Monthly Archives: November 2012

Another random list, post-Thanksgiving edition

Here we go again with some things that are bouncing around in the old cranium:

  1. This might seem off, but this week I’m making resolutions. But they’re not exactly New Year’s resolutions. More like The Next Two Weeks’ resolutions. And they include but are not limited to losing a few pounds …
  2. …which may seem totally lame considering we just got all revved up with Thanksgiving and are transitioning into Christmas. And I noticed on my shopping trip yesterday that the store shelves are stocked to overflowing with flour, sugar, cake mixes and the like, which are anathema to me because …
  3. … yesterday I started a “diet” — no carbs and/or sugar of any kind for two weeks (see #1 above). This might seem like an odd (stupid, insane, impossible) thing to do at this particular point on the calendar, but I don’t care. I’m the one who got on the scale Saturday morning (couldn’t bring myself to do it Friday because, well, you know), and my decision was pretty much made right there. But I waited to start til yesterday because, duh, leftovers.
  4. My attic de-cluttering project has been on hiatus lately, but I’m determined to stick with it, no matter how long it takes. Which could potentially be kind of a long time. The project is starting to almost take on an Augean Stables sort of feel, but I refuse to be outdone by it.
  5. I was going to post a photo of my attic and all the mess, but I took one and looked at it, and thought, “I might be the only one who has a problem with this. Someone else might look at it and think, So what?” So, never mind. Trust me when I say it really needs to be dealt with, but can’t be just by redirecting a couple of nearby rivers.
  6. And you know, when I stop to think about it, I’ve had this weird energy lately — although to be completely honest, it kind of comes and goes — that feels sort of like nesting. Which I last remember experiencing 25 years ago. (Maybe it’s the HRT hormones I’m on.) For example, yesterday I spent about an hour cleaning out the refrigerator, and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t the most wonderful feeling.
  7. I think that’s because cleaning stuff out and getting rid of stuff you don’t need or want anymore almost feels itself like losing weight. You instantly feel cleaner and lighter, personally, not just refrigerator-wise.
  8. And even better: Sunday I went to the newest Tupperware party-type event — am I dating myself when I say Tupperware party? — which is where the hostess invites a bunch of friends over and brings in a professional precious metals buyer, who looks at all your old gold jewelry and stuff, and then he GIVES YOU CASH for it, right there on the spot! I made over $500 for a fairly small amount of gold jewelry I knew I’d never wear again. It was amazing. Not to mention profitable.
  9. So now I have a little extra cash in my pocket for Christmas shopping. Which I’m mostly not looking forward to, but at the same time, I kinda sorta am. I just have mixed feelings about the whole retail frenzy Christmas shopping season that we have to slog through get to enjoy over the next four weeks.
  10. Which reminds me of this cartoon; you may have seen it on Facebook:

Look at that shopping cart: I’d love to get my hands on that and just start throwing stuff out. That would be such a rush.

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Thanksgiving reflections II

I’m just a tad frazzled at the moment, what with all that’s on my pre-holiday to-do list (and our girl comes home tomorrow! Hulō!), and for some crazy reason I scheduled three appointments today which have me driving all over Creation Honolulu. So perhaps it’s best for all of us if I just re-post a Thanksgiving reflection.

Here’s something I did about a year ago, when I was engaged in remembering people from my past:

She came from American aristocracy: her maiden name was Adams, and her family had been in this country for who knows how many generations. And she came from money; her father was a banker in San Francisco who had hobnobbed with the robber barons.

So she was accustomed to a certain way, not to mention quality, of life. I got my first glimpse of this when I, recently engaged to her grandson, was invited to Thanksgiving in her home. At just the right time, after a time of cocktails and polite chitchat on the lanai, we were asked to make our way to the dining room for dinner. That the table was lavishly set you can imagine; each place setting had multiple pieces of china, crystal, and silver to contend with. And a finger bowl.

Now, I was — am — no country bumpkin. My mother had schooled me well enough in etiquette in my growing-up years (and believe it or not, I got further instruction in college, of all places) that I knew which fork was which and that my bread plate was on the left and so forth. I also knew not to pick up my spoon and start on the soup course before the hostess did. But it was my very first encounter with finger bowls.

For people to whom appearances matter, how one conducts oneself in these types of social situations makes all the difference. It was clear to me that this was a whole new ball game, and while I definitely did not have the home field advantage, for my fiance’s sake, I had to step up. So I did.

