of “get out of jail free” cards, taken from a Monopoly game.  Even funnier if you could be be there when he tries to use one when he gets stopped, weaving down the road on the way home from the family party.

7)      For your pets:  What dog doesn’t love a rousing game of “fetch”?  Simply gather up a couple of sticks (not too fat), about 1-1/2 feet long, and tie them up with a jaunty, red ribbon.   For the cat, smush a page from the Sunday funnies into a ball, wrap in twine or rubber bands, and you’re ready for hours of pouncing play.  (These also make thoughtful gifts for the dog or cat lover on your list.)

With my helpful hints, a little bit of cleverness can take the place of true thoughtfulness, money and any real effort on your part.

Merry Christmas, and good luck!

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