Posted by: Jeremiah Graves | December 2, 2008

Christmas on a (Time) Budget

The countdown is on folks. Whether you want to measure it in “remaining shopping days” or simply “days until vacation” it doesn’t matter. Any way you slice it, dice it, chop it or julienne it…Christmas is only about three short weeks away.


Now I’m not worried about the fact that Christmas is expensive, that’s a problem I deal with every year. Everyone does. We overspend to show people exactly how many dollars-worth we love them…and that’s fine. That’s a given. I’ll dig myself a nice little trench in which I’ll pour a nice heap of post-holiday credit card debt.


airportline003I also know that Christmas is a rough time to travel. In my experience, everyone at the airport has a tendency to have replaced the proverbial “Christmas Spirit” with a big ole dose of “Christmas Douchebaggery.” I don’t know what it is that makes people think they’re the only ones who are unhappy about standing in long lines at security or why they think they should be allowed to leave their shoes on because they “don’t look like a terrorist.”


I mean come on folks. I’ve been through so many lame-ass airline delays, mechanical failures, layovers, cancelled flights, etc in my two years of Christmas travel and I’ve yet to go ape-shit. You know how I handle it…I keep smiling, I say please and thank you to the airport folks and then I go have a $10 beer at the airport bar and you know what…it works out okay.


Anyway, as is apparently my style…I’ve drifted off-course with another of my long, pointless rambling introductions. Let’s get to the problem I do have with the holidays; a problem that can be summed up in ten words.


Budgeting time during Christmas is a pain in the ass.


I know this isn’t by any means a new problem or one that is specific to me, but it is a problem nonetheless. We’ve all had to deal with it and we all deal with it, because it’s totally worth it to see your family and friends. It’s great to reconnect with people you don’t get to see anywhere near often enough.


Unfortunately, it just keeps getting harder and harder to accomplish. It wasn’t really an issue in college. You’d go home. You’d veg-out for a month. You’d drink some beers with your buddies from high-school and come mid-January or so, you’d wander back to college refreshed and ready for spring semester.


Then you graduated. You got a job. You had to budget your time at home around you work schedule. You had to start using your VACATION days to go HOME for Christmas. Last time I checked, going home isn’t a vacation. Going home is going home. Going to Barbados is a vacation. Going to Sea World is a vacation. Heck, even going to a Super Wal-Mart is more vacation-like than going home.


However, I never get sick and I almost never take any real vacations, so I can’t really bitch about using up vacation days. What I can bitch about it (and fully intended to bitch about) is how tough it is to try and ration out the limited time I get back in the good ole’ Midwest.


iowaroadsignFirst and foremost, I have to fly into Minneapolis. It’s the closest city with an airport that doesn’t jack you an extra $300 to fly in (see: Sioux Falls and Omaha). Now for anyone not from the Midwest, I am going to take a minute to explain this because often things that don’t touch an ocean get confusing. Minneapolis is nowhere near where I live. Contrary to popular belief all things in the Midwest aren’t next to each other. The Midwest is actually quite large and even the shortest journey requires some sort of passenger vehicle, motorized farm equipment or saddle-broken barnyard animal. As such, flying into Minneapolis puts me roughly four hours from home and—until this past spring—had put me at least an hour and a half from the nearest friend who could give me a ride home.


Essentially the first full-day of any trip home is kaput when you factor in the time spent at the airport, in-flight, gathering my baggage (assuming it isn’t in Cincinnati, Budapest or Poughkeepsie) and obtaining a ride. On top of all that it’s often hard to find someone who is in the mood to drive all the way from Minneapolis to Hartley; especially if they’re not headed home for Christmas yet. In that case it becomes necessary to set up multiple rides home with people meeting half-way. Not ideal, but it’s what you gotta do to make it home sometimes.


