Friday, November 30, 2018

I Miss Christmas Shopping

Even though I used to have my Christmas shopping completed by September (yes, I planned ahead), I miss actually shopping for presents. Throughout the year, if I saw something and it reminded me of a friend or family member, I bought it and put it away for the holidays.
Wherever we traveled during the year, I looked for Christmas ornaments. Often, what I found weren’t originally intended to be used as ornaments, but when I added hooks and bows, keychains and other items became decorations. I got them each year for our daughter, godchild, and the nieces and nephews. These became expected. The kids looked forward to seeing where each year’s ornament came from.

I continue this tradition, but now for the great-nieces and nephews. Last April we were in Paris. We visited St. Chapelle, and I saw some great, fun gargoyle keychains—just the thing for the little boys in our lives. So, I have this year’s ornaments. Shh, please don’t tell. These are about the only gifts I still buy these days.

The family has spread to other states, and we don’t all get together during the holidays. These days, it’s easier to send a gift card the whole family can use for something special. We usually send a card, a copy of our latest book(s), and the ornaments.

Last year, we gave charitable gifts in the other family members’ names. We felt as though we were doing something positive, but it wasn’t the same as receiving a surprise gift.

This year, Kim isn’t coming for Christmas. She just started a new job and doesn’t have any vacation time accrued. We’ll really miss her.

When she was little, she had a clothing budget—a limit on how much we’d spend on her clothes. She got to make the decisions about what to buy, but when she reached the limit, she didn’t get anything else until the next period. The exception was during the holidays.

Usually, one day during her visit, I announce, “I feel like shopping.” What this means is we would go shopping, and I’d buy her something—or maybe more than one. However, we always pretended it was a spontaneous decision, even though we did it nearly every year. It is one of our favorite rituals, and I’ll miss it this year.

From the time we lived in Osaka, I have done most of my shopping online. I can compare prices and have everything delivered to my door or drop-shipped directly to the recipient. I have little or no need to go to a mall or department store during the holidays. I have always avoided the crowds, but I loved seeing the decorations.

I used to spend hours wrapping gifts, too. I usually picked a “theme” or “look” each year, and wrapped all the gifts alike. In the past few years, I have used gift bags. They are reusable with less waste. From a green standpoint, they make more sense, but I confess, I miss seeing the pile of wrapped gifts under the tree.

Change is the only constant. Some changes I like, and others are harder to adjust to. I wouldn’t want to go backwards, but a part of me still misses some things from the past.

Are there any traditions you no longer observe? Do you miss them?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Gift-Giving – Another Take

For Christmas the year I was five, Santa brought me a “mama” doll. She instantly became my favorite, and I named her Mary Ann. By my seventh birthday, I had loved her so hard I had worn off her hair and her once-blonde wig had fallen off. Her rosy cheeks had lost their color from many kisses. Mary Ann had an open mouth and two tiny teeth. My brother had pushed the teeth inside her mouth so I couldn't see them. He also bit off the tips of a couple of her fingers and pushed in her weighted eyes so they were nearly invisible and didn't open and close anymore.

I loved her anyway.

The morning of my seventh birthday, I woke to the sight of a new doll sitting on the foot of my bed. I rushed into the kitchen to tell my mother how much I loved my new doll.

Mom looked at me funny. "Don't you recognize her?"

I looked closely and noticed the tips of her fingers were bitten off and some of the color was missing from her cheeks. “Mary Ann.” I held her even tighter once I realized she had been restored. Her teeth were back in place. Her eyes, once again, opened and closed. Nothing could have been a better present

Later, I learned my dad had spent most of the night repairing her, adding a new (and completely inappropriate) wig, and dressing her in new clothes.

She was my best friend throughout my childhood, including the following spring when my father died.

When my daughter, Kim, was little, she was allowed to play and sleep with Mary Ann, but only when she was ill. Kim knew how much my doll had meant to me, so for Christmas one year when she was in her teens, she found a beautiful doll dress at the thrift shop and gave it to me—and Mary Ann.

Years later, I told this story to the kids in church and drew a parallel to God. Dad had given me what I really wanted. I just didn’t know it. He'd restored my beloved doll. I believe God, too, gives us what we really need, even though it might not look as we expect.

As I told the story, I passed Mary Ann around and let the kids hug her. (She still likes to be hugged, and sometimes children visiting our home are allowed to hold her.)

My mom was in the congregation the morning I told the story.

