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Christmas Lessons, 1969

Christmas Lessons, 1969

Today when you’re running any last minute errands, peace out! Seriously, after driving and walking yesterday I was really wondering if any of those in cars were focused at all on peace and goodwill. Think of the irony of rushing to complete tasks for Christmas while nearly running other cars off the road or running over pedestrians in the parking lots—does this make sense?

Yesterday while I was out to go to an appointment, I couldn’t believe the hyper-awareness I needed to maintain to keep myself safe while on the road. I was singing along to “O Holy Night” when I first almost got sideswiped—after I had checked for an empty lane and used my turn signal—the huge SUV that almost got me kept bouncing among lanes without ever using a signal, but the driver of that vehicle was far from the only one.

This sort of thing kept repeating—I had to keep turning up my music and reminding myself to calm down. And when I could see the drivers’ faces, those faces seemed blank and set in stone. The people did not seem angry or aggressive—it was as if they were not there—perhaps they were running through to-do lists in their heads.

After I almost got hit as I walked into the pedestrian crosswalk outside of Office Max—a crosswalk protected by stop signs on both sides—when a car blew through as if neither the stop signs nor I existed—I decided I was done. My errands could wait if this was how my fellow humans were sharing the holiday cheer. All I had to do was get to my own street—where I was greeted by another large SUV going the wrong way down our one-way street. After that car had passed and as soon as I could turn safely, I was followed by another vehicle that had turned so quickly behind me that it had been visible neither in my rear view mirror nor through my front windshield.

When I parked my car in front of my house, I resolved to stay home the rest of the day—no matter what else I might have wanted to accomplish out and about.

All I can think is that too many people have bought into the myths that our celebrations of Christmas have to be perfect and that everything has to be done by December 24 or all is lost.

Well, long ago my father shattered the myth of perfect Christmas for me and I’m finally starting to think it was one of the better things that happened to me. Believe me, I did not always see my personal story this way. What happened was this: I presented my parents with this huge list which I compiled from poring over the Sears Wishbook. Remember those? Well, Christmas Eve came and the present Santa brought was from that list but was not what I most wanted. I threw a fit and my father threw one back. He said, “Fine—there isn’t any Santa, you know. We do the shopping and that’s what we could find that was on your list.”

I used to think he could have been more sensitive, but now I know just how much of a brat I was being. He was running his pharmacy six days a week and then had to rely on my mother—the K-12 music teacher who had the elementary music program, as well as junior high and high school choir and band concerts, to run—to get to the closest town with a store that sold toys so she could buy our presents. No store was open on his day off, which was Sunday. They were busy decorating and providing us with all the trappings of Christmas while doing their jobs that paid for such things—they were exhausted. Too bad you didn’t get the perfect Christmas you wanted, kid. Neither did they, neither did they.

Unfortunately, the Christmas Machine is so much bigger today than it was when I was growing up. We not only have stores that are open on Sundays and late into the evening, we now have stores that stay open 24 hours a day the week before Christmas. We have online shopping and next day shipping. But that doesn’t mean the stores—brick or virtual—have that “perfect” gift you want to buy. That doesn’t mean we have any more hours in the day to live our normal lives while preparing for the holidays—even if we can go shopping at 2:00 a.m. if we choose. And that doesn’t mean no one should ever be disappointed.

What I learned that Christmas—OK, what I later realized I learned that Christmas—is that the real present is what others have done for you with their intent. It’s their love and time that matters more than receiving the perfect material gift.

And, of course, if you believe Christmas is really about a little baby bringing light into this world, how can any of this rushing around without love really be what matters most?

Even if you don’t believe Christmas is about that baby, do you really want to mar your celebrations by damaging your vehicle or by getting charged with careless driving—or by harming someone else’s body and/or property?

In our house, tonight is about going to church and being together. But we also give ourselves the gift of celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas—which means Christmas begins tomorrow for us. We don’t have to be done by the 25th because we’re going to keep celebrating.

While you (and I) are busy completing any necessary tasks today, keep singing “Joy to the World”—at the top of your lungs, if you must, to remind yourself what all this busyness is all about. Give yourself—and others—the gift of having a merry little imperfect Christmas.

Peace—let it begin with me and you today.

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

I try really hard to love my life for the people and the experiences in it and the beliefs I hold. Life for me is not about status or what I own or where I live or anything like that—expect for when it is.

