Timeline of a Near Fatal Illness, AKA Bronchitis, *CoughCough*

Note: Every other blogger might be blogging about Love and Valentine’s Day and chocolates and warm and fuzzy and smootchy stuff like that there. I’m not, cause I’m sick. Your pity is appreciated.

Day One – Friday

Unlike most weekends, I actually have plans for this one. Saturday morning is the VNSA book sale. All year this charitable organization receives donations of used books, cds, movies – scads of stuff – enough to fill to abundance the exhibit building at the Arizona Fairgrounds. It’s every bit as much fun as you can imagine.

VNSA

Also happening, Husband returns home from a five-day visit with his family.

Friday afternoon, approximately 12:27 pm, Mountain Standard Time, I cough.

It is the first of many coughs.

Day Two – Saturday

My sleep was fitful, full of strange dreams involving angry people, lost pets, and Gene Wilder on the beach with a metal detector. In the morning I take my temperature: 100.4.

I stare at it. The thermometer is an old one. Have we ever changed the batteries? Damn thing is broken.

I think all this while coughing.

This is a terrible time to be sick. Which begs the question, is there a good time to be sick?

“Oh, I see I’ve nothing planned for the second week of June. Say Universe, how ‘bout we reschedule for then, yeah?”

I do not go to the book sale. I go back to bed, wake up at 4:30 pm, Husband is home.

“You don’t look good,” he says.

“Nice to see you, too,” I say.

Day Three – Sunday

Morning temp: 101.2.

Husband says we have a transportation issue, so it works out well I’m sick and won’t need the car.

So glad this is working out for everyone.

Why is there illness in the world? Why is there suffering? I should write about this. A deep, profound piece. People will be enthralled. I’ll bring comfort to millions

Reminds me of a Bible class we had a few years back, the woman leading it looked like she walked off the pages of a Coldwater Creek catalog. There was a visitor to our church, a Southern Baptist from Georgia. She was an old college friend of one of our members.

We were studying the book of Job, and I said how I had a class on it (it was a month-long course at a Lutheran school). The professor said if you take the first part of Job and the last part and put them together, you’ll notice they’re the same style and sound like a parable. Most scholars believe that’s what it was, a story people told about being faithful in bad times and God rewarding them because of it. But something about it must have bothered the writer of Job, so he split it into two parts and added his poetry in the middle, with Job’s friends voicing the conventional “wisdom” and Job questioning it, pointing out flaws in their arguments. And isn’t it great, I added, that we have something like this in the Bible? It’s like saying, hey, it’s okay to have doubts. It’s okay to get angry and question things. God can take it.

The woman from Georgia… well, you would have thought I had horns sprouting from my head. “What the Bible says is exactly what it means and if it says there was a man named Job, then that’s good enough for me! Everything happened just as it says! I don’t know what you teach around here, but at MY church, we speak the truth!”

After the class was over, I heard her ask her friend, “Who is that woman?”

“Oh her? She’s our minister’s wife.”

Am I rambling? I feel like I’m rambling.

Day Four – Monday

Morning temp: 101.5

The earliest the doctor can see me is 1:15. I soldier on, brave in the face of this treacherous, vile malady. Patiently awaiting my time, hoping hospitalization does not prove necessary.

He’s new to the practice: a Dr. Berkowitz, a lean man with salt-and-pepper hair.

Isn’t that always the case? When you look your worst, you get the best looking doctor?

He gives my scourge a name: Bronchitis.

How terribly common. I was hoping for something with a little more heft. Scarlet fever, perhaps. Malaria. Bubonic plague.

On the office wall is a drawing of the respiratory system. A picture of healthy bronchial tubes and ones like mine.

Bronchial tubes

How lovely.

He writes a prescription for antibiotics, Husband drives me to Costco. I must look worse than I thought. As the woman at the pharmacy counter writes down my information, she looks at me and says, “I’ll put urgent on this.”

Dear me.

Day Five – Tuesday

Morning temp: 99.6

Daughter’s birthday. You know your kids are getting older when one of the items they request is bedsheets. We also gave her good quality markers for her drawings, and a small voice recorder for when she’s working over something she’s writing while pacing outside (a common occurrence at our house). She loves the recorder and plans on calling it Diane. (Daughter is a Twin Peaks fan.)

We have no cake for her, no plans on going out, no special meal. What sort of mother gets sick on her daughter’s birthday? A terrible one.

Due to incessant coughing, my stomach now feels like I’ve done several hundred sit-ups. Wouldn’t be so bad if I actually got a flat tummy out of it. Not likely, as the only thing that sounds good right now is pancakes. As I eat my so-so pancakes, I listen to the latest podcast from This American Life.

Bad move. It’s on Real-life Rom-Coms. I’m not what you’d call an overly sentimental gal, but… well, give me a fever and tell me a story of a guy screaming into his cell-phone, “ILOVEYOUILOVEYOUILOVEYOU” and running like a madman down Ludlow Street in New York?… soon I’m a blubbering idiot, sobbing away, teardrops falling into the maple syrup.

