‘Tis the Season

The gift-giving season, that is.  For our family, it starts in September, really, and runs all the way to March, after which our family gets a nice reprieve (except for Kender’s birthday).  Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, every month, one after another.  If you speak of friends, we have birthdays year-round, of course.  But then there is December, The Month Of Gifting in just about every major religion practiced in our country.  Except it’s not confined to December.  We must begin thinking about it now.  What am I saying? We were supposed to be thinking about it All Year Long, and feel guilty if we don’t already have a list of gifts and some of them already piled in our closets or socked away on layaway.

gift, n., something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.

Is it really voluntary?  Do you really have a choice of whether or not you show up for that holiday gift exchange or birthday party without a present?  Wouldn’t social services have something to say if you just up and decided no more presents for your kids? (Ok, maybe not.)

Some people wait all year long for these gift-giving occasions.  We’ll call them The Planner.  They keep their eyes open while they shop, tagging things in their minds (“I bet Suzy would just love that little trinket there!”), maybe even making notes somewhere if they’re especially organized and talented.  These are the people who have their shit together come The (Black Fri) Day, the ones who will have all the best presents ready to go, wrapped and tagged, special gifts for every person.  (The worst of this species hand-makes all their presents, and I’m not talking jars of brownie mix, either.  Martha Stewart, I’m looking at you.)  Those of us who can’t resist buying something “really neat” for our loved ones the instant we see it are not good at emulating this type of giver.

Then there is the person who may not have been planning all year, but who still knows their targets well enough to just pick something out on the spot.  Call them The Telepaths.  You can’t tell these two species apart at the moment of giving; the difference is only apparent by the lead time in the planning and purchasing stages.  The Telepaths can use their special talent to pick out the perfect gifts without the weeks and months of general shopping around.

There is another species: The Bulk Gifter.  This person picks one thing and gives it to everybody but their closest family.  If they are especially democratic, they might even use it for birthdays.  The item may be identical across the board (“You get a cookie mix! And you get a cookie mix! Everybody gets a cookie mix!!!”) or they may vary in detail rather than theme (a book, another book, oh look I got a book!).  Either way, this person has their gift giving solved.  Bulk processing, economies of scale, and usually they still manage to make it something that everybody likes.

I don’t think The Regifter gets enough credit.  The regift is generally frowned upon as cheap, ungrateful to the original gifter, thoughtless to the new recipient, etc.  Think about it, though.  The Regifter has shown enough appreciation for the gift that they have cared for it long enough to pass it on to what they believe will be a truly loving home.  They could have donated it to Goodwill or just thrown it away, but they hung on to it, waiting for it to find it’s forever home.  The connection in their mind to the new recipient may have been spur of the moment, or it may have been growing for months, but it does not have to be dictated by time or available funds.  What better way to show environmentally-friendly thought and action than to make sure something does not go to waste?

Then there is me.  I want to go out and give my friends and family the absolute coolest gifts ever.  I want to show how much I care about them, how much I’m willing to spend time and money on them, how much I want to hang out with them, how grateful I am that they are around.  But when the time comes, there’s always a missing component.  Sometimes I have the best idea in the world, but the available funding turns it into a crappy execution.  Or maybe I can’t figure out what to give the person who has everything.  Sometimes I just don’t know or can’t remember what my own husband would like to have.  Other times, I run through a laundry list of books, music, special trinkets, and other things, feeling confident that every possible choice that sounds new and exciting to me is going to be old hat, yesterday’s news to them, because they are just such cool and amazing and knowledgable people.  Some years I think I am going to be the Planner, making out lists of things I can knit and crochet for people.  I get a few gifts done that way, but never the whole lot, and I’m sure most of those gifts are moth-eaten and gathering dust in some closets.  Rarely, I will find something, have the funds to purchase it (or the time to make it), be able to hold on to it until the day, and remember where I hid it, and pull off a fantastic gift.  More often, I feel like the Forrest Gump of gift-giving: my heart is in it, but that’s about all you can say is there.

Oh well.  They say it’s the thought that counts, right?

