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I guess the whole blog world, including my dear husband, was busy writing their thankful posts for yesterday, Thanksgiving.  I was too busy bitching about crummy gifts from my aunt, a jag I’ve seemingly been on all week.  However, I did get up early on this, my day off, when Mr. Apron is working until 3pm, so I could go shopping.  I didn’t go to all the nutso salse at 3am, 4am, midnight, since I think that’s sick, and it just feeds into my anti-consumerism sentiment that rises in my throat like bile whenever I see another commercial, recycle another circular, or hear another radio ad.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why it needs to be so early.

So I went to the Dansko Outlet, armed with my 20% off coupon.  They only opened at 8am, which is comfortably daylight, so I can justify it.  Besides, 20% off shoes that are already 50% off the retail price.  Plus, I mean, shoes.  Come on. 

And I’m back already.  No one trampled me in a Wal-Mart parking lot, no one took the last Zhu-zhu pet out of my hesitating hands, no one cut in line ahead of me, and no one snatched the last door-buster as I zeroed in on an HDTV.  I think I escaped unscathed.

But thankful.  So I thought I’d segue to a little piece that has nothing to do with the agonizingly awkward, stress-inducing, ulcer-erupting dinner that went on last night at my in-laws’.

I am thankful for my mother, who in purchasing terrible gifts, is still showing she means well, and who has awakened the latent Martha Stewart spirit in me that gave me a craving to bake pumpkin bread last night, after we had returned, stuffed, from dinner. 

I am thankful for my father, who inspires me to try new projects, and who has taught me all the vaguely athletic activities I still pursue. 

I am thankful for my sister, who still looks up to me and makes me feel I have an iota of cool left in my spleen, despite the 99.7% dork I truly am. 

I am thankful for my brother, who called last week to ask, “How’s the married thing going for you?” and cared enough to send a birthday present that my mom told him to buy, which arrived without a card or return address. 

I am thankful for our dogs, one good, one naughty, who keep me entertained when I am alone, warm when I am chilly, and humbled when I think I’ve really got this dog training thing down pat. 

I am thankful for the burst bubble in the real estate market, which allowed us to buy this house, and gradually transform it into a home oozing with the spirit of “us”. 

I am thankful for my new job, filled with coworkers I can at last relate to and respect. 

I am thankful, most of all, for my husband, my partner, my buddy.  We have been through more ups and downs throughout the year that I can count, and I’m very good at math.  Through it all, I know I have him.  He will hold me when I need to be held, help me to do hard things, and work with me to conquer the biggest obstacles of all. 

Happy Day After Thanksgiving.  Keep that spirit from yesterday in your heart as your claw and bite your way into Best Buy.

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Gift-giving in my family has always been a strained topic.  (For proof, see here and here and here.)  My brother, with his December 25th birthday, always got shafted anyway for separate birthday/Hanukkah gifts.  He always wanted, yet rarely received, expensive electronica.  My father is impossible to shop for, and as a result, has more neckties and shirts that he can wear in a lifetime, and a stack of dry, “Daddy books” by his bedside, waiting to be read.  Mom, on the other hand, is very specific about what she wants, and does not hesitate to let us know, in writing, as an e-mail or card in the mail.  As she does this about a week before the event, we have to scramble to coordinate the shopping, shipping, and chipping in, lest she become very disappointed. 

Ah, yes, disappointed, that all-too-familiar feeling associated with Hanukkah.  Year after year, I’d make a wish-list, as we were encouraged to do, and time after time, the hopeful expectation has turned to doom and dread as I unwrap The Misunderstood (non) Turtleneck Sweater, The Wrong Birkenstocks, and The Hideous (non) Pea Coat That Looks Like a Men’s Blazer, and The Clothing That Would Not Fit.  And those are just the gifts I wanted.  I also end up with piles upon piles of crap I never wanted, little trinkets and tchotchkes that have always filled out the Hanukkah piles, as we opened one a night for 8 days: piles of socks, weird “gourmet” foods from TJ Maxx, stuffed animals (into my 20s), and clearance merchandise from Ocean State Job Lot with holes, stains, or “ready for crafting”.  My sister tries to keep these things at bay, fighting not to let them cross the threshold of her apartment, while I make trip after trip to Salvation Army, and jump at the chance to make a few choice contributions to other people’s yard sales. 