I’ve always feared consumerism in others and I try to snuff it out in myself, but deep down I realize that I am at least still materialistic. Not a material girl in the Madonna way, but just that I know sometimes I get really attached to certain material things. For me consumerism is about wanting stuff for the sake of having it or getting something new or impressing someone else or trying to create an image—all that I try to avoid. No, I’m not quite to the level I’d like to be in the “store up your treasures in heaven” attitude, but I try.

So it’s hard for me to admit that I love my car—and that it is the kind of car that also appeals to hipsters and people who do care what others think. Last month I felt like some sort of fraud while hanging around while getting the car serviced (after 10 months—oil changes only once every 10,000 miles—awesome!)—even the waiting area felt too trendy for someone like me. Who’d have thunk I’d be driving a MINI Cooper S? Not me.

You see it’s my husband’s fault we have this car—and Sherman’s no hipster either. He’s just been coveting them for years. Last year, it became painfully obvious we needed another car around here due to everyone’s differing schedules. Finally, I told him to go drive one. How was he going to know if he really liked them if he didn’t check them out?

So when he found a “pre-owned” (what people like me call “used”) one with reasonable miles, he took it for a spin. He liked it, he really liked it, even though he was out driving it on a dark and stormy night. Throughout the week while we vacillated—I just didn’t want to spend any money, period—the salesperson kept calling—and the price dropped.

When Sherman took me and our son Jackson to see the vehicle in the daylight, I didn’t think anything would come of it, no matter how cute the darn thing was. Both my guys took the car screaming over the hills outside the (BMW) dealership. Our fill-in salesperson—the finance guy who used to work at the MINI location and who knew all about them—was not too excited to squeeze himself into that back seat for that type of journey, but he actually knew more about the car than the BMW salesperson did.

I think he was happier with my cautious driving style than with the let-‘er-rip style practiced by my guys, but he wasn’t so thrilled with my cautious buying style. Don’t think he’d met many with my level of reticence for spending at that place—I mean there were cars there selling for $132,000. My inclination was to run out of that oh-so-precious space and go find some bucket of bolts that probably would have nickled and dimed us to our last penny. But thanks to my habit of not spending too often, I had built a credit number that was the highest Mr. Finance had seen—at the BMW place, no less. (That my husband’s score was slightly lower is due to the fact he’s the one who has the reliable salary and whose credit we typically use, but he’s no slacker either—let’s face it, we are just cheap—usually.)

And with those credit records we could obtain financing that made a lot more sense than paying for a bunch of repairs on a less reliable vehicle.

Can I help it that my reliable and safe vehicle (yes, Sherman checked the reports and ratings even before that first drive) is just so fun to drive? Note: I don’t even like to drive, but I do now. Errands? No problem. City traffic? Still a problem, but so much better with all that zip as well as the as-easy-as-it-gets parking of such a small car. Decent insurance rates, reasonable gas mileage, and ergonomically suitable for my touchy lower back—and with racing stripes on it! So what if the heater takes its time—I’ve finally got heated seats!

OK, enough with the exclamation points. But you get the point—I like the material possession that is my car. Turns out I’m a bit of a material girl, after all.

Nonetheless, I doubt I’m going to respond to all those email ads I get telling me “ the new MINIs are in, new MINIs are in” within anything close to the next decade. Our closest “new” vehicle is the car I drove and now my son drives—the 2000 grandma-mobile my mom gave us in 2008. Sherman just replaced his 1994 with a 1998—after we realized buying a “newer” vehicle would be cheaper than repairing his. And our daughter still drives the only car we ever bought new—back in 1998.

Yup, that’s me smiling like the Cheshire Cat behind the wheel of my little striped car. I’ve got the car I didn’t know I wanted—and I’m keeping it.

P.S. Happy almost anniversary (November 2) to us and our little car–it’s been a great year! Here’s to many more happy miles together!

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert Furgus and Sam take their first ride in the new(er) 4Runner.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert
Furgus and Sam take their first ride in the new(er) 4Runner.

The things you do for love . . . sometimes extend into agreeing to try things you swore you’d never try.

For the record, I have rarely liked the cars my husband Sherman likes. But then again, I’m not really a big fan of driving anyway. I was the kid who got her license because she wanted to go places, not because she wanted to drive. Driving was a means to an end.

Plus, since I come from a flat, small town, driving in the city or the mountains is way different than where I began. However, I have lived here longer than I lived where I lived while growing up—where I didn’t really drive for too long before I left. Perhaps it’s time for me to grow up and into the driving reality of where I have been driving most of my life.

But is my brain ready to learn how to drive a stick shift at this age??!!

Well, for my husband I pledged I would do so—which really shocked him after my initial (mostly failing) test drive in a public transit parking lot.

The thing is, I’m not intuitively natural with manual activities. At least I tend to do better with foot activities—although that wasn’t exactly the case with the clutch the first time. Perhaps if I think of it as dancing?

Sadly, listening and doing are probably not going to be my best way to start learning anything. But, dork that I am, I can learn better having read and watched and memorized instructions. Guess who will have to do some research?

Still, I really, really don’t want to be going through all this with an audience. I am longing for those remote country roads and almost deserted residential streets where I first practiced driving. However, with the gas mileage on this vehicle, I’m not going to want to take long road trips with it! No, this is my husband’s car for plowing the parking lot or for taking his bicycle to go on foothills’ climbs or for transporting the dogs—safely behind the gate—for runs, walks, and hikes.

Sherman has been searching for replacement Toyota 4Runners for weeks now while waiting for his previous 4Runner to be sold. Although he’s looked at a few manual cars, I’ve been telling him that learning to drive a stick shift car now wasn’t really how I planned to try to prevent Alzheimer’s by expanding my brain’s activities.

And yet, it really is learning those things that are hard for us that can have impact on our brain health as we age.

So when Sherman found a beautiful 4Runner in the right price range that was not an automatic, I still agreed to look at it.

Am I resistant to this change? Very. But has my husband done a lot of things for me over the years that wouldn’t have been his first choice? Oh yeah. I’m pretty sure the balance is fairly uneven and it’s about time his wants trumped mine, especially since this isn’t my vehicle. I just need to be able to drive it, not drive it all the time.

Baby, you can drive my car, but it’s probably going to be awhile before I can drive yours!

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

“Reluctantly crouched at the starting line . . .” (from Cake’s “The Distance”) we couldn’t wait to peel out when the lights turned green. Those were the days when there wasn’t much to do but “cruise the ones” at night during high school. I’m a fairly cautious driver, but that didn’t stop me from burning off the line in my mother’s car, an innocuous looking green Mercury Comet with a white roof that had some get up and go. (Little did I know then that my driving style was contributing to the late 1970s oil crisis, even if I didn’t drive that much.)

During those same years my need for speed was also being met on the running track. In that case, I aimed not to jump from the starting line, but keep the kick for the finish—something I did so well that in the last month of my high school career my coach decided I made a better sprinter than I did a long distance runner. Despite all those miles under my feet, he was right about that. Even if I’ve never been a star at any distance, I do love the rush at the end, arms pumping, eyes fixed on the goal, and the wind blowing past my ears.

Well, life in my 50s has not been nearly so zippy. In fact, after my bulging disc injury at the end of my 40s and lots of physical therapy and exercising on my own, for a long time I was happy just to get back to walking in a zippy manner.

As for driving a zippy car, that hadn’t happened since my turbo Dodge Shadow pooped out way sooner than it should have. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Honda CR-V—which our daughter still drives—but you’re never going to confuse that car with a car that can pass easily in the mountains—or even go up a hill without a whole lot of effort. And my parents’ Mercury Sable I inherited has a V-6, but, seriously, it’s a grandma-mobile—it’s a good road trip sedan.

So when my husband suggested getting a MINI Cooper, I had no strong opinions either way. Cars just cost too much money any way you look at it and I’ve rather stopped thinking about what I might want in a car. Then when my husband, son, and I took it out on a test drive on hilly County Line Road, I started to remember—not that I had much experience on hills growing up in my absolutely flat hometown, but I did have memories of zipping along County Line Road in my Shadow and loving how easy those hills seemed.

Well, almost six months and 6,000 happy miles later, that MINI Cooper and I (as well as every other driver in our family) have zipped around quite a bit. Hills, roundabouts, curves, highway entrance ramps, mountain inclines—those places are where the MINI excels—and/or accelerates, as it were.

As for me and my own two feet, I remain mostly not-zippy. But every once in awhile, thanks to PT, yoga, and a lot of focused work, I still have it in me to try to fly for a short distance. At the end of last night’s track practice, where I consistently hit my times 100 meter, after 100 meter, on the way to a consistent pace for a 20-minute run and three more timed 200 meter runs, I turned off the watch and just zipped through the last 200 meters as fast as I could. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

Nothing like going from zero to zippy from time-to-time to help me stay satisfied with the slower pace in much of my life—that’s what keeps me going the distance.

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