That Perfect Gift for When You Have No Idea What to Get Someone

Head on over to our Etsy site to see the hand made coasters / decorative tiles you’re going to need for the holidays. You already know you’re going to be invited to your neighbor’s Holiday Block Party and, really, who needs another bottle of wine? (Just seeing if you’re paying attention — we ALL need another bottle of wine!) However, why not be original and present a set of these beauties as a unique hostess gift? Then, everyone will be all like “Wow, did you see what ESC Reader brought to the party? She must have the inside scoop on all the new, amazing trends. I’m going to need to pay attention to what she’s doing because she’s really got her life together.”

holiday
Your neighbor: “WOW – you’re the best guest that’s ever stepped foot in my house EVER!”

Or, don’t forget that group at work who just love to have a Yankee Swap. The only problem you may run into is avoiding the melee that will undoubtedly occur when everyone is fighting for the gift you provided. However, you’re going to get a sizable raise when your boss, who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, is the one who takes these babies home after trading in a Holly Berry Yule Log scented candle. Because making snowmen with Grampa is a favorite childhood memory. I smell a promotion…

snowman
Your boss: “She’s a hard worker, has a keen eye for detail, and a terrific sense of style. I think a 35% raise is fitting.”

Or what about your crabby sister-in-law who always pouts because her birthday is the day after Christmas and she’s annoyed that she’s only known birthday presents that come in red and green wrapping paper. Get her a set of these gems to remind her that it’s warm and sunny somewhere (just not in her disposition.)

beach
Your sister-in-law: “No one’s ever been so thoughtful. This is just perfect. You’re the best.” …sniff…

You’re welcome! We appreciate thanks in the form of cash or check. Or wine.
Happy Holidays!!!

 

Save

Save

Save

Food Day

Growing up, our mom worked at a grocery store. She got paid every Thursday, which was by far the most important day of the week, because Thursday was Food Day. She’d get her paycheck and go shopping after work, returning home a little later than usual with a trunk full of the week’s provisions. Invariably, I’d have my fat face pressed against the dining room window desperately waiting for her Silly Putty-colored Dodge Aspen station wagon to turn onto our street.

very similar to this beauty (photoshopped to look more 'putty' colored)
very similar to this beauty (*photoshopped to look more ‘putty’ colored)

Before she finished backing into the driveway, we’d surround her car like starving hyenas around a freshly mauled gazelle. The lift gate’s springs were blown, so my job was to stand with my hands over my head, elbows locked, holding up what felt like 350 pounds of glass and steel while everyone else unloaded the brown paper bags that were filled with stuff that was really never even that good. As my siblings passed by me, I’d try to identify what was in the bags while screaming warnings at them not to eat all the good stuff.  There was a handful of times where there would be a package of Oreos or Chips Ahoy, but we’d sniff those out immediately and, if they even made it into the house, the cookies would be gone within minutes. I specifically remember one magical day when a box of Cookie Crisp cereal was discovered in one of the bags. I’m pretty sure it was gone before the rest of the car was unpacked. But more often than not, if there was a rogue bag of cookies, they were godawful windmill cookies, and we’d give my poor mom hell for hours. (“Ma, why do you get these – they taste like cardboard!” “Because your father likes them!”)

windmillcookies
What the hell, ma?

We never had potato chips for the same reason I can’t buy them now – my mom knew she’d eat them. (I have no control. And I curse the monster who’s responsible for Cape Cod jalapeno chips. Damn you! Damn you straight to hell!) Lunch meat options were pimento loaf, Lebanon bologna, liverwurst, or deviled ham. At some point in time, we acquired a suspicious, oddly-shaped can of liver pate with peppercorns that sat on the shelf collecting dust for years. I’m guessing it was sold before the invent of expiration dates, so there was never a reason to throw it away. Because ‘this looks like cat vomit‘ wasn’t a valid argument.

pate
mmm mmm good!

