The Worst Tradition

I like the look of wrapped presents. I know there are people who eschew it for giftbags – lazybones, they are! My aunt Delphine, who is has a wonderful eye for flower arrangements, created some of the most beautiful wrappings I’ve ever seen. When I was seven or so, she taught me how to curl ribbon. (Like the skill of swirling a stack of cocktail napkins without using a highball glass, it’s been strangely useful.)

Over the years, I developed a good eye for judging how much paper to use. I can create a “box” with heavy paper and sharp folds. Crafting tags and flowers out of scraps of paper and ribbon is my specialty.

Please don’t think I’m bragging.

I HATE wrapping gifts. Although the results are lovely, it’s tedious work. When our family’s Christmas gatherings were bigger, it took HOURS.

Somehow during my college years, my father created a tradition of me being his personal wrapping helper. And by “helper,” I mean that I do it myself. At first he used to quietly lead me to the gift-hiding place for the gifts he bought my mother. He would hold the ribbon down with one finger as I tied it and filled out the tags. Somehow it morphed into him lying in wait until I bring in my bags and take off my coat – at which point he directs me to the basement hidey-hole.

One year, he surprised me with presents already wrapped. A group of teenagers were raising money by gift-wrapping at a popular mall. But malls have gone the way of the dodo and Covid-19 has destroyed any group fund-raisers.

Back to the Old Ways it is!

‘Tis the Season

I finished shopping more than a week ago and the last gift arrived by mail. (Hooray for used book stores!)

My youngest sibling, our parents, and I exchange gifts. They’re usually practical or, as my mother says, “Consumable.” They give us the pleasure of taking turns opening wrapped packages in the company of the giver.

Baby Bro and I got in the habit of buying each other a childlike gift in addition to a regular one. Tree ornaments have been my go-to choice; e.g. Curious George ornaments in memory of his beloved childhood pal. He buys me the oddest things, from a frosted souvenir glass of the sort that were popular when we were tots to a children’s book of verse containing “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

It occurred to me many years ago – even before I settled into La Casa de Tontería that I really didn’t want anything for my birthday or Christmas. I mostly want people to be with me or, if that’s imposdible, to think of me.

The Covid-19 pandemic – which closed my school yet again – has intensified that sentiment. Presents aren’t as important as people.

Imagine my confusion when I received an unordered package. In it were two funnels and a silicone mold. Then my friend M’e the Fashionista texted “Happy Marmalade Day!” That fictitious holiday is her excuse to spontaneously buy something and send it to a friend. What she sent was an icecube tray that makes huge diamond-shaped iceballs. It’s ridiculous and unpractical, but it’s in the freezer now.

My Year of No Buying… April Fools!

Sorry about that. Also, Happy Easter and Felices Pascuas!**

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Last week my favorite puertorriqueño gave me a couple of suggestions, including that I jump on the “Year of No Spending” bandwagon and give details.

“It is going to be very funny if you do,” he wrote.

After considerable thought, I decline. First, I have a tendency to focus on a task to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep and common sense. Second, I foresee having to spend a bundle on certain home replacements in the future.

Case in point: I awoke one night thinking cats were fighting outside my window. No, it was the fan of my furnace screeching. It has subsided, but it’s only a matter of time…

However, I am intrigued by the idea of tracking my expenses. I did that 2013 in order to create a better budget on a “frozen” salary.

I have done a month of low-spending.

And a few years ago I followed a Canadian blogger who challenged herself to live as cheaply as possible. Each month she posted the results as a spreadsheet as well as a tally by category.  As I recall, she ended one year with less than CA$5,000 in expenses. I admired her experiment and wished she’d left her blog up for future reference. She had some oddball tricks that couldn’t be done by just anyone, such as moving across Ontario one summer to an off-season dorm room and being paid in food to babysit a young relative. But she also had great tips on simple one-bowl meals and entertainment.

So maybe I could track my spending and add it to my monthly updates. (And yes, I know the March update is due. But it’s a holiday!)


** Note to anyone thinking of telling me that “Easter” is derived from a pagan goddess called Esther (the nemesis of a god named Fred Sanford):

Everyone knows the English liked to apply their old words to new things; e.g. the North American orange-breasted robin is a delightfully musical thrush named after a shrill, squeaky flycatcher native to Europe and Africa.  (The photo above is of a North American robin’s nest and its distinctive blue eggs. It’s a free-use WordPress photo because the nearest nest appears to be in the upper reaches of my maple.)

Outside the Anglocentric view, the words for today’s holiday are variations on “Passover”,  such as Pascua in Spanish.  Even in English, the Resurrection of Christ is called “The Paschal Mystery.”

If you feel the need to argue, let us focus on food names. We can ramble at length about squashes known as either courgette, zucchini, calabacita, OR zapallito. But do NOT get me started on turnips, Swedes, and rutabagas!