Uber Driving

Probably the most interesting thing to happen around here in the past few weeks (besides birthdays, which really aren’t mine to tell anymore) is my new income stream as an Uber driver.  If you haven’t heard of Uber yet (or Lyft, or Sidecar), it is a ride-sharing service.  Uber provides an interface and payment system between people who have cars and people who need rides.  Ideally, Uber in particular likes to place itself as a “private driver” service rather than just “giving a friend a ride,” requiring that drivers not have others in the car and recommending minimum standards in dress and car care.  I must say that the incentive of getting paid means my car is now nicer than it has ever been.  I think my father would be impressed!

For riders, this means the ability to call for a ride anytime, anywhere, at the touch of an app screen.  When signing up, riders give their payment information to Uber.  When they need a ride, they open up the app and put a ride request out.  A driver accepts the request and picks them up.  When they are dropped off, Uber automatically transfers the ride fee to the driver.  No cash, no credit cards, and usually very little wait time.

For drivers, we can set our own hours and work as much or as little as we want.  We get paid automatically, and Uber also provides fees to cover cleaning expenses if, say, some drunk pukes in the car.  For me, this means I can take activities that I would normally do sitting on the couch or in front of the computer, like small knitting projects or studying, and I can do them in my car while waiting for a ride.  Nothing lost time-wise, and a potential gain in income–a win-win for me!

If I were to take take away from something else to go sit and wait for rides, I would have to pick carefully when I wanted to head out.  But so far I am driving in the evenings when I would be knitting or studying anyway, or when my kids are in hours-long activities where I would be wasting time and gas to drive home and drive back into town anyway.  Not to mention I absolutely love to drive, especially now that I finally have a stick shift, so I am having an absolute blast, and so far I’m making enough to help pay for the extra expenses associated with this latest vehicle acquisition.

Security issues are also taken care of by the system.  Although riders and drivers are anonymous to each other (even our phone numbers are screened through the Uber system when phoning and texting each other), we are most definitely not anonymous to Uber.  If I had a passenger become a security issue, Uber would know exactly who they were, and the same in reverse if a passenger felt unsafe riding with me.  In addition, riders and drivers get to rate each other.  A good ride should always get 5 stars, or maybe 4 at a minimum, unless there are obvious issues with cleanliness, driver knowledge, or driving skills.  Drivers whose ratings start to fall will have riders refuse to take rides with them, and they can eventually be kicked off the system by Uber.

I am really excited to finally have something that I can do, that I enjoy doing, that has super-flexible hours that I can work around family and church and school obligations, and that looks like it will bring in enough extra money each month to really ease the financial stress we’ve been under the past couple of years since I had to quit my last part-time job.  So if you want a ride, sign up with Uber.  You can use my promo code “2iscu” for a $20 credit for your first ride.  And if you want to drive, too, just let me know and I’ll get you hooked up.

Nothing to Say

I have no desire to step up on a soap box today.  There’s the whole “We Want to Celebrate Colonization of the Americas” day thing, but I don’t really feel like digging into it.  I can’t think of anything that is bothering me more than the ulcer that currently feels like it has actually poked a hole in my stomach.

I have nothing much to say about Loki.  My communication with Him is getting a little clearer, and He’s made it plain that His hand is at work in my life right now, but my path is still covered in underbrush so I don’t know quite where I’m going.

I have nothing much to say about Kender.  He keeps going forward in leaps and bounds, and surprises me both in what he does talk about and simultaneously how he won’t answer questions about the simplest things.  It looks like I might actually be able to get most, if not all, of my desired roundtable together for his IEP, but nothing is certain yet.

I have nothing much to say about school.  I keep working on my own studies at seminary, and the kids keep working (or not working, as the case may be) on their own general education studies.  Jarod wants to learn Japanese, and in the name of encouraging his interests I’m jumping off that cliff with him.

I have nothing much to say about the house.  The refrigerator is still on its deathbed and hasn’t been replaced yet.  I started working for Uber this past weekend, and I am hopeful that it will help with some of these repair/replace bills that keep piling up.

That’s a fair bit of “nothing much” for one day.

Bad Comedy

I’ve been told before that I should write a book about my life.  All the strange and weird things that cross my path and keep changing my fate ought to make for interesting reading.  Right now, I think it would make a bad comedy, to use a friend’s words.  Suspension of disbelief in the audience might be rendered completely impossible.  There’s only so many times lightning is supposed to strike one person, after all.

