And So Begins The List…

The darker side of my snarky personality is beginning to rear it’s ugly head, so I’m trying to be intentional about turning it around.

I’ve been in a Bible study for the past three weeks on thankfulness. Not just thankfulness, but something called Eucharisteo.

It basically means being grateful, thankful, joyful in the darkest of times. When there seems to be no reason, continuing to be thankful and showing that gratitude to God for all that you do have.

It means praising God right after my mother died. Not because she’s gone, but because I had a mother. Finding the good things about her, the good that she taught me. Praising Him for the horrid things she said and did to me, because they made me the mom I am today. When she almost broke my finger when I was five, I promised myself I would only touch my kids in love. When she called me a mooch because someone did something nice for me, I promised myself that I would do nice things for others (especially my kids) for no reason at all. I would make it a habit to say nice things to my kids. I would praise them, not only behind their backs and in public where everyone could hear, but to their faces as well, and in private places. I would punish them, but only after I had time to cool down and pray, and consider what the punishment should be. I would walk away if I felt myself getting hot. I would not spank them to the point that their backside is black and blue, and couldn’t sit for days, and eventually get taken to the ER when Dad gets back in town. When a kid gets special permission from the school to lay down on the floor and do their schoolwork, there’s something wrong. When a father is forced to quit a job that pays well, but takes him out of town a lot, there’s something wrong.

My mom is the reason I have stayed home with my kids all these years. The reason I own my own business and still stay home. Her choices as a parent…made me change my stars. My dad said I could be whatever kind of parent I want to be, and I am. I try to be the mom that I wanted. The mom my friends seemed to have. I’m not fake. I have terrible moments. Moments I wish I could change, habits of mine that I fear are shaping my kids in a bad way, but I have learned to mostly bite my tongue, and to be available no matter what.

The book that we’re reading along with the study is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It’s a beautiful book by a beautiful (and young) woman. The challenge of this book is to make a list of 1,000 things that we are grateful for. Not just big things like My Family, but small things like Big, Fat Snowflakes That Taste Sweet With The Fresh Air Of An Iowa Winter. (I know it’s flowery, but it’s how she writes, and they do taste kind of sweet in the crisp, cold air. I think it must be the “no smog” thing…) I will not be so poetic in my list…I think I used up what I had right there, so I hope you enjoyed it.

The book is not an easy read, at least not for me. I have trouble with some of the words and phrases she uses. I watched an interview (well, so far about half of an interview) with her, so I could better understand why she writes like she does. She is very intentional. She said that she forces herself to take the time to notice little things, and then she tries to capture them with a description. Her descriptions are rich, and adjectives abound in this book. I’ll admit, I’m having trouble getting through it, but I’m determined to finish it. Maybe I’ll even try to read it again.

As always, I write like I think. That means occasionally poor grammar, and a lot of broken sentences. It’s not that I can’t follow the rules, it’s that my brain goes so fast, and if I don’t get it all out, it’s lost forever. I go back and edit a lot. Sometimes I get a weird look from people when I tell them I write like I think, and I figure that they probably go off and say a prayer for Barry and the kids. It can’t be easy living with crazy. You should probably all pray for Barry and the kids…

Based on this book, I’ve decided to make my own list of One Thousand Gifts.

I’m thinking that I might make this a blog series…at least until I get to 1,000. Maybe beyond that. Right now, I cannot imagine that there are 1,000 things out there to be grateful for. That number seems overwhelming to me, but a sadness has been growing for quite some time, and joy needs to be found.

My list will be whatever I notice, whenever I notice it. No holds barred.

Tags will be : thankful, 1K, eucharisteo. Category : One Thousand Gifts. Those are new, and you can use them to search for these specific posts.

I will also post things I’ve read or learned from this study, so you can follow my journey into a life of joy and thankfulness. Pretty soon it should be all unicorns, and sparkles, and rainbows.

Or at least less dark, more light.

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Brain Dump Friday – Misfit Edition

