Columns

The pitter-patter of little paws

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I didn’t get much reading done this week. Every time I picked up a book, Sir Walter Scott scooted his head beneath it, and collapsed on my chest, obscuring the pages.

Coffee proved difficult to drink, because Walter kept trying to dunk his nose in my mug.

And I’m not sure what kind of texts I sent, because Walter believes nothing should come between my face and his, and keeps batting my phone away.

Walter is our new addition – a tabby kitten – approximately 2 1/2 pounds of fuzz, energy and affection.

When our senior cat, Milo, died in November, we knew we’d adopt again. However, our hearts needed time to heal, and that included our 7-year-old tabby, Thor, who missed his nemesis/best friend.

This spring we started looking at animal shelters and pet adoption centers. There were plenty of beautiful adult cats who needed homes, but we agreed it would be too much for Thor to have to fight for space with another big cat. A kitten he could boss around seemed like a better fit.

But there were no kittens to be found.

“I hope that means people are doing a better job at spaying and neutering,” Derek said.

We kept looking.

And then my friend Haley, told me about a litter of kittens being fostered by Mona Richardson.

Mona and her husband, Dave, own the Hub tavern on North Monroe Street. Mona also works at Northwest Seed and Pet.

A friend of hers had a neighbor who moved away, abandoning a litter of kittens, but taking the mama cat. Mona is a cat-lover and an experienced kitten foster mom. Of course, she took in the kittens.

Several weeks ago she brought the brood to the tavern and invited Derek and me to take a look at them.

They were all adorable. Tabbies, black kitties and even a homely Calico. I held a couple of them, but when I picked up Walter, I knew he was the one.

His blue-green eyes are lined white, and each tiny paw looks like it’s been dipped in a bucket of white paint. He squirmed, then snuggled.

From then, it was just a matter of waiting until he had gained enough weight to be neutered.

Derek dubbed him Walter. I added the Scott. The Sir is optional.

On Friday evening we returned to the Hub to pick him up.

Walter proved popular with the tavern regulars who gifted us with bags of cat treats as we said goodbye.

At home we took him out of the carrier, and Zach and Sam each held him, and then he was off, exploring his new home at full speed. In fact, our tiny tabby’s throttle appears to be defective. It’s either flat-out or dead-stop!

He’d just been neutered the day before and was supposed to take it easy. Apparently, no one told Walter that.

Thor’s reaction? Stunned horror.

He cautiously sniffed the new arrival, but when Walter bounded toward him, Thor backed away with an angry hiss.

Then he mumbled some mean meows, which if I translated, could not be printed in a family newspaper.

Zach, our third-born, sympathized.

“I know what it’s like to be replaced by someone younger and cuter, Thor. The same thing happened to me,” he said.

After several hours of nonstop action and exploration, Walter was having a tough time calming down.

I took him to our bedroom, shut the door and got his new bed ready. He had other ideas and made a flying leap from the floor to our bed. He jumped from square to square on our quilt, like a kid pretending the floor is hot lava, and then he bounced back down.

I’d forgotten I had a mirror on the floor next to a stack of stuff to donate to the Goodwill. Walter took one look at the kitty in the mirror and promptly attacked. That’s how we learned his Ninja skills include somersaults, sideways rolls and stealth pouncing.

I turned the mirror to the wall and got into bed with the exhausted kitten. He tucked his head under my chin, commenced purring and conked out. Five hours later, he woke us up by bouncing on our heads.

Which is why my husband revoked Walter’s big bed privileges. However, as soon as Derek gets up in the morning, Walter races to the bedroom and launches himself on our bed to join me. Sometimes, he even falls asleep.

Thor is slowly warming up to him. Extra treats and affection, and a new cat tree, so he can look down upon the new arrival, helped.

Meanwhile, the rest of us cannot resist a kitten that stands on his back legs and holds up his front paws when he wants to be picked up.

