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December 20, 2005

The Best Gift You'll Get This Year is Not a Grumpy Lithuanian

By Sarah

The best gift you'll get this year...

...is the one you'll buy yourself. At least if you're a middle-aged woman.

I may be wrong and I don't like to issue blanket statements (though I do it all the time), but my objective analysis of the holiday situation is that once you've stepped into the role as Wife and Mother you are, ipso facto, the imaginative gift provider. It is your duty - that is if you want your children to be happy and your relatives to be pleased and your husband to be satisfied - to think of, find, purchase and wrap the ideal gifts. If you're REALLY good, you'll remember something someone said back in May - "Oh, I've broken all my Orrefors. I have no good wine glasses left" - and provide them with a set of, okay, not Orrefors but something close, for Christmas.

Which brings me to the Wives and Mothers. If we're in charge of thinking up the ideal gifts, then where does that leave us? I'll tell you where that leaves us, with a charge card in one hand and our Ideal Gift in the other, grinning at the sales clerk. Better yet, we don't have to wrap it or write a thank-you note. And we can approach the holiday season resentment free.

It's a win, win for everyone.

Now I should clarify that my husband is extremely generous and thoughtful. Every morning I wake to a cup of steaming hot coffee by my bed. He has given me beautiful pearls, lovely earrings, hiking shoes and, for some reason, numerous dark green shirts. He wants to give me the perfect gift but even he will be the first to admit that the retail world is both overwhelming to him and gross. He'd much prefer to show his love and appreciation by taking me skiing or hiking in a snowy woods or doing other things to me that I can't mention here - anything other than circling the parking lot outside Circuit City.

And I'm cool with that. I'd rather he be true to himself than do what my father did which was to present my mother with the exact same four gifts every Christmas. They were: a bottle of Chanel #5 cologne, a pair of suede boots (with a can of spray-on suede protectant), a piece of pretty awful jewelry and a AAA membership, boxed and wrapped. To each my mother would exclaim and sigh as though all her life she'd hoped and dreamed of a AAA membership. We kids would give her crappy stuff we made in school or stuff we thought she wanted (An orange sewing kit? What was I thinking?). All except for my brother, John, the sensitive artist in the family, who along with giving me my first Barbie Dream House and Barbie Corvette (I love you, John!) would manage to present my mother with something amazing - like her first pair of cross country skiis.

Because my mother was on "an allowance" I don't think she had the resources to do what I, as an independent income earner do, which is to buy myself what I really want, sometimes before Christmas, occasionally after. Instead my mother gathered the wrapping paper and began spreading out the elaborate Christmas brunch to be followed by the elaborate Christmas dinner with the "Strohmeyer" side of the family - think frowning, grumpy Lithuanians sitting on couches in lumps, complaining about hippies, while my mother bustled back and forth with rib roast and steamed pudding. A far cry from her own childhood of gathering around the piano singing Christmas carols and hoisting cups of rum-laced eggnog after sledding on the golf course.

This might explain why one Christmas dinner my mother tripped on the stairs, dumped her black-bottom chiffon pie and broke into tears. A sure case of Christmas resentmentment if there ever was one. If I remember correctly, one of the Lithuanians grabbed his coat and grumbled about there not being any pie. That was when I vowed to take a different path in life, perferably a path unchartered by grumpy Lithuanians.

This year I told everyone in my family I wanted an iPod photo, which I got for my birthday on Saturday. I'd already purchased the attachment which allows me to recharge my iPod while it plays through my stereo and even shows the photos in a slide show on the television. I've also bought myself a copy of Kristin Lavansdatter by Sigrid Undset, an updated version of Scattergories and a new stereo receiver. I'm set.

I think I've given everyone wonderful gifts that they'll really enjoy playing with, thereby making me deliriously happy. As the rib roast cooks, we'll put together jigsaw puzzles while listening to my iPod broadcasting everything from Elvis's Merry Christmas, Baby to Ella Fitzgerald's Baby It's Cold Outside. Out of homage to my dear departed mother, I will serve eggnog and sing Christmas carols after sledding. I will not make black bottom pie. I will enjoy wearing the 15th dark green shirt my husband is sure to buy me.

Most importantly, I will feel extraordinarly grateful, not only because I'm not trapped in my mother's world of indentured slavery, but also because - knock on wood - I will have my family around me for another Christmas. If there's anything I've learned in my forty-three years it's that you never know what unexpected tragedy lies in wait around the corner. So I will spend Christmas dinner misty eyed, hoping and praying with all my might that these same people be at the same table next year and the year after that and the year after that...

And laughing about how my mother thirty years ago would have wished for just the opposite.

