Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nostalgic Gift

Christmastime always reminds me of my students. During my first year teaching, I got terribly, awfully sick the second week in December. When I returned after two days out, I still had no voice and I couldn't stand for long periods of time. I used a hand-held stop sign with the word "QUIET" on it instead of yelling. And luckily, the kids were fairly lovely. When you teach students who run through a few teachers before you get to them, they expect that you will leave them, yet again, at the first sign of trouble. So they do what seems counterintuitive. They push you to the brink of all the strength you have until you will, in fact, leave them yet again. But I was committed. I pushed back. I pushed until I had to crawl myself to the doctor with a 103 degree fever.

Every time I even went to the door of the classroom, my students were convinced I would walk out the door and never return. So when I was out sick for TWO WHOLE DAYS, they figured that was the last of me. This explains how when I returned to the classroom, they were so shocked that they managed to hold it together for the few days before Christmas break. When I say, "hold it together," I don't mean "sitting still and listening to every word I say." I mean, "they didn't break anything or anyone." Which was important because I was in no condition to discipline. During this stretch of having to teach while feeling like a giant open sore, I would occasionally hold my head at the front of the class, hamming up my pain in a last-ditch effort to gain control over the backdrop of lots of yelling and throwing things. At this point, Anthony, who was as tall as my leg, who was as skinny as a yard stick, and who one time offered to be my bodyguard, came over to me, patted my arm and said the greatest pick-me-up anyone has ever offered.

"Don't worry, Ms. Stone. It's ABC Family's '12 Days of Christmas' now."

I don't think Anthony quite knew that I, indeed, had been clinging to ABC Family's annual glut of Christmas-themed movies as a refuge for the past few days. Or that what I was worried about was more along the lines of how little I was doing to aid in the future success of his classmates and not the immediate present of making it through December. Or that I even had cable. But Anthony somehow picked up on "Happy" as the general theme of Christmas movies, and that I, at this moment, was for certain, "Not Happy."

Whenever I see ABC Family now, I think of Anthony. The tradition of watching the "12 Days of Christmas" was such an innocent high point for him in a year of very low points. And so watching it now makes me feel like I did in that one moment, with his sweet words ringing in my fevered head.

We all have favorite holiday movies. Movies that make us feel like we are children again. Or like everything is right with the world for a couple of hours. Or like anything can be fixed with a little more love. My mom's favorite of these is "It's a Wonderful Life." NBC used to show it every year on Christmas Eve, and we would watch it every year. And my entire family would be in tears at the end, every year. But commercials get old after a while, and sometimes we would miss the beginning because we were all wrapping last-minute presents. So for Christmas about ten years ago, I bought my mom her own VHS copy of "It's a Wonderful Life." I adorned the present with a little glass angel ornament. My mom cried.

Last year we did not watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time in many years. We watched "A Muppets Christmas Carol" instead. Mostly this was because my parents had had a terrible year and the crying would have been greatly increased if we watched more tragedy unfold onscreen. And partly it was because I lobbied for Muppets.

So this year, I decided it was time to upgrade my mom to a DVD of her favorite Christmas movie. I planned this as a stocking stuffer, just a small present to replace the VHS that will most likely be obsolete in a short time anyway. I went to Target and couldn't find it. I went to Borders. No dice. So I went to Best Buy and asked for help. The extremely nice girl who helped me, but also didn't know the movie at all, found it for me. It was the only copy in the store. And it was packaged in a giant box in honor of the 60th anniversary of the movie. Even though it came out 63 years ago.

Anyway, this box includes the original black and white version, the colorized version, all the extras and behind the scenes, AND a little bell. Which means that in transporting this movie to my parents' house, I ensured the winging of millions of angels. But this box also meant that my dad had to wedge it in the top of my mom's stocking because it is clearly too big to be a normal stuffer.

We didn't actually end up watching it this year either, in favor of "Elf" for Christmas Eve, and playing Scrabble on Christmas. And partly this was because their terrible year extended and bled into my terrible year. Next year, I think we will be recovered enough to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" without dissolving into a heap of sadness. If 2010 ends up as bad as 2008 and 2009 though, there's always ABC Family.

The Commissioned Gift

On a whim today, I put on makeup. This is something I tend not to do. Not because I hate makeup, in fact I greatly enjoy it. Rather, I use it as dress-up for special occasions. This is a concept that developed out of the makeup party my mom threw for me in 7th grade. She invited a few other moms and daughters and a Mary Kay representative, who demonstrated the correct way to apply blush and eye shadow. We all bought makeup and I proceeded to wear it to school EVERY DAY of 7th grade. And after a while, there was no way to elevate my game. This is the equivalent of wearing an evening gown to dinner every night and then having to wear the same tired evening gown to a ball. So I decided to actually follow my mom's advice and save the makeup for dressing up for fancy things. Like dates, nights out, or fancy brunches. Or working at the bar.

I had gotten so used to using my Saturday night shift as a playground for exotic eye shadow or intense eyeliner that I rarely wore makeup anywhere else. I even had a routine for how much makeup I would wear for each of my bar shifts. Saturday was the dress-up star. (And by "star," I mean in addition to the regular concealer, blush and mascara, I would wear eyeliner AND eye shadow.) Thursday was similar, but usually no eye shadow. And anything else was more like job-interview-style makeup. To me, it seemed like a full done-up face would be a little off-putting to a couple out on a Monday night. This is where I drew the line. Why was I drawing lines in the first place? Because we (the servers) were told to wear makeup to work. All workplaces have dress codes, but most end up sounding something like, "Don't look gross." Ours sounded more like, "Look like you are trying to seduce the customer."

When I started at the bar, the rules were simple: black shirt, clean, unripped jeans. Done. That is easy to dress up or down, add jewelry, etc. Somewhere along the line, the company added a handbook and included their new requirement of "First Date Attire." The idea is that when you show up to work, you should look like you really meant to get whisked away to a fancy dinner, but ended up serving drinks instead. There are many issues with this, not the least of which is that it is highly offensive. My complaints did not go far, but my main point was that my first date attire of choice is a white t-shirt, nice jeans, and really high heels. Not one of those things is appropriate for working in a messy place where you run around for hours on end. So I guess the first line that I drew was with the shoes. And the line I drew with the makeup only worked to train me NOT to wear makeup anywhere else.

