Ugly Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

My ugly sweater
My ugly sweater

The holiday party at my work is on Wednesday and they are having an ugly sweater contest.  When I first read the memo, I thought, “meh.”  Then the more the idea settled, the more fun it seemed.  I searched through thrift store racks for something so ridiculous no one could argue the ugliness.  Then, I began to think of ways I could make it look even worse.

Last night, I finally got around to sewing strings of bells onto my sweater.  I finished one sleeve and examined it, convinced it might just be hideous enough to win.

And then my older son walked into the room (he’s thirteen.)

“Why are you sewing bells onto your sweater?” he asked.

“Because I’m making my ugly sweater even uglier.”

“But it’s not ugly, it looks kind of pretty.”

Pretty?!  I stopped to look at his expression, certain he was messing with me, like when he convinced me a bee had landed in my hair.  (There was no bee, but I hope he enjoyed the show, because I have not forgotten… and I will get him back!)

“It looks fancy,” he said.

Well, fancy wasn’t what I was going for.  I decided that ugly was in the eye of the beholder.  And then my thoughts led me down the loopy path that became this post…

Ribbon and cats do not go well together
Ribbon and cats do not go well together

The gifts under my 4-ft Walmart tree are not adorned with bows or ribbon.  I have never lived with a cat who could not resist chewing and ingesting the ribbon.  It’s like ribbon is woven with tuna and catnip and is too irresistible to the feline palate.  Never mind the intestinal issues that follow… not even that will deter them.  This is why I have a strict no ribbon policy and no matter how much the kids beg for the “pretty stuff”, it won’t happen.

Some might see our gifts as not aesthetically pleasing; even ugly.  I’m so used to “plain” presents that I see the assorted wrapping papers and think, “pretty!”

Again, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.

Here’s where my thoughts looped again, and I associated this statement with people.  I’ve met people who, on the surface, seem ordinary or dull, but once I got to know them, they were quite interesting- whether it be fascinating travels, quirky sense of humor or unique hobbies.  What a pleasing surprise that is!

On the other hand, it’s a crushing disappointment to be enamored by the fluff and frills, only to discover that once all that’s gone, there’s nothing of substance.  When that happens, it’s hard to remember what I found so beautiful in the first place, because all I could see was the ugliness beneath it all.  It’s like even the memories were a fraud; they became fuzzy and disconnected from the reality I learned.

Ugly really is in the eye of the beholder.

Age has taught me a few things.  Like, gravity happens, but it matters less and less.  And, maybe my parents understood more than I gave them credit for.  And, the best friends are those who don’t need to be everybody’s friend.

And finally, real beauty isn’t observed in a glance.

Have a beautiful Tuesday (even if you happen to be donning an ugly sweater!)

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Wrapping Cats, Playing Games, and Grasping Happiness

The “things” that contribute to happiness cannot be wrapped and tied with bows.

Ironically, these are the very things we take for granted.

How do you wrap a cat?  Um, you don't!
How do you wrap a cat?   Um, not very easily!

Around Christmas, marketers hope that we get caught up in the deftly executed ad campaigns. Some unwittingly fall into the trap of overindulging and overspending. Others turn themselves inside out to find the perfect gift to make loved ones happy.

How silly – happiness can’t be purchased. It’s in our heads (and hearts.)

We have a budget for Christmas, and our kids’ requests often fall outside of that budget. So, instead of their dream gift, they get a lesson in handling disappointment. Sometimes, though, they are pleasantly surprised.

We let our kids each pick a gift to open early. My older son tore through the paper on the box and tossed the packing material aside. He examined the bubble-wrapped object in his hand and said, “Oh. It’s an ornament.”

He thought we got him a new phone. He’s twelve- and delusional, it seems.

My younger son ripped the paper from his box and squealed with delight when he saw the game Apples to Apples. “How did you guys know? I love this game!”

Now, that reaction made me smile. A couple months ago, he begged me to buy that game for him because he’d played it at school. I listened (and surprisingly, remembered.)

My kids ‘ reactions illustrate how expectations can lead to disappointment when actuality doesn’t live up to our anticipation. Sure, we could go into debt and “wow” my older son with a phone, but I think the greater gift is to learn true happiness can’t be found inside a box under the tree.

Some people never learn this and spend their lives filling the void with “things.”

On Sunday evening, we played Apples to Apples as a family. Even my older son (who had proclaimed the game as “stupid”) eventually joined in. We spent time together- interacting and laughing. We had fun.

We found happiness in each other’s company.

For those who celebrate Christmas – I wish you a merry one. For those who do not – I wish you happiness. “See” you after the new year 🙂

The First Supper (fiction) & Emilio Pasquale Photo

Photo courtesy of Emilio Pasquale (click photo to view his site)
Photo courtesy of Emilio Pasquale (click photo to view his site)

Mackenzie Walters stood in the center of the large ballroom, soaking in the rays streaming in from the windows that made up the better part of three walls. For several minutes, she stood, transfixed by the lush gardens surrounding the banquet hall. The resort had touted itself as an oasis in the desert and she had to agree – nowhere else in Phoenix could she be transported to the tropics. She almost forgot it hadn’t rained in fifty-three days.

