Search This Blog


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Retail Therapy with Sister

TheQueen had an appointment with a new doctor yesterday - way off in the big city. Just a check-up. Of course, yesterday was a state holiday and she was horrified to think that she'd wasted a perfectly good holiday when she could have used a sick leave day but the happy news is that she really really really liked the new doctor, who only took 20 minutes yet made me feel like she had all the time in the world. That is a wonderful trait in a doctor.

But since I had already made plans to be in the city - and since it's still January and New Year and Resolutions and stuff - I also made up a shopping list for Stuff I can't get here unless I order on-line. And Stuff I Won't Order On-line. And I called Sister and asked her to join me at the biggest shopping center in the city.

Only it's not in the city.

It's way out on the frontier of Henrico County.

And it's not the only mega-giga-wowza-brick extravaganza-shopping destination out there on West Broad. Out there where we used to just call it the road to Charlottesville. Out there where you really can't walk anywhere - you MUST drive a car - south on Lauderdale Drive, around the U turn, through 3 stop lights and ooops. Missed it. Out on West Broad again were fortylevendyhundred strangers are whizzing past you. I know I cut off a woman driving a blue van when I realized that here right now was my turn. Whoever you are, m'am. I am sorry. These places are definitely not human scale.
What Broad Street Means To TheQueen

I come into that part of the city (I know, it's not a city, but it's where the city activities have moved) via the 295 beltway - a knuckle whitening drive for this rural (c)hick - and am debouched onto Broad Street at least  a mile from my destination and on both sides of the highway there are clusters of shopping and OtherBrickBuildingsThatIAmNotSureAreStores - TheyMayBeOffices for at least a mile or two.

I would love to know what is in those places but for a stranger to find her way into those engineered parking lots is as good as a 3 year sentence into traffic architecture prison. If I had fifty hours to meander around with nothing to do and if it were 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday, I might be tempted to pull off the road and explore. I might not. I might not actually ever find the way past the speed bumps and concrete bumpers back onto the road home. Unlike ThePrince, who will just drive across a curb or a median if he can't find an exit - I am frozen in traffic obedience and will circle the aisles of cars in a faint hope I will find a way out.

In fact - I might never venture out there at all, in spite of the lure of a real brick and mortar Apple store or a Nordstrums, only - there are bras.

I suspect I have no male readers, other than cousins who will just figure I'm a nutcase, so I will continue here with officially girly TMI.  I will talk about bras. Bras for the older ladies. Bras for the older ladies who have both expanded and widened. Bras that wear out and leave you in tattered droopiness.

There used to be a Bra Lady in Carytown - a delightfully old neighborhood in Richmond City Proper where you can park your car and then walk all over the place. You could even park your car way out on Malvern or Hanover, in a residential neighborhood, and get in some invigorating exercise before you actually go shop. The store moved up and down the 10 blocks of West Cary depending on their lease options but Betty, the Bra Babe was always there, an old New York garment district denizen who could measure you and fit you and have you walking out of the shop feeling 10 years younger and 20 lbs lighter.

Thank god for Betty the Bra Babe because she taught me that there is a solution to a droopy middle aged body and it's not Jenny Craig or gym membership or a time machine. It is a well fitted bra. But time and high rents took Betty away from here and TheQueen was left with whatever was available at Walmart - not the best options - definitely not optimum options.  At last she had the bright idea of writing to the fashion consultant for the Richmond Times Dispatch for advice on the best bra fitters in the city and she was directed to Blythe.  Now - I will only shop at Blythe.  The link is to the Yelp review page but they do have a facebook page here.

Reviews are helpful and you're going to see good ones and not so good ones. Eh. TheQueen is not just a convert - she is a devotee. In part it's because I've been 100% satisfied with everything I've bought from them, but in part it is also because I spent enough time finding them - I am not in the mood to hunt down another bra source. And I can afford them. Or if I can't, I can save up for them.  No bones about it - this place is pricey. But the first bra I purchased there 3 years ago, is still holding up in spite of the fact that I do put it in the washing machine. Oh - I didn't when it was new - I was all about the delicate hand washing. That fades after a few months. No - the older bras are not as crisply new looking any more but they still hold the girls up and more importantly - in.  And after yesterday's purchase, the 2 older ones are now retired to weekend duty.

