Three-word Thursday: New camera lens

(Jim gave me a new telephoto lens for Christmas. This is my first shared photo using that lens, taken from my living room window.)

(PS: This week you got Three-word Thursday instead of One-word Wednesday because, to be quite honest, I forgot what day it was when I wrote yesterday's post. The holidays can do that to you.)

(PSS: Words italicized and in parentheses don't count in post word counts today.)

Today's question:

What unexpected gift did you receive for Christmas, tangible or intangible?

To give or receive? Which one I prefer and why

News flash: It's far better to give than to receive!

Okay, that's not really a news flash. We've all heard the adage again and again. Many of us even agree with it.

I'm one of those who agree. I thoroughly enjoy giving gifts of any sort—time, service, something tangible of varying dollar amounts—to those I care about. This holiday season, most of the gifts I'll be giving will be handmade by me. Not because I'm uber crafty like so many other grandmas, but because after years and years of telling my family, "Okay, things are tight this year so Christmas is going to be smaller than usual," this year it really will be smaller than usual. The smallest ever, in fact, at least in terms of money spent.

All I want to add about that is Hallelujah for Pinterest! I'm so thankful the latest and greatest in social media has removed the stigma from presenting homemade presents. Or so I'm counting on regarding the gifts I'll be wrapping up and placing under the Christmas tree.

So, I like giving things, making things, presenting presents of varying awesomeness to my loved ones. Without a doubt, I prefer the giving far more than the receiving.

It's not only for the obvious reasons, though. While I love giving gifts, I'm not an incredibly selfless, altruistic person who wants nothing more than to give and give and give without ever getting in return. I like getting stuff. I like when someone has thoughtfully considered what might please me, make me smile, warm my heart.

The part I don't like is the pressure to make sure the one presenting me with a gift knows to their very core that I am indeed happy as a clam with what they've given. I'm not good at that part. I don't whoop nor holler nor scream in delight upon opening a gift. Even if it's something I have yearned for, begged for time and again. Not even when it's something special I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd receive (think DSLR camera from Jim last Christmas, an original The Eloping Angels from him many years before).

I sincerely appreciate every single gift ever given to me and every single gift that just might come my way in the future. I think it's the giving part of me, though, that really throws a wrench in the whole receiving part of the gifting tradition. Primarily because I want to give in return exactly the response the giver hopes to see from me. And, as I mentioned, I suck at that. No matter how much or in how many different ways I try to express that I lovelovelove whatever it may be and how thrilled I am it was given to me, I always feel I fail at being exuberant enough, loud enough in my thanks and hoorays.

And I hatehatehate that kind of pressure because I don't want to let down anyone who gives me anything.

My family—bless them, each and every one—continues to give me gifts, despite my neuroticism. They know me well enough, have seen enough Christmas mornings when I wasn't whooping and hollering, to understand I express my thanks and appreciation differently. Quietly. Sometimes with tears. In fact, it's become a bit of a game in my family to see whose gift will make Mom cry.

Which, alas, only adds more pressure. (See? Neurotic.)

I don't look forward to such pressure come the exchanging of Christmas gifts. I do, though, look forward to giving my homemade gifts to my loved ones. For it is indeed—to neurotics such as myself, as well as to selfless, altruistic folk—far better to give than it is to receive.

Sometimes and for some people, it's just the easier thing to do.

Today's question:

What percentage of your holiday gifts will be homemade this year?

Good news/bad news

Some of you may recall a certain post from a few days before Christmas in which I ever so subtly mentioned that I really, really, really wanted a DSLR camera. I never seriously thought I'd get one for Christmas—or for any other occasion any time soon, for that matter.

Yet, a very generous Santa in search of one last special gift took that post to heart and granted me my Christmas wish.

That is the good news. The downright-so-awesome-it-made-me-cry-when-I-opened-it news.

The bad news: I've not yet had the time or inclination to learn even the smallest of wonders the magical camera has in store for those who know which bells to ring and whistles to blow. Because—and this is good news—my adorable and ever-so-photogenic grandsons and their mommy and daddy have been visiting since the day I opened that unexpected DSLR.

More good news, though—in addition to my grandsons still being here—is that I don't have to know much of anything to get great photos from my new toy because it has a nifty auto feature intended to save ignorant newbies like me. As proof, here are two photos taken using that awesome auto feature during our family visit to the aquarium yesterday—photos that never would have turned out as well (if at all) with my old camera, photos straight out of the camera with no editing at all:

I love those photos! I love my new camera! (And I love the subjects of those photos taken with my new camera a fair smidgen, too!)

There is one teensy bit more bad news, though: Now that I finally have exactly what I've been wishing for I can no longer blame any crappy photos on this blog on my camera. The onus is on the operator.

Which can be turned into good news, I think—once I take the time to figure out all the bells and whistles that make for super awesome shots.

