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“When are you going to blog again?” asks the husband who helped me create my own blog after guest-blogging on his. 

“When my nails are shorter or we get the good keyboard hooked up,” I reply.  “I can’t even hit the “a” key without also striking the caps lock.” 

Or, today.  I have the day off.  Mr. Apron does not.  But instead of enjoying the sunshine, I’m sitting at home blogging because I have a load of laundry in the machine.  I’m planning on going out when I put the load in the dryer.  While I dread the moldy promise of a wet load left in the washing machine, I have no qualms about leaving a dry load to wrinkle in the dryer overnight, if need be.  Clean is clean. 

Mom’s birthday is today.  She called while I was in the shower to let me know she’d opened my gift to her, a purse with a handle made out of a plastic carrot.  The purse that was on page 68 of “Sewing Basket Fun,” a piss-poor excuse of a crafting/sewing book edited by Barbara Weiland.  Edited by?  I guess that means the lame-ass projects were only compiled by her, and I can’t even blame her for Lucy B. Gray’s “design” of the “Veggie Lover’s Handbag” which Mom marked with a Post-it note stating, “Hint –> for mommie’s birthday” when she presented the book to me for my birthday.  The book which sent me on a 6 month quest for a plastic carrot which wasn’t one of a set of six for $9.95 + shippinh, or part of a $19.95 play food basket.  Finally, as Easter merchandise started trickling into stores, I found a jumprope at the Dollar Tree with carrot handles.  For $1, I figured I’d be a sport.  I cut off the rope, and Mr. Apron drilled the holes.  I held the carrot and cringed as he aimed the drill bit at the carrot and drilled 2 perfect holes for the straps.  Then I had to thread fabric straps through the holes.  Using a skewer to jam them through didn’t work.  Neither did threading the fabric on a yarn needle and shoving that through the holes.  Finally, in my brilliance, I grabbed Elmer’s glue and shellacked the fabric strips, twisting them until they were somewhat pointed and narrower.  I pushed them through the holes and declared myself, in honor of Easter, the risen lord Carrotess.  Of course, when they dried, they became impossible to sew through, and I couldn’t find my thimble, nor could I convince Mr. Apron to destroy his fingers shoving a needle and thread through the hardened straps.  My trusty new sewing machine came to the rescue, sewing sturdy, if not aesthetically pleasing stitches into the strap handles.

I finally put the fool thing in the mail on Monday.  She received it on Wednesday, opened it today, and left me a voicemail saying she was carrying her brand-new carrot purse around with her today.  I wonder what her clients thought of it. 

Mom is an attorney.  She reperesents children through the state — kids whose parents can’t care for them, or shouldn’t.  She visits them in foster homes, state “homes”, and adoptive homes.  She brings them stuffed animals, takes them out for ice cream, and gathers back-to-school supplies to replace whatever was left behind in the last placement.  She makes sure they carry their worldly effects in more than a trashbag, enlisting me to sew large drawstring bags for this purpose.  And provided she doesn’t have to be in court that day, she’ll do all this wearing a solar system jumper, pink leggings, patent-leather mary janes, and, of course carrying a carrot-handled purse.

Happy Birthday Mom.

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Besides white elephants, my mother gives another type of gift.  Once she learns that someone is “into” something, whether it’s Stash brand Licorice Spice Tea, or rubber ducks, or The Three Stooges, or perfume, she doesn’t let go.  She engages in pursuit of products matching these themes, and lavishes them unceasingly on the unwitting recipients.  My cousin is now 38, and I have no doubt she still receives rubber duckies every October for her birthday, because she once happened to mention in passing she thought they were cute.  And it’s never just one tchotchke.  I was looking for a gift for my clinical supervisor at the end of the semester to thank her for her support and mentorship, and I made the mistake of asking for help.  Mom, upon learning this woman’s penchant for making to-do lists, and her first initial, sent me 5 monogrammed packets of post-it brand list pads. 

If you let it slip that you’re having a hard time finding something, she’ll set her sights on it, and you’ll receive, in due course, 6 boxes of red bush tea, 12 cans of Chef Boyardee pasta without meatballs, 8 packs of string bikini style underwear in size 5 (okay, my secret’s out), and untold amounts of men’s shirts in neck 15, sleeve 34/35 (and so’s Mr. Apron’s). 