Have a great holiday!




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Thanks, Sarah, for the lovely post. I really enjoy reading about other peoples' holiday traditions -- in part, I think, because we're still developing them chez moi.

For most of my adult life, I have schlepped myself and my daughter (first with the ex, then as a single mom, then as the partner-to-one-who-doesn't-travel) to various family members' houses for the holidays. Only in the last five years or so have we put our collective feet down and sworn off such stress in favor of staying home. When we still had cats, we eschewed Christmas trees; the past two Christmases have allowed me to rediscover my delight in the scent of fir, the memories evoked as each ornament is taken out of its box, and the beauty of twinkling lights at night.

On Christmas day, the three of us will gather in the family room to exchange gifts (many of which we already know about -- we long ago decided that it's nicer to get what we really want than to be surprised with stuff that will get stashed away in closets). Then it will be off to IHOP for breakfast, followed by a nap, a movie, and a simple dinner at home. We will count our many blessings and find much to laugh about, and my husband will say, at least once, that he loves the fact that we are all good to one another.

It should be a nice holiday, indeed. Especially since I'm confident that, this year, I won't get clothing that doesn't fit (from my husband) or random household items (like sterling-plated cake servers from his grandmother) or "business-wear" jewelry (like Anne Kline necklaces from his aunt) . . . :)

Sarah, you just made me realize that I'm the reason my mom doesn't have to buy herself gifts at Christmas...or on her birthday...or her anniversary. Since I turned 13, my father has always come to me for gift-buying help re. my mom. You'd think he'd realize by now what kinds of things she likes and figure it out. But, nope. So I've steered him toward antique malls to buy the pretty pink etched water glasses she coveted while we strolled the aisles weeks before; or I'll pick out the warm-up suits she loved but didn't buy at the Galleria and put them on hold with his name on them; or I'll get her a stack of things from Coldwater Creek that she'd love, which he wraps and puts bows on. I'm rather tired of doing it, but I can't stop, because I want my mom to get gifts she deserves and wants, rather than a new blender or a gift certificate to Applebees (well, you know what I mean). I think you're doing things the smart way. And I always buy something for myself when I'm Christmas shopping (like yesterday at REI, two things for Ed, two things for Susan). That way, you really do get what you want. Think of all the moms--all the women--who never do.

Love this post. Jokingly, I have said that my name is Scroogette this year. I don't want presents. I don't want to go carolling or drink egg nog. I don't want to go to my husband's family gatherings (although I don't think they want to attend them either). In honor of my father (who always worked the holidays), my husband and I are going to a restaurant Poppy (my dad) and I frequented during the holiday season and partake in the diner fare that I grew up enjoying on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and sometimes Easter. On Christmas eve, I just want to sit in front of the fire with my husband and drink hot cocoa. Then, go to midnight mass, a tradition I have always loved. My hope is that Christmas day will be spent snuggling in front of the fire with hubby. My vision of a perfect holiday.

And that's it. I have everything I need and almost everything I want. Anything I want I have to earn and I don't mean this in a sarcastic way, this statement is made in earnest.

So, from this Scroogette to all those happy carollers out there, merry Christmas, happy holidays and don't forget the eggnog.

A part of me really wants that black bottom chiffon pie recipe. Aren't we all tugged in many directions? This post reminds me again what the Tarts do best--love, laughter, laundry and the writing life. Loads of heart, Sarah. Thanks for the post.

P.S. And, Sarah, you're right about the most important part. What counts above all are the people we love. Things are just things...fun, but meaningless when it comes down to it. Lisa, I feel a bit like you this year. I've told everyone I have everything I want, so they're completely befuddled. I think life is about treating everyday like it's Christmas (or any holiday). Enjoying it to the max, saying things you feel (the good things) so people hear them while you're still around, and loving what you have right at this moment.

Nancy - Are you kidding? Do you know what a pain that thing is to make - at least if you do it well.

Anyway, I have a recipe and it involves stuff like gelatin, beating egg whites to peaks and mixing and chilling. But it is good. And I think only 2,000 calories a bite. If you or anybody else wants it, just email me off list.

Love everyone's how-we-celebrate the holiday stories. It would make a great book, assuring people that they don't have to go all out to have a great holiday. Celebrating it with the least stress possible is often the best, especially since there are so many couples/families who come from a variety of backgrounds. For four years I was seriously involved with a guy who was Jewish and who couldn't stand the idea, much less the sight, of a Christmas tree in his house. I totally understood after he gave me the lo-down. We had to find other ways to celebrate Christmas...I would have appreciated a few tips!

