Note: below is the Christmas newsletter I sent to family and friends this year. Yes, this newsletter broke the rule about keeping it all on one page. But in my defense, this is not your typical newsletter that brags about family doings. Also, I sent this as an enewsletter to save postage. Yes, I'm cheap.
Here is installment #2, in my continuing quest to send you, my kith and kin, a different kind of Chrithmath newthletter...
It must be Christmas --- because one neighbor has gone all Clark Griswold in decorating his house, while another just threw a string of lights on the nearest bush and called it a day.
It must be Christmas --- because Pinterest (motto: See the same picture pinned 2,857 times!) is chock-a-block with holiday decorating and craft ideas that 1) I have no time for, and 2) I can't manage anyway, because my own thumbs oppose me every chance they get. Besides, they really aren't kidding when they call it HOT glue.
It must be Christmas --- because the Salvation Army bell ringers and their little red kettles are out en masse. For the record, I believe the Salvation Army with their tagline of "Doing the Most Good" is one of the best charities around. So, in a fit of holiday generosity, but mostly because it was a bitterly cold day and I felt sorry for the bell ringer having to stand for hours with his eyes frozen open, I dropped a very generous amount into his kettle. I felt really, really good about my act of human kindness, thinking of all the warm fuzzies my money was going to give to some truly needy person, until I walked up to the next store and there's another bell ringer and another little red kettle. People were going out of their way to drop coins and bills into the red monster's maw, but I had, as they say, given at the office. I had just donated a bunch of money, but this bell ringer didn't know that, and those people didn't know that, and the guilt was overwhelming. To the Salvation Army: please consider giving your donors stickers that say:
...so those of us who already gave can wear them and smugly pass by your kettles, and everyone knows we're really one of the good guys, and not Scrooges who hate little kids and kittens and snicker when Old Yeller gets it. You know, like they do on Election Day with "I Voted" stickers, so that those of us who failed to vote will know it's our fault when everything goes wrong for the next four years.
It must be Christmas --- because I just made a loaf of scrapple. Unlike normal families who sit around singing carols 'neath the tree, and sipping mugs of hot cocoa with little marshmallows floating on top, my family's holiday tradition consists of making pork mush. On Christmas morning in Washington state, Oregon, Colorado and Texas, we think of each other as we fry up the cement-like slabs in bacon grease. My cousins actually have contests to see whose tastes the best. Bless their little hearts.
It must be Christmas --- because our granddog is visiting from Lubbock. This creates tremendous problems for our two cats. Penny, convinced that "out of sight, out of mind" is the best policy, burrows under the bed covers and adopts a slug-like existence; which, come to think of it, is not all that different from her usual daily routine. (As Garrison Keillor once noted, "Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.") Phoebe has a more aggressive approach that utilizes hissing, snarling, swatting and shooting laser beams from her eyes.
It must be Christmas --- because I spent 45 minutes waiting in line at the post office the other afternoon. I would have used the automated mail kiosk, except mailing overseas requires customs forms, lots of official looking stamps in red ink, and fielding questions like, "Are there any obscene materials?" To which I reply, "I'm his MOTHER!" Anyway, there wasn't much else to do while waiting except to retreat into my own head --- always a scary proposition --- and for some reason, I got to remembering the Mad Magazine parodies of Christmas songs that I enjoyed as a kid. Perhaps it was the tottering tower of packages shoved to the right of the service counter that made me think of this little ditty, sung to the tune of Deck the Halls:
Hear the postal worker singing!
Falalalala, lala, la, la!
As your package he is flinging!
Falalalala, lala, la, la!
See it crumpled in the bin there!
Falala, lalala, la, la, la!
Aren't you sorry you walked in there!
Falalalala, lala, la, la!
It must be Christmas --- because when the panic has set in and I'm convinced it'll never get done, I wonder why we can't just convert to Judaism for the whole month. I mean, this year's once-in-approximately-900-lifetimes confluence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (Thanksgivukkah!) was pretty cool. Get two major holidays out of the way at the same time, and the rest of the year is devoted to bowl games and no interruptions. Besides, placing nine lights on a menorah is certainly easier and faster, than stringing 1200 lights on an eight foot tall tree by hand.
It must be Christmas --- because I said hello to dozens of dear friends I see for only a short time each year. Many of these friends I've known my whole life; others are silver among the gold. Each one has a story to tell me, or a memory to share, and the past becomes a fond present. I delight in welcoming each one, and I never tire of hearing what they have to say:
It must be Christmas --- because no other season has the power to bring us together, each and every one. The days have more sparkle, our cares seem smaller. We are more forgiving, more understanding, more patient, more kind, more tolerant. Daily, we are reminded that we are a part of something bigger and grander, and that a message of love and peace and goodwill resonates just as much today, as it did 2,000 years ago.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year...