I admit freely that I thought, back in the day, that The Crash Test Dummies were a cool group. In fact, I bought tickets to a concert when Barry and I were dating, and we went. It was, in all honesty, a really fun time. They were playing at a very old theater in San Diego, and it was an enjoyable, intimate evening with soft lighting and good music.
I was talking to Jessup about Winter Jam this morning, and we were thinking back to a few years ago when we went to see Skillet and TobyMac in concert. I said, “You’re dad and I haven’t been to a concert since…gosh, I think The Crash Test Dummies was the last one.” He said, “Hmm, never heard of them.” I gasped in horror! I have failed him! I immediately gave him my phone and told him to look up “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm” (on iTunes) and give it a listen. I went on and on about how, when it was on the radio, I would turn it up so loud, and sing along with it. Then, as he found it, and he was listening, this look came across his face. It wasn’t a look of joy, or rapture, or even tolerance. It was a look of pity. Pity. From my 17-year old son. Suddenly the girl inside me waving her arms to be “cool” in the eyes of her offspring, shriveled up and hid in the corner. All the bonus points I’d gotten for Skillet…gone. How could he not love them? How could he give me that look? I expected a look of “Wow, Mom! I know you so much better now. I can see a little bit more of who you are, and that’s the person everyone should know. That person is amazing, and deep, and…”. I expected a sense of knowing, and I got a sense of ‘What’s wrong with you?’. My shame set in. What did I see in them? What could have been so great that I bought all their albums, and even got one autographed for Barry as a memento of that night so long ago?
And then I began to think some more about it.
We all go through seasons. This band, this crazy, strange group of people, helped me through something. They made me realize that all the weirdness I felt in high school and beyond, wasn’t so different from what anyone else felt. I may have seemed cool on the outside, I may have been friendly with a lot of people, but I had only a few good/close friends, and even fewer friends after high school.
So, this is what I decided to write about this morning – this weird little band of misfits that I once loved so dearly. They, along with several other bands I’m now too ashamed to mention, have seen me through hard times, and helped me to realize that I’m not so weird. I’m not so different. I’m not the misfit I think I am so much of the time. …Maybe.
That is all.

Nerds And Rockstars

This is my philosophy on high school: you don’t want to peak while you’re in high school.

You don’t.

People who peaked in high school struggle all their lives with that. They are constantly reminiscing about it, remembering the “good ole days”. Once you peak, typically, you have nowhere else to go but down.

However, if you don’t peak in high school, if you wait until your are out of high school, then you have the rest of your life to discover who you are, and who it is that you were meant to be. The geeks and nerds in high school are the geniuses and rockstars of tomorrow. The ones who peaked in high school, are the ones who are lost now…the ones who never really find themselves…the ones who are working at a Texaco somewhere, and hanging out with all their friends from high school. My findings are not conclusive. Sometimes a person can peak and continue to rise, but it’s rare. One could argue that they didn’t really peak at all.

I have imparted this wisdom to both of my children: “It doesn’t matter now, nor will it ever matter, how popular you were in high school. No job will ever be contingent on whether or not you were popular. The goal in high school is to study, learn, grow, do all you can, and then, when you get out into the world, that’s when you shine. Graduation is just a launching pad for life. High school is a time to begin breaking the chains of youth, and begin to realize what you’re here on Earth to do.”

Well, something like that. The funny thing is that both my kids are known in school. People walk up to them all the time and talk to them. They aren’t known for being “popular”, but everyone knows who they are, and people seem to genuinely like them. They know what kind of people they are. Teachers are always saying how great they are. They know (and have told us) that they were happy to see a Schuler on the schedule…that they knew they’d have a great kid in their class. Friends of ours tell us that they admire our kids.

If the only great thing I ever do is send two amazing humans into the world, then I will be happy.

Not even writing can top that.

Not even brownies top that!

A Rant About Alphabetizing

BEWARE: This is a rant. A rant that my family doesn’t want to hear about. (Really. Everyone left the room.) So you get to read about it… You’re welcome.

I just want to say that GO comes before GOAL, GOD, GODDESS, GOOD, GOSH, and ALL OTHER WORDS that have G-O at the beginning.

So, hulu…GET IT RIGHT! When I’m looking up “Go On”, to watch the latest episode, I’m not even going to think to look it up as GOON. I’m going to look up GO, and when I don’t find GO, I’m going to stop looking, and I’m going to be frustrated.
It’s called alphabetizing. It’s something that people do to make it easier to look things up. It is easy to do. You don’t even have to be smart to do it, you just have to know the alphabet. That means that my son could have done it when he was three. If you don’t know the alphabet, then you should let someone else do the job. If you’re relying solely on a computer to do it for you, then you’re an idiot. Never trust the machines, that’s how they will take over.

Related: The person who put ‘go on’ into the computer as ‘goon’, should be fired.

UGH! It’s these little things that should be so easy to do that make me crazy. Because they are easy.

Brain Dump Friday – It Took Me All Day To Get This Done, And I was Still Too Late