Sir Walter Scott is equal parts entertaining and exhausting. and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

For us, the pitter-patter of little paws is what makes a house a home.67768753_2463199130385366_8603458589316612096_n

 

All Write

Overcoming Obstacles to Enjoy the View

Like a prehistoric behemoth reaching mud-stained claws to snatch errant hikers and shove them into its gaping maw, the uprooted tree made a menacing obstacle.

Who knew when it had toppled? Its exposed roots jutted toward the branch-strewn trail, and drying mud made the ground soft beneath our feet.

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“I think we can get around it, just watch your step,” my husband said.

Edging forward, I said, “I’m sure glad I took that selfie before we started this hike.”

Derek paused and dropped the branch he’d been holding out of my way.

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“You took a selfie? But I took a photo of you next to the sign at the trailhead.”

He’d told me to smile, but feeling contrary and eager to start the hike, I’d squinched my eyes shut and bared my teeth at him.

I shuddered.

“Just think if we don’t make it out, that would have been the last photo our kids would have of their mom!”

I was teasing. Mostly. Our situation wasn’t dire, just a bit more challenging than we’d anticipated.

After 24 hours of luxuriating in the pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs and eating sumptuous food at the resort’s restaurant, Harwood House, we were ready to burn some calories and take in some Montana scenery that didn’t involve questionable choices in swimwear.

The sprawling Lolo National Forest offers plenty of hiking opportunities, including Iron Mountain Trail No. 242, just a few miles from Quinn’s.

It’s deemed a moderate trail, and we’re moderate hikers. The initial grade proved a bit steep, and there wasn’t much of a view at first – just lots of greenery and pretty wildflowers neither of us could identify.

“Uh oh!” Derek muttered.

We’d turned a bend and found the trail littered with rocks. Carefully, we picked our way across the shifting stones.

Little rocks are more treacherous to footing than giant boulders. No one wants a romantic getaway to end with a sprained ankle or a trip to the emergency room.

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Some enterprising individual had taken creative license with nature and stacked a small cairn near the overlook.

Onward and upward we pressed, and now the fallen tree and its detritus offered another possible roadblock.

“We could go back,” I said, doubtfully.

Derek surveyed the carnage.

“Nah, let’s at least try to get to the first viewpoint.”

So I carefully picked a path and he followed.

Minutes later, we reached the viewpoint and gazed down at the churning brownish waters of the Clark Fork River. Surrounded by mountains and pines, we wondered how our intrepid forebears had traversed the “road” with loaded wagons drawn by teams of horses or mules, hauling silver ore from the mine to the river far below.

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Iron Mountain Road was in use until 1910, and must have originally been much wider than the trail we’d just traversed.

We could hear the distant hum of traffic on the highway hidden somewhere below us as we watched the river, swollen by recent rains, rolling in the distance. Pine branches danced in the slight breeze. A hawk wheeled silently in the sky above.

It felt good to take a break from watching our feet and watch Mother Nature instead.

The hike reminded me that it’s not always big obstacles that cause the most harm. Sometimes it’s the pesky little annoyances that trip me up and rob me of my equilibrium.

Because I work in a deadline-driven industry, I’m often guilty of keeping my head down, eyes on the project in front of me, only occasionally peering up to see what new task is around the bend.

That’s why it’s so important to sometimes simply stop. To rest. To take a deep breath, look up and enjoy the marvelous view.

 

Columns

Gowns for Grace

She should be turning 16 on June 1.

She should be clutching her newly minted driver’s license and deciding if she wants a big Sweet 16 bash, or to just hang out with family.

She should be so many things, but most important, she should be here. But she isn’t.

Grace Susie Bain died May 29, 2003. She was delivered June 1, 2003.

How do you mark this kind of milestone?

Sarah Bain, Grace’s mom, thought long and hard about ways to honor her daughter’s brief passage through this world. Then she got her wedding gown out of her closet and called Peggy Mangiaracina.

