Simply having a … wonderful? … Christmas time. Part 3.

(Don’t miss the prior parts! It will make this make sense!)

The next morning was Christmas Day and as per usual, I woke up vaguely excited. But then I realized that every bone, and several tendons and ligaments, hurt. I began wishing I were in any other place. I was even wishing I were in school. I wanted to sleep in so there would be less of a day to go through. However, my body realized that it was a special day and was wide awake, ready to get going.  I woke up my parents and got my sister, who had finally come back from “work” and slept on the couch the night before.  Nobody wanted to go and wake up my grandparents personally so we decided to make extra noise until they woke up.  Finally, they emerged and we were ready to open presents. As my dad started handing presents to my sister and me, Mafia sat down and said, “What are you doing? We can’t open presents yet. Put them back down.”

My dad turned to him, “What are you talking about?”

“We can’t open presents until the rest of the family gets here.”

“What?! There are presents we’re giving our daughters, not presents to be opened in front of the rest of the family.”

“No, they are presents and we’ll open them when the family gets here.”

“No, the presents we open then are family presents. These are personal presents that we are opening now. You and Mom can sit and watch or not, but we’re opening these now.”

Mafia grumbled about us breaking tradition, even though opening intra-family gifts were never part of the tradition in the first place, all morning. We rushed through the ceremony just to get him to stop whining.  When we were done, we were all hungry and looked at my grandparents expectantly.   We were willing to help cook, but wanted to know what they had planned.

They looked back at us blankly.

We looked at them.

They looked at us.

“uh… breakfast?

Mafia looked at us askance and said, “We didn’t buy anything for breakfast. We can go to Denny’s.”

So, we got dressed, loaded into the car, and headed for the local Denny’s to eat our Christmas breakfast.  I discovered that nothing said “Christmas” quite like the greasy, overcooked food served by a surly waitress who was bitter that she was serving greasy, overcooked food to people on Christmas morning.

Around noon the aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived.  We went through the second present opening, no one observing order and Mafia shouting to make sure the youngest cousin, Blondie, his favorite grandchild, was not getting skipped over, even though, as per usual, her presents took up the entire expanse of one of the walls of the living.  It never failed that she easily had 5x the presents the rest of us did.  It ended as it always did, with Mafia and Blondie exchanging their special gifts they got just for each other. Afterward we had our traditional Christmas dinner – a deli tray.

Eventually they all left and I was relieved because I knew I too would soon be going home.  It was the first and last Christmas we spent like that, all future Christmases spent on our terms. I don’t really like to break to tradition. I learned a too hard lesson that when traditions are thrown out, misery takes over the reins… At the very least, you will end up with a bad back.

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Simply having a … wonderful? … Christmas time, Part 2

(Don’t get lost! Read my Thanksgiving post to meet my family, and read Part 1 to get some context!)

So that night, as my parents and grandparents started to do that yawning and stretching thing, and all of the signs of impending bedtime, I started thinking…. Uhm, my grandparents may have had two extra bedrooms, but only one of them actually had a bed in it. The only other option was the floor of the second bedroom or the 1960s couch… I chose the second bedroom.  A pallet of blankets was made up.  As I laid down I realized… there was absolutely no padding between the very, very thin carpet (leave it to my grandparents to get builder’s basic) and the concrete foundation.  To this day I have a bad back and I’m pretty sure it came from sleeping on that floor.

The next day I woke up feeling like every bone in my body had settled at a right angle in the middle.  I got up slowly, cracking my back, and wandered into the living room to find out when my parents could take me to go see my friends.  I was informed by my mom that it was family time. In other words, “if I have to suffer, so do you.”  I was beginning to think I had vastly overestimated this vacation.  My only consolation was that my older sister, who lived and worked not far from where my grandparents lived, was being forced to spend the time with on too. I inwardly cackled with glee that she would have to suffer too.

My sister was more clever than I had counted on, however. That night, she slipped out after dinner, claiming that she had to “work.” I glumly went in to play my snake-eating-apples game.  When that finally got too boring, I walked slowly out to the living room – not wanting to, but having nothing else to do.  In the living room I found Mafia asleep in his Laz-E-Boy, and my parents sunk into the 30 year old sofa.  Jeopardy! was playing on TV.

“Hey, mom and dad,” I whispered. They turned to me. “Seinfeld should be on.”

Realizing I was right, my dad got up and turned the TV to the right channel (Mafia was clutching the remote control in his hands). Soon we were laughing and, of course, it woke up Mafia.

“You need to learn stuff,” he grumbled. With that, he punched buttons on the remote and turned it back to Jeopardy!  He promptly fell back asleep.