Yay! My favorite day of the week. The day when I’m not afraid to let you in. Well, I am, but I don’t admit it. I still unlock the door. Sometimes I wish I were from somewhere else. Kingman, Arizona is not an exciting place. Not that I have to be from somewhere exciting, but if I could have an accent, that would be great. Maybe I’ll just adopt one. Slowly, so no one thinks I’m going crazy, but in a year, maybe I’ll be from England, or…nope, it would have to be England. That’s the only one I’m even remotely good at. Irish would be cool. I’ve got a little bit of Scottish, but I can only say about three sentences…them I’m out. Australian would be great, but I slip into British. I can say one sentence in Indian. India, Indian, not American Indian. What would that sound like? I hope I’m not slipping into some sort of racist area. Obviously I didn’t pay attention when I was a kid… When my Dad was the manager of a business in Kingman, we did lots of business with American Indians. So…British, then. Someone once told me that I sound like I’m from Iowa. I wonder what that means. It probably means I say things like, “I seen…”, and “have you ate yet?”, and “supposably” (sorry Barry), and other grammatical horrors like that. I said something once to Barry and it sounded like I was taking on a Minnesota tone, so I laughed it off, and said, “Oh, my Minnesota is coming out”. He said to me, “You’re not from Minnesota. You’ve only been there three times, you don’t have any Minnesota in you”. He’s right, but it’s there, and sometimes it rears its very ugly head. All my rings are too big. They just come right off my fingers. That means no more hands in my pockets. Actually, I don’t really put my hands in my pockets…unless I have to, but not for random reasons. That sounds crazy. Who puts their hands in their pockets for no reason? I think it’s funny when truly geeky people talk in whatever code it is that they do, and then they expect everyone to understand what they’re saying. Like it’s not gibberish. Does anyone have a big secret? I can keep it. I hate not knowing anything, and trust me when I say, I know a lot less than you think. I promise not to tell. No one’s going to tell me anything…I just thought I’d throw it out there and try. I would also like to solve a mystery. There is a lot of 80’s hair out there. Still. That’s a mystery in itself. All I have to say to that is STOP. IT. NOW. I wonder sometimes what it’s like to have a secret buried in your psyche. Sometimes I wonder if I have one. Probably not. That would be exciting…and like I said, Kingman, Arizona is not an exciting place. It can be assumed, then, that nothing exciting can come from there. That is all.

1985 – The Year I Ruined Christmas

My strongest Christmas memory is one of tears, heartache, and disappointment. All of these were totally my doing, and I’d like to say that it taught me a lesson in honesty and patience. It did, but not right away. I must admit that, at first, it taught me to be better at being sneaky.

I was 10. It was 1985, and it was the last Christmas I spent in the bedroom I’d grown up in. It was small. It still had the nursery curtains up in the windows. They were a bright, indigo blue, and they had colorful animals on them. Elephants, zebras, hippos, giraffes, and the like. The animals were vividly and brightly colored, and they were all the wrong colors…purple hippos, red and pink giraffes, orange elephants, green and yellow zebras, and so on. I blame these curtains, and my parents, for distorting my view of the world from birth.

My dresser was handmade by Daddy, and was painted a deep lime green color. Each of the five drawers was painted a different bright color to coordinate. There were two drawers at the top, one on the left, one on the right, and then three larger drawers below. The drawers were deep, and I never had enough clothes to fill them. Each of the knobs were painted the same lime green as the dresser. My collection of yardsticks, each one different from the others, was hanging on the wall. I had so many, you could hardly see the yellow wall peeking out from behind them. In the corner of the room, there was a vanity, painted the same bright yellow as the walls. Around the mirror at the back of the vanity, there were large, round, globe-like lightbulbs. Underneath the table, was a padded stool. The vanity and stool were both made by Daddy, and were a gift for my birthday earlier that year.

The closet in my room was the only thing that didn’t “fit.” It ran the entire length of the North wall, and had two brown, straight-from-the-factory, BI-fold doors with round, boring, brass knobs. I never used this closet. Come to think of it, I don’t even think I’d ever looked in it. It was my moms’ closet. All of her clothes were in it. Nothing of mine was behind those doors, so I had no reason to look inside.

I was asleep one night, about a week before Christmas, visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, when I was suddenly awakened by my mom shouting, “Damn it!”. Then I heard Daddy say, “Shhh.” I was afraid I’d get in trouble for being awake, so I pretended to be sleeping. I heard the door squeak closed, and Daddy remind her, midway through the squeak, to lift the door so it was quiet. She sighed heavily, and pushed the door so it closed, and then they snuck out.

I stayed awake for some time after my parents left my room. My mind was running wild with thoughts of what they might be doing in there. In my moms’ closet. I finally concluded that it must be laundry, and went to sleep. It didn’t occur to me that it was only a week until Christmas.

The next day, it was haunting me. I asked my friends at school, and it was suddenly clear. It was like a huge ray of sunlight, with sparkly, golden glitter raining down upon me. CHRISTMAS! They were hiding my Christmas presents! Now I had to know!

Since I am an only child, I don’t have much practice at planning great escapades. When you’re the only one to blame, you get all the blame. I needed help. I enlisted my friends. They were my cohorts. They were going to help me plan this, and I was going to find out just what exactly was in that closet.

We planned the whole thing. I would go to bed as usual, and then pretend to be asleep until I heard my parents go to bed, and was sure they were asleep. Daddy would be snoring and my mom always fell asleep to his snoring, so once that started, I’d wait a bit longer, and then I would get up, open the closet door, and shine the flashlight in just far enough to see what was in there. I wouldn’t go in. I would dig around or move anything. I would stand, open the door, shine the light, close the door, and then go to bed.

