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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Thanksgiving with the Family

I spent this Thanksgiving with my mother, my father, my brother, my dog and my cat in our house in the suburbs with its white picket fence. My brother flew in from Texas to spend the holiday with us. While my mom prepared Thanksgiving dinner, my brother and I watched The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade followed by The Purina Dog Show. As my brother snuggled the dog and cat I told him he should have been a veterinarian instead of a doctor.

My parents argued over how to serve the turkey and my mom was driven crazy by a mysterious beeping sound, the source of which took a while to find. We took those snafus in stride though, as they’re pretty par for the course. When my brother was a kid he was given a school assignment that involved describing his family’s Thanksgiving routine.  He wrote that before his mother prepared the meal she covered the fire alarms with tinfoil.

Once we discovered that the beeping noise was coming from the oven we gathered around the table to enjoy our meal. It was a meal that included turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, asparagus and a dish my brother and I dubbed ‘junky corn mush’ as children.  Dessert was pumpkin pie with whipped cream. We reminisced about the past, we pondered the future and we enjoyed the present.  My dad promised to sweep the leaves off the porch later and my mom reminded him that next week he needed to bring her to the train station.

After we finished the meal we squeezed together on the sofa, smiled and took a family selfie. Then we turned on the television and laughed over a sitcom together.

We’re like the perfect, stereotypical Norman Rockwell portrait of a loving, cookie cutter family.  Except for one small detail: My parents have been separated for twenty- five years and divorced for sixteen of those years.

The mom in this portrait recently left her second husband and now has a significant other in Chicago. The dad has a significant other in France who has two teenage children of her own and is around the same age as his daughter from his first marriage. The child of the mom’s second husband died of a drug overdose. The son in this portrait is a Trump supporter. Anyone who’s a regular reader of this blog knows that the daughter has some pretty severe mental health issues.

The dog is currently at the center of a custody battle between the mother and her second husband. The cat- well, I guess the cat has the cleanest record of us all but he did begin life as a stray and has a chunk missing from his ear to prove it.

For the past 15 years or so my brother and I have gone to Connecticut with our father to spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s house, while my mother spent the holiday with our stepfather’s family. This Thanksgiving was her first Thanksgiving after leaving my stepfather. She didn’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone so we decided the four of us would celebrate Thanksgiving 2017 as ‘the original gang’ in her new house (That she shares with me. Another mark against the daughter is that she’s failed to become an independent adult.)

My dad was already well acquainted with our new house. In fact he paid for half of it. Sure, he was a little frustrated the last time he bought my mother and me a house so we could escape my stepfather and we returned a month later (right after our last dog died tragically and unexpectedly) but he was willing to take the risk again. This time we would be living closer to him. To my father family is everything.

It means a lot to all four of us actually.  Life didn’t turn out as planned for any of us. We’ve never been the most conventional family and we’ve had our fair share of conflicts with each other but through all the hardships, hospitalizations, deaths and divorces life has thrown our way we’ve been there for each other.  That is something to be thankful for.

Besides, sometimes even when life throws you lemons and curveballs, even when it breaks your heart and fractures your family and becomes abnormal in a thousand different ways, in the end you still get to enjoy a lovely holiday with your first husband, your pigeon pair of children and your color coordinated pair of pets in your cozy little house with a white picket fence in the suburbs. Just ask my mother.

A Florida Vacation: Epcot

The next day as I was getting out of the hotel shower I noticed to my alarm that there were words written in the condensation in the mirror. One word was ‘you’ and the rest of the words were undecipherable. Of course my mind made the message say “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE”. The message definitely hadn’t been there when I got in the shower and no one had entered the bathroom while I was showering so I was pretty freaked out. I was relieved to learn that the laws of chemistry, physics or whatever science it is that I don’t understand said that the words were most likely written on the mirror before I showered but it took the steam from the shower to make them visible.

The next day was to be our last day in Orlando and we had a conversation about how we would spend the rest of our time. Since my feelings towards Disney World were very different from my traveling companions’ feelings towards Disney World, the conversation got kind of heated. Gabrielle said that tomorrow she definitely did not want to go to Disney World.  My father and brother agreed. The thought of not going to Disney World the next day was anathema to me and since I’m a big animal lover missing out on Animal Kingdom would be a real bummer. Still, my brother insisted that since he hated Disney World and his vacation time was limited he deserved a Disney-free day.  That night my father was having dinner with some business colleagues. My brother had the option of going to the dinner or going to Disney World with me.

Most people would have immediately chosen Disney World without even having to think about it but for my brother the decision involved figuring out which one he considered to be the lesser of two evils. Eventually I came up with a compromise. I said “How about this- you go to Disney World with me tonight and I’ll do a non-Disney activity with you tomorrow.” “Deal” he said and we shook on it.