Sugared cereals were banned, so the grocery bags contained some combination of puffed rice (which easily doubles as packing material,) Cheerios, Wheaties, Corn Flakes, or Grape Nuts, which I love but can no longer eat since my ‘the-crunchier-the-better’ mantra has compromised my poor teeth. However, my parents’ logic behind supplying only ‘healthy’ cereals backfired since I always piled at least three to four heaping spoonfuls of sugar on my ‘bland’ cereal. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl, I was munching a slurry of 70/30 sugar to milk ratio. mmm crunchy milk…

Since we had little to no junk food, we had to be inventive. I wasn’t past pouring syrup on a plate and sopping it up with soft white bread. Kool Aid was a staple, and I’m pretty sure the directions called for more sugar than water. Chocolate chips were supposed to be for recipes, but they’re candy when there are no other options.

I couldn’t wait to grow up and have a family of my own so I could stroll through the supermarket selecting delicious products from the shelves and returning home to smiling faces so grateful for my thoughtfulness. They’d be delighted to help me unpack the many bags overflowing with all their favorites – and some new surprises they’d be eager to try. Every night’s dinner would be an adventure and, more often than not, would end with applause for the feast I had spread before them. But it’s not like that. No, it’s not like that at all. And don’t I now do the same damn thing my mother did, the only difference being that there isn’t one specific day each week designated to buying a trunk load of crappy groceries. Sometimes it’s two weeks. (“Ma, why do you get these rice cakes – they taste like cardboard!” “Because they’re good with hummus!”)

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Aww, What a Cute Little SONOFABITCHBASTARD!

woody1

Over six years ago, my husband and I started a DYI home improvement project in the form of a new back deck. To date, it’s still not 100% complete (and I might get in trouble for even mentioning that since it’s been a sensitive issue around these parts for some time now) but it has been fully functional for a number of years. This spring, we decided to add some plants at the outer edge of the back of the deck. Probably to trick us (read: me) into thinking it is 100% complete.

Neither my husband nor I have a particularly green thumb (although he has our lawn looking amazing so his must be a shade distinctly more chartreuse than my kill-an-ivy-houseplant one) so we researched and decided what would look good and thrive with the amount of sunlight in that section of the yard. We trekked to the fancy, expensive nursery where the staff are helpful and well informed, and we left with an assortment of grasses, colorful perennials, and soil.

Between the two of us, no less than a quart of our sweat was incorporated into the soil while we cultivated that small portion of our yard. We were proud of our work and eager to watch the plants grow – taller grasses in the back sloping down to shorter flowers in the front, carefully arranged by color. We fertilized and watered and nurtured the shit out of these plants. There was no way we were going to let our negligence lead to the downfall of yet another expensive nursery outing. (Because we’ve done that before. More than once. Stop making fun of me.)

This period of time coincided with the arrival of some fuzzy new neighbors. Because I get a little too excited at all things furry, I called my kids to the window every time I saw the woodchuck that lived under the neighbor’s shed lumbering around in the grass. “Hey, girls, our big fat friend is visiting!” I spent way longer than necessary gazing out the window like an imbecile saying really stupid things to the animals that can’t hear me “Hi, floof! What are you doing? Are you taking a little morning stroll?…” Imagine my excitement when I looked out one Sunday morning and saw Woody in the neighbor’s yard with four tiny duplicates. I just about lost my mind. Apparently Woody was female and had been busy, if you know what I’m saying. (wink wink) Not only were there exponentially more cute fuzzies to entertain me, but the growing family apparently needed to upgrade to the larger living space under our shed. I loved it.

And I loved it when I walked outside and surprised one of the rapidly growing babies near our deck’s back stairs. As I watched him clumsily run back to his safe haven under our shed, I thought “Oh they’re so comfortable with us and know how harmless we are that they’re getting closer to the house because we’re nice and friendly and like cute furry things!” I walked slowly to the back of the deck and carefully peeked to see if any of his siblings were there. No, there were no siblings. There was only utter destruction and devastation of our once thriving garden of beauty. It took me a fraction of a second to go from wanting to hand feed the tiny woodchuck to wanting to strangle the life out of him and his pernicious brood. Ok, that’s extreme — I at least wanted to sit them all down and give them a stern talking-to. But since they don’t understand English and I’m not fluent in any other languages, I turned to google for a humane solution. It’s not their fault we planted the filet mignon of perennials.

