In December, Everything Came to a Head

We’ve had a lot going on here. My workload’s been heavy (that’s good, actually) but with deadlines that moved up and down my production schedule (publishers and authors sometimes shuffle things around), which caused bottlenecks and logjams that raised my stress level. (In fact, my young whippersnapper doctor put me on a low-dose blood pressure medicine late in the year. But that’s another story entirely.)

In September we learned our beloved cat, Bean (that’s her photo at the top of this blog), was sick—probably lymphoma, which is incurable, but we continued to try various meds and nutrition changes, as well as an ultrasound and needle biopsy on the sixth of December. She was weakening, and my heart was breaking.

In October our annual termite inspection yield the information that our master bathroom floor might fall through, so while we wrangled with the insurance company, we decamped to the upstairs bathroom for our daily ablutions. It took weeks to get the paperwork settled, and work finally began on December fifth. There was dust everywhere. Thank goodness we hadn’t had time to put out Christmas decorations, or they’d have been dusty too.

In November, finally, some good news: my son and his fiancée married. Actually, that was a really special day amidst a month of growing strain. I was working night and day to dismantle my logjam. Bean needed meds and you try giving a cat a pill. It was just … a crazy time. Not good, not bad, but a lot.

Happy couple a few days later: Thanksgiving at our place.

And then, on December eighth, we got a call from Dublin in the very early morning that we’d been worried would come. Gerry’s eighty-seven-year-old mother had been in and out of the hospital all year. Her body wasn’t well but her mind was still just as sharp as a tack. Since Gerry had married me and returned with me to the United States in late 2015, his younger brother, Richie, and Richie’s wife, Isolde, had taken on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Bridie. It hadn’t been an easy year for them either.

The call was from Richie: Bridie had gone to the hospital that morning. The question had already been asked (“She has a son in America—should we call him home?”) but the answer we received at 5am was “Not yet. Let’s wait and see.” So I went off to my doctor for my annual physical at 8am and, of course, my blood pressure was through the roof—I left with a prescription for the low-dose bp meds, madder than a wet hen about it too. Which did nothing to lower my bp.

• • •

(Here’s a tip about that. In those crazy early morning hours, I’d had a cup of tea and a piece of toast, forgetting that they’d take blood at my physical. By the time I got back to the clinic for the bloodwork, it was after Christmas and my blood sugar was up too. A nurse friend of mine rolled her eyes at me, reminded me that stress also causes blood sugar to rise, and said, “Jamie, don’t ever schedule a physical during the holidays!” And I won’t.)

• • •

            By the time I got home, though, “Wait and see” had become “Come home now.” Gerry had already made arrangements with our phone carrier for an international plan, and we came up to the office and sat down at our dueling computers and started looking for a flight for him. I would not be going with him. (Cats, meds, dog, deadlines, and so on.)

Back in the day—you know, when America was great and all that—the airlines offered a sympathy discount for hardship cases like final illnesses and funerals, but no more. We were shocked at the cost of a round trip flight from Nashville to Dublin: the cheapest was British Airways at $3135. It was enough to make us weak in the knees. So we called them. It never hurts to ask, right?

Welp … nope. No family emergency discount. However, the clerk took pity on us and gave us a tip, which I’m passing to you in case you don’t already know it.

• • •

When you are buying tix online, you’ll be asked to choose if you just want the flight, or if you want flight+car or flight+hotel or flight+car+hotel. Let’s say you choose flight+car. You print out a little voucher for a good rate at the car rental place. You don’t pay for it then, you just print the voucher. Magically (!) your flight cost is reduced by half. No joke: the cost went to $1572. The clerk said, “When you reach your destination, just drop by the Hertz window and tell them your plans have changed.”

• • •

            And so he did. Thanks, BA.

I didn’t work much that day. I just helped Gerry gather the things he needed to pack for a two-week stay. (I am proud of the fact that I had stashed 50 euro in bills leftover from the last trip—and several one- and two-euro coins—so Gerry didn’t have to fly off without cash other than dollars.) We were both rattled. And that afternoon I drove my husband to Nashville and put him on a plane to Dublin in the hopes he could see his mother before she parted from this world.