I got home, and found the over-sized, silver flashlight. I hid it under my pillow. I went into Daddy’s shop and got the WD40. As honorary son, I’d known from an early age, how to fix minor things around the house. Squeaky things needed WD40, and if I didn’t fix the noisy door, they might hear it. I did my chores, finished my homework, and ate all my dinner. I told my parents that I was very tired, and I went to my room.

Daddy asked if I was OK, as he was tucking me in. I said, “Yes.” I had already forgotten about the flashlight under my pillow, so as I lay down, and my head hit my pillow with the excited force that an incredible, deceptive scheme demands, there was a loud ‘CRACK’. I fought the tears that came immediately. Daddy moved my head and pillow, despite my protests and objections, and he took the flashlight. He asked me about it, and I lied. I said that I put it under there so I could read. He scolded me with just a look. I apologized and he put it in his back pocket as he stood up. As he left the room, he asked me what the odd smell was. Again, I lied. “I don’t know.” In my mind, I was begging him to leave the room, but he looked around for a moment, and then he saw it. His eyes shifted back to me with a deep sigh as he noticed the closet doors.

Next to each of the hinges, right where I had sprayed what was clearly too much WD40, there were long, messy drips, and smears where I’d tried to wipe away the smelly lines that were made. The smears and drips were several shades darker than the doors, and my poor workmanship was very, very evident. I quickly tried to explain that the doors were squeaky, and I was trying to help, but I was struggling to get the words out.

He asked me, with a stern face and pursed lips, how I knew the doors were squeaky, unless I’d been in the closet. I protested and said that I hadn’t been in the closet, which was finally the truth, but he didn’t believe me. I couldn’t say that I had heard the doors squeak the night before, and I didn’t have another example of a time when I’d heard them squeaking, so I said that I’d gotten in there a few days ago to find a blanket.

I didn’t know if last night was the first time they’d hidden something in there, but I hoped it was. Then I wouldn’t be in as much trouble.

“That’s not where we keep them, you know that.”

I nodded.

“It’s time for you to get some sleep. Your night is beginning to take a turn for the worse.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

His eyes shot me a rare, disappointed look, and he shut off the light as he left the room, with the flashlight…and another deep sigh.

My head was still throbbing, I had no flashlight, and my room smelled awful. Worse than all of that, my heart hurt, heavy with the lies that I had told. Tears soaked my pillow, but I was still determined to see what was in that closet. By now I’d been through too much.

I awoke around midnight. I could hear Daddy snoring. The house was totally dark. I had to go to the bathroom. In my hurry to get to bed, I had skipped that step. I slept through the nights most nights, so this must have been what woke me up. I went, and while I was in there, I plotted a Plan B, of sorts. I wasn’t sure what to do. It was not nearly as carefully planned as Plan A, but I had to know what was in there. Everyone would be asking the next day, and I couldn’t fail.

I decided I’d have to risk it. I’d turn on the light, and hope for the best.

I went back to my room. We didn’t close doors in my house, ever, so it was no surprise to me that the door wouldn’t close. There was some kind of stopper installed near the hinges that prevented it from closing. All the doors in our house had one, except the two doors that led outside. I pushed the door as far as I could and wondered if it would be enough. There was still about a three-inch gap, but it was the best I could do. I turned on the light, and hoped it wasn’t too bright.

I tiptoed over to the closet, nervous and excited at the same time, like some kind of grand adventure lay before me. It was just a closet, but it was also an unknown, undiscovered land. I had never opened the doors before, and while I was so terrified of getting caught, I knew that there was no stopping now. I would, for better or worse, forge on into a strange and new land.

The first thing I noticed as the door slid open, was that this closet was undeniably my mothers. The scent of Jean Naté roared out at me, and a forest of polyester blouses and pants seemed to flood out toward me. I assumed that they, like the humans that lived in the house, were overwhelmed by the scent, and just trying to escape, or at least breathe. I realized that, while she had the entire closet to herself, she only wore the clothes that were in this first portion of the closet. The closet was full, but the majority of the clothes went unworn. I wondered why. I suddenly stopped myself, remembering that I was on a mission.

I parted the clothes, and imagined for a moment that I was entering the land of Narnia, making my way through the city of War Drobe, in the country of Spare Oom. Reality hit me hard when I heard a noise. My stomach dropped, and I was as sure as I could be that I was caught. “It’s just the heater.”, I said to myself. It didn’t come on often, but when it did, it clanged and clunked…not very loudly, but on this night, when the house was so quiet, and I was on edge already, it was the scariest sound in the world.

I continued on my mission. I hit my knees and began digging. With no flashlight, I decided that I had to immerse myself in the closet. Sooner than I’d even hoped, I struck gold! Books, the sweater I’d wanted so badly, a new pair of shoes, a jacket, with tags, which meant it was new. My last few coats had been hand-me-downs, and this one was new!