My parents and I looked at each other, dumbfounded.  Not quite sure what to do, my dad got out his laptop and took it into the breakfast room. Upon hearing the familiar “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” (Hey, it was 1997, that was normal) of his hooking up the Internet, I jumped up and said, “OH I know a fun game we can play! You have to download it though.” My dad quickly agreed. As I punched in the right URL, my mother joined us. The download window popped up. It estimated twelve minutes to download.

The game was the only thing going for us, so we watched the progress as it downloaded. 11 min 50 sec…. 11 min 45 sec… 11 min 39 sec… The seconds slowly ticked by…  11 min 32 sec… 11 min 28 sec… The three of us huddled around the laptop, staring at the screen like it was the last morsel of food on a desert we were all stranded on.  The final Jeopardy! Theme song played in the background. “Do do do do, do do do. Do do do do  Dop! Dodododo, do do do do, do do do. Dop, do do do, do do do.”

It reached five minutes! We were in the homestretch!

Wait, it still says five minutes.

Five minutes…

Still five minutes…

It’s stuck on five minutes…

“Goodbye!”

YOUR CONNECTION HAS BEEN LOST.

“NO!” We all shouted at the screen in silence. Our hope all lost, we stared at the screen in silence.

“I’m going to look at Christmas lights,” my dad announced, bolting out of his chair.

I’m coming too,” my mom and I followed. Grabbing our coats and quickly tossing them on, we hurried to the front door. Just as we were about to reach it, the dreaded creature jumped out in front of us, blocking our path.

“Where are you going?” Wino asked in her perpetually chipper voice.

Frozen, we looked at her in terror. My dad spoke first. “Uh… we’re going to look at Christmas lights.”

“Oh, give me a second, I’ll go with you.”

“NO! Uh, no, that’s ok, you don’t have to. We won’t be long anyway.”  With that, we slipped past her, out the door, into the cold December air, and practically dove into the care. As we drove to the other side of town, which unfortunately took about five minutes, we grumbled about what a miserable idea this vacation had been.  When we got back thirty minutes later, I headed straight to bed. At that point, the rock-hard floor was a welcome friend.

Simply having a… wonderful? … Christmas time, Part 1

Christmas time is a time of tradition and memories. Every year, I look back and think of Christmases past, with the Christmas Eve candlelight church service; homemade spaghetti and meatballs; getting up at 6am Christmas morning with my sister grumbling, “The presents will still be there at 8:00, you know;” and having a big breakfast of country ham, eggs, and grits. These were the elements of my favorite Christmases growing up.

And then, one year…

EVERYTHING CHANGED.

One thing to know about me is that I grew up in North Carolina, but when I was 15 we moved to Indiana for my dad’s job.  Before we moved, Christmas had always been a tradition-filled, festive, special holiday for my entire family. Both my mom’s family and my dad’s family had always lived within an hour of each other and the usual holiday schedule was for us to spend the weekend before Christmas with the maternal side and Christmas Day with the paternal side.

The year my parents and I moved to Indiana, leaving my college student sister behind, we were presented with the problem of where to spend Christmas.  My parent finally decided to spend it like we always had – with family.  The only difference is that instead of spending a nice, warm glowing Christmas Eve in the comfort of our home we would stay at my paternal grandparents’ house.

At first, I was really excited. Going to North Carolina would provide me with the opportunity to see all the friends I had left behind. There would be trees! And hills! And actual lakes instead of retention ponds called lakes in order to sell houses facing said ponds for higher prices! Sure, my extended family tended to get on my nerves (surprise, right?), but I wasn’t going to spend much time with them anyway. I’m not sure why exactly I thought that given that I was 15 and couldn’t exactly drive myself anywhere, but, you know. It was a teenager’s idealism.

The morning that we left, I got up at 5:00am because my Dad insisted on us being on the road by 5:30am. It was easy for him because he has a special brand of insomnia wherein no matter what time he goes to bed, he wakes up at 4:00am, wide awake.  He’s practically ready for lunch by 5:30.  I, on the other hand, cannot function if I wake up at any hour that starts with anything less than a 6. And at 15, I normally saw the AMs before going to sleep.  And believe me, if I haven’t gotten 8 hours of sleep, WATCH OUT. “Mandy,” my evil alter ego (I have a really good story about this which I’ll post someday), comes out. You don’t want to meet Mandy. You wouldn’t like Mandy.

Barely able to keep my eyes open, and often failing even at that simple task, I got ready. I pretty much just blindly reached into drawers and threw stuff on. I would have fit right in on People of Walmart.

After stumbling downstairs with my suitcases, I folded myself into the small compartment left in-between all the gifts and luggage while my parents spread out in their spacious front seats.  The evidence that I was only 15 at the time is that I was still able to sleep with my feet draped over the luggage and my head laying on my parent’s travel bag. In fact, I slept most of the day given that my dad’s worst nightmare is actually STOPPING while on a 10 hour drive. I mean, God forbid any of us have any hunger or needs for bodily functions because my dad IS NOT STOPPING FOR ANYTHING. PEE IN YOUR PANTS IF YOU NEED TO.