Nonchalance was my middle name, but you better believe I was carefully watching the rest of the group, taking my cues from them. The staff, two elderly Japanese ladies in starched white dresses and aprons, came in with each course and served us individually, always from the left (recently I saw this played out briefly in “The Help” — did you catch it? when a maid tries to serve one of the white ladies from her right side, and the lady, with a frown, makes her shift over to the left).

I might have been just a split-second behind the rest of the group that night, but I think I gave a pretty seamless performance. I got thrown off slightly during the dessert course when Misayo was attempting to serve me hard sauce and I thought it was ice cream. I’d never seen hard sauce before. And frankly, I can’t recommend it.

Anyway, when it came time to use the finger bowl, I peeked under my lashes and watched Baba, then daintily dipped my own fingertips in the warm, flower-scented water. No one would ever have guessed it was my first time.

I was there again many times over the years, of course, and always behaved utterly appropriately; I knew what was expected of me in that situation. She never said anything — that wouldn’t have been her way — but I knew I had her approval. And for my part, I knew, though would never have told her: I wasn’t about to be intimidated by a little finger bowl.

photo credit: diplomatickitchen.com

I am hosting the dinner again this year, and definitely busting out the good china and silver, but sadly, there won’t be any finger bowls.

Thanksgiving reflections I

The spring of my sophomore year in high school, one of my best friends, Gail, got word that her dad had been offered and had accepted a job that meant they would moving back to the mainland.

This was all fine and dandy with Gail’s two younger sisters and her parents, but it was not at all fine with Gail. And because it wasn’t with Gail, it wasn’t with me.

So the two of us hatched a plot. We decided that since by the fall of the next school year my older brother would have moved out to attend college in Indiana, Gail could just stay on in Hawaii and live in my house, thus being able to finish her last two years at our high school.

We arranged a meeting of the two families to talk this proposal over, and somewhat to our surprise, our parents agreed. (Then we left it to the four adults to work out the details of figuring out Gail’s room and board, and other arrangements we weren’t capable of wrapping our adolescent minds around.)

I have to digress for just a moment to say: Do you know anyone who would do this nowadays? Just leave their 15-year-old daughter to live with an unrelated family for two years, 5000 miles distant, and trust that everything would be all right? I don’t think I do. Still amazes me, 40 years later, that we pulled it off.

Anyway, although Gail and I were the same age and the same grade and both mostly easy-going individuals, our first couple months in this new arrangement were bound to have their rocky moments, and in fact they did. We struggled a bit to get along until finally we reached a pivotal point where, from then on, all was well.

It happened on Thanksgiving.

My memory’s a bit vague, but as I recall, we had spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving just sort of sniping at each other: not flat out fighting, but not really getting along all that great. I’m sure there were tears. My poor mom must have been wondering how she was going to manage cooking for a bunch of guests and at the same time be there for a hanai (foster) daughter who was spending her first Thanksgiving away from home and family.

One of the families that was invited to our home that year was the Wilsons*. Mrs. Wilson was a colleague of my mom’s, and had what you might call a splenetic personality: she seemed to be perpetually in a state of ill-humor. At least that was our teenage perspective; I’m sure she was probably a totally decent, happy person.

Anyway, we were barely into the first course when Mrs. Wilson, after asking several questions about our temporary adoption arrangement, pronounced that it would never work: “By the end of the two years, they most certainly won’t still be friends,” was I think how she put it.

Gail and I looked at each other. At that moment, we could see in each other’s eyes, we had the same thought. The two of us, not in any kind of athletic way, but in more of a psycho-emotional way, are deeply competitive. (I don’t have time to go into our online Scramble games; suffice to say that neither of us likes to lose to the other.) And the gauntlet had just been thrown.

We determined then and there that no matter what, we would stick together and make this thing work, if for no other reason than to prove Mrs. Wilson wrong. I’m sure Mrs. Wilson had no idea that she became the motivation for the success of our relationship going forward. But that day, with our plates before us piled up with turkey and trimmings (because we had also planned some sort of challenge to out-eat each other — competitive; told you), was the beginning of Gail and me becoming not just best friends, but sisters.

Because in the end — and we had a private little commemorative moment on our graduation day — we could proudly tell Mrs. Wilson or anybody that we had weathered those two years and most certainly were still friends. Now, every Thanksgiving day, Gail and I make a point to call each other to say Happy Thanksgiving, and we always remember Mrs. Wilson and the challenge she put before us, and how it changed everything.

