Budget sacrifices

We have a couple gifting occasions coming up this summer. Normally I don’t give it a whole lot of thought – if it’s a wedding I go to their registry, pick something out, order it, ship it, done. If it’s a baby shower, I do the same thing. If it’s a baby announcement, though, I like to go to some baby explosion store and buy some cute wearable. Because it’s a baby and they have amazingly cute, tiny things. And it’s remains a novelty for me to shop for tiny things.

Essentially, I make giving gifts all about me in the convenience and fun factor. Plus buying from a registry ensures the couple or parents get what they want or need, and the post delivery baby gift selection is typically functional as well as ridiculously cute. At my core I am pretty practical.

I never think about whether I’m being cheap or anything else. I typically have a budget range in mind that depends on who the person is in my life, their own circumstances, etc. In my mind gifts should be given and accepted graciously with little or no thought to cost. Of course, I am a complete Pollyanna who truly believes it is the thought that counts.

Lately here, discussion in my own life about weddings and baby showers are coming up more and more, and there seems to be a great debate over how much to spend on a gift. With 2 kids having weddings last year, apparently I should be more in the know about this stuff? Nope, not this mom of both a bride and a groom. The kids are adults, capable of handling their own gifting and financial affairs, and frankly the biggest concern I had was being the mother of “those kids” who did not write their thank you notes in a timely manner. Thankfully, both of mine got theirs done within a month of their weddings.

Sorry friends, I’m the last person you know to ask if a gift makes you look cheap. If you put some thought – even if the extent of the thought was to check their registry and select something – it counts. A few years back a client’s son was getting married and when I checked the registry, a single piece of their china was over $100, crystal was expensive as well. I felt weird giving a coffee cup or salad plate, so I wandered over to towels and such and purchased a set of towels that happened to be on sale. It was a registry item; obviously that’s what they wanted. I didn’t blow my budget and got them something they indicated they desired. My work is done.

This comes up periodically because I work with younger folk, many with a lot of student loan debt hanging over their heads and influencing their choices in jobs and career pathways. Something like gifts for a wedding and a shower can be major budget busters. One of my associates was recently asked to be a bridesmaid. She immediately said yes but is now having serious reservations about the idea once she began adding up the costs. There is an engagement party, so that means a gift. A shower gift, a wedding gift, the dress and shoes and jewelry, the bachelorette party, and it’s also a destination wedding. Ugh. I would have been tempted to say no to the invitation out of budget constraint, but I’m also middle aged and if my friends are getting married now, they are more far less concerned with the modern day wedding experience.

When is enough I wonder? I don’t know. I had the minimalist experience with my daughter last year and then the more modern tradition with my son. Both turned out beautifully and all parties are happy. My daughter had the small courthouse wedding she wanted, my son and daughter-in-law had the wedding of the decade (it was so much fun). The work leading up to the bigger wedding event was enormous, but that was what they wanted, so that’s what they had. I think they did a good job of managing costs and expectations, but it was still an expensive event. I also think it helps enormously that G and K are reasonable people – no -zillas that I saw or heard about – and were able to work with their friends to make the important parts of the wedding happen.

But I still know a lot of folks who worry about appearances. I suggest to my peeps that living within your means always looks good, but when you are a young attorney saddled with debt, most people only look at the profession and make the assumption that passing the bar automatically equates to healthy salaries. Perhaps, but when you factor in long hours, living expenses, and the burden of 5 to 6 figure students loan debt, they healthy salary sudden feels a lot like minimum wage.

This does not mean feel sorry for the well educated young professional, they have such a rough life. But it does mean that their lives are not so rapturously golden because they have a law degree and a professional job.

Once upon a time I was a budget coach, in that I helped people figure out their income and expenses and all the live they were presently living and really could not afford. It was some of the worst and most painful work of my life. Going through it myself was bad enough; trying to help people understand that their “needs” did not equate to cable television, 2 cars (with car payments), new electronics every year, etc. was a huge challenge. Once they realized they would have to give up most of if not all of their wants to pay down their debt, they wanted to get out debt as quickly as possible, which meant unsustainable budgets and more month than money and having to hit the credit card again for basic living expenses.