Each time we visit my parents’ house, there are a gross of Canada Dry ginger ale waiting for us.  Never mind that we’ve defected to Caffeine Free Diet Coke.  And I don’t know how to call her off, how to submit a cease and desist order. 

For some people it must be a joy to receive these items.  Oh, they’re so hard to find.  Oh, she knows me so well.  Oh, I’ll never run out of my specific brand of deodorant or chocolate chips.  But for others, I think it must be embarrassing. 

Which is why I ended up only giving 2 of the monogrammed listing pads to my supervisor, and gave away the others to other people with the first initial of “B”.  I think it would be awkward for them. 

All this to arrive at today’s event, a family dinner, transpiring in 3 minutes (Mr. Apron, where are you?).  Mr. Apron’s big sister is having a birthday today, and I let slip to my mother that she was having trouble finding 5oz Dixie cups with Spongebob on them.  Her favorite motif in bathroom cups.  This week, in a large carton, arrived 2 boxes (total 180) of Spongebob cups, plus 4 packs of 10 each (40 total) Spongebob lunch bags, and a Spongebob bubble bath thingy.  I wrapped up the Dixie cups, and made an executive decision to save the rest for Hanukkah.  I just couldn’t present all the stuff tonight next to her other gifts…Mr. Apron’s family is not a pile-o’presents family.  They choose, instead, a few thoughtful gifts that don’t clutter the recipient’s house.  My family is–haven’t you guessed by now?– the inventor of the piles.  Much is “cute” gifts, tchotchkes, inexpensive things Mom collects all year long with the recipient in mind.  She LOVES having these missions, these quests for hard-to-find or special-interest gifts.  She loves giving. 

You’d just better make sure to send a thank-you note, or  you’ll suffer donations in your name to wildlife foundations instead.  No one, not even Mr. Apron’s family, wants that.  She will rarely kick you off the list entirely, but you’ll get spoken of in tense tones as the one who didn’t send a thank you note, or the one who sent only 1 note for all four gift giving occasions in the past year.  Oh, yes, there are tallies.  And terse words. 

Remember folks; send a thank-you note.  Yes: even for 5oz. Spongebob cups.

Today Mr. Apron wrote about the piano we are hopefully about to acquire, a relic from the days when people just had pianos as pieces of furniture.  Did they have them in hopes someone in the family would play, or because someone inevitably already did?  Were piano lessons a given, a rite of passage much as SAT tutoring is today?  Did Mr. Apron’s grandfather really buy the piano to match the window treatments?  We began to discuss these pressing issues after Mr. Apron let me read his blogpost.  I recalled an interview I heard on NPR about a singer-songwriter named Alice Peacock who has begun rescuing old pianos from Craiglist and homes where they are unwanted and housing them in her barn.  Where did this spate of unwanted pianos come from?  Well, we reasoned, people of our grandparents’ generation, if not already dead (as our 8 collective grandparents are), have downsized into condos and townhomes and have decidedly not taken their pianos with them, either into Shady Acres or to the grave.  And their children no longer view having a piano, or playing a piano, as a necessity, as they’re saving their money for SAT tutoring, or spending it on unlimited data plans for their family’s smartphones.  Those who do want pianos, and want a smaller, or cheaper alternative to the $50K it costs for a gently used living-room-sized 7′ Steinway, aren’t buying the spinet/upright/console pianos that Mr. Apron’s grandfather, and my paternal grandmother bought back in the heyday of such pianos.  The spinet we’re hopefully acquiring is from then as well.  No one wants to play the tinny sound that comes from a spinet piano, nor to move the 300lb weight, nor to tune the cramped innards.  People these days who want an affordable option for a child to learn on choose electronic keyboards. 