Mangiaracina had a long career in health care, from starting as a labor and delivery nurse to retiring 35 years later as executive director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and vice president of women’s services.

When she retired, she got out her sewing machine and began making “angel gowns” for babies like Grace, who never come home from the hospital.

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

“I remember being a labor and delivery nurse and not having anything for these babies,” Mangiaracina said. “Parents would ask me what I wrapped their baby in. They wanted to know.”

Last week, Sarah invited me to be with her when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina.

First, the talented seamstress showed us examples of how she used the donated dresses. From a bin she pulled out gowns fit for a princess’ christening and tiny satin tuxedos with velvet bow ties – each creation, like each child, unique.

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Wedding gown trim like tiny seed pearls, satin-covered buttons and delicate lace make each gown a work of art.

“Oh, I would have loved a gown for Grace,” Sarah said.

In addition to wedding wear, Mangiaracina has used prom gowns, handkerchiefs and high-quality linens. She also uses soft, carefully lined flannel to make little “cocoons” for the tiniest and most fragile babies.

At the hospital, nurses offer grieving parents a small selection of gowns to choose from. Infants can wear them for photos and to the funeral home.

Mangiaracina gives the parents of the baby a memory square with a swatch of fabric from their child’s gown, a silver heart charm and a card that reads, “Babies are innocence on earth, a link between angels and man.”

Each woman who donates a gown also receives a memory square, as well as photographs of the gowns made from their donated dress.

Friends help Mangiaracina with the sewing. A group of ladies in Coeur d’Alene knit tiny hats to go with the gowns. Then they are distributed to nine hospitals across the region.

Now, it was Sarah’s turn. Her beautiful ivory satin gown with puffed sleeves, elaborate beadwork and a scalloped lace train hadn’t been taken from the box since her wedding 24 years ago.

She knew the dress wasn’t to her 18-year-old daughter Sophia Bain’s taste, so she decided to use it to honor Grace.

59708414_2312918792080068_1957199751925465088_n[1]Her eyes filled with tears as we opened the box.

“I wore this before I knew babies died,” she said. “This is like donating an organ, like pieces of my heart are being spread out across the community.”

And she told Mangiaracina her story. About the sorrow and trauma that came with the news that her baby had died while safely snuggled under her heart. About the scant few hours she had to hold her. About how the loss of Grace forever changed her and her family.

She also talked about her wedding day, and how she’d felt like a princess in that gown.

“Every dress has a story,” Mangiaracina said.

The story of Sarah’s wedding dress isn’t over. Sometime in the next year, grieving parents will carefully dress their baby in a bit of ivory satin. Tears will likely dampen delicate beadwork. And the gown that Sarah wore with such joy will bring them a measure of comfort and the sweetest whisper of Grace.

All Write, TV

Check out the Front Porch on YouTube!

54409184_2264170203837556_1334691813428035584_n[1]That handy little button at the top of my homepage will take you to my new YouTube channel.

That’s where you can find all the Front Porch episodes that air each week on the Spokane Talks television show on Fox 28 Spokane.

You know. In case you aren’t tuning in at 8 AM Saturday morning 🙂

I hope you’ll check out these segments and I look forward to hearing what you think!

 

 

Columns

Rosie and other turn ons

Each fall and winter, I’m blessed to use the home of snowbird friends as a writing retreat. When they left Spokane in September, they left behind a new member of the household – Rosie the iRobot Roomba.

Basically, it’s a vacuum cleaner. A vacuum that can be controlled by my friends’ iPhones, meaning if they wanted to, they could turn Rosie on from the safety of the southern climes and terrify the writer typing away in the solitude of their home.

Thankfully, so far, they’ve resisted temptation.

Last month with the homeowners’ return imminent, I decided to let Rosie do her thing and clean up any sandwich crumbs or M&M’s I may have lost track of.

I read the introductory note they’d left for me and approached Rosie with confidence. A push of the button and she roared to life.

Startled by the sound I took a step back. Rosie followed.