It was an ugly cycle.

I rarely do that kind of thing anymore. Dave Ramsey has getting out of debt pretty well covered if someone is serious about taking those steps. But chatting with my associate and her stress about the minimal expenses and bridesmaid obligations saddens me. Her heart is in the right place, her friend is her best friend since childhood. But the expenses are going to pile up and she is not going to be able to afford a cup of coffee for the next 7 months unless she diverts any bonuses (90% of which have been used to pay down her student loans) for the wedding expenses.

At least she has options; few people get work bonuses. Small comfort when she is trying so desperately to relieve herself of the debt burden.

Hard choices, difficult conversations ahead. But no, I don’t think she looks cheap for not wanting to spend thousands to be in her dear friend’s wedding. And yes, I do think her friend should understand if she says she cannot afford to be a bridesmaid and attend a wedding in Hawaii. If anything, I wish everyone were as disciplined and as driven to break out of debt enslavement. Law school was worth it, and student loans felt like her only choice at the time. I don’t care about that; what’s done is done. But I very much respect her smart choices now and the sacrifices that may have to be made to slay that dragon.

I am very proud of her, no matter what happens next. I advised she be true to herself, her values and priorities. True friends will understand or work with her to make it happen.

The view from the gym floor

Since no training session and no recap today, I seem to have had some other blog pondering to share today, as this is post number 3 for today. No matter; it’s Thursday and even with trainer J’s absence, it is kind of weird and difficult for me not to write something about my exercise excursions.

To start off with, the parking lot was practically empty. The section where I usually leave my car – there were 2 vehicles parked right next to the curb and the rest of the spaces were empty. None of the usual sprinkling of cars at 6 a.m. this morning. If I thought it was light yesterday, I thought the club must be close to empty today. And for the most part, members were very few and far between. I was actually a little disappointed, because I woke up this morning with a stuffy nose and mildly sore throat and was not much in the mood to do a full lower body sequence. Instead I went through my dumbbell matrix and stability ball core Lists, technically a light practice for me, and called it a day.

I have been doing more yoga classes over the course of the last 2 weeks. My usual 2, sometimes 3 morphed into 8 in 10 days, and Monday when my bag was stolen – with my sweat shirt and shoes in it – I ran to the car in my bare feet and damp yoga clothes (capris and a thin tank top) in the cold temperatures. When I got home M asked why I didn’t call him to bring shoes and jacket, and I replied that my phone and wallet were locked in my car, but thankfully I always keep my keys and glasses with me in the hot room. Then he says, “No one else had a phone, there was no landline at the facility?” I admitted being so distraught over the theft that I had not thought of that. Perhaps I deserve to feel slightly under the weather for having a mild case of idiocy or temporary insanity.

No matter – I decided this morning that I will not be attending another yoga class until after Christmas. I have been perhaps pushing myself a bit too hard, with work, socializing, my usual exercise in the morning, and not shaving sleep so much as not sleeping well. Part of my reason for pushing myself on the yoga has been to support my daughter-in-law in the 60 day challenge our studio will be presenting next month. I personally cannot do 60 classes in 60 days, but I had committed to trying to do a few more during the period. However, she has now accepted a part-time gig starting in January and also cannot devote the time to this endeavor, so I am off the hook. The gym and my resistance exercise will always be my highest priority, the yoga practice a pursuit that interests me in how it will enable me to go farther in my resistance training. I like it well enough, but I do not love or appreciate it the way I do my gym practices and training sessions.

Practice this morning went fine, although I did lose my balance on one posterior reach and fall down. Nothing injured, except perhaps my pride, and even that was barely bruised. I was nearing the end of the series and fatigued, having done the core work first. Next time I should probably do the dumbbell matrix first and then the stability ball, since it is on the floor from the get go.