Or once I commit to forever going forward leaving the camera set to the automatic-super-awesome-without-knowing-a-thing feature.

(Having that option is pretty much the very best news of all.)

Today's question:

Describe one of your favorite recent photos taken by you or someone else.

Wish lists: To give or to receive?

I just finished my holiday wish list. It's a long one, with all kinds of goodies I'd be happy to see under my tree or in my stocking come Christmas morning. I've added, edited, re-added, then checked it twice and hit "send," forwarding it on to my husband and my daughters.

Makes me sound like a greedy ol' grandma, doesn't it? Like my long wish list serves as a not-so-subtle way of goading my family into spending oodles of cash on me.

It's quite the opposite, though. My lengthy list was provided and passed along out of love—a provision my daughters and husband understood and, thankfully, reciprocated, sending their very own lists of wants and wishes to me.

Our tradition of exchanging lengthy wish lists started years, possibly even decades ago. When my daughters were youngsters, they naturally made up lists of all they desired from Santa. Creating the list was oh-so important. To them. Then, as visions of Jolly Ol' St. Nick stopping by were replaced with the reality that Mom was the primary purchaser of gifts exchanged come Christmas, wish lists became more important than ever. To me.

My family is of modest means. It's safe to say that in some years, we were pretty far below the line marking those means even modest. Which meant every penny spent was precious, and I sure didn't want to waste a single one on gifts my loved ones didn't genuinely desire. As mother to three daughters, true wants and wishes were often hard to figure out, especially when the girls were pre-teens and teens. Hence the wish lists. I didn't want to guess and have either of us—or my bank account—come up short.

So I started the annual rite of sometime before Black Friday asking my daughters—and husband—to create wish lists, to write down more than they could ever hope to receive for Christmas. With a wish list in hand as I did my holiday shopping, I'd be sure to grant at least a wish or two, regardless of my means. Requesting especially long lists served a purpose, too: it ensured the gifts I gave would be a surprise, to some degree, as the recipients wouldn't know for certain exactly which items I'd purchased from their lists until the gifts were opened.

My girls aren't greedy, so it's never been in their nature to make huge requests, lengthy requests of what they're hoping to receive. But they did (and do) as I wished, knowing providing the lists was, in fact, a gift to me, helpful in my desire to please them with my purchases.

Which is exactly the reason I do the same for them. I provide long wish lists in hopes my daughters won't waste their hard-earned money trying to please their mama with the perfect gift. I list for them everything that would be perfect, not only for me, but for their pocketbooks. I give them inexpensive ideas and they're welcome to choose whatever works for them. And whatever works for them will surely be wonderful to me. My list guarantees that.

That doesn't mean we shun and discourage gifts not featured on a list. Receiving something not on a list can be a pleasure of indescribable sorts, a sign a loved one has taken note of another's likes and desires and needs without having to be told. I welcome that. We all welcome that. But we all also are happy to provide the safety net of a wish list, just in case.

Gift-giving can be awkward, for both the giver and the receiver. It can be even more awkward—for both sides—when the one giving isn't confident about what she's given. Which is why I consider providing a wish list a gift in itself, one I'm ever so happy to give. Even more so, they're a gift I'm forever grateful to receive.

Photo: fotolia

Today's question:

What is the wish-list protocol in your family?

Miles o' smiles

For Christmas, Jim and I gave Megan, Preston and Bubby one of the best gifts I think I've ever given: a family membership to the children's museum.




In return, their smiles -- and happy photos of their visit -- are one of the best THANK YOUs I have ever received.

On a totally unrelated note:

The Today's Question from "The Christmas Conversation Piece" feature I've run the past 25+ days proved to be pretty popular. I've enjoyed the responses, and it seems you've enjoyed giving them. Why stop now? I've got plenty of conversation starters, so I'm going to continue running a daily question -- at least until the fun wears out.

Today's question from "If ... (Questions for the Game of Life)":

If you could wake up tomorrow to learn that the major newspaper headlines were about you, what would you want them to say?

My desired headline: "After years and years of entering, Grandma finally wins millions from Publisher's Clearing House!" And the subhead would read: "Grandma's first words: 'I told you guys it would happen!'"

Leavin' on a jet plane

"All my bags are (almost) packed, I'm (almost) ready to go."

John Denver's song has been running through my mind this morning as I prepare and pack up for the Christmas visit to Bubby, Megan and Preston. Jim and I will stay the night with Andie tonight, then take off from DIA bright and early tomorrow morning. We're headed to the desert, where the temperatures are above freezing -- unlike this sub-zero crazy climate in which we've been barely surviving the past week -- and where my Bubby is waiting.

Years ago when I imagined what Christmases would be like as a grandma, this is so not what I had in mind. I envisioned happy holidays with the crowd of kids, grand and otherwise, gathered around as we sang carols and strung popcorn and oohed and aahed over all the bright and shiny gifts opened on Christmas morning, all of us in our jammies and sipping hot chocolate.