A few years ago, living on my own for the first time, I discovered I missed being able to sit down and play piano recreationally.  My brother had long surpassed me in technical ability, and I had no designs on going anywhere with it, but I found that, when I would go visit my family, I spent downtime between insanities in the living room, playing the familiar keys.  And so I made the mistake of asking for a keyboard.  I was, I think, specific.  I knew I wanted 88 keys, the same number as a real piano, and that I wanted the keys to be touch-sensitive, so that when you banged harder, you’d get a louder note, as on a real piano.  I forget what this feature is called in the world of keyboards, but it’s not important. 

I referenced in my last post (“OMG”) the gifts my family often lavishes upon us.  I have also mentioned in my birthday posts the danger of asking for gifts from my family.  This was no exception.  What arrived (with beaming smiles on my father’s and brother’s faces [for it was the latter’s idea]) can be accurately described as a MIDI-input device.  What arrived, in my mind is an ivory elephant.  This is a keyboard which must be plugged into a computer to work.  It is only keys, same as the keyboard I’m typing on now, and requires a computer to process and generate output from the information.  The computer of course needs software (something called Cakewalk, which they generously provided), a sound card, and speakers, to play.  The computer I had did not have the ability to make the monstrosity play.  So my parents bought me a brand-spanking new computer, from which I now type, which also did not possess the necessary requirements in the way of sound cards, patches, and all the other bullshit.  So they then delivered a computer hailing from circa 1995 which had succeeded at home in the initial test-run of the keyboard.  And left me, with 2 computers (my former computer had just bitten the dust), and a gigantic piece of inert plastic with black and white keys.  Mute.  For I, too, was speechless. 

We set it up in our last apartment, and all I needed to do to play my new keyboard was boot up the dinosaur, turn on the minute speakers, open the Cakewalk program, fiddle around to tell it I wanted piano, not violin, drum kit, or full orchestra.  And then play.  Why, oh why?  Why couldn’t I have a self-contained machine?   I assume the idea was that, with Cakewalk, I could compose music, play any instrument I wanted, save and playback my creations.  Ideally, I’d upgrade the sound with bigger speakers, and have a hoedown on my MIDI toy.  Whose dream do you suppose that was?  I’ll give you 3 guesses, the first 2 don’t count.  My brother is a born tinkerer, one who soups up cars, stereos, skateboards, even trashcans.  Once he fitted a shoebox to the top of his trashcan so it was at the same height as his bed and he could pitch his Mountain Dew cans and Dorito wrappers with minimal effort. 

His dream, my white elephant.  I’ve tried to sell it on Craigslist, but all I got for the keyboard were offers from the usual Craiglist whackos offering half of what I asked for, pressuring me into selling that night in a back-alley, paying in “genuwine” gems in exchange for my toy.  My $200 (retail) toy, which is now useless to us, as we donated the computer it used to work with when we moved.  I hadn’t played it in months anyway, having cannibalized the mouse from that computer when the optical mouse on our functional computer rolled over and died one day. 

Does anyone want a MIDI input keyboard?  Retail value $200.  Worked perfectly last time it was plugged into the only computer on the planet it’s compatible with.  I’ll even throw in the stool and a free music stand.  And if you act now, I’ll throw in a fresh plate of hot brownies to sweeten the deal.  Please?!?

A friend of ours teaches 8th grade English and has professed to have a hard time defining “irony” for her class.  When she gave a definition, supported by strong (so she perceives) examples, they still failed to latch onto it.  So now, whenever I come across my own example, I think of facing her class and saying, “that  is irony”.  Hmpf.

As a result of birthday, Hanukkah and other “wisted” item debaucles, I have tried to be more specific in requesting gifts for occasions.  My mother usually asks if there’s something I have in mind, which is a great opportunity to ask for a GPS or a new set of mixing bowls.  It works best with things I don’t care so much about.  Or things I’d think they wouldn’t be able to fuck up.  When I have something exact in mind, I of course, try to describe it using key details, brand names, giving links to website when available.  That is how I ended up with Honda-brand floor mats designed and fit (ha ha) exactly to my car as a birthday gift.  My car, being “used” (for all of 4,000 miles) did not come with floor mats, and the dollar store variety left me with doubts about the relationship between a floor mat and my accelerator.  Seeing as how many thousands of Toyotas were just recalled with such an issue, I asked for, and received, the right floor mats.  Because my husband gets it and knows what I want.