Day Six – Wednesday

Morning temp: 99.0

Valentine’s Day.

Aw, crap. Not only am I sick on Valentine’s Day (albeit improving), I wrote a post about being sick on Valentine’s Day. Probably looking like crap while I did it.

What kind of blogger posts about her illness on Valentine’s Day?

A sick one.

Sneeze

Tell ya what, do you want something lovey dovey sweet to listen to? Try this American Life podcast.

Only don’t do it while eating pancakes.

*coughcough*

Laptops, Ads, & Being Controlled by Two Dudes With a Podcast

I didn’t post last Wednesday. Did you notice?

Okay, tell the truth. Do you even know I post on Wednesdays?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Well, I do. Usually. This time I didn’t on account of computer problems. Don’t get me wrong, I have access to working computers.

My problems were… okay, here’s the thing: We have two desktops in our home office. They’re old, but they work. The problem is our home office. It’s a mess. And the thing is, it’s not my mess. If I clean it, I hear things like, “Hey! Where’s that vitally important document I need?! It’s supposed to be right here in this pile of dirty dishes!”

Which brings me to my next problem: they eat while they’re on the computers. Sometimes the mouse is sticky.

I don’t do sticky.

So our desktops are out, but I could have used a laptop. Every member of the family (except me) owns one. I’m certain that had I asked someone would have loaned me theirs, but I never asked. To me, laptops and cellphones are personal items. I’m not comfortable borrowing one.

Plus, you know, sticky.

And while I know I can post from my cell phone, and have done so, I’d just as soon not. That leaves my work laptop and up until this last week, it served me fine.

But then it happened, my friends. Darkness descended upon the workplace. Terror seized our hearts. It was IT!

The social misfits also known as “tech support” arrived on campus. They seized our MacBooks, threatened to erase all files if we didn’t upload them to the mysterious “cloud.” And then… and then… They re-imaged every one of them!

What did this mean, this re-imaging? None of us knew. Not truly.

What I do know is that when my laptop was returned and I logged on to my work email, this was the message it gave me:

You are signing in with a managed account and giving its administrator control over your google Chrome profile. Your Chrome data, such as your apps, bookmarks, history, passwords, and other settings will become permanently tied to (my work email address). You will be able to delete this data via the Google Accounts Dashboard, but you will not be able to associate this data with another account.

It was the “managed” and “control” parts that made me uneasy. I felt like I worked for the government!

Oh wait… I do.

It wasn’t that I had anything to hide, and I rather doubt our district office is too concerned about a secretary blogging from her home. Writing about a trip to Target, going to the theater, or showing pictures of her cat.

Merricat

Even if her cat is better than their cat.

And yet: “a managed account” … “administrator control” …

I’d been saving up for a laptop. This seemed like a good excuse to buy one. Trouble was, I had my eyes on this baby:

Spectre

Was it what I needed? It was way more than I needed. It was also waaaaay more than I wanted to spend.

But just look at it! Ain’t it gorgeous?!

As I was discussing my computer woes with Husband, Daughter walked into the room. “You mean the family member who knows the least about technology is talking about technology?”

(Daughter has a snarky side. I have no idea where she gets it.)

She added,  “All Mom needs is a laptop that’s pretty and has a nice keyboard.”

I should have been insulted. But, um, yeah. She gets me.

After a lot of searching, Husband found a laptop in my price range at Costco. It had a full-sized keyboard and… oh! It comes in blue!

I ordered it online and had it within two days. For the more tech-savvy among you, I’ll include the specs:

Not gold trimmed like the other, but for almost 1,000 bucks less? I’ll take it.

You may have noticed that both laptops are HPs. There’s a reason for that. Apparently, I’m a sucker for ads made by dudes with a podcast.

The podcast to which I refer is Reply All, with hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It’s funny, it’s informative, it’s highly entertaining. It also has one or two ads placed midway through, also done by PJ and Alex, also funny and informative. You find yourself listening just to hear what goofy things they’re going to say.

I first started listening to Reply All about a year or so ago, and I spent a lot of time listening to past episodes as I refinished our kitchen cabinets. Meaning I listened to a lot of ads about HP products, over and over again. All while inhaling toxic fumes. And when the time came to buy a laptop, HP was the only brand I wanted.

This is difficult for me to admit, I want you to know that. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s impervious to advertising. I’m far too smart to be snookered into buying something I don’t want or need. And from what I hear, most everyone thinks they’re immune to ads.

(Kinda makes you wonder why they bother spending so much money on them, doesn’t it?)

To some extent we are immune to ads, at least the first time we’re exposed to them. It’s seeing them repeatedly over a period of time that makes them stick. Especially when they’re for products we know little about, or feel intimidated buying. Or when the ads use people we know, or at least feel like we know. We trust them. We trust what they tell us. And we do it without thinking.