The point is, I have recently been attempting to wear makeup for other occasions. Like dates, nights out, or fancy brunches. Or regular brunches. Or apparently Starbucks. Last week, M and I celebrated Our Christmas. We call it "Our Christmas" because we each go home to our respective families for Actual Christmas. So we set aside a day to do fun Chicago-type things and have a nice dinner out and then open presents. This, as I'm sure you would agree, falls under the category of "special occasion." So, I wore the Saturday-night-style MAKEUP. However, we made it an all day event, so I wore MAKEUP at noon. It seems odd to me to wear MAKEUP in the broad daylight, but I suppose this is a regular event for lots and lots of normal people.

Anyway, the reason I bring all of this up is that Our Christmas is the best gift M and I give ourselves every year. Even though downtown Chicago is busy with lots of stupid people during this time of year, and it is cold, we set this time aside to sort of act like tourists (really smart and not annoying tourists) in our own city. This year, we went ice skating in Millenium Park.( For twenty minutes. The skates were terribly painful and I had a ring of bruise around my ankle the next day.) Then we walked over to The-Former-Marshall-Field's and looked at the window displays. For those of you not familiar with Chicago Christmases, Marshall Field's always does amazing, animatronic window displays. This year, however, they included this robot elf with glowing red eyes which was horribly disturbing. Festive, but disturbing. Then we got sort-of-coffee drinks (think Peppermint Mocha) and walked up the Mag Mile. We stopped into a heavily decorated-for-Christmas bar, to have a drink and watch the Bears game. Then we headed over to a nice restaurant for dinner.

After dinner, we did presents at my apartment, followed by watching The Grinch. For M's gift this year, I put a plan into action a few months ago. I am extraordinarily lucky to have an inordinate amount of talented family and friends. So when I decided in September that I wanted to get M a wine rack, I searched the Internet for ideas for about 7 seconds until I realized that my dad could make something infinitely cooler. My dad is a carpenter. He has made pretty much everything in my parents' house, including most of the house itself. He works best if given free reign, as his ideas are usually better than yours, but he can make whatever you have cooked up, too. So in September, I called my dad and I said, "Could you make a wine rack for M for Christmas." And my dad said, "Sure. What are thinking?" And I said, "I don't know. Something that is unique and will hold several wine bottles. Can I pick it up at Thanksgiving?" And my dad said, "Cool."

At Thanksgiving, I picked up a beautiful wine rack that holds 10 bottles, made out of maple, walnut and cherry wood. It is a diamond shape on an affixed base, and the top row is open, giving it a contemporary feel. It is unfinished, so M can stain it or paint it or leave it in its tri-colored, soft look. I bought a bottle of wine from the local winery in my parents' town to go with it. And my dad found the largest box in the world for me to transport it back to Chicago. This was by far the most impressive wrapping I have ever done for any holiday. M thought I was giving him a comforter for his bed. To give him a hint, I told him that I commissioned my dad for this present. And it received one of the biggest reactions I have seen from M. He even called my dad immediately. Who then hung up on him. (He was driving and the reception cut out, but it was still funny.)

The best part about the Commissioned Gift is that it ends up being a gift from two people at once. Plus, it showcases the talents of people you know and love in gifts that others can know and love. Which is definitely a special occasion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The A**load of Cookies Gift

There is something highly pathetic in this, but I finally had friends over to my apartment for the first time since I moved there. I moved to this apartment 1.75 years ago. So I guess there's everything highly pathetic in this. When I moved to Chicago, I had two roommates, and a corps of 85 people who were all teaching in inner-city schools. We were sickeningly insular and I always had automatic plans. When I began working at the bar, I had one roommate, who was still teaching, and a lot of new bar friends. I had automatic post-shift plans, and a friend to hang out with on my days off. When I met M, I had just moved into an apartment by myself. Most of my teaching friends had moved, but I had some left, and I had some bar friends, and I always had automatic plans with M. When I was fired, I panicked. Not that I didn't have any friends, because in the ensuing hours after, I was enveloped in lovely friends. My panic attack was more that nothing would again be automatic. Obviously, M and I have automatic plans, but with the bar I also had built-in time alone with my other friends. And it suddenly occurred to me that now I would have to make that happen.

So I decided to do something I have been talking about for years. I threw a Cookie Swap party. My roommate, S, always used to do a cookie swap with a few other friends, where they would spend all day making and tasting cookies and then they would take an assortment back home to eat or use as gifts. I've wanted to try this for a few reasons. For one, I want as many recipes as is humanly possible to collect. Two, I love cookies and want to eat lots of them. And three, I think it makes a fantastic holiday gift. You make as many types of cookies as you would normally make, and you get to give away several times as many types. I do not want to meet the person who is not delighted by a box of nine different types of cookies.

The problem with the Cookie Swap is that unless you have four different ovens and a zillion baking sheets, it takes ALL DAY to get this together. Plus, in my apartment of 1.75 years, I do not have room for more than 1.75 people in the kitchen at a time. So I decided to do a modified Cookie Swap. Basically a Cookie Swap with homework assigned. I sent an Evite to about 20 people, knowing that given the time of year, (the holidays,) the date I picked, (a Tuesday evening,) and the possible weather, (it ended up snowing,) that I would probably be lucky to have 10 people show. (I had five.) Given all these limitations, I chose a date and time that were convenient to me, as I did not have to work that day at all and left to go home to my parents' for Christmas the next morning. Then I decided that since it was possible that no one else would show, I would just make a million cookies myself and then I could give assorted cookies as presents anyway. Teaching has drilled the contingency plan into my very being.

Anyway, I sent the Evite to these people explaining the plan and asking that they each bake cookies, and then either email the recipe to me or print off about 10 copies of their recipe on half-sheets of cardstock. Then I made the mistake of going to Target, where I then bought every imaginable container that could possible hold cookies. Target, if you are unfamiliar with the greatest store on Earth, has the $1 bins, which are tricky because they make you think you need things for $1 that you would probably not even need for free. Like cellophane bags with holiday designs, Santa-themed take-out boxes, mini pails with embossed snowflakes, and 400 gift tags. Outside of the devil bins, I found Ziploc bags with snowflakes on them, and my favorite, shirt boxes with holiday designs that were packaged 5 for $2. The best thing about these is that they are flat, so you can see all the kinds of cookies in an extremely appealing spread.

This Christmas, I did a lot of cooking. One of the greatest things about being unemployed is the time you have for other things. Like this blog. And baking. I tried to pace myself, but on the actual day of Cookie Swap 2009, I somehow had NOT BAKED A SINGLE THING. I woke up at 6am. I did an at-home workout. I ate two clementines for breakfast because they were the only non-cookie-related food in my apartment. I had neaten-ed up my apartment a few days before, which among other things included hiding the air conditioner behind a door and shoving all papers in a box. But I hadn't cleaned. So for two hours, I vacuumed, Swiffer wet-jetted, dusted, cleaned the tub, the sink, the toilet, and Windexed. I even took the Magic Eraser to the stove top. I did the dishes. And then I started baking.