“Are you okay, Mackie?”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw her best friend, Heather, lingering in the doorway. She shrugged. “Yeah, I think so.” She turned to a nearby table and tugged at one of the white napkins to give it a taller peak. A flicker of memory made her smile; something her mom would say about busy hands and idle minds.

“I’m not so sure.”

“I appreciate your concern, but this is exactly what I want to do.”

“I think you’re in shock,” Heather said. “I mean, your parents died only four weeks ago and immediately you started planning this extravaganza.” She made a sweeping motion with her left arm.

Mackenzie nodded. “Yeah, there wasn’t much time to pull it together, but I think the place looks nice.”

“It should, for what you’re paying for it.”

She closed her eyes and inhaled. “Do you smell that?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “It’s chicken piccata, pasta and fresh green beans, but it might as well be filet mignon and caviar.” She nudged a glass to line it up with the knife at another place setting. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience.”

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Bows And Lights- And Memories

My older son tied on 79 red bows!
My older son tied on 79 red bows!

Fresh off the high (or “low”?) of Black Friday, we delved into hauling out our Christmas decorations.  (I’m not being sarcastic- I love holiday decorating.)  Every year, the kids excitedly adorn our tree with sixteen years of accumulated ornaments (many purchased each year on the day after Christmas.)  Our tree might look gaudy to the outside eye, but for us, it’s a beautiful testament to life, love and family.

A few weeks ago, I went out dinner with some ladies from the neighborhood.  I don’t really fit in, but this monthly gathering is my attempt to be semi-social.  Anyway, the conversation went something like this:

Lady:  Has anyone seen that house with all the decorations?

Me:  Oh yeah, it’s great!  He started decorating back in October.

Lady:  It looks like he bought everything from the dollar store or a garage sale.

This house "lights" up my kids' faces.
This house “lights” up my kids’ faces.

Oops.  Another social cue totally missed by me!  To some, this man’s house might look like overkill.  But I wonder if his decorations hold the same memories that our tree does?  I bet they do.  Here’s another thing:  his house makes my kids smile.  Whenever we drive by at night, we slow down so they can gawk at the lights.

I always thought happiness was an intended by-product of the holidays.  When I see my kids’ eyes wide in wonder (even my eleven-year-old- which trust me, doesn’t happen often) I can’t help but think such decorating with abandon is a fabulous idea.  (Side note:  decorating to the hilt in order to show up the neighbors, is NOT in the holiday spirit.  And, when decorating becomes a chore that no one wants to do, it should be stopped!)

On Sunday, the kids and I went shopping at Wal-Mart, Big Lots, and the dollar store.  We ended up with 215 ornaments, 27 feet of beaded garland, 8 boxes of lights and 82 red bows.  The kids had a blast hanging the colorful ornaments on our trees and my older son relished his role of supervisor while guiding my husband as he strung the lights.  (“Higher Dad, go higher!”)

12-3 Tree Lights

When darkness came, we stood shivering in the street, admiring our imperfect handiwork.  The kids were so excited because this was the first time we’ve ever decorated outside.  I’ve promised we’ll go shopping the day after Christmas to get more lights for next year.  Oh, and Pickles wants a lighted reindeer- maybe two.

My, what will the neighbors think?

Hmmm…turns out, I really don’t care.  It won’t dim our family’s joy in the least 🙂

Seasons of Friendship

Tis the season...for lights and friendship
Tis the season…for lights and friendship

Not all friends

Stay with us for life;

Some appear when we need them

Only to drift away again.

They see us through seasons,

Like angels,

Give a shoulder or a hand-

Strength when we need it.

When a season passes,

And our friend is gone,

We might not see through the sadness,

The possibility of a new dawn.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

I got the best Christmas gift ever this year.  It doesn’t fit in a box…didn’t cost a dime…can’t be shopped for at the store.  I bet you’d never guess in a million years what it is.  We survived the Mayan apocalypse, but I’m fairly certain none of us will be here in a million years, so I’ll just end the suspense now:  I am back in touch with a lost friend.  Not just any friend:  Holly- the one credited in my ‘About’ page with introducing me to poetry (which has led to story and novel writing).

How it happened is so crazy, I still can’t believe it.

Someone recently left a comment on my blog that made me question if I knew this person.  Curiosity prompted me to channel my inner cyber-stalker and I emailed him a few questions.  He responded and his answers proved this was someone I knew in high school – over twenty years ago!  It turns out that he stayed in contact with Holly, and passed my email info along to her.  She emailed me right away.

Since that day, Holly and I have sent a flurry of emails back and forth, exchanged family photos, reminisced, and tried to catch up on over twenty years of life.  Neither one of us can remember why we lost contact- there wasn’t a falling out of any kind.  She lives far away from me, but we plan to keep in touch, at least through email.  We hope to manage a visit into our schedules (and budgets).

This whole thing is so amazing to me because I don’t have a strong online presence.  I don’t do Facebook, I don’t Twitter, and it’s not like this is a mega blog viewed by thousands.  If my old friend had not stumbled upon my blog or commented using his real name, none of this would have happened.

But he did.  So this Christmas, I have been re-gifted not one, but two old friends!  Yes, I have two more blessings to count today.

What was your best Christmas present ever?  Do you have a gift you wish you never would have received?  Have you been reunited with old friends through your blog?