One of the most exciting gifts of all time

Puppy Surprise

Thinking about gifts this week, I remembered one of my favorite Christmas presents of all time: Puppy Surprise, a stuffed animal that kept her “babies” in a belly pouch. Kind of like a kangaroo but, you know, a dog.

My little sister and I were absolutely nuts over these things — and I remember begging for one for months. I probably saw it in a catalog or something. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was desperate in my pleas for the dog family — and probably none too quiet about it. My grandparents always let us open one gift apiece on Christmas Eve, and when we ripped into that colorful paper? There she was: my white dog and her multi-colored pups. Surprise!

As you can see from Kate’s photo above, we. lost. our. minds. And this photo was taken after we actually opened the toys at Gram’s, guys — not even a live-action shot. My sister has always been a cat person, so her kitty variation was a huge hit. I remember being so excited over Puppy Surprise that I woke up multiple times in the night, peeking into the darkness to make sure she was still by my bed.

And then, eh, Santa brought some more stuff — and a merry Christmas was had by all.

But nothing could top that fluffy dog.

I found the photo above when flipping through some old family albums; that gem came from 1992. Though I often pitched a fit as a kid, I’m so glad my mom had us pose for countless photos at all the right moments.


What’s the most exciting gift you remember from childhood — something akin to “A Christmas Story’s” Red Ryder BB gun? Or one of your most memorable holidays?

The newest iPhone convert

I’m officially converted.

To say I’m obsessed with my new iPhone, a Christmas gift from my parents, is a horrific understatement. If I thought I was spending way too much time plugged into technology before, that desire to be connected all the time has increased tenfold.

I had a smartphone before, yes, and checked my email constantly. When I was feeling adventurous, I updated Twitter or tried to post a photo to Facebook. But I didn’t realize how clunky my old Palm Pre had become until my iPhone was synced up. Being able to seamlessly update the many websites to which I contribute with just a few clicks? Awesome.

Of course, I’m wary of going overboard. I know how easy it is to burn people out on your steams of Instagram photos (awesome!) and ridiculous updates on your lunch. I take a lot of food photos. I don’t want to be That Guy.

But what I am, apparently? Another Words With Friends nutcase. I have 18 games going right now with the likes of Beth F, Kathy, Meredith and more. I’ve lost most of my battles, friends, but I’m still aiming to win the war. (Someday. And I’m “writemeg” in the app, by the way.) It’s completely addictive and distracting, and I’m to the point that I must physically move my iPhone out of grasp so that I don’t tinker with it for hours on end.

And there’s even a Kindle app. Be still my beating heart.

The Saga of Howard, and how he finally got back in touch

Howard was a sock monkey.

My sock monkey.

And when I went on a trip to Florida in 1998, he decided to jump ship.

Made from scratch and lovingly sewed by my mom as a Valentine’s Day gift when I was small (at right), Howard was the beloved brother of Harold — my sister’s sock monkey — and we were rarely apart. When we went to Miami and I got a horrendous sunburn (born of my own stupidity, yes), I wasn’t in my right mind. And somewhere in my overheated delirium, my beloved friend slipped away.

The picture below, snapped on a Florida balcony, is the very last time photo I have of Howard. (Please pay no attention to my terrible hair, Hanson hat and smug, sunburned smile. I was 12.) Though I considered splashing it on milk cartons across the nation, I never quite had the opportunity.

And Howard, in all his self-absorbed craziness, never bothered to send me a postcard from his new digs in South Beach.

Last week, I wrote a column for the newspapers where I work detailing my sock monkey’s abrupt disappearance from my life — and how, in the aftermath, I tend to see sock monkeys everywhere. I love them, of course — so much so that I bought one for Spencer and he got one for me for my birthday! I see sock monkeys on calendars, in commercials, on book covers. They’re everywhere.

In my column I talked about the summers Howard spent with Katie and me at my grandparents’ home, and how my mom re-glued his eyes and tied him a Valentine’s bow. I also expressed my displeasure that he wouldn’t even bother to call his own brother and let him know where he was headed . . . I mean, he and Harold are flesh and sock.

Well, the Saga of Howard was a big hit. Coworkers, friends, family and readers have emailed, called and popped in to inquire about my runaway monkey.

And yesterday? Yesterday, I got an anonymous letter in the mail.

From Howard.

Kelly popped into my office with a plain white envelope. My name was written in careful script across the front and, in lieu of any return address, “Howard The Sock Monkey” sat in the corner. Inside was a single sheet of white paper with these typed words:

My Dearest Meg,

Hello, from Howard, your long-lost sock friend.

I’m sorry for the greetings I failed to send . . .

But do not fear, my life is good

Having so much fun that I thought I never could!

You see, Harold often cramped my style and stole the spotlight —

And to be quite honest, we often partook in sock fights!

But I so enjoyed Florida and visits to Grandma

Truly reveling in the many things I saw!

I hid in El Paso Hotel, for there was more I wanted to see . . .

But I regret the pain I caused of your missing me.

I’ll never forget my very best friend

Or your Mom’s love for my life and the many sewing mends.

Never forget — you were the best —

Hey, tell me, is Harold still a sock monkey pest?

From my calendar photos I’m doing well, as you can see —

They’ll forever keep memories alive for you, Meg,

From Howard, your ‘lil sock monkey.

I’m not going to lie to you guys — I’m pretty sure this is the coolest thing ever.

As soon as I was done reading the poem aloud to my coworkers, I sat in shocked silence. I mean, wow. My sister was the next one to hearing my rousing rendition of the verse, and by then I practically had the whole thing memorized. Spencer read it. My dad heard it while making pancakes. I’m emailing it to my mom, and reading it to my grandmother at lunch today.

It’s postmarked from Southern Maryland, where my column runs twice a week, but I know the truth: Howard is really out there.

And his writing skills have dramatically improved from when he was helping me with my seventh-grade English essays.

Cleaning out my closet, Polly Pocket edition

In an effort to make the house less cluttered and way more liveable, my family and I have been on a rampage to destroy clutter any and everywhere we find it — just in time to get new furniture, do some painting and really give the place a makeover. We’ll have more space for relaxing and enjoy all the perks of rooms not crowded by belongings we haven’t touched in a decade. And I know that, once we get going, we’ll feel much more free.

And that’s all wonderful and inspiring, friends, except for one tiny issue: actually having to get rid of stuff.

Deep in one of the closets was a plastic storage bin full of the items I’d say are pretty emblematic of my childhood. Among them? My Ewok and Alf dolls; a Teddy Ruxpin (with a cassette tape player, natch); stacks of children’s books, including Dr. Seuss’ One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish; my Cabbage Patch doll and her pony friend; My Little Ponies in a variety of colors, but mostly pink; Barbies in various states of disarray; Power Ranger action figures; and . . .

Polly Pockets.

I’m not talking about those new-fangled Pollys with the giant cars and changeable outfits that have basically turned them into miniature plastic Barbie dolls. No, friends, those are an insult to the “classic” Polly Pockets with which I was hopelessly devoted in the ’90s. I’m talking the ones that would fit in the palm of your hand with little “people” the size of your largest fingernail, the ones with pieces you’d lose about a hundred times a day.

The ones your little sister would “borrow,” then lose all of your favorite pieces. And not want to tell you for fear that you’d fly into a 9-year-old rage and have a fit the likes of which the world has never seen.

You know, hypothetically speaking.

As my sister and I were pawing through the bins, one of us would let out a periodic squeal of delight. I knew, logically, that I was supposed to be sorting through my old toys in the hope that I would be able to donate many of them to charity, but actually seeing this stuff again made my chest swell with a sense of don’t ever let this go. I was able to part with a few things and create more space in my bin, but the vast majority of the stuff stayed tight.

And how much room do vintage Polly Pockets take up, anyway? I mean, I can still fit my entire collection in one of the handbags I carry to and from work everyday. And I’m pretty sure I would rather be forced to carry these things around in my purse every single day than to ever part with them.

That green one pictured above? That’s a school, friends. A school with a teacher, a parent and a pigtail-wearing student — complete with cafeteria, restroom, art room, lecture hall, kitchen and dorm. With a swimming pool. A pool in which my Polly can take a little dip in between classes.

Though I’m 24 years old and haven’t felt the familiar click! of the Polly Pocket opening in more than a decade, if you think I sat down and gingerly pulled each tiny piece from the toy . . . you’re right. I might have also gotten my camera out and taken about 75 million macro photos of my Pollys, too.

As we sorted through everything stored in boxes and bins this weekend, the familiar refrain heard ’round my house was, “Well, maybe our kids will want to play with this someday.”

And you know? I have no idea if my future children — adorable little geniuses they’re sure to be — will someday want to play with Polly Pockets. From 1992.

But if they don’t? I will.

And that’s a promise.

Edward the ‘ming’ reader


It takes a pretty great boyfriend to willingly purchase an Edward Cullen action figure for his girlfriend — and hey, I found that one guy! Despite the fact that the back of the box proclaims Edward to be a “ming” reader (does Corporate America have spellcheck?!), Edward will have a place of honor on my desk. With my Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger action figures. Yeah, I have a totally mature, sophisticated desk!