I’ve heard of large families who all pick names out of a hat and choose one person to shop for.  I’ve heard of the $20 limit.  I’ve heard of the themed gift giving extravaganza.  I’ve read Cathy and “AAaack!”ed my way through well intentioned agreements not to exchange gifts.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over who needs to be on my list.  Yesterday, a coworker revealed that her family actually does not exchange gifts.  As I strive each year to find homes for the piles of acceptable crap that enter my house after birthday and especially Hanukkah, I would genuinely welcome a truce on my family’s gift-giving quagmire.  Mr. Apron is stressing  because he has not started shopping yet for my Hanukkah gifts, and I’ve promised not to get him the full 8 this year.  For our anniversary in October, he was in the throes of play rehearsal, and I’d just emerged from a birthday, so we kept it delightfully low-key.  No fruit, or china, or appliances, or linen, or paper.  Just a bouquet from the florist who did our wedding flowers, a picnic at the township park where we were married, and dinner from Wegman’s.  I bought tickets to go see Peter and the Wolf at the symphony, and he scored seats at a live recording of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.  That was it.  As soon as we’d accepted our own failures to procure the “perfect gift” for each other, we relaxed and had a great anniversary.

After our wedding, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “stuff” from our registry, I swore off consumerism for a good, umm, season.  The “Holiday Shopping Season” gives me hives. The endless pop Christmas songs blasting through store speakers, the 80 degree stores that leave me stripping off winter layers from the 40 degree day outside, the snaking cash register lines, the commercials to buy, buy, buy, and the overflowing tables of Isotoner gloves, Dearfoams, plaid pajamas, cashmere sweaters, and keychain/flashlight/iPod speakers, set up by gender, age, and dollar amount so you can blindly pick out a “perfect gift.”  It’s all too much for me.  While I was on my double-boiler pursuit this weekend, I was greeted by packed parking lots, eager shoppers, and early sales.  I wanted to bolt, run home, bury my head under the covers, and stay that way until December 26th

It is so much harder to be a gracious recipient of a crap gift, than it is to give a gift you’ve put any thought into.  It’d be easier, period, if my family could accept that all us kids are “grown” and won’t be crest-fallen not to see the huge pile of gifts again.   Ever.  I think we’d actually be elated to be free of the guilt of fulfilling Mom’s wishes, finding something (anything) for Dad, and shopping merely out of obligation.  Though the Salvation Army might suffer for it.

I have this “hang-up”, as my ex-boyfriend might call it, with wasting time.  He also mentioned I had a hang-up with time, as in, being enslaved by my watch and held to such artificial constructs as hours and minutes and appointments, so we don’t need to buy into his philosophies whole-heartedly, but that’s a post for another time, and another therapy session. 

I had a day off on Friday.  Good Friday, so the Christians could celebrate consecration, or prepare for what I understand was Jesus’ Passover seder.  Or something.  While I’m dubious of the necessity for a day off for this purpose, I gladly welcome it as one of my 11 work-sanctioned holidays.  My company was, after all, founded by Lutherans, so who am I to question a day off, right? 

After a monumentally productive Thursday afternoon, where I walked the dogs down to pick Mr. Apron up from work and we at once set out for the walking trail/path/woodsy part of a local college.  We spent the next hour traipsing through the wooded scenery being frequently passed by coeds skimpily garbed in black athletic gear as they jogged their respective ways to hotness, while trying to keep the lunging dogs from attacking.  It was glorious.   We were, as usual, inappropriately dressed, me in sandals, a  skirt, and missing sunglasses, and Mr. Apron in a dress shirt and tie.  When we vacationed in Maine last summer, people stopped us on the hiking trail to tell us we were the best-dressed hikers.  Mr. Apron was then sporting a vintage straw boater.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Friday I woke up at 10:30, after fighting off the face-seeking missile named Molly who is unfortunately morning person.  She eventually gave up after 16 tries to coat my mouth with dog kisses, and I burrowed deeply under the covers, choosing a dry, unadulterated  face over being able to breathe.  I ate breakfast at 11:30, probably checked my Facebook 42 times, and just as I was about to actually do something — hook up the old printer to the new computer using the cable we ordered but thought was incompatible —  Mr. Apron came home for lunch. 

Distracted as I was, I mean, as intently focused as I was on the printer issue, I was unable to fully appreciate Husband-Home-In-The-Middle-Of-The-Day.  Feeling rejected, he soon left, spurring my subsequent text (after I’d successfully printed out the address of the nearest Christmas Tree Shops):

“installed the printer.  Sorry for my single minded focus.  I am awesome.”

