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Saturday, December 26, 2015

In Defense of the Thank-You Note

Photo by Amy Gizienski
Welcome to post-December 25th. You have survived Christmas for another year.
Shiny swaths of red, green, and gold wrapping paper litter the living room, to the delight of the cat who will hopefully pass those gnawed-up strands of curly ribbon into the litter box sometime over the next week. The children are uncustomarily quiet as they revel in the joys of all the new toys—which the adults released from the death grip of their clamshell packagings via pick-axes, blowtorches, and the Jaws of Life—to the delight of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who can now swill coffee (or something else) in peace while reading the newspaper.
Take the day off. You’ve earned it. Eat a pastry. Watch a game. Order what you really wanted for Christmas with the Amazon gift card you got from the person who last year gave you a purple sequined shower cap and what they thought was a back massager before it became a part of family lore that they will never, ever live down.
But tomorrow you pick up a pen.
Writing thank-you notes is not a quaintly antiquated activity for elderly people who don’t have anything better to do with their time. It is an essential and non-negotiable responsibility which fulfills a fundamental social-contract obligation: the completion of the gift-gratitude circle.
Why Should I Write Thank-You Notes?
Because if you don’t, you’re a selfish, lazy jerk.
Or you look like one, anyway.
Really. The people who gave you stuff shopped for you, wrapped for you, and delivered for you. Even if the gift was just some kitsch crap, effort was made toward your delight. You can sacrifice a hundred seconds or so to pen a short note on a folded card, slide it into an envelope, scrawl an address on the front, and slap a stamp on it.
No, Seriously. What’s the Real Point of Thank-You Notes?
Okay then.
For folks who won’t do anything unless they can first identify a measurable benefit to themselves, let me offer some motivation.
People who don’t send thank-you notes get fewer gifts in the future. Not making this up. I have cut from my Christmas list—and know of many others who have done and continue to do the same—a number of people to whom the gifts I sent vanished into a black hole, never to be heard of again. (Interestingly, these are frequently the same people who never sent me anything, either. Maybe they just don’t want me in their lives? No problem. Off you go.)
And I once received a beautiful antique vanity table (which I still have and will pass on to one of my daughters—whichever one writes the best thank-you notes, probably) from a fairly distant relative with whom I never had a lot of contact. Why did I receive it instead of one of my contemporaries who had closer kin-ties to the giver? “Because you always send thank-you notes.” Not kidding. That’s exactly what she wrote on the card that accompanied the table. (And I owe full credit for those thank-you notes to my slave driver of a mother, whose whip-cracking predilections I emulate today.)
Okay, You’ve Convinced Me. But How Do I Write a Thank-You Note?
I’m glad you asked! It’s easy, really.
You pick up notecards at Target or Hallmark or the grocery store. Places like Michael’s and A. C. Moore have pretty decent ones in their $1.00 bins. But if going out of the house is a bridge too far, you can even use a sheet torn off one of those free notepads that charities like the Humane Society and the March of Dimes sends you to try to guilt you into giving them a holiday donation.
Just don’t use the return envelope that came with it. It’s really bad form to scratch out the Little Sisters of Charity address and write in your grandparents’ over top of it. Pony up for a box of #10’s, slacker.
And here’s a sample Thank-You Note script to get you started:
Dear Aunt Beulah,
Thank you so much for the thoughtful (useful, interesting—pick your adjective, but do NOT write weird, cheap, or crappy) gift you sent. I’ve always wanted/I never knew I needed/I’ve never before seen a [FILL IN GIFT HERE] (but NOT What made you buy this?, What were you thinking?, or Did I do something to offend you?). I can’t wait to try it out/show it off/research it (but NOT throw it out, re-gift it, or light a firecracker under it). I’m sure it will give me years of pleasure (entertainment, joy, use, but NOT embarrassment, firewood, or fodder for mocking you).
Have a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you soon!
Your adoring (appreciative, only, but NOT disappointed, P.O.’d, or vengeful) nephew,
And that’s all there is to it.
But I Still Have Some Questions About Thank-You Notes.
Fire away!
Do I have to write a thank-you note if the person was present when I opened the gift?
No. Unless you failed to say, “Thank you” at the time of the opening. Or if your face betrayed the depth of your loathing for the person and/or their gift. If so, write to explain that because others who were present demonstrated such extreme jealousy over the gift, you were afraid for your life and did not properly convey the actual depth of your gratitude.
What if I don’t receive thank-you notes for the gifts I gave other people?
Until now you have had little recourse against those detestable, gift-grubbing ingrates. But you can thank ME for helping you out with this problem! Just send the offenders the link to this blog post. (You’re welcome.)
My grammer and speling aren’t so good. What if I make a mistakes?
If you are younger than twelve years old, you will be fully forgiven by the recipient of your thank-you, who will be so charmed by the note that criticism will only cross his/her mind if he/she is a real jerk him- or herself.
If you are a grown-up, get a dictionary. Ask a more abled writer to proof it for you. Type it into the computer to access grammar- and spell-check, then re-write it by hand.
Can’t I just write my note on the computer? Or send it by email?
A handwritten note is better than a typed note (unless you have a physical disability which precludes writing by hand), which is better than an email. But an email is better than no letter at all. Here’s a handy key to decoding thank-you notes written in various media:
Handwritten Note
This sender is well-bred, well-mannered, and possessed of a bright future.
Typed Note
Barring a writing disability, this sender is more time-conscious and goal-oriented than etiquette- or people-focused. Values ends more than means. May be a lawyer or banker.
This sender is probably a Millennial or younger. Appreciative, but has not acquired higher-order social graces. And probably doesn’t care.
No Note At All
Badly reared, egoistic cretin. Blames others for all his/her problems. Likely jail-bound.
My children aren’t old enough to write yet. Aren’t they exempt from thank-you notes?
Are they exempt from eating? From going to the bathroom? From wearing un-filthy clothes? No, they are not! You are the surrogate who feeds them and changes their diapers and does their laundry until they can manage these tasks themselves.
For babies and toddlers, you are responsible for writing the thank-you note. A delightful adaptation is to take a picture of the child with the gift, and write on the back of that.
If the child is old enough to wield a crayon, have him draw a picture of the gift received. Then you, parent, write a thank-you note next to it.
Older kids do the whole shebang themselves. At my house, starting December 27, there’s no TV and no electronics till the thank-you notes are done. (They get done really fast.)
But What If I Still Don’t Want to Write Thank-You Notes?
That is entirely your prerogative. Just like you can decide to not pay your utility bills. You may elect to ignore a court summons. You might also choose to shoot yourself in the foot, or any other appendage that seems a good target.
This is America the-land-of-the-free, after all. No one here will ever force you to become a respectable and upright human being. Golly, there’s a whole cadre of folks who travel the world while boldly waving their Ugly American banner.
So do what you feel is right. Don’t let me lay a guilt trip on you.
Though my children do say I’m really good at that.
(“You are, Mom.”)
Hey! You kids get back to the table and finish writing!
They’re going to thank me someday.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Girl Scout Cookies Are Coming!