There is absolutely nothing as invigorating and happy making as a really great fitting bra. Beneath your clothes you feel well supported, un-jiggly, and comfortable. It's the comfortable part that is so important underneath your clothes. On the outside - whatever you had on will just look so much better. Narrower. Crisper. Hotter. The first time I shopped at Blythe I insisted on wearing the new bra home - even though that canceled the return policy. But why would I ever return something that made me look and feel that good?

Now I try to get a new one every 6 months or so. One year I even treated Sister to one for her birthday. In fact, she met me there yesterday, though she was not spending. She wanted to go to the Apple store - and we did - and I drooled. Well there you have it. I will pop the big bucks for the right bra. She does it for a computer. But hers is a business expense so it's tax deductible. Hmmm. I wonder. I wonder if a good bra - something that does so much for physical and mental health - could be a medical deduction.

TheQueen never knows where her thoughts will take her when she opens up blogspot dot com but at least she knows she'll be well fitted after a little Retail Therapy with Sister.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Before and After photos





Fooled ya, didn't I?

I bet you thought you'd see me in a cover-up dress and then a bikini? Nope. This is the kitchen pantry cabinet make-over.   And truth is - the after doesn't look all that different in a photograph from the before. But if you're trying to cook in my kitchen  - well - then you can really tell. This cabinet is usually a jumble of cans and envelopes and bottles. There were things in it that hadn't been seen in years. Cooking had become frustrating and I was beginning to buy duplicates. And there is that sense of wastefulness about not eating what I have - not honoring my present riches in the quest for greater ones. So yesterday the whole cabinet was emptied - one shelf at a time - starting at the top - scrubbed down, reorganized and now, though it's still full - it is also functional.

The bag of give-aways was much smaller than I thought it would be - but there are some cans to take to the food bank.

The cans of food have been organized to facilitate how we eat now. And by golly - meals have been planned to eat up the stuff that I am tired of looking at and probably won't buy again. We eat a lot of Asian-inspired stir-fry and there are bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and water chestnuts - and they've been in the cabinet a long time - but they will be gone before February 1. Ditto the canned chicken and cranberry sauce. They will make a nice casserole with leftover Thanksgiving stuffing mix on some frozen winter evening.  Tuna will get together with noodles in a casserole too - I have a good low-fat recipe.  The canned fruit will go into green smoothies till there are none left. Cans of beans and tomatoes rotate swiftly through my kitchen so I don't have anything in particular planned for them. I did give them more space though.

It's not that I won't buy these things again - it is that I won't buy them before we eat up what we already have.

Where I made the biggest change was in the spice shelf and rack. Spices are hard to keep organized and if you buy wasabi for just one recipe the durn jar hangs around forever. My spice rack is old enough that the jar lids are cracking and only McCormick spices fit in the holes. Yet it's the easiest way to get at spices. And what in the world do I have so many seeds for? Sesame, fennel, celery, allspice, coriander, it goes on and on.  I am not that adventurous a cook!

The librarian in me likes things in alphabetical order but organizing the spice rack solely in alphabetical order means I give precious real estate to spices I rarely use, so this time I organized it in a more Dewey-like way - a la category -  and then put things in alphabetical order.  I love the McCormick's grilling spices to use on tofu. Tofu is pretty tasteless so I vary our stir fry with these spice combos.

So now there is a side of the rack that is ONLY for tofu stir-fry flavors. The other sides have the more general spices and herbs - in alphabetical order, of course. starting with Basil - which I use all the time, not allspice - which I use only at Christmas time.