Finally, around 4:00pm, we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway. My grandmother, Grandma Wino, ran out of the house, arms outstretched to wrap each of us into a hug, careful not to spill her ever present wine, and cooing how happy she was to see us in her high-pitched, Edith Bunker voice that I think she purposefully raises in an attempt to sound younger. Following her was my grandfather, Mafia (since passed, God rest his Italian soul), slowly and casually walking out as if he had just interrupted his programs and we had just seen him last week instead of months ago.

I grabbed all of my suitcases and followed my parents into the house. Nothing had changed. It was still the eternally dim house (electricity costs money, dammit!) with the fake tree laden with 1970s ornaments. They still had the same furniture they had when my dad was a teenager. The table in the attached dining room was covered by already-opened bags of Doritos waiting for us to snack on.

“Do you want something to drink, Amanda?” Wino asked. “I had Mafia go out and buy you a Pepsi.”

Thinking that maybe this was the year she would remember that I do not drink diet soft drinks, I answered, “Sure.” She shimmied over to the refrigerator and pulled out the bottle. Diet Pepsi.  What a surprise.   She poured me a big glass and handed it to me. As everyone else settled around the table with yummy, yummy, yummy, wine (ok, I didn’t know at the time how yummy it was because I … actually didn’t drink as a teenager), they began to catch up from the last visit and I sipped my vile liquid.  Finally, after a few minutes I went back to my grandparents’ office where they had their 1990 desktop computer so that I could go play that one game where a snake goes around obstacles to something (was it apples?) and every time you ate one you grew and you had to not eat yourself? Does anyone remember what I’m talking about? Anyway, that’s how I always spent my time at my grandparent’s house. By the way, I’m pretty sure my grandmother still has that same desktop computer.

To be continued…. Next time…What was the rest of Christmas Eve like?

Confession: I’m just really bad at Christmas and gift giving

Does anyone else do this? All year I try to file little things away in my brain when one of my loved ones states they want something so that I can get it for them for birthdays or Christmas.  And then said birthday and Christmas rolls around and my brain just looks at me blankly, all “I really don’t remember you putting anything in the filing system. I think you drank those memories away.”

Christmas is a little bit nightmarish for me because I have to think of a bunch of presents all at once. I don’t have the mental capacity to even starting planning or shopping until after Thanksgiving.  This year, I was all about getting me some good deals. I’ve already sung the praises of Amazon and I decided I was going to use Cyber Monday to my advantage to get all my Christmas shopping done at once.

After about an hour of scrolling through Amazon’s Cyber Monday lightning deals (uh, which I totally did not do at work for any coworkers who may stumble upon this), I came to one conclusion:

I don’t think Amazon’s Lightning Deals are meant for me or my family. I can never find anything I’m even remotely interested in or would be even a little bit useful to anyone I have to actually buy gifts for.

So I’m scrolling, going through hundreds of items that are super on sale and I start to feel desperate because I feel like I SHOULD be able to find something considering how many people I have to buy for and how many items are listed. Then I start talking myself into terrible ideas like “yes! My in-laws would totally love the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD!” (And holy freaking cow, why so expensive? Are there really that many people who are yearning to spend $350 on a TV show from the 60s?)

By the way, this is what happens when bad things happen to mediocre good (created) rubies: Behold. Think my grandmother would like it?

So, in desperation, I turn to those gift giving guides that various websites have to try to help you think of good gift ideas.

These have never, ever been helpful to me. I just can’t picture myself giving my loved ones a Snowman Kit or a patterned wireless mouse.

I hate gift giving guides that suggest stuff like the iPhone. I need gift giving guides that are like “The totally perfect gifts for your friends and family that cost $20 but looks like they cost $100!” If I had $400 to spend I’d already have a pretty good idea of what to get because I could pretty much afford whatever they’d ask for.

My favorite gift guide I’ve looked at so far is MSN’s which is basically a paid advertisement for whomever wanted a space on it.  It seriously suggests an Android app. That’s free. What am I supposed to do with that? “Merry Christmas! Now give me your phone, I have to download your present for you. And I got out of spending money on you! Sucker!”

(By the way, the ad for the app totally worked, dammit. I downloaded it. And it’s kind of cool. STILL not a valid Christmas gift though.)

And oh my God, y’all. Good Housekeeping has a guide for gifts for your pet. This exists. Look, I love my dog as much as anybody, but the most I’m going to do for her for Christmas is get her a new squeaky toy and I don’t really need a gift giving guide for that.

Also, I have no idea why Catnip Fortune Cookies, or a DJ Turntable for Cats even exist. WHOSE JOB IS IT TO THINK OF THESE THINGS?