I managed to get us all to Epcot at around noon. My friend Mary was visiting Disney World to run in a Princess Marathon so we met up at Epcot. We had our picture taken together and I captioned the picture “The people who actually like Disney World.”

Mary visits Disney World frequently so she’s picked up some pointers on how to make the most of your experience there. She told us that you could reduce your wait time for Test Track by entering the single riders line. We did that and afterwards we went on some space ship ride. The ride offered two options: an intense version and a less intense version. I went for the intense version while my brother did the less intense version with Gabrielle. My brother complained that his version of the ride was boring and I complained that my version left me feeling nauseated.

Then we saw some show about colors. My brother and I snickered about how lame it was. After that we moved on to The Sea section of Epcot. We went on a Finding Nemo ride and since we rode in shells I busted out the camera on my phone and took a shellfie. Upstairs there was an aquarium with various marine life including manatees. This prompted my father to start calling Gabrielle Manatee and he periodically referred to her as Manatee for the rest of our trip. If I was called Manatee I would take it as a disparaging comment on my weight and would be insulted but I think my father meant it affectionately.

After The Sea we split up with my brother and me going in one direction and my father and Gabrielle going in another direction. My brother and I were both hungry so we went to The World Showcase to find a restaurant. “What country do you want to eat in?” my brother asked. “A country in which the food is not spicy” I replied.  France seemed like a good bet for non-spicy food so we went to a French restaurant.

When my brother noticed that I wasn’t eating my salad he pointed out that I hadn’t had any intention of ordering a salad but when the waitress had asked me what salad I wanted I panicked and chose one. It was similar to what the waiter had done with my dad and the ribs last night. It was another example of Disney employees sneakily tricking you in to paying too much money for things you didn’t want or need and this was why he hated Disney. I could not argue with him there.

After our meal we went to The Land. We saw a boat ride with a very short wait so we hopped on. We assumed that since the wait was so short the ride would be lame but it was actually pretty cool and interesting. Then we went on Figment’s Imagination Ride which is the kind of childish brightly colored ride full of song and dance that I love and my brother hates. After that we saw a compilation of 3-D Disney animated shorts. They were so cute and funny that even my brother enjoyed them.

When we met up with my father and Gabrielle again we discovered that in our time apart we had gone on the same rides. Now it was time for my father and Gabrielle to leave and get ready for the business dinner. My brother had agreed to continue doing Disney with me but I told him I didn’t want to stay at Epcot. I wanted to go back to The Magic Kingdom to do some of the classic rides we hadn’t gotten to the first time we were there, especially the haunted mansion. My father said we couldn’t do that because the tickets only allowed us to go to one park a day. I told him he was mistaken about how the tickets worked.

As we headed off to The Magic Kingdom  (which I’ve just learned is now called Magic Kingdom; ‘The’ has been removed from several of its signs)  I felt excited. This was going to be fun.

When we reached the parking lot we had to pay $20 for parking despite the fact that we were only going to be there for a few hours. They charge a flat rate for parking each day, regardless of the amount of time you’re spending in the park. It took us a while to find a spot but we eventually found one in the Ursula section. Then we had to take a trolley to the monorail. Then we had to wait among the crowds for the monorail. Then we were packed like sardines in to a monorail full of loud children and taken to the park entrance. Then we waited in a very long line to be admitted to the park. I knew it would all be worth it in the end though.

Finally we made it to the front of the line. After having our bags checked and our fingerprints verified, my brother inserted his ticket in to the machine that would admit us in to The Magic Kingdom. It didn’t work. He tried it again. It didn’t work that time either. He tried a third time. It still didn’t work.

A Disney employee came over to investigate the problem. After scanning my brother’s ticket she said to him “This ticket is only valid for one park per day and you’ve already been to Epcot today.”

A wave of crushing disappointment came over me. This was supposed to be the happiest place on earth but I wasn’t feeling very happy. In that moment The Magic Kingdom lost some of its magic for me. In that moment I was able to see Disney World through my brother’s eyes: A world full of long lines, crowds and hassles, a world where you were tricked in to giving up ridiculously large amounts of money for rewards that didn’t pay off.

That Disney employee could have said to us “Look, your ticket isn’t good for The Magic Kingdom but we know you came all the way here, paid for parking, and fought your way through crowds. Since there are only a couple of hours left until The Magic Kingdom closes we’ll let you in tonight.” You’d think that would be in the spirit of what the place was supposed to be about. Of course she didn’t do that though. She chose to follow the rules, rules made by a bunch of dirty, sneaky money grubbers.

I turned to my brother and said “Fuck Disney World. Let’s see what else Orlando has to offer.”

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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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