The sore throat and congestion have not gotten worse through the day, and my suspicion is that the stripping the remaining layer of grass from the front yard is the source my sinus issues. I’m going to bed earlier tonight and to the gym a bit later tomorrow, so it should be a more typical lower body practice for me. But if it’s mostly empty tomorrow, I may sneak in some of my other favorite things that are not on the lower body List, just because I can. If I am not feeling it, I will run through this one again and have another light day. As long as get there and do something I feel fine about my effort.

I expect the next couple of days will be pretty quiet in gym-land. All good for me; I can dawdle and ponder and think about what I am doing, what I am feeling versus what I should be feeling, without someone loitering as if waiting for me to finish. That happened yesterday and from a gent I see nearly every day I am in the gym. He never said a word, but I got the strongest sense he was waiting for the Freemotion machine I was using. And I was actually very proud of myself for not growing self-conscious about monopolizing equipment and packing up and moving on before completing my List. My practice is just as important as whatever he was pursuing, and to me, even more so. He could wait. Progress.

Today was our potluck at work, and plus a self-employment client dropped off some work and a gift. I swear I have and associate with the most generous business people in the whole freaking world. The gift cards, the gifts – so much stuff! I am not at all ungrateful, but a lot of it M and I cannot or will not utilize, so I readily regift to others. My son and K, trainer J, even some of my work associates. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I have my own hierarchy of regifting swag received throughout the year. I console myself that J, G, K, RD, and a few others are now well fed, well hydrated with adult beverages, and over-caffeinated for at least a little. Even C and A over in Florida – if something they like crosses my path and they have one in Tampa, off in the mail it goes.

The holiday season is going proceeding. While not feeling especially Christmas-y this year, I am very grateful and very happy with the abundance we have and to be able to share freely with others. Our lives are very rich, something we do not and I hope never ever take for granted.

Looking forward to a work-from-home day tomorrow, since the law firm is closed. I would say looking forward to sleeping in as well, but anymore, “sleeping in” means 6 a.m. versus my usual 4 a.m. Ah well. An extra 2 hours is cushy luxury indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

A rare Friday night practice, friend J baby gift shopping, medical scheduling

I wrote this post last night after getting home from the gym, but then I forgot to hit the publish button.  

Since I could not drag my sorry ass out of bed on time this morning, I made an alternative plan to go to the gym tonight instead. It’s an unusual enough of an occurrence to warrant its own post.

I figured, at least since I am going in the evenings, I would not cross paths with the weirdo member who races around the group fitness room barefoot. And thankfully I didn’t. But apparently I am still sensitive enough to the change in atmosphere to be bothered by the different vibe of a Friday evening. Or maybe it’s just the day’s food digesting that made me feel weird about the experience. Or both. Nothing really wrong, no one bothered me, but I was upstairs doing Monday’s new leg routine and it just seemed off kilter to me.

Because I am such a creature of habit, this was outside my comfort zone. And I was not particularly enamored with it. And for the first time in months, thoughts of disconnecting from my routines drifted through my head. I recognize it for what it is – a flare-up of my gym crazy – and I also know that returning to my roots of my regular practice schedule will cure me of such thinking and feelings. There is a tiny bit of disappointment, though, because I thought for sure I was past all that by now. Apparently not.

Since I was upstairs anyway, I had an opportunity to read J’s trainer bio posted on the wall. This many months of training and practice and this is the first time I have actually stopped and read what it says. I actually think he may have written it himself, because it sounds just like him when we first met and started working together. Seems like another lifetime ago right now.