In one of the bags, under the coat, was a pink box. As I dug deeper, I saw that the box contained a Barbie Doll. I’d wanted the Peaches and Cream Barbie for my birthday in July, but I didn’t get her. I hadn’t seen another one in the store. I had no idea how my parents had gotten one, but I was so excited. She had a peach colored dress, with a frilly, chiffon skirt, a matching stole made from the same chiffon as the skirt, and a shimmering, opalescent, fitted bodice. Her high-heeled shoes matched perfectly the soft peach of the dress. She even had a diamond ring, necklace, and earrings. I didn’t see anything else as I quickly glanced around the floor of the closet, and I decided that I needed to get back to bed, and I really needed to get that light turned off!

As I placed everything back the way it was, I was careful to make sure that the coat was folded just right, and the books were stacked just as they had been.

I stood up to push the clothes back together, and began to push the doors closed again, when they suddenly jammed and wouldn’t budge. OH NO! If I couldn’t get the doors closed, I’d be found out! My parents would know I peeked, and I’d be in so much trouble. I kneeled once again, and felt around on the floor of the closet. The door was blocking the light, so I couldn’t see what was in the way. “Oh, there it is”, I said to myself, and gave a quick pull and then shove to the box that was in the way, blocking the door from closing, and spoiling my chance to make a clean getaway. I pulled a little too hard and the box tipped over. It was a yellow box with green trim, and an odd shape. It was slightly familiar, but my brain wouldn’t accept what my eyes were seeing. It just couldn’t be! My hearts’ desire was to be an astronaut. I’d seen a commercial a few months before for a new Cabbage Patch Kid…an Astronaut! Could it be? It couldn’t, could it? I hadn’t told anyone, except Santa. I didn’t even believe in him, but I hoped, I took a chance, and I had told him a week before that I wanted one.

I hadn’t believed in Santa for a couple of years now, ever since I climbed into his lap and he smelled like my Dads friend, Steve. He sounded like Steve, too, and he was the first Santa to ever know my name without asking. Even as a child I was so skeptical, and once I stopped believing, there was no convincing me otherwise.

I sat there in disbelief. First, that I had been so silly to ever believe in Santa – since he was really Steve – and second, that there was a yellow and green box in the closet! Did I dare turn it around and look to see if it was the one I wanted so badly? I had to. The surprise was already spoiled, so it didn’t matter now.

I turned the box. I closed my eyes just before I could see, and when I opened them up, she was there! She had a space suit, white moon boots, and a helmet. She had short brown hair and bright green eyes, just like me! The best part? Her name. It was Gwendolyn Victoria. Sort-of close to my name! (which is Victoria Lynn, in case you don’t know that)

Before I knew what was happening, I let out a shriek!

This was the most perfect gift in all the world! This Christmas was going to be better than I’d even hoped!

I wanted to open her box and let her breathe, but I placed her back where she was, or as close as I could get, and slammed the doors. I scurried over to the doorway, whipped open the door, and gasped in horror.

Daddy!

My eyes opened wide with shock and fear. I wanted to launch myself at him, and thank him, and hug him, and at the same time, I wanted to run and hide.

He asked me what I was doing, and I felt my face get really hot. I said I heard a noise. I had heard a noise — the heater, and I got up to see what it was. I turned on my light, but I couldn’t see anything. He asked me if the noise came from the closet, and I thought I was going to melt into a puddle. I said, “No, it must have been the heater.” He raised his left eyebrow at me and asked my why, if I thought I heard the noise in my room, would I then close the door. My mouth went dry. It fell open, and my mind was racing, but before I could answer, he pointed at my bed.

I silently obeyed. I clambered onto my bed, into the sheets, put my head on my pillow, and looked into his eyes one last time. All I saw was my betrayal, and his disappointment. He shut off the light. I didn’t know if I’d been caught or not. How long had he been standing there? Did he see me in the closet? How long had I been in there? How loud was my squeal? I had so many questions. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Still, there was a sense of excitement…knowing that Christmas Day would be the best day ever!

The next day I woke up, and expected to be grilled about the night before, but nothing was said. I knew that, if my mom found out I was in her closet, she’d be very angry. She was very private, and any invasion, no matter how small, of that privacy, was total and complete betrayal.

She never said a word.

Daddy never said a word.

It took most of the day for me to stop walking on eggshells. I was determined not to peek again.

A few days later…

It was Christmas Eve. My parents and I had traveled to the San Diego area to a small town called Alpine. It is located about 20 miles east of San Diego proper. Alpine is completely different from my hometown. It seemed to me to be more like a village. The shops in the shopping center were lit up for Christmas with twinkling lights and beautiful sparkly decorations in each window. Carols were playing over the loudspeakers, and the restaurants were filled with a warm glow. People were friendly, always making sure to wish you a “Merry Christmas.” Everything just felt like Christmas. This town was unlike anywhere I’d ever been.

