Monday, December 21, 2015

Why I highly recommend giving slightly outlandish gifts.

Eleven years ago this month, I moved out of the house I'd shared with my boyfriend of 7 years. We broke up, and I was completely broken.

I moved into The Apartment of Despair and everything was just ... wrong. I didn't have any plates that could go in the microwave, so I ate most of my meager meals off the same Pyrex pie plate. Since I suddenly found myself with 2 dogs and no backyard, I tried to navigate walking a psycho dachshund on ice. It did not go well. And my freelance business was ... fledgling at best. I knew it was going to work out, but times were hard.

I got a job working holiday retail, which gave me a reason to leave my apartment. And I tried to figure out how things were going to come together financially. When I decided to leave Ex-Ex, I had exactly $25.35 in my bank account. I'll never forget it. I was so ashamed, and wondered how I had gotten there, both financially and emotionally.

Christmas was to be a pared-down affair. The big gift for the family would be that my brother would fly home from Ireland, where he'd been living. We didn't need any other gifts. I think this was my mom's clandestine way of ensuring that I didn't feel like I needed to spend money I didn't have. We were just going to hunker down and celebrate being together.

There were a few notable gifts, though. Poochie brought with him a huge Milk Tray chocolate assortment. His coworkers from the factory in Ireland had chipped in and purchased it as a going-away present since his visa was expiring. These people were all Indian and Middle Eastern immigrants who assembled belts that jiggled your gut for supposed weight loss. To a man, they sent most of their earnings home to their families. These kind folks adopted Poochie, and had him to their homes for holidays. He brought their kindness home to us.

There were also envelopes from our grandpa. He was still reeling from the death of his wife of 69 years. It had been almost 3 years, but after 69 years ... that's barely a heartbeat. But he was doing his best, playing a little golf, going on a few excursions at the assisted living facility. He still wrote his letters referring to "we." It was both heartbreaking and a case of, "well, of course!" They had started their married life together on a farm in western Kansas during the depression. Their love was an example of "through thick and thin."

Poochie and I each got an envelope. Our folks had no idea what was inside. I opened mine first.

The note read:
Christmas brings memories of happy times of celebration with our family and great appreciation for all the thoughtful and caring things that you do.

Your grandma's legacy continues to grow in many ways. It is my pleasure to share this with you during this holiday season. Enjoy!

With love,

And there was a check.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a ton. But to me? It was a gajillion dollars. It was rent and groceries and being able to breathe. It was moving forward instead of being moored to the idea that I had made huge, irreparable mistakes.

I cried. Ugly cried. The kind of sobbing you don't want anyone to see, except I was doing it at Christmas. I couldn't speak. Too much mucus.

My family couldn't figure out what was in the envelope and why I was so emotional. My brother opened his similar envelope, and everyone figured out quickly that I was good ugly crying, not bad ugly crying.

In all the photos from that holiday, I look rather raw. My eyes are red. I'm too skinny. But there's a glimmer of better things to come, of resilience.
A different Christmas. But just as magical.
And that's what I think about when I hear great stories about Secret Santas, people handing out cash at thrift stores, or folks covering bills for others. You just never know how that not-so-big-to-you kindness will size up for the recipient.

For me? It was king-sized. It was huge. And it reminded me that everything was going to be OK.

Have you been the recipient of such a life-changing gift? Warm my heart this Christmas and tell me all about it!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book recommendations for your last-minute holiday shopping needs.

If you're like me, you kind of hate leaving your house. And you probably aren't quite done with your Christmas shopping. And time is running out. It's a cunnundrum.

But! Never fear! Use the crap outta that Amazon Prime membership and order the just-right book for those hard-to-shop-for folks on your list. Here are my recommendations.

For your angsty teen-aged niece: When did teen girls get so scary? They dress better than me and I'm pretty sure they're judging my sensible footwear and OMG, teen girls are terrifying! But, all that aside ... you can smooth things over and buy some street cred with Rainbow Rowell. These novels are technically young adult, but I've read them and they are wonderful - engrossing and smart. Consider Fangirl: A Novel or its new followup, Carry On.

For your father-in-law who thinks everything made after 1950 is crap: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. Because this book is about some hard-core dudes from when men were men. This book has it all: pulling yourself up by your bootstraps; sports; and beating Nazis. If you liked Unbroken, you'll like The Boys in the Boat. If you haven't read Unbroken, well, that would make a good New Year's resolution. You won't be sorry.