After my frenzy of tossing-of-the-old, there are now some empty spice jars with rickety lids. I believe the Penzey's store in Richmond sells this size jar and lid so maybe I can spiff them up a bit.  They will be dedicated to the curry spices - another staple in our family, so that I can have them ready to hand. As for the spices in the cabinet - they are either exotics or duplicates or the jars are oversized. They all have dots on them and if they aren't used in 6 months I am tossing them.

Something else I learned while reorganizing things is that I won't be buying the big French's Worcester sauce any more. It's just a shade too big to fit on the shelf with the rest of the bottles. This cabinet is not adjustable so I will change either the brand or the quantity I buy. I hate having that big bottle up high.

I also pulled out all the loose recipes from the space underneath the cabinet - next to the microwave. I'm going through them today and keeping only the ones I want to try again. Inspired by my cousin, who already did this,  I plan to make a loose leaf notebook of the recipes I love - like this one:

Cuban-Style Pork and Sweet Potato Slow Cooker Stew

So - in honor of my Clean Kitchen - a sight you might not get a chance to witness again - here is the 20 feet of kitchen counter in all its glory.

Happy New Kitchen Year - want an orange?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Being At Goal - an ENFP's perspective

Did you ever take the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory? Do you know how you scored? Have you ever even heard of it?  Here's a link.

And here's a quote from their homepage:

"The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment."

And just for a little more help - Perception is all the ways people take in information and Judgement is the conclusions they come to based on what they've gathered.  In fact, the "P" and the "J" are the last two contrasting items on the inventory and people do tend to either enjoy the gathering process more or enjoy the coming to conclusions more.

I am a "P" and I LOVE the gathering process. What a good cavewoman I would make! A true hunter and gatherer.

The important thing to remember about all this is that - everyone can both gather enough information and come to conclusions - it's just that they fall into the two categories of preference.   As a "P" I finish tasks because I know I should - or even must.  I am a big girl and I can do what I have to do.  I even admire the finishers of this world. I hire them! I do this because that is their strength. Just thinking about what my desk looks like is proof to me that I am pure "P" on the spectrum and I have a quasi secretary who is pure "J" and together we accomplish a lot.  She often says "I don't see how you do so much" and I smile. I have quit trying to tell her I accomplish because she makes me - she doesn't believe me. Evidently that's one conclusion she won't acknowledge.

Given that TheQueen is such a "P" I think I have a unique perspective on the term "At Goal". For 3 years I have weighed within 10 lbs of a goal weight. The past 2 years I have been within 5 lbs or even smack on that number. The goal was selected back in 2003, in consultation with a WW leader who advised me not to select the highest allowable weight for my (then) height because she said studies show that even most successful people stay at or slightly above the top weight of their range. In the intervening 12 years I've shrunk an inch, so now, even when I am smack on my goal weight I'm also at the very last ounce for having a healthy BMI.

yeah yeah yeah - I can just hear my Right Brain  emoticon  moaning "Oh Brother - here she is with the numbers again"

But I'm talking about Being At Goal and I'm trying to define what that actually means - to a person who doesn't like to come to closure.  At this very moment I weigh about 153 lbs if  I step on the scale naked.  I weigh in at the WW meeting on Tuesday and I won't be naked. I will be in a sleeveless summer dress, but not naked.  I am seriously thinking of taking our home scale with me to that meeting and calibrating it as soon as I weigh in. I hate guesstimating how close I am to the official goal weight when I am at home.  I would like to know. LOL. Not that I will believe - since believing means concluding and we all know I'm a "P"

But in the big picture of life - as if I really were a cave-woman - I would be and would have been at goal for 3 years.  So why doesn't it feel like that?  When do I feel like I am at goal? When is it true? And do I resist admitting that I'm at goal because I don't like things to come to an end? What does a person who is at goal feel like? What does she do on January 1?

 (and if I'm such a "P" why do I eradicate evidence of Christmas on January 1?  HA!  I don't! There will be Christmas clutter I forgot to put away being uncovered long into the summer. It never ends. I will never come to a conclusion. Bwa Ha Haaaaa! and Left Brain can't make me!) emoticon

Ooops. sorry. Hunk Ra just channeled. It's a Doonesbury thing.