Happy Thanksgiving, Sister!

*names changed to protect the not-so-innocent

Random thoughts for Friday

It feels like I’ve been drifting about this morning without a coherent thought in my head.

Unfortunately, this is the norm for me.

And I would love to post something that tells an interesting story or makes a certain point — a point! what a concept! — but at the moment I’m afraid the best I can come up with is sort of a random list.

We’ll get back to the whole point thing on another occasion. She said, hopefully.

1. I have to go to the store today to buy milk, which reminds me of a weird postcard that came in the mail yesterday. It was a legal notice, regarding a class action related to organic milk. I know, right? — Huh? Apparently there’s a suit claiming that a certain organic milk dairy, which supplies to Costco, Safeway and other retailers, “violated state consumer fraud and deceptive business practices acts,” and as a purchaser of their milk products I may be entitled to compensation.

Which gives new meaning to the term: “milk money.”

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out what this all means, and more importantly: What did they do to my milk??

2. I also got a call yesterday from my financial advisor that we have, over the years, earned “rewards points” from a certain debit card, and if we don’t use them by December 31st, we lose them. I don’t know about you, but I hate having this kind of pressure hanging over me. Or pressing down on me. Whatever. On the other hand, I think — well, more like I’m crossing my fingers — that we might have enough points for a flight to the mainland, so I’d better get on it.

3. That rewards points thing is a bit frustrating because it falls into the category of Things That I Have Time To Do And The Coach Doesn’t, Because He’s Teaching Children All Day Long And I’m Not, So It’s Easier For Me To Do It, But I Can’t Because The Account Is In His Name.

I need to figure out a shorter name for that category.

4. So Thanksgiving is looming ominously right around the corner, which I may have mentioned once or eighteen times, and I’m making progress on my grocery list but still have quite a ways to go. Like the bird, for one thing. (If I were smart, I’d pick up a few things when I am at the store later getting the hopefully-not-tainted organic milk, but that may or may not happen. Which may or may not be a reflection on my, um, smartness.)

You know what I have the hardest time with, with Thanksgiving? Not the cooking; the cleaning. It just seems endless.

And I hate to admit this kind of first world problem, but I have two refrigerators and at the moment they are both full. So I’m not sure where the Thanksgiving stuff is going to go unless I get busy clearing out the fridges. Sigh; one more thing.

5. Lately I’ve been having more what I’ve come to think of as old lady moments. Like the other morning when I woke up, creaked and groaned, and thought, “I may have overdone it a bit yesterday with the exercise.” And I hadn’t even done all that much. And you know that book of Nora Ephron’s called, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”? Let’s just say I’m getting to that point myself, neck-wise.

6. A number of years ago I “had my colors done,” you know, where they do this analysis on you and tell you what colors you should and shouldn’t wear. Turns out I should never, ever wear black. Which most of the time I’m fine with, because I don’t care much for black anyway. But there’s this one holiday party that The Coach and I attend every year that’s a little dressy, and I found this darling Little Black Dress online that I really want to buy for it, but … I’m not supposed to wear black.

Sorry; another first world dilemma there.

And side note to The Coach: I’m thinking it’s time to change your look up. The black suit? Maybe not this year.

7. I’m super excited that our girl is coming home for Thanksgiving, except for one thing: the four of us will be sharing a bathroom. Ever since the Great Master Bath Shower Disaster of three or four months ago (story for another time), The Coach and I have been using the kids’ bathroom down the hall. Then our boy moved back in, which made three of us sharing, and by next week it will be four. Four full grown adults. And all their products.

Another side note to The Coach: this bathroom remodeling project? Is it ever going to happen?

8. Now for a little weather update: Today is the first day that it kind of feels like fall here. It’s a bit overcast, but not raining, there’s a nice cool breeze — just a tiny indication that we might be in for something other than sweltering, for a change.

9. Have you ever noticed that the people who go on and on about how we all must be more tolerant, and not stand for intolerance wherever it rears its ugly head — are really kind of like, um, bullies about it? Just sayin’.

10. It bothers me a little that I haven’t posted anything with a picture since I finished the 31 Days thing a couple weeks ago. I don’t necessarily have anything I can think of to show you, though, so I’m just going to throw up this random shot from my photo library, of a sunrise in Fiji:

Doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but it’s pretty, no?