     As the Troop Cookie Manager for one of my daughters’ Girl Scout troops, I’m deep in the thick of Girl Scout Cookie Season prep this week. And since so many of you have told me, “Let me know when I can order Girl Scout Cookies!” I am now letting you know: You can order Girl Scout Cookies starting on Monday, December 21, 2015.
So now’s the time to find a Girl Scout and procure as many boxes of Girl Scout Cookie goodness as your heart (or your tummy) desires. But if you don’t know of a Girl Scout in your neighborhood, don’t despair! Girl Scout Cookies are nearby, I promise. (Unless you live alone on an undeveloped island in the South Pacific or something. In which case, I feel little pity that you can’t snag a box or two of Thin Mints. Your life is sweet enough already.)
Your local Girl Scouts will be hitting the pavement to take initial orders starting December 21, 2015, but if they miss you when they come by your house because in salivating desperation for cookies you’re actually out searching for a Girl Scout, take heart! You can still find a salesperson without too much effort on your part.
How to Find a Girl Scout From Whom to Order Cookies
·      Put a sign on your door that reads, “I need Thin Mints! Call me at 555-867-5309!”
·      Send a message out via any list-serve or email group to which you belong, which reads, “I must have Trefoils! Does anyone know a Girl Scout?!?”
·      Post a message on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn that reads, “I’m jonesing for Tagalongs! Can anyone connect me with a Girl Scout?!?”
·      Stagger around your office moaning, “Do-Si-Dos! Do-Si-Dos!” in hopes of finding someone with a daughter who is a Girl Scout.
·      Stand in the middle of your front yard and cry, “Samoas! I need Samoas!” (I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this strategy, but you can always give it a shot.)
Booth Sales, Too!
Starting the weekend of February 19, 2016, Girl Scout Cookie Booths will open! These are the Girl Scout Cookie-laden tables you find outside participating businesses where you can buy a box of Girl Scout Cookies and snarf the contents immediately if you so choose.
“But how do I find a Girl Scout Cookie Booth?” you ask? By using the totally awesome, space-age, who’d-have-thought-it-could-be-this-simple? Girl Scout Cookie Locator App! Downloadable at the Apple iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store, you simply use your Smartphone’s GPS or enter your zip code to find the nearest Girl Scout Cookie Booth. Could it get any easier?

Why Girl Scout Cookies?
Because they’re amazingly delicious, of course.
Oh, and because the girls who sell them learn how to run a business, manage money, interact with customers, and set goals. It’s a win-win for all involved. The proceeds raised from Girl Scout Cookie sales help fund programs and activities at the troop, local, state, and national levels that help Girl Scouts learn, grow, and achieve their dreams.
So Be On the Lookout!
At a cookie booth last year a customer told us, “The holiday season starts in December, when Girl Scout Cookie sales open, and ends sometime in March, when the last booth closes and the last Girl Scout Cookie is eaten.”
So as we approach the holidays, please be on the lookout for Girl Scouts with order forms.
And remember, if you don’t stock up now, you’ll be weeping into your empty box of Thin Mints until next December.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Lawyers Who Milk Tarantulas

Photo by slgckgc

Earlier this week while waiting for the morning school bus my ten-year-old daughter announced that when she grows up she wants to be a lawyer and a tarantula milker.
Yeah. There are all kinds of jokes in there. Have at, and I’d love to see what you come up with in the comments below.
After I mentally processed my middle child’s statement, I asked her the obvious question: “Why in the world would you want to be a lawyer?”
‘Cause she explained the tarantula-milking thing to me. It’s evidently an uncommonly lucrative job. Tarantula venom sells on the order of $1,000.00/gram. I’m not sure how many grams of juice one can wring out of a single tarantula, but my daughter is pretty tenacious and doesn’t let go of anything till she gets what she wants from it.
Well, hey. There is a commonality between lawyers and tarantula milkers, huh?*
[PHOBIA TRIGGER WARNING: There is a picture of a tarantula further down this page.]
I tried following up on my child’s research, and discovered the Tarantula Forum, a place where people go to discuss—you guessed it—tarantulas. In fact, one gentleman posted the following query on February 25, 2014:
“What's up guys! Glad to be on the forum. I have a question for you all. Does anyone know how I would go about getting into supplying tarantula (non-lethal extraction) venom for pharmaceutical laboratories and such? I am already getting ready to start up a small scale breeding project, however, I would enjoy taking the hobby a bit further. Thank you for all replies!”
As of this writing, however, there are no replies.
And hang on a second—he’s “getting ready to start up a small scale breeding project”? All I can say is I hope he lives alone. And that he’s seen the genesis of Spiderman. And that his house is many, multiple millions of miles away from mine. Because I like arachnid-type creatures only slightly better than I like Beelzebub and Brazilian bikini waxes.
Which brings us to another problem. My daughter intends to live with me forever. It’s a sweet deal here, after all. She may have to do her own laundry, but I provide the front-loading washer and dryer, and I pay the water bill, and I supply all the detergent she needs. Though I expect some assistance in the kitchen, the meal planning and the groceries come via Mom. And it took my husband and me three college degrees, over a decade of work, and eight years of marriage to move our way up into a four-bedroom, single-family home. Not many fledglings start out with a yard and a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. I hate to use the word parasite, but that does aptly describe people who live off the fat of others.
Look at that! Another similarity between lawyers and tarantula milkers.*
But though I may consent to sharing my digs with a non-launching child for some number of years, I refuse to house anything that has more legs than a cat. Call me kooky, that’s just a non-negotiable policy of mine. So if the girl expects to start her own furry little farm of creepy-crawlies, she’s going to have to strike out on her own.
When I mentioned my daughter’s life-plan to a friend of mine she asked, “How do you milk a tarantula, anyway?”
I said, “I assume they must have tiny little udders.”
But, no. That’s actually not how it works.
The U.K. Daily Mail ran an article online about the procedure, along with this picture:
Photo from U.K. Daily Mail
You know, I do feel kind of sorry for the little beast. Look at it, draped over the collecting receptacle like a mugging victim flattened against the wall in a back alley. Or a nerdy kid getting worked over by the school bully. Or the witness in a murder trial under cross-examination by a pin-stripe-suited mafia thug defense attorney.
Hmm. There’s that lawyer again.*
But honestly, it seems like a useful and honorable profession. (Tarantula milking, I mean.) It serves the scientific community and supports the development of treatments for pain. It doesn’t seem to harm the tarantulas, which is more than I can say for what might happen to one if it ever turned up inside my four walls. And I can’t imagine there are lots of people signing up for that gig.
So in the interest of supporting my daughter’s professional choices, I leave you with my best effort for a lawyer/tarantula-milker joke:
What’s the difference between a lawyer and a tarantula milker? One wrests valuable material from a splayed-out creature who is helpless to resist the extraction, and the other milks tarantulas.*

*Apologies to all my friends who are lawyers. You know I love you, and I even have some of you on speed-dial in case I ever end up on trial for that thing…


Saturday, December 5, 2015

It Really Is All About Me

Photo by Anne Adrian
The bar has dropped considerably with respect to what it takes to make me happy.
A decade or two ago, if asked to describe a singular moment of life-bliss, my mind would’ve gone to a weekend I spent at an old farm on a beach in Togo, lying in the sand, under a breezy canvas shelter in the sun, reading a novel and drinking fruity things with a group of European expats with whom I could barely communicate in my halting, but-I-minored-in-it French. I’d always longed to travel the world, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I wanted to learn foreign languages, and I had finally begun to parler. I had a blistering crush on Philippe… well, that never went anywhere, but still.
Today, however, when I ponder bliss, I remember a stomach flu.
All my kids had recently entered full-time school, leaving me to rediscover empty hours of sweet responsibility-less-ness. So the next time I fell ill after ten years of relentless, 24/7 mommy-ing, I reveled in the indescribable pleasure of just being sick. I had no diapers to change, no lunches to make or clean up, no screaming kid-fights to mediate. Instead, I lay on the couch all by my miserable, achy self, all day long. I bolted to the bathroom and projectile-vomited into the toilet with no one pounding on the door to say they’d had a pee-pee accident in the kitchen. I dosed myself with Nyquil and slept the feverish slumber of the zombified, with no trace of fear that someone in the house might tumble headfirst down the stairs, insert something into an electrical outlet, or tie a plastic bag over the heads of one of his siblings while I lay comatose and unable to do anything about it.
It was awesome.
A few weeks ago a friend and I attended a function at my church, where we listened to someone describe how lonely, miserable, and forgotten she felt. My friend, who is not Christian, said to me later, “Wow. That woman has a church and a women’s group and friends to talk to, and she still feels like that? I have almost none of that, and that’s exactly how I feel. It must be more about the person than about the circumstances.”
Yeah. That’s probably exactly what it is.
Am I suffering loneliness or relishing solitude? Do I ache for the attention that comes with fame, or enjoy the freedom that accompanies anonymity? Have I nothing that I want, or everything that I need?
Hubby and I have been down some rocky roads (and I wish I were just talking about the ice cream), and once while getting some help and counsel I was asked, “Are you actively grateful for your husband?”
Hmm. Wasn’t that an interesting question? Was I actively grateful?
I was generally glad to be married and have a family. I recognized that things could’ve been worse than they were. I thanked my husband when he did stuff like take out the trash, or get the oil changed in the car, or kill the man-eating spiders that seek me out from all ends of the earth with a blood-vengeance bordering on a horror-movie trope. (I’m not paranoid. Those hairy, eight-legged monsters have it in for me.)
But was I actively, daily, moment-by-moment grateful?
Not so much.
So I started working on that:
I am grateful to always have a date to friends’ and family’s weddings.
I appreciate having my own human radiator from which to glom heat when I wake up cold at night.
I’m thankful that God gave me a man who appreciates my humor. When he gets it. (The problem is him. Seriously. I’m way funny. All the time.)
This made a huge, enormous, mind-blowing difference in my marriage. My husband became a better person. Almost overnight. He turned into a thoughtful, chivalrous, charming prince of a man. He became more romantic, attentive, and affectionate. He even got even better-looking!
Hmm… maybe it’s more about the person than the circumstances?
So I’ve been trying this active-gratefulness stuff out in other areas of my life, too:
I’m grateful for all eighteen people who subscribe to this questionably gripping blog.
I’ve prayed a blessing on every single person who’ve told me they read one of my books.
I am grateful that I have the time and energy and good health to do things like write books.
I’m happy that none of my children are ill today.
I recognize that it’s a gratitude-worthy gift to be able to take my kids to a qualified doctor, whose office is mere minutes away, when they’re hurt or sick.
Wow. This changes the light in the room of my life quite a bit.
So, would I prefer to be reclined at the seaside with a Sangria in one hand and my Kindle in the other right now? Sure. Even if a spider did once come after me at the beach.
But I don’t have to go there to be happy. All I need is a grain or two of gratitude for that.
And maybe a flyswatter. A big one.
And a can of Raid.