Ah, Christmas Tree Shops.  One recently opened in this part of the world, and I decided to go.  I also decided that I would leave Molly out of her crate for a test-run of the house for a few hours. 

The stupid store ended up being an hour away.  An hour’s drive of stop-lights and traffic and grannies shopping for palm thingies and frustration.  After another hour, I exited CMS with seed packets, kid scissors, a bag of chocolate chips, rice noodles, and a new pair of purple gardening gloves. 

As I pulled out of the parking lot, Mr. Apron called.  Molly had, in 2 short hours, destroyed the house.  She had emptied the recycling bin, piece by piece, and strewn the bottles and cans about the living room.  With the gate up keeping Finley in the kitchen (where recyclables usually live), she had leapt over the gate, retrieved each can or bottle singly, leapt back over the gate, and taken each treasure to the living room.  She gnawed through aluminum cans, shred our carpet-sample coasters, and torn up anything with a #1 or #2  on it. 

Not to be trusted.  Oh, no.

Learned that lesson the hard way.

I felt as though I’d completely wasted my day.  One of only 11 on my calendar to do with as I please.  Indeed, I chose to sleep in (against Molly’s wishes).  I chose to have a leisurely shower and to focus on the printer hook-up, something I could have done any evening.  And I chose to drive an hour each way to a stupid chain store filled with cheap crap.  Lots and lots of cheap crap.  Admittedly, they were my choices, but it felt lousy.

I might have been happier at the end of the day if I’d woken up at 8, taken the dogs for a loooooong walk to tire them out, showered, made a Passover-friendly smoothie for breakfast, and organized my sock drawers.  Maybe I could have gone to the local hardware store for seeds and single-handed planted a starter garden in the kitchen window’s plentiful sunshine, all by the time Mr. Apron came home for lunch.  And I might have enjoyed our little tryst more. 

In an ideal world, yes, any of these things might have happened, had I been motivated.  Had I not stayed up watching Project Runway.  Had it not been so much more delicious — in the moment — to sleep in. 

People say you become more efficient with time when you have children, that you’re forced to squeeze more into each day and do laundry between bites of oatmeal and you jazzercise to the coffeepot’s percolations. 

I don’t necessarily want to do more; I’d like to first be able to forgive myself for what I am able and motivated to do.  And what I accomplish each day, whether it’s a holiday, a weekend, or another day at work.

I just ran over a dog.  A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  She darted out into the road as I was completing the final leg of my drive home from work.   A 12 mile trip which today took me over an hour and a half. 

Take one winter snowstorm, dumping 8 inches of snow, ice, and crud in a major urban area, add sunglare so severe I couldn’t read street signs as I weaved and darted my way home, throw in an accident during rush hour on the major artery that takes me from work to home, and let’s not forget it’s December 23rd, so we also have last-minute shoppers, kids getting out of school early, and the official beginning of that break from work for a holiday I don’t celebrate (but am grateful for the time off nonetheless).

Finally, after detours through frightening neighborhoods, in an effort to avoid the major road which was backed up, I got back on the congested boulevard, and creeped and crawled my way back to my own safe neighborhood.  As I was heading down the final stretch, at last able to open up my sporty little car towards the optimistic 35 mph speed limit, a little dog darted out from the iron gates of one of the villa-esque mansions and hopped across the road.  I slammed on my brakes, grateful it was 33 degrees today, or else the road would have been one giant skating rink, and I heard the grinding of anti-lock brakes.

I didn’t stop in time, or, at all.  I kept driving, lest I be hit by the car behind me, on this road that doesn’t have shoulders.  But as I glanced in my rear-view mirror, I expecting to see what I dreaded, I saw instead a happy little puppy bounding back across the road in front of the next car, which had managed to stop.  Somehow she either flew between my tires, or I was able to slow enough for her to make it across the road. 

When I was a little girl, I saw our dog, Amy, a fox terrier-whippet mix, get run over in a similar fashion.  She timed her crossing to coincide with the undercarriage of the car precisely, and she narrowly missed all four wheels. 

I wanted nothing more than to escape work a little early and run home so we could get back on the road and go visit my parents for the next few days.  Instead, I was treated to a trial of patience, determination, fear, and relief.  The last thing I want right now is to get back in that car and face the still bunged-up roadways with the persistent sunglare and asshole motorists.  Yet that’s precisely where I’m going.  As long as Mr. Apron is doing the driving, as long as that little dog is okay, I think I can bear it.  But a Xanax would help, too.