Friday, October 29, 2010

On Birthday Surprises

My wonderful wife had her birthday a few days ago. I managed to get through it without too much stress, and actually felt pretty good about how it went. For all those who really know me, you know that gift giving holidays of every flavor fill me full of dread. I just hate, hate, hate having to come up with gift ideas for people, and the whole process of going to a store and buying something (or much, much worse, trying to be crafty and make something) is a horrifying experience for me. My dear wife loves me even so.

Nevertheless, as her birthday was approaching, I really wanted to do something nice for her. For her birthday, Christmas, Valentine's day, and anniversary (and I mean this in all honesty) I never fail to unimpress my wife. I have a major problem picking up on the little hints of things that she says that she wants, so it usually comes down to her (I'm totally not making this up) sending me a link on or circling something in a catalog, putting it in front of me, and saying, "I want this."

Because of this, whenever she opens a gift, it's a rarity that she is actually surprised. Usually when she is surprised, it's something that isn't quite right, and either needs to be returned altogether or exchanged for a better fitting model. She loves me dearly, and even with my bumblingness (is that a word? it is now), she always smiles at me, expresses her gratitude, gives me a kiss, and then later I find that she has quietly found the receipt and put the item in a pile of things to be returned.

I've long since learned not to be offended.

Nevertheless, while I struggle with the whole process of gift-giving, I do want to do something special for my wife, and get her something that is not only nice, but that is a total surprise and that she won't return.

This year for her birthday, I ended up with one that fit all three categories, and one that hit two out of the three. I felt pretty good about it, but still wish I'd been able to hit a grand-slam.

The first one I got was a kitchen appliance that my wife had been eyeing for a long time. Anybody that knows my wife knows that she loves cooking and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. She's always looking for new recipes and new things to try, and so I've been hearing that she wanted a hand blender. About a month ago, I went to and looked at her wish list there, and discovered that she actually had one marked that was a reasonable price. I jumped on it and ordered it as soon as I found it.

Well, last weekend, she actually dragged me off to Kohl's to do some shopping. She had a 30% off coupon that she wanted me to take advantage of, and sent me with a short list of a few things to pick up: new slippers (got 'em -- happy unsurprised birthday, honey!) and a hand blender. Hmmm, I wondered, how was I going to get out of buying the hand blender for her while at the same time not telling her that I already had one for her in a box at home? It was a conundrum until I found out the price of the one there ($60), which was more than double the price of the one I'd got online. Knowing the frugal nature of my wife, I figured I could honestly proclaim that I wasn't about to spend 60 bucks on a hand blender for her. I'd come off sounding cheap (which she appreciates, thank heavens!), but it would certainly throw her off the scent.

Bottom line, it totally worked. Come her birthday, she opened it, and was delighted. At first she called me a liar, thinking I'd bought the really expensive one from Kohl's, until she looked at it and realized I'd actually bought the exact one she had on her Amazon wish list. Ah, tricky me! So, even though she had told me to buy it, I still managed to surprise her because she didn't think that I had actually bought it. She's quite happy with it, and has already used it several times.

Now to the second gift.

For months I've been hearing that she wants an MP3 player. She totally expected me to go get her a $15 model from Best Buy or something, but I also knew that she was secretly jealous of the new phone that I got from work (a Droid X -- I absolutely love it! Forget the iPhone, just buy one. You know you want it already! And no, I don't currently own any Google or Motorola stock ... it's that awesome.) She's been watching as I've been downloading apps and playing games and organizing my stuff and she was doing her level best to keep the green envy monster in check, but she totally wanted one. However, I knew she'd be really mad at me if I paid hundreds of bucks to buy her one, nor did I want to monkey with anything that would make our combined telecom bills any bigger.

So, what to do? Then it occurred to me that I have all these frequent flier miles hanging around ... and they have electronics that you can "buy" with them ... and they have MP3 players there ... So, yes, I used my frequent flier miles, which I've been collecting from work travel for almost 10 years, to buy her an MP3 player. But I didn't want the little cheap one. I wanted one where she could download apps, put the scriptures on it, play games, show videos, etc. So, looking through the menu of players they had, I noticed that they actually had an iPod Touch available. I looked at the features, then at my available miles, then at the features again, then I clicked "Add to cart", and it was on its way to my house.