I made florentines, peppermint bark shortbread cookies and cappuccino brownies. I made a quick detour and made Earl Grey truffles for my dad's stocking. Then I started making peanut butter cookies. And I ran out of sugar. So I made a small batch of peanut butter cookies. I seeded two pomegranates. Then I ran out in the snow, bought a present for Kramer at the dog store. Then I took a shower, got dressed, did my makeup, did the rest of the dishes, lit some candles and set everything up. I took the recipes on half-sheets of cardstock that I made at Kinko's the day before and set them behind my cookies displayed on the table. The rest of the stack I set out in front, waiting for their respective cookies. I used the snowflake pails for tea and hot chocolate, set next to mugs. I had Christmas tree paper plates, and holiday napkins from my friend, A. I displayed the assortment of cookie receptacles in the kitchen, and in the living room I had a snowman gift box with gift tags and binder rings with a hole puncher for the recipe cards. I used the remainder of the candy canes from the cookies to decorate a bowl of leftover clementines. I set out bowls of candy that I had received as gifts from a holiday party two days before. Then, I opened a bottle of prosecco and set it next to a bowl full of the pomegranate seeds, champagne flutes, wine glasses and a bottle of red wine. I spooned some pomegranate seeds in my glass, poured prosecco over it and took a deep breath as I loaded the stereo with holiday music. I have no idea how I got any of this done, other than I didn't eat or sit down the entire day.

Once my beautiful friends arrived, we had an overflowing table of gorgeous treats. We ate some, we packed the rest, and we made recipe rings with the cards strung along the binder rings. The best part of doing the Cookie Swap this way is that when your intended recipient eats the cookies, they can pick out their favorite, find it in the recipe ring and then make it themselves whenever they want. Except the florentines. I was convinced that I was going to wreck this flimsy cookie, so I didn't write it up. And then it turned out to be a hit. I guess there are always future Cookie Swaps. Maybe it will even become automatic.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Hangover Relief Gift

I trained with a Gladiator today. This is not a metaphor. She is a red and blue spandex afficionado from the American Gladiators TV show. At the studio where I train, one of the other personal trainers works with fitness competitors and he has been trying to kick my ass for quite a while. I am not exactly sure why. But today I was stuck without an excuse and was forced to join in his regimen for his Gladiator client. And now I have some kind of workout-induced palsy. I can't stand up without my butt pulsing, my legs shaking, every fiber of my body telling me to stop putting weight on them.

This clearly shows you what happens when you become a personal trainer and then stop pushing yourself to the point of total fatigue. Or what happens when you think you are strong enough to work out like a GLADIATOR. (Think flipping 100 pound tires and doing negative pull-ups between wind sprints.) In all seriousness, though, it was actually really fun. In my current financial situation, I haven't been able to afford sessions with my actual personal trainer, who is amazing. It was J, my trainer, who helped me through the transition from teaching to life-after-teaching, and then with gaining personal training certification.

I should probably insert the caveat of my workout history here before my mom calls me. I did not used to enjoy being quite so active. In fact, it was my parents' insistence on getting me out of the house that led to my relationship with yoga. It was not of my own accord. With the gym, I started with some lame workouts in college but got serious while teaching. I was quite literally not strong enough to handle what was going on in my classroom every day. I wanted to be able to blow off steam, but also needed to be able to break up a fight and hold my own. I am a literal person and this made sense to me.

So now, I have a fairly strong track record of randomly pushing myself too far. The last time I was this sore was the day I took on the fitness challenge at my old gym. The day before I moved. BY MYSELF. And I didn't even win.

Anyway, this sensation of utter pain made me think of various pain relief kits given to friends over the past few years. Generally this does not fall under workout pain, but does still fall under the umbrella of let-me-help-you-feel-better-even-though-you-brought-this-on-yourself. In other words, The Hangover Relief kit.

This kit takes two different forms: the preemptive strike and the bandage. As a bandage, it is best brought in person. Especially if this hungover person is someone you are supposed to spend time with that day. Bringing them a few key items will make that time more enjoyable. For you. As a preemptive strike, I have given The Hangover Relief kit many ways. In person, before a big night out, via someone else while the intended recipient is imbibing a few too many already, or mailed as a care package. For a certain college student a few years ago, this care package included Advil, Pepto, gum, a travel toothbrush and some peanut butter crackers. I also included a note that suggested PediaLyte, as my friends at the bar swear this is even better than Gatorade the next morning. (I don't actually know this to be true as I can't drink enough to get to this point. I may be the biggest lightweight ever.) PediaLyte was too heavy to actually include in the package. It would be like mailing a brick, which is not that nice of thing to do under the guise of "Hangover Relief."

I am absolutely certain this package was useful. Mostly because I've seen all of these things put to use in a hungover state. And because even though I am in workout-related pain, all those items sound AWESOME right now.

The College Survival Gift

It's official. I de-friended the bar on Facebook. Not a person, not anyone affiliated with the bar, but the actual bar. It has a page and I am no longer linked to it. AND, I unsubscribed to the mailing list for the entire bar group. And I feel great about this. Every time I received one of those "Come to BS for our amazing party!" messages, it made me sad. And angry. And a little bit more loser-ish. (And I don't think I need to explain why I am calling the bar "BS." I could call it "FU," but I feel as though that would be distracting.)

Anyway, this step in the moving-on process may not be revolutionary to anyone else, but I have never shortened my Facebook friend list before. In fact, I waited until this same brave day to even block my stalker from college. Which, I'm sure also seems like an obvious choice to anyone else. BUT, I didn't want to start any online hysteria. I think he's a lot better at computers than I am and the idea of hacking scares the crap out of me. Not that I think he would do this. Using your parents to repeatedly drive you to your intended target's place of work barely counts as stalking, but whatever. Without any concept of personal space or social rules and norms, it seems best to stay away. The whole ordeal in college ended at the restaurant where I worked, when said stalker backed me into the ice machine and my manager had to ask him to leave. Why you would then try to friend someone a few years later without any contact, and after THREE previous friend request denials is beyond me. But so is backing someone into an ice machine.