Or at least, most of the time we do it without thinking. This time, I thought about it.

When Husband was doing his laptop search, he showed me many different brands – Asus, Dell, Lenovo. All ones he owned at one time or another, all ones he liked.

“But aren’t HPs better?”

He shrugged. “Depends on what you want. Why are you so stuck on HP?”

“Um…”

I couldn’t exactly tell him it was on account of these two guys:

PJ and Alex
PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, hosts of Reply All and HP pushers.

Admitting you can be manipulated by ads is a hard pill to swallow. A bit of an ego buster. But no worries, I can rationalize it! The ads I heard were smart, informative and amusing. The ads did not, repeat, did NOT prey upon my emotions or feelings of inadequacy in any way. No way, no how. I am soooo above that sort of thing.

Or am I?

It’s my work laptop that is being managed and controlled. Not me.

Right?

The lesson I want to leave with you is this: Stay aware! Know what ads are selling and how they are influencing you. You are not immune to them, any more than I am. (Otherwise, why would it be a 70 billion dollar industry?)

Oh, and one more thing: After a full week of using this laptop, I can report that it is all I hoped for, needed, and is super sweeeet!

That’s the main thing. The fact that HP owners are smarter than everyone else? That’s just bonus.

To My Recent Outlook.com Subscriber, Alex: Your Comments Have Been Noted

For those of us residing in WordPress Land, an exciting new development has been afoot. That being, the sudden increase in email followers subscribing to our sites, all using highly suspicious Outlook.com addresses. Addresses such as slfhowtylaley@outlook.com, or, whyisitsodifficulttowriteacoherentemail@outlook, etc.

The discussion on said topic has been riveting.

Full disclosure: I myself was pleased when I first received the email notifications and found nothing to be concerned about. I figured I’d finally found my tribe and was proving quite popular among Microsoft users who choose highly complicated email addresses.

It’s a narrow audience to be sure, but an audience nonetheless.

Then Ray over at Mitigating Chaos wrote about his outlook followers and I thought, alas, they’re not that into me.

Back of woman with head down

But then… but then folks, one of these mysterious Outlookers took the time to comment on my last post, the one on money. Not once, not twice, but THREE times!

Here’s the first comment my new friend Alex felt compelled to share:

I am now not certain where you are getting your info, but great topic. I must spend a while finding out much more or figuring out more. Thanks for great information I used to be in search of this information for my mission.

You’ll see that he opened with a bit of constructive criticism, pointing out that the source of my info was not clear. I found this odd as my very first sentence begins: “I was at Costco…” so, you know, Costco. But then I realized I didn’t give the address of Costco.

So there you go. Helpful.

Also, did you notice how Alex has a mission? I ask you, how many of you have a mission? Hmm?

I have to confess I did not respond to Alex’s comment in a timely manner, beings how the email was labeled “Please moderate” and it was the weekend. (The Feeding on Folly Comment Moderation Committee meets on Tuesdays.)

Did this stop Alex from commenting again? No! Using a different (though just as baffling) email address, three hours later, unable to contain himself, Alex wrote:

Wow, amazing blog structure! How lengthy have you been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The whole glance of your site is magnificent, let alone the content material!

My heart soared. His admiration for my blog, yea, the very glance of my blog, cannot be denied.

That’s when it occurred to me. This is what I’ve been lacking!

Tell me, faithful readers, those of you who have been following this blog and reading my posts and commenting here and there and — dare I say it? — beginning to take Feeding on Folly for granted? Tell me this: When have you ever commented on my structure? Or ever once thought to ask how lengthy I’ve been blogging for?

Honestly. I’m beginning to wonder if you care.

And as I mused on your neglectful ways, Alex commented again! From yet another Outlook email!

You actually make it appear so easy with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually something that I feel I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely vast for me. I’m having a look forward for your subsequent post, I will attempt to get the grasp of it!

Oh dear! Alex is confused! My post on money was too complex and he’s expecting me to write more on the subject. Poor Alex!

To rectify this situation, until the Moderation Committee convenes (last I heard Francine wasn’t sure she’d make it and she was in charge of bringing the donuts), I decided to showcase Alex’s comments and address him directly.

ALEX: What follows is a simplified explanation of my previous post.

Save More, Spend Less

I truly hope that takes care of things for you, my dearest Alex.

But what’s this?! Another comment has landed in our moderation queue, this time from Yvette:

I simply couldn’t go away your web site before suggesting that I extremely enjoyed the usual info a person supply on your visitors? Is going to be again steadily in order to inspect new posts

Oh… um… gosh. I see you’ve got a question in there, Yvette. I’d like to help you out, but I’ll need some time to figure out what it is you’re… um… asking?

Tell you what. As soon as I’m done here, I’ll start diagramming your sentences. I should have an answer for you in about a month or so.