And of course - I still don't have any answers. I know I will whittle away a few excesses over the next few weeks so that I don't have to pay for a WW meeting. I like going to the meetings because you get to focus on an aspect of healthy living each week. Information gathering - it's a "P" thing. Also - I am buddying a friend to her goal and I know having me along helps - and I really like her and want her to succeed. She is a "J". She will honor that goal. She will savor and enjoy and delight in being at goal.

I will also explore some new foods and new ways of cooking this year.  Well. I always do. It's more "P" stuff. And I would like to experiment with planning out my meals for a week. This is a particularly difficult thing for a "P" to do because - hey - you know - conclusions.

But the by-product of coming to conclusions about the week's meals will be: I have more Free Time To Play! If I planed my meals and say, made crock pot meals - I could come home, hang up my coat - and voila! - dish up dinner.  I could budget time and money better. I could be perfect. I could be a "J"!   emoticon (Left Brain says, "my turn!")

Hmmm. Is something beginning to emerge from the fog of hunting and gathering? Could it be that Being At Goal - for an ENFP, that is - will always have to be about the by-products - not the goal itself?  Is it that we have to dance around the goal, aiming for Other Things, so that we get tricked into getting to goal too?

Now that I am at the "just tweak it" stage of weight loss/management I'll have to start examining more closely why it matters so much. Now that the health risks, the clothing options, the physical appearance part all have three years of experience and are beginning to feel normal instead of Fresh and New and Exciting and Brag-worthy it may be time to look a little deeper into my soul and ask it what it wants out of life.  Without the "Lose 20 lbs" target up ahead I feel a little lost. Nobody tells you this, but I suspect we all know it deep down. It may be what keeps so many of us clinging to the bad old ways, the sloth and slug activities, the bag of Cheetos.

So if you are not getting to goal when you know you can, when you've come so far, when you've gotten so close - maybe you need to dance around goal and aim for a different target. I bet, deep down inside you, there are Other Targets you want. I know there are for me. As they surface, I'll come back and share.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

FAITH -- The Guiding Word for 2015

 "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened."

Not every year, but frequently, I find there is one word that seems to guide that particular year's unfurling.  Over this sweet holiday, especially when I'm walking through the forest, the word FAITH has been surfacing in my mind and when it does my whole body is suffused with a warm glow. It's that delicious feeling that tells me I should let FAITH be this year's guide. 

I don't want to sound like a whiner, especially when I think of all the fun things I've done this past year, but I really am glad to see 2014 behind me. There were just too many things that pinched too hard last year - and even a thing or two that kicked me in the knees. At the end of it all, I'm still standing and most of the bruises are fading, but I want something a little sweeter for 2015. I want to spend 2015 in Rat Park.  Martha Beck describes  Rat Park in her book The 4-Day Win. It was an experimental landscape - for rats - designed to find out if the environment pushed animals towards or away from self-destructive behavior. The Rat Park provided everything rats needed to live a life of comfort, stimulation and fulfillment as well as an option for opiate laced water. Rats who had become addicted to morphine were placed in this environment and pretty soon they lost interest in being doped and started doing healthy rat things.  Beck's advice is "Go where you feel like you're in Rat Park." 

I know there is bad juju out there .... some of it will come close to me .... I just don't want to taste it. I want to have the faith that I'll always select the good stuff - the white light - the good juju. 

There are some challenges up ahead this year and there is also a particular goal I want to achieve. No. It is not to weigh 120 lbs and wear a size zero. It is just too embryonic to put out into the blogosphere just yet. I'll certainly need faith to accomplish this, though I also like St. Augustine's quote;

"Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you."

