Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Which I Mention The NSA, The Salem Witch Trials, Maroon5, And Still Focus On Christmas Tips

Yesterday was a busy day and a lovely day.  Rick and I were out and about, and then had a cozy dinner of bruschettas and merlot in front of a fire and Netflix.  I'll atone by giving you two Tips today.

Pressure Busting Tip #9
The NSA is overlooking a vast resource among its citizenry, and that is the untapped pool of mothers and teachers.  No one in the entire world is better at ferreting out secrets, reading minds, or being able to hear the smallest whisper, whine, or whimper.  Within that pool is the subset of The Secret Weapon, of which I am one:  The TeacherMom.  Like it or not, I am that deadly combination of Compassionate Mentalist--the person who can read your face, gestures, and thoughts, and sometimes even your words, and then relay their meaning to you with empathy as I figure out what we can do.  I can hear the crinkle of a forbidden gum wrapper six rows back and forbid it without even breaking stride during a lecture on Predestination and its influence on the Salem Witch Trials, or a baby turn over (without any monitor) and know instantly if it will fuss or just sigh and snuggle down drowsily.  And I can remember dates, names, places, authors, wrongs, page numbers, joys, sorrows, casual mentions of things seemingly trivial, and the name of the paint we used in the baby's room eleventy hundred years ago when we first bought the house (Cloud Blue).

Now that the kids are in their twenties and out of cribs and into their own distant apartments, and I'm no longer in the classroom pontificating about anything, one would think that my finely honed skills are going to waste.  One would be wrong.  Christmas is great for airing them out, and you should hone yours at Yuletide, too. So, for Pressure Busting Tip #9, I urge you to Become A Spy For Christmas.  Start listening carefully to all your Gift Recipients.  Watch them; observe their environments.  Just last Thursday, I picked up on two major gift ideas for St. Patsy.  A few weeks ago, I got an awesome idea for her and also my brother and two sisters, who are not normally people I buy for, but this was just perfect for all of them, so I pounced on it.  I also get emails daily from a new service called Amazon Local, and it plopped a gift idea right in my lap. Not spying, but it was something I knew St. Patsy would like because I had spied.  Maybe you could even toss on a trench coat and listen to the theme from Mission Impossible on your iPod while you do your thing. I don't, but hey! whatever works for you.

(PS--I'm no shill for Amazon, and I'm not receiving anything for the mention.)

Pressure Busting Tip #10
Christmas is always a time of surprises.  For children especially, because of Santa Claus, everything they open is magical and wonderful.  A beneficent old man in a red suit brought them all these wonderful things, some of which they didn't even know they wanted!  But they did, turns out, and they love all their gifts!  When I was a kid growing up, Christmas retained its surprise well into my teens, and here's why.  First of all, St. Patsy did ninety percent of the shopping for all four of us kids while my dad worked at the steel mill.  As we opened presents, we always showed them to our parents, and my dad always said some variation of, "Hey, that's really nice!  Where'd you get that!?"  When we were little, we'd say, "Santa!"  When we were older, we'd laugh and say, "From you."  Then he'd turn to my mother and say, "Good job, Doll.  I really like that." When he worked nights on Christmas Eve, sometimes he'd be pretty groggy on Christmas Day.  He'd be mostly asleep on Christmas Morning.  So for days and days afterward, he'd be asking, "Where'd you get that?  Is that new?  Hey, that looks really nice.  When did you get that?"  It was hilarious then; now, I feel a little bad.  But he would go shopping at least once with Mom, and he'd find neat little things, unusual things that we always loved.  He was a personality shopper, and he knew each of us deep down inside.

My mother, always beleaguered and collapsed by Christmas, tended to lose track and get down to the wire by Christmas Eve.  There was always at least one gift that was a double, so either Patti and I both got one, or Susan and I both got one.  Or, in The Case Of The Maroon Knee Socks, Patti got all of them.  Holy crap, I think she got like five pair one year.  Mom just kept buying them.  No one knows why.  So, in tandem to PBT#9, let me, in honor of St. Patsy, give you Pressure Busting Tip #10.  Use Lists Like Crazy.  There is no shame in it, and if you're shopping a little early or in fits and starts like we Spies do, it's vital.  I have a pad with headings on each page, and I keep it with me, either in my car or in my purse.  I don't like to overbuy, and I don't like to overspend or duplicate.  And, because I am One Of Those Moms, I like to make sure Jared and Sam have an equal amount of gifts.  Even now.  Sigh.  Anyway, The List.  So helpful!

spy image
notepad image


  1. Last year as part of a faculty Secret Santa week, I received a paperback-sized leather book with lined pages. I use it like a bible and I carry it everywhere. Grocery lists? Done. Christmas lists and ideas? Done. Books I want to buy? It's all there, baby. Just having it with me makes me happy. It doesn't take much to lift my spirits these days.

  2. I love this post for so many reasons, Nance. The image of you and Rick enjoying that special time together, the memories of Christmases past, the joy of finding just the right gifts for folks (after careful "surveillance"), the dad who doesn't know what's been purchased until the gift is given in most cases, but also buys very special gifts when he makes purchases (much the same in my house growing up and here, too), the play on Maroon5 ... just to name a few. Now going to backtrack and catch up as we went away for the weekend. ;-)


  3. Shirley--Thanks so much! I hope you and your husband had a lovely weekend. What I've noticed in so many of the comments here and the emails I've received about these posts is the similarity of experience. It's really something how many readers have shared with me their own memory of an identical event or tradition, or at least one a great deal like it. Not what you'd think, such as the typical American traditions that we've become accustomed to, but oddball things I've alluded to. I love it.

    Rainbow Motel--What a wonderful thing. I know a ton of people who carry official Moleskines; I know just as many who whip out their smartphones and tap away or talk into it--same thing. I do both, depending upon where I am and what I'm doing. My friend Sue likes to call her house and leave a voice mail on her landline.

    I have to tell you, however; I am mad jealous of your notebook, but I am so tired of having a heavy purse that I simply cannot feature adding that big of a notebook to it. And I really don't know why it's so heavy. It's a small bag, and I have almost nothing in there as it is. Honest; I'm not being funny.

  4. My mother was the queen of making Christmas interesting. First of all she liked to make sure that you couldn't walk in the living room due to all the gifts under the tree. Then there was the year she put my name on my brother's gifts & his name on mine (I wanted to keep the boxing gloves, but he wasn't interested in my Madame Alexander doll). And there was the year she forgot to put anyone's name on any present. What a free-for-all! That Christmas was a blast :)

    I really need to be a better spy. I'm just not tuned into the gift vibe very well. And of course most of my people are in NC so it's not like I hang out with them very often. Sigh.

  5. Bug--Your mother is like Lady Bountiful. She enjoys the excess and overabundance. Our house used to look like that anyway. We wrapped every little thing for the boys when they were kids. Even stuff in their stockings. So much paper and so much fun!

    You can't be a spy very well from long distance. This tip just isn't one for you this time.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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