When I finished, I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes. She shook her head. "We had no money for anything extra that year."

My dad had been in the hospital for months earlier in the year. Today’s unemployment insurance and other programs either didn’t exist or didn’t provide nearly enough money to live on. By the time he was well enough to go back to work, their savings had been depleted for food and other necessities.

Dad worked at the main Broadway Department Store in downtown L.A., so he had gone through the discard pile at the store and found the wig and clothes. Fortunately, he was clever with his hands and figured out how to fix her eyes and teeth. (I thought my daddy could fix anything. Both my brother and I inherited this ability from him.)

"I have always felt so guilty because we couldn't get you a new doll." Mom wiped her eyes.

I hugged her. “I always considered it one of the best gifts I ever received.”

I believe sometimes God uses our perceived lack to provide for our needs... 

Do you have any stories about how lack brought about abundance? I truly believe it happens—and I have my doll to prove it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Give Memories

As we said in the first sentence of our book The Memory Keeper, “In the end, only memories remain.”
When I look back on my life, I remember few of the “things” I received over the years, but I remember many special shared moments. For this reason, we have tried to give each other special memories for holiday gifts for quite a while.

For several years, Larry’s birthday gift was a box at The Hollywood Bowl. We were lucky enough to get a four-place box in the very back row for every other Friday night. (They usually had a waiting list of several years, but we got one the first year we applied.) It was in the center, so the view was good, even though we were at the back of the section.
In addition to the box, we had valet parking and tables. He got to choose who would go with us and the meal I would fix. I had a set of menus I could pack to go. His favorite meals were quiche and salad or a fried rice ring with sweet-and-sour-chicken. All meals included salad, rolls, dessert, wine, and aperitifs.

We took unbreakable Corelle dishes and stainless flatware in special washable bags plus pewter wine, water, and aperitif glasses. We packed everything into a rolling bag, along with fabric tablecloths, matching cloth napkins, a bud vase with a rose, candles, and candle holders. Since we always sat next to the same people, we got to know them. Our neighbor called dinner “competitive dining.” We loved it. We saw some terrific performers such as Itzhak Perlman, John Galway, Arthur Fiedler, John Williams, and many, many others.

The last performance of the season came near Kim’s birthday. They alternated the 1812 Overture with Handel’s Fireworks Music—complete with fireworks. Her dad let her choose who would come with her. A couple of years, she invited her grandmother. Another year, she asked her best friend. We spoke with Arlene not long ago, and she told us she remembered going there with us. She also remembered the amaretto pie I made.

For her eighth or ninth birthday, we took Kim to see Annie. Another year, her party included taking her and a couple of friends to see The Wizard of Oz at the outdoor theater in Laguna Beach. We also took her to see Andres Segovia at UCLA when she was quite young. We sat in the first row of the balcony, and she spent the evening mesmerized. We had tickets for the Ambassador Auditorium. There, she fell in love with The Kings Singers.

We’ve all received wonderful gifts through the years, but those which gave us special memories were, and continue to be, my favorites.

Toys breakwhether children’s or adults’, but memories last a lifetime.

Do you ever give memories? Which ones do you remember?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Today I am in tears—once again: tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of anger. How many more times must mass shootings happen before we take reasonable action regarding the availability of guns? How many more times must this happen before we impose sane restrictions on the size of magazines? How many more innocent lives must be lost before we take on the NRA and impose logical guidelines for gun ownership?

 I thought twenty-eight deaths—including small children—at Sandy Hook would to it. It didn’t.

 When sixteen people were killed in San Bernardino, California—far too close to where I live—I thought, Finally. Now someone will act. No one did.

 When fifty died in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida, I was sure congress would act. It didn’t.

 I hoped the fifty-nine deaths at the Harvest Festival in Las Vegas would spur legislation. They didn’t.

 I thought twenty-seven deaths at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas would move congress to act. They didn’t.

 I thought seventeen deaths at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School would do it. It didn’t.

 Now, yet again, we have thirteen dead and many more injured at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Most of the victims were college students. And once again, I am heartbroken.

 Unfortunately, I no longer expect to see any action to actually curb the proliferation of extended magazines, which allow many, many shots in a very short time. I am numb to the shock and grief and anger.

 I miss my country where people felt safe in their homes, in public places, at school, and at work. I continue to pray for the families of those who have been lost. I continue to pray for our leaders to exercise courage and act. 

I need to hang onto hope. But it has become nearly impossible.