Well, I know I have plenty of work to do to achieve my goal. I look forward to it. Where faith will make the difference will be in taking that first step. And since this is such a quote-ey post, here's a good one from Martin Luther King, Jr. :

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

And so - as I step onto the first rung of 2015, I will let FAITH be the banner I carry. Faith that I will see the right choices to make. Faith that I will get up and move instead of sit back and daydream. Faith that there is joy and happiness and goodness coming my way. Faith that whatever wisdom I possess will make its presence felt. Faith. FAITH. Yes. I believe that is what I wasn't listening to in 2014 - but what I will let take center stage - right up there at the podium - with a microphone - in 2015.

Oh - and - I am tampering with the blog's display too - so have some FAITH that I will come up with a design that is both honest and interesting. Tomorrow. At Tara. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The New Year

TheQueen hereby resolves to share her New Year's Resolutions 
as soon as she has resolved upon them. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Green Drink - another Mama Christmas Memory

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
   ..........  Ecclesiastes  1:4-11

You may call it a green smoothie but in 1962 it was known in The Palace off Jhanke Rd., infamously and miserably, as Green Drink. Our aunt, the health food nut, had talked our I-Hate-To-Cook mother into trying her concoction of bitter greens and other sour flavors with the promise of rejuvenation and everlasting health.  "You just put it all in a blender and whip it up"

And so, for Christmas that year, Mama asked for a blender. I knew it was coming. The eavesdropping snoopy girl was bound to hang around when grownups were talking - especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I seriously doubted it would taste good. I was already learning that Mama was not much of a cook and Aunt Ellen was very much a kook. I crossed my fingers but ... doubt remained.

Christmas day dawned and the blender was there under the tree but Mama didn't leap right into action. In fact, we had our usual cookies, candy, desserts and gravy for Christmas day and it wasn't until the 28th that the dread whir of the blender struck doom into our quaking hearts.  That was my baby sister's birthday and the anxiety was palpable - what child likes green food? Dr. Seuss knew of which he spoke when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham.

Into the blender went 1/2 a cup of pineapple juice, a hand full of almonds and heaping mounds of green leaves; curly kale, parsley, flat collards.  It smelled funny. It looked the consistency of poi - another nasty taste she'd offered us, as party food, for goodness sake, one benighted summer afternoon. That was in 1959, the year of everything Hawaiian,  in honor of the new state. Thank goodness no Alaskan food was being celebrated - I can just see my bad cook of a mother trying to make walrus blubber palatable.

But I digress - back to the Green Drink. She poured the evil stuff into juice glasses and told us to drink up. Ugh. The kale made it bitter, the parsley made it pungent, and the thick texture made it particularly difficult to swallow. Poor Baby Sister. Even I thought that it was unfair to force a child to drink nasty green stuff on a birthday. She wept, loudly, copious tears, and begged to be let off just for one day. How could mama torture her on her birthday?!?

At this point Daddy stepped in with his ever offered inducement to "do it or else .... "
A threat to which we always submitted because we knew he'd carry it out. A spanking in addition to the green drink - on a birthday - was really beyond endurance ... for the birthday girl or her siblings.

And so began the regime of daily Green Drinks; always nasty, though now and then just barely endurable, if she accidentally put in too much pineapple juice. A whole winter went by to be followed by the addition of a juicer and hideous celery juice cocktails, another wickedly bitter beverage that we were told to drink all summer long "to keep you cool".

Thank goodness Mama was mostly disinterested in food, unless it was candy, cake or ice cream, because by the following winter the blender was retired to a back cabinet and we were Green Drink-free. Of  course, we'd moved to the city that summer.  There's nothing like moving into a new house to ring in new routines. I suspect Daddy hated Green Drink as much as the rest of us - I never saw him willingly eat a green vegetable except peas.  Green Drink went down in the family lexicon as the epitome of cruel punishment - a reference that carried the threat of misery and also exemplified the awfulness of Mama's cooking - I mean - in addition to the butterscotch chips in the pumpkin pie.  What WAS she thinking?