My Lovely Bride has started bringing home neat stuff she found a really good price on and telling me that that's what I'm getting her for Christmas. I was a little taken aback at first, but I'm getting used to it. I quit trying to buy clothes as gifts years ago...everything I get is either too small (disaster) or too large (worse disaster). We give each other lots of books of course, and for this purpose the Amazon wish list is your friend, even if you don't actually buy the books from Amazon.

I have no problem with Christmas trees, so it wasn't me. Anyway, our traditional Bethlehem Christmas involved opening presents early, my father's Protestant girlfriend going off to Wilmington to spend time with her Mummy (from whom she was keeping secret the live-in boyfriend and four live-in teenage and college-age children), my father's yelling at me and repairing to his bedroom to watch TV, and us Jewish kids sitting around complaining about the lack of anything to do (nothing on TV, Westgate Mall closed, friends busy with family, etc.). Then, maybe, we would go out to dinner to the only restaurant open, which invariably was Chinese. Things are better now with a more normal family, even if it means flying 1000 miles on Christmas night.

As for your own gift, I would suggest something from the Hustler store so famously located in L.A. True, husbands who care are nice, but nothing says "I love me" like a gift that comes with batteries and "strategically placed pleasure dots."

My family long ago started giving each other wish lists. It makes buying presents easier.

Unless of course, the person really only gives you one good idea. :)

It always seems like there's one thing I'm wishing for for Christmas I don't get, but lots of stuff I do. And since I usually have a list a mile long, you can see why.

I do certainly agree that family is the most important thing. This will be the first year my brother won't be there for Christmas since he was born. It's going to be a strange Christmas. The thing I keep reminding myself is that it's because he can't get the time off from his new job. If he had his way, he'd be home for Christmas. That does make things so much better.


Loved the post, Sarah, but I'm here to tell you that the 'no good gifts for the gift-buyer' thing is not limited to mothers. Since I'm the shopper in my family I've become the gift consultant, remembering what everybody wants and figuring out what they don't know they want. And it's not like I mind, but I think my relatives have gotten a bit too dependant on me, which means that I can end up with some pretty sorry gifts. So this year (you'll like this, Susan) I told them just to go ahead and shop from my Amazon wish list, and I just happened to go out and find that my local Nordstrom's was clearing out its selection of Ferragamos (to make way for a new boutique). So now I know I'm getting what I want, and they fit perfectly.

Christmas! Now there is a holiday that has been good, bad,and the ever popular so-so.I think. I cant for the life of me remember to many Christmas past. There is one though,funny it is the one I do remember. Now what I am going to tell you is the truth. No I didnt walk 12 miles to school without shoes or anything like that.LOL I say this because people usually look at me like I'm nuts and want to know if I lived in the 1800s. We were living in Pecan Valley outside of Azle Texas that year. The house we lived in had no inside walls, no tiolet, no inside water source, and of course no bath tub (a number one washtub did the trick.) In the winter I had to take out the slop buckets to the outhouse before school, and I usually spilled some on my shoe. Geez! My mother had run off with another man by that time and my brother had gone with her, so it was just my Dad and I. He had been laid off then and Christmas was coming up in a week and Daddy couldnt afford anything for me, not even a tree. The wonderful thing my Dad did for me that year was to go and bring the outside in. He built a landscape in the livingroom. Complete with bushes, dirt,makebelieve snow, a rabbit crawling into a hole. Picture it! I was enthralled with that rabbit. Not a real rabbit, but a fake , but my eyes didnt see the difference. He made that Christmas the one thing I will remember for the rest of my life. No presents, no stocking ( I still have never had one) no turkey or ham, but I had the outdoors inside and built with just me in mind. He gave me such love and made me feel so safe that what more could anyone ask for? Verner Eugene Treacle I love you for infinity and then some. Thanks Daddy