I came home and started sending emails to Gerry’s former work colleagues and other friends of ours, to let them know Gerry would be in Dublin and why. I let our family know. I let our Facebook friends know. I scribbled lists of things I needed to do. I went up and down the stairs letting the dog outside—she stands in the hall and does this low growl until she has your attention—gaining a new appreciation for just how much time Gerry spends letting Suzy out to pee. 🙂

Bridie died Friday just before midnight Dublin time (that would be 6pm our time). Gerry was waiting to board his flight in Chicago, having spoken with her on the phone a little earlier. One of the nieces sent me an electronic message.

Gerry arrived in Dublin in late afternoon on Saturday, precisely twenty-four hours after he’d departed Nashville, and Richie and Isolde took him home and fed him breakfast for supper and put him to bed. The funeral was scheduled for Wednesday. He spent the rest of his time in Dublin emptying the house, speaking with the solicitor, speaking with the realtor, speaking with the bank, and so on. Richie was right there by his side. It was exhausting.

Here at home, the rest of us tottered on. The diuetic I’d been prescribed for the blood pressure made me feel like I’d been run over by a truck. I could barely climb the stairs I felt so fatigued. Also low-grade nausea. But. Just. So. Exhausted. Aaaaagh. (Fortunately it only lasted for a few days.)

Suzy wasn’t getting walked, and she missed her guy. The two of us were walking wounded. On Facebook I posted Opportunity of a lifetime! Take a stroll around the block with the world’s sweetest dog! but got no takers. December is a really busy month for everyone.

The construction in the bathroom continued, which meant our backyard gate was often open. Gerry’s very cautious/aware about these things, but one morning I let her out to do her business, failing, while I was on the phone informing the dentist that Gerry would not make his appointment on Wednesday, to notice that the gate was open… and when I called for her, she was gone. I called and called: Suzy! Suzy!

Nothing.

So instead, I called for Spot the cat, using his mealtime call: SPIT-Spot! SPIT-Spot! He responds very well to it. So does Suzy. So what to my wondering eyes should appear but a seventy-pound yellow Lab who never misses a meal. She was on the driveway between the front yard and the back yard. Came on the run.

I always checked the gate situation after that. We’d had enough trouble.

Yes, Suzy finally took me for a walk today (dragged me around the block). That’s a plastic cup I scooped out of the gutter when I realized I’d forgotten a poop bag. Fortunately I didn’t need to use it.

Those two weeks seemed like two months. I had to let go of a lot of my personal expectations—put up a Christmas tree, decorate, send Christmas cards—and reached a peace with myself. I told myself I’d get to some of it when I could, but for the moment, I just tended to my work and my pets and sat in the hot tub, and knew that all of us would be happy to see Gerry on the other end. I wrapped one present a day and stacked them on the piano.

When you don’t have a tree, the Christmas Piano will do.

I started checking flight status early and learned that Gerry’s plane out of London Heathrow was delayed. His Chicago flight was due in Nashville at 10pm … but who knew? I’ve been on more than one flight that was held for someone making a tight connection, so I was hoping for that. I checked the flight roster—there was one more flight out of Chicago that night. So I went and brewed a pot of tea.

Ultimately, the fully boarded flight out of London was delayed by an hour and 45 minutes. Why? Because somehow someone had been allowed to board the plane to Chicago whose “paperwork was inadequate to enter the US.” That person was removed from the plane, of course, but the main delay was removing that person’s luggage from the plane. How does that even happen? I still don’t have an answer.

• • •

            But here’s a third tip: If you are flying from Ireland to the US and you have a choice, use a flight that goes directly to the US (Chicago, Boston, NY, DC, Newark, Charlotte, Atlanta … probably others). This allows you to pass customs in Dublin before you ever board a plane. It’s a hassle, you have to be there even earlier than normal, but it’s much less painful than landing in the international terminal, going to baggage claim to collect your luggage, passing through customs, then changing terminals, re-checking your luggage, passing through security, and boarding the next plane.