For the wanna-be fabulous folk in your life: Modern Mix by Eddie Ross. OK, usually, I only look at the photos in decorating books. Show me, don't tell me. But this coffee table book combines gorgeous photos with text that's engaging and gives you permission to do yo' thang. Eddie loves flea markets, color, and dishes. And this book is both inspiring and empowering. When it comes to decorating, your stuff doesn't have to match: it has to go. And you deserve to live in loveliness.

For the naughty girl and/or felon: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Because it seems like just another thriller set in post-WWI London and your mom asks to borrow it when you're done reading, but then you get into it and it is ... steamy? And you realize that you skimmed over the cover blurb that called it "volcanically sexy?" And it offers a nuanced view of what it was like to be gay less than 100 years ago? And also, murder?

For the history buff or the slightly nerdy teen-aged boy: One Summer: America, 1927. So, I love Bill Bryson. His writing reflects his genuine curiosity about the world and is so engaging. This book covers just a few months in American history, but what a few months: Lindburgh, Ruth, Ford, Capone. I learned a lot, and found myself wanting to know more. And isn't that the greatest gift?

For your friend in need of a change: Sometimes, you've got to mess up and get lost to figure things out. Lost & Found by Brooke Davis is a lovely novel about just that. There's the little girl who's living in a department store; the elderly man who runs away from his nursing home; and the old biddy who hasn't left her house in 7 years. And then? Well, stuff happens. It's funny and heartbreaking and life-affirming and I just loved this book.

For the young reader who isn't yet an angsty teen but might be starting to figure out that you aren't cool: This might be your last chance to share a book from your childhood. Or mine. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg is a novel that I loved as a kid. I reread it a few years ago and it's just as magical. Claudia and Jamie run away from home to ... The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course.

What did I miss? And what books are you giving (or hoping to receive!) this holiday?

Friendly reminder: When you shop through my links, Amazon throws me some spare change. You know, to pay my library fines. Because sometimes I borrow books instead of buying them. Because I'm not made of money. And libraries are awesome.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Inner peace through hair removal.

My dog has a 1-foot square bald spot on his rear.

It's the latest in 6 months of veterinary adventures. Big Doodle has had ozone pumped into his bladder. He's on a ton of vitamins. We've totally revamped his diet, which now consists of these giant chubs full of raw meat dog food. My Guy and I refer to it as "Swiss Colony Beef Log." It is ... almost indescribable in its awesomeness/grotesqueness.

But in the midst of all this A-plus, driving-to-the-speciality-vet-40-minutes-away-once-a-week care, my number 1 giant dog started to attack himself. He chewed a series of hot spots on his hips, tail, and rear. The vet thought it might be a symptom of toxins leaving our boy's body. After all, his bladder cancer seems to be ... silent? In my fantasies, it's skulked back from whence it came. At any rate, he isn't peeing blood anymore, and seems to feel great.

Except for the chewing.

He's on holistic pain meds. I put Rescue Remedy in his water. And we'd go days without an incident. And then, I'd run to the grocery and come home to find blood all over the baseboards and a dog with a giant, oozing wound of his own making.

At least part of it is anxiety. He doesn't do it when his people are around. When we're around, he's his usual, happy self. And so, I feel like I can't leave him. But dude, I do need to go to the grocery. The people gots to eat.

On Thanksgiving, he chewed a new spot during a 30-minute ride in the back of our truckasaurus. I wanted to cry. And scream. "Dude! I am doing everything humanly possible to help you! I carve up Swiss Colony Beef Log on the regular without puking! You gotta help me out here!"

And then I decided that maybe in addition to being happy, he was just really stressed. And this time of year, aren't we all? After all, I cannot deny that I sat in my MIL's bathroom for a few extra minutes on Thanksgiving. I was happy, but I was stressed. Sometimes, you're just desperate for a moment of peace.

Maybe being the poster dog for holistic cancer treatments is really stressful. Maybe my gentle giant has just had it and needs an outlet. Maybe Big Doodle and I aren't that different. I get brittle and snappish and my right shoulder tenses up like Quasimodo. He chews hair and skin off his ass. We're basically the same person!

I'm getting a massage tomorrow. And Big Doodle got his ass shaved, which has evidently provided immense relief. We're all just doing the best we can.

So, take care of yourselves, my sweet friends. Hopefully that doesn't mean getting a 1-foot square area of your rear end shaved, but if that's what does it for you, go for it.