Countdown to Christmas 2.0 (#347)

Gift-giving and holidays were huge in my family. Life wasn’t necessarily great the rest of the year, but looking forward to holidays and birthdays got us through.

In Andy’s Chinese-American childhood? There was no emphasis on holidays or gifts. If he was lucky, there was lucky money in a red envelope when he was young. When he was older, if he was lucky, his mom might tell him to stop at Foodland and pick up a random cake for his own birthday.

Andy did a great job with gifts when we were first together. But after Baby D arrived, he slacked off.  He forgot about items such as stocking stuffers, which was no big deal when we were with my family, where stuffing stockings is a competitive sport and I got plenty of items from my dad’s current wife or various siblings. But our first Christmas at home alone?

I got nothing. Which was unfathomable to me, the person who spent hours picking out Andy’s favorite candies and bottles of bourbon (big and small).

Gilded calendar in white and purple decorated with owls , deer, and wintery woodland scene.
Original Advent Calendar from Vosages (with chocolates on the inside).

Andy rallied after that, but he has never spent anywhere near the time I do picking out gifts. Occasionally, though, he hit the jackpot. Like the time he found out how much I love Advent Calendars and got me the ultimate adult one from Vosages. Every year after that, he faithfully ordered a refill and restocked my calendar with high class chocolates.

Probably because Vosages sent him a yearly reminder.

For our last anniversary, I got Andy Whistle Pig bourbon, plus a second bottle for 5 cents, because Bevmo was having a sale. (Andy loves getting a bargain. He’s not truly happy with a gift unless I outline the great deal I got after he opens it. This is an absolute anathema to pretentious white people, but I’ve learned to roll with it.)

Unfortunately, when I was wrapping the bottles, I realized they were WHISKEY, not bourbon! I went back to the store had to argue with an employee about exchanging the unwanted whiskey.

Huffy Bevmo Employee: “Well, you should have known better. Whistle Pig doesn’t make a bourbon.”

Me, whipping out my phone and hitting the Google app: “Yes, they do.”

“I have never seen one!”

Picture of Whistle Pig BOURBON

Me, holding up phone: “Now you have!”

Huffy Bevmo Employee: “Well, still, you shouldn’t have—”

Me, interrupting: “Trusted that Bevmo would only put BOURBON in the one locked BOURBON case?”

I was allowed to make an exchange. (Note: Most other Bevmo employees have always been helpful and not pissy while being flat out wrong about liquor. I got the Dunning-Kruger special that day.) Still, I prided myself, a non-drinker, on knowing more about bourbon than a liquor store employee—even though the only reason I know anything about bourbon is because it’s one of Andy’s favorite things. When gift-giving is important to you, you learn as much as you can about what the recipient likes so you can get them a good gift. And you take it back the minute you realize it’s NOT a good gift.

Many of you are probably insisting, “It’s the thought that counts.”

No.

That’s a lie told by shitty gift-givers to absolve them of guilt.

Gift-giving is all in the execution.

Take Andy’s anniversary gift to me: a package from an international chocolatier. I was pretty excited…until I opened it and found nothing but solid dark chocolate. I’m a milk chocolate fan, unless the dark chocolate surrounds nuts or caramel (or both).

Andy: “You don’t like it?!”

Me, sobbing dramatically: “Solid dark chocolate? 70-80% cacao? We’ve been married for more than a decade and it’s like you don’t even KNOW me!”

Andy: “But I thought it was a milk chocolate arrangement!”

Turns out Andy didn’t actually take the time to read through the product description (although he swears it was a bait and switch, like Bevmo and the bourbon). He immediately ordered some Ghana chocolates and apple cider caramels from Lake Champlain Chocolates and insisted they were my real gift.

Last week, the yearly advent calendar refill arrived.

Or so I thought.

When I opened the box, I discovered an entirely new “Chocolate Calendar for Advent” from Vosages. One I’d seen advertised on social media and adored, but quickly swiped away from, because I already had one.

The new Chocolate Calendar of Advent!

The second Andy and Baby D arrived home, I dragged them straight to the calendar. “Look, look! It’s awesome! When I press this button, it lights up! When I press this button, it plays the ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from The Nutcracker! And then you open it and there are lights inside and bigger chocolates than previous years and did you know it comes with its own charging cable?!”

Andy, looking somewhat dazed, said, “I did not know that. Wow. It has its own charging cable?!”

“But…you bought it. How did you not know?”

“I couldn’t get refills for your old calendar so I bought the new one. But I didn’t…”

“Read the actual product description? Yet again?

“Uhhhh…”

“So you didn’t actually intend to get me the amazing advent calendar I’ve been coveting?”

Luckily for Andy, Baby D, whose scowl had been deepening during this discussion, burst out with, “Where’s MY advent calendar?!”

“Dad got you a big Lindt one at Costco weeks ago.”

Andy said, “I’ll go get it!” and fled.

He didn’t need to worry. Andy might barely average a “C” grade in Intent.

But I only grade on Execution:
100%

Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

I refer to the time between the end of November and Christmas as “Baking Season.”

It starts with my husband’s six-hour birthday cake (although sometimes he asks for a giant éclair or a chocolate pie), then segues into Thanksgiving desserts (pumpkin cheesecake and maple pie). After that, I make literally hundreds of cookies for Christmas. There are tins for teachers and heaping piles for my familial horde when we travel.

I also bring cookies to parties, carefully arranged on holiday themed platters. This is actually my favorite part—making my project pretty. I’m the same way about preparing my house for a party or dinner. Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms are a miserable chore. Putting out the gorgeous old tablecloths and fine china? So fun.

My fun became more of a chore once Boss Cat, feline marauder extraordinaire, joined our household. The rescue group made us promise to put the obese Boss Cat on a diet.

Boss Cat after losing a lot of weight.

Boss Cat thought diets were bullshit. Once she lost enough weight to be able to jump onto the dining room table, she was relentless.

If you turned your back for two seconds, she’d snag a strip of bacon from your plate. Or a piece of chicken. Or even TOFU AND RICE. Continue reading Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

Christmas Cookies (#332)

First book of Cookies, by Natalie Haughton

Years ago, my friend JM bought me a cookie recipe book. I tried the recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies for a Christmas party. They were a hit. Sometimes I brought those cookies into work during the holidays, sometimes I took the recipe home and made them for whichever siblings/ parental units I was visiting on the East Coast.

My family started requesting those cookies—probably because the only other person who made cookies was my brother-in-law, Georgia Boy. His gumdrop cookies were a nostalgic holiday tribute to his grandmother. They were also awful.

But even Big Brother wasn’t tactless enough to say this to Georgia Boy. Instead, he and Doctor Sister would wait for Georgia Boy to go on a bike ride and suggest I make cookies and let their children “help.” It was a win-win for them—I’d be entertaining First Nephew, First Niece, and Third Nephew for hours and the kitchen would be unavailable. Continue reading Christmas Cookies (#332)

Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

Shopping for anyone from a different culture is tricky.

Shopping for your in-laws is tough.

Shopping for your Chinese-American in-laws?

You’re fucked worse than The Martian. Continue reading Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)

As children, my younger sister and I used to lie under our Christmas trees. We had minimal Christmas decorations, and no outdoor lights, but we loved our small trees. Not only were those colored strings of light magical on their own, they were also a visible reminder that parties, presents, and the North Polar Bear were coming.

When I got my first apartment, I got a tree. It went…poorly. Not only did my roommate JM have allergies (sorry, JM!), but we had cats. 5 pound Bat Cat raced delightedly up and down the tree, ornaments flying in her wake. At 25 pounds, Shamu Cat was incapable or climbing any tree. Instead, he pulled branches down and sat on them, almost as if telling Bat Cat, “See? I am also in the tree!” Continue reading A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times

My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.

Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.

Continue reading The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

What Are You Doing, New Year’s Eve? (#165)

Tonight, as I walked in the rain (with the dog, not Andy, don’t go thinking it was all romantic and shit), I thought about New Year’s Eve. It’s supposed to be a big party, right? Champagne, dancing, party dresses, sparklers, kisses?

That’s what movies say. That’s what TV says. Hell, that’s what my Instagram feed looks like, anyway.

But is it? Continue reading What Are You Doing, New Year’s Eve? (#165)

Stocking Savior (#164)

My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).

I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer. Continue reading Stocking Savior (#164)

Storm Runners (#163)

Like many couples, Andy and I had to sort out the holidays when we got married. I expected a pitched battle.

I opted for the soft opening. “Since your birthday is around Thanksgiving, why don’t you pick where we go and what we do for that holiday and I’ll decide what we do for Christmas.”

Andy countered with, “Sure.” Continue reading Storm Runners (#163)