As for the rest of you, you know what you need to do. Look over this presentation, comment on my structure, admire the glance of my blog. Show a gal a little support now and then, okay?

Also, write yourself up a mission. You could use one.

*******

FYI to Fellow Bloggers: From one of  our WordPress “Happiness Engineers” regarding these strange followers (taken from the forum linked at the top):

There is no way these spam followers can put your site, your content, or your private account data in any danger. (…) You can remove the spam followers under My Site ->People, but that won’t prevent new follows from coming in. You might also consider temporarily disabling email notifications of new followers in your account settings until we manage to get these blocked. (…) Please don’t email these addresses back – another potential reason for this is that someone is fishing for emails which they can then use to try and spam directly, and emailing them back will only provide them with your personal email address – something they cannot get hold of by merely following your site.

Cash, Credit, or… Does Anyone Still Write Checks?

The other day I was in Costco buying dog food.

Heck of a deal, 24 cans for $19.99. That’s less than a dollar a can — 83¢ to be exact — for good quality dog food. This is smart shopping in action, folks.

Since it was just the one item, I didn’t bother with a cart. Lines move fast at Costco.

Or at least, they usually move fast. When you’re holding a case of dog food, a case growing heavier by the second, it slows to a grinding halt.

I look ahead to see what the issue is: a woman writing a check. (Seriously? Who writes checks anymore?!)

I stare at her in disbelief. Surprised Costco even takes the things. (Several places don’t.) Also, I’m willing to bet the woman’s handwriting is immaculate. She takes such inordinate care with it.

I shift the now 300-pound crate in my arms. Finally she’s done. Her check noted in her register and the subtraction completed (good Lord!). The woman ahead of me checks out quickly. She uses her debit card. Zip, zip, she’s done.

My turn.

The clerk thanks me for my patience. I ask her how often she gets checks.

“Not often. Maybe two or three a month.”

She scans the case, tells me the total. I hand her a couple bills. “Oh, I might have change.”

She waits as I search for coins.

Only later did it occur to me how I slowed down the line nearly as much as the check woman.

It was about 17 years ago, almost to the day, that Husband and I switched to using cash for almost all of our daily transactions. We had recently moved to Phoenix, a local radio station played the Dave Ramsey show — maybe you’ve heard of it? — we decided to give his envelope system a try and was surprised how well it worked for us. We’ve been doing it ever since.

allef-vinicius-468838

However — lest you fear this is turning into a Dave Ramsey infomercial — I’m not saying it’s for everyone or even that it’s the smartest way to handle your money. I’ve heard many with different opinions.

Ryan, my cashier at Target, said he never uses cash. Not even for a candy bar. He said this after I declined his offer for a Target Red Card (5% off all purchases!).

“I never have to worry about cash getting stolen, ya know?” he said, as he took my money. “If you don’t carry it, they can’t take it.”

I could have pointed out that if someone takes my cash, they only have my cash. If someone takes his credit or debit card, theoretically, they could empty his account or at least make his life hellish for a little while.

Even so, Ryan the Target Cashier is not the only advocate for a cash-free society. There are many saying we’re headed there, it’s only a matter of time. Some countries, most notably Sweden, are nearly cashless now. Safety is the biggest advantage cited, as well as convenience and, yes, speed. But not everyone is convinced it’s the way to go, and since Americans do love their privacy, it’s unlikely I’ll have to switch to digital currency terribly soon.

Though there is that Bitcoin thing. (Does anyone understand how that works? Truly?)

The thing is, I like cash. I like putting all the bills in my wallet, in order, heads up of course. I like adding up purchases in my head as I’m shopping and taking a guess at the total before the clerk hits the button — I love it when I’m super close, like within a few cents, and am already handing the amount to the cashier.

Oh, the power of Math.

Even so, I will say that while using cash has been instrumental in helping us stick to a budget, for increasing our savings nothing has worked better than depositing everything into a savings account first, and moving only what we need for monthly expenses into a checking account. Also, money is moved automatically into a long-term savings account. All deposits and transfers done electronically, most without us doing a thing. Works like a charm.

So I understand people’s love of digital transactions. I expect they might feel a little less tied to their money, maybe a little more secure with their purchases. And if Ryan the Target Cashier thinks he does a fine job staying on budget, who am I to say otherwise? Nevertheless, for groceries and what-have-you, I’m sticking to cash only, please.

I will say this however: From here on out, I’ll knock it off with making exact change. That is my pledge to you, impatient Costco customer behind me.

Photo of billfold by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash
Featured photo my own (Yes, that’s my money)
(No, you can’t have it)

A Thank You Gift From Larry: A True Story of Honest Work, Grateful Emails, and Tea

In the festive month of December, when holiday cheer filled the air, the high school office workers chatted happily and spoke of their plans for the coming break: a flight to Chicago, another to California, still another to Oregon.

