Tag Archives: christmas

A Good Neighbor, An Accidental Friend, and a Christmas Surprise

My old house is not as big or grand as this, but is similar.

My old house was not as big or grand as this, but is similar.

Before my divorce, when I still lived in the big house in the nice neighborhood —  also known as “The Marital Home,”   “The Debtor’s Prison,” or “The Money Pit” I had some really cool neighbors, many of whom were there for me when my world fell apart.

Hillary and Tom lived across the street, in a stately Tudor home.

Mary and Matthew from Downton Abbey.  Hillary and Tom are a older modern version.

Mary and Matthew from Downton Abbey. Hillary and Tom are a older modern version.

Hillary and Tom are older than I am, and well established in their careers.  Both lawyers, they had worked in the same firm I had, but had left before I started there.  My colleagues spoke so highly of them.   I earned street ‘cred at the firm just by being their neighbor.  I’m not sure where Hillary and Tom went to school, but I’m guessing there was ivy on some of the buildings. Eventually both left private practice, Tom for  high-profile government work, and Hillary took  an in-house corporate job.  The couple moved up the ranks in their positions, with Hillary becoming a major client of the firm.  Hillary was kind of a legend for younger female attorneys, she had played with the big boys and shattered the glass ceiling, or at least made a lateral move around it.

What’s more, Hillary and Tom are good people.  Tom is a talker, knows as much about music as he does about law (he’d been a drummer in a previous life). Hillary is not nearly as gregarious as  her husband, however.  She has a quiet dignity that suggests that she is not to be messed with.  She’s also very attractive, and appears to be years, even over a decade younger than her years.   They both worked long hours, so I didn’t see them often around the neighborhood, but  I always liked and admired them both.   They were a power couple, truly.

In some ways, I considered Hillary and Tom to be a bit out of my league.   They were connected, respected and wealthy.  They were happy and well-suited, though Hillary joked that this was because they didn’t spend a lot of time together.

A couple of years ago Hillary took an early retirement from her corporate job.  She was undecided as to what to do next, professionally.   In the meantime, she  had some time off — for the first time in probably twenty years.  I was surprised ( shocked) when she invited all six of us to her beach house.  We hadn’t spent much time together before this.  But I was in the midst of a divorce and renovations on the new (hoarders) house, and I don’t think I had a kitchen at the time.  I needed a break.   But,  I was in a bad way, my medications made me afraid to drive long trips alone.  I explained this to her, deciding to be honest.

Hillary listened and said,

“I’ll drive you.”

And she did.

She picked us up in her SUV and drove the kids and I to the beach where she opened her home to us, fed us, and let me sleep while she played with my kids on the beach.   I was surprisingly relaxed there.  It was nice.

Beaches, with Bette Midler and Barbra Hershey

Beaches, with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey

Hillary eventually took a new job, and we haven’t done anything together for  years now, though she sometimes drops off her daughter’s (designer)  hand-me-downs, and will buy whatever my kids are selling for school fundraisers.  We share an educational level, and some professional accomplishments, but our lives have taken drastically different turns.  I am, quite literally, on the other side of the tracks now.

Last year, Hillary and another ex-neighbor dropped off gift cards for all of us at Christmas.  I was completely surprised and thankful but I didn’t expect it to happen again.

But again this year, a few days before Christmas,  we heard a noise in the front room.  One of the girls got there just in time to see the door closing and a package sitting on a table.   Hillary had left chocolate and gift cards for all of us, including me — again.    These are not the obligatory gifts from some aunt.  Hillary is not related to us, and has no  long-standing tradition of giving gifts to my kids — or me.   This was clearly something that she just wanted to do, without fanfare.  We were obviously home when she came by,  but her stealthy elf-like drop off told me she didn’t want to talk.

So, instead of calling, I emailed her to thank her.

This was her response:

I am grateful for your friendship and especially your companionship during a time that was difficult for me.  Not much time for companionship lately, but the friendship is still there.

It made me cry.

I thought I was only on the receiving end of assistance.  I assumed that Hillary, like other friends and neighbors who witnessed or had second -hand knowledge of my break up and break down, was simply helping  a family in need —  because she had the means to do so.  I never thought that I had much to give, let alone the means to help anyone — especially someone like Hillary — who seems to have it all.