He’s awesome, by the way.

Many Hanukkahs ago, before I knew the mantra of “If you want something done right, do it yourself” I let myself get very disappointed over a gifted sweater.  I had wanted very badly a turtleneck sweater, which was in fashion in 1999, I think.  I asked that it be cotton, and a turtleneck.  That is all.  I don’t even like turtlenecks, but all these sweaters were coming out in flattering shapes with ribbing and cables, so I asked for one, letting the color decision be totally irrelevant.  I knew they were in EVERY store that year.

I opened a Ralph Lauren Chaps (yes, men’s label) crew neck sweater.  Oh, but it was cotton.  She had listened to one aspect of my request.  How do you lie about liking that one in front of your mother?  “Thank you, but it’s men’s size Large and I will never wear it.  Oh, and it’s nothing like what I wanted.”

Another time, the same year (I struck out quite a bit before I wisened up), I asked for the proverbial, everyone-on-campus-had-it peacoat.  Color, again, was not important, but I wanted basic, boring, easy-to-find.  And was given what looked like a men’s brown tweed blazer, not even warm enough to serve as a winter coat. 

This year, my uncle (Mom’s brother) was pestering her to find out what I wanted for my birthday, so she decided to give him one of those specific, can’t-mess-it-up missions.  I had this summer, when Mom was at the outlets, asked if she could get me a new pair of 3-strap Birkenstocks, as my current pair are, in the usual fashion, wearing completely through the soles.  They were out, it being the end of the season, but she entrusted this mission to Uncle Leo.  3 strap Birkenstocks, color unimportant, price no object (since he lives for ebay and outlet shopping).  What do you think of when you hear “3-strap Birkenstock”?  As opposed to “2-strap Birkenstock”?  What would be so important about that third strap that I would specifically ask for it?  Wouldn’t you think it would serve some additional purpose other than the 2 straps already on it such that I would prefer it?   Here’s my schematic of the 3-strap Birkenstock; and here is my Uncle’s/mother’s schematic representation of a 3-strap Birkenstock.  So, as you can see, I received not one, but two pairs of the latter, in both brown leather, and black suede.  They may not stay on my feet, but they sure are pretty.

However, the story does not stop here, because we still haven’t gotten around to irony in birthday presents.  So far, we’ve only explored expected results given my blind foolishness and my family’s ill-fated, yet predictable, attempts to fulfill my wishlist.

Today I signed for another package from my uncle, a random box that arrived with little warning or purpose.  I opened it to reveal…

Wait.  I forgot to tell you what I told my mom I wanted for my birthday this year (aside from Birkenstocks).  I wanted a modern wearable-to-work rain coat.  My rain gear currently consists of a “rain cape” circa 1972, a surplus air force rain jacket, and a royal blue double-breasted raincoat with huge white buttons and lined with red fleece.  But nothing I can feel secure going out for a nice evening out, or to wear to work and be taken seriously.  Unless they took Zorro seriously when he swooped in for a business meeting in his cape.  I don’t have the matching mask, though.  So I asked for a trench coat, something which I think is an easy style to find in impermeable fashions these days.  Mom’s package hasn’t arrived yet with the rest of my birthday presents (only the aforementioned birthday suit came on time), but you’ll never guess what Uncle Leo’s box contained.

A gorgeous lambskin trenchcoat in ochre with an asymmetrical closure and stand-up collar.  Perhaps not a “raincoat” in strictest sense, but a beautiful garment.  How did he know?  I’m so glad I didn’t ask him for it, or I might have gotten this instead.

And that, my friends, is the definition of irony.

As soon as I unwrapped 2009’s birthday suit, I recalled the one from year’s past that was stumping me last week when I wrote the Birthday Suit post. 

I recalled it, because, as I opened this year’s, I had a flashback.  I had a flashback because it was made of the exact same fabric.  We’re not talking wool crepe, or red chenille, or even a similar plaid.  Exact same.  Teal print with chairs emblazoned on it.  Arm chairs and Eames chairs, chaises and footstools, high chairs and wing chairs.  And I don’t think she remembered the repeat.  She just thought it was so clever!