The other reason Christmas shopping is difficult for me is because that I always end up buying stuff for myself. In scouting out Cyber Monday deals I ended up buying two mirrors for my house, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a laptop.  Me: 5 Family and Friends: 0.

I’m just really bad at this Christmas shopping thing.

My worst (well, one of them) nightmare: Shopping

The internet has been pretty much the best thing ever for me. I’m really not a big fan of being near people (Remember how I said that I’d become a crazy cat lady if something happened to my husband — yep, it’s true). The internet lets me live in my little own world and have some interaction with people on my own terms. When I want to talk, I get on my Twitter and make statements and hope people respond.  If I just want to live in my cave and be alone, I just play games or read other people’s blogs.

So, as a person who, you  know, doesn’t really like being around other people, the Christmas shopping season is my nightmare. Especially the day after Thanksgiving. My brain melts down at the thought of even attempting to go out into the zombie hoards looking for a deal good enough to sacrifice their dignity for.

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No, I don’t shop in person for Christmas. Or birthdays. Or really anything else if I can help it. Except grocery shopping. I haven’t figured out a cost effective way to grocery shop from home. So every Sunday I brave going to the grocery store and leave in a pissed off mood because people basically suck in public.

My favorite thing ever is Amazon Prime. This is how I feel about Amazon Prime:

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Amazon has absolutely everything you could ever want. I sometimes think of really random things I’d like to have and go search for it and they have it. If they don’t have it, it hasn’t been invented. And then as an extra special bonus, you get FREE TWO DAY SHIPPING.

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Amazon Prime has totally spoiled me from any other online shopping experience.  I get really bitter now when I have to pay for shipping.  It’s actually stopped me from buying stuff before.

Amazon Prime also allows for free returns on most clothing and shoe options now, really negating the need to ever go clothes shopping. Now I can become horribly depressed at how clothes fit me at home where I can now just go downstairs and have a glass of wine to drown out my sorrows!

Anyway, I swear I’m not a shill for Amazon. I just really love Prime. I pretty much love anything that keeps me from having to go outside.

What’s my age again?

Something else you need to know about me: I look younger than my age. A LOT younger. As in, I am 30 years old and  I regularly get asked what high school I go to.

This is both a blessing and a curse. Why a curse? Second thing you need to know about me: I am an attorney.  Who wants an attorney that looks like they are in high school? No one, that’s who. Not only do I look like a high schooler, but I have a really high voice, like I haven’t gone through puberty yet.  The type of law I do, I don’t generally meet my clients in person before I work with them. And a lot of them retain me by email. And I can totally tell when I call them for the first time that they are totally like “the hell? Did I retain the Doogie Howser of law?”

To make things worse in my career, I have a really happy last name. Like, so happy a name that I didn’t even know it was a real last name until I met my husband and he introduced himself and I definitely thought he was messing with me. While we were dating, but before we got serious, I remember gleefully telling him that I couldn’t ever think about a future with him that included marriage because I couldn’t be a lawyer with a last name like that.

Third thing you need to know about me: my life is proof that God has a sense of humor. Whenever I tempt fate with wild declarations, fate takes it as a personal challenge to kick me in the (metaphorical) balls and hit me in the face with a pie. Five years after I told my boyfriend that I’d never be able to marry him, there we were, walking down the aisle.

Ok… where was I? Oh yes. Looking my age.  Not only do I not look 30, but I am fairly certain that there is absolutely no way I am actually 30. Would a 30 year old be completely unable to keep their house clean for longer than 2 hours? Or keep all their clean laundry in a huge pile in the middle of their guest room bed instead of folding it and putting itaway like an adult? No. So I currently have a conspiracy theory that my parents have colluded to make up my birth date.  I don’t know why yet, but I’m undaunted in the face of facts.

And don’t call me crazy. I read My Sweet Audrina. It happens, people!

P.S. More proof that I am totally not as old as my parents are trying to claim… I passed the Teenage Audio Test!

P.P.S. So, I wrote this post in advance and scheduled it to publish later to make sure you guys got regular updates in case my soul sucking job wore me out too much to write (I’m always thinking of you guys) and in the meantime I had to go to the ABC store (for those of you who have reasonable liquor laws in your state, this is a state run liquor store and is the only way to buy liquor here).  It happens every time, the cashier always squints at me like “Seriously, YOU’RE trying to buy liquor?” and I hand him my ID and the cashier looks at it, then looks at me, then looks at it, and looks at me again.  I always feel the urge to say something like “I swear it’s a real ID” which would only raise their suspicions more so instead I just stand there looking guilty which also only serves raise their suspicions more. So far I haven’t actually been turned away, but I’m always scared they are going to try to get in the way of me and my sweet, sweet liquor.