So it was a big Facebook day for me. And a few steps in the right direction. In the spirit of moving forward, I want to share the College Survival gift. Which started with a few presents I received for my high school graduation. I went to college in the same town where I went to high school, but I was determined to make this a separate life. To that end, I lived in the dorms my freshman year and I didn't even go home until Thanksgiving. Most of my high school friends had graduated the year before me, and almost all had lived in a dorm that year too. So when it came time for my graduation party, I received lots of crazy useful gifts that I didn't even know the practical extent of until that fall. And then I thought, "I have genius friends."

Eight years later, my brother graduated high school. Yes, we are that far apart, and no, it was not an accident. To prepare my brother for his dorm life, I took elements of all those genius gifts I received and made a College Survival care package for him. This kit included a box of dryer sheets and a roll of quarters for laundry, (which my mom had to teach him to do RIGHT BEFORE HE LEFT,) shower shoes to avoid athlete's foot or puke in the shower, Band-Aids because they aren't just there in your parents' cabinet anymore, Q-tips for the same reason, a dry erase board with marker for the quintessential dorm door, and a card that featured one of my favorite artists so he could post it on his wall.

I am pretty sure he found these to be useful since they were all gone by the time I even saw the dorm room. Except the shower shoes and dry erase board, which were securely in place. (My brother keeps his shoes in specific places. I told you he is much neater than me. I keep my shoes wherever I take them off. And I often trip over them.) The best part of the College Survival gift is that you get to be a genius. Upon receiving the kit, the recipient thinks, "How totally random." And then, just days into the college experience, they think, "How did they know?" It is a connection between those of us who have lived in a dorm before and those that are about to try it out. It is the convergence of experience and newness. It is moving on with a helping hand.

I kind of wish I had shower shoes for the life after BS.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Random Assortment Gift

In yoga, you learn to let things go. Focusing on the breath, stretching to new proportions, concentrating on all that is possible and all your body offers to you is the path to zen, so to speak. All the weight loss benefits, toning, bendy-ness, is all bonus. I love yoga. I love it so much I want to live in it. In the space you create for yourself after practicing for an hour and a half where everything in your head is peaceful. Even when someone in your yoga class spills coffee all over your bag and clothes.

I'm not sure who exactly thinks it is a good idea to bring coffee into a yoga studio, let alone not close the lid and then leave it beside their mat and kick it mid-class, BUT the amazing thing is not that this occurred. The amazing thing is that after the initial annoyance factor, at the end of class the only thought in my head was that now my shirt smelled yummy. This is the power of yoga.

Now that I am not working until three in the morning every weekend, and am therefore able to get up in the morning, I am trying to take as many yoga classes as possible. I have also been trying to recruit M to come with me. (Also, M does not like being referred to as "M" -- he says it makes him feel like he's in an episode of Gossip Girl. Why he thought of "S" and "B" on Gossip Girl and NOT "E" on Entourage is a little mystifying, so I decided not to change it.) Anyway, yoga recruitment efforts led to us going to two classes, where he announced to the teachers that he is "not bendy."

M has trouble with the language of the teachers. He is not used to people saying things like, "Open your heart center to the sky." Probably because most people who work in downtown Chicago do not go around saying things like, "Open your heart center to the sky." (Right now I am picturing hundreds of men in suits, puffing their chests to the Loop sky, breathing deeply and smiling like goons.) I, however, have been doing yoga for over half of my life and so I don't normally think about phrases like this sounding odd. They are what you think about in yoga. Today, the instructor said, "Don't get too attached to who you think you are. You are always changing." And this, while not odd, did give me pause. How often do we think we have ourselves figured out? (In case you don't know where I'm going with this, the answer is all the time. See how I think I have you figured out too?)

Anyway, this made me think about how we not only get attached to who we think we are, but who our friends and family are too. And this is the hardest thing about gift giving. Clearly, I tend to overanalyze everything (you're shocked now, right?) and this actually works pretty well for presents. One time I bought my brother a CD that on the surface was something I thought he would like because it was similar to other music I knew he liked, but really, it was a band that I liked. And I wanted to have it in common. Most of the time, though, I automatically ask those questions while I'm shopping. Questions like, "Do I see so-and-so using this? Would they pick it up and admire it/cook with it/draw on it on their own?" Questions also like, "Is this something they like, or is it instead something they would buy for me?" And questions like, "Is this something they like now or something they used to like?"

For some reason, especially with presents, we get attached to a particular version of someone and we keep buying for that one hobby they used to have or that one personality that they used to be. But if you can buy for what they are starting to like or who they are becoming, it shows how much you truly care for the whole of that person. My best friend, K, and I have known each other since high school. We are about the same height and sometimes get mistaken as sisters. Our birthdays are a week and a half apart. We went to different colleges and we haven't lived in the same city in over ten years. We are both terrible about calling on the phone but wonderful at texting. And we always give each other a Random Assortment of gifts for Christmas and birthdays. Gifts that are sometimes a little late. And by "a little," I mean we exchanged our birthday presents for each other six months after our birthdays last year.

The Random Assortment falls under care packages because it takes care of as many aspects of a person's personality or life-at-the-moment as possible. So K, for example, is currently in grad school, works in an office taking care of college students, is a remarkably talented photographer, has a few beautiful cats, and LOVES Christmas and Christmas movies. Previous Random Assortments for K have included an arrangement like pretty file folders for her office, fun paper clips, (if you do not think these can be fun, go to Office Depot and then talk to me,) highlighters for research, lots of picture frames, cat-themed magnetic poetry, and a lot of cards. This year for Christmas, I have sent her two cards, and am planning another one with the gift. This is part of the Random Assortment -- the preview cards to get someone psyched about the holiday.

Along with all the ways I want to support what K is doing now, I do usually include something I know about her from before too. I know that she loves butterflies, pansies, the color purple (not the book necessarily -- the actual color,) and Jelly Bellies. I watch out for clues that these favorites may change, but highlighting the combination of who you are, who you will be and who you will forever be is the best gift. I know this because K is the best at this particular gift.

Yoga is who I have always been. Zen is who I am trying to become. And the girl who wears a coffee-stained shirt home is who I am today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Back To School Gift

Sometimes you meet someone and you think, "You are so full of shit that I do not understand how you believe anything that comes out of your own mouth." I met one of those people last night.

My friend, C, and I went to a French-speaking club dinner hosted at a French restaurant, owned by French people. C took French in school and wants to start practicing again, and I love any excuse to speak in French. So we were both excited to try this place out and catch up in some broken phrases. And then, as happens in Chicago, this weird blizzard-of-London hit. The peculiar thing about Chicago that I will never understand is that for a city with a spectacular amount of terrible weather, NOT ONE PERSON can drive in any of it. So, C and I arrived at this beautifully cozy little French place in the middle of this snow-rain disaster (do you think the word "snoining" would catch on if I used it?) to find that no one else showed up. Except an older gentleman who was completely full of shit. I mean, truly, MADE of shit. Surely there was some truth in there somewhere, but I was not about to wade through the crap to find it. At one point, C was sharing that her mother's heritage is French. Said gentleman, who is from Canada, then asked, "Is she really French or is she Lousiana-French?" Seriously?