Have a great weekend!

There are two kinds of people in the world …

Yesterday I was chatting on the phone with my mom about Thanksgiving next week, and the lead-in to the Christmas shopping season.

“Soon,” she said, “it will be time to go on our annual shopping trip.”

“Oh, right!” I replied. Translation: “Ugh.”

My mom, an elderly widow, has more or less lost her confidence in her own ability to buy gifts for people. I’m not sure when this all happened, because there used to be a time when she was quite a respectable shopper and gift-giver.

But now, for kids’ and grandkids’ birthdays, she mostly gives gift cards or cash, and for Christmas, she makes me asks me to take her to the mall, where I pick out gifts for all the people on my side and she pays for them.

I love my mom so much, but this event is really challenging for me. I’m thankful it only comes once a year. Because when it comes to shopping for Christmas, we ascribe to different philosophies.

You know how when people want to make a certain point they’ll say that there are two kinds of people in the world? Then they go on to describe two antithetical human characteristics and place everyone in one or the other of those categories. Well, I happen to believe there are two kinds of gift givers, and in this sense my mom and I are … opposites.

One type of gift giver wants to give you something you really want or need, and will directly or indirectly try to figure out from you what that is. Then they will go out and buy you that exact thing, and when you open it up on Christmas morning, there it is: the very thing you said you wanted. A tidy little arrangement, with minimal surprise.

The other type of giver doesn’t necessarily consult the recipient, but instead thinks, “Based on what I know about this person, I think he/she would appreciate having X,” then goes out and finds X and wraps up a gift that will most likely be more of a surprise than in the first scenario.

Granted, the risk the second type of giver takes is that she will have read the signals wrong and gotten a gift that for whatever reason is less than appreciated by the recipient. But success hinges on that conditional: “Based on what I know about this person.” In other words, there’s a little more work — in the sense of thoughtfulness — involved in this type of gift-giving.

I believe the burden is on you, the gift-giver, to know who you’re giving to. And I get that it’s hard during the stress of the Christmas season to get it exactly right with every single person on your gift list, but still: when we’re talking about your family, shouldn’t you sort of have a clue as to what might float somebody’s boat? Or at the very least, you get them something you think “looks” like them, you know?

(And as you can imagine I tend to have a hard time when people approach me with the dreaded question: “What do you want for Christmas?” My answer is usually — through clenched teeth — “Oh, you know me; whatever you think I’d enjoy.” I’m still trying to make converts, but I suppose it’s a lost cause.)

Oh, well. The way I’ve learned to deal with the fact that my mom and I are different in this respect is by changing my expectations for her (and probably more importantly: for myself). Our little system, where I select all the gifts and she pays for them, works for her, so it has to work for me. So here’s what I do: I just make a separate gift list of all the people she wants to buy for — based on what I know about them — then we go straight to each place where those things are, buy them, and we’re outta there.

That’s right: no browsing, no “What do you think of this idea?” — no discussion of the merits of one over the other. A shirt and a pair of pants: perfect; box it up, and let’s go.

This requires me to behave like the first kind of gift-giver, which obviously I’m not, but if I unclench my teeth and think of it as something like having fluency in a foreign language, well, then I guess it’s win-win for everybody.

Plus it’s something I get to do for my mom, and isn’t that, at least somewhat, what Christmas is about?

I am a stranger in a strange arts and crafts land

Many of my fellow empty nesters, upon making the transition from stay-at-home mom (SAHM) to SAHM with no kids at home, wrestle with the dreaded question: “Now what?”

I am no different. I just have not come up with the same answer as many of them.

Some go back to work, or start businesses from home, some find volunteer work to do, some get into new exercise programs like training for the marathon.

A lot launch into hobbies like making jewelry or home decor, which they can sell on Etsy or at local craft fairs. I know a whole bunch of ladies who are doing this now, and one of my very good friends has even somehow persuaded me to get on board with her plan to make and sell hand-painted throw pillows.

Oh, no. No, no, no.

First of all, I have no idea why she thought I would want to do such a thing in the first place. Neither directly nor indirectly have I ever shown any interest in crafty or homemade stuff. It’s just not something I do. Mostly because I’m not any good at any of it (translation: really, really bad).

Certainly I admire those women who like to construct their own home decor, but that’s just not an area where my own gifts lie. Not to mention my interest.

Not only am I not Martha Stewart, I am at the complete opposite end of the Martha Stewart spectrum. In fact my position on the Martha thing could best be described as: “Profound Indifference.”

Also, I lack appreciation for the things of that world. I do not have an “eye” for what’s cute, and the fact that I don’t bothers me not one little bit. I am perfectly content not to pin things on Pinterest, or to put up seasonal decorations in my house — well, with the exception of Christmas, of course, but everybody does that. And my Christmas decorations are exactly the same, year in and year out: again, creativity in the range of zero.

Because of this, I do not go to craft fairs. I just don’t get them. In fact, I find them painful. For one thing, they are overwhelming: it’s nigh impossible for me to process all that visual overload. Ninety-nine percent of what is sold at craft fairs, I look at it and think: “What would I want with that? It’s just another thing to dust.” In fact, on the rare occasion when I’ve bought something at a craft fair, 9 times out of 10 it has ended up in drawer or up on a shelf somewhere, of no use whatsoever to me or anyone else. Then, after the thing has sat in its drawer or on its shelf for a dozen or 15 years, I toss it out. And for me that is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

(At this point you may be thinking: This woman is practically a dude. To which all I can say is: Guilty.)

So part of the equation is that I am someone who has no admiration whatsoever for artsy-craftsy things, and the other part is that I am not someone who cares to engage in them. So when my friend Carol invited me to join her in her hand-painted pillows venture, on the outside I was saying, “I’ll tell you up front I’m not going to be any good at this but you’re my friend and you’re being a pretty good salesman here, so okay, I’ll play along,” and on the inside I was saying something that was either, “Yawn,” or “I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.”

I did one pillow painting session with Carol at her house about a year and a half ago — naturally I didn’t even get but halfway through one pathetic-looking pillow, in four or five hours’ time — and that was that. At least as far as I was concerned, it was.

Carol called me back this weekend. Texted, actually. From a craft fair. (Which, by the way, she had earlier called me to tell me about and make me promise to go to. As if.) Her message was that we need to get together soon because she was inspired with new ideas for things we could paint besides pillows. Like trucker caps.

Oh Lord, I prayed, kill me now.

Or at least, somehow spare me from having to tell Carol: not me. Please, I’m begging you, count me out. Hey, you know what would be great? If I had the ability to do a Jedi mind trick. You know, like, instead of saying, “These are not the droids you are looking for,” I could wave my hand and say: “Plum is not the crafter you are looking for.”

Then she would just move along. That would be awesome.

I don’t get it: Christmas decorations

On my morning walk today I took a slightly different route and passed a house that I haven’t seen in awhile. They had Christmas decorations up.

Lights in the trees, a candy cane thing above the garage, some other Christmas-y stuff in the front windows.

Well. This set me to thinking so furiously that I almost didn’t hear the rest of the podcast I was listening to. I just have so many questions.

First of all, why? Why would you have Christmas decorations up on November 13th? It hasn’t even been two weeks since Halloween and you’ve completely made the seasonal transition from fall to winter. What’s the rush?

Which also got me to wondering: if Christmas decorations are going up hard on the heels of Halloween — and without any apparent consideration for an intervening holiday, Thanksgiving — how long will someone with such an agenda leave the Christmas-themed decorations up, anyway?

That train of thought led to this puzzle (which I am by no means at all close to solving): exactly what holiday is it that this person is celebrating?

I mean, I understand that in our 21st century culture we all kind of have different spins on what Christmas is. So you can kind of decide, according to your personal spin, how you celebrate that winter holiday that’s sort of generically, anymore, referred to as “Christmas.”

An article I read a few years ago put forth the idea that nowadays there are two Christmases, really: the religious one (call it the Jesus Christmas), and the secular/cultural one (the Santa Claus Christmas). Therefore everyone who “does” Christmas is participating, shall we say, in the holiday in either, or even both, of these ways.

And since we can assume the decorations on one’s home are an outward show of one’s “spirit” of Christmas, I guess what I’m really wondering is: what’s going on inside the house? Are they listening to Christmas music already? Wrapping presents? Putting up a tree? A creche? And if so … why?

I also had one more, much smaller question about the decorated house I walked past. The house is situated on the far end of a little cul de sac, one of about six homes on this short lane, and nowhere near the main drag that runs through our neighborhood. Who, exactly, is going to even see all this festive ornamentation?

Seriously, I don’t get it.