Computer processing power is measured in FLOPS, or FLoating-point Operations Per Second.  On Tuesday, we had an intake appointment with a new therapy center that we hope will be of use to Kender.  On the basis of that appointment, I have coined a new measurement: HPI, or Head-desks Per Interview.  The intake required detailed information about Kender’s medical history and development, and for the first time I caused a measurable HPI in the therapist taking down the information.  For example:

Yes, he’s had surgeries.  He’s been put to sleep more than 20 times now. ::headdesk:: We think he was in pain for about 1.5-2 years straight from his eyes. ::headdesk:: Oh, and there were the teeth, and the root canal he needed, and the pain from that which didn’t get fixed until this spring. ::headdesk::

I got a kick out of this, personally, because I know this is what is going on inside somebody’s head when we really sit down to tell our life stories.  With this guy, I actually got to see the headdesks and count them.  He made no effort to hide his reactions, to be polite or nod like Freud about to ask about my mother.  I thought this was pretty fantastic.

Another bad comedy in my life right now is the state of my home, its appliances and furnishings.  Every single thing in our house has something wrong with it.  I have to laugh, otherwise I’d cry.  The most spectacular failure this year, though, is the refrigerator.  Technically we have two, but the second is tiny and was only ever intended to hold corny kegs; it has only one shelf, no drawers, and now no rail on one of the door shelves.  The other is our main food fridge, a very nice 25-cu-ft Samsung with French doors and a bottom freezer.  It isn’t that old, only about 5 or 6 years.  However, this refrigerator decided to start crapping out in early September, and we have now had 8 visits from Consumers Energy to try and fix it. (Thank the gods we have an appliance repair plan with them that covers the refrigerator!)  They have replaced half a dozen parts, and every time the refrigerator turns on, works for a day or two, and then dies again.

They started sending out a Senior Technician for the last few visits, and Monday he ordered yet another part to replace.  Yesterday he came out to replace it.  The first thing we found when he opened the box was the company sent the wrong part. ::headdesk:: This part had an extra thermostat piece on it, so the tech’s boss told him to just cut it off and install it anyway.  Then he finds that the plugs don’t actually match. ::headdesk:: So he cuts off the plugs, swaps them out with wire connectors, and shoves the whole thing into the back panel so he can get the screws back in.

It’s already looking like it’s dying again.  I think I’m out of headdesks on this one.  All I can do is laugh.  Or I would, if my head weren’t pounding so hard that my eyes are already watering.

Getting to Know My Enemies

“Perfect is the enemy of good.”  That image of perfect comes from so many places.  Books and movies, holiday parties, even memories.  We whitewash our memories, change them, push away the bad parts and amplify the good parts.  When I do that, and then I try to hold up as a standard my memory of how things used to be, I’m really creating a complete fiction and pretending it is an attainable reality.  I think about five or six years ago, and I remember clean laundry and bathrooms, and checkmarks on chore lists.  I don’t remember how there were still piles of clutter that my eyes just slid past whenever I walked in a room.  I don’t remember how depressing it was every time I came home from a trip and saw my poor house with eyes fresh from a Presidential Suite at Fox River.  I don’t remember the fights and arguments and yelling over getting the kids to pick things up.  I don’t remember how I had no friends, I never went anywhere or saw anybody but Brian and sometimes Beth and Dave.

When I go to somebody’s house and they know I’m coming, I don’t know what their house really looks like in between.  I may see it for a holiday party, but I don’t see it at 10:30am on a random Thursday afternoon when the baby has been sick all night.  I don’t see the days leading up to the party spent madly cleaning everything in sight, shoving clutter where it can’t possibly be seen or escape for a few hours, scrubbing and washing and decorating, and I don’t see the days after, with the dishes nobody wants to wash and the clutter that starts creeping out again.