A friend (who also taught my kids in school) posted the above photo and comment yesterday on Facebook. Thanks, Liz, for a nutty holiday laugh!
A few years ago, another friend sent me what is now known on the Internet as The Thanksgiving Letter. In it, the writer, Marney, tells her beleaguered family not only what to bring to the table, and how much, and how to package it, but even gave some strongly worded hints about what she really wanted certain contributors to provide, even though she claimed not to care. (I do this with Richard all the time. He'll ask me what I want for dinner. I'll say I don't care, and then, when the poor guy makes a suggestion, I immediately shoot it down. He never learns.)
I sympathize with Marney, because big company dinners bring out my never-far-from-the-surface OCD tendencies. The difference between us is that instead of delegating out nearly everything, and then trying to micro-manage those things from afar, like Marney does, I delegate very little, because I firmly believe in the old saw that if you want something done right, do it yourself. The downside to this DIY mentality is that there is so much to remember and do, I'm sure to forget something important. It's happened before: the rolls are still in their cans in the fridge, the candles aren't lit, the water goblets are empty, the cranberry sauce is sitting forgotten on the counter, you name it. Soooo, I write a letter to myself --- actually a list --- and post it on the fridge Thanksgiving morning. This list gives a blow-by-blow of what to do and when to do it. It takes a few hours to put it together, but the idea is that instead of thinking --- because frankly, by early afternoon, my brain is mush --- all I have to do is read and follow directions. Here's this year's version with explanations in red:
Turkey Day Countdown
(This doesn't include all the morning prep work)
9:00 – turkey in oven
1:00 – set out dressing, squash and potatoes to bring to room temp; toss sprouts and carrots with EVOO, salt and pepper and arrange on foil baking sheet (return to fridge); set out ham; remove turkey from oven
2:00 – Richard carves ham and turkey, arrange on big platter, cover and keep out
2:05 - do "something" and send half the house back to the days before electricity (This was not planned, obviously, nor could we get the power back on. Thankfully, the kitchen was juiced up or I really would have been SOL.)
2:45 – remove cat towels from furniture and return pillows to couch (I drape old towels on the parts of the furniture where our cats like to hang out. I figure it's easier to wash the towels of accumulated fur, than trying to lift said fur out of the couch and chair fibers.)
2:50 – Paige to pick up Mom
3:00 – Mitch arrives with beer and wine
3:15 – light candles EXCEPT those on dinner tables; put water and tea in separate pitchers, set aside; set out appetizers; Richard puts finishing touches on bar area; cleans out litter box if needed
3:30 – guests arrive
3:31 - separate the dogs (My SIL's teacup Chihuahua suffers from the canine version of 'little man syndrome'.)
3:35 – set lower oven at 375, adjust racks for upper and lower cooking
3:45 – put dressing (covered) on upper rack and potatoes (uncovered) on lower rack
4:15 – set upper oven to 400, rack in lower middle; turn on crockpot to high and partially cover squash
4:20 – melt 2 TB butter in MW for dressing; Richard to put ice in maroon ice bucket for water and tea
4:25 – put carrots and sprouts in upper oven; take out dressing, drizzle with butter, cook additional 20 minutes uncovered
4:30 – Paige to light candles and find out who wants iced tea with their dinner
4:35 – put gravy on stove to heat
4:40 – Paige fills goblets with water or tea
4:45 – turn off lower oven and crack door, leave dishes inside; check on squash, turn down heat if needed
4:50 – get salad prepped and put out
4:55 – turn off upper oven, remove veggies, arrange on white platter and return to oven with door cracked; put 4 TB butter on stove to melt, bring to foaming and stir in mustard; remove veggies and drizzle mustard sauce on top of veggies
5:00 – Have meat, salad, dressing, potatoes, roasted veggies, squash, gravy (pour in boat), and cranberry sauce set out… (I wound up eight minutes behind schedule. Not bad!)
After dinner – Richard makes coffee; put out desserts
3:00 (AM) - crawl into bed after washing all the china, crystal and silver by hand
Richard and I have never been the kind of couple that goes all out on Valentine's Day. For one thing, having three kids underfoot for years kind of killed the romance. We were either too busy, too tired, or too broke to make a big deal out of February 14th. It's just now occurring to me that our slipshod attitude might have rubbed off on our male offspring, and I'm worried. What if my sons, who were raised with a mom who's happy with a cheap grocery store card and a well-mixed gin and tonic, marry girls who expect a Valentine's trifecta every year?
