Thursday, November 29, 2001

Vacations and Presents

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Missouri. I had some extra vacation, holed up from our cancelled trip to New Zealand, so Kyndall and I exercised some Southwest Airlines frequent flier miles and spent the weekend in Southern California.
California is a funny place. It's beautiful in a certain way. It's ugly in another. Not being there at peak season it is not fair to draw too broad a conclusion, but southern California just seems more like an industrialized desert. But again, that's just me.

Thanksgiving dinner at my parent's house was an interesting one this year. I have been breathing for 28 years and somehow still I ended up at the kid's table. They added on an enclosed patio - it's a nice sunroom when the sun is out - and a kid's dining room when Thanksgiving dinner is served.

The best we could find was Sorry. Do you remember Sorry? It's not exactly mental, but as far as board games go, Sorry is not a bad player. We dusted it off, shuffled the cards, and as a friend of mine says, "We started kickin' it old-school style."

Vacation means something to me different than what it means to you. Or maybe it doesn't; let's see. To me, vacation means seeing my family. It also means seeing my wife's family. We're pretty parallel so far, I would guess. It also means not going to work, but more than anything, my vacations are saturated with hours and hours behind the steering wheel.

I don't have the classic television sitcom problems. My in-laws are nosey, but they are very respectful. My mother is demanding, but she lets me live my life. Both families get along, don't pester us about grandchildren, and let us eat dessert first if we want.

I do have what is probably a very common American problem, though. Distance. Getting from my bed in my own house to my bed in my parent's house takes a little more than 9 hours of straight driving across beautiful Kansas. Getting from the dinner table at my parent's house to the dinner table at Kyndall's parents' house takes just a hair over three hours.

That means before I get a chance to see everyone, I have invested 12 hours of rump time into the driver's seat. Moreover, no one wants to sit and visit with each other when family arrives, they want to go for a drive, or go to the city or go anywhere to bump up my exposure to purring motors.

Then, we have to go home. That ups the ante to 24 hours minimum. Imagine. Who has enough CDs in their car to fill 24 hours of driving? I can only keep conversation going for so long until I start to read billboards out loud and sing to myself.

Going home is always worth it though. The outlet malls, the restaurants, the suitcase living and the occasional extended-family tension. I can try all I want to paint it sour, but something keeps pulling me back.

This year, just past the Colorado border, it started to drop in temperature. There is just something wonderful about Colorado. I don't know what it is. It isn't the high school graduation rate. It isn't the drug abuse rate. It isn't the high cost of living. It's something else, something that was here before we started to settle the state. Something natural.

Anyway, as the temperature dropped we started to see the occasional snowflake. Within a few miles it turned to fog. Thick fog. We were not far from Limon, Colorado - the only oasis between Kansas and Denver. We made it and filled the gas tank. I felt the car slip as we pulled away from the pump.

This was crazy - we could barely see more than 20 feet in front of us and it didn't look like the weather was going to improve. So, the ref. Finally ref. made the call - and we pulled into a local motel for the night.

The next day was like Mad Max movie. Driving into Denver that morning along I-70 were dozens of cars spun out into the median, flipped minivans, smashed cars - it was frightening. Kyndall wouldn't let me drive over 40 MPH for the longest time, and even then we were passing everyone.

It was a good call.

This week a certain realization set in. My company is a certified Microsoft partner, and partners have requirements to retain their certification. One of those requirements is to have a certain number of consultants certified on some Microsoft product. All the certifications that had gotten us this far had either left or expired.

I was volunteered and I, in turn, volunteered for the SQL 2000 229 exam. It's not an easy exam, but I felt pretty confident. The material I had ordered before vacation had arrived and I tool a sample quiz and suddenly, the lump in my throat began to tighten.

The time schedule I have to take the test is short - a little too short to be done best, but I will just have to pull through. It's a true test of my vigor and ability to absorb technical information. - and deal with an ulcer! (not really)

Finally, I have started to not hate Christmas so much. This year has promised to be different with Kyndall's family because everyone has opted into the new gift scheme. The basic idea is to limit spending. I am always for such things. As her extended family grew with marriages (her marriage to me included) and children (like Jason's and Carol's) we all began to realize that significant gifts for each person were growing into a small county's yearly budget.

A crippled economy helped solder the deal and time will tell how things really are executed. Some people will have to fight the year's old temptation to splurge, and others will have to adjust expectations on Christmas' returns.

All in all, the lowbrowing of gifts while maintaining the spirit of giving during the Christmas season has to be a positive one.

In the meanwhile, I am busy figuring out how not to rip of Kyndall. Her jewelry bag was stolen at Denver airport last month, and it is tempting to use the replacement of those items as Christmas presents - especially since insurance will be paying for its replacement.

I think buying for a spouse is one of the harder things to do. The good thing is, Christmas allows you to not have to negotiate a purchase. Where you might ask to make a major purchase, during the holiday, we usually give with the idea that, just ask - no negotiation necessary. That's the beautiful part.

What's hard is that the spouse is at your same address, and they will see the bill when it arrives. They will know things that if you just gave it to your mother, you would never have to consider.

I think buying for a spouse is one of the harder things to do. Imagine if you bought your wife the scarf she always wanted. You were proud to remember that she wanted, frankly, but in mid-January she reveals that she is disappointed that you did not pick up on the hints she was dropping on a new dress or anything other than a scarf.

Your bother-in-law would not pull this stunt. But buying for a spouse is hard. You have to be reasonable. You have to be current. You have to be aware, thoughtful, and you have to be clever and romantic. Buying for my nephew, the only thing I have to try and do is remember how old they are.

I think buying for a spouse is one of the harder things to do.

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