Friday, December 27, 2013

Ordering memories from the catalogue

Once again, Christmas day has come and gone.
And once again traditions took centre stage as people throughout the land re-enacted Yuletide festivities like they have for generations.
My grandparents were from ‘the old country,’ as my grandma always called it, so our tradition was to open presents on Christmas eve.
This had many advantages growing up. I could call my friends and tell them what I got several hours before they even went to bed. They had to wait until the morning to discover what wrapped wonders awaited them.
A tradition my family never did was the Santa thing and I would often dismantle my friend's belief in St. Nicholas for my own fun and amusement.
I suppose it was mean to crush their dreams that some fat guy would sneak into their homes once a year and deliver a bunch of presents, but I was a kid and kids do stuff like that.
I simply pointed out Santa must have ordered from the Sears catalogue because the stuff he provided was identical to the store-bought goods.
That catalogue was as much a Christmas tradition as eggnog and wrapping paper.
There was no Internet or online shopping back then, but there was the Sears Christmas Wish Book. What a great day it was when the glossy paged book of dreams was dropped off on the front stoop. It usually turned up in the fall, so all us youngsters would have plenty of time to leaf through the pages and make agonizing decisions as to what we wanted to ask ‘Santa’ to bring us.
I would spend hours looking at the pages of toys, that is when I could wrest the book from the evil clutches of my two sisters who wasted the book by looking at dolls and frilly things.
Without that worn out, tattered and much-loved book, we would have no idea what was out there to select from.
My own children used to look at the catalogue, but now they go online to find suggestions for their own Yuletide indulgences (which has become their  Christmas gift-shopping tradition.)
That book was a big part of my youthful Christmas experience and one I remember fondly, but in life things change.
When I wed my lovely bride 25 years ago, Christmas changed from the evening of Dec. 24 to bright and early Dec. 25 as she wanted to hold a more traditional North American Christmas like she grew up with.
When we would spend Christmas with my parents, the old days would return and I would once again tear open packages on the Eve, but when it was just the wife and I and then when the kids started arriving, Christmas morning was where all the action was.
This was foreign to me and for a long time I did not really understand it. To me, it made much more sense to open your presents the night before, then the kids would be able to sleep that night and I would not have to get up at such a Grinch-like hour.
The morning Christmas event did create some traditions such as the annual interaction with my children when they came bounding in to our bedroom, full of the energy only the biggest day of the year could bring. As I would every Dec. 25 for many years, I would look at the clock and with all the sweetness and Christmas cheer I could muster, I would look at my young ones and say, “Go back to bed, it’s four in the morning.”
Eventually we established a rule Christmas was not to be celebrated a minute before 6 a.m., and since that agreement, the children have been bounding in to our room at precisely six and dragging us out of bed.
My family had a good Christmas this year, full of fun, happiness and love. Which really is the best part of Christmas, no matter how early you have to get up.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Time for some weird gift giving

It's Christmastime and that means people throughout the land will honour the age-old tradition of flocking to area stores where they become borderline psychotic as they search for the perfect gift.
Nothing says Merry Christmas like jostling people out of your way as you jockey for position at the ever-growing check out lines.
I am not sure what the must-have gift is this year, but remember the Tickle Me Elmo craze a few years ago where people were literally spending thousands of dollars on a toy a child will play with for two whole minutes?
One lady spent a whopping $8,000 on a stupid vibrating stuffed muppet.
Ho-ho-holy moly is that ridiculous.
Speaking of ridiculous, there is no shortage of unusual, strange and outright weird gifts you can get people. And with a couple days left until the fat man arrives, there is still time for some last-minute shopping.
Nothing says Merry Christmas like a walking corpse and with zombies being all the rage right now there is an abundance of undead gifts to give the fully living.
Zombie T-shirts are as common as a Senate expense scandal, but you can get creative for the little Yuletide ghoul in your home with the Zombie Magnetic Word Kit.
This is a small metal box containing a plethora of magnetized words that can be arranged in any order you want to spell out any sentence you desire. So what separates the zombie word kit from regular old magnetic word kits that have been around for years? Near as I can tell, the word zombie in the title. Other than that they look identical.
Or how about some zombie jerky. The tasty treat is hailed as teriyaki zombie flesh jerky. Um, OK, isn't that just regular jerky with green food dye all over it?
You know it is just a matter of time before Zombie Santa makes his debut.
While zombies are taking a big bite out of the holiday gift list, there are still plenty of options for those not fond of the living dead.
What Christmas tree would be complete without a Lucky Singing Christmas Pickle ornament? What makes it lucky I do not know and why it sings also remains a mystery.
But should you know someone who wants to combine their love of pickles, singing and Christmas you now have the perfect stocking stuffer.
Looking for something a little more elaborate? How about an $11,000 exercise cycle? The Cyclotte is a very odd looking stationary bike that is perfect for someone who simply cannot lose those last five pounds on a regular exercise bike.
That 50-inch plasma TV just not cutting it anymore? Well fear not, now there is the $1.5-million Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment System. The massive 201-inch TV retracts from the ground and comes with a built-in library of 300 movies and concerts, as well as Direct-TV. No word if you can get NetFlix on it.
Looking for something a little more practical? Then how about an acre of land on Mars. That's right, for just $29.99 you to can be the proud owner of a chunk of land on planet thousands of miles away.
At, you can purchase a piece of the Red Planet to call your very own. Of course visiting it might be a little challenging and for all you know it could be Martian swamp land, but still I would venture a guess the recipient of the gift would never suspect what it is.
Of course, we cannot leave pets out of the giving frenzy. There are a wealth of gifts to give the critter in your life, ranging from clothes to toys to hats and more.
My personal favourite this year is the guinea pig Santa suit. It is a red fur-lined jacket with a little red hat to fit any size rodent.
How does that saying go? There's one born every minute...

Friday, December 13, 2013

'Tis the season for crowded malls and grumpy people

I used to be one of 'those' guys.
You know who I am talking about: the ones who leave their Christmas shopping to the last minute (typically they are of the male species.)
When I was young, foolish and generally not too bright, I would head out to the mall the evening of Dec. 23 to get gifts for my parents and siblings.
And seeing as we opened our presents the evening of Dec. 24, it really was the last minute.
The mall two days before Christmas is just slightly more crowded than a Japanese subway.
The spirit of Christmas can be tested when you are elbowing people out of the way while engaged in full-contact shopping.
For some, the descent into hum bug begins in the parking lot where it would be easier to find Jimmy Hoffa than a parking spot.
One year, I lucked out. While making my 132nd lap around the lot, I saw a car pulling out of a spot relatively close to the door. And by relatively close, I mean I would not have to bivouac overnight half-way to the mall entrance.
I pulled off to the side, put on my turn single and gleefully waited for this prime parking spot to become vacant.
I was the only car waiting, until another vehicle entered the lane from the opposite direction.
They could see I was ahead of them, and by the globally sanctioned rules of parking endorsed by the UN, NATO and Rotary International, that meant the spot was mine.
The lady driving the other car was in her early 40s, and had a couple of youngsters in the back seat.
With the white stuff gently falling and a parking lot covered in accumulated snow, the spirit of Christmas came upon me like a divine wind and I turned off my signal and raised my hand palm up and pointed toward the spot.
This is also an internationally recognized signal for 'Merry Christmas fellow shopper, please, take this prime parking spot and I shall search for another. You're welcome.'
The lady then looked at me, mouthed something about a duck and the word hassle before giving me the bird and taking the prime parking position.
I must admit, I was a little stunned by her Grinch-like response, but who knows what kind of a day she was having and after the initial shock wore off, I found the whole thing so ridiculous it was funny.
It took a few more laps around the lot to find a parking spot, but it was no big deal and my Christmas spirit was not hobbled in the least.
Humming my favourite Christmas carol as I ambled toward the distant front door, I ran through the mental list of what I wanted to get everyone.
Entering the mall was an assault on my senses. There were people everywhere, Christmas songs were playing over the sound system, kids were crying, people were scurrying too and fro and cash registers were dinging away.
Yup, sounds like Christmastime to me.
After a couple hours of jostling with the frenzied masses, I completed my list and was able to escape the chaotic confines of the shopping centre and return to my car – if only I could remember where I parked it.
I remembered where the good parking spot was (where Grumpy Gertrude's car still sat) but it took a while to find my own vehicle.
I found my car, went home, wrapped the gifts and vowed to never again wait until the last minute to do my shopping.
And I kept that vow – right up until the following Christmas where I once again found myself at the mall days before Dec. 25.
Eventually I wizened up and started doing my shopping earlier. This year, I        completed my list a full two weeks before Christmas.
That's right gentlemen, I am done my Christmas shopping.
Joy to the world.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ah, the joys of getting older

