Tag Archives: presents

You Deserve a Treat

Once I was visiting Joel, an old friend who had two young sons. After dinner and homework were done, he said they deserved a treat and asked what they wanted. He expected them to say ice cream or something similar.

Instead, they asked for a fire in the fireplace that evening. Joel was taken aback. He listed all the reasons that the treat they asked for was not a good idea – the fireplace would get dirty, they would only have it for a short time before bedtime, and so on. But the kids were adamant. Despite all their father’s protests, what they really wanted as a treat was a glowing, flickering fireplace. Joel gave in. They had their fire and then their usual story time once they were in bed.

Then there’s Teddy Hobbs, the British four-year-old with an IQ of 139 who became the youngest MENSA member ever. He can read at a Harry Potter level, though his parents try to steer him to books more at his emotional age level. “Teddy has done all of this himself,” his mother says. “When we go out and give him an option of a treat, he wants a book rather than chocolate.”

I’m on the kids’ side. While I love a good apple crisp, baking one with my husband is the real treat. When I get paid for finishing my writing, I treat myself to a new pair of jeans, lunch out, or a few books. (I sometimes do like a traditional treat for dessert when I eat out.) A treat for my husband is a hike in the woods or a day off to garden. A major treat for both of us is the couple’s massage I booked for later this month.

Perhaps the best kind of treat is giving a treat to someone else. From time to time, Dan and I spring for a box of donuts or cookies for his breakroom at work. Once I invited a mostly housebound friend to join us at a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. We could tell it was an absolute treat for her to eat out and renew our friendship – even more so when we added on a bargain shopping spree after lunch. Another time, one of Dan’s friends in another state surprised us with a pizza he ordered from one of our local restaurants and had delivered.

I think we need to expand our definition of treats beyond the standard cake or candy. Anything that you love or find joy in but don’t often get can be a treat. Maybe you haven’t had coffee with a friend in far too long. That can be a treat – for both of you. (Even more of a treat if it’s Irish coffee.) Perhaps you haven’t found time to work on a hobby like painting or needlework for a while. Renew yourself by allowing yourself a treat of relaxation and creativity.

Treats for others are often the kind that a person would really like but never buy for themselves. Again, it doesn’t have to be a major, expensive purchase. My husband brings me little treats all the time – it helps that he works at Meijer. Right now I have five plushies on my desk that he brought me at various times (two bunnies, an elephant, a giraffe, and a fox). He also brings me plants for my desk in the spring and summer. They give me a lift whenever I look at them. I find songs online that he remembers only a few words of and give him a lift by playing the videos for him.

So no matter what you’ve accomplished – or just when you’re feeling blue – treat yourself or someone else. Either way, it really makes you feel better. Even if you feel you don’t deserve a treat, take it from me – you do!

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Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, and we are in the middle of a pandemic. How does this affect my celebration? Hardly at all. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with birthdays and am perfectly happy celebrating them with as little fuss as possible. In fact, my idea of a really good present is for my husband to tell the waitstaff not to sing when they bring my birthday cupcake or sundae. I rather imagine that they enjoy the singing as little as I do.

This year, it’s even more minimalist than that. Since we no longer go out to eat, I am expecting to get a surprise bag of Taco Bell takeout, with maybe a candle in the quesadilla, or, if I’m really lucky, Long John Silver’s chicken planks with a candle in the cole slaw.

Of course, my husband still gets me presents. He buys them in July or so and hides them till December, then gives them to me – if he can remember where he hid them. For this Pandemic Birthday, he hasn’t had the advantage of following me around stores to see what I like, then sneaking back later to buy it. He does work in a department store, so I’m pretty sure he’s gotten me something and hidden it in the back of his car.

Since the store he works at also has a day-old baked goods table, I can reliably expect some form of leftover cake or pie, sometimes with whipped cream, but hardly ever with a candle. And when there is a candle, just one is fine, thank you very much. I may also, of course, receive the proverbial bowling ball named Homer.

In my teens, I tried to disown my birthday altogether. In my dysfunctional way, I told people that it was on March 1, rather than in December. This was a stupid coping mechanism, not unlike the time prescription Ibuprofen caused me stomach trouble in college and I sat by the door in my classes, hoping that the burping would be less noticeable there. Don’t ask me why. My birthday didn’t go away (the burping didn’t either), my family still baked me cakes, and I still got presents or cards.

Eventually, I reclaimed my actual birthday. As the years went by, I barely celebrated at all. Then Facebook came along and now I have the opportunity to count the number of people who wish me happy birthday. As excitement goes, it’s not much.

There’s likely to be even less excitement this year. A surprise party would be out of the question, even if I liked them, which I don’t. First of all, I almost never leave the house, so it would be difficult to sneak people in without my noticing. Also, having masked people jump out from behind furniture and yell at me would resemble a home invasion more than a party. Besides, a good many of my friends live out of state and even the ones here in town are social distancing, which is part of why they’re my friends.