The Factory is not closed for me…

As faithful readers may remember, my job as a Quality Control Inspector at the Young Human Factory underwent a transformation this fall. I was put in charge of teaching English to members – or potential members – of the Middle School Mafia. A daunting task, but I am buoyed by the vision of them communicating without grunts, egg-flinging, and ritualistic doorbell-ringing.

For the same low price, I now deliver eight more hours a week of service AND the daily 53 minutes of preparation time was eliminated. But it has really helped my time management, since I have so little.

Weekends are not my own, nor vacations. Continue reading

Unresolutions for 2018

In keeping with not-ancient tradition, I have a short list of resolutions I reject. In 2018, I won’t…

…hit the gym more. Thursday I withdrew my YMCA membership reluctantly because of the great staff and great facilities, but the 45-minute drive after work is terrible. Let’s see what exercise videos and hand weights can do.

…stay on trend. The public library is full of books I haven’t read, my wardrobe is  professional if not inspired, and everyone is too mesmerized by their phones to notice mine.

…try a new hobby. Until I cross everything off the Big To-Do List, hot yoga and parasailing must wait.

What about you? What are resolutions you just won’t make?

 

 

 

Don’t mind(ful) if I do: Cleaning like a Zen Buddhist monk

In my Sunday reading, I read a good article on Soji, a practice at some Zen Buddhist temples. I found it interesting that everyone must stop after 20 minutes, rather like the 15-minute sessions used for squalor-prone people overwhelmed by the thought of cleaning their homes.

If you’re wondering if I went searching for “How to live like a monk” – why no, I didn’t. As usual, I followed a link from another topic: mindfulness.

Several of my friends have gotten interested in it, including a teacher who taught squirmy elementary students ways to focus on the task at hand (especially tests).  I was even trieked talked into encouraged to join a “intuitive eating” class by Rodale Press. One of the first lessons involved Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindful Eating Exercise, otherwise known as the Raisin Meditation. If you’d like to try it for yourself, UC Berkeley’s Great Good in Action has the background, how to do it, and why it works.

(A list of Rodale’s 21-day Challenges is here. If anything looks interesting to you, save yourself 20% by typing MINDANDBODY as a coupon code. Rodale sent me the code after I enrolled and encouraged me to share, so help yourself!)

12th Day of Christmas 2015

“Get out a piece of paper or pull up a fresh document and write down every goal you intend to accomplish in your literary lifetime. Write down all your ultimate dreams and then try to write your way to them.” 

-Katz, Christina. “Diversity As You Go.” The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks, & Techniques from Your Writing Career Coach. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest, 2011. 42. Print.

One of the fun things I did this past weekend was taking six books off the shelf and putting them in a bag for the library. A few were guilt-inducing books of writing exercises; they brought me no breakthroughs or epiphanies.

I considered getting rid of Katz’s book but when flipping through, a couple entries caught my eyes. This was one. I like to think of having a lifetime of writing in me, loop after loop of story like a thread spooled somewhere in my heart. Endless. Full of colour and promise.

It reminded me of reading Ray Bradbury explain that he wrote a list of story titles and then wrote the stories that went with them. It took him years, but he did it. Sometimes he had no more than the germ of an idea when he started, but somehow it grew.

 

 

8th Day of Christmas 2015

For the first day of the New Year 2016, I decided to link to one of the interesting websites I read during my DIY Writer’s Summer Camp: Writing-World.com.

I am a relative newbie at writing fiction, so I had little idea about what attainable goals in writing would look like for me (as opposed to some professional writers whose advice I sought). So the post “Setting Effective Writing Goals” was eye-opening.  Here’s a taste:

And that, perhaps, is the most delightful thing about goals: You can change them. They are not graven in stone. They are not chains, meant to lock you into some sort of writer’s bondage. Quite often, they change themselves before you realize what has happened…. (…) The key is to remember that goals are not your destiny. They are simply highly effective tools that you can use to reach that destiny.

 

7th Day of Christmas 2015

Wanda, my octogenarian neighbor, spent some time in the hospital this fall. While there, she adopted the finches of her nonagenarian roommate. The poor woman’s fear was that relatives would set them loose, and her darlings wouldn’t survive cold autumn nights, let alone winter. So Wanda took them off her hands.

But Wanda had her own troubles, including finding someone to care for them when she’s under the weather. (Her daughter-in-law suffers from ornithophobia, the fear of birds.) As much as she loved the birdsong, she started asking people if they’d “adopt” the finches.

If just so happens that one of my new colleagues, who works with impaired children, keeps plants and animals in her room.  The children especially love taking care of the fish and birds. Sometimes they responded to the animals more freely than to other people.

Sadly, the male finch died. Continue reading