We were visiting my Uncle Jon, Aunt Penny, and my cousins. Aunt Penny always had her home decorated so beautifully. Gold and silver ornaments hung from her tree. Homemade goodies were in cookie jars and on pretty, decorative plates. Candy could be found in small star, tree, and stocking shaped dishes in almost every room. My Uncle made his famous eggnog, which I was not allowed to sample, and he made sure that there was a quart of eggnog in the fridge for me.

Late at night on Christmas Eve, my Uncle Jon came into my room and woke me up. I was sleeping in his office, on a bright red futon chair that folded out and laid flat on the floor. My parents were asleep in twin beds in the guest room next door. When I was awake, we snuck into the kitchen to get eggnog and make plates of cookies, meat, cheese, and crackers, and then we went out on the porch and sat together and talked. You can do that on Christmas Eve in Southern California…sit on your porch…you know, without dying.

I always felt so grown up when Uncle Jon and I were together. He didn’t talk to me like I was a kid. He used big words without explaining them. He told me stories of travels and trips he had taken. He cursed, and drank, and smoked. He shared his eggnog. I promised not to tell. He and I walked down to the barn, and then on to the guest house. It was almost finished. He was having it fixed up for the new renters moving in the next spring. He wanted to show me the progress. As we walked around the guest house, I imagined myself living there one day. I wondered about what it would be like to have my own kitchen, and make my own meals. And close my own door. I promised myself that I would close all my doors, and keep them closed.

A while later, I’m not sure how long, we walked back to the main house. I went back to my red futon, and he went to his room. He and my Aunt fought a lot, and he usually went to bed long after she’d fallen asleep.

The next thing I remember, my eyes opened to the sunshine pouring into my room. I blinked a few times, my eyes and lashes crusty from sleep, and then it dawned on me.

IT’S CHRISTMAS!

I rushed to go to the bathroom, and then scurried down the hall to the family room. There, underneath the gold and silver tree, was a pile of presents like I’d never seen before. So many packages! All sizes and shapes. Beautiful paper, and ribbons, and bows! My dad was in the kitchen saying something to my Uncle about it being too much, and my Uncle was telling him that it could never be enough. I didn’t know what they were talking about. My dad left the room, and my Uncle held out his arms. He was sitting on a stool at the side of the kitchen island, and I ran over. He already smelled of bourbon and cigarettes. Maybe he always smelled of them, but it was especially strong this morning. I knew that he and my dad had been talking about me.

Too much? Were they talking about presents? All these presents under the tree? Were any for me? I hugged him so tight and he whispered in my ear, “Happy Christmas, Kiddo.” Happy Christmas, Uncle Jon!” I said back. He had spent some time in Europe a couple years before, and he picked up ‘Happy Christmas’ over there. I thought it sounded so grown-up. He smiled his big smile, and told me to “Eat quick. There’s a tree full of presents, and I think a few of them of them have your name on them.” I squealed with delight, and found something to eat. Chocolate chip pancakes. I ate them happily, knowing it was the only meal of the day that wouldn’t have seafood in it. My Aunt always had a traditional Italian feast on Christmas day, and that meant lots of fish. Spaghetti with squid in it, anchovy balls, and baked salmon. Really. I grew to love it, and now I even miss it, but when I was ten, I ate all the pancakes I could fit in…hoping they would fill me for the day.

Waiting has never been my best skill, and my Mom had to go through her entire morning routine before we could do anything. That meant breakfast, shower, too much Jean Naté, getting dressed, and then finally we could open presents. She was still asleep earlier, when I came out of the office, but she was just waking up as I was sitting down to eat breakfast.

About an hour later, it was finally time! Time to open presents!

I got to be Santa and ‘deliver’ all the presents. There was one for my Aunt, one for my Dad, and another for my Aunt. Then one for my Uncle, one for my Mom, and Wheee!, one for me! The best part? It was Uncle Jon’s writing. Another for me. One for my Dad. Another for me. It went on like that through all the presents, until the tree was bare. Each person had a pile of presents in front of them (Except for me. Mine were lined up and grouped together like some sort of early Tetris board) and the opening began. My Mom didn’t like everyone going at the same time. She wanted each of us to take turns, but my Uncle said, “My house, my rules.” He then looked right at me, and with a wink he said, “Get started, Kiddo!” He then explained, while I was opening my first present, that he thought, since I’d been up for over an hour already, I had waited long enough. I remember agreeing with him, and I was on to the next present. I never tore the paper. I always opened them carefully at the taped sections, so that I could save the paper in my drawer at home. My bottom dresser drawer was saved for things I wanted to keep forever. The paper from Uncle Jon’s present was definitely going in there.

Countless books, a beautiful sweater, a new Swatch watch – red, white, and blue to go with my school uniform, nail polishes, lip gloss, and shoes. Uncle Jon had even gotten me a pair of Jellies! Jelly shoes were so popular, and I’d wanted a pair, but my mom said they weren’t sensible, so I couldn’t have them. I never knew my Uncle Jon to be a sensible man. To me he was always wildly outrageous.

I got so many presents that day. All the beautiful things I could have wished for! Then I noticed, every present was from my Aunt and Uncle. There was nothing from my parents. I was so confused. I knew there were presents from them. I saw them. What was happening?

My dad must have noticed that something was wrong. He pulled me aside and asked me if I was upset. I said, unable to look into his brown eyes, “No”, but he continued to push it. We went into the office where I’d been sleeping just a couple of hours before.

After a few minutes of prodding, I broke. I blurted out, “Where are all my presents? I peeked in Mom’s closet. That’s why I had the flashlight, and that’s how I ruined the closet doors. I saw what you got me. I know. I know there were presents for me from you and Mom. Where are they? I mean, I was so excited about them, and they’re not here. I don’t know where they are.”

“So you lied to me?”

My heart sank. It hurt. I lied. I knew I lied. He knew I lied. I was sobbing by now, so devastated. All the lies, and now no presents.

He explained to me that I got nothing because of my lies. He told me that since I spoiled the surprise, and peeked, and then lied about it, I didn’t deserve them. “You shouldn’t be rewarded for that deceit”, he said. My lying and dishonesty cost me what I wanted most. Not only did it cost me presents, but it cost me the trust of my Father. His approval and his trust was everything to me. That meant more to me than any present…even the ones I was supposed to get.

After Daddy left the room, I was broken. I was exhausted from the the crying, but at the same time, I felt free. I was free from the lies I’d told. Free from the fear of my dad finding out I’d lied to him. My head was aching. I unfolded the futon, and collapsed on it. I fell asleep immediately.

I awoke to find my Uncle sitting beside me. He looked at me with a stern look and furrowed brow, one eyebrow cocked up. There was still a twinkle in his eye. His face morphed into a wide, warm grin. His white teeth were beaming from behind a tanned face, breath smelling still of bourbon and a recently smoked Camel cigarette. He asked if I wanted to go for a walk, and I put my hand in his.

We went on a hike covering just a small portion of the 10 acres he owned. Much of it was just brush and rocks, but we made good use of it that day. I told him everything – from the squeak of the closet door when my parents were hiding presents, to the talk Daddy and I had just an hour before.

He had been holding my hand as we walked together. When we got to the top of the rise overlooking the city of San Diego, he stopped us suddenly. He told me that he knew I wasn’t getting anything from my parents, and that he went out to buy me more presents so there would be plenty of things to open. He said he still had something for me, and told me to close my eyes. He had something in his hand. I felt his hand brush my neck, and then something was around my neck. It was warmed by his hands, but still felt cool on my neck. Another present! It was a thin gold chain, with a small filigree heart on it. I’d never owned anything so fragile. Jon always knew how to make me feel better. Usually it was a joke, or a funny story. Sometimes it was dinner out. This time it was a beautiful present. I hugged him tight, and soon I was smiling again.

I was smiling when we returned to the house, and as he walked passed my dad, he simply said, “Right as rain.” Daddy sighed.

Later, Daddy told me that Jon had gone out the day before Christmas Eve to buy more presents for me. It was right after he told Jon about the presents I was no longer getting. I didn’t tell him that Jon already told me. He was angry because he had told Jon not to get me anything else. He asked him, “If you go replace everything, then where’s the lesson in that?” Daddy was always very strict. My Uncle was not. Daddy had a lesson to go with every punishment, and every lecture. I had a feeling that Uncle Jon had already gotten in trouble with Daddy for the presents he bought.

Over the next couple of days, Jon gave me two more presents. Each one given on another outing. A bracelet, and a Cabbage Patch Kid. Not the astronaut, but he was still a wonderful Kid. Stanley Ricky was his name, and he was a football player.

A few days passed, and we were walking back into our house on Sunhaven Lane. Back to the bright yellow walls and crazy curtains in my room. Far away from Uncle Jon, our long walks, and his wonderful surprises. Far away from Aunt Penny’s gold and silver tree. Back to the only home I’d ever known, and its’ thick tension that enveloped me the moment the heavy, black front door opened.

As we walked into the house, I took my bags to my room. I heard my dad call me from the living room, and as I walked into the room, with its’ dark, paneled walls, and cold tile floor, the Christmas tree we had put up before we left for California, was lit, and underneath it, were several packages wrapped with bright-colored Christmas paper.

I looked at Daddy, and he said, “You’ve suffered enough. Merry Christmas!”