So now we’re banking on a concoction of spray and granules that yield a smell and taste to deter the rodents from further feasting in order to salvage what’s left.  It came in the mail today so we’ll see if it does any good. Because as I type this, two of them are in the backyard prepping a buffet. Damn it!!! (They’re still painfully cute, though. But now when I see them I say the same stupid stuff, adding a serious “Stop eating our plants!” at the end. That’ll learn ’em.)woody2

woody

 

woody3

**Since my internet was down (thanks a lot, Comcast) I’m able to add an update before posting: There has most definitely been a decline in back yard woodchuck sightings, but I’m not sure if that’s due to the pellets and spray or the fact there’s nothing left for the critters to eat. The plants have yet to grow back. So, really, this update is useless. Carry on…

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Doin’ It Summer

doinitsummer
I kind of have a thing for lobsters

Spring has always been my favorite season, but that’s really only because it’s the precursor to summer. In my twisted psyche, I can’t say summer is my favorite because I won’t start enjoying it until mid-June’s summer solstice, and then it’s over in just a few short months. I guess I can compare it to loving to travel — during a long car ride to a destination or checking luggage at the airport, my mind is filled with visions of how great the location and ensuing days of leisure will be.

As is usually the case, we don’t have much planned for this summer. There’s a week’s vacation on Cape Cod in August with extended family that will most definitely be amazing, but other than that, we’ll be creating our own summer magic as it comes to us.

This is the first year my girls won’t be attending our town’s half-day camp for the month of July. Once school let out they were presented with a lot of free time. But the glorious weather conditions we had been waiting for since last autumn were completely lost on them as they preferred spending the majority of time in their room looking at the 5-inch screens of their phones. The shades were often still down and I’m fairly certain it was making me clinically depressed.

“Let’s go,” I said.

{in unison, without looking up from their phones} “Go where?”

“I don’t know, but we’re going. Figure it out. Where do you want to go? I’m not staying here – it’s amazing outside. Let’s do something.” This wasn’t optional.

Typically I’m more of a planner, thinking I require 24 hours notice of any type of outing, but off the top of my head I presented them with four different options. One reluctantly agreed she’d do one, the other reluctantly agreed she’d do another. At this point I may or may not have flipped out a little called one or both of my ‘tweens a pain in the ass. But, may or may not having done that aside, I caught myself and came up with this gem: “Each of you take a small piece of paper and write down two things you’d be willing to do right now – I’m going to pull one and that’s what we’re doing. Go.”

They did it. And I pulled “Boston.” And we went to Boston. (For the record, we’re in a suburb maybe thirty minutes away — it’s not like we had to hop a plane.) We had a great time because there was no agenda. We hit traffic and it didn’t matter. We strolled Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. We watched street performers and window shopped and I let them lead the way wherever we went. They chose to eat at Dick’s Last Resort because they liked the large hand made paper hats the patrons were wearing. It was fantastic because, if you’ve never been to Dick’s Last Resort, the staff are intentionally obnoxious and rude, and the waiter won their sardonic hearts with “Here’s your drinks, losers.” By the time we left both girls wanted to know how old they had to be to work there. My sarcastic babies make me so proud… sniff…

At the girls’ request – because they ended up loving this – we will continue with the bowl of ‘Summer Ideas’ (as my very organized daughter so neatly labeled it) so that we can continue to fill it with potential trips when the opportunity presents itself. Come September, I refuse to look back on this summer and regret letting these long, beautiful days go to waste. There have been so many times in the past when I’ve not acted fast enough, or thought I needed more time to plan, or involve more people. But I’m taking charge and when an activity, an idea, an outing is available, we’re doin’ it.