Her reply - when we threw it in her face was "that was the year none of you had a single cold" which was another reason we hated Green Drink. What child doesn't want an excuse to stay home from school - and a cold? A cold doesn't even hurt all that much and if your throat is sore you get ice cream for lunch!

Fast forward a few decades and one day I began to think about Green Drink.  No. Wait. I began to crave Green Drink. I know. Don't ask me. I haven't any idea where that urge came from but it prompted me to buy a blender, some pineapple juice and some green vegetables.  It took very little tinkering with the recipe to make it into something quite tasty. And you don't have to stick with pineapple juice - not a particular favorite of mine. You can use milk, almond milk, Greek yogurt (my go-to choice right now), V8 fusion lite - if you don't mind artificial sweeteners. And if the store's greens are a little sad looking there are frozen greens and if you use the frozen ones you end up with a green Slurpee.

They call them green smoothies nowadays - but in the Haile House it's called Green Drink. A few years ago Baby Sister was visiting and I offered to make her one. The look she gave me was so bitter it would have frozen a soul less closely connected.  Big sisters are immune to suspicious stares. "Really - I promise - it's good. It was just Mama's awful sense of taste that made it so bad" I assured her and she acquiesced - reluctantly.

The look of delight on her face was marvelous - it erased forever that sad, cornered little birthday girl of memories. At least - it pulled the thorn out of her heart.

Green Drink is a bit tedious to make on a regular basis because the blender is the devil to clean. I'll be glad when this one wears out so I can get a cheap one that I can just put in the dishwasher. The scorned health benefits, otoh, are so welcome. Every year ThePrince and/or I have sore throats and colds by Christmas week so this year I made the decision. We will have a Green Drink every day in December.  We have missed a day or two so far, but 18 out or 20 ain't bad. And there's one in the blender right now. He likes his warmed, I like mine icy. And neither of us has had a sniffle or a cough or a sore throat - in spite of the Germs of December.

So - once again Mama proved right. Not in practice, no, but in theory - and that's good enough for me.

Thanks, Mama.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Real Gifts - More Mama Christmas Memories

I'm all through with dootiful activities for the year and this is giving me time to sink indulgently into  Christmas Brain - which, this year, includes More Mama Christmas Memories.  I am one of those disgustingly cheerful Christmas celebrants who never gets enough Christmas music, enough Christmas tree, enough Christmas cards. I love it all and I loved it all from the very beginning. I get ready for Christmas all the way up to Christmas Day and then... I stop.

But I don't think Mama was such a Christmas gal. Not that she was ever depressed or grumpy or short tempered at that time. She just seemed a wee bit detached from it all. And for all that we talked about everything, I don't believe I ever asked her outright if she liked Christmas.  I am sure it's because I couldn't believe anybody would not like Christmas. Sort of like I can't really believe in sailing - I mean - when the wind blows from the South, how is it you can also sail south - even if it's only south-ish. Or flying. How can a 50 ton airplane fly? I know how it does. I demonstrated it to my boy scouts 30 years ago. But do I believe? Believe? Well. There you have it. We can know what we don't believe.

What I know, though, and believe, is that Mama was gentle and indulgent with us about Christmas. I remember the first time I ever went shopping for Christmas presents. One of the bigger stores had a corner blocked off with a wall decorated like a gingerbread house. It had a little low door that only children could get through and we traipsed in to find, not a witch, but some pretty girls dressed as elves and lots of small things scattered about that you could purchase for tiny bits of money. We went in with a list of recipients and whatever cash we had. The pretty elf girl helped us pick from among a treasure store of things  we'd never seen before - never even imagined - to give as gifts.  I don't remember a thing I bought but I do remember the experience. It was magic. It was Daddy who took us. He was the shopper in the family. He was also the one who would get emotionally ratcheted up till he would crack and we'd have a Christmas Crisis. But he loved Christmas like I did. There never was a year he didn't tell us "we're going to have a smaller Christmas than last year" and then shop like a mad man, heaping the toy piles higher and higher.