But one worker, the quiet one in the corner, what plans did she tell? Nary a one, for she was on the phone.

It was a parent, a father, seeking information on a program Quiet One knew little about.

Did that stop her from helping? Of course not. Transferring the call would return her to office chatter.

Quiet One listened. He was out of the country, he said. Frustrated, lost, bereft. No communication given. Could she help?

She made notes, spoke with student’s counselor.

What’s this? Father’s name is not in database? He is not an approved contact? Calls are made, mother is reached.

But he’s in London, mother said. Why list him?

If his name is not listed, they told her, we cannot talk to him. He remains frustrated, lost, bereft. No communication given.

His name is added.

Father is called. Quiet one explains, he is grateful. He tells her what he seeks, she sends it.

He has a hotmail account.

She tries not to judge.

Me, email 1He is appreciative.

first thank youA week goes by, it is the day before winter break. Cookies in the break room, someone says.

Homemade?

Store-bought.

Quiet One opens her email.

emailShe frowns. Help a person once, help them always. That’s how it goes.

Quiet One contemplates. Respond thoroughly, she decides. Consider every angle. Anticipate every problem.

FinalHe sends his gratitude.

heart attackQuiet one is pleased. She has done well. Her work is now complete.

Another email arrives.From him , email 4Not necessary, she tells him. Just doing her job.

He insists.From him, email 5He must be joking, she thinks. He’s in London. What can he do?

She plays along. Response, email 5Quiet One turns off computer. Coworkers leave. Good wishes for a nice winter break.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Two weeks pass. The workers return. The mail is sorted. Quiet One received a card.

A card from Larry.

She opens the envelope. Tea bags fall to the desk.

TeaHer first cup of the day, Countess Grey from Fortnum & Mason.

A twist on the traditional bergamot-infused blend, Countess Grey is based on well-twisted orange pekoe teas, lifted by classic bergamot and a light orange flavour. Its light and delicate character makes it ideal for morning or afternoon drinking, when the spirits require a little reviving.

Quiet One is revived. She emails her thanks to Larry.

He responds.Final emailTo a man in London, she is his dearest.

A job well done.

Happy New Year. ☕️

The Blogger’s Annual Performance Review

Blog Title: Feeding on Folly
Blogger: CJ Hartwell
Review Period: January to December, 2017
Reviewer: CJ’s Internal Critic
Note: Beings how this CJ person is currently enjoying some time off work — and sleeping in EVERY morning like the lazy bum she is — I, her Internal Critic, am conducting her Annual Review in her place. (She can thank me later.) 

Blog Description

Hard to say. Is this a humor blog? Food blog? Self-help blog? (Lord knows Self could use some help.)
Describing this blog is like describing the smelly thing you stepped in while walking the dog: Possible, but why go there?

Posts of Note

Your top three posts this past year, both in terms of “clicks” and “likes”, were:

In close running were two other posts: one on Broadway Musicals and one on your Post-NYC Blues. The one unifying thread among all five posts: New York. As in all five mention New York in some fashion. If you had a brain, you’d write about New York more. Or just tag every post New York whether they were about it or not. Or maybe just write it: New York. Give it some thought.

As for my personal favorite, I’d have to say it was the week you missed. Remember that one? You totally forgot what day it was and didn’t publish anything. That was great. You should do that more often.

New York.

Accomplishments

Back in March you created a Facebook page for your blog. Then in late April you went on vacation (New York) and promptly forgot about it. Sometime in September you tried to resuscitate it with about as much enthusiasm as giving mouth-to-mouth to a blowfish. Blowfish

You stretched a bit with your writing with your rambling thoughts on Beauty and a feeble attempt at poetry. Normally stretching is good, but in some cases, e.g., yours, it’s less so.

You added some illustrations to your posts to give them a (*cough*) New Yorker flair. It is painfully obvious, however, that the ones where you bribed Daughter for help (Suicidal Mice) compared to the ones you did yourself (Cursive Schmursive) are vastly different in quality:

The answer? Less drawing, more bribery.

Additional Comments

You are nearing your third full year of blogging when many (okay, it was just me) said you’d never make it three days.

You managed to hoodwink a sizable number of people into following this blog, when everyone (fine, just me again) said you’d be lucky if you got your family to read it.

Maybe I was wrong before, but this time I’m right: give this foolish thing up NOW!  If you continue stretching yourself as a writer and trying new things, you might fail! And you know what’ll happen if you fail? You’ll DIE!

Okay, maybe not actually die, but you know what I mean…

Oh shoot, she’s waking up! I better finish this thing fast. Dang it, now she’s reading something affirming! I hate it when she does that! It only encourages her.

I better hit this publish button fast before she tells me to shut—

I Never Got What I Wanted for Christmas

If that sounds like a whine, I don’t mean it as such. It’s true that as a child I never received anything I wanted for Christmas, despite the fact that I noted page numbers in catalogs, circled items, made note of color preferences and quantity, and any other helpful information my mother might need.