“Hey, girl,” I said. “You go do your thing.”

Obediently, she scooted under the coffee table, while I retreated to the safety of my desk.

Fascinated, I watched her zig and zag across the carpet. Her pattern was impossible to decipher. After a few passes in front of the fireplace, she headed toward a nearby bedroom, where she spent an inordinate amount of time under the bed.

I texted my friend.

“I’m letting Rosie chase me around. Does she work on hard surfaces? I haven’t seen her in the bathroom yet.”

My friend replied, “Yes, she will do it all. But she has her ways that to us mortals may seem absurd.”

No kidding. Rosie would never pass a field sobriety test. When she emerged from the bedroom, she spent several dizzying minutes cleaning under a chair before weaving down the hall like she’d had one too many martinis.

But she did a fantastic job and safely docked herself in her charging port. I then took her upstairs and set her free.

I was engrossed in my manuscript when I heard something that sounded like an alarm. My friend had warned me Rosie was prone to getting stuck under the living room sofa.

I dashed upstairs, following the pinging sound, and then heard the plaintive refrain.

“Roomba is in distress! Roomba is in distress!”

Poor Rosie. I hauled her out from under the couch.

“You silly girl,” I said, and gave her a quick pat.

It seems Rosie and Thor, my cat, have a lot in common, though Thor makes more messes than he cleans up.

I reported the successful suck-up operation to my husband when I got home. Derek is so app-averse; I knew he’d never fall for any techno gizmos.

Turns out I was wrong.

This weekend he announced, “Hey, honey, guess what I can turn on with my phone?”

None of the replies I thought of seemed appropriate.

He beckoned me to our darkened living room and pulled out his phone.

“Watch this!” he said.

Suddenly a lamp lit up.

“And I can dim it too, for mood lighting,” Derek enthused, and proudly demonstrated.

“I don’t understand. We don’t have iPhones. How does it work?”

It seems a friend had given Derek a Smart Wi-Fi LED light bulb for his birthday last summer, and my experience with Rosie had prompted him to install it.

“Isn’t it great?” he said.

“I guess so, but I’m standing right here. I can turn it on without a phone,” I replied.

He shook his head.

“I know, but I can turn it on when I pull in the driveway, or I can dim it when we watch movies. Pretty cool new technology, huh?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him the technology was hardly new. Why all over the city, there were probably dozens of people using the Clapper to clap on/clap off their lights.

Wisely, I remembered how nice it had been to have Rosie clean the house while I worked. Then I snuggled next to Derek on the couch, while he dimmed the lights.

Our future’s looking “Rosier” all the time.

All Write, War Bonds

New War Bonds Review on Goodreads

I’m so appreciative of readers who take the time to share their thoughts about War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

Mar 14, 2019 Mel rated it really liked it

Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning th
Each chapter of this book is based on a couple; how they met, how they became engaged, married, experience in WWII, and how they’ve made their marriages last 60-70 years.
With each couple photos are shown in black and white, and a song that means something to them. I started listening to the songs while reading about the couple.
pg.203 The weight of the explosives made an already tricky landing more difficult, and as they made their approach, Robbie knew they were in trouble. “Without warning the plane lurched and trembled. Like a goose hit in the wing by a volley of shot, we plummeted into the Pacific with terrifying finality.”
The plane smashed into the water, shattering on impact. Cascades of water tossed him about like limp seaweed…..
Some gruesome details are shared, but not many. Obviously some of the men had PTSD, something that wasn’t really known about or properly dealt with back then.
pg. 207 Tom says, “That’s where I kissed her for the first time. The wind came up and blew my hat off. Down it went, into the sand pit. She’s a powerful kisser to blow my hat right off!”

In the Afterward, the author tries to define what is so special about these couples. She says she found several qualities the couples shared: friendship, respect and commitment.