So I cried.

And I’m still not exactly sure how I  helped her — but I guess I did — and it meant so much to me that she told me so.

Just Me With . . . A Wonderful Life?

It's a Wonderful Life

Clarence The Angel: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”
Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”

Other stories of good neighbors:

When I Needed A Helping Hand

Riding With My Boss

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Keeping it Simple at Christmas

Miracle on 34th Street

I was listening to some radio show where they asked a  little girl what she wanted for Christmas.  She said, “A stuffed animal.” She said Santa could choose what kind.  When asked if she wanted anything else, she added, “Chapstick.”

With all the ads and shopping frenzy it occurred to me that it’s easy to ignore the actual requests of children  — and adults.   Despite the elaborate Barbie houses and race car sets and “i” everything and “e” readers and bright lights and touch screens, sometimes it’s the simple things that matter.  Now I’m not perfect.  There have been times when I’ve over indulged my children and there have been times when my children were sorely disappointed, but here’s a list of some of the simple  things that brought joy:

1.  Goggles.  One year when my daughter was little all she asked for was goggles.  I guess Santa went to Home Depot, because a $2 pair of plastic work goggles appeared on Christmas morning and the girl was ecstatic.

Safety First, Safety Last, Safety Goggles for Christmas

2.  Stuffed Animal.  My kid was just like the girl on the radio, except she was older,  maybe eleven years old, right on the edge of the electronic appetite.  But she has always loved to cuddle with soft stuffed things.  Still does, even in her advancing teen years.  The stuffed bunny she received that year “lives”  in her room and she takes it with her on sleepovers and visits with her dad.

The stuffed animal, a classic.

3.  Nothing.   Babies are simple creatures.  They like to look at bright lights.  When they are older they play with boxes.  Except for maybe purchasing something they may have needed anyway (a new teether or sleepers), babies don’t need anything for Christmas except someone to show them the pretty lights and sing to them.  Sometimes I would ball up pieces of wrapping paper and toss it to the babies (under supervision of course, can’t let the little angels eat paper) and the babies would be occupied trying to pick up the strange, shiny ball.

4.  Etch-a-Sketch.   Low-tech.  Gender-neutral.  Hours of fun.  Needs no insurance.  When it breaks (and it will) it will have served its purpose and you can replace it, or not.

Etch A Sketch

5. Coupon for Playing a Video Game with My Son.  Okay, so this one hurt a bit.  But it cost me nothing, except for maybe a couple of Tylenol.  I’m not a gamer.  I do a lot of activities with my kids, but gaming, at least the warfare type, has never been my cup of tea.   But one Christmas I gave him a coupon promising an hour of video game time with me.  I broke it up in two segments.  It was horrible.  I’m horrible.  I tried to do my best, but I shot at the ground, repeatedly.   He took great joy in this.   But bonus?   He doesn’t ask me to play anymore.  On occasion I’ll him ask if I can play and I get the response,

“No, Mom, no.”

I am not a gamer.

6.  A lock box.  This wasn’t for my kids, it was for another relative.  He was twenty something and had mentioned in passing that he always wanted a safe.  I think he was recently out of college at the time and literally had nothing of value to protect, but I guess he had some personal items, because when he opened that fireproof lockbox safe ($19.99) he  laughed broadly and exclaimed,

“I always wanted one of these!”   At six feet five inches tall, he was like a big little kid.

“Thank you!”   He continued to smile as he examined his box with the same look of joy and amazement he used to have when opening a new Lego set.

I don’t want to know what he keeps in that box.

Lock Box

Just Me With . . . thoughts on keeping it simple.

There have been others, but I’m trying to keep this simple, and short.

Other holiday related posts:

Blowing Off the Holidays — Just say no.

Time Management,  Procrastination, Holiday Shopping and Moving — Some things will take exactly as much time as you allot to them.

The Annual Christmas Party — At Least I Wasn’t Insulted This Year —  Unfortunate comment.

All I Want for Christmas is My Kids — Splitting the babies after divorce.

A Good Neighbor, An Accidental Friend, and a Christmas Surprise —  You never know the impact people have on each other.

My First Grown Up Thanksgiving — Kind Of  — Thanksgiving my my house, without my kids.

Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure  — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.