I’m content these days just to let my birthday slide by with an emotion that ranges from meh to Bah, Humbug, depending on the year. I have a feeling this is going to be a meh year.



Gift Giving: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

Giving gifts is an act fraught with significance and anxiety.(1) How much should I spend? Will the person re-gift this? How the hell do I wrap and ship a live goat?(2)

Never fear. Here are some tips on what to do, what to avoid, and how to make sure your gift is really special.

The Good. My husband, Dan, is the best gift-giver I know. His strategy is to follow me discreetly around a mall or exhibit hall, note what I ooh and ahh over, and sneak back to buy it.(3)

Another good strategy is the one he and my mother cooked up one year. They went through old boxes and closets and found things I had forgotten about that were a bit the worse for wear – a tambourine, a doll, a ceramic Christmas tree I had made – then cleaned, repaired, and refurbished them. Items I had forgotten I owned were especially nice.

I have a hard time getting gifts for my husband. He belongs to the “Here’s what I want; just get me that” school of thinking. That is no fun. But I probably should just go with his requests, because I often end up getting him things he doesn’t want or use, like a yogurt maker or a GPS for his car.(4)

Once, though, I thought of Exactly the Right Thing. He had an old, orange-striped cat, and I had a friend who was a painter. She told me how to take a good natural-light photo of the cat and then turned it into a painting.(5)

The Bad. Rex, a former boyfriend, never knew what to get me for any occasion. He therefore unilaterally decided that I would henceforth collect heart-shaped boxes. I received boxes decorated with ribbons, fashioned from colorful stones, and so forth – none of which I particularly wanted.(6) Something to store in those boxes – say, jewelry – would have been much more welcome.

The Weird. If you know as many weird people as I do, you enter the realm of weird gifts. The world’s ugliest Goodwill tie fitted with a microchip that plays “You Light Up My Life.” A 12 Days of Christmas themed “Three French Hens” – three eggs decked in tiny black lace garter belts. A toy chicken that walks and lays malted milk balls.(7) The Black Widow model slingshot.

If there’s a White Elephant or pick-or-take gift exchange it can get weird quickly, too. Ten dollars worth of toilet paper.(8) A mug that says “I Don’t Have Herpes.” Sea monkeys. An inexplicable purple and orange glass thing. It’s even more strange when the weird gift is the one that people fight over.

There are other considerations besides the appropriate gift. For instance, there’s:

Wrapping. My efforts at wrapping resemble those of a ten-year-old child. But at least I try to be creative. I once wrapped an umbrella to look like a candy cane, if a wrinkled, uneven one. And if I give boring socks (in addition to a more interesting gift), I like to wrap each pair in a different sized and shaped package.(9)

Gift cards. Some feel that receiving them is boring and giving them is a cop-out. Not my friend Michael. He has an entire philosophy of gift cards: “Making sure that the gift doesn’t get squandered on something I was going to (or needed to) purchase anyway.”

He explains, “To me, respecting the gift means using it on something outside the ordinary, or at least something I would have trouble allowing myself to get with family funds. Something that will stay associated with the giver in my mind, at least for a while.” Think of that the next time someone gives you a gift card.

Poverty Christmas. One of the best holidays I remember was when all of my friends and I were broke the same year. Separately, we each had the idea of hand-making or hand-selecting gifts. I cross-stitched potpourri sachets. Meg baked cookies. Phil went to a used book store and found exactly the right book for everyone. Rhonda decorated small baskets of inexpensive treats. That was really an “It’s the thought that counts” kind of year. Since we all did it, it wasn’t even embarrassing.

There you have it: my advice on gift-giving. Go good. Go weird. Go small. But don’t try to make someone collect heart-shaped boxes.

(1) At least it is for me. Once I walked into a store to buy a baby shower gift and instantly got a charlie horse near my collarbone. It felt like a ping-pong ball under my skin. Only painful. Excruciatingly painful.

(2) No, I’ve never actually tried to do this. I use Kiva.com for all my goat-gifting needs.

(3) Sometimes he even pretends the store was out of whatever to make the surprise even more of a roller-coaster of disappointment and delight.

(4) Truthfully, I am the GPS for his car. I suppose I should be glad that he prefers me to electronics, but somehow I’m not.

(5) I also had the painting printed onto a t-shirt so that when he said, “Hey, that looks like my cat!” I could say, “It is!” and give him the painting.

(6) Teapots. Eggcups. Stuffed armadillos. Almost anything would have been more to my taste. I sometimes wonder how many other women he knew suddenly found themselves collecting heart-shaped boxes.

(7) I suppose it was meant to be laying them, but it really looked like it was pooping the candy. And I never liked malted milk balls anyway.

(8) It makes an impressive-sized package, if you get the really cheap kind. People love that.

(9) Yes, I know I’m wasting trees, but at Christmas it hardly seems to matter.