While he was informing us of his many talents and how he was better at them than we could ever hope to be, I checked out. This is something I tend to do. I am a fantastically awful liar. And I am an expert eye-roller. If you ever want to know what I think, how I feel or my reaction to anything, just look at my face. I am truly incapable of controlling what it tells people. Which was mentioned to me when I was fired.

"If someone is mean to you, it affects your mood," I was told. Well, yes. Not to the point that I can't get over it. Not to the point where I will be mean or rude back to anyone. But if you are mean to me, I will most likely do one of the following:

1. I will flash a sign of shock, followed by a sad face.
2. I will flash a how-dare-you teacher-glare.
3. I will raise one eyebrow and clench my jaw.

Not only will I do one of these, but I won't even know that I did it. But, if this sounds fairly tame to you, you are probably not in the sucking-up-to-people-so-they-will-buy-things-from-you business. Because to me, post-teaching, post-yelling at anyone who disrespects you, post-working in violent circumstances, this is extremely tame. But it is also a sign of how far I have come in the realm of standing up for myself. Before teaching, if someone was mean to me, I would most likely have done one of the following:

1. I would cry.

So, in an effort to not be completely rude to someone after I have involuntarily displayed one of the three reactions, I now check out. I shut down. I have no expression whatsoever. And this is really for everyone's good.

Anyway, on the whole, being a fantastically bad liar has served me well, with a few notable exceptions. Like being fired. But, if I receive a present and I am excited about it, you will know. You will also know when I am excited about giving a certain present, because I can't hide it. One of the other great things about care packages is that I usually send them in the mail, which lets them be a surprise. I can't ruin it with my over-excitement.

Every fall, I send a Back To School care package to my brother. This year, he became a Resident Advisor for his dorm. Naturally, I used this as the theme for the gift. I found post-it notes in the shape of quote bubbles for him to use in bulletin board displays and on residents' doors. I packed up some tissues for upset students, candy for any meetings or student drop-ins, and some Sharpie markers. And of course, the obligatory tiny notes extolling the virtues of all these items. I really wanted to find some ear plugs for him to use when he just doesn't want to talk to anyone, but I couldn't find them anywhere. And by "anywhere," I mean CVS.

I also included the present I brought back for my brother from Paris this summer. I went back to France for the third time this summer for a wedding, and my brother stayed at my apartment while I was gone. If you ever need someone to housesit, he is the one to ask. He is so much cleaner than I am. Not only did he keep things clean, he even cleaned my floors for me before I returned. Which I totally did NOT do for him before he got there. So, as a thank you, I bought him Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" from Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, the little English bookstore across from, you guessed it, Notre Dame. They even stamp any books you buy there with their logo, which proves that I didn't just get it from the airport.

Adding this to the care package made me extremely excited about this gift and I almost blew it a few times when talking with my brother after I returned. Skype is probably not a good tool for someone like me. But at least I'm not a liar.

The Recovery Kit Gift

I am highly superstitious. Even if you know me well, you may not know the full extent to which I believe in the power of jinxing. I always put my shoes on in the same order, (right shoe, left shoe, left laces, then right laces...there's no need for one side to always go first.) When I travel, I wear my lucky earrings and necklace. I still play padiddle in the car, (which I just Googled to find the spelling and also found "padiddle sexy strip clothing," which is something entirely different) and I think that an odd number of one-headlighted padiddles are lucky, whereas an even number cancels out the luck. And, during the Red Sox playoff runs in 2003, of which we won't speak, and in 2004, of which we will, I was convinced of my ability to control the outcome of each game based on the position of my feet. For this one, I know for a fact that I'm not alone, but it does take a certain kind of superstition to keep one's foot squarely on a pillow placed strategically on the floor during the entire length of a record-breaking 5 hr and 49 minute-long baseball game.

The reason I mention this particular brand of crazy is that my dad had surgery yesterday and the day before, and I refused to post anything about the care package I sent him until he was safely home and recovering. He is now safely home and recovering and so I can share the "Happy Recovery" package. I know he is safely home because I spoke with him after surgery number one, and he told me he had just eaten "cheese and Swiss crackers." After surgery number two I spoke with my mom, who told me he was "sleeping it off like a drunk." Pain medication, when not abused, is fairly amusing. When M was on some strong pain pills a couple of years ago, he would just say the first thing that popped in his head. Things like, "You're so short." Or, "That woman is OLD." Or, "Why does your hair look weird?" It was hilarious for the first day and then it was annoying.

Anyway, last week I used the last shoe box at my apartment, (clearly, in order to take care of others, I will have to buy new shoes,) and filled it with useful things for recovering from surgery. Leg surgery, to be precise. As a result of a terrible construction accident just before I was born, the crushed discs in my dad's back have somehow caused the veins in his leg to multiply or gnarl themselves into a mass of tubes that have to be removed. Reason number 583 why I cannot ever be a doctor is that just hearing my mom explain how they lasered 47 veins in my dad's leg and LEFT THEM IN THE LEG to wither away on their own made me gag. This is enough to make anyone gag, you say? To which I respond that this is, in fact, the fourth time I have had this procedure explained to me. My dad has had this surgery four times.

So what do you get the guy who has withering veins, again? I found the most recent Special Edition Sports Illustrated all about Michael Jordan, (whom I grew up watching with my dad,) the DVD of Animal House, (which I saw for the first time with my dad after his first leg surgery,) the DVD of Elf, (which my dad mentioned over Thanksgiving that he had only seen once and which I happen to be obsessed with, so maybe this was the least useful of the assorted gifts,) a card on which I drew a picture of a crutch and the word "gimptastic," and a toy for my parents' dog that my dad could use to play with said dog from the couch. The toy was comprised of two tennis balls connected by a braided nylon rope. My parents have the largest dog in the world. He looks like a small bear. He sounds like Chewbacca. His name is Kramer and he almost broke my arm once. My thought was that instead of wrestling with Kramer as my dad normally does, he could lay on the couch and hold one end of the toy while Kramer pulled with his little bear teeth on the other end.

Instead Kramer got so excited about this toy that he ate the entire thing in 30 minutes. Like, ate it. Leaving only nylon shreds to show for his work.

Like all other gifts, though, it is the thought that makes the difference. Like all other care packages from me, I also added unnecessary notes to each item explaining why I included it. I guess it's kind of like being superstitious. If I don't include the notes, I am convinced that the recipient will not understand the importance of this particular thing. But if I do, the package will mean that much more. And the Red Sox will win the World Series.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Care Package Gift, Part 2

I am big on care packages. I love putting random things together to fit a theme. It's like a puzzle and it's like writing. You start with an idea, a goal, and you search for pieces that push you closer to that goal. And sometimes it ends up looking very different than you thought. I guess that's like lots of things, but for me, it is very much like writing.

This week is dedicated to care packages. I know I have at least four to talk about, and I am trying for a full seven. I give you full permission to start a slap-war with me if I don't make it.

I am much better at actually sending care packages when I am not working a zillion jobs, like now. Otherwise, I am really good at coming up with care packages that then sit on my kitchen table and gather dust while I feel bad about not getting to the post office. My friend A and I both love peanut butter. When we lived together in our first year in Chicago, we could not keep a jar in the house past two days. Between the two of us, I think we may have eaten our weight in Jif in about four weeks. When my friend A went to Guatemala to work on saving the world and other wonderful things for six months this year, she also started a blog. Within this blog, she asked for donations and gave us all updates on her progress and adventures there. (One of which included a story about a scorpion and the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is enough to make me not go there. Ever.) Anyway, being the wonderful friend that I am, I thought, I will send some money AND a care package. And then some unforeseen expenses came up. So then I thought, ok I can still send a care package. I bought a giant jar of peanut butter and a card and I found several old pictures of the two of us in college. And then I went out of the country for a wedding. So then I thought, I am a horrible person who has a giant jar of peanut butter sitting in a shoe box. I finally asked A for her address to send this package. To which she responded that there was no viable package-receiving address. So I ate the giant jar of peanut butter. I meant to send a donation instead, but then I got fired. And I still have all the rest of the parts of the package sitting in a shoe box on my kitchen table.

Anyway, when I am successful, a care package is sent at LEAST in the vicinity of a month around the celebrated date. For my mom's new teaching gig, I actually gave her a care package for Christmas, which kept me on time. My mom works at the same university at which I received my undergrad degree. Within the past few years, she took on an adjunct faculty role, teaching classes in the social work department. As a former, and sometime current, teacher, I decided to give her a package comprised of useful teaching tools. The entire thing was housed in, not a shoe box, but a clipboard that opens up to hold whatever stuff teachers need to have handy. This clipboard was something that did not exist when I was in the classroom and I have been eyeing it ever since. I think it is genius. I also think I would have shoved too many things in it to be effective.

In my mom's clipboard, I placed Post-It notes, binder clips with painted flowers on them, clickable Sharpie markers, stickers, index cards, file folders with pictures of France on them, and the coup de grace -- scented markers. Why on Earth would a college instructor need scented markers, you say? Because everyone loves them. In fact, I guarantee college students love scented markers MORE than my fifth grade students did. It reminds them of being a kid, of coloring in class and picking out their favorite scent. (Mine is the cinnamon.) To make this, and all other usefulness clear, I put little notes on each item and explained how I used them and why I included them. My mom cried.

To be fair, this is the best indication of whether my mom likes a present or not. If it's meaningful, thoughtful or just something really cool, she will cry. If my dad gives her a present and she cries, he will do a fist pump and then give the rest of us a thumbs-up.

The best part of this present is again, that it was useful. This time I am 100 percent sure that all of it was used. In fact, after using the scented markers in class once, my mom called me.

"They loved those. It was incredible. I've never seen anything like it -- they were all picking out their favorite."

The power of the care package is finding that piece that doesn't seem to fit and making it stand out as the whole point of the gift.

The Care Package Gift, Part 1

I am finding the only drawback to the theme of this blog is that I can't talk about any of the gifts I am PLANNING to give because my friends and family seem to like me so much that they actually read this thing. Even my brother seems to have read a couple of entries, which is amazing. This is why it is amazing:

Our parents have birthdays that are three days apart. Literally, they were born three days apart, in the same year, like one hospital away from each other. Every year, this means presents three days apart, which means you can't exactly repeat the same gift for each of them, because everyone has three days' worth of gift-memory. This year, I decided to order presents and have them delivered on their actual birthdays. (Or in the case of my dad's present, the closest approximate day that ProFlowers would deliver the present.) I ordered chocolate covered cherries for my dad, and a potted orchid for my mom. And on the card, I signed it from me, my boyfriend, M, and my brother, G. Then I called G and left him a message saying, I signed your name on the card of these presents, which were...(then I explained the presents,) don't forget to call on their respective birthdays, and you can take ownership of the presents.

When my dad called to thank me, he told me about the conversation he had with G, when my brother DID in fact call to wish him a happy birthday.

Dad: Say, I got a lovely package in the mail from you.

G: Whuh?

So, while my brother is a better person than me because he clearly will not take credit for something that he didn't do, he also clearly does not pay attention to things that I say. This is why him reading this blog is amazing. And I would like to thank him for this by mentioning him in a more flattering light.

Despite having a hard time remembering birthdays, my brother is an excellent gifter. He is also an excellent performer and is studying to that end in college right now. Last year, he was cast in a play called "The Corn is Green." I wanted to go see it, but he told me not to. The problem with having a brother who lives far away, with whom you actually like to hang out, and who is a performer, is that if you buy plane tickets to go see their show, you can't hang out with them. And if you buy plane tickets to go hang out with them, you can't see any of their work. So, last year, I bought plane tickets and we hung out. When I met his friends, they said, oh how nice that you came out to hang out with your brother. To which we honestly replied, well, actually we're going to our grandmother's funeral.

Funny how life works out. Anyway, for "The Corn is Green," which I didn't see, and which I don't really know anything about, I sent him a package entitled, "Things That Are Also Green." I told you I didn't actually know anything about the play.

Inside the package were things like spearmint cough drops, green socks, a new green toothbrush, (I say "new" like I would have sent him an old toothbrush,) and a gift card to CVS. Yes, I know, CVS is red, but money is green, and the gift card was supposed to represent cash flow. I put everything in a shoe box, which is my care package container of choice, and I padded it with green tissue paper. I wrote a card in green marker. I may have tried to draw Kermit on it, but if I did, I failed miserably. I know I drew ears of corn on the outside of the package, in aforementioned green marker.

Care packages, for my brother specifically, have to be useful. He doesn't like things that he can't use or that just take up space. He is a minimalist. So for all of you reading and thinking, these are spectacularly boring gifts, you are right. However, they are extremely purposeful and I'm 97 percent positive they were all used. That 3 percent is because I was so excited when he called after he got it that I didn't ask how useful it really was.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Yang Gift

It has been said that couples really only fight about money. I don't know who it is that said it, but I have heard it before so it must be someone I know. Apparently, couples also fight about really stupid things that only make sense to one or both of them. Leaving my apartment today, I heard the couple below me shouting. Like, really shouting. The kind of shouting where you're not sure if they just have the TV on too loud or if they are acting out parts for a play because no one could actually be talking to another human in real life using those tones. Except that these two were. And they happened to be loud enough that when I stopped on the stairs, just out of view of their peephole, I could hear EVERY WORD. This is what they were debating:






If you are thoroughly confused right now, then you might understand why I felt the need to stay on the stairs just a few minutes longer.


At this point, the girl is sobbing so hard, it sounds like her throat is rejecting air. And I still can't understand why she is so upset. She's mad that his opinion of her is that she does not think he's smart. This is dumb.

Anyway, the point is that clearly people fight about things other than money. And that I am really happy that I think my boyfriend is smart. Like crazy smart. The Yang is typically the masculine of the pair, the positive, the relief to the bas. In our relationship, M typically makes the decisions because I hate decisions. He thinks ahead about where to eat and how to plan the day, and I am more of a wait-and-see girl. A wait-until-you-are-so-hungry-you-can't-see girl.

With this in mind, for gift purposes, M is more practical and long-term in his present buying. This is not to say that he buys boring presents, because as I'm sure you will discover here, he is excellent at gifting as well. But it is to say that for his birthday a couple of years ago, he received a paper shredder and he was legitimately excited about it.

So, for Valentine's Day in our first year, I gave him the keys to my apartment. This present was more of whim -- I didn't think at all about if it was too soon. I knew that we spent more time at my place and it seemed like a romantic idea that he would like. For our first year anniversary, M gave me keys to his apartment. This present was much more of a marker of where our relationship was and where it was to go. It was a planned decision and it took into account how much he was thinking ahead. And the keys were on a Coach keychain that breaks apart to be two separate keychains. It is gorgeous. It is also by far the nicest label I have ever owned.

The gifts we give each other are a big indicator of how we think about each other, and M and I are very similar in this regard. Clearly, we both think keys are a great gift for romantic occasions. But the biggest difference between us is also illustrated by our gift-giving -- and this is how we present things. I, being the Yin, the calm, wait-and-see girl, always have a hand-written, sometimes hand-drawn card. I wait and watch him open the present and I don't give any clues. M, being the Yang, the positive, the effusive force, always forgets the card, or buys the first one he sees at CVS, hands me the present while I am still taking my coat off and then tells me not to be too excited while I am opening it. This process cracks me up every time.

We might fight about money, we might even fight about something stupid. But I guarantee that we won't fight about giving stupid presents.

The Yin Gift

I seem to no longer have free internet at my apartment. And by "no longer free," I mean that no one in my building is dumb enough to leave their connection unprotected anymore. I only missed a blog entry yesterday because I did not have time to park myself at Starbucks. So today, because I trekked myself, my computer and all of my unwritten holiday cards 12 blocks to the Starbucks, I decided on the way that I could have an Egg Nog latte. I have been eyeing this drink since the Red Cups appeared a few weeks ago. Since I am a certified personal trainer, I know that the caloric content is enough to replace several meals. And as a personal trainer, I also know that my 12 block walk (which is really more like 8,) even with my 8 extra pounds of computer, (which is really more like 5,) does not negate this fact. So I have been saving it for a special occasion. But I can't think of one that would involve me sitting at Starbucks.

Anyway, the point is, here I am with my Egg Nog latte, (which is awesome, but really just makes me want ACTUAL egg nog,) trying to write two blog entries to make up for my not buying internet at home. So I thought I would do a little Yin Yang theme -- one present, but two ways to do it. The Yin is supposedly the female sign, and also the negative. Not like depressing, or Debbie Downer negative, but like the absence to the presence. Yin is the negative of the photograph, the shading in the features of a face. Yin is the set of keys I gave to M for our first Valentine's Day.

I need to give you a little background for this: I hate Valentine's Day. I am starting to appreciate it more and more, and it's wonderful to have someone do lovely romantic things for you. BUT, those things are much better when they are UNexpected. And now, (I say "now" like I'm an old person who remembers the time before Hallmark,) we have this day where you have to be romantic, which is sort of unromantic by definition. When strangers find out that I speak French, sometimes they will say things like, "Say something in French." Which is annoying. And if "You're a douchebag," didn't sound exactly the same in French, I would say that. This is what Valentine's Day is like -- telling someone to do something that they like to do, and therefore making that likable thing ordinary and douche-y.

M doesn't like Valentine's Day either, for the same reasons. And I think it's because we both feel this way that we then celebrate it by actually being truly, sickly romantic. Two years ago he surprised me with tickets to the Imax theater to see the U2 movie. Last year we went to a fantastic restaurant and had champagne at home. But the first year was the best. M made me leave my apartment, (and I went to Starbucks, obv.) where he cooked a beautiful meal, put raspberries in the champagne glasses and left a box of chocolates on the coffee table along with pink rose petals. He says now that since we had only been together for 4 or 5 months, he was still courting me, and that this is why it has never happened since.

We had decided gifts were unnecessary for V Day, but I knew he had this whole thing up his sleeve and I wasn't about to just show up and eat without some kind of present. So I decided that keys to my place were a good compromise. I didn't actually buy anything except the keychain. The keychain was Cubs-related, in honor of his favorite baseball team. (This may seem like a small thing, but my team is the Red Sox, so I opted not to shove this down his throat.) I copied the keys at Sears and I wrapped it all up and made a card. It was the card that made the gift. And I have no idea now what it said.

The best part of that Valentine's Day was that it somehow captured the unexpected within the formulaic holiday. I could never have expected the all-out effort of the traditional romantic dinner from someone who feels so ambivalent about V Day. And I don't think he expected a true relationship gesture from someone who gags at jewelry commercials. So maybe it's a little more Gift of the Magi than Yin and Yang, but we are a pair nonetheless.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Inside Joke Gift

Lately I've been feeling left out. I think it's mostly due to being effectively shut out from my former social network via the bar. My boyfriend, M, explained it to me this way last night:

"It's like you went through a breakup, and they got to keep all the friends."