• • •

            Nonetheless, we took the tickets we could get two weeks ago, and this is what Gerry had to do. There was one last flight to BNA from ORD that night and British Airways took care of booking him on it while he was still in the air. So he collected two pieces of luggage, took them through customs, found his gate, checked the luggage again. As he was boarding for BNA, he got a text from the airlines: “Ooops, sorry, one of your bags didn’t get on the plane. It will follow on the first flight in the morning.” (We’re still puzzled by this. He was there in plenty of time for this flight. He checked them both simultaneously. But one didn’t make it? Why?)

The flight landed at its advertised arrival time of 11:20pm. I was sitting in the huge new park-and-wait and had been since 10pm. Waiting. Tired. Gerry called and said “Don’t come to the terminal until I have my luggage.” So I waited and waited and waited … until 12:30am. Why? Because Gerry had to prove who he was (him with the oops email from the airlines!) and document every leg of his trip, before anyone at the airlines would even agree to say they knew where his missing luggage was! And more paperwork! And me sitting in the park-and-wait having these fantasies about hugging my husband close when I finally laid eyes on him.

“I’M COMING TO GET YOU NOW,” I texted in all caps. “THIS IS RIDICULOUS.”

You would think that the Nashville airport would be reasonably quiet and calm at 1am. But if it’s two days before Christmas, you would be wrong.

Side note on the new arrivals lanes at BNA: They suck. In years past we had a simpler system, a thing of beauty, really, but sometime in the last couple years, airport expansion construction eliminated the ten-minute pull-in parking for loading arrivals and left us with three lanes plus a fourth separated by sidewalk, and it’s insanity because people don’t know how to use it. Drivers are stupid, stopping in the middle two lanes to load their people, thus holding up the entire process, rather than pulling to the two available curbs (lanes 1 and 4) to load, leaving lanes 2 and 3 for through-traffic.

By the time I decided to drive to the terminal, these lanes were backed up well past the curved arrivals entrance (if you know BNA, you know what I mean). And it was raining. When I pulled to the curb, Gerry was banging on the trunk, waiting for me to pop it. He had the suitcase in the trunk before I was out of the car. “This is madness!” I shouted over the roar. No tender hug. “Take me home now!” he shouted back.

• • •

Future tip for airport pickups (especially at holidays): pick up your beloved arrival at departures. Traffic in these lanes is moving quickly, so everything’s more relaxed. In Nashville departures are up one level from baggage claim, and you’re tired and dragging luggage, but pickup goes a lot more smoothly, I’m told.

• • •

            We fell into bed around 1:30am. Gerry awoke at 5am, still on Dublin time. I slept until 6:45am (late for me). We have had breakfast. We are, otherwise, an advertisement for the Walking Dead. But he’s home, and we’re a little travel-wiser. Merry Christmas!

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Two Timely Poems

I don’t know about you, but I first read these poems in high school. I had a great teacher (and, one should add, a great book—I still have it) and thus was born a lifelong love of the word-thrill only poetry can provide. The rhythm, the rhymes (or not), alliteration, imagery, and much, much more come together in ways that move me, over and over. And yes, I buy books of poetry too.

I’ve been thinking about “The Second Coming” for months. Grim and dark, written in 1919 at the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, William Butler Yeats’s masterpiece speaks directly to events happening now, nearly a century later:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If the imagery in this poem shakes you up, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says, “A torrent of bad news and political upheaval has given new life to a nearly 100-year-old poem written in the aftermath of World War I.”

Flash backward a century to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Perspective, yes?

I wish you peace this season, wherever you may find it. Perhaps in poetry.

Holiday Travel? Bring It!

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I was delighted to see this article pop up in my inbox last month—How to Make Holiday Travel Less Stressful—because Lord knows we could all do with a little less stress, yes? (Travel or otherwise.) And because I have a little experience with it—and hope to have more.

When the kids are little it’s nice to stay home, or take a trip across town (maybe further) to Grammy’s house. The decorations, the baking, the wrapping … those are all things you can enjoy at home. And it’s good.

But when the kids are grown … a whole new world opens up. You care less about the tree and the ornaments and more about being with your favorite people. Am I right?

Sometimes that involves travel. Your schedule may be the more flexible one.

Here’s what the Times says—

  • Travel on the holiday
  • Fly direct, if possible
  • Ship the gifts
  • Go in January instead

—and I have employed a variety of them over my lifetime to make the holidays work for everyone.

For some years my son was in a traveling brass quintet, and one of their biggest concerts of the year was—you guessed it—Christmas Eve. They’d line up a nice big gig in a nice big church in a nice big city, and come Christmas Day morning, I’d find myself driving to BNA virtually all by myself. Roads were deserted. The loading zone at the airport—a madhouse any other day—was nearly deserted. And the people who were there, both travelers and their rides, were very, very happy. (Even the quiet house on Christmas Eve was a moment to be savored.) It was festive!

One of the virtues of flying out of a large city, of course, is the availability of direct flights. This facilitated the Christmas Day flying. And it certainly facilitated the times I flew to see my son when he was living and working as a high school teacher in Phoenix (my schedule was more flexible). A direct flight increases the odds that you and your luggage will arrive in the same place at the same time. You’ll agree, I’m sure, that this is a plus.

I didn’t ship the gifts those years I flew to Phoenix, but I did not wrap them until I arrived. To save time, I brought gift bags and bows with me (rather than shopping for them in Phoenix), but I left the gifts unwrapped so the TSA could see them.

As soon as you reach adulthood, you have to start juggling various holidays and various family groups. This is a prescription for stress, so to the Times’s list I would add this: go with it. Just go with it. You can hold fast to some notion of how things are supposed to be … or you can just take this holiday this year as it comes. And then plan that trip to the Bahamas for next January! 🙂

 

The Christmas Ornament (Part 3 of 3)

I’ve always been a collector. One knick-knack is just a pretty thing, but two or three of them—related in some way—is a collection.

And so it is with Christmas ornaments. I’m not the only one who has pulled together collections of them. Heavens, no! My friend Christy recently posted this comment on Facebook:

Since 1993 I’ve collected ornaments, either that people give me or that I buy to commemorate something in my life (or just that I like a lot, like a dinosaur gourd I bought last year). I started keeping a record of them, which I store with the ornaments, explaining where each one came from and/or what it means. I don’t put up a tree every year so without this record I would definitely have lost track of a lot of them. It brings me so much pleasure to unpack them all and put them on the tree while reading through this journal. It’s my very favorite tradition I ever started. This year I didn’t even need the “filler” ornaments I have, and every ornament on the tree is a sweet memory.

This is a tree I’d love.

When I was growing up in the ’60s, aluminum trees were very popular—all hung with one color of round bulb. They looked cool, they did. And then I’d go home to the hodge-podge of a tree at my house, with ornaments made by my parents, others purchased in a store, and things we kids made at school.

The hodge-podge tree.

The hodge-podge tree.

I still have a hodge-podge tree, and I treasure it for the very reason Christy treasures hers. When my son was an infant, we lived in south Louisiana, and I bought a small—it’s perhaps three inches—ceramic Mardi Gras mask. It’s just a souvenir—inside it reads “New Orleans 1983”—but I attached a ribbon and hung it on the tree that year. It makes me remember my little December baby.

Now it’s in the “places” collection, and gets hung with ornaments from Charleston, South Carolina, and Paris, France. None of them are actual Christmas ornaments; I just picked them up in souvenir shops, added a hook, and wrote the year on the back with a Sharpie. One of the French ornaments is just a handpainted chicken (blue); on the back I wrote “Paris 2006.” In the case of a trip to Tybee Island, I collected some sand dollars and glitter-glued the year and place on them. You might also look for lightweight fridge magnets that you can turn into ornaments. As a last resort, use a photo! These days they make lots of varieties of tiny—tree-sized—picture frames, complete with hooks, into which you can put a photograph of a special moment.

Or a special person. When my son was in preschool, they had some kind of craft project every Christmas that resulted in a photo ornament: Milk jug cap? Yep. Construction-paper frame? Yep. Popsicle-stick sled? Got one of those too. This continued through grammar school, and after that I used a school photo and made one for myself. When he became a school teacher, I added those. It’s a collection, y’all. 🙂

When Christy posted about the pleasure her ornament collection brings her, I could definitely relate. Christmas is a nostalgic, sentimental season, perfect for a once-a-year memory. Her friends added comments with lots of stories about their ornament collections too. One started collections for her daughters.

In fact, several years ago I also started a collection for my son, a musician. Musical instruments, bells, musical notation … Music is a beloved Christmas theme, so there’s lots of cheap, ugly stuff to be had. So it’s fun to search out the unique and beautiful instead. I’ve been working on it for years. Some years I might find a half dozen to add, some years none. (This is one of those years.)

The secrets to building an ornament collection are patience, vigilance, and creativity. Have fun with it!

The Christmas Ornament (Part 2 of 3)

As noted, I’ve always had a thing about Christmas ornaments. I’d had a good example from my parents, and then I got married (the first time) over Thanksgiving weekend, on the twenty-sixth of November. Christmas was a month away, and one of the sweetest gifts we received was a dozen ornaments with hand-crocheted covers. (This started me on many happy years of creating my own; I still have the craft box that evolved from those projects, and still occasionally make a new ornament.)

I still have the crocheted ornaments, too, though I no longer have that husband. 🙂

A couple years later, my grandmother—my father’s mother, my last surviving grandparent—died, and when my father and I went through her things, I saw that she also had her first Christmas ornaments. Which is to say … from the 1920s. I hand-carried them home, those fragile glass antiques. They are beautiful. (No photographs, dear reader, simply because they are packed, and this is a busy time of year.)

Since that time, I have followed my interests and tastes, and have ended up with a lot of ornaments. And every year I’d load the tree up with everything, or mostly everything. I had a lot of round glass balls, because I love color, but I also had a lot of “things.”

About five years ago, I decided it would be more fun to appreciate them as themed collections, so I bought new storage boxes, and after Christmas I separated them into categories that made themselves evident:

  • flowers
  • fruits
  • nuts and acorns
  • animals
  • elephants
  • birds
  • suns and moons
  • leaves
  • natural items like sand dollars

I called these the natural world ornaments. I had a zillion elephant ornaments because, well, I’d been collecting elephant figurines since middle school. They can fill a tree by themselves.

I also had a collection of the “unnatural” world (I know, it doesn’t really makes sense, but work with me here), which included:

  • Santas
  • snowmen
  • angels
  • shoes, clothing, and hats
  • fairies and brownies
  • other inanimate objects

Two other collections were large enough to warrant their own boxes:

  • hearts, and
  • “place” ornaments, which represented my travels to other locales

And then I met Gerry, who is Irish. As time went on, I started filtering out the place ornaments that had to do with Ireland—and buying more of them (in Ireland, whose retailers are perfectly happy to indulge Americans’ love of the Christmas ornament). I occasionally buy things in March, during the St. Patrick’s Day retail extravaganza, and make them into ornaments. I added all the green glass balls and green hearts too. And plaid ornaments found their way here.

Ireland has become an ornament classification all its own at my house. 🙂

This year is Gerry’s first Christmas in Tennessee, and we have put up “the Ireland tree.”

This embroidered fabric harp—Ireland’s national symbol—is one of several harps in the box, including one carved from bog oak.

This embroidered fabric harp—Ireland’s national symbol—is one of several harps in the box, including one carved from bog oak.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

I purchased the glass ornament on the right during my first trip to Ireland in 2003. It is hand painted.

This is a representation of the Carndonagh Cross. We saw it first in 2003 on the Inishowen Peninsula, and again just this year.

This is a representation of the Carndonagh Cross. We saw it first in 2003 on the Inishowen Peninsula, and again just this year.

On the left, one of Belleek’s “Doors of Dublin” series of ornaments.

On the left, one of Belleek’s “Doors of Dublin” series of ornaments.

A teapot, also by Belleek.

A teapot, also by Belleek.

There are quite a few shamrocks, both fabric and glass.

There are quite a few shamrocks, both fabric and glass.

Below, a claddagh. Above, an embroidered fabric ornament copied from an image from the Book of Kells, representing St. Luke.