Nevertheless, it’s true. I never got a single thing I requested.

If you remember, a few weeks ago I also told you how Santa Claus never visited my house. That’s true too, but I’m not asking for your pity. In fact, if there was ever a child less deserving of pity than myself from days past, I’d like to meet them. For not only did I have a family who loved me, I had parents who knew what was best for me. And what was best for me was rarely what I wanted.

This is a picture of my brothers and me on Christmas Eve, before the evening’s festivities began.

Brothers and me

My two older sisters are missing, the oldest one married with a little girl of her own, the other sister… well, I’m not sure where she is. Maybe she was still getting dressed.

The sparkly dress I’m wearing was my “movie star dress.”  I wanted to wear it all the time.

“Mom, mom, can I wear my movie star dress? Pretty please? Pleeeease?”
“No dear, that’s too fancy. That’s for fancy events.”

Christmas Eve was our fancy event.

The entire family gathered for dinner, relatives came from out-of-town, everyone dressed in their Sunday best. It was a sit-down meal with Mom’s finest plates (Corelle®) and her only set of matching silverware. We may have used fabric napkins, I don’t remember.

After the meal, everyone helped clear the table and the adults washed the dishes. By hand. We had to wait until every dish was clean, dried, and put away.

Finally, after the last piece of silverware was put in the box (not used again until Easter), Mom wiped her hands, removed her apron, and announced it was time. Everyone took a seat by the tree, we children sat on the floor.

One gift at a time, that’s how it was done. Usually Mom, but sometimes Dad, would select a gift, hand it to the person it was intended for, and we’d watch as they unwrapped it.

If this sounds ponderously slow, I should point out that children received three gifts each and the adults, as I remember, received one. If that. Even so, when you’re six years old and the last of five kids…

This particular year, the year of the photo, I wanted a doll. But not just any doll. I wanted Dancerina Ballerina.

Dancerina Ballerina ad

Push a button on top of Dancerina’s head, her leg kicks out and… get this… she twirls! Just like a real ballerina!

I told my mom: That’s it. That’s all I want for Christmas. Dancerina Ballerina

My mom, I have to give her credit, she looked into it. She must have for a few days later she broke the news: It exceeded her price limit for dolls.

You see, my mom was a great believer in budgets and rules. She had many rules, most of them her own creation. Two of her long standing rules involved dolls.

Mom’s Doll Rule #1: Every little girl should have a doll at Christmas
Mom’s Doll Rule #2: No doll should cost more than $20.00

Dancerina Ballerina cost slightly more than $20.00.

It wasn’t a lot, maybe a dollar or two at the most. But it was a dollar or two over $20, and that broke Mom’s rule. Other parents would have thought, “Oh, it’s not that much. We can swing it.” But those parents weren’t my mom. Mom was a rule follower. 

Plus, Mom was German. Dancerina Ballerina didn’t have a chance.

Even so, I had hope. When Mom handed me the wrapped, doll-sized box that year, presented it with a comment along the lines of, “This is Christi’s special gift,” I was certain it was Dancerina.

But of course it wasn’t. If it was, I would have titled this post something other than, “I Never Got What I Wanted for Christmas.”

Here I am with the doll I did get, along with my two other gifts:

Giggles and me
The larger doll, the one with the shiny golden hair, that’s Giggles. When you held her hands and moved her arms, she giggled. As I recall she sounded a bit like a dolphin, but that was okay by me. I loved her.

The next morning, Christmas Day, my brothers and I headed outside to show off our new toys to friends, who were all outside for the same reason. It would be several years before I realized they probably opened their gifts that morning. At the time, I thought everyone celebrated on Christmas Eve. I had no reason to think otherwise.

That morning’s “look-what-I-got” exchange is an especially memorable one for me. Of all the girls my age who received dolls, I was the only one without a Dancerina Ballerina.

I realize how that sounds. You probably think I’m exaggerating for effect, but please believe me, I am not. I truly was the only one without a Dancerina.

Again, don’t pity me. For there’s a funny thing that happens when children see the same toy over and over, then finally see something different. The different toy becomes the most popular.

Giggles was the life of the party.

And why wouldn’t she be? Everything made her happy, nothing ever got her down. She was the friend who cheered you up, the playmate who laughed at all your jokes. She was a perfect delight.

As for me, I remember holding another girl’s Dancerina and feeling her stiff, awkward limbs, seeing the odd button on top of her head. Without a word, I handed her back to the girl and gave quiet thanks for my mom’s rules. She really did know best.

Many parents worry over whether their children will be disappointed on Christmas Day if they don’t get exactly what they want. Personally? I think it’s a needless worry.

Children are resilient. They can handle much more than we give them credit for, even a few strange rules and a strict budget. And the way I see it, no one would be more deserving of pity than a child who always got what they wanted and never heard the word ‘No’.