Okay, scratch the stringing of popcorn. Been there, done that, and it's really not all that fun, especially with little kids who keep poking themselves with the needle. But the rest of it always seemed so warm and cozy in my mind and so much what I wanted each Christmas.

But Megan and Preston blew my fantasy life moved to the desert. Which is okay, I gotta concede, since they're happy and making it financially (and not freezing their butts off, like we are in the mountains). And they've decided their Christmases would always be spent at their home, which is admirable and smart and the right thing to do for their family -- to establish firm family traditions from the get-go.

So our last few Christmases have involved a trip to the desert just before the big day, so that Jim and I can open a few gifts and get a few hugs from Megan and her tiny clan.

It's not what I originally envisioned, but what in life really is? And I'm oh-so thankful such a trip is possible. Especially this year, as Bubby needs not only gifts from Grandma and Grandpa, but he needs hugs. NEEDS them, I say.

And here's proof of that need:

Look at my feverish little sweetie, working on recuperating (with a little help from Roxie) from the "secondary infection" he contracted after beating H1N1.

This kid needs to 'rockie' with Grandma. Even if he is doing better. Even if he's now running around the house, dancing to Elmo songs, and chasing Roxie back and forth across the living room.

He still needs a hug from Grandma. Or more likely, it's Grandma who needs a hug from him.

So we'll soon be on our way, once I figure out how to pack all the gifts into our luggage. (Luggage I have to manage on my own, may I remind you, because we're still dealing with THIS!)

And it's the fact that the gifts must fit in the luggage that has given me a bit of a brain ache the last few weeks.

Bubby was only six months old last Christmas, so any gift I gave him would do. No big deal. But this year, he has preferences, likes, dislikes, and I want to give him the very best gift ever so he loves me more than anyone in the world smiles and grins and dives into playing with whatever gift he opens from Grandma.

But I've had a little trouble.

First of all, I found online a really great "Best of Elmo" dance mix CD. Bubby loves Elmo and he loves to dance. And I figured he'd love the CD. So I ordered it. But it's sold out, no longer available. Shucks. Strike one.

I also planned to give him one of those cool Hallmark recordable "Night Before Christmas" books that I've seen again and again on television commercials. I planned to even ring one of my many bells while recording, to signal to Bubby when it's time to turn the page. But I initially hesitated because of the $30 price tag and held off buying it. Until I found a $10 off coupon in my Better Homes & Gardens magazine. So I headed to Hallmark with a happy, happy stride, only to be told, literally, "Good luck wth THAT!" when I asked the bitchy sales girl where I could find them. "They're gone, no longer available. They're selling for $70 on e-Bay, so you can try your luck there." Strike two. Bubby will not be getting THAT this year (or ever, it seems).

Strike three involved a car playset I'd seen again and again in Toys R Us ads. I don't usually go to Toys R Us but figured I could pick up the playset anywhere -- only to find it nowhere ... online or IRL. After searching for a couple weeks, I broke down and went to Toys R Us. They had the playset. But it sucked looked like it would break soon after the first car rolled off the track. Bubby wouldn't be getting that gift either.

But I found another playset, a Fisher Price playset that I think he'll like. I even asked a young dad at Toys R Us, who was unlucky enough to be in the same aisle with me, but lucky enough (for both of us) to have a little boy Bubby's age sitting in his cart. So I asked Dad what he thought. And he asked his son, Brady, what he thought. He liked it, he really liked it. So I think Bubby will like it, too. I hope.

And I hope he likes all the other luggage-friendly gifts I've purchased, too. Here's the small haul I've gathered (minus the cool family gift Jim and I are giving but I can't include here because I want Megan and Preston to be surprised, since they'll be sharing it with Bubby):

I know it's crazy that I'm feeling so unsure of my gift-giving abilities, especially for a little boy who, years from now, will never remember what Grandma gave him for Christmas the year he was 18 months old.

But I will remember. I'll remember if he smiles, or squeals, or throws the toy to the side never to pick it up again after offering it to Roxie as a lovely new chew toy. So I really hope he likes them. We'll be opening gifts Saturday night, so luckily I don't have to wait long before finding out.

One thing I do know already, though: Next year, I'm having the gifts SHIPPED to him directly from any place I order them. No more luggage-size goodies for my Bubby. He'll be 30 months old next Christmas ... and ready for something bigger than what I can fit in my suitcase!

On to other things ...

First of all, there's still time to enter a haiku for the week! Here's where and how you do it.

And, last but not least ...

Today's question from "The Christmas Conversation Piece":

What is your favorite Christmas scent?

My answer: This is an easy one for me. I absolutely LOVE the Jack Frost (pepperminty) candles from Yankee Candle Company and usually buy a couple of the big jars when it's available during the holidays so I have some to burn now and then throughout the year!