Again.

I’ll have to dig up a picture of this beauty.  It’s a dress — pattern is pretty nice, actually — with a notched neckline.  My ample bust just fits in the bodice, pushing the notched part out, so the corners turn down, exposing cleavage.  And there’s a jacket.  It’s bolero/cropped length, with puffed elbow sleeves pleated to a buttoned cuff.  The tailoring was very nice; Mom always tries harder for gifts.  She finished the inside seams and put in a zipper beautifully.  I told her as much; it was the only honest(ly nice) thing I could think to say as I picked up the phone to tell her I had opened it. 

Ironically, we were watching Project Runway during the opening of the birthday suit.  We waited till a commercial break, then tore into the gift and groaned.  Oh, the print.  It can’t be so bad.  And it wouldn’t be, except for the fact that the entire dress and jacket combo (a “suit,” mom calls it) was made out of this fabric.  I could tolerate the skirt being that fabric, or the jacket, or the bodice, or the totebag (yes, it came in a matching totebag), but not all of it.  It looks like a clown costume or pajamas.  As we dejectedly turned back to Project Runway, I thought of what Tim Gunn would say:

“Oh, I don’t know.  That fabric is coming on a bit strong.”

“Well, if you’re determined to use that print, make it work.”

“Hmm, you’ve got a long way to go if you want to make it to Bryant Park.  Work, work, work!”

And then there’s Heidi:

“In fashion one day you are in, and the next, you are out.  I don’ t think this was ever in.  You are out.”

Since it did fit, I threw a green sweater over the top, buttoned it all the way up so it only looked like a chair-print skirt, and wore it to work on Friday.  Because I am a good and dutiful daughter.  Because I am grateful and I am trying to see the potential in this outfit.  Because it is the right thing to do.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m able to look forward to my birthday this week!  My birthday is October 9th.  Though it put me in the younger end of all my classes, I have always enjoyed most aspects of having an October birthday.  As I walked Finley today, we felt the warm sun counteracting the crispiness of the fall air.  We crunched through the first leaves to fall.  Mums and late roses are still in bloom, being gradually replaced by harvest-related items.  The supermarkets are full of root vegetables in those classic autumnal colors.  Pomegranates are in.  Clementines are coming.  And I can finally make pumpkin bread again without the strange looks that accompany the presentation of my favorite quick bread in March. 

It’s finally cool enough to snuggle under blankets at night, yet still warm enough not to need a jacket during the warm parts of the day.  Corduroy is coming, flannel is coming, wool is coming.  My jacket collection will soon be aired, and the novelty of coats means I’m not yet tired of bundling up.  I relish it after a hot summer of running between air-conditioned oases and suffering in endless heat all day long.  Fall is finally here.

Which always means my birthday, in this part of the world.  The only part about my birthday that’s not easy is that, moving around a lot when I was a child, I had never quite made new friends by that point in the school year, and my birthday celebrations were a little lackluster.  New schools and October birthdays were hard.  Ninth grade, freshman year of college, grad school even.  Now, thank goodness, Mr. Apron and I are free to enjoy our own celebration of my birthday.  If I’m lucky, my sister is able to join us, and my mother has come out in years past, too. 

This year, my sister has “fall break” (aka Columbus Day = 3-day weekend, if you can call that a “break”) to coincide with my birthday weekend, so she’ll be joining the festivities.  Mr. Apron has been making secret plans and sharing them with my sister over e-mail, buying secret gifts and squirreling them away, and generally being very sly.  I love it.  He does all the planning, and I just get excited.  One year, he whisked me off to Hartford, Connecticut and we got engaged on the porch of Mark Twain’s house.  Another year he bundled me off on an early morning hike.  Another time he kidnapped me to Brooklyn where we went to an indie flea market.  He knows what I like and takes great pleasure in carrying out these secret missions. 

Another tradition that goes with my birthday is the annual Birthday Suit.  Of course, my first birthday suit is the one I was born in, but each year my mother sews me a “public” birthday suit.  When I was younger, I took great delight in dressing up on the day of my birthday and wearing my new outfit  to school.  It helped carry that special birthday feeling all day long, through fractions and the scientific method and gym class.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the Birthday Suit has become less of a sure thing.  My mother has had 2 spectacular busts in recent years, and I try not to put too much stock in this year’s. 