Earlier today I had numerous telephone calls with friend J, having a social event crisis back east. Seems one of his best gym buddies and his wife are expecting their first child and having a coed baby shower this weekend. Friend J was in Babies R Us looking for a gift and called me seeking advice. I said, are they registered? Yes, but everything is checked off the registry. Okay, how about a gift card? He does not want to get a gift card this time; he wants to buy an actual gift. Okay, how about some diapers and a gift card? Diapers are good – what’s the best brand? Me, putting phone away from my ear and frowning at it, then putting it back to my ear and reminding him that G will be 30 next year, and while I myself may seem pretty damn ageless, it’s been quite a few years since I utilized disposable diapers. Friend J starts reading labels to me of the various brands. Is the most expensive one the best, he asks? Deep breath, I ask him if there is anyone else shopping in the store? Yes, he says, a couple of ladies with babies. I suggest he ask one of them which brand they use, because they will have a preference. But they’ll think I’m weird, he says, or worse. Turn on the charm, I say; tell them you are a terminal bachelor, never going to be a father yourself, and throw yourself on their mercy and beg, nicely, for their assistance. They will be unable to resist and want to adopt him. As an immediate afterthought, I ask him to have them take a photo of him with the diapers and send it to me. Friend J, terminally childless friend J, in a Babies R Us buying diapers, probably for the first time in his entire life. PRICELESS!

Needless to say, he was not amused by my request.

An hour later there is a text. Diapers purchased. Employee wrapped them for him, even put the fancy tissue in the gift bag. But he still did not want to get them a gift card for shopping, because new baby, shopping seems like the last thing they want to do. What else should he get?

Rather than banging my head against the desk, I had had an hour to think about this secondary inquiry, because I knew it was coming and was ready with an answer. Meal delivery services – surely they have them in your area? A gift card for that would be wonderful for brand new, sleep deprived parents.

I am a genius, he says, and another half hour passes before he texts me yet again to say he has secured the gift card for a meal delivery service of 2 weeks of dinners where they can pick what they want on the internet and order it, have it delivered, and then just heat the entree in the microwave. Perfect, I agree. But of course, he will be lapping up the kudos tomorrow at this baby shower, and I’m absolute fine with that; I have built an entire career on making other people look good. Thankfully the disquieting impact of discussing baby shower gifts with my child-free friend was finally over.

And finally, dealing with Kaiser and their crazy scheduling protocol is shortening my life. Maybe that’s how they keep their insurance more affordable – they drive their members so insane they stop trying to utilize services.

After 5 phone calls and 2 messages to and 3 replies from my doctor, I finally got a supervisor and myself scheduled next Thursday for my biopsies. They did offer me sooner appointments, but for goodness sakes, if I go at 8:45 in the morning I am like done for the balance of the day. I would like to be somewhat productive, so I really wanted a late, later, latest afternoon appointment. Best I could do was 3:10 on Thursday, so I took it. I would have vastly preferred 4:10, but I guess they do not schedule that late. But the way things have gone thus far, I will not be surprised to be still waiting in the ugly gown at 4:10.

There are worse things, I’m sure. At least I have that off my to-do and onto my calendar. M starts to tell me he has something else planned that day, but hastened to assure me that he would cancel or reschedule, because it is recommended that I have a driver. The marital death glare is a thing; M does not see it often, but he is a smart guy and knows it when he feels it.

 

The gambling fun in my life

I have a pretty solid core group of friends. They do not turn up here in the blog much, because our lives and times are pretty sedate and suburban by most standards. We are married, or involved in committed relationships, or serial monogamist daters. We have grown children, aging parents, jobs, aches, pains, and the headaches that come from being a maturing woman in a youth-obsessed society. And it’s all good.

We also do not get together nearly often enough, and when we do, raucous laughter and off-color queries, ponderings, and stories happen. Marriage, dating, relationship, children, family, work tales are both brilliantly touching and painfully, hilariously awful. Our children are afraid, very afraid, that their friends may be working in the restaurants where we meet and overhear snatches of our conversations. My son has told me on more than one occasion that his ears cannot unhear some of the stuff he’s overhead walking to the bathroom when he lived at home and I was hosting these friends. I shrug and welcome him again to the being an adult. Moms have these completely separate lives that do not involve carpools and sitting in the bleachers at track meets and band concerts or working in the snack bar as part of the sports boosters dues; we do a lot more than cooking and cleaning and laundry.