Below, a claddagh. Above, an embroidered fabric ornament copied from an image from the Book of Kells, representing St. Luke.

A glass Celtic cross.

A glass Celtic cross.

There are many more than this, of course. Santa dressed in green, with mugs of beer, for example. Tacky, I know. 🙂 The Irish tricolor. A glass St. Patrick. I could go on, but you get the picture. Is your tree up?

The Christmas Ornament (Part 1 of 3)

I’ve always had a thing for Christmas ornaments. (And decorations, but that’s another story entirely. Nothing that moves, sings, or must be blown up or otherwise requires a generator, thankyouverymuch.) Over the years I’ve collected all manner of ornaments (and things I’ve turned into ornaments), but I know my delight in special ornaments and the traditions related to them was … well, born with me.

That is, my parents had an ornament tradition before I came along. They were DIY people, and for their very first Christmas (1951)—my father was a college student at the time, and money was tight—my father made three ornaments with names on them.

JIM, DORIS, BEAU.

(Beau was the dog.)

To do this, Daddy dipped a quarter-inch paintbrush in glue, hand-lettered each name in block letters (he’d studied as a draftsman; his printing was beautiful) on a large gold glass ornament, then sprinkled silver glitter over it. When I was born, he made another: JAMIE.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

It doesn’t look like much now, I know. But I do treasure it.

Sister Jill and brother Jon each got an ornament in due time. My father enlisted with the United States Air Force not long after his and Mom’s first Christmas; he was sent to Officers’ Candidate School (OCS), learned to fly both fixed-wing and rotary-operated aircraft, and was subsequently moved all over the country (and into Canada).

Things get broken in moves like these. One by one, all the other name ornaments were broken—but not mine. When I left the house at eighteen, I took it with me.

I still have it. I no longer hang it on a tree, but I do display it. Carefully. 🙂

See?

See?

The List: Husbands, Wives, and Christmas

My parents always asked us kids for a list of things we wanted for Christmas … when we were still kids, and when we’d grown up. It’s a habit I continued with my son, especially now that he’s grown, because I don’t see him every day—I don’t know what he wants. Why spend money on something that will never be used?

My husband thinks that’s too mercenary, but then he’s the guy who only gives cash. “They can get what they want,” that’s his motto. It works, though I sometimes find it a little boring. I enjoy the hunt for the perfect gift.

But I think that’s a gal thing. What’s a doting husband to do?

Sometimes, gentlemen, you draw a complete blank, yes? Sometimes … You Just Need a List. If you ask your wife for a list, though, you spoil the surprise.

The list that follows was making the rounds among my Facebook friends. I don’t know whom to credit; the version I read actually included the words: “I just read this somewhere.” So I offer it here, cleaned up and with a few edits.

The Doting Husband’s Gift Idea List: Gifts To Surprise Your Wife

• Gift certificate for a mani/pedi. Supersize it and give her four of them.

• Gift certificate for a professional massage.

• An empty house for 24–72 hours. No less, but longer would be cool.

• A planned weekend with her friends: fancy hotel, all plans pre-made, kids arranged, concert/play/movie/event tickets bought.

• A cleaning company to come and do even just one deep clean of the house. Those dust bunnies are not going anywhere without hired help.

• An upgrade to her engagement/wedding ring: a new wrap, added stones, whatever suits her.

• Concert tickets with backstage passes. Sitter booked. Hotel overnight a bonus.

• Get her car detailed.

• Facials/massages/hair appointments pre-booked and pre-paid for as many months as you can afford. Arrange the babysitter too.

• Gift cards for a girls’ night out. (Besties notified and booked!)

• A weekend, with you, in the big city. Plans made. Sitters booked.

• A local hotel room booked for her for a whole night (or two!)—alone. Preferably one with a spa.

• Don’t forget tradition. I have a friend whose husband, every year without fail, gets her the latest hardback edition of her favorite prolific author.

• Jewelry. Duh.

• Hack her Pinterest. Ideas galore.

• Ask her girlfriends.

• Don’t forget the deluxe wrapping.

There’s your list. A surprise is still the best thing, so don’t ask her for a list. Just do it.

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