See Ya, 2011

For me, 2011 was definitely a year of ups and downs. Probably for many of you, too, but we’re talking about me here. It’s my blog, isn’t it?

The big change in my life last year was the loss of two family members: I lost a brother to a brain aneurism at the end of March, and cancer claimed my mother’s life in October. She had been fighting it  for several years, but once my brother passed, the fight went out of her. Children should never go before their parents.

She got to the point where she needed 24/7 care, so we all (the five remaining siblings) made the decision to put her in a “retirement community”. The last time I had a real conversation with her was the night she was transferred from the hospital.

(I haven’t mentioned that I currently live in eastern Pennsylvania, while the rest of the family lives in Northeast Ohio, save for one sister who lives in Northern California.)

On October 20, she fell and broke her hip. Because of her frail state, the medicos decided that any surgical procedure to fix her hip would probably kill her, so they just pumped her with morphine to keep her comfortable. The following Saturday, I drove out, my sister flew in. As these things are wont to happen, she knew all the kids were nearby, so she passed quietly in her sleep the morning of October 23.

There was a bit of silver lining to these dark clouds (other than the obvious one that my brother and mother were no longer suffering) in that their services brought together family members (my brother’s children from two marriages) that we hadn’t seen in 15 or so years. We still keep in touch, and one of my nephews is going to work with my California sister on some genealogical research concerning the family.

I also had my usual share of medical problems during the last twelve-month, including gall-badder removal surgery, and several steroid injections to treat various shoulder and leg ailments. On the plus side, I had no real serious health issues. I’m still in pretty decent shape for an old man.

Which reminds me: I hit the big 6-0 in 2011. No big deal. As Groucho said, “Anybody can get old. All you have to do is live long enough”. But I don’t feel old, damn it. Except in the mornings after my MMA training.

Another milestone was my 17-year-old son getting his driver’s license. Passed the test first try and all that. However, his new independence came at a price: I hardly see him any more. On alternate Fridays we used to go out to dinner at various places around the area; now he prefers hanging out with his friends. I don’t blame him; I was the same way.

That’s the gist of my 2011. Not everything, of course, but you don’t have the time, and I don’t have the energy.

Here’s hoping we all have a better 2012. “Here’s a toast to the future, A toast to the past, And a toast to our friends, far and near. May the future be pleasant; The past a bright dream; May our friends remain faithful and dear.”

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The Unintentional Mr. Grinch

I’ve been telling you for the past couple of weeks how much I love Christmas. Instead of rehashing, I’ll let you read my previous post containing my Random Christmas Thoughts. Go ahead. I can wait.

So after all that, why do I feel like Scrooge McGrinch now that Christmas gift-giving is over?

Because I love giving gifts. Ol’ Santa and I are bruthas from different muthas. I way overspend each year, because, hey, it’s only money, and I love to see the eye-lighting, the smile-spreading and everything else that goes with giving someone a nice gift, particularly something that catches someone by surprise.

This year, with the sagging economy and things being tough among certain of my friends, there was an understanding amongst many of us that gifts should be held to a minimum. Or even less if there were children involved, because it’s really for them anyway. I have a friend that is having a rough time right now moneywise; I told him no gift exchange between us this year. Use whatever he would spend on me to buy something extra for one of his grandkids. Many people I know commented that they weren’t even sending out cards this year. They can be costly and get tossed after a week or two, anyway.

So, in light of all that, I kept myself in check and went easy on the presents. Instead of going all-out, I held back in order to avoid any possible embarrassment. The few gifties I did buy were nothing extravagant. I did not make out cards for those who said they were passing them by this year.

Of course, I got screwed. While I was trying to keep things low-key, my friends and family were plying me with all sorts of gifts and cards that, while appreciated, of course, left me looking like a goof.

My ex and I historically haven’t made a big deal out of exchanging gifts, preferring instead to spoil the only fruit of our loins. When I asked her for a list of ideas this year, she gave me a few; she just got a Blu-Ray player, so a couple of DVD’s would be nice. She showed me a Christmas ornament in a catalog she liked. She asked me for a list that she could share with others, because certain of our friends and family would go to her for gifts ideas for me.

So I got her a couple of Blu-Ray discs and the ornament, and a video game I thought she’d enjoy, and she got me everything on my list! I probably spent $125 on her, and she got me $100 just in iTunes gift cards! Yes, yes, I’m a thoughtless male, but I’m generally not this bad.

Another friend I have is going through a tough time, and had indicated that she wasn’t even giving anyone a card this year. The past couple of years I’d given her family a card just because, but this year I respected what I thought were her wishes and kept my card to myself. Damn if she didn’t come up to me at a social event and hand me a box of chocolates because I’d given them cards in the past and they hadn’t given me one. Okay, the choccies were no doubt a regift, because everyone knows I don’t indulge, but they thought of me, and I didn’t even send them a damn card this year.

An online friend sent me a very nice Cleveland Browns blankie, despite her financial problems; I sent her a DVD. Late, even. *Sigh*

And don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with money or amounts spent or who got who what. But I kind of feel like I disappointed a few people, and that’s not the Christmas Spirit I want to leave with anyone.

I don’t know. Probably nobody cares but me. But I do care. It bothers me a lot.

How about you? Did you feel like Santa or Grinch this year?