Every day at work this week, the small talk turned largely to one of two topics: “Here, have some sugary snacks!” and “Got your Christmas shopping done yet?” I hate when small talk uncovers a festering wound the questioner didn’t know was there.
In this case, my Christmas shopping was 100% done, except I was waiting on one more package. Then I followed up with the online retailer yesterday, only to shift from mild concern to irritated disappointment when I discovered the item won’t be available to ship till January at the earliest. Surprise! I’m retroactively not finished with my shopping after all, and I owe apologies to every coworker I bragged to this week without fact-checking first. Here I was, proud of defying the stereotype of the last-minute male shopper, confident that I’d taken care of my end of things weeks ahead of schedule for once. I’d even used one of my last 2014 vacation days specifically to do so at the beginning of the month. It was finished. And now? NOPE.
So the item I ordered will have to be repurposed as a Valentine’s Day gift. I’m faced with the choice either of hoping what I already have on hand for my wife is enough to satisfy myself, or of finding spare minutes within the next four days to go scrounge up a replacement gift. Granted, my wife is the kind of sweet, loving, charitable, unhelpful woman who tells me I don’t have to get her anything and my mere presence at Christmas will be all the gift she needs. I’m pretty sure this heartfelt sentiment has never worked on anyone in all of world history. No one hears that and immediately feels their gift-giving urge disappear. Odds are they won’t show up at the tree on Christmas morning empty-handed and yelling in a dancer’s pose, “Ta-da! I’m your present!” Maybe she wouldn’t throw rotten tomatoes at me, but I’d feel as though I deserved them.
To make matters worse, Christmas shopping wasn’t the first chore on my list. I hadn’t even finished raking yet.
We have a maple tree in the front yard that’s large enough to require raking in multiple waves. If we wait to rake till the very last leaf has fallen, it makes for one long, miserable, late-winter day. This year my wife and I tag-teamed the yard a few times throughout the autumn, but our maple and the neighbor’s purple-ish tree-shaped thing weren’t done shedding yet. Then came the typical parade of obstacles and distractions. Activities came up. Weekends were overscheduled. Illness became an issue. Weather kept turning defiantly windy or freezing or raining or snowing. My work schedule plus overtime, which has me commuting to and from work while it’s nighttime, doesn’t leave me many open time slots for outdoor chores that really need daylight. Okay, so maybe I’m finicky and there are millions of other, vastly more skilled homeowners out there who love raking at night because the air is fresher and the gawking passersby are fewer and you can’t tell when you’ve missed several hundred leaves so there’s less guilt involved. Good for those industrious, properly trained citizens and their amazing lawn-care sonar.
Today all the conditions I needed fell into place: no precipitation, no blustery gales, no family gatherings. I had the time, the sun, and the energy. Hence my nearly two-hour raking session. The above photo is one of several piles I gathered and eliminated, but I had to stop when I hit a sort of wall and my arms turned into soggy noodles. I collected more than half the leaves that had been blanketing everything and preparing the soil for next spring’s annual dandelion incursion. A few leafed-up patches remain, mostly in the farthest parts of our lawn that will look like weed orchards or Interstellar dirt farms no matter how much effort or resources we squander on them. If we’re cursed from tomorrow till March with a three-month snowpocalypse, those remaining maple-strewn mini-wastelands are acceptable losses.
If I accept that raking can be officially crossed off my to-do list, that means now maybe I can turn my attention to my sudden last-minute Christmas shopping, barring any other calamities or visiting relatives. Speaking of which, my son will be returning from college to stay with us this week for the holidays, so whatever I end up doing, I’ll have to work around him and our catching-up. I’ll also need to forgive myself for not putting up our meager outdoor Christmas decorations again, yet another activity that’s escaped me, and now I’m probably past the customary deadline. Sure, I suppose I could put them up Sunday and enjoy them from now until, say, mid-January when I remember to take them down again.
Meanwhile, across the street from us:
Showoffs. But do they have their Christmas shopping done yet?