It is taking some getting used to, this aging stuff.
I am on the downside of my 40s and 50 is knocking on the door with a sledgehammer.
My knees protest everything from wet weather to walking up a flight of stairs.
My neck aches at the thought of a cold wind and I am starting to produce enough flatulence to power the space shuttle.
I can recall my grandparents generating enough gas to float the Hindenberg on a daily basis, and now it would seem I am well on my way to maintaining the family tradition of farting like a raging volcano.
I guess it is just another one of the thrilling aspects of piling on the years. Of course the alternative sucks, so I plan on operating my personal methane factory for as many years as possible.
When I was a young buck with lots of hair and no gut – those two have now reversed roles – there were many things I never thought about. Sure there are things a young mind dwells upon, but health, diet and abundant flatulence were not at the top of the list.
Back then, I was more worried about getting a speeding ticket or where we going to party that weekend and would a certain member of the female persuasion be at the party. Bills were dealt with on a 'need to' basis – as in I need to pay my rent or I will be living in a cardboard box, or worse, back with my parents.
Long-term planning was deciding what to wear to the party next weekend.
The stroke of midnight meant the good times were just starting. Now if I am up past midnight, I worry about having a stroke.
Being young meant you were indestructible, invincible and unstoppable. As I slide out of my middle-age years and into whatever the 50-year range is called, I see life through a much more realistic lens.
People say youth are the care-free days of our lives. I am realizing it was not so much care free as it was clueless.
You either didn't know the stuff you were doing was bad for you, or you didn't care because you knew you were indestructible and when you are indestructible you have no fear of destructing (if that is even a word.)
It would seem age has a way of washing away the haze of youthful exuberance and replacing it with wisdom and a much better understanding of what is going on around you.
Back in the day, I never worried about what I ate. When I was hungry, I ate whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted.
Bacon, fries, gravy, cheeseburgers all made a delicious snack.
I can remember going to adult recreational establishments until the wee hours of the morning. Then, with ears ringing and stomachs growling, we would head to an eatery where it would not be unheard of to decimate a pizza or that burger I was talking about, before going to bed at four in the morning.
My arteries hurt just thinking about it.
These days, the only thing I do at four in the morning is get up to go pee.
Greasy burgers and fries have been replaced by fresh greens and low-calorie dressing.
Cholesterol, triglycerides and other nasty words are now a back-of-the-mind distraction with every meal.
Long gone are the cheese-filled, fat-laden, late-night meals, replaced instead by a wholesome treat full of wonderful fibre and whole grains.
Food labels are read like the tablets handed to Moses, with no detail being over looked. Grams of fat, carbs and sodium are now the cardiac Axis of Evil and despite how delicious something tastes, that nasty little chart on the back of the package often outweighs the desire to ingest such a delectable delight.
With age comes wisdom, with wisdom came the realization I am not indestructible.
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.