Nobody lives on a TV set.  Books aren’t real.  Martha Stewart is a fiction.  FlyLady doesn’t have six kids at home with disabilities, and she doesn’t homeschool.  Besides, how many science fiction novels have either of them read this year?  How many fantasy lives have they lived casting magic spells and riding flying dragons?  How many planets have they explored from the warmth of a pile of blankets and pillows?  Have they ever waited for years to hear their six-year-old finally say, “My name is —-” for the first time?  Have they ever dealt with three newborns 24/7, alone and scared?

And round and round in a circle we go, as I know there are others who look at my house, my kids’ education, my knitting and crochet skills and collection, my music, my sewing, my magick, and think I’m somebody to look up to.  They don’t see the days I spend in tears, from pain or frustration or just being overwhelmed.  They don’t see my crushed budget, the mess downstairs, the Fruity Pebbles my kids ate for breakfast, the thousand little failures leading up to one success.

While it’s good to have ambitions, it’s good to have goals, we all need to take our ideals down off their pedestals every so often. We need to see the cracks, chips, and dust that we can’t see when they’re way up high, being admired and all.  We need to get to know our enemies.

Living Vicariously

A friend of mine recently moved to a new house.  She used to live in our neighborhood in a tiny house, and they were getting pretty crowded with all their children and dogs.  Their new place is a beautiful house with artistic architecture on a wooded lot outside of town.  She has big, big windows with gorgeous views of her land and plenty of room for her kids.  I love seeing the pictures she shares of her view over her morning coffee.

This morning, as I was heading to the dentist for a cleaning, I passed a couple maneuvering something rather large out to the street.  I slowed down, then slammed on the brakes as I recognized the object: a concert pedal harp, completely wrapped in its case but with that characteristic lopsided heart shape unmistakable.  They were wheeling it down ramps from the front porch, in preparation for hoisting it up into the back of the waiting minivan.  (The need to buy special “harpmobiles” capable of transporting a concert harp was almost a running joke in college…although the Powers That Be know that I already have a harpmobile now…just sayin’…)  Just the sight of the harp, and the knowledge that there is a heretofore-unknown harpist lurking in my neighborhood, were enough to make me smile.

Going into Foods for Living turns me into a kid in a candy store.  Organic food! Specialty cheeses from local dairies! Fair trade dark chocolate treats! Exotic chips and teas! I have a target, I have a goal, I have one, maybe two specific things I am here to get, but the whole way in and out is a string of, “Ooohh, this looks tasty!”  When I go there, I need somebody to follow me around with a print-out of my budget, ready to smack my hand with it every time I reach out for something. It’s nice to window-shop, though.

One of my kids had to get her eyes looked at by our retinal specialist over in the Detroit area this afternoon.  He didn’t find anything actionable in her eyes, and we were in and out just in time to spend two hours in rush hour traffic to get back home.  Not a mile after I got on the highway, we overtook a gorgeous gray Maserati in the next lane over.  He had a license plate that read “GOES185”.  I turned off the radio so we could listen to his engine purr while we were beside him.  Before we got off 696, we had also seen a Jaguar, a Porsche, and a Corvette, so many fancy cars that Caitlin finally wondered aloud where they were all coming from.  What a way to make me smile about sitting in traffic!

The Crazy Season Begins

Resetting the calendars to October always brings home the fact that the crazy season in now upon us.  Here come the holiday decorations, three months of beautiful neighborhood displays that get bigger and brighter every year. Here come the birthdays, four birthdays in as many days just in our house, plus more birthdays of family and friends at the same time. Here comes Halloween, the biggest holiday on a witch’s calendar, with trick-or-treating and finding the right costumes to handle the unpredictable weather and parties and seasonal foods.  Here comes the first snowfall, the little dumping that closes the schools now but just gets ignored if it happens in February.  Time for better tires on the cars and one last cutting of the lawn before the snow covers it like a blanket until spring comes to wake it up.  Here comes Thanksgiving and all the expectations of the Norman Rockwell family holiday, with happy relatives and huge feasts and that tribal ritual of sporting events and guests expecting to be waited on.  Then it’s December with more parties, buying coats and boots for all the children again, finding and making hats and mittens and scarves and doggie snowsuits.  Time to throw the budget in the waste bin as Yule and gift-giving approaches.  What is that secret to gift giving that it seems the whole world but me has?  Presents for the chil