Monday, November 27, 2006

Just For Fun

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. Ked and I went to the farm where he grew up, to spend the day with his family--parents, grandparents, siblings and their offspring--which is much like stepping into a painting by Norman Rockwell. Seriously, I never knew there were families in the world that truly got along and had completely non-contentious and cheerful holidays until I married my husband. That single act introduced me into a whole new world, where one does not spend two days cooking a feast of ham glazed in Madeira sauce, with brandied fruit baked on top, and gratin potatoes with Gruyere cheese, and homemade cheesecake, only to be told that it's traditional to serve turkey at Christmas, and asked, "Where's the pumpkin pie?" Being part of Ked's family is like stepping into an alternate reality. Everyone falls over themselves complimenting every dish, and oozing out the door at the end of the night takes at least an hour, because everyone is so reluctant to say goodbye.

Gift giving is also a strange and wonderful experience in the alternate universe that is my husband's family, one that has not gotten old in the twenty years that I have been privileged to call his family mine. There are never complaints about color, size, or style, no comments about how another brand is better, or that the one purchased last year is still in the box. This is not meant to insult my own family, whom I love dearly, but things are just done in a completely different way in the Norman Rockwell painting. The painting is a whole new level of family togetherness. For years I have sat in awe as relatives read aloud the poetry they have written to each other for Christmas gifts. I've watched Ked's mom tear up as his brother's wife shared how grateful she was to her husband's parents for raising the man she loves. I've admired the beautifully worked handmade quilts, the squares lovingly painted with the hand-prints of each family member, the whole combining to tell the life tale of the grandparents who received it. I've seen the delight on the faces of siblings receiving sweet words about the value of family, all surrounded with a picture frame printed with treasured photographic memories from their childhood. These people have the whole "spirit of giving thing" down pat. It's not about the things for them. It's about the love they have for each other. It's amazing.

Okay, where to go from all this mushy stuff? I'm already paying the orchestra overtime, so we'd probably better move on to more down-to-earth, everyday reality, and let the violins have a break for now. I don't want to shift gears too suddenly, though, so let's stick with the topic of gift-giving. It is the holiday shopping season, and whether you live in a Norman Rockwell painting, or with normal people, most of us are spending a fair amount of time and money right now so that we have gifts to give the people we love this Christmas. (I could be politically correct here and list the alternative winter holidays that various people employ as gift-giving opportunities, to keep kids whose families don't celebrate Christmas from feeling left out during the holidays, but you already know what they are.) To aid you in choosing the perfect gift this Christmas, I'm going to send you to that pillar of American culture--Dave Barry. (Requires registration, but it's free.) He will be of absolutely no use in helping you select something nice or useful for the folks on your list, however, he will make your shopping easier, by eliminating some losers.

He has a whole selection of inappropriate possibilities that, while not giving you any assistance locating the right present for your aunt Marge, might give you a chuckle, and the realisation that no matter what you do eventually buy, it won't be as bad as it could be. Since this is Dave Barry we are talking about, be forewarned that some of his suggestions are juvenile and crude, but all of them are indeed real, purchasable products, such as the Marie Antoinette action figure, complete with removable head, the motorized ice cream cone (for when you just can't manage to turn the cone manually), and the Cruzin Cooler, which is something like a Moped with a cooler for a seat. (I predict this one could be a hit with kids who want to sell ice cream sandwiches in their neighborhood, but are too young to drive.) These truly awful gifts should make you feel better about even your worst gift choices, and indeed, about any of the attic-fillers you yourself receive this Christmas. Remember, of course, it's the thought that counts, and by not buying these turkeys you will have gone a long way toward proving that you put some real thought into your gift-giving. Have fun.