Which might go a long way towards explaining why Mama was so ... um... detached through the holidays. Somebody had to be the grownup in that house.

When we were living on the Southside (in the Palace off of Jhanke Rd) we shopped for Christmas at Southside Plaza. Mama would give us $5 because each of us had to buy 5 presents. Once at the shopping center we'd head first to Woolworths and if we didn't find everyone a present there we'd move on to G.C. Murphy & Co. But with riches like we were spending, there was lots to choose from.

I remember selecting a blue glass bottle, shaped like a poodle, filled with bubble bath, for Mama one year. I loved dogs. I loved blue. I loved bubble bath - so surely this would be the best gift for Mama. Evidently she had a tender spot for it too, since she kept the bottle long after it was empty.

I am guessing this was purchased around 1961 because the summer I was 9 I was deep in the Little House books and that Christmas I asked Mama if:

1. We could have long flannel nightgowns instead of pajamas and
2. Could we have an Old Fashioned Christmas and make our own gifts that year?

I can still feel the moment - the hopeful wonder - the breathlessness as I waited for her answer - which was an indulgent "Yes".  God knows what awful gifts I made for my sisters and parents in those early years but the experience left a lasting impact. To this day - if I didn't make it - no matter how much I spend on it - it's not a Real Gift. And of course, the spur of giving real gifts only made me work hard till I actually got good at making things. And even more of course - I will also buy gifts now and consider them real. Just not as real.

It was about this time that she gave all the cousins little cloth bags she had made, filled with drawing paper, crayons, scotch tape and round edged scissors.  It was the scissors that caused the disgruntled complaints to issue from aunts and uncles. One unsuspecting aunt later muttered in my presence "Who was it who gave those scissors last year? I could kill her. What a mess they made."

I was a famous blabbermouth, but that time, I did not speak up.

The most hilarious Christmas morning I ever experienced was the year I was 11. We'd moved into the city by then and my little sisters were in school; kindergarten and 1st grade. My youngest sister was an unusual child - precocious beyond belief and yet - with such odd ideas. Sometimes she utterly drove me batty but just as often I was enormously proud of her. That year, though, the kindergarten teacher had them collect leaves and bring a bottle cap to school. They glued the cap in the center of a paper plate and then glued the leaves around it. The whole was spray painted gold and the intended result was supposed to be a Christmas Candle Holder.

Of course - one must remember that all of the gluing had been done by a 6 year old. I am sure she used that peppermint scented paste that came in a jar. And the gift was sent home from school in a brown grocery bag for the child to wrap. An odd shape - a fragile object - Sister knew it needed to be carefully packaged. She used a cardboard box that Daddy's shirts came from the cleaners in - and she padded the gift with ... the trash from the bathroom trash can.

I told you - she was unusual.

A week of drying out in our warm house, lying beneath the tree, being picked up and shaken - for I am sure she was as proud as punch about making a Real Gift for Mama and displayed it frequently - did nothing to keep it intact. On Christmas day we sat and watched as Mama opened up the box - and began pulling out used tissues, a Reese's candy wrapper, and other assorted bits of gold flecked clutter, a crumpled paper plate with glue splotches on it - Oh La. I will never, ever forget the look on Mama's face: Her mouth an open "O", her brain feverishly trying to decide if this was a joke or a Real Gift. 

As the sisters and Daddy began to laugh (I'm actually laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this.) Baby Sister began to cry - realizing the completeness of her fiasco. Oh my goodness. Christmas. What is Christmas without a disaster or two? I do remember that Mama quickly recovered, hugged her nutty baby, and promised that she would help her re-glue everything and make it perfect.

I do not remember that I ever saw a candle in that holder but I do realize now that Mama taught me an important lesson that day. She showed me that the gift isn't the item. It's not the ring, or the dress, or the perfume. The gift is the time a person takes to think about you - contemplate your joy - long for your happiness - show you are worth stopping a busy day for. That is the real thing about gifts. That's what makes them Real Gifts.