Ah, Christmas... Y'know, I'm okay with Emperor Constantine deciding that Dec 25th is the birthday of the Savior of mankind. I'm even okay with the retailers shoving the holiday down our throats before Halloween for gossake. What really gets me is Family Guilt. Sarah, I'd trade my sibs for your Grumpy Lithuanians any time.
Without a program, I never know who isn't speaking to whom, who's 'in' - who's 'out'. I think this year I'm the one being shunned. Please wait a moment while I sob quietly to myself.
There. All better now.I guess I'll just have to muddle through, somehow.
My husband and I have been together for 25 years (only married 16 - he was a little slow to propose)Every year he asks me to pick out my Christmas gift. Not just, "Oh, Honey, I'd love a new robe & slippers." Nuh uhn, I have to tell him which store, what shelf, what color/size, and, if possible, provide UPC code and salesperson's name.
He does wrap it himself. What a guy.
This year he asked my best friend to pick up gifts for him to give me. Now, Deb and I have been best friends for almost 40 years, but, hey - she's busy too. She's a single mom, and a police officer, and works a part-time security job to help make ends meet. And, if that's not enough, she also volunteers at the hospital children's ward ! The woman is a saint - a busy, tired, frazzed (don't forget armed) saint.
So, to keep everybody happy, this year, I'm buying my own gifts to give to Deb, to give to my husband, to give to me. It makes sense, trust me.
But seriously, folks... Whether you worship the Son, the Moon, or Martha Stewart, Christmas isn't just something you stick a bow on. My most precious Christmas memory is from 25 years ago. I was in the army and it was my first Christmas away from home. I was stationed in Germany,( a plus right there) and my roommate's grandmother was German. Didn't speak any English - the only word she knew was 'Blondie'. Don't know whatever happened to 'Dagwood'...
Anyway, I remember waking up Christmas morning in that tiny upstairs room, cozy warm under a feather blanket even though it was so cold I could see my breath. I could hear the church bells ringing through the clear morning air, flowing over the small town of Bad Orb, calling all to worship. We walked up the hill to the church, helping Oma up the steps into the church that had stood for centuries. The Mass was in German and Latin, but I quickly caught on that one nudge to the ribs meant 'stand up' - the next nudge meant 'sit down'.
I got the greatest gift of all that day (no - not the bruised ribs) It was friendship, and renewal of hope, renewal of spirit. I know that sounds sappy, but to this day, I carry those gifts, and every December 25th, I find them , again, renewed.

A great post Sarah.
It's wonderful that you've figured out how to make the most of your Christmas & to really enjoy it. (p.s: there's an updated version of Scattegories? Must add it to someone's stocking, thanks for the tip.)
Our family has been undergoing so many changes the past few years,(siblings growing up and having families of their own, new addresses, health challenges, money difficulties, etc.) that we're all still trying to figure out how to best craft our Christmases.

Wishlists were a new and welcome addition this year, as well as a scaling down on excess. Some traditions (long treks for the Christmas tree, marathon wrapping sessions) just didn't make it through the transitions, while others were musts (Christmas Eve mass, cookie decorating).

We're not there yet, but we're figuring it out. It's nice to know we're not the only ones still "polishing." Enjoy your day!

Man, Sarah, you're making me cry. And the Comment Crowd too.

Okay, that said, what I'm about to tell my husband (currently down with the stomach flu) is that this year I want a gymnastics mat, so I can practice my Krav Maga break falls so that I can one day get beyond Level 2. That's my dream present. Last year I asked for a Crock Pot, and let me tell you, I have the Lamborghini of Crock Pots, thanks to my husband's cousin Alessandra, who worked at Bon Appetit and did the research for him.

Yeah, I know. I'm High Maintenance.

Josh? Not the Hustler Store. I was there recently (research) and it's nothing to write home about. Kelly Lange tells me a much better bet is the Pleasure Chest, in Santa Monica, I tend to trust Kelly on these issues.

Kelly Lange, who, according to her web page, is (modestly), "one of the most celebrated and recognized personalities in Southern California?" THE Kelly Lange?

Fine. Sarah can find this Pleasure Chest place on the Internet, presumably, here: http://www.thepleasurechest.com/vibrators_store.html

Apparently, it is a chain. Who would've thunk?

Naturally, I checked out the link, and I'll tell you what - they have some very interesting workshops planned. Do you think any of them would qualify as Continuing Education? I need three more credits before the end of the month.

By the by - thanks to the site, I finally figured out the use for those strange-looking book ends that Margie has on that shelf in her living room....

I'd just like to point out that we went from Christmas to vibrators in 14 posts. This may be a record.

Well, it IS the season of giving.

and back to Christmas in 3...2..1. go
SusanCo - Dear, have you really never had a stocking to hang ?
May I send you one ?

Great blog Sarah. However I gave myself a grade high enough in anatomy and torture so that I can move on to anatomy and torture 2 in January. :) I also got some very unexpected financial aid from our government. I'm still in shock. I think I will be a nurse sometime this centtury. I also got an A in writing and a B+ in math.
WOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Go buy yourselves some chocolate and think of me.

(I can pass math and science. Who knew??)

Woo hoo, Janice! Congrats, girl. We here at TLC *knew* you could do it all along. Big hugs! Chocolate is on the house!

Thanks so much Susan! I'm going to go buy some of the tarts books to read for 2 two whole weeks of quasi-freedom! Hope everyone has a fabulous holiday!

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