Thursday, January 30, 2020

2020 Valentine's Gift Giving Guide

Valentine's Day is just two weeks away, and though I've already got my gift purchased for my husband and Abby has a present for a friend of her, there's still a lot of folks that haven't shopped yet.

Many men don't like to buy gifts, thinking of it only when certain occasions arise, like realizing their anniversary was last month. I was in a ground school class for recurrent training on a jet at a civilian training center, my classmates for that particular session being a bunch of Marines. The instructor was going over the systems of the aircraft we all flew when one of the admin people brought in a bouquet of colorful spring flowers to the room. For me. It was from my Dad, which was sweet as I didn't have a boyfriend at the time.  It was on February 14th. There was a collective "oh *#%@" whereupon about a dozen strapping young men ran for the break room to get on the phone the call Teleflora.
A stuffie!  Just what I wanted Mom!

Men that I work with occasionally come to me with "what should I get my wife/partner for our anniversary/birthday/etc?"  For Sweetest Day I suggest going to the liquor store for a bottle of Bitters, but other occasions are more complicated.

Some women do like lingerie. But lingerie is a minefield. Buy it too small and she'll think she's fat. Buy it too big, she'll think YOU think she's fat.

Gentlemen, not an area you wish to go, either way.

Avoid flannel. Sure it's warm, and great if the power is out. But it's not romantic unless you live in an igloo. There's a reason my tartan flannels I wear sometimes are known as "Scottish Birth Control".

Fragrance? That's a deeply personal gift.

I wear something called Elixir of Love No. 1, which is from a very old American toiletries company or this complex, yet not expensive, essential oil scent from Ambre Blends in Indy (click on name for link) with which I'm often asked: "what is that scent you are wearing?" Either that or Hoppe's No. 9. Many women want much more sophisticated scents (i.e. very expensive) while some still love to wear the inexpensive fragrances they wore when they were young. Do you remember what fragrance she was wearing when you met her? I guarantee if she really loves you, she remembers. Find out.

Again, don't just grab something because you are at the drugstore and it's cheap, like this one which appears to come with a free cat toy. Last-minute drugstore gifts simply say "hey, I forgot to buy you something".

Partner and I were at a Walgreens getting my Tetnus booster after I'd got a nasty gouge on something metal, when we felt we were being watched.  It was a row of these 3 foot tall, brightly colored furry stuffed hearts with big eyes and creepy smiles and feet, standing on top of one of the aisles.  I had a vision of waking up on Valentine's day with two of those in the hall like the spooky ghost twins in "The Shining".  I didn't have a camera, but I wandered over to get a closer look.  They were all perched on top of the condom section.  That's just a mental picture I didn't want to have. Off to the candy section while we waited.

For chocolate is almost always well received.
It's hard to go wrong with chocolate. But the huge red block of chocolates that's as big as a carry-on bag for $5 may be a great little surprise for a road trip snack or a doorstop but it doesn't say "romantic gift". Quality and elegant presentation is the key here.

I am sure if MY Dad had got Mom a vacuum for Valentine's Day she would have reminded him that cleaning gave her a headache.

Stuffed toys.  OK, I do have several plush microbes from Think Geek but if someone ever bought me a giant stuffed sock monkey for Valentine's Day, I'd be riffling the cupboard very quickly for that bottle of cheap hooch or the car keys.
Books can be good, but pick a book that is similar to the type of books she has on her shelf. If she's into romance novels involving pirates and lusty maidens, this probably wouldn't be the book for her
Not just medium ships, or large ships, but HUGE ships. Who knew they were such a menace as you go out and about each day.

Now, remember, avoid tools unless your spouse or lover loves to build things as a hobby. For myself, some great gifts I have received involved tools or gadgets but I am not the norm.
NOT the Stairway to Heaven

Avoid buying anything like these things pictured below. Even the most practical woman does not want an extension cord, duct tape or a paintbrush for Valentine's Day, Christmas or your anniversary.
But, if your woman is the type that likes tools and such, go for it. How do you know? She will give you subtle clues, such as:

(1) constantly "borrowing" your cordless drill to work on craft or remodeling projects
(2) pumping up the kids "Super Soaker" with an industrial air compressor
(3) using a 48-inch pipe wrench to open a stubborn jar of sauerkraut
(4) in family photos, her glee with her Barbie or  a baby cradle is less than apparent
Men also often make the mistake thinking they have to buy a gift that "does something". Blend, dice, chop, (bad) reduce cellulite (really bad). Do not fall for this. Think of something that signals your undying passion. This is NOT a toaster (adding a note, I think you're HOT, doesn't make up for it). If you don't know the hobbies of the woman you are attempting to impress, your safest bet is to buy something that doesn't do anything. If it just lies there in a small box in a coma and sparkles, many women will be happy.

Avoid things you see on TV. If it says thighbuster, thighsmasher or thighrehabilitator, RUN, do not walk away from your TV now (see the rule about lingerie). Even if it comes with a free Cap Snaffler. Dad wasn't immune to the TV gift thing. I once got a Car Duster® from him. That might be fine in the city but I lived out in the country.  I promptly took my truck out four-wheeling, got it completely covered with two inches of mud then posed, covered with mud myself, holding the Car Duster® in my hand next to it. He got the point. Still, he bought my Mom an ashtray shaped like Mt. St. Helens where the smoke would come out of the top of the little ceramic volcano. NOT a big hit.

Cupid shoots and misses.

Another female friend got a shovel for her birthday (wonder if they've found the body yet). And there's my friend from college, whose husband of 15 years bought her brake fluid for Christmas.

Another woman had her husband give her two gift-wrapped boxes, each filled with a plastic storage container from Aldi. I can only imagine what she wished to store in each one.

These type of gifts are not going to get you the reaction you expect.

If you search the internet there's even more in the way of "bad gifts".  (bad as in "I named a Madagascar hissing roach after you my love").  Yes, from the Bronx Zoo, a strange and limited Valentine’s Day Offer:

Can’t decide on what to get that special someone for Valentine’s Day? Sometimes the answer is all around us, and right where it’s been for millions of years—like cockroaches!
Naming a Madagascar hissing roach in honor of someone near and dear to your heart shows that you’ve noticed how resilient, resourceful, and loyal that person is. You’re not afraid to say, “Baby, you’re a roach!”  WCS’s Bronx Zoo has 58,000 of these brown, iridescent beauties, and most go humbly by “whatchamacallit.” With a $10 donation, you can name one for your sweetie, and send a truly unique certificate of honor. 

 But wait!
Bad gifts aren't just from men. We ladies can be just as deadly in the art of bad gift-giving and here are some real delights that both sexes have bestowed upon their loved ones.

Camouflage Toilet Seat.

Throw in the camo Snuggee and you're guaranteed to get a toilet plunger for Christmas next year.

The Razorba War Hammer.  At last - a gift that sends that message of undying love - "From the back, with your shirt off, you look like a wookie."

The War Hammer is a plastic handle designed to hold a razor so you can shave hard to reach areas. This product comes in various sizes and colors with detailed instructions for use, as well as this safety note: "Wear thick pants, shorts, or a thick towel and eye protection when using this product."

I do NOT want to know why you would need thick pants.

Tired of boring yard gnomes? How about the Zombie of Montclaire Moors, climbing out of your mulch to munch you. This sort of lawn ornament tells your neighbor you're either a really fun person or are under psychiatric care.

The best part? It's portable. Think of the fun you can have with it, take to a playground, a salad bar, your best friend's wedding reception.

Why give a hug when you can give the Hug Me pillow. Shaped like a human arm, complete with hand, and attached to half a chest this looks like something left after a nasty accident with a wood chipper or the Razorba War Hammer.
It's just like sleeping with a strong, loving and caring companion, except it has no head or testicles (which means we'll see The Hug Me Pillow running for public office soon).

The fringe visor. Don't hide in the shadows, every day is a risk when at any given moment, a bobcat may attack your head.

Spa Day - Most guys have no desire to have some woman in an antiseptic smock file their fingernails.  They'd rather bite them off in frustration as they wait in line at Home Depot on Saturday afternoon.

Seriously though, Pay attention to the things your loved one likes to do to relax (and no, that is not house cleaning). Books, crafts, gardening, computers, photography, shooting sports, etc., and surprise them with something that would allow them to do more of that.  But remember, despite the ads, despite the hype, it's not what you give that matters, it's that you took time to think of something to make them smile (especially if you have tools).

Don't fall prey to the ads, and don't feel guilty if your budget doesn't support an expensive jewelry store or a new computer or electronic toy.  It's not what you purchase but what you are the rest of the year. Love is not a lover, it is not a gift or a holiday. It's not what you buy or what you say, it's what you demonstrate every day. What is important is the friends and family around you; the patient, trusting support of a life. It is those who wait quietly in the wings while you flounder and fall, being there to gently pick you up, not with unrealistic expectations, but with unconditional love and support for just being you.

Look at the photos of those you hold dear in your home. Look to your friends. Whether you have a significant other or not, love is all around you.  It's in the past, in the present, in the future, images of people from which you were born, those you choose to call home, those who you will someday know, there in a book, on a mantle, in a Bible, in the depths of an old mirror. You are surrounded by them, even as you stand alone in a muted, empty room and believe in it, bewitched beneath the broad gravity of man's incredible and abiding hope.

Savor it, even with your Mt. St. Helen's ashtray.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Winter Pug Update

Our long-time Blogville members will remember Military Wife and Pug Life, the military wife, and dog Mom.  She quit blogging to pursue another professional writing avenue but has kept in touch.  The dog they rescued after they lost their beloved Pug a couple of years ago is growing like crazy, (and healing their hearts).  She and her husband just bought their first home and life is good. So good to hear from her. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Your Smile for the Day

I just have to share this video from my father in law (who does the singing and the violin) of a song to accompany cleaning up the dog yard (and for the record, it was hazel nut husks he was tossing outside with the shovel, but the song cracked me up)

He and my mother in law transport and foster Schipperke dogs.

One Poop Over the Line.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Line Up

How many of you use a clothesline?  The crash pad I lived in after I sold my house and prior to my marriage had a washer/dryer built into a little closet but at home, a line is used, in the winter, set up across the laundry area. Yes, the clothes are a little stiffer and they often need the touch up of an iron, but it's surprising how much energy that drier uses.

I lived in a subdivision once and clotheslines weren't allowed, as only hooligans and hillbillies use them, you know. You couldn't even hang a beach towel off of your porch or paint your front door the color you wanted. I quickly moved away from the Stepford Subdivision, never to return.

A washer is a must.  Even as much as I love old machinery I have no desire to run my clothes through a wringer like Grandma Gullikson.  But to pull in a big batch of sheets from the line, kissed by the sun with the warm scent of summer on them, there is no fabric softener scent that can match that. There's something quietly satisfying about taking things that are dirty, the clothing of the people you love, and rendering them clean, a ritual of care that feminists would probably vilify me for actually liking. But holding the clothing of someone you love, something that bears their scent, their labors, and then carefully getting it ready for them to wear again, has an intimacy of its own.
Growing up, we always had a dryer, the avocado green Maytag one. But in the spring and summer, Mom always hung the clothes outside  I have vivid memories of those days. I would help gather the clothes in, that being one of my set chores. For we had assigned chores as children, daily ones that had to be done without fussing if we hoped to get an allowance to buy us a bit of candy on Saturday. No chores, no allowance, that became obvious early. We were given things to do that were in the scope of our abilities and some that were beyond, with supervision only when necessary, so that we would learn, painfully if we didn't listen, but learn nonetheless.

The clothes would hang, with the linens, dresses and dress shirts, the modest nightwear, the men's briefs and big "Granny panties" that we wore, ones that did not peak out of low slung jeans but only the Sears Catalog. There was our Sunday best, to be appropriately scratchy for young ones in the pew to squirm around as Father Erickson talked of Genesis and Exodus and fathers therein who dared talk face to face with God.
On laundry day when the clothes were off the line inside and sorted, Mom would set up the ironing board in front of the TV.  There she would watch As the World Turns, The Secret Storm or Guiding Light while she ironed and I put together the puzzles that fascinated me, Big bro, off at school. Dad still has, to this day, a jigsaw puzzle of bears on the coffee table that was purchased for Big Bro, not that it stopped me from putting it together time and time again until the edges were worn.

While I played, Mom would iron everything, including the sheets, from the hand-embroidered ones of the '50s to the harvest gold striped ones from the late '60s and '70s. She'd use a wine bottle that had a cap that allowed for water to be sprinkled out in lieu of a steam iron as if subtly blessing the sheets. There was almost a zen-like ritual to it, much as I feel when I reload, a series of defined movements, done in proper order with the right amount of physical force and the elements that comprise the process.
Then she would get the after school snack out and dinner prepped, giving her just enough time to freshen up and make a martini to greet my Dad at the door when he got home. Lest you think my Mom a demure Mrs. Cleaver type, prior to adopting us, when she wasn't doing laundry she was the County Sheriff.  College-educated when most women didn't get past high school, Mom could kick keester and take names, help pluck out a drowning victim from the river and deal with the trauma that was rape, domestic violence and abuse. 

I'm sure she missed the challenges, but after 18 years as an LEO, she found greater satisfaction in maintaining order in a house of redheads and occasionally fishing someone's toy out of the toilet. Everything she did, she did with care and attention to detail, even after she got so sick, her days filled with weariness and, I suspect, pain.
I still remember the days when Mom washed my stuffed animals and carefully hung them up by the ears on the clothesline, giving each one a little kiss and a pat while I watched to make sure they were OK. One of them had no eyes, and little fur, he being loved so hard, but she very carefully hung him up by the ears with a special kiss.  I thought he had disappeared, but when she was in her last days, and I was leaping into adulthood, she put him away where I'd find him again when I was grown, and remember those days.

I remember her as well, dealing with Big Bro's and Dad's filthy and smelly fishing garb, simply smiling a patient smile and handling them as delicately as vestments.  She worked away, a patient smile on her face, the birds on the lines and in the trees,  singing a hymn of praise as she labored for love.

While the clothes fluttered on the summer line like the last valiant leaves of the year, we'd run and play.  If we fell down, we got up, if we skinned a knee, we washed it off with the hose, running in and out of the hanging sheets, bright red heads flashing in and through them like birds. We did so with a zest for breathing that is wrung out of most people by the time they're 40, playing as if we were eternal and in that moment, we were, there in the open clean air, away from the walls of dust and shadow and sickness.
We played hide and seek and cowboy and Indians. We stalked squirrels and each other with nothing more than a plastic weapon and iron courage.  Our games had elements of make-believe, of magic and superpowers, soldier, secret agents, and spies. But we weren't so sheltered from the world that we were unaware that to be careless with the tools and talents we were given, was to meet up with a beast that, though lightly slumbering, sleeps with breath tainted with blood. As we grew, we watched as deer fell in the woods under our guns, a firearm is more than a toy to play cops and robbers with, but the means of putting food on the table, a means to protect, one that came with heavy responsibility.

We understood early one, that some things do NOT wash out.

The clothesline eventually came down. I don't recall when actually. It was about the time Big Bro went off to the Navy, to submarine school.  I wanted to go with him, we did everything together, but I had a  few years of school left. All I could do was stand there as a line that no longer held his shirts stood like a barren flag pole and the vehicle in which we'd had so many adventures, drove off towards his future.  I watched as long and as hard as I could, thinking that old blue panel van would turn around.  But the red tail lights just got further away and closer and closer together until my last memory was a small single spot of red that made my eyes weep as if I had dared to stare into the sun.
Things change, processes evolve, how we live and where we live. But some things, the good things, can continue and I don't care if they are considered "tacky" or "old fashioned", they are a ritual of love that goes beyond blood and care that goes beyond the obligation.  Like my clothesline. The clothes are different, there's more t-shirts than dresses, a lot of khaki and navy and black. Some of the shirts have pictures, some just have big letters on them. There's the plaid flannel nighty for when it's really cold but most of the underthings, if made of paper, not fabric, wouldn't be big enough to start a fire with. Styles change, but some rituals don't.

As I hang up a button-down dress shirt, I think back to those days of my childhood, as my Mom did the same things for those she loved. As I work, I talk face to face with God as He helps me with the biggest puzzles of all.  As the wind flutters through the fabric, around me come the sound of birds, perched on lines of their own, rejoicing without fail, their ceaseless, silver voices singing as if they are eternal, and for this moment may very well be. - LBJ

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sounds Like a Fair Trade

Having an email address open to the public since it's tied to my author blog, I get a LOT of junk mail. Most I just delete as even Abby Lab found them incredulous

Occasionally, I read the more humorous ones.  I never respond.  But this one was just so blatantly BAD, not even trying to be clever to lure me into giving them my bank info or social security number so I can get my foreign lottery winnings or mystery inheritance from the relative I didn't know I had.


Help me bank transfer 2.5 million dollars.  I will give you 30%.


Great!  And I will loan you my talking elephant (fluent in Farsi, English, and Mandarin Chinese).  You can rent him out to parties for entertainment and keep 30%.

I didn't hear back.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Not of This World

Abby Lab here. It was a quiet Saturday morning.  Mom was taking pictures of foodables in the dining room, while Lorelei was sleeping after her playtime. Suddenly a bright LIGHT appeared, and a strange creature was left in its place.

It's not of this world, I think it's a Martian.

It was tall, with one big eye and red spindly legs.  Its skin was Red Planet Red.  It didn't leave, staying in the room eyeing us ominously and in silence.  Mom said the mother ship must have gone out in the recyclable bin.
I'm starting to get a little spooked.

First there was the big silver thing that showed up in the utility room.  Mom said it's only a "Gar-Bage can" with a lid, so I don't go "dumpster diving" again (I didn't - I was just examining that York Peppermint Patty wrapper to ensure it couldn't be recycled).

Then the scary Martian shows up right in the middle of the dining room

Would it ever go away?

Mom, being smart, learned to communicate with it. And it communicated back.
Dad got the message and took it to the basement.

I'm going to keep an eye on things STRANGE things are happening around here as Mom and Dad get the house and basement organized as Dad finishing the rest of the drywall repair/painting in the master bathroom.

Mom! Mom! The Garbage Can gave birth!!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Frosty the Snowman

I said I was sorry.

You remember the lyrics from Frosty the Snowman?

Thumpity thump thump
Thumpity thump-thump
Look at Frosty go.

Were finishing dinner in the next room enjoying a glass of wine when from the living room we hear.

Thumpity thump thump
Thumpity thump-thump

Lorelei's big "tail of doom" is whacking the wood baseboard of the couch as she's fiercely wagging, happy about something.  She's on the floor with the Frosty Plush Christmas decoration in her mouth, swiped off the table with the aluminum Christmas tree on it and running with it!

Look at Frosty go!  Quick get it!
After a brief chase, Frosty was rescued with only minor tooth damage to his felt hat.  I think we had a second glass of wine.