Last year wasn’t so awful, truly, but it was quite a production.  Mom procured a refrigerator box, out of which she cut a life-size Me, and then dressed Me in my Birthday Suit.  I think there were pants that didn’t quite fit (always with receipts from TJ Maxx), but the top.  Oh, the top.  She thinks I’m still a size 4 with the same breasts I had in 9th grade.  This was a wrap-top in a yellow fabric replete with cars, palm trees, and general “surfer beach bum” theme.  Would I pick it out on my own?  Probably not.  But would I wear it in her presence to be polite?  If I could close it.  Wrap tops are tricky for us well-endowed ladies, due to excess cleavage.  This one didn’t even close around my buxomness.  Oh, I’ll alter it, I assured her as she beamed at the cleverness of the presentation.  It’s sitting in a box on the top shelf of my crafting area marked “UFOs”: UnFinished Objects, where it shall remain until the guilt mounts.  Or something.  That was 2008. 

In 2007, trying to stack the deck, I requested a specific pattern — a popular Asian-inspired style of dress — and she supplied the colorful rayon print.  That was a resounding success.  People ask me about it every time I wear it, and I wear it often.

The Birthday Suit of 2006 was a moderate success — a bias-cut skirt made of pink Cabbage Patch Kids fabric.  It’s very cute, even in a size 4, though the colors in the ‘Kids yarn hair have been a bit difficult to match to a top.  I have worn it several times. 

It was 2005’s Birthday Suit which I recoil in terror from.  This is the Birthday Suit I dread will come back to haunt me every year as I open the box.  I was a preschool assistant teacher from 2003 until 2006, when I went back to school to get my Master’s in Speech Pathology.  I think as long as people hear the word “teacher” they start thinking of tacky apple-themed gifts.  Whiel others had given me notecards, buttons, and desk accessories, I had thus far eschewed the ubiquitous tote bag, and I had hoped my mother was immune.  Alas; fall is also the time for apple-, school bus-, and chalkboard-theme fabrics.  I received overalls covered in those bastions of teacher themed objects: a white background with chalkboards, apples, ABCs, rulers, and school buses.  And if elasticized pants are a sin to wear in the under 65 crowd, then overalls with EZ-access zippers are, too.  I could not pretend to like those, or even to make plans for alteration into a toilet seat cover or drawer liners.  While I have held onto many items of clothing for sentimental reasons (including last year’s wrap-top, my winter coat from age 3, and the first pair of pants I ever modified into bell bottoms), I could not even pretend to attach anything but tackiness-induced trauma to those overalls. 

Maybe they’re in some Salvation Army store, being snapped up and appreciated by a teacher who likes that sort of thing.  I wish her all the best.

Mom has been excitedly talking on the phone with me the last week, teasing me with non-hints about this year’s Birthday Suit.  I can bet it’s going to be colorful.  All I know from her “hints” is that it has animals on it.  Now I’m dreading leopard and zebra prints or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  She mailed it today.  It will likely arrive Wednesday.  As a dutiful daughter, I will give myself some hope for a repeat of 2007’s dress, or the one from 2003, which if I remember correctly, was patchwork wrap pants.  Those I only had to hem myself. 

I love the tradition.  I love the fact that my mother has crafted a new outfit for me to feel special in each year since I was born, when she “crafted” me.  I love that she’s able to show her love that handmade way, instead of with a trip to the mall.  I enjoy and look forward to the tradition each year, even as I fear the product of her imagination.  Sometimes she knows me, she gets me, she nails the outfit.  Other times she’s so far off, it’s like the gifts of Barbie clothes my aunt used to send me for Hanukkah, to the house where no Barbie doll had ever lived. 

I guess it’s a metaphor for our relationship.  As I continue to grow up, she still knows the foundation of Me, the ideas I have and colors I like and values that I hold.  She may not have kept up with some of my interests and abilities, but at least she knows not to make me a Barbie jumper.  I hope.