Secretly, I think my kids are both pleased that I am not a conventional mom-like parent. While they might never openly admit it to me, I believe they are relieved M and I do not sit at home and wait for real old age paralysis to overtake us.

Anyway, probably a month ago we were hanging out doing the summer bbq thing with our husbands and significant others and talking about summer vacation plans, etc. One of my friends was heading to Europe for a combination of work and vacation and would be meeting up with friend J. Now, once upon a time they had a brief relationship/fling, but that ended and they kinda/sorta remained friends. Friend J only visits us a couple of times per year, and my gal-pal has admitted feeling weird about hanging out when he visits. It’s not so much the relationship ended poorly, because he is always honest with women about his intentions and feelings (or lack thereof), but she fell a little harder than she anticipated. Things have mellowed out between them as the years (about 6 since the fling ended) have passed, but I was still kind of surprised they made plans to get together. In Switzerland.

We ladies were joking around and is our custom, began a friendly wager as to what would happen between these attractive single, consenting adults during their time together in Europe. Both of them said it’s not like that – we’re just friends and are going to hang out, see the sights, eat good food, drink good liquor, listen to good music, yada yada yada. And much my cleaner minded posse of gal pals all believed them and bet against me and anything more intimate happening than sharing a bottle of wine. Buy-in minimum was $100, which would be split among the winners.

Now, being the 2 involved, my very reasonable, conventional other friends assumed they could control themselves at best, or would lie about it afterwards at worst (suckers!). But when they were both incommunicado for an entire weekend, I knew I would be collecting this week. And collect I have.

Best part is both parties involved confess to having enjoyed really excellent time together and remain cordial friends. Well, maybe not the BEST part … I love my cash and prizes and bragging rights … but a really close second.

Since I was solo winner, I cleaned up. I requested cash and merchandise, please, because just cash is kind of boring. So, I received a box of Godiva chocolates, a lovely assortment of Sherrie’s Berries (chocolate dipped strawberries – so yummy!), a 6-pack of Guiness, a bottle of Fireball, a bottle of dom perignon, and some sort of scotch that I have actually never heard of but assume is really tasty stuff. All delightful gifts that I promptly turned around and regifted to others to great surprise and delight. The chocolates and strawberries, while my absolute favorites, are like heroin to my system and had to be given up because they are not foods on my eating list right now. If I have learned nothing else this last year it is that I simply cannot even start on the sugar or it will take weeks to overcome that addictive response if I have even a taste of it. My entire office loves and adores even more now. The Fireball goes to my son-in-law (his favorite drink), the champagne is for G and K and honeymoon celebrating, and the scotch and the beer are in a goodie bag for trainer J. The actual cash is going toward my next block of training sessions.

So all good, all fun, all around.

And lest you feel sorry for my poor friends, I have been on the losing side of such wagers many times through the years. This was just my turn to win, and it was such a slam dunk I was actually quite surprised there even was a wager. But oh well. This is my week to be feted with gifts that I give back to others, so it feels super swell.

Now I just cannot wait for the Saturday night to get together and hear all about my friend’s trip in more detail. And since I won, I’m probably buying dinner. But that’s okay; I am a gracious winner.

It truly is the little things in life that make it fun, interesting, and such a delight. Another year passes, another little wager, and fun is had by all involved. Friends like these beautiful ladies breathe so much life to my very rich life, and I cherish all of them.

Musings about celebratory occasions and gifting

Today is RD’s last day at his present job. We had lunch – Chipotle, his favorite place – and I put together a little care package/thank you/going away gift for him. Mostly it is silly things representing things we have talked about through the months and that I know he enjoys. Since he is a dietician, it was a food tower goodie bag. Some of the items were not carried at my local grocery store, so thank goodness for Amazon prime. With each item I attached a personal note to put it into context through our 6 months of knowing one another and to express my thanks for all he has done for me and how meaningful his friendship continues to be.