Time Management, Procrastination, Holiday Shopping and Moving

I have a theory.  Some tasks will take as much or as little time as you put aside to do them.  I apply this theory to two things:  packing for a move and Holiday shopping.

Packing for a Move

When Carrie Was Preparing to Move, Sex and The City

The Early Packer: 

If a person is planning a move, he or she can start packing six months before.    When the move date arrives, packing will be almost complete, boxes will be labeled and stacked and moving will commence.  You’ll get out on the date you are supposed to, you’ll move in on the date you’re allowed to.

The Last Minute Move:

Dealing with the same move out date, a person can start three weeks,  2 weeks or days before and the move will be the same.  You’ll get out, you’ll get in.  It might not be as pretty, might add serious stress, but if you have to get out by a certain date, you have to get out by a certain date. Stuff will get thrown on a truck, in your car, in the trash, on the curb, but you’ll be out.  And when you arrive at the new digs you get to open boxes and bags and see what you actually brought with you.

In either scenario,  there are always things that you simply cannot pack too early — the everyday items you need to function.  Consequently, some last-minute packing is inevitable.   Yes, plan and organize.  Throw stuff out so you have less to pack and move, but don’t force a six month packing plan, unless you actually enjoy packing and want to pack for six months.  If not, it’ll get done, because it has to.  You won’t have the luxury of making agonizing decisions about what to keep, what to move.  You won’t live with boxes before you move and after you move.  You won’t have time to purchase endless containers and organizing materials.  You’ll probably have a lot less to organize and you may take less crap with you.  Of course, you may also discover that you threw a bunch of trash into a box and moved it, but you will have still moved.

Holiday Shopping

The Early Shopper:

We all know someone who gets all their shopping done by Thanksgiving and they seem so smug and relaxed.  Often, we see or hear of that same person shopping in December, catching a sale, exchanging one gift for another for a better deal or because the recipient bought it for him/herself before Christmas.   My point is that starting early doesn’t necessarily mean you are done.

Starting early does mean you’ll likely shop longer.    If you start in August, you will shop from August to December 24th.  Even if you think you’re finished, there will be a sale, or you’ll find something perfect for someone or you’ll remember someone you should buy a gift for, or you’ll shop for yourself, etc.  So you’ll still be shopping one way or another until December 24th.   It that’s your thing, go for it.  But the retail establishments know that the sooner you start, the more you buy, this is why Black Friday sales now start before Thanksgiving and stores open at midnight.  Cha-Ching!!

The “Last Minute” Shopper:

If you start the second week of December, it’ll still be done by December 24th.  It has to, so why stretch it out? Sales and mark downs?   Guess what, except for the ridiculous black Friday sale items you may have trouble finding and may not need, the “Holiday” sales go on right up to and often after Christmas day.  If you are indeed looking for that perfect gift that you think may be gone if you wait too long?  Well go buy  it, but don’t spend six months shopping for it, unless that’s your thing.

Christmas will come, whether you are ready or not. 

So why spend months spending? 

Why not just get what you got?

Am I preaching procrastination?

Maybe.  I’ll get back to you later, heh heh heh.  I’m not a procrastinator by nature on other things.  I was never the type of student to pull an all-nighter, I believe in daily preparedness.  However, I don’t want to pack for six months the next time I move or travel.   I don’t want to shop for six months.

It’s not so much as waiting until the last minute; rather, it’s choosing the best time to start and establishing a limited time frame in which to accomplish the tasks at hand.  (That sounds better, no?)

This is where I think all those Hoarders and Clean House type shows have it together.   They give people three days to get it all done.  What do you think would happen if you gave those people six months to clean their houses?    The clean up crew would come back every day for six months waiting for the home owner to decide whether the plastic flowers she received as a gift in 1981 have a place in her home.   No, sometimes things just have to get done.  Make a decision.  Done.

Starting early isn’t always the answer.

I probably won’t begin Christmas shopping until December 1st.   In the meantime I can do some preliminary planning,  make lists, budget, and I’ll figure out the last day I can order something online for it to arrive on time without paying extra shipping.

Then I will shop.  No, I will buy.  I won’t have the luxury to shop.  I’m traveling for Christmas so I’ll have to be finished by December 21st anyway.  It’s like a move out date.

It’ll get done.  It has to.