In the end, all that truly matters is whether or not they were loved.

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Merry Christmas, friends. I hope the day brings you every good thing, many happy memories, and lots and lots of love. ❤️

Party Planning for Friendly Anti-Socialites

Note: What follows is something I published two years ago. I’m rerunning it because a) We really did have a party this last weekend so it totally fits, and b) because of said party, the story I intended to publish isn’t ready. So until it is, I hope you enjoy this:

We had our annual holiday get-together last weekend, where something like 25 to 200 people stopped by our house to partake in food, drink, and stimulating conversation.

Diners in a restaurant, talking

Twenty-five is the more likely number, but it’s all a matter of perspective. A very social, extroverted person might have looked at our gathering and thought, “My, what a charming little party this is.” While a more private, introverted person might have thought, “GAHHH!!!”

Regular readers of this blog know I lean more toward the latter than the former, and are no doubt wondering why I agree to these parties. Truth be told, in the days leading up to these events, I wonder it myself. But the fact is, I enjoy them.

I especially enjoy them when they’re over.

Also, I think we introverts owe it to society to show how parties should be done. Because from the parties I’ve thrown and the parties I’ve attended, I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion: Introverts throw better parties.

That is because – as with all things – we overthink them.

How an Extrovert Throws a Party:
  • Sets up event on social media, tells friends to invite anyone they left out
  • Gets on with life until day of party
  • Buys food and drinks on day of party
  • Welcomes guests at door
  • Enjoys party
How an Introvert Throws a Party:
  • Carefully reviews calendar and selects a day with least amount of personal conflicts, in which the moon and stars have aligned to give the best chance of success for a social event
  • Looks over guest list; crosses out names, adds names, mostly crosses out names
  • Researches several sites for recipes and decorating ideas
  • Checks out party planning books at library, as well as several cookbooks
  • Creates a menu, revises menu daily until hour before party
  • Walks through home, imagines party in real time, considers main areas of gathering, best flow from one area to another; moves furniture several times until right balance is achieved
  • Plans music for evening, selects song list with care
  • Night before party wakes up several times thinking, “Did I remember to–” but of course they remembered to. They remembered all things
  • Drinks glass of wine before guests arrive, or other calming beverage of choice
  • During party, remains in kitchen for majority of evening, replenishing dishes that don’t need replenishing, providing safe haven for fellow introverts requiring no small talk
  • After party, collapses on sofa and reviews evening, replays every moment, wonders how it could have gone better; pledges not to repeat event for a very long time
  • Makes notes and plan of improvement for next event

I know other introverted party planners include pets at their soirees and I certainly appreciate them at any party I attend. But the sad fact is, phobias do exist and not everyone enjoys a cold nose at their crotch. Therefore I keep my furry friends safely hidden away.

That being said, I came up with a brilliant idea that I’m anxious to set up for any future parties: the Introvert’s Party Room for Rest and Recuperation.

Back when vinyls were all that, there was a huge record store in downtown Phoenix that had a separate room for classical music fans. It was great. When you walked in, all other sound was blocked out and you only heard classical. If memory serves right, there was always an aroma of leather and pipe tobacco. I was 15 years old and had no interest in classical music, but I seriously loved that room.

What I want is a similar room for overwhelmed party guests. The room must be easily accessible from the main area so they can slip in or out without detection. There will be comfy chairs, plenty of books and writing materials, a couple laptops with free wi-fi, and a dog.

White dog next to person with laptop

Once the introvert was fully recovered, they could return to the party in progress.

Or not. No pressure.

Doesn’t that sound great? I’m going to get to work on that real soon. It may involve buying a new house, but dang it I’m determined.

If only because I’m the one in dire need of it. 😉

At this point my original article segued seamlessly into a recipe. In my early posts I did this quite a bit, as it was my shtick. I’m not sure why I quit the shtick. I was probably distracted by something shiny. In any case, I’ve got a recipe for you today.

Two for One Cookies

  • Servings: 4 to 5 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: no sweat
  • Print

This is a recipe I came across in an old tattered cookbook with no cover, so I'm afraid I can't credit it properly. It's great for a party as it allows you to offer a variety of cookies without baking all day.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten well
  • 2¾ cups flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Add-ins (see below)

Directions

Mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside. Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and blend well. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.

At this point, shape the dough into a ball and divide in half. For each half, choose one of the following options:

  1. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, roll into balls and dip in a cinnamon/sugar mixture to make Snickerdoodles
  2. Add 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, roll into balls, flatten slightly and press an almond in the center to make Chinese Almond cookies
  3. Add one teaspoon either lemon or orange zest, can also add 1/2 cup dried fruit and/or nuts, roll into balls and flatten slightly, sprinkle with sugar
  4. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup coconut and 1/3 cup chopped nuts, drop by rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet
  5. Create your own option!

