Give gifts that keep on giving

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, National

Last Friday marked “opening day” for Christmas gift hunting season. I don’t participate in Black Friday (avoid it like the plague), but know many love the thrill of standing in line, being ushered into a store a few at a time to avoid mayhem, and using elbows as the weapon of choice.  I’ll pass. 

The weeks following Thanksgiving have always been a boon for retailers cashing in on the masses fulfilling Christmas wish lists. Back in 1939 and 1940, retailers begged President Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week to extend the Christmas shopping season.  He did; it didn’t increase sales and made a lot of people angry to boot.  At the behest of many citizens, Congress passed legislation in 1941 forever setting Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.  I appreciate that.  Imagine the tinkering today for the sake of higher sales . . . why, we’d have Thanksgiving in June if it were up to some.

The Christmas season should be enjoyed for a whole host of reasons: none of which include a single material gift. Consuming for the sake of consuming at the scale we’ve reached is something I have a very hard time justifying. Call me Scrooge, but the holidays are way too commercialized and costly for my liking. I haven’t always felt this way.

Maybe my feelings are derived from the almost 16-year-old counting the days until State Farm becomes his good neighbor at my expense or the fact that the nest egg we struggled to save via a 401(k) is cracked and oozing. The drying yolk has me glued to the nest, and that’s probably not a bad thing. Oh well, it gives me plenty of time to consider various low/no -cost gifting options and rethink my investment strategy.

The economic times we find ourselves in coupled with the fact that no one in my house needs any more stuff has me pondering the maxim, “The best things in life are free”.  There are many gifts we can give each other that don’t cost a thing. As a public service to those who put up with me regularly, I’ll share my freebies.  I aim to assist you in getting all of your Christmas shopping done from the comfort of your home, in a fraction of the time, and at bargain-basement prices. These are one-size-fits-all, and you won’t even mind them being returned.

I’ll start with the man of the house.  For him, I suggest appreciation. He’ll love being recognized for the magnitude of what he contributes to the family and will look dashing in the smile such an offering will surely bring.  (My own field research revealed enhanced cooperation regarding honey-dos, and cost-benefit analysis shows this to be well worth the expense.)

For the lady in your life: a little peace and quiet for herself. She spends a great deal of time taking care of others and needs to recharge her own batteries. If you’re looking to go all out, clean the bathtub and let her use it first.  Those who’d really like to splurge can purchase a box of Calgon for around $3 at most drug stores.  If you can’t swing that one, a meal without any complaints would be nice.  

Teenagers are a little tricky. They need a lot, are a bristly sort at times, and don’t always inspire more giving; I recommend empathy, acceptance and a great deal of patience. Give these, and you’ll actually be giving yourself a gift as well. I speak from experience.

Last, but certainly not least, spend time with your little ones. There is no greater gift, and they’ll treasure it always.  Laugh with them, and most importantly, listen — you’ll be amazed.

This Christmas season, take stock in family bonds; they’re investments that will never depreciate.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Thanks for giving me turkey

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Home sweet home, National, Wedded bliss

I know it’s a little early, but Happy Thanksgiving to you all. The days leading up to Turkey Day are always eventful for me. By Friday it will be necessary for me to be fully sedated – tryptophan in turkey does the trick. Just in case you’re in the same boat or don’t care much for turkey, tryptophan is available in other foods. I eat chocolate, oats, eggs, and pumpkin seeds in conjunction with turkey for maximum benefits. It’s legal, and I could argue medically necessary should I be found driving under the influence.

I’m sure you’re wondering what could possibly cause me to anesthetize myself in such a way. The unfortunate truth is that I have no one to blame but myself.

It all started many years ago when as a young wife I purchased a small artificial Christmas tree for our first home. I couldn’t wait to decorate. Jeff grumbled and was less than enthusiastic, but put it together solely to humor his bride. I think he also realized it was only the beginning of my dragging things home for him to assemble.  Like most men though, he couldn’t resist the payoff of a gushing female impressed by his abilities.

While I decorated the tree, he watched and uttered a “bah-humbug”. I put Christmas knick-knacks and decorations all around our humble dwelling. He rolled his eyes.

A couple of years later, while expecting our first bundle of joy, we moved to a bigger place. Christmas rolled around, and in honor of the son who would be born shortly after Christmas Jeff put the tree together, helped decorate, and adorned the outdoors with as many lights as he could. I tear up just thinking about it. He was a changed man.

With a two-year-old in tow, we purchased what I lovingly refer to here as the Whatley estate. It came with a yard, trees and two floors of space we thought we’d never fill.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Jeff was planning Christmas displays long before the papers were signed.  Had I known how many light bulbs were burning in his head, I most certainly would have opted for a one-story home.

Since 1995, I’ve spent the better part of November and December standing, phone in hand and ready to dial 911, as Jeff hangs thousands of lights in places no other human being would dare travel. People drive by, see him way up in the trees or hanging off the side of the house aligning each tiny bulb, and shake their heads. “He’s crazy!” they hollered.

It became so elaborate over the years that it took weeks to complete. It was beautiful, but we’re talking so many lights that turning on certain indoor appliances tripped the breaker! After many nights of being unable to blow dry my hair after a shower, I issued edict No. 97-243a which states all outdoor Christmas decorating must be completed by Thanksgiving weekend, or not be done at all.

My through-the-back-door attempt to appeal to his logical male brain was that it was too much work to have it up for only three weeks. Much to my surprise, he agreed. Sweet victory! I should have known there was a retaliatory strike coming when my smug attitude over having won that battle didn’t bother him in the least. Now, I must bow to The Master of “I don’t get mad, I get even.”    

Every year, Jeff takes the week of Thanksgiving off.  He’s home with me ALL DAY, EVERY DAY dangling from all sorts of precarious locations. I stand at the ready, with the full knowledge of who brings home the bacon and pray it won’t be the year he takes a tumble. He delights in my worry, and gets a real charge out of making some awful noise and seeing how quickly I’ll come running. Thanks, Jeff, for giving me a real turkey story! 

© 2008 Natalie Whatley 


Me and my shadow

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

There’s a new man in my house. This is on top of my husband, two sons, and a male dog. My daughter and I are surfing a testosterone tidal wave! I’m trying not to become too attached (which I never in a million years thought would be a problem – I don’t need one more living thing to take care of), because I’m hoping his loved ones are looking for him, or he’ll just decide to go home one day. The prospects of either scenario playing out seem to be dwindling.

This story has somewhat of an odd beginning, or maybe it’s just a very strange coincidence, but “Shadow”, the completely black cat, with the most beautiful green eyes I’ve ever seen, showed up at the Whatley estate Halloween morning.  He’s young, possibly four-six months old, and I have no idea where he came from. However, he seems pretty convinced of where he’s staying.

When I went out to put my daughter on the bus that Friday morning, he ran out from the flowerbed and melted into my little girl. It seemed they’d always known each other. It was rather sweet, and I recognized the “can we keep each other?” look in both pairs of eyes.  We petted him while waiting for the bus, and I set him back in the flowerbed on my way in – only to have the same scenario play out all over again when I took the next child out to the bus stop.

 I told my soft-hearted son the kitty must be someone’s beloved pet, as he seemed well socialized and sported a cute little collar with a bell. Kitty was returned to the flowerbed after my son’s departure. I went about my day not giving dear kitty another thought. He’s not the first, and I’m reasonably certain not the last, to view my flowerbeds as a litter box. He’d be moving along soon enough. 

Greeting my daughter that afternoon as she got off the bus, I was about to answer her question regarding the cat’s whereabouts when he sprang from the flowerbed and began climbing up her leg. She remained outside with him until her brother came home. Minutes later, I was confronted by two very serious children concerned over the fate of a small black cat left to fend for itself on Halloween night. Ugh! Who taught them to think things through in such a manner? We put kitty and a dish of water on the back patio…just to keep him safe Halloween night. 

An ensuing cold front, swarms of mosquitoes, and neighborhood cats bent on making my visitor understand that MY backyard was THEIR territory, caused me to invite him indoors.  I’ve since learned he’s house-broken, loves to play, and that curling up in the arms of a human is just about all he wants in life…well, besides food.  He has a very healthy appetite and has grown noticeably during his two week stay.

“Found” signs have been posted. I’ve asked around, checked the “The Baytown Sun” and called Baytown Animal Control to see if anyone is looking for him. I don’t know if he wandered away from home and was unable to return, or if he was a stowaway in the back of truck and rode too far. I can’t imagine someone dumping him; he’s just too darn sweet.

He did make some pretty big waves when I forced him to bathe.  In time he’ll realize (they all do) that boys and big waves don’t scare me. I’ll happily reunite him with his original family. You all know where to find me. Pounce on it quickly because I’m catching myself humming Sinatra’s version of “Me And My Shadow”.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley




Motherboards and gurus

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, Wedded bliss

The woman in charge of computing for the Whatley family passed away a couple of weeks ago.  After deep mourning, making final arrangements, and what I thought would be the unbearable task of finding her replacement, I can finally speak of her unexpected demise.

Approaching thunderstorms caused me to pay her a visit one evening and make sure she was properly bedded down. When I went to wake her the next morning, she was gone. Had I known the moments I spent with her the night before would be her last, I would have backed up the contents of her vast mind, thanked her for many years of service, and held her hand as the power light dimmed. She saw me through countless school projects, online forum debacles, the balancing of my checkbook, and the forging of many new friendships.  She brought me out of my shell, and I will miss her.

The term “motherboard” is thrown around often in our technologically advanced times. Prior to last week, I had no clue what one really was and furthermore, didn’t care what it did. I have since learned it’s a piece of equipment encased in the CPU that ties everything together, allowing all the parts to receive power and communicate with one another. Is there any question, ladies, why it’s called a “motherboard”? I think I know why she felt weary enough to cross over to another dimension.

She could have confided in me regarding her troubles. I’ve become adept at talking myself off the ledge when I get that “why must I do everything around here” feeling; I would have helped a friend in need.

Upon finding her lifeless, denial quickly began to rule my emotions. Convinced I was missing something electrical, I summoned my personal fix-it man.  He almost always makes everything better in my world. His diagnosis: “your computer is fried”. I said “almost”. Not what I wanted to hear and I was plenty mad at him for not breaking the news in a gentler fashion. A girl needs to be coddled sometimes, and this occasion rightly called for such treatment. Did he not understand the gravity of his words? Hundreds of pictures were gone if that were true. Sensing the murderous intentions of a female about to shoot the messenger, he removed himself from my presence.

Overcome by emotion and blinded by tears, I dialed 281-628-5099 to reach the business of Texas Computer Guru, owned by fellow columnist Aaron Barbee and his wife Sherri. Upon performing the CPU’s autopsy, they discovered the cause of death: dead motherboard. They handled my delicate mental state with the greatest of care. On top of that, they hooked up my hard drive to life support and retrieved the six years of photographic memories I feared were gone forever. There aren’t words to express my gratitude.

In addition to providing in-home or business computer, server, and network service, Aaron and Sherri are the proud new owners of The Cartridge World of Baytown.  At Cartridge World, located at 5055 Garth Rd., the Barbees remanufacture laser ink cartridges. Used cartridges are given some new parts, cleaned, refilled with ink or toner for reuse, tested, and 100% guaranteed to perform.  Drop by the store, or call them at 281-421-8987 if you’d like to utilize that service.  It’s a great concept in that it keeps those reusable cartridges out of the landfills, and conserves the oil needed to make new ones.

Thank you, Aaron and Sherri, for easing my pain during a difficult time. I’ll heed your advice and pre-plan the funeral of my new computer by keeping things backed up.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley





Which way are we going?

Author: natalie  //  Category: Issues, National

I doubt that anyone reading needs to be reminded, but in the event you somehow managed to escape the constant barrage: Election Day is this Tuesday, November 4. It can’t come and go soon enough for me.  Am I alone in feeling we’ve been on a winding cross-country road trip, stuck behind the media driving the whole way with their left turn signal on?

Navigating life is sometimes difficult for the opinionated person who chooses their own route. A degree of irritation ensues when detours are forced by the likes of those whose claim to fame is “analysis” of polling data collected on polling data. What’s funny about that is that they’re just now starting to catch on to the fact that some people are not truthful in answering polls. I stopped responding to such calls, but have fantasized about picking up the phone and toying with the pollster on the other end. I resent the “from on high” arrogance…just give me the facts, and I’ll decide what they mean. I can’t help not wanting to be told what I should think; it’s embedded in my DNA. How’s that for shifting the blame?

I refrained from breaking out into full blown political rants here for various reasons. The primary one being that I respect any individual who has taken the time to learn about the issues and form opinions – even if they don’t square with my own. I can’t hear you yell at the newspaper; although, I wish I could. While I admit to being hard-headed (also embedded in my DNA), I’m not too proud to change my mind when presented with hard facts and intelligent argument. Sparring partners are hard to find, and not because there’s a shortage of intelligence, but rather a shortage of people who can keep their heads. I can walk away from a heated discussion and still consider the dissenter a friend.  I’m undecided on whether that’s a blessing or a curse.

Spirited debate and lively conversation with those who have opposing views is actually a form of recreation for me. (Feel very sorry for my family.) The dinner table at my house has been rather boisterous given my children are forming opinions of their own and voting in mock elections at school.  I apologize in advance to teachers and my children’s future mates, who will no doubt deal with the minds I have “corrupted” by pushing them to defend their stance.  Future Thanksgivings ought to be a riot.

History tells me we’ve driven through trying times before. Still, this election feels like a very pivotal moment – one historians will review long after our days. No matter which direction we collectively turn, history will be made. Only the test of time will tell if we got it right, and even then there will be argument.  Some of us will look back and say we had no choice but to move with the flow of traffic. It is an inescapable fact that we’re all in this together.

Regardless of where we find ourselves come Wednesday morning, the good news is that each one of us will remain in the driver’s seat of our own destiny. Have a destination in mind, know how to get there, and most importantly, don’t follow the dope driving with his turn signal on.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley