via Daily Prompt: Cherish

I cherished the time I got to spend with my family this Christmas. My brother came home on the 20th and left today. I’ve also had an honorary family member staying with me for the past week. On the 19th my godmother’s dog came to stay with us while she’s on vacation. He’s supposed to go home on the 29th but he’s so cute I don’t want to give him back. He gets along great with everyone including my dog and cat.

Since my brother was home early this year that meant we had more time to shop for gifts for the family together, which translated in to us shopping two days before Christmas rather than one day before. My father often takes care of the family gifts for us but in previous years gifts he’s given have included random junk he found lying around his house, a magnifying glass and gifts that have previously been given to him by people who are present in the room (including my brother). My brother has been so embarrassed by some of these gifts that he’s found an excuse to leave the room when they’re given out. While he hasn’t enjoyed his medical residency, it has provided him with a good salary. He decided that since he had some extra money and time this year we should splurge on gifts.

I consider malls a few days before Christmas to be the eleventh circle of hell. The crowds, the noise, the bright lights, the struggle to find the right gifts-it all adds up to an unpleasant experience. Since a lot of people are out shopping shortly before Christmas there’s a high probability of encountering someone you know and if you’re an introvert as my brother and I both are, that only adds to the unpleasantness. My brother made me go in to a certain store alone when he noticed a certain acquaintance of his was there.

We also argued over what gifts to get. One of us would think we’d come up with a great gift idea only to have the other one say it was a stupid idea and veto the gift. At one point my brother told me to knock it off with the smug comments, which of course only served to increase my smugness.

Then there were the times we agreed on certain gifts but were unable to find them. We wanted to get our sister a mug with the initial of her first name on it but apparently there are no stores in New Jersey that carry mugs bearing the initial I (but it’s probably only a matter of time before Apple releases an iMug.) I imagine Iris, Ivan and Irene are indignant about that.

Still, in the end we did manage to find good gifts for everyone and in the end it wasn’t really about the general unpleasantness of Christmas shopping but the time I got to spend with my brother working together towards achieving a common goal. We did however, keep score of how many successful gift ideas we each came up with. I won.

On December 24th we loaded our gifts in to the car and headed to our sister’s house in Connecticut along with our father and his girlfriend, Gabrielle, who flew in from France for the holidays. Being European, we open our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. Before doing so we gathered in the living room and sang Christmas carols. None of us have singing careers in our futures but we had fun.

The next morning we opened our stockings and had Christmas dinner. The food was delicious and the conversation was lively. For the first time in forever I got to say I was actually doing some things with my life. The discussions about politics and the merits of affirmative action got a bit heated but in my family that’s only to be expected.

After Christmas dinner we decided we better head home because we actually had a second Christmas dinner scheduled. My father had invited my mother and her boyfriend who had flown in from Chicago for the holidays over to his house for a late-night meal.

My parents and their significant others gathered together in the living room of the house my brother and I had once shared with our parents, laughing and sipping red wine. More food was eaten, more gifts were exchanged and more pictures were taken.

I received some great gifts including clothes, a trampoline, a massage device (that looks rather satanic), a breed DNA test for my dog and a book titled Grammar: Know your shit or know you’re shit.

Then there were some things I received on Christmas day that weren’t intended as gifts but were gifts nonetheless. Blogmutt sent me e-mails saying that a post of mine had just been sold and that I had advanced to level 2 in their ranks. When I ventured in to my father’s attic I discovered a bunch of charming old family photos.

But of course the greatest gift of all was another Christmas memory for me to cherish.


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via Daily Prompt: Jolly

Jolly is a word I associate with Christmas and the Christmas season is in full swing. This year Christmas decorations started going up in the mall the day after Halloween and I was a grinch about the season starting so early but now, in the middle of December I’m in the Christmas spirit.

I now really appreciate the Christmas decorations, the Santas, the carolers and the gift wrappers at the mall. I appreciate the giving spirit of the Christmas tree in the center of the mall that encourages purchasing gifts for needy children and as a name nerd I appreciate seeing the childrens’ names. I was going through all the ornaments and texting the names to my fellow name nerd friend.

For the first time in over a decade I’m able to have a Christmas tree in my house because I’m not living with a Jewish stepfather who forbids it. Although as far as I’m concerned the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving, we just got our Christmas tree yesterday. We got a live, medium sized one from Home Depot. It would be nice if we still had the Christmas ornaments from my childhood but we don’t so we had to get new ones. We opted for plastic over glass because glass ornaments would be a disaster in a house with a very curious, playful cat.

Sure enough, as soon as we put down the Christmas tree stand in our living room Dr. Zeus got curious about it.  He was also curious about the ornaments and the packaging they came in. He took the package in his mouth and batted at the ornaments with his paws. Once they were on the tree he knocked some of them off. He hasn’t done too much damage to the tree at this point though and it looks quite beautiful. In addition to the ornaments it has a garland, a bow and lights.

The night we decorated the Christmas tree we listened to Christmas music and baked snowman cookies (I probably shouldn’t have eaten them all in one sitting but self control has never been my strong suit.) The snow that’s still on the ground from the season’s first snowfall further added to the ambiance.

Despite what Donald Trump would have you believe, there is no war on Christmas.  Thanks to him and his party, there is, however, a war on human decency. The horrible things that are going on in this world right now and the general crappiness of my personal life often leave me feeling quite depressed.  Yet when I look at my beautiful Christmas tree with my mischievous cat perched in front of it and I take in all the Christmas cheer that surrounds me, I feel jolly.

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The Things I Got, Gave and Forgave This Year

A friend of mine recently asked me if I bought Christmas gifts for people. Since I don’t have any income of my own, I told her that I select gifts for people and someone else in my family pays for them. She said that giving gifts that someone else pays for is very weird and that she would not want a “selected”gift from me or from anyone else. I told her that was a rather shitty and hurtful thing to say. She apologized and said she hoped I would forgive her for being an asshole.

I forgave my asshole friend* because I love her to the moon and back and in the grand scheme of things her transgression was a rather mild one. I also forgave her because this year I’ve really learned about the power of forgiveness. I’ve forgiven other people, I’ve forgiven myself and other people have forgiven me. That forgiveness has done wonders towards improving my life and I can see that it has positively impacted the lives of others as well.

A few months ago I saw a movie called The Light Between Oceans (based on a novel by the same name that I’d read.) There’s a scene where one character says to another character “You’ve been through so much in your life but you’re still happy. How do you do it?” The second character replies “I choose to forgive. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. It’s too much work.”

When it comes to my work ethic there’s room for improvement and there are a lot of things I could stand to put some more effort in to but when it comes to choosing forgiveness vs. resentment, I’ll proudly and happily choose the option that’s less work.

Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean you think that what the person did was okay or that you like the person. Sometimes it’s best to forgive a person and then cut them out of your life entirely (and I do mean entirely, as in no Facebook stalking them) but sometimes people deserve another chance. Sometimes their motivations and intentions weren’t what you thought they were and sometimes people change with time. I’ve heard some apologies I never expected to hear and some perspectives I’d never considered.

And sometimes, as a great teacher of mine always said, you need to just build a bridge and get over it (That’s a much better saying than “Let it go”, which causes the Frozen theme song to play in my head.) There’s no sense in hanging on to petty bullshit from 10 years ago. You can stop holding grudges against people and you can stop insulting them in mean spirited ways that reflect negatively on you. Sometimes you can do even better than that. You can reach out to those people, you can befriend them, you can treat them with kindness. That will make you feel much better than any cheap laughs you might get at their expense will and they’ll probably appreciate it as well.

If the person you’re struggling to forgive is yourself, you do not even have the option of cutting that person out of your life. You have to be with that person every second of the day. Spending all of your time around someone you dislike, feel anger towards and haven’t forgiven is hell. I’m still not totally there in terms of self forgiveness but I’ve begun the process. I figure that if other people have forgiven me, I can forgive myself.

I think it’s been well established by now that whoever said “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is an idiot. I’m pretty sure that the kind of loving relationship in which both people behave so perfectly that they never say or do anything that hurts or offends the other person is nonexistent. Some people have a hard time admitting that they’ve messed up or apologizing though. Some people get angry when their flaws or bad behavior are pointed out to them.

Thankfully my asshole friend is not one of those people. She said she appreciated that I told her she’d hurt my feelings and made me promise to always point out when she was descending in to asshole-ishness. I’ve known this friend since I was 15 but until a few months ago I hadn’t spoken to her in years. I hadn’t spoken to any of my real life friends in years and I ignored them when they tried to reach out to me because I was embarrassed by all the assholic things I’d done but ignoring them only added to my assholishness.

Now I talk to my asshole friend almost every day and her friendship is the greatest gift I’ve gotten this year- friendship in general is the greatest gift I’ve received and the greatest gift I’ve given this year. Don’t think that asshole friends can’t also be warm and fuzzy friends because they certainly can be. This asshole friend of mine thinks she’s not warm and fuzzy but she is mistaken in that regard. Sometimes asshole friend can also be dense friend. A few months ago I received a letter that said “Sending you good things”. No name was signed at the bottom but I immediately knew it was from my dense asshole friend because she’s the only person in my life who’s warm and fuzzy enough to do something like that.

In spite of her denseness, asshole friend is able to offer me words of wisdom and comfort. She is a great philosopher. When I told her that when it comes to gifts, it’s the thought that counts, she said “Well, then offer me your thoughts as a gift.” Consider this blog to be my gift to you, my warm and fuzzy dense asshole philosopher friend ( WAFDAPF? I generally dislike acronyms but warm and fuzzy dense asshole philosopher friend is kind of a pain in the butt to say and to type repeatedly.)

This blog is not meant to be all about those wonderful spiritual and emotional gifts I gave though. It’s also meant to be about the material gifts I gave and received. I was actually being a bit disingenuous when I said that friendship is the greatest gift I’ve received this year. My iPhone 7 has been at least as great a gift as friendship has been.

Before I got my iPhone7 I’d been using a Blackberry and before that I’d been using a flip phone. This iPhone7 has been a great introduction to the 21st century for me. It seems there’s nothing that phone can’t do. I can surf the internet, I can post on Facebook, I can communicate on Facebook messenger, I can send text messages, I can take pictures, I can scan old pictures, I can listen to the radio, I can read books, I can play games and I’ll be able do a bunch of other things as well as soon as I download the apps and get over my dislike of Siri.

That phone cost a lot so I really appreciate my parents buying it for me. I just hope they don’t kill me when they get this month’s service bill for it. I went over the data limit within a few days and haven’t gotten around to adjusting the data plan. I also neglected to log on to WiFi so I’ve been using up a crap load of data. Oops.

Even with the great cost of the iPhone, my father was still generous enough to give me some other gifts as well. He gave me a diamond infused hot paddle brush, which I could use because hair brushing has always been an issue for me and my hair often looks like crap. He also gave me some clothes and my sister did as well. In recent years my sister has been giving me books because I love to read but when this year I admitted that I’d already read both of the books she gave me last year, she decided she wasn’t going to give me books anymore.

Instead she gave me a warm scarf and a pair of pajama pants. A year or two ago someone imparted some great wisdom on me that went something like this: When you feel like you’re a mess, things are falling apart and you’re not sure how to proceed, ask yourself this question: ‘Am I wearing pants?’ If the answer is yes you at least have that much going for you and you can take it from there.

Too often the answer to that question is no for me. Once when I couldn’t find my pajama pants I posted about it on Facebook. My sister saw that status and decided she’d help me out this Christmas. (When you’re posting about your pantslessness on Facebook, that probably says something else about the state of your life but that’s a whole other issue.) My nieces and nephew gave me a selfie stick for Christmas. There was a time when I looked down on people who post lots of selfies but I’ve discovered how much fun taking selfies is and I look pretty cute in them if I do say so myself. My sister observed that my technique could use some work though.

Other gifts that were appreciated were the delicious Moose Tracks popcorn even though it gave me a stomach ache afterwards because I ate too much too fast and the bible study guide even though I’m an atheist. The Romanian and American flags that were given to the Romanians of the family in celebration of Romanian independence made for a great photo opportunity. Did I tell you that my iPhone7 can also take videos? That meant I got to record our holiday activities and post them on Facebook. The holiday cards I received with the adorable perfectly posed children and pets were appreciated as well.