I’m okay with that.

Just Me With . . .  a strategy deeply rooted in procrastination and efficiency.  

Caveat:   Do not apply this theory to academics or work or personal life.  It could result in  — bad things.

Phew!  I actually started this in 2011 but I got busy with the holidays and never finished.  Ha!

Other holiday related posts:

Blowing Off the Holidays — Just say no.

Keeping It Simple At Christmas — People don’t always need the bells and whistles.

The Annual Christmas Party — At Least I Wasn’t Insulted This Year —  Unfortunate comment.

All I Want for Christmas is My Kids — Splitting the babies after divorce.

A Good Neighbor, An Accidental Friend, and a Christmas Surprise —  You never know the impact people have on each other.

Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure  — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.

My First Grown Up Thanksgiving — Kind Of  — Thanksgiving at my house, without my kids.

 

All I Want For Christmas Is My Kids

My Ex-Husband just consented to my having the kids over Christmas break.

We do not have holidays spelled out in the Custody Order, rather,  we are supposed to work it out, so this is a big deal.  I’ve always had the kids at Christmas since our separation, he’s always had them at Thanksgiving.   This is really an extension of what happened during our marriage.   We spent Thanksgiving with his family, and Christmas with mine.   That worked for us.   In fact,  when we were together I spent Easter and  all of the  barbecue holidays (Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day) with his family.   I traded all celebrations throughout the year just to get Christmas.

Last Christmas  when I asked for the kids over Christmas break, he said fine but added that one of these years he’s going to want them at Christmas.  That scared me.  He meant it to scare me, I believe.   But then he and his wife (then girlfriend) went on a beach vacation together over the holidays.   He didn’t even spend it with his  family, something the kids noticed and openly wondered about.   “Why didn’t Daddy spend Christmas with his own family?” they asked.   (No comment.)   Last week I heard from the kids that my Ex-husband had already made Thanksgiving plans with the kids, his wife, and her extended family (again, not his family, something the kids are upset about, but again, no comment).   I hoped that this meant that he would honor our tradition of “letting” me having the kids at Christmas.    But one never knows.  There’s a new wife in town now.   Plus, my Ex can be mean.   When I had to speak to my Ex about Summer vacation plans he yelled at me for almost an hour about various unrelated crap before eventually saying, “Go on take them  for as long as you want.  I don’t care,  just let me know.”   Haven’t been feeling up for a verbal beat down like that again.

So today, when he informed me he’d be traveling for work and would miss  his visitations with the kids for the next couple of weeks, I  finally got the nerve to ask him about the holidays.   He was completely fine with it, not even a pause.   My guess is he had  already made plans with his wife anyway and/or assumed I’d take the kids regardless.   He assumes and makes plans.   I ask permission.  (Yeah, I know, I see it, I’m working on it, acknowledging his rights does not mean being a doormat, but this is a lifelong pattern of accommodation I’m dealing with  “My High School Self”. )    My Ex-Husband added that he had been planning  to tell me that  Christmas presents for the kids from him will be sparse  this year, his wife isn’t working and  he’s struggling.   (No comment.)   I’m just glad, hell, I’m freaking rejoicing in the fact  that now I can openly  discuss Christmas and that I didn’t first have to take a verbal beat down for the privilege.

Christmas with my family has a special meaning for me.   It’s not even particularly religious, and we’re not wealthy so it’s not  about the gifts.  It is, however,  usually the only time that my small but geographically  fractured family gets together.   My sisters went to college and moved hundreds of miles away from our home of origin and never moved back.   They rarely made it home for Thanksgiving, don’t always make a Summer visit, but have always made it home for Christmas, even after they married and had children of their own.   They, like me, often spent Thanksgiving, Easter and Spring Break  with their in-laws or their own homes but reserved Christmas for us.   It’s always been that way.  Perhaps it is because so many of my family members are involved in academia.   Teachers,  people who work for universities, and students  have off the week between Christmas and New Years Day and this is when they can travel and relax.  Even now, my oldest sister’s  grown children with professional careers make time and arrangements to travel cross-country  to be with their grandparents and the rest of the family at Christmas.     I know that one day someone won’t be able to make it;  I know that one year we will have lost someone.    But it is our family tradition to be together, and I look forward to it.  My kids look forward to it.    I’m just so thankful that today I know for sure  I  “have permission” to continue the tradition — to spend this Christmas with my kids, together with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and that my divorce  did not change that — this year.    What a relief.

Just Me With . . .  holiday plans.   Woo Hoo!!!!!!!

Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

My house wasn’t this grand, but it was somewhat similar.

My Marital Home was  large Victorian fixer-upper still in progress.  I  had accumulated a lot of  children and stuff over my years there.   One of my forms of therapy has always been to get rid of things and rearrange furniture (I know, a little weird) .  Consequently  I’d been cleaning crap out with a vengeance after my husband left (so much so he thought I was moving way before I even thought about it).

When the real move was on the horizon, I was faced with moving from this  big house to my new little project where Piss Man and his GF were living  (See Piss, Puke and Porn).    So I basically decreased our belongings by — my guess — around two/thirds . . .   Mind you the kid count was remaining the same and they were/are growing by the minute and although some days I’d like to sell them, I’m aware that generally this is frowned upon.  Consequently, other stuff had to go.

Since I’m a purger by nature I drop by Goodwill often; they know me (even got hit on there).  But since I was already doing this massive move by myself, including getting the Marital Home ready for sale and fixing up the new old hoarder’s house, I was quickly tiring of schlepping my stuff to Goodwill.  I also tired of selling individual items, you know, meeting strangers at inconvenient times, etc. to maybe or maybe not make a sale.  (Sounds a little like dating, but I digress.)  I’ve never had luck having yard sales.   So I started posting things for free.

We’ve all seen those ads, “Free Stuff”  “Moving” etc.  Well, I became one of those people.    I decided to give away everything I could on one beautiful weekend.  I took pictures,  posted them on Craigslist and said FREE — come get it . . . first come, first served.

When living in a smaller space you don’t have the luxury to store certain things, one of them being holiday decorations.   I’d already gotten rid of much of that stuff, but I was ready to let go of  almost everything else.  I told myself, and I was right, that I probably wouldn’t miss it  and if I wanted more decorations later I’d  start fresh.

My kids’ babysitter (now a good, good friend) had given them these beautiful angel decorations — you know the kind with the velvet gown and fur and whatnot — I had four of them for the girls and she’d given the boy  a big nutcracker (heh heh).   The angels had looked beautiful in my formal dining room when I had my Christmas sing-along parties.   But, that life was . . . over.   Still, even for me,  it is a bit harder to get rid of items that were thoughtful gifts from a loved one–  so I struggled a bit.

I knew I couldn’t store the angels and I knew that in the new old house I wouldn’t have a place to display them at Christmas  . . . so . . .  I took a picture of the kids’ pretty angels, posted it on Craigslist and put them out on the street, convincing myself that my friend would understand.  It felt kinda like giving away my four girls, except  my girls  aren’t  always angels  . . . but I digress.

Craigslist Angels

Christmas Angels

After posting, I got an email right away from a guy wanting to know if I still had them.  I checked outside and they were still there.  He asked me to hold them until he could get to my house.

Alrighty.

I mean, they were pretty, but I didn’t know they’d be hot property  — in June.   I moved them to a more secluded place and told him where he could find them.   He came and got them right away.  I never saw him.

Cool,”  I thought,  “My stuff  is going.”  It’s amazing how you can’t sell something for a dollar but if you offer it for free —  it’s gone.

A couple of hours later I got an email from the man who took the angels.   He  thanked me for the them, telling me that they were for his mother who was going through Cancer treatments and having a pretty rough time.   She didn’t get out much, he said, hardly ever.  But when she saw the picture of my Christmas angels she  wanted them so badly that she rode with him to get them.

He said those angels made her so happy. He was thrilled to be able to make her smile.

He just wanted to let me know how much I’d done for the both of them.

I almost cried.  I’m lying, I did cry.

Oh wait, it’s Just Me With . . . tears in my eyes . . . again.

For what happened when I prepared the Marital Home for sale, see My Panty Drawer/Your Panty Drawer

For my purging of marriage related material, see:

My Wedding Album, Time to Reduce It — Perhaps by Fire

Wedding Leftovers — What To Do With The Dress?

and for what I wish would happen with Craigslist, see,  A Craigslist Fantasy.