It was, despite the tears and the lies, one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. I’ve taken the lessons I learned that year with me throughout my life, in many different situations.

My parents continued to hide presents in that closet each year until we moved to California. After that, I have no idea where they put them.

I never, ever peeked at my Christmas presents again.

Gwendolyn (The CPK astronaut doll, in case you forgot by now, because this story is, like, forever long) and I were together not even a month, when we were sitting on the sofa at Mrs. Macklin’s house. My whole class had pneumonia, we were all studying at her house, watching the Space Shuttle take off. I was sitting there, in her living room, staring at the television, when, to my horror (and Gwendolyn’s), the Shuttle exploded right before my eyes. I stopped wanting to be an astronaut soon after that. Not because of the explosion, but because someone told me that I’d have to do lots science and math to become an astronaut, and that, my friends, is unacceptable. I don’t do math. Well, not hard math.

Brain Dump Friday – Nerdneck Edition

When I was younger, being called a ‘nerd’ was the worst thing that could happen. I typically didn’t care what people thought of me, but I cared what they said. My friends knew who I was. I would have rather read The Hobbit than Little Women. Who wouldn’t? I mean seriously…amazing adventure, the ability to travel to other worlds-to be a part of such a grand story, the unbelievable descriptions alone…or a book about sisters, which I didn’t have, so why would I want to read a book about them? (FYI: I have read the book, and it’s fine, but I still prefer The Hobbit) Now, I wish I hadn’t been so afraid of the label. Now I think it’s cool to be a nerd. Now I own it. Of course, I’m not a nerd like Sheldon (If you don’t know who that is, then you’re not a nerd…not in the slightest). I am not anything like that. I don’t have infinite knowledge of a million things. I don’t know every little thing about superheroes. Ok, maybe I’m not a ‘total nerd’, but I enjoy nerdy things. And NASCAR. I enjoy NASCAR. I guess that probably makes a little redneck. I’m a nerdneck! HA HA! And I like spy stuff. I actually LOVE spy stuff. Spy movies, spy gadgets, the spy lifestyle (to a point). I also love hallways. I live (finally) in a house with a hallway. Come to think of it, I have two hallways. Never, in my wildest dreams…well, ok, that’s a little bit over-the-top, but I do like having two hallways. I also love car chases. I wish I new where to find really cool tones for my phone. Like alerts and stuff. I’ve looked in all the regular places, and I don’t want to buy them. Ugh. I use the defaults because they are the least annoying. I did get a Dubstep Remix of Auld Lang Syne that’s pretty amazing. I’m probably not going to be a nerd after this admission, but I’m not that fond of the Star Wars tones. I mean, yeah, they’re cool and all that, but…I don’t know how to finish this statement, so I won’t. Several months ago, I bought the best Yoda ringtone, but it’s so quiet, I can’t hear it. I hate getting lied to about stuff. Some guy just showed up at my door, in white boots with some serious tread, a black jacket, stocking cap (I think it was advertising snowboarding equipment) and his face full of more holes that God intended (I’m totally fine with one or two more, but he had about seven more). And the best part (aside from the white boots—->WHITE boots! On a dude.)…camo Hammer pants. You have to be old like me to know what those are…if you’re not, then skip it. I don’t want to explain. He wanted me to buy some steaks that a “long-time customer could not buy today”, and now he claims to be stuck with them, and he said he was willing to deal. I don’t want to deal. I pretended to be sick. I do a stuffy nose impression pretty well, and I pulled it out of retirement. He should be thanking me for getting to witness such an Oscar-worthy moment. Anyway. I guess, maybe, it’s not a lie, but it’s the same reason I’ve been hearing for years about why I need to buy the meat, and why he’s willing to deal. Note to door-to-door companies: Find another reason to stop by! Invest in some marketing. I won’t feel bad for a stranger who is trying to sell me something. My husband is in sales, and while he’s always been honest, I know lots of people aren’t. Besides, we finally got rid of the Schwans guy. I don’t want to start something like that up again. (ok, actually, our Schwans guy, Dave, was in a horrible, possibly disabling car accident, and since we weren’t technically on the route, no one knew to come back, but that’s not the point. Point is, that I wanted him to stop coming around for a long time, but he was so nice, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. We were practically friends with this guy. Ok, so there you go. Proof that I’m a wimp. Proof that once I get to know you, I have a hard time saying no to you. <— Don’t go around telling people I have a heart. It will ruin my rep as a badass. I feel the need to apologize for that word, but I’m pretty sure that being one means I cannot say “sorry” for typing it.)  There are four words in this post that my computer doesn’t like. Camo (I don’t want to spell it out). Nerdneck (I made it up). Schwans. Dubstep (I am still not exactly sure what this is, but it sounds cool). That last one was an argument used on me a long time ago as to why they listened to Eminem. (The music is so cool, I don’t pay attention to the words) There is a very technical word for that. Bologna. That is all.