Which is true. And this got me thinking about how frustrating it is to be on the outside of things, like party invites, really excellent gossip and inside jokes. But also how AWESOME it is to be on the inside of those same things, especially a long-running inside joke.

I am fairly oblivious in daily life and tend to be on the outside most of the time, which might explain my all-capping the awesomeness of being on the inside. Even if I didn't make up the original joke, I am happy to be involved and able to own the laughter that ensues. Like the one time my teacher friends made up a card game involving different actions for different playing cards. No one could think of anything to assign to the 5 card, so someone suggested doing something awkward. And from that day forward, anytime anything awkward happened, it was 5 Card. Did that random girl just pose in our picturel? 5 Card. This guy just totally used the gun show line and now he's just standing next to me and won't leave. So 5 Card.

We really thought this was going to take off. I truly believed we would see a hit TV sitcom using this as a recurring joke or at least part of their particularly hip and snarky language. It didn't happen. But you can see how I am still trying to push this forward. Feel free to use it with your friends as well.

Anyway, the inside joke idea made me think of the running gift gag I have with my dad. This goes back to sometime around 2000 or so. The conversation that started it all most likely happened while watching NBA basketball and most definitely went like this:

My dad: "You know, giraffes are taking over."

Me: "Like the world? Are they overpopulating?"

My dad: "No, I mean in home decor. They are everywhere. They're the next big trend."

Me: "Ok."

Not that I didn't believe him, but my dad, like me, has a tendency toward exaggeration. By "they are everywhere," he meant that he saw two giraffe statues at Pier One. So, when I began laughing, he broke too. Soon, "Giraffes are taking over the world!" was the funniest joke we could think of.

It followed suit that one of us would naturally have to prove or disprove this theory. So for my birthday, my dad found a little ceramic giraffe and gave it to me. "See," he said, "They are everywhere." And so began the Great Giraffe Gift-Off. Every holiday we exchange some version of a giraffe. We have given and received giraffe pencils, erasers, wooden statues, puppets, calendars, stuffed animals, cards, hand-drawn renderings, wrapping paper and more. Last Christmas I gave my dad a ceramic giraffe with holes in it. As an artist, he naturally turned it into a paintbrush holder. I found it at Pier One.

This joke has extended to include my aunt L, who sent me a giraffe poster in the mail, and M, who gave me a giraffe ornament. It has also extended to include non-holidays. Last year my parents went to Boston for Thanksgiving and for the first time, I didn't go. A week later I received some photos of the trip in the mail, one of which captured a giraffe head sticking out from the top of a tree.

There are two things that make this gift gag great. One, it's an inside joke between the two of us -- even though we didn't mean to limit our joke, it seems that besides the two examples I named, no one wants to join in all that much. In fact, most people, my mom included, just think we're weird. And two, giraffe trinkets are easy to find. There may not have been that many at the outset of this caper, but now, they quite literally are everywhere.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Favorite Gift

Let me start by saying that today sucked. One of my journalism professors once said "the world is run by C students." Which is not to say that CEOs and power players all made Cs in school. He meant that if C is the average grade, then the majority of the population scored a C average throughout school. So when you are an A student (me,) and you do things like file unemployment (also me,) you are consistently annoyed by things like not being able to use your Mac computer to navigate the unemployment system. Or that your handwritten claim resulted in all of your forms being sent to the wrong address. Or that you cannot figure out how to use your government-issued debit card, but also cannot switch to direct deposit because of your reject Mac.

Anyway, as an homage to being broke, I thought I would share the Coffee-of-the-Month gift. Let me segue by saying that my boyfriend loves coffee. He calls it sweet nectar. He is not fun to be around before he has a cup in the morning. For his birthday last year I decided to get him a bunch of well-recommended coffees from around the country. As someone who drinks coffee with lots of milk and sugar substitute, I am not the best source for quality coffee. So I started by asking my friends and family for ideas. And apparently coffee drinkers are opinionated. By the time I had ten brands, I began to Google for coffee of the month gifts that included even a couple of those brands. But pre-existing gifts only exist within each particular coffee house.

So made it up. I chose twelve different coffees. I made a Powerpoint calendar with each coffee heading up a different month. I took it to Kinko's and I pretended I coudn't figure out how to print it. Kinko's printed the pages on cardstock and I cut them apart myself. I took an old CD jewel case, turned it inside out and placed the coffee slides in the lid so that it made a monthly desktop calendar. I apparently did not cut the pages well because they don't all fit in the lid. And I bought a new coffee grinder to go with it. How is this a cheap gift, you ask? The beauty of the do-it-yourself coffee of the month is that while the recipient gets wonderful coffees delivered to their door, you are only paying for each coffee each month. It's almost like a birthday layaway plan.

This present went over particularly well, and I think someone more tech-savvy than me (see "Kinko's," above,) should make this into a viable option for others to purchase online for their own caffeine-riddled loved ones. Not that any of us want those pesky C-students all hopped up on coffee, but everyone deserves something nice.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Short Gift

Once upon a 1980s Christmas, my mom and I conspired to make a photo album for my dad. My mom gave me a camera to use, and I took pictures around the house and neighborhood. My mom titled the album "The World According to Kate." I was around 5 years old. And I was not tall. The world according to me ended up being the view of coffee tables and knees.

I highly recommend this type of photo montage for Father's Day or Mother's Day presents. It is hilarious. Just be sure the intended recipient will react like my dad at the time, who praised my artistic ability and thoughtfulness and did not laugh at my lack of perspective. At least to my face.

Given that I am still not tall, this might explain my fear of crowds. While in pictures, having a vertically limited view is amusing, at the Taste of Chicago, or in a packed bar, it feels like drowning in a sea of shoulders and elbows. I used to teach fifth graders on the south side of Chicago, and they would routinely do and say things that would make my nerves catch fire. A scampering little mouse would spontaneously appear in my muscular system and run through my body and I would yell. I would yell from the bottom of my stomach. It would rip through every fiber of my throat until the yell exploded into the room and didn't have any impact whatsoever.

For some reason, being in crowds now produces the same scampering mouse feeling that my students used to elicit in me. The yelling, however, is frowned upon in general public. Why it is generally accepted in urban public schools remains a matter for another blog entry. The point is, being short makes for some frustrating experiences as an adult, but some truly remarkable photos as a child.

A few years ago, I thought it would be moderately hilarious to repeat this photography experiment at five foot three. So, in the winter of 2003, I took a camera and wandered around my Chicago neighborhood, taking pictures only at my height. The result is somewhat lame. But, when all you see is a trash can and part of a wall, and then you are told that it is Wrigley Field, it is still pretty funny.