Then—once you’ve actually made it home—the real hard part begins. Everyone wants to hang out with you. Your brother wants you to drive over to Primghar (yep, that’s a real town in Iowa) and hang out at his house. Your other brother wants you to come visit him at his place in Sheldon and play video games with you all day when he’s at your parents’ place. Your Pappy wants to keep you up until all hours of the morning just talking about baseball and traveling and whatever else crosses his sleep-deprived mind. Your Mama just wants her baby boy home to chit-chat with and make her laugh and play cards. Your cat just wants you to feed him and scratch behind his ears and then leave him the hell alone. Your friends want to hang out because they’re lucky if they see you twice a year anymore and you are really shitty at calling them to keep in touch. They want you to hang out all-day, everyday and go out at night. They want you to come back up to Mankato (that’s back in Minnesota for you ‘Coasters’) and hang out for a few days. Your extended family (who let’s be honest—you’re really not all that close with) wants to see you. Mostly they just want to ask: “How’s Boston? Where’s Grace? Engaged yet? You look skinny, have you been eating? You look fat, have you been drinking too much? You look funny, have you always looked funny?” and then they’re done with you. They just want you there to say you were there. Then comes the really fun stuff…


southdakota001In our six years together Grace and I have never gone to each other’s place for the holidays. We both totally understand that we want to spend Christmas with our family. Plus we both have a tendency to be bored out of our freakin’ minds when we go to each other’s respective homes. This year, however, we’re going to try and allocate a couple of days for us to venture across the plains of South Dakota and Iowa to one another’s humble abodes. Making it more complicated is the roughly two and a half hour drive (in good weather) between our places.


So how is a dude supposed to pull all this off? No one knows. Right now I’m laying out a rough sketch of my two and a half weeks off. I need to organize rides to-and-from the airport. I need to schedule some time, most-likely post-New Years’ to spend in Mankato and/or Minneapolis with the folks who will have to head back to work after Christmas. Christmas Day is reserved for an arduous, mind-numbingly boring day at my Grandma’s making idle chit-chat. The day after is reserved for Christmas Bowl VI—the Winter Classic returns!—and the official “Winter Meetings” for my fantasy baseball league. New Year’s appears to be shaping itself up as another trip to the much revered BARn; which essentially adds up to a night of total awesomeness back in the old stomping grounds. Right now I’m figuring I’ll head to Grace’s place on the 22nd and come back on Christmas Eve. She’s planning to head to Hartley a week later for the 28th through the 30th or so. So I’ve got the rough sketch, but as we all know, nothing ever goes according to plan, especially around the holidays.


Because preparation is key I’m expecting that someone will find out they have to work and can’t hang-out, someone won’t be able to make it to Christmas Bowl, some random snowstorm will pop up and throw a wrench into the plans somewhere along the way and I’m expecting someone in my extended family to get all pissy that Grace isn’t at my Grandma’s house for Christmas—even though if she was they’d just give here the same run through of questions they give me and be done with it. I’ll get to hear the usual line…“well your brother and Paige were able to make it work before they got married.” To which I must reply in my nicest-tone, “yes INSERT RELATIVE that’s true, but they also lived 15 minutes apart, not two and a half hours!”


looking-out-plane-window003Above all else, I’m fully-expecting that when I hop on my plane back to Boston on the fifth of January, I’ll stare longingly out the window and watch the baseball fields, snow-covered plains and lakes disappear like I always do. I’ll get that empty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I do every time I leave home and the worst-part is that I’ll feel like I left everyone short-changed. It sucks, but that’s how it works. That’s how it felt when I used to have a month of vacation time in college. It’s never enough. There is no such thing as the “right amount” of time to spend with your family and friends.


In conclusion, yes it’s going to go fast. No, I won’t get enough time with everyone. Yes, I’m probably going to spend the entire two and a half weeks fueled by energy drinks and No-Doze to cram as many extra hours into the day as humanly-possible. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, I will devour all of the ‘Taco John’s’ and ‘Dairy Dandy’ food I can get my grubby mitts on and yes…it’s going to suck to try and jam it all in, but it’s the holidays and it’s totally worth it to see my family and friends…


…which I may, or may not, have alluded to somewhere in my wayward, incoherent rambling.


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