Tomorrow marks a year since I first met trainer J and began my life-altering training odyssey. I will admit the date sort of snuck up on me – for whatever reason I was thinking it was July 30. But no, research back through a year of appointments says it was June 30. This week, along with RD’s package, I pulled together a pre-planned celebratory event thing for J as well. It was not that difficult; all but one of the pieces was already in my possession. In the end, my gift was a set of 11 magnetic poetry sets with a different theme word for 11 of the 12 months – July/August 2015 got one box because we got off to a slow start between my crazy brain and jury service. I knew where the sentiment for the personalized cards would come from. It just took a couple of days to finish it and get it wrapped just-so. Presentation is supposed to be important, and I was pleased with the final product. Not the prettiest packages I have or will have ever wrapped – using handled shopping bags from various places is not precisely celebratory and festive. But they get the job done expediently. While M was not especially impressed with my wrappings, he did think the innards worked beautifully.

They were well received – I got very sweet texts from J and from RD. And the contrast between my thoughts and feelings not that long ago and now? Then I would have been stressed about how it was received and apologetic and making excuses for not being better somehow. Now I understand that who I am is not a terrible, desperate, needy person and can clearly see that the wrapping was not uber festive, the sappy sentimentality could be misconstrued or have been uncomfortable, and my handwriting is very elegant. But so what? Truly, for me it is all about the thought about our shared experiences and how truly thankful I am for them as individuals.

The process of creating these personal, specialized gifts got me thinking about the whole gift giving and receiving process. Granted these are paraprofessional relationships within my village and the “events” are not necessarily traditional gifting occasions, but oh well; I am not a traditional gifting kind of person anyway. However, putting these together, I started to wonder if this was more about the recipient or about me, the giver? Is the ostentatious presentation all about me or am I truly trying to honor what have become meaningful friendships in my life?

I laugh when I realize the fine hand of negative girl expressing concern about ostentatious presentation. I waited until parting after lunch to hand RD his goodie bag, and I snuck trainer J’s into his open gym bag right in front of him and joked about how sly I am becoming. In truth if I could have left it on their doorsteps and run away after ringing the bell I might have tried it, because the last thing I would ever want to do is embarrass someone else (or myself) with my sappy sentimentality. Both these men have done a lot for me in the course of their professional career pursuits, and the results are delightful and well beyond any expectations I might have had when we began. With J’s package in particular, the story that unfolded over the course of the last year packed quite a punch for me. While I was there and participated in the process of slowly and steadily making the inroads to where I am right now, it was rather startling to see it laid out there on white index cards in multicolored ink. The words were derived or even copied directly from emails and texts sent to friends and confidants through the months, and I was both humbled and awed to see my progress encapsulated in a few carefully chosen words.

While they are the ones with neat little packages and carefully selected sentiments, I am the one who is feeling particularly fortunate, blessed, and opulently rich from past and future opportunities for learning experiences and sharing with them. In this instance, while I am the giver of gifts I am also a bountiful and grateful recipient. What I handed RD and J today was something a little silly and especially designed just for and all about them and experiences shared, but really, it is also all about me. And in this instance, I believe it is okay. Because it does and has taken a village to get me this far.

Before our present day world with social media and a 24/7 news cycle I used to wish people were more open and more genuine about what they think, how they feel. Growing up as I did, able to count on a single hand and still have fingers left over how many times my parents ever said they loved me in words, I resolved to be a different type of person. I would be sincere in my emotional expression, and I would do my best to ensure those I care for, respect, like and love knew how I felt, how much I appreciate them. While it is not an anomaly in my nuclear family, I find it is still an oddity in the world at large. More than once my genuine, authentic self has been judged as or accused of unauthentic fakery. And it truly saddens me. Not to the point of being completely cynical and shutting down that side of my personality, but I am slightly more cautious and careful in expressing myself until I can be certain that they will not misconstrue or be uncomfortable with my brand of open and honest going forward.

Once upon a time, an acquaintance told me that anything said or done in the right spirit would never be offensive. A thoughtful platitude, one I wish were genuine and true in the modern world. The problem occurs to me that MY right spirit could be very different than YOUR right spirit; such is the way of our world.

But within my village, in my small corner of the world, thankful sentiments from my whole heart are genuine and celebrated by me. And I am glad that my right spirit is in sync, or at least understood, by my village as well as my friends near and far. My family – they know I march to the beat of some unknown drummer; it’s part of my charm.

All is happy, all is well in my world. And while it is still too freaking hot outside, the sunny and warm inside me and radiating outward is nice in its current 24/7/365 state.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Valentine’s day follow-up

I am at my employment job today despite it being President’s Day – small businesses seem to vary on whether or not this is a holiday. Here, it’s considered a prep and a clean-up day, plus the staff get some extra surprise on their paychecks on Friday. Who knew?

This is also my first Valentine’s day with this firm and its staffers. Of the 14 here, there are 4 married, 5 in relationships of some low (1 to 2 years) to medium (2 to 5 years) level of duration, and the rest trying to date in hopes of finding a compatible someone or just dating casually. What surprises me is the number in-the-doghouse or partners in-the-doghouse over V-day gifts – or in one case lack thereof – and special plans or celebrations yesterday. My astonishment was more about the obvious breakdown in communication over the gifts/no gifts, plans/no plans and expectations contained therein. This is most definitely NOT relationship advice merely the stating of common sense from a genuine non-romantic woman:

  • If you tell your special someone V-day is Hallmark holiday and you have no expectations of gifts or anything else, please do not crucify your partner over not getting a card or a gift or making some sort of special plans for the day. While this applies exclusively to the ladies in my realm today, it is true for both genders.
  • If you do get something for your sweetie, make it a thoughtful gift he/she will enjoy. And in this I am not thinking much less saying spend lots of cash or buy only expensive gifts (if that’s part of the expectation equation, you may be with the wrong person or have set a bad precedent from the beginning). Maybe take an old page from M’s book and do a little something every day leading up to V-day, at which time you present the perfect card you thoughtfully selected. Honestly, just a little advance planning can make all the difference. This one is for the gents in my office, but again, no double standards here.
  • If the relationship is new or casual, keep expectations low or better yet, talk about it in advance and set some boundaries and limits on gifts, should you choose to go that route. I always think holidays, even Hallmark holidays, are meant to be fun occasions, not the angsty drama I am experiencing all around me today.
  • And finally, how big or how little fanfare your partner makes about the trappings and celebration of V-day is not an indication of how much or how little he/she cares for you. What should matter and carry all the weight is how that is expressed the other 364 days of the year.

I actually feel a little bad for my crew, but being the pragmatist that I am it astounds me that this level of drama could occur among this very smart, caring, clear communicating group.

Swag and sadness: booze, sugar, more booze

I feel a little guilty and a lot sad this Saturday before Christmas.

For various reasons, I receive a lot of gifts from clients and vendors this time of year. There are foodie baskets as well, but primarily it’s boxes of chocolates, cookies, booze, more candy, sugar, and way more booze. This year we also came home with a couple of cases of wine from Christmas party raffles. The only two people in the place drinking soda or ice water and we win cases of wine.

Whenever possible I share the chocolates, cookies, foodie baskets with the staff. They all appreciate my generosity. However, when it comes to the bottles of wine or liquor, I am pretty much on my own. It strikes me as unethical to share it with coworkers, many of whom receive their own bottles of hooch. Since M and I are not drinkers, we end up cooking with a small portion of the white wines (M loves his wine, butter, and garlic sauces) and giving the rest to the kids or other friends who are not wine and liquor snobs.

Every year a former client and good friend gives me a nice bottle of Macallan and a box of dark chocolates. He knows I don’t drink. He knows I am diabetic. He doesn’t care, says that every “girl” needs to have at least a couple of vices to stay interesting, and I remain very interesting despite or maybe because of my avoidance of vices. A sweet man who does his damnedest to make me think he’s a lecherous old coot. I saw through him years and years ago, when I was still a young up-and-comer of 32.

We had lunch last week and caught up on events of our lives. He does not look well, and confirms his heart is not what it was when he was a mere lad of 70 when he first met me rather than a mature man of 92 he was that day. He said this could potentially be our final Christmas lunch together. I did not want to hear it, believe it, or even consider it, but I was forced to be realistic about the march of time.

He is exceptional company, asked after my family and marveled at my young adult children and their partners and M’s ongoing commitment to his running. We chatted about his fishing, books he is reading, books I am reading and should be reading, his nephew and his wife who help organize his activities and care and how they drive him crazy. Said with a smile and with love, because I know he loves them and appreciates all they do to keep his life running smoothly. Yet I also know the impact of being a very sharp and active mind inside an aging body is taking a toll. His driver and caretaker was kind enough to leave us for our meal and gift exchange – his usual gifts for me and my usual batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Since his wife died 20 years ago I have been making a batch for him every Christmas and every birthday, and he’s kind and gracious and hugely flattering by saying every year that they taste better than all others outside when his wife was alive and baking for him.

When we were parting, he gave me another gift for Christmas, said it was special and asked me to not open it until he died or Christmas day, whichever came first. I was really touched, and told him I’d be calling him Christmas morning when I opened it. He chuckled and took my hand, kissed the back of it in his courtly way, and told me I had come to mean so much to him through the years and he has always been so proud to refer to me bratty girl child he never really wanted until he met me. I was truly moved, and there were tears in my eyes as I kissed his cheek and hugged him goodbye. He winked and told me to be good, he’d be watching, and then his caretaker closed the car door and they drove away.

He died peacefully in his sleep last night. While I was at the gym this morning, his nephew called and left me a voice mail letting me know.

I opened the special gift he gave me. We don’t even have our tree up yet and it’s the only Christmas-wrapped thing in our entire house. I just have not been in the spirit this year and am now so very sad.

The gift was a string of pearls that he gave his wife on their 5th wedding anniversary. I remember her wearing them our last Christmas lunch before she died and know how much they meant to him. He wrote me a note how their value was primarily sentimental, and while I profess to be the least sentimental person in the country, he knew I would wear and enjoy them for many years to come, all the while thinking and remembering them both. He confessed to reading and following my blog, too, and said again how proud he was of me.

I broke down completely into sobbing grief. Me heart is breaking and I cannot change a damn thing about this situation; death is so damn final.

The bottles of Macallen he would give me every year I used to give to another dear friend from my Price Waterhouse days. He loved it, and me for sharing it. But this year, when I went to give it to him last night, his new fiancé said “they” (read: she) feel it inappropriate for me to be giving her fiancé such nice bottles of liquor. Now, this guy and I have been friends for a very long time, and I have been giving him those bottles of Macallen for more than 20 years. I am also happily married, M was standing right there when I went to give it to him, and she says something so … well, so WEIRD. Granted we do not know her well – this was only the second time we’ve met her. M tried to make light of it, asked our friend if he was on the wagon, and he just smiled wanly and thanked us for dinner and such without ever responding directly.

The rejection sort of stung, but M says new couple, new rules, assuming they actually make it to the alter. I was kind of comforted by that, yet still really irritated.

So the bottle of Macallen went to trainer J in a care package this morning. There was also a 6 pack of beer (I think it was beer, anyway) and a couple of other bottles of wine that failed to be claimed the great swap we had last night. And a box of cookies someone brought for us and that M and I cannot be alone with in the house.

This in addition to previous care bags of tequila, vodka, more wine. *sigh*

Hopefully he does not hate me for it someday.

When I decided trainer J should be the lucky recipient of this bottle, I had no idea if he even drinks that particular type adult beverage. But he too is always very kind and very gracious to me, and if it not something he likes probably he has a lot more friends who may enjoy it than M and I presently do. It came to him from a good man with a big and generous heart, someone I love and now miss very much. My only comfort and consolation in this loss is that wherever they are now, I am certain he and his beloved wife are together again.

Rest in peace, James. You are already missed.