The couples definitely had a mettle that couples today do not seem to have. We currently, sadly, live in a throw away society and that seems to go for relationships as well; not just marriages, but long lasting friendships. Something that also stuck out to me in this book, was the strong familial relationships, which I think also reflected in the strong marriages. Also, the women didn’t freely give themselves away, if you know what I mean.

I highly recommend this book.

Columns

Dangerous creatures, Marie Kondo and books

Author Lisa Kleypas famously wrote, “A well-read woman is a dangerous creature.”

If that’s true then there were at least a dozen dangerous creatures at Lilac City Law on Friday night. No, we weren’t seeking legal representation. Our only crime was loving books maybe a little too much.

I blame Marie Kondo. My friend Sarah, fell under the organizing guru’s sway and launched an epic tidy-up, de-clutter spree.

I’m all for jettisoning clothes no longer worn, dated household decor and duplicates of kitchen items. As a newlywed, I was given a piece of advice that has served me well while rearing four sons in a cramped house. My friend told me to follow the “something in, something out” rule. Buy a new blouse? Get rid of an old one. Your kid gets a new toy? Donate one he no longer plays with.

While it’s kept our clutter at a minimum I draw the line at books.

There’s no way the “something in, something out” rule could ever apply to books. Why, choosing which volumes to jettison would be like choosing which kid you no longer love. It seems positively immoral.

It’s not even that I buy a lot of books. I don’t. I’m a devoted library groupie and every month I check out a new stack of books. But sometimes I fall in love with a novel and I simply must possess it, so I can read it again.

And as an author, I’m a huge believer in supporting other local authors. I love to line my bookshelves with titles by Inland Northwest authors. Every book purchase says, “Good job! I believe in you! Write another one!”

Of course, friends and family know I’m a bibliophile, and delight in feeding my addiction on my birthday, or Christmas, or sometimes just because they spot something they think I’d enjoy.

I don’t keep every book I buy or that’s given to me. If it’s by an author I didn’t enjoy or something I don’t want to read again, I stick it in the “donate” bag in my closet. But to be honest, few books make it to the bag.

Then Sarah started Kondo-sizing her library by posting photos of her books on Facebook and offering them free to a good home.

Such a great idea! It took the guesswork out of trying to figure out which friends would like which book, it was more personal than a thrift store drop, plus she got to experience the joy of re-homing a volume with someone she knows.

Then her friend Randi Johnson saw the posts and offered to expand the idea to a wider audience by hosting a book swap at her downtown law office and the Well-Read Women Book Swap was born.

The idea was simple. Bring in whatever books you’re willing to part with and maybe discover some you’d like to take home. Whatever books were left would be donated to the Friends of Spokane Public Library.

Friday night we gathered at Lilac City Law. Randi provided light snacks, wine and soda, and well-read women met, mingled and browsed the book table set up in a conference room.

A delightful variety of novels, nonfiction, children’s books, bestsellers and old-favorites spilled across the table.

Though I promised myself I wouldn’t bring anything home, I spotted “The Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz. It’s been on my to-read list since it came out. I had to have it.

Then I picked up “George and Lizzie” a novel by librarian/author Nancy Pearl, who just happens to be coming to Spokane to appear with local author Sharma Shields at the Bing Crosby Theater on March 13.

Finally, I saw “The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.” I discovered Plath my freshman year of college and her dark, brooding, confessional poetry perfectly resonated with the dark, brooding persona I was trying on at the time.

Sarah, noting the Plath collection in my hand, asked, “Does that spark joy?”

One of Kondo’s most well-known tenets is “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.”

I held the book and remembered my earnest 19-year-old self.

“Yes” I said. “Yes, it does.”

The inaugural “Well-Read Women Book Swap” turned out to be a fabulous event – one I hope dangerous creatures all over the city will replicate.

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Columns

Lonely tabby’s love weighs heavy

Sometimes love can feel oppressive, even suffocating, especially when it weighs 14 pounds and is sitting on your chest.

I’m speaking of Thor, our tabby cat, and his deep devotion to me. He’s always been a mama’s boy, but when our tuxedo cat, Milo, died in November, Thor’s adoration intensified.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not even his first love. Thor’s heart actually belongs to whatever comes out of the refrigerator, pantry or kitchen cupboards. He has a food fixation, and since I’m the primary provider of meals, his passions are twofold.

He doggedly follows me throughout the house, like I’m littering cat treats in my wake. It’s sweet, but it’s also dangerous. I’ve tripped over him many times, and I’ve often trodden on his tail.

Love hurts, but occasionally it’s just annoying.

For example, I love to start my morning by curling up in bed with a hot cup of coffee and the newspaper. Thor likes to start his morning by curling up under my chin for a serious round of petting and affirmation. Coffee and a newspaper are no deterrent to a feline in purr-suit of affection. After he’s had enough chin-scratches, he moseys down to my feet and naps.

He’s already had breakfast because our son, Zach, is the first one up in the morning, and the first one awake has to feed Thor. Otherwise, the rest of us won’t be allowed to sleep.

Sometimes the mix of a full tummy and cuddles zonks him out while he’s still on my chest. Thor is a heavy sleeper. Literally. It’s very hard to dislodge 14 pounds of purr.

When I manage to get up and start my day, he follows me to the bathroom to supervise my ablutions. He used to drink from the bathroom sink, but once he didn’t dodge quickly enough when I was brushing my teeth and we both discovered Thor is not a fan of mint toothpaste on his whiskers.

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If I’m working from home, he follows me downstairs to my desk. We bypass his food dish on the way, and Thor sees his food dish is empty. Since it’s been at least two hours since breakfast, Thor assumes he’s starving and launches into a piteous round of meows and complaints, which I ignore.

He sidles up next to my desk chair and nudges me till I pet him, just to show there are no hard feelings. Then he heads over to a nearby recliner to resume napping.

I swear he sleeps with one eye open because any movement from me convinces Thor I’m on my way to give him lunch.

I think he misses Milo most after lunch. Most afternoons following their noon meal, Milo would go cat-crazy and chase Thor up and down the stairs and all over the house.

Now and then Thor does the runabout on his own, but it’s not the same if you’re not in fear of a pouncing from your furry friend.

When I prepare dinner, Thor supervises, and his supervisory skills have gotten overbearing. He’s a micromanager when it comes to food prep, especially if there’s meat involved. He bats his paws at the cutting board and loudly demands a portion of whatever I’m cooking. If nothing I’m preparing is suitable for cats, I’ll give him a couple of treats.

He sits next to my chair during dinner. Just in case I feel like slipping him a morsel.

Since he’s so food-motivated, I’ve taught him to sit up, to beg, and occasionally he’ll even roll over for a treat. Playing dead? Well, he does that for hours at a time, with no treat needed.

I usually read for awhile before bedtime, and Thor drapes himself over me, lest I get cold. Or in case I decide to get up for a snack.

When Derek joins me, Thor will often try to suffocate him with affection, too, but we all know it’s just a ploy to get Derek to let him sleep with us.

Derek commands him to leave. Thor ignores him. Ignoring is prominent in his skill set. This irks my husband to no end, because when I get up to shut our bedroom door, I say, “Night, Night, Thor,” and Thor immediately jumps down and scoots out the door. This cat knows which side of his tuna is buttered.

His steadfast, fixated devotion to me may stem in part from loneliness. Thor has never been an only-cat. He came from a litter of four, and when we adopted him, he came home to Milo.

Perhaps it’s time to adopt a furry friend for our tubby tabby. I’m more than willing to share the spotlight of Thor’s saucer eyes.

Stay tuned.

All Write

Shipmate you stand relieved

tom and shirley tucker at barnes and noble

Harold (Tom) Tucker passed away yesterday morning. His and Shirley’s story is the final chapter in War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.

This couple is especially dear to me. They attended every book signing they could make it to, shared their story on public TV in a Northwest Profiles episode, and fielded questions from military service members past and present at the Spokane Veterans Forum.

It hurt Tom to speak of the things he saw when his ship, the USS LaGrange, was bombed two days before the end of the war. But he spoke of the wounded and dying men he tried to help. It was important to him that their sacrifice would be remembered.

Following his service during WWll, Tom became one of the first motorcycle police officers in Spokane, Washington, and despite the seriousness of some of the stories he shared, he always made me laugh.

My thoughts are with Shirley today.

“She’s the other half of me,” Tom once said.

Shipmate you stand relieved. We have the watch.

tom and shirley tucker, dating, 1944, low res

 

Columns

Gifts That Keep on Giving

The tree’s been taken down, the heavenly host wrapped in bubble wrap. Winterberry dishes are back in their boxes, and the last Christmas cookie crumb has been devoured. But I still have lots of holiday joy to anticipate.

That’s because on Christmas morning, my husband gave me some gifts that keep on giving – he gave me gift cards to a few of my favorite places.

I can already hear some of you groaning.

“Gift cards are for those too lazy to shop!”

“Gift cards are so impersonal.”

“Who wants to open a piece of plastic on Christmas morning?”

The answer to that is ME!

For many couples gift-giving can be incredibly stressful. High expectations meet limited resources. Subtle clues misread. Misunderstandings run rampant.

Example: Just because I needed a set of kitchen scissors, did not mean I wanted to find them under the tree on Christmas morning.

Some couples abandon gifts all together and focus on their children, or donate cash they would have spent to local charities.

That’s all well and good, but Derek and I enjoy giving presents to each other. It’s fun to watch your loved one’s eyes light up when they open a gift that delights them.

For example, this year Derek found a leg lamp under the tree – a replica of the one in our favorite holiday film “A Christmas Story.”

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Of course, this led to a discussion about whether this was a seasonal display item, or something that should shine from our living room window all year long.

Like I said, gift-giving can be stressful.

Moving on.

Years ago, we figured out that taking the time to write a list of things we’d enjoy receiving eliminates disappointment, while still keeping surprises alive. You see, we don’t buy each other everything on the lists, so the receiver still doesn’t know what will end up under the tree.

And there’s always off-list purchases like the leg lamp.

When our nest finally empties, things may change. Our sons might not gather around the tree on Christmas morning. There might be grandchildren we’d rather dote on or trips we’d like to take. Traditions have to match whatever stage of life you’re in.

Which brings me back to gift cards.

Derek knows I have a hard time spending money on myself. Nine times out of 10, I’ll see something I like or need and talk myself out of buying it. It used to drive him crazy that I’d dither over buying a new pair of jeans.

“Just buy the jeans!” he’d say.

But I’d demur.

“I’m sure I can find them on sale, somewhere else.”

Then he discovered when he gives me gift cards, I actually enjoy using them.

They gave me permission for small luxuries I normally avoid – like picking up coffee at a drive-thru.

And no, giving cash is not the same thing at all.

The best gifts show how well the giver knows the recipient. Derek understands if he gave me cash, I’d spend it on someone else or give it away. He also knows my favorite shops. He’d never give me a Cabela’s gift card, and I’d never buy him one from Victoria’s Secret (though he really seems to enjoy my purchases from that particular store).

Equally important, we both are happy that our hard-earned dollars stay local instead of being sucked into the endless emptiness of the Internet.

Surprisingly, a survey conducted by Consumer Reports determined that more than 25 percent of all gift cards given are never used.

That’s not the case in our house.

The last scrap of crumpled wrapping paper may have hit the recycling bin, but I’ve got a couple of envelopes set aside with my name on them. At some point, probably next month, I’ll pick up a coffee, drive to a spa for a relaxing massage, and then indulge in some guilt-free shopping.

I’m all about the anticipation, and gift cards can make the magic of Christmas last long after the tinsel – and the leg lamp – have been packed away.