Now I have to go because I just signed my daughter and I up for a 5K that starts in an hour. #doinit

Cattiness: A Case Study

showers bring out the worst in all of us
showers bring out the worst in all of us

Back when I was spending most of my weekends – and my paychecks – on events related to the majority of my peer group getting married within a three to four year time period, I developed a discernible hatred for all things bridal shower. One clever couple decided to have a Jack & Jill shower (sarcastic yay!) so the guys could suffer along with all the unfortunate females in attendance. I think my husband thought I was exaggerating when I repeatedly warned him that it was going to be “such a bad time.” While I appreciated the idea of having him there to commiserate, I actually felt bad for him. One of the major advantages of being male is that, besides the wedding itself, their obligation typically ends with the bachelor party. Why torment them? It’s like dosing them with ipecac so they can experience a stomach bug along with you.

The weekend of the shower some of our out-of-state friends stay with us and, not surprisingly, we imbibed a bit too much the night before the wedding shower. In the morning, we dragged our sorry, hungover asses out of bed, attempted to re-hydrate, and got ready to make small talk with distant relatives of the happy couple. (another sarcastic yay!) One of our friends was lucky enough to be so sick she couldn’t get out of bed, so we headed out without her. (I was so jealous. Had I had the foresight, I would have started chasing tequila shots with white Russians at 2 a.m.)

We get to the godforsaken shower and I’m wondering if anyone would notice if I curled up in the fetal position in a corner of the function hall to sleep. But I stick it out and am seated between my husband and our friend – the one whose lucky wife is back at the apartment probably retching in agony. The soon-to-be bride and groom are sitting at the front of the room while we watch them open presents, feigning enthusiasm. (“Ooooohhhhh, what lovely silver bud vases!”)

It starts on my right, with my friend quietly commenting in my ear about the woman at the table next to us. “Oh my God, look at that bird’s nest of a hairdo! What a mess! Who let her leave the house like that? Doesn’t she have a mirror?” I had been too busy concentrating on not throwing up all over the centerpiece to notice. Meanwhile, my husband chimes in on my left. “What the hell is that? Look at the size of her bag! That’s luggage. How could she possibly need all that stuff with her all the time? I pack less when I’m traveling for a week…” These two are talking to me simultaneously because they can’t hear each other criticizing everyone like two stodgy old women at a strip club. After a few minutes of this, I break down. I start laughing so uncontrollably that my face is contorted and tears are streaming out of my eyes. After gaining enough composure to wipe the streams of mascara off my face, I tell them they’re the cattiest bitches I’ve ever known. And I can’t even blame them because being corralled into a room surrounded by judgmental women while watching someone open boring presents brings out the worst in a person — the nasty, catty, criticizing worst.

Should the opportunity ever present itself again, my husband has a free pass to NOT attend another such function. If it results in him acting like a mean girl with PMS, he can stay home.

When Life gets Hard

b&m
the stunning couple 55+ years ago

The past few months have been incredibly mentally draining. My sister, brother and I have been focusing on my father, his declining physical health, and the effects of the vascular dementia that was recently diagnosed. Additionally (and maybe more importantly) we’ve been concerned about our mother who acts selflessly as his caretaker, and the effect all of this must be having on her.

My parents have been married for over 55 years. My father has a fun, loving, generous, and silly side to him that is wonderful to be around but has been unfortunately overshadowed by his angry, explosive, irrationally short-tempered nature. With my mother’s calm and selfless personality they are a textbook example of ‘opposites attract.’ Whether due to the dementia, the natural progression of aging, what we believe to be an undiagnosed mental disorder, or some combination of the three, my father has become increasingly more unreasonably angry. Additionally, a series of hip surgeries starting in his thirties have left him more and more uncomfortable and physically limited.

My mother did get some help by hiring home health care aides to come in six mornings a week. The catalyst for what happened next was when one of the aides quit, claiming she couldn’t work with my father any longer because of the abusive language he used when speaking about my mother. While there has never been one instance of him being physically abusive to any of us, he finds an outlet in outbursts of swearing and screaming terribly hurtful things, defending his actions by claiming he’s ‘expressing himself.’ Knowing this woman could no longer work with my father one day a week due to the abusive way he spoke about my mother was my mother’s breaking point. The result was my father being admitted for an evaluation at the geriatric psych ward at a nearby hospital.

At first, they wanted to send him home that same night. Then, they ended up keeping him for two and a half excruciating weeks. During this time, they experimented with a number of different medications to calm his angry outbursts, one that left him so lethargic he was unable to feed himself, another that confused him so much that he didn’t know who I was. After a week we had to prompt the staff to shower and shave him, and they had stopped attempting to help him walk, opting to leave him stagnant in a wheelchair. It was heartbreaking to witness the horrible surroundings and the lack of empathy by the burned out staff.

Meanwhile, immediately after his admission to the hospital, my sister and I started researching assisted living homes, visiting seven in a three day period. We found a beautiful, new facility with amazingly supportive staff in a convenient location to all of us. My mom loved it, signed the paperwork, and we had his room set up and move-in ready within a week. The staff visited the hospital to assess my father and were ready to have him move in whenever the hospital was ready to transfer him. That process took an additional week. After a ‘discussion’ with the condescending psychiatrist who wanted to keep my father yet another day, I think my claim that they seemed to be holding my father hostage prompted him to sign the paperwork to move him that afternoon.

He has been at his new home for a week. Although the staff initially suggested we hold off visiting in order for him to adjust, we were able to see him after three days. He’s showered, shaved, and dressed every day. The wheelchair is long gone and he’s using a walker to get around. He’s definitely confused and the cognitive difference in his thinking has changed drastically since before his hospital admission. According to professionals (and endless google searches) this could be due to any number of things – a change in his environment and daily routine, new medications, a stroke, a sudden natural result of the vascular dementia, etc. But the anger and outbursts have also waned. We’re all finally feeling like we’ve stepped into the light at the end of a very long, very dark tunnel. My mother is at peace knowing that her husband is so close by, content in a beautiful facility with supportive and caring staff providing him with the 24-hour care he could no longer receive at home. And the rest of us are finally letting out a collective sigh of relief that both parents are getting the care they need.

FOMO vs FOBI

The Disney Princesses of Selfies
The Disney Princesses of Selfies

The acronym FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – is prevalent now thanks to a negative side effect of social media (mostly facebook.) When a photo is posted on facebook, it is often the result of a group selfie, retaken because Cindy didn’t like her smile, retaken again because Kathy had her hand in front of Erika’s face (she’s always doing that,) retaken yet again because Sandra blinked, with the final result being a picture adequate enough to post what appears to be the most epic evening overflowing with lush cocktails, gourmet appetizers, and enough laughs and hugs and camaraderie to put everyone lucky enough to be in attendance in a state of zen for the next three months. Or at least until the next event, which will be equally – if not more – incredible.

I’m torn somewhere between FOMO and FOBI – Fear Of Being Included. As a human being, it’s only natural to feel a sense of… I’m not sure exactly what to call it… a twinge of jealousy mixed with a small amount of anger mixed with a larger dose of decreased self esteem. I know most of the people that were there so how come I wasn’t invited? I don’t get more than a few moments beyond that thought when I snap out of it, already knowing the answer. Had I had been invited, I still wouldn’t be in the picture because I wouldn’t have gone — I don’t want to be there. As a result of my textbook introversion (I’ve previously posted about it here and here) the idea of being invited to fend for myself in a social situation with a large group of acquaintances sets loose a crippling mix of anxiety and panic. I have forced myself to overcome this affliction in the past with mixed results. I have been known to have fun every now and again without the safety blanket of my husband or a close friend I can rely on to guide me through awkward small talk. On the other hand, there have been times where I have suffered through some unbearably stiff gatherings that left me lecturing myself the entire car ride home while I replay every single word I had said in order to berate myself for my social incompetence. (“Ugghh, why would I ever tell her that? I am Such. A. Loser!”) Then I get home and curl myself into the smallest ball possible while digging my head into the crevice between the couch cushion and my husband’s leg in an attempt to burrow underneath him and away from myself. He’ll laugh and tell me I’m a mental case while I agree and tell him I don’t want to talk any more words.

As I get older, I’m dealing with this less frequently, probably due to one of two things — either there’s so much other stuff going on that’s so legitimately more important that I can’t be bothered with worrying about my insignificant insecurities, or my attempts at avoiding such situations have been so successful that I don’t come across them very often any more. I don’t really know if that’s good or bad. But I do suspect that there are many more of you out there that feel the same way. Sadly, we won’t ever meet because it’s too scary. Hit me up, all you fellow FOBI’s so we can form a club of non-inclusion from the quiet comfort of our safe, isolated surroundings.

Which One are You?

it might be you... it's probably you
it might be you… it’s probably you

It has been my observation that often times in families, there is one parent with a significantly higher level of crazy/neuroticism/eccentricity than the other. In my case, it is most definitely my dad, who falls under the neurotic category with psychotic features and a side of narcissistic personality disorder. But that’s a therapy session for another day. My mother more than makes up for it by being so monumentally normal that I’m not convinced she’s human.

Alternately, my grandfather was a kind and quiet, hardworking gentleman. In contrast, his short-tempered wife was excruciatingly talkative and had very specific rules by which everyone should live or else they were stupid and useless. (This does not mean that I didn’t cherish every minute of being at their house — especially weeks I would spend there during school vacations being treated like royalty. I suspect I may have been obedient enough to avoid the ‘stupid and useless’ category.)

A friend of mine has a dad who was like the wise man on the mountain, speaking mostly in sage, thought-provoking sentences and phrases while his wife whirlwinded about the house waving her arms, pointing at things with a crumpled tissue in her hand and harshly commanding everyone to complete whatever trivial tasks she needed done immediately. She would enter a room full of people just to open or close windows and adjust the lighting before exiting to take a nap. We’d invariably readjust everything back to their original comfortable settings before the ‘attack,’ puzzled as to why she had gone through the trouble in the first place.

I had neighbors who were so strikingly different that I’m still stumped as to how they ever got past a first date. The wife was so lovely and polite and pleasant which was in stark contrast to her husband who was an obnoxiously rude, self-serving, raging drunk. Like, urinating in our front yard and passing out in a lawn chair in his driveway with vomit all over himself alcoholic (these were separate occasions, and the peeing thing happened more than once.) They did end up divorced, which is different than the other examples I’ve provided, but I can’t fathom how that lasted for any length of time. He has since cirrhosis-ed himself out of commission (shocker) and if I sound cold and unsympathetic it’s because he provided us with no end of grief as he was always a miserable bastard to my mother and we three kids.

In my house, I’m genuinely unsure whether my children would consider my husband or me the unstable one. I’m hoping we fall into the small percentage of balanced families with two emotionally anchored parents, but I’m more convinced that if I can’t tell which one of us is nuts, it has to be me. But I’ll try to put a positive spin on it by assuring myself that children having to deal with drastically contrasting parental personalities will be well adjusted to dealing with many different personality types in life. So, really, I’m doing them a favor. Long live the insanity…

You Need This in Your Life

slap-yo'-mama good
slap-yo’-mama good

I’m not a huge dessert person. I’d rather have more (and I say more because I’ve most certainly already had too much) butter-slathered crusty bread than a piece of cake — but that’s not to say I can’t down a black raspberry ice cream cone with jimmies before you finish reading this sentence. However, every so often I come across something so uniquely sweet and delicious and puppy kicking good that it’s frightening how little self-control I have as I proceed to stuff mouthful after mouthful into my fat face. These Coconut Coffee Blondies are a perfect example. (Take it easy, I’m not really kicking any puppies over it — but if those were my only options, I would consider it…)

My sister first made these several months back to give away as gifts, which meant we split one small one to make sure they weren’t awful (uh, they weren’t!) and then had to be crafty in cutting small slices off some of the larger bars in order to eat more, and more, and more. And then the amount going to each person was lesser and lesser as we uncontrollably diminished the quantity. I made another batch recently and was again astounded at how awesome they are (I was thinking maybe I was really hungry the first time I had them and they couldn’t possibly be as good as I remembered — uh, they were!)

The recipe is from Heather Christo’s website and the direct link to the recipe is: Coconut Coffee Blondies. Please make them right away. And get them to me immediately because I’m hungry. (I’m just kidding — I’m almost never hungry, but that wouldn’t stop me from eating the hell out of a fresh batch…)