But then she started making my life even more complicated, starting to talk about how she was thinking of getting a new phone that could do more stuff like mine. She was really interested in being able to download apps, have a decent MP3 player in it, etc. She even found some models she could get for free, with certain data plans. There I was, with a gift that would meet her needs literally in the mail, but I couldn't say a word about it for fear of ruining the surprise. Well, Mr. Cheap came to the rescue again: "Honey, I really don't want to pay anything more for our telecom bills. I mean, the data charges alone ...!" It worked, but I could tell she wasn't satisfied. All I had to do, though, was put her off until her birthday. She must've got sick of hearing me say, "You don't need a new phone. The one you've got works fine!" It must've been small consolation for a woman who had download needs, but that's where I was. I don't think she noticed that I found ways to leave the room when the subject came up.

Well, before it arrived, I threatened my wife that she wasn't to pick up (let alone open) any packages that arrived at the house for a few weeks or else ... something. She was a good girl, and did as she was told, and this little box showed up. I'm absolutely certain she figured it was an MP3 player. However, when her birthday came, she unwrapped the box, opened it up, and this look of total confusion went across her face. At first, I'm not sure she knew what it was. Then it dawned on her. Then she got mad at me for spending too much. Then I told her I hadn't spent a dime. Then she got mad at me because it was too much. Then I told her she'd been wanting an MP3 player. Then she insisted it was too much. Then I told her it does everything my Droid does except make calls. Then she opened it and we had some arguments with the kids over who's iPod it was. Finally, a while later, she started smiling.

And all was happy.

Until ...

She asked, "Does this thing have a camera?" My heart sank. No camera?! Of course it has a camera! See, it's right ... um ... Yeah. No camera. I got online and tried looking for the product description again, but it wasn't available anymore. We had a little discussion about how, when she realized what it was, she was really excited to use the built-in camera to take pictures and videos.

I thought maybe they'd sent me the wrong one. I emailed the frequent flier people, who promptly responded with, "As stated in the Terms & Conditions of the program, no exchanges or returns on Apple products are permitted." The person who replied even sent me the invoice with the model number and product description, which clearly said nothing about a camera. Grr. So, I called customer service. Ironically, the person who answered was the same person who sent me the email! How can that be? Seriously? I mean, what are the odds?! And worse, she was absolutely unyielding. No exchanges or returns. Period. And, no, sir, it wouldn't help to talk to her manager because it's in the terms and conditions. Ack.

So, here we are "stuck" with a perfectly good iPod Touch, which is "3rd Generation", which is totally awesome, but now it has the stink of something that just isn't quite right. To add insult to injury, the frequent flier catalog now only has the 4th Generation version, which, of course, has a camera. I missed it by only a week or two. Curse my luck!

And now, here I sit, having given my wife some wonderful gifts that were really nice, a total surprise, and that she won't (or, in the latter case, can't) return. But still I feel strangely unsatisfied about it.


And Christmas is less than 2 months away, and I'm all out of ideas ...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tribe Names

My daughter was grouped with three other kids into a "tribe" and they are supposed to be making up their own rules and stuff as part of a project. Their tribe name? The "Awesome British Gummy-Bears of Doom". I'd totally join that tribe!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dangers Right Beneath Our Feet

I had a bad dream last night. I was out in the desert, surrounded by scrub brush and dirt and a lot of people. It was daytime, and we were in a fairly large depression that had been surrounded by earthen walls on four sides. My children were off playing with the other kids, basically running around in hordes and laughing hysterically.

As my children played, I went to go climb one of the walls to see what was on the other side. Just as I rose above the crest, I saw an old F-104 Starfighter amble overhead, largely flipped over so that it was almost top down. Soon, two F/A-18 Hornets screamed by in formation, and I knew they were supposed to bracket the old Starfighter and bank left. One of the Hornets got too close and clipped one of the wings of the Starfighter, which was clearly going to crash.

The pilot of the Starfighter miraculously managed to right the slow-moving plane and do a belly-landing in the soft desert dirt. Nobody was hurt, but the pilot immediately popped the top and started running from the smoking ruin. To my horror, I watched all the children swarm the plane, laughing and climbing on the wings and fuselage, which was starting to smoke more and more. I ran over and started yelling to the children to get away. I was keeping my own distance, knowing that the jet fuel in the plane could explode at any second, when I saw my own two oldest children climb right up on top of the cockpit. Where my two oldest children were, I was sure that my youngest child was sure to follow, but I did not see him.

I started yelling frantically for them to get down off the plane and waved for them to come to me, but they did not hear me and ignored my motions. My daughter, in her innocence, even began waving for me to come to her! Just as I was steeling myself to run in after them, knowing full well that it was going to be futile, I awoke with a start.

Some dreams carry residual emotions with them when you awake, and I retained the fear of losing all three of my children in that horrible accident this morning. I didn't sleep so well after that.

As it was General Conference this past weekend, I've been in a mode of contemplation, and I immediately began to consider the applications of this dream.

First off was the practical: it is simply impossible to warn your children about all the potential dangers that might occur to them in their lives. Seriously, have you ever warned your children that if a plane crash lands in the desert, you shouldn't climb on it because it might explode? (I probably will later today.) That kind of situation just doesn't come up in normal day-to-day life.

We warn them against all sorts of physical dangers: look both ways before crossing the street, don't run with scissors, keep your fingers out of wall sockets, and even brush your teeth really well or they'll fall out someday. At some point, however, children need to start thinking for themselves, and consider for themselves the dangers that there are in this world. For my own children, they seem to have a healthy sense of self-preservation, but not such a good sense of how their actions can injure another. They also haven't shown great wisdom in unfamiliar or unusual settings, such as illustrated in my dream.

So, I ask myself, how do I help my children to recognize dangers that could quite literally be right beneath their feet? Clearly I need to help them to recognize the promptings and direction that can come from the Holy Spirit. My two older children have been baptized and have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means that they have the right to be guided by the Spirit of God at all times in their lives, if they live worthily. I can certainly teach them how to live worthily by modeling and encouraging good behaviors, but how do I, as a parent, teach them how to actually listen to the promptings of the Spirit?

So often my children get so excited about things that they don't stop and think about their surroundings. In my dream, it was quite evident that they were just following the crowd, all in the name of fun and excitement. This put them in a place that was dangerous to them physically. This panicked me, and I was deeply afraid of losing my children.

To draw the comparison, I think that it is all too easy to follow the crowd into places that are not only physically dangerous, but spiritually dangerous. I find myself wondering if my children would be discerning enough to recognize these types of situations, and to avoid them from the beginning. At this writing, I'm not so sure.

The dream certainly shook me, and I now know what we will be talking about during Family Home Evening tonight.

Friday, October 1, 2010


I was bringing my youngest son, who is 5, home from karate practice yesterday when I heard his little voice call from the back of the car, "Daddy, why are there tick-tocks in the front and the back?"

Uh, okay. First, I hadn't the faintest idea what a "tick-tock" was, and second, the front and the back of what?!

So, I replied most eloquently, "What?!"

He repeated his question, to which I replied even more eloquently, "Huh?!"

Then he said, "You know, on cars. Why do they have tick-tocks in the front and the back?"

At this point, realization dawned on me that he was asking about the turn signals, otherwise called "blinkers". (Understanding 5-Year-Old = Awesome Dad Moment.)

Thereafter ensued a discussion about how turn signals are put on the back of cars so that people who are behind them can see where the cars are going, and how turn signals are on the front so that people in front of or beside them know similarly. I'm not sure he got it, even though he said he did.

After I had this discussion with him, I was amused, but also fairly sad. Now that I'd informed him what they're really called, I'll probably never hear his cute little voice utter "tick-tock" in the same context again. The term "tick-tock" is sooo much more adorable than what they're really called, and so much more poetic. Such a pity.

Hmm, makes me wonder what other adorable sayings I've completely wrecked in my children's youth, all in the name of precision.

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