Place dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees until lightly golden brown. Let stand a minute before removing from cookie sheet.

The Story of a Young Girl’s Faith in Santa, Her Ensuing Disgrace, and Her Rescue From Certain Despair

The year was 1970. I was in the first grade, and I was being punished for believing in Santa.

Rather, to be more clear, I was punished for defending Santa.

srikanta-h-u-51975

You see, an unbeliever in the ranks – a heathen – was casting doubt on his existence. Pointing out irregularities in the Santa Claus canon. Casting aspersions on his good name.

Several of my classmates were listening and their faith was shaken. You could see it in their eyes.

I’d had enough. I proclaimed in a voice for all to hear:

There is so a Santa Claus! He’s been to MY HOUSE!

Gasp!

Unfortunately we were in class at the time and our teacher was not fond of loud proclamations. Even those in defense of Santa.

It was the time-out table for me.

I must pause here, for I need you to understand the overall makeup of our teacher’s time-out table. Only then can you grasp the true horror of what was before me.

Miss September — okay, my teacher’s name wasn’t really Miss September. It was something similar to Miss September. Something like Miss Sembler… or maybe it was Stremble. Honestly, I don’t know.

The fact is, I was never very good with names, even as a child. For those I didn’t recognize or couldn’t pronounce, I’d come up with a close approximation and stick with it. No doubt Miss September corrected me plenty of times before giving up, figuring there were worse things to be called than the name of a centerfold.

In any case, it wasn’t enough for Miss September that a noisy child sat at the time-out table. The point had to be driven home, which was why there was a stack of index cards on the table. Whoever sat at the table had to do so while keeping an index card in their mouth. The entire time.

I had never, in the entire history of my academic career (now spanning kindergarten and a few months of first grade), been punished for speaking out of turn.

I can still hear Miss September’s voice, “Who said that?!” Adding, in disbelief, “Christi? Was that you?!”

Was there a moment of hesitation? A possibility of reprieve given my incredible track record? Was consideration given for the fact my outburst was a necessary one? The foundation of our faith was being challenged! A defender had to rise up!

I was that defender.

But no. Consistency in punishment, that was Miss September’s way. She pointed to the back table without saying a word. I made my way, my head cast low.

The truly frustrating thing was that I had no reason to stand up for Santa.

Santa had never brought me a present. There was no chimney in our house for him to come down, no stockings to fill. My parents never threatened us with “Santa won’t come if you don’t behave,” because we were always to behave. Santa had nothing to do with it. And Santa never came on Christmas morning, presumably, because we celebrated on Christmas Eve. It was our family’s tradition from ages past.

Clearly, Santa and my family had denominational differences.

But being the broadminded people they were, my parents were not Santa-deniers. They never spoke out in favor of him, nor against him. They simply never brought him up.

What I learned, you might say, I picked up on the streets.

My faith was a pure one. Not born out of fear or greed, but out of sincere philosophical musing and sound theology.

Plus, as I said, he’d been to my house.

Santa and me 2

Many years later, as my mom was showing family pictures to my husband, I asked her who the man was who showed up at our house one December day so long ago, dressed as Santa.

She laughed. It wasn’t a man. (Gasp!) It was the neighbor lady from across the street. The people who bred Boston terriers and decorated their house with blue Christmas lights. It was her.

Honestly, I had no idea.

Back to Miss September’s class: I approached the time-out table, sat down heavily, put the card in my mouth. The tears… oh my friends, the tears! Never has a child suffered so much, nor felt it so deeply as I. Shame and misery were mine.

But the story doesn’t end here, for there was another student at the time-out table. She was a frequent visitor, a regular felon in our classroom. In truth, she was our class clown, and though we weren’t close friends, she gave me a gift that day.

I’m very sorry I don’t remember her name. A better writer would make one up for you. Just name her Angie or Susan or Debbie. Invent a name and run with it. But just as it is with Miss September and my Santa lady with blue Christmas lights, I cannot lie. Her name is lost.

I have failed you. Mea culpa.

All I can remember are two things: her hand sliding across the table until she got my attention, and then, when I looked up… do you know what I saw? This little comic genius had taken the index card, folded it in half, put it in her mouth and was now impersonating a duck!

Soon my tears of sadness were tears of joy and I could hardly stay in my seat due to giggling. My misery forgotten, my day instantly brightened.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what impact we can have on others? Whether we dress up as Santa (remember ladies, it’s an equal opportunity position), or we cheer up a tearful child with a goofy face. It’s the little moments of kindness that matter.

So as we make our way through this holiday season — indeed, as we approach a new year — let’s look at the ways we leave our mark on others. The memories we give them, the words we leave them.

Let’s make them count, yes?

brigitte-tohm-162814

And please, put in a good word for Santa. There are enough doubters in the world as it is.

First picture: srikanta H. U on Unsplash
Second picture: Author’s own, and ain’t I a cute one?
Third picture: Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash