Another Merry Christmas

Hello readers. I hope you all enjoyed, or if you are still on vacation, I hope you are still enjoying this holiday season. I sure am! (College semesters may be demanding, but since my vacation started December 14 and I don’t have to go back until January 18, I cannot complain)! Anyway, the day after posting my Lj Idol entry about the wonderful brouhaha of Christmas, my parents and I went to Indiana to celebrate Christmas with my mom’s side of the family, which is always fun, especially since a couple years ago, we started a tradition of exchanging white elephant gifts. For those of you who may not have heard of this tradition, white elephant gifts (also known as gag gifts), are gifts that are simply silly, and they are exchanged by having everyone draw numbers from a hat and pick from a pile of presents in the order their number was drawn. Some of the laughter in this tradition comes from the gifts which are stupid and hilarious no matter who gets them, like the pooping panda (the poop is in the form of jelly beans). Some of the laughter comes from the context of who gets the gift, like my boy cousin who got a girly fairy wand one year. Fortunately for him, once all of the gifts are passed out, trades are allowed. This year was especially funny because a couple weeks earlier, my grandma on my dad’s side said she was at Walgreens and saw little bags of coal that could be bought as a joke, and my mom and I both agreed that would make an awesome white elephant gift. But what made it even better was that since the craziness of preparation for Christmas was starting to get to my dad causing him to sound like Scrooge, my mom rigged the drawing so that my dad got the coal! He couldn’t help laughing about that in spite of himself. But besides cheering my dad up a little, the other advantage to him getting coal is that we can recycle it for next year. So our family will once again hold the power to determine who has been naughty or nice! (smile) I originally got playdough, but the same boy cousin that got the wand a couple years ago got a candle this year, so I traded with him. Of course, in addition to the joke gifts, the tradition of receiving giant bags of candy from both my aunt and my grandma was carried on, as well as the tradition of overeating, especially when it came to Grandma’s cookies and cheesy potatoes. These traditions combined with the simple joy of visiting and filling the relatives in on our busy lives added up to a wonderful celebration and happy memories for all.

     On December 22, we celebrated Christmas with my grandma on my dad’s side by going to an Italian restaurant that according to the sighted people, is decorated beautifully every year for Christmas, and then went to Grandma’s house to eat cake and exchange gifts which by tradition, always means clothes since this grandma loves to shop for clothes. Privately I complain about this tradition since my closet is bursting at the seams with clothes she has gotten me, and I would like to simplify my closet to make it easier for me to pick out my clothes. But I really do appreciate this generosity, and my mom says the clothes she picks out look nice on me, so I am not one of those people who returns clothes after Christmas like I hear a lot of people do. For my gift to Grandma, I sang her a song because she loves my singing more than the material gifts I have given her in the past.

     Then the next day, my dad took me to the mall to buy gifts for my mom and sister, both of whom said they would love having some bath jell from Bath and Body Works. Due to my mom’s work schedule and some nasty weather on the days she was off, I never had time to go shopping alone with her to buy a gift for Dad, but that was not necessary since Dad recently started a tradition of buying his own Christmas gifts and putting our names on the to/from tags because he hates seeing us kids spend our hard-earned money on stuff he doesn’t need or want. So this year, Dad got himself a miniature radio he could use when he works out at the YMCA, and we all got a good laugh on Christmas morning when he pretended to be surprised and thanked me saying “This is exactly what I wanted!” My mom and the rest of the family prefers to be genuinely surprised, but we let Dad have his way because after all, Christmas is not about the gifts but the time with family and the making of memories, and my dad’s fake surprise is certainly a fun memory to have.

     Anyway, when it comes to clothes, I hate shopping because wrack after wrack of pants and blouses that all feel the same gets old pretty fast. But Bath and Body Works always has so many wonderful things to smell that I don’t mind shopping there. This trip to Bath and Body works was no exception, however I will always remember this shopping trip as the trip where the wonderful aromas were overshadowed by my first case of sticker shock!

     Alright, here’s the story. Every year from second or third grade through high school, I got to participate in a really fun annual event where all of the vision teachers in my area would pull all their blind students out of school for a day at the mall. We were always asked to bring $5 for a secret Santa gift for another student, gifts that were exchanged over lunch in the food court. Then the rest of the day, the teachers would help us find gifts for our families. Since I was an unemployed child back then, I depended on cash donations from my parents for these trips. My parents typically would give me $30 or $40 so I would have $5 for secret Santa, $5 for lunch, and $20 or $30 for other gifts. So I would always tell the teacher helping me up front how much money I had to spend for the day, and she would steer me toward the items in my price range, not mentioning the many things that were not. I generally tried to only spend around $5 a store so the money would last the whole day. This price range generally meant a small candle for my mom, cheap candy for my brothers, an inexpensive book or pretty ornament for Grandma, and often nothing for my dad or sister. So after these trips, I couldn’t help apologizing that I didn’t have enough to buy gifts for everyone in the family, and the gifts I did buy were nowhere near as nice as the ones the rest of the family always got me. My parents always responded by reminding me that the purpose of this trip was to have fun not to worry about buying elaborate gifts. Still, I dreamed of the day when I would be grown up so I could have a job, make my own money and spend as much of it as I wanted on Christmas gifts for everyone. This year with my job answering phones for the college switchboard, a summer job that I was able to continue during the school year, that dream had come true. Eventually, I know a large portion of my earnings will be eaten up by adult responsibilities like groceries and rent, but since I live at home and thus don’t have these responsibilities yet, my bank account is pretty flush! “Life is good!” I thought to myself with a smile as I jumped out of the car in the mall parking lot, shiny debit card in hand.

     When we got in to the store, a saleswoman showed my dad to the bath jell section and told us they were “buy three, get three free”. I had no reason to worry about saving money, but I was still excited about what I thought would be a good bargain. I only needed two bottles of bath jell, but the others could be saved in case we forgot about someone and needed an extra gift, traded out if my mom or sister didn’t like the scent I chose for them, used as gifts next year or I could use them myself! I love all those fragrances, so why not?

     So my dad and I had fun walking around sniffing each kind of jell for half an hour until we settled on six of my favorite fragrances. Now I should mention before I proceed that I knew bath jell from a fancy mall store like Bath and Body Works would cost more than the Walmart jell we usually get, partly because at fancier stores, you are paying for the fancy brand names, but also because the ingredients required to produce these exotic fragrances probably cost more. I also knew since I had received jell from Bath and Body Works as a gift in the past, that Walmart’s bottles are easily three times the size of these bottles. Even so, I just about dropped my debit card in disbelief when the cashier rang up my items and said “that comes to $33.11.”

 

What! Did I really hear that right? I thought about saying something, but not wanting to make a scene or make my ignorance about how much things cost known, I just quietly gave her my debit card to swipe. But I made sure the receipt was in the bag, and when we got to the quiet parking lot, I whispered to my dad, “before we get in to the car, do you want to check the receipt? I wonder if the cashier made a mistake and charged me for the three free bottles.” If that had been the case, then each bottle would have cost about $5, which seemed like a reasonable price to me. But I will never forget the way Dad cleared his throat in that “you have so much to learn” way and said “um, sweetheart? The three bottles were $10 each.”

     When he saw my jaw drop, he laughed and said “I suppose I should’ve told you how much they were.”

     “That’s alright,” I said laughing in return “mom and my sister are worth it.”

     But in all seriousness, it really wasn’t his fault for not telling me how much they cost. For one thing, like many Americans before me, I fell in to the trap those financial experts on television always warn you of, the trap of letting your guard down and spending more than you would if you had used paper money. But there is also the fact that from the time sighted children learn to read, they start becoming aware, at least subconsciously of how much things cost when they see package labels. But my inability to read labels means that I have no idea how much things cost, a realization that I think gave him a hilarious wake-up call of his own.

     Anyway, don’t worry. That shopping excursion didn’t send me in to financial ruin this time. But it made me realize that perhaps before I venture out on my own or get married, a commitment that would require buying gifts for two families, I should invest in one of those special portable scanners for the blind that reads store package labels, compare prices on the internet or at least leave the dangerous plastic money at home and pay with cash!

     From there, Dad took me to Taco Bell, where I used some cash made from selling my textbooks back to the bookstore to buy $10 gift cards for my brothers. The rest of the evening was peaceful and quiet, the perfect evening for my traditional viewing of the Dr. Seuss Grinch cartoon I mentioned in the last entry.

     Christmas Eve was a happy quiet day at home where I just enjoyed listening to “An American Christmas” a special radio program hosted by Chip Davis, a member of the band Manheim Steamroller, and helping my dad wrap presents. A word of warning though in case you might have been thinking about asking me to help you with this tedious task some year: I am good at wrapping if all you care about is that the present is covered up, which fortunately is all my family cares about. But if you want the job to look perfect and pretty, you better ask someone else (smile). Then, when my mom and brother came home from work, we carried on our tradition of feasting on the delicious dinner of spicy shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, summer sausage, chips, salsa and guacamole for appetizers, and a main course of steak, baked potatoes and salad that my dad prepares every year. Because we weren’t stuffed enough after dinner (smile), and because my mom’s new work schedule meant we only had time to bake a couple of the many kinds of cookies we usually baked, and because these cookies were dwindling since we mailed a lot of them to my other brother who couldn’t get home for Christmas, I helped my mom bake peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s Kiss in the center of each cookie. And let me tell you, they are delicious, especially when you eat them right out of the oven before the melted kiss has hardened! The rest of the evening was peaceful, with Mom wrapping a few final presents that Dad forgot about, and me watching a choir Christmas concert on public television.

     Christmas Day was bittersweet for me since I am prone to migraines and had the misfortune of waking up with one on Christmas morning. Actually, I had a bit of a headache on Christmas Eve, but figured it would go away with a good night’s sleep. Instead, it was worse by morning. With a dose of excedren, it eased pretty quickly, but my parents decided not to go to church because of it, so we missed the beautiful Christmas mass our church does every year. Hopefully, I will have better luck next year. The rest of the day was wonderful. We enjoyed a brunch of hashbrown potato pie which is a delicious breakfast casserole recipe my mom found that is a favorite in our family, but something we don’t have very often since it takes a long time to make, and the rest of the year mornings are often too rushed for such an involved breakfast. For dessert, we had a wonderful cinnamon coffee cake that was a box mix my dad saw at Trader Joe’s. Then of course, we opened presents. I got a Panera Bread gift card from my brother, and from my mom, a really cool pair of gloves where there are holes in each of the fingers accept for the thumb so that you can have full use of your fingertips if you need them, but then when you are walking and don’t need your fingers, you just fold this piece of fabric over them! What an awesome find Mom! For years, Mom has chastised me for coming in from the school bus or standing outside on my college campus waiting for my ride without gloves, but I always hated wearing gloves. I think it is because since I am blind, my fingers are like my vision, so the annoyance of wearing gloves must be a close equivalent to the annoyance sighted people talk about when their vision is blurred, since when I wear gloves, the feeling of objects is blurred. I am still able to function when I wear gloves. For example, when I get out of the car when my dad drops me off on my college campus, I am able to find the handle to open the door of the car, and able to pick up my guide dog’s leash because I can still distinguish the shape of these objects through my gloves. But since I don’t have direct contact with these objects when my fingers are obscured by gloves, it always seems to take my brain a fraction of a second longer to realize “oh yeah, that’s the door handle, or that’s the leash”, and this delay always drove me crazy! But now, when I go back to school, I will be able to keep my fingers warm, and have full use of my fingers when I need them. Whoever said you couldn’t have your cake and eat it too? (smile)

     My parents also gave me a bowl for popping popcorn in the microwave and a bowl for cooking pasta in the microwave, gifts which I had asked for because I would like to start cooking more independently, but the microwave is my preferred method of cooking since standing by an angry sizzling stove stirring scares me. I also got a pair of headphones you can put around your neck instead of on your ears when exercising at the YMCA since I have always found ear headphones annoying, as well as a Lee Greenwood CD and an Allen Jackson CD featuring a duet with the Zach Brown Band, a band that my mom and I have wanted to have on CD for years since they are fantastic musicians. Oh, and my sister mailed me a wonderfully soft sweater that I am wearing right now actually, and my dad “surprised” me with a set of peppermint hand lotion and soap that I picked out at Bath and Body Works. But believe it or not, after all of the gifts had been opened, my mom apologized to me and my brother, saying that she wanted to give us more, but with her new work schedule, she didn’t have as much time to shop. You know I suppose there may have been a time when I was younger when fewer presents would have seemed disappointing, but I am finding that as I get older, gifts are becoming less and less crucial to the enjoyment of Christmas. Since I am no longer a child playing with toys, there are really no material things I absolutely MUST HAVE, so anything I get is appreciated of course, but I honestly think I have reached a level of maturity where I would be fine with it if my parents decided some year not to give presents at all. I think the best gifts truly are the time with family and the happy memories made. Anything else is just a bonus.

     And there definitely were happy memories made this Christmas, a day of snacking all afternoon, watching two movies, one of them being our family movie we watch every year, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, having ham, scalloped potatoes and chocolate pudding for dinner, and playing a game of Scrabble.

     Sadly, although Christians believe the Christmas season doesn’t end until January 6, and although my mom always does a good job of keeping Christmas alive by leaving the decorations up and baking any cookies we didn’t have time to bake before Christmas, for all practical purposes, Christmas is over. The radio went back to playing regular music on December 27, and as Garrison Keillor says, the twelve days of Christmas are used simply to teach children how to count (smile). But though I hate to see this season of joy wind down, I know I will always have the happy memories made this season, memories I can use to keep Christmas alive in my heart all year.

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