Now on to the material gifts I selected and gave. A few weeks before Christmas I attended my niece’s last performance in The Nutcracker. Outside the theater I noticed that stuffed rats were being sold. I thought it would be a good gift for that great teacher of mine I mentioned earlier in the blog and that it would nicely complement the other stuffed rats that have been given to her by students. Some teachers have students that give them flowers, others have students that give them chocolate, this teacher has students that give her rats. (There’s nothing rat-like about her. She just happens to have a last name that resembles the word rat.) When I went to purchase it you could tell how pleasantly surprised the people selling the merchandise were that someone was willing to pay 20 bucks for the thing. My sister later told me that she’d tried to talk them out of selling rats because she didn’t think anyone would buy them.

A few days before Christmas my mother commented that she needed a new calendar. The day before Christmas my brother and I presented her with a calendar. She told me she was impressed that I’d actually paid attention to what she said. Yes, sometimes I do pay attention and get things right.

Unfortunately I got my stepfather’s gift wrong and I should have known better. My brother and I got him two hermit crabs. They were cool little critters but it’s just not a good idea to give pets as presents, especially if you haven’t consulted the person you’re giving the gift to beforehand. Pets require care and my stepfather did not feel he had the ability to care for them properly. He was afraid they would end up dead within a week or two just like the fish we got him last year did. You would have thought we’d have learned our lesson after that but I just really liked the idea of an emotional support hermit crab named Herman and I didn’t have any other gift ideas.

My mom and stepfather were on the fence about whether or not they should return the hermit crabs to the pet store. When on Christmas night I had to be the bearer of bad news and inform them that Freud, the fighter fish my stepfather had been watching for our neighbor had passed on to the great fish bowl in the sky, it was decided that the hermit crabs should definitely be returned to the pet store before they met the same fate. Reading that loss of legs is a symptom of stress in hermit crabs only further convinced us that we were making the right decision. It was too late for poor Freud though. Perhaps our neighbor should have heeded the warning my stepfather gave that he’d killed the last fish he had. Our next gift to our stepfather will not be a living one.

My brother is doing a medical residency in Texas and wasn’t originally planning on coming home for Christmas. The time at which I was informed that he was coming home corresponded with the time I was informed that my father had been hospitalized after he’d fallen and hit his head. I saw my dad being hospitalized as bad news and my brother coming home as good news. I didn’t think of the two as being related. My mom said that of course the two were related and that my brother coming home wasn’t exactly good news because it meant that my father was in bad shape. When she told me that I felt even denser than my dense friend but it turned out I was right and the two things were unrelated. Before my dad had his accident my brother had figured out a way to rearrange his schedule so that he could come home.

My father recovered and felt so much better the next day that when he couldn’t find a ride home from the hospital, he decided much to our dismay to walk home. At a mall in Texas my brother purchased a wallet for my father and in New Jersey we purchased a water bottle for him because it was thought that dehydration might be the reason behind his falling and hitting his head. We figured that even if he didn’t like or use those presents, he could re-gift them to someone else.

My father has a habit of re-gifting in the most embarrassing ways. One year we noticed that my father had given my (non-Romanian) brother in law the Romanian movie my brother had given my father the previous year. That wasn’t quite as bad as the year my father gave my brother in law the shirt my brother in law had given him the previous year. The next year my brother in law gave it back to him. Then there was the year my father decided to wrap up random objects he found lying around his house. My brother gets so embarrassed by the gifts my father gives that he finds excuses to leave the room when they’re being distributed. This year I told him to make his embarrassment a little less obvious and that our dad hadn’t done so bad this time anyway. I also told him that now would not be a good time to antagonize the Trump supporters in our family.

My dad’s face was bruised from his fall so he was reluctant to pose for family holiday photos this year. He said he would pose for them next year. My in laws said we shouldn’t take it for granted that we’d all be together next year. They’re right. We shouldn’t.

Anyway, I had a good Christmas and I hope you all did too. I know Christmas was three days ago at this point but I also know from that song that we sung as a family on Christmas Eve (the video of it is posted on Facebook) that Christmas lasts for 12 days so Merry Christmas to all and to all good night!

*I feel the need to point out that this friend of mine is not really an asshole at all. She is a very, kind caring person who inadvertently said something that hurt me. I was referring to her as an asshole friend in a lovingly teasing way. Once again I’ve learned the value of forgiveness and that I need to choose my words more carefully.

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