Now that the kids are grown and out of our hair (mostly), we don't have the excuses we used to. Tonight, I'm treating the cats to a steamed wild Alaskan salmon appetizer in a delicate broth* and served on red heart-shaped plates. Tomorrow night, Richard is taking me out to Ruth's Chris for dinner. Saturday, I plan to reciprocate with an elaborate home cooked meal, either seared scallops in shallot butter or shrimp Creole. I'm leaning toward the Creole with lots of big shrimp, crusty bread and a Greek salad. Brent will be in town, compliments of Uncle Sam, and I've invited Mitch to join us. Their little sister, unfortunately, will be in Austin attending a friend's funeral.
Happy Valentine's Day from SOTSOTR!
*It's cat food. Fancy Feast. If you should run across this description on a restaurant menu, I suggest you not order it. In fact, I would get up and leave and not ever come back.
If it's Christmas, then as sure as that fruit cake or jelly you got from your neighbor was re-gifted, you've received at least one newsletter.
My mother was the Erma Bombeck of Christmas newsletters. At the age of 87, she is still writing her annual missive, with help from me in the printing and stamping department. When I was a kid, the newsletter was a huge production that took weeks to finish. I can still see her sitting on the couch with her clipboard on her lap, and her little metal file box containing the names and addresses of those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of her prosaic efforts. Each name and address was printed on a 3 X 5 index card. On the back of each card, Mom kept track of that person's incoming cards and letters, jotting down each year a card was received. I don't know what her personal cut-off point was, but if too many years went by with no contact, the recipient was no longer considered "active" and his/her index card was relegated to the back of the file box with the other miscreants. I believe at one point, Mom was sending close to 300 letters each December. These days, in the autumn of her life, she sends about 60 letters, and every year, death or Alzheimer's or just the frailties of old age will claim a card or two for the back of the file.
The newsletters were typed on her old Royal manual typewriter, a relic that my grandparents bought second-hand when their daughter went off to college. Even after I was gifted with a brand-new electric typewriter in high school, complete with a nifty erasing function, she still continued to bang out her newsletters, and every other bit of important family correspondence, on the old Royal.
Mom's newsletters were so popular that people would crib whole paragraphs for use in their own newsletters, sometimes adding a small note of apology for the theft in the margin. I would have been peeved at such blatant plagiarism, but she chose to take the high road. To her mind, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.
I learned from my mother that writing a good newsletter is a balancing act. To whit:
1. Never, ever, ever send more than one page, or to paraphrase the New York Times: "All the news that fits." You can fudge on this by narrowing your margins, using a smaller font, and/or using legal-sized paper. The old Royal didn't give my mother much wiggle room, which is why she nearly always sent a legal-sized missive. I used to joke that when she sent a regular letter-sized page, it must have been a slow news year.
2. Humor is essential. Appreciate the absurdities in life.
3. It's okay to brag, it's even expected, but don't overdo it. When tooting your own horn, offset that with something self-deprecating.
4. Even if everything went wrong and nothing went right and it was a complete stinker of a year, don't be a Debbie Downer.
5. Explicit details are for instruction manuals and porn, not newsletters. (My mother didn't actually say this.)
6. Say something inspirational.
7. Reread rule #2.
Most folks overdo it with excruciating details: "We had a very nice Thanksgiving at my daughter's ranch. We had 25 attending. I made mashed potatoes and the rest of the crowd brought sweet potatoes, salad, squash casserole, string bean casserole, ribs, turkey, dressing, sausage balls, cheese ball and two dips. Of course, we had scads of desserts, pumpkin pies, pecan pie, apple pie, cupcakes, cookies and more." I wondered if the two dips mentioned were the edible kind, or if someone brought a couple of idiots to dinner.
Another gave a blow-by-blow account of several weeks visiting across the pond. Here's an excerpt: "It was our first time traveling to Europe and we loved it, of course. We stayed in a quaint hotel next to the Saint Severin, a beautiful Gothic cathedral. From our window, we could look directly onto the church's roof line and see all its spires and gargoyles - fabulous! In the distance we could just make out the Eiffel Tower, including its light shows at night. The hotel was in a great location too, on the left bank near the Notre Dame Cathedral, also magnificent. I've always loved Gothic cathedrals with their vaulted ceilings and spires. We went to a perfect little jewel of a cathedral as well, the Sainte Chapelle, with spectacular stained glass windows." This is the newsletter version of sitting through 639 slides, most of them upside down, of someone's trip and trying to act like you give a crap, while fighting the temptation to nod off.
And don't you love the ones that fall into the category of "We Spent a Butt-Load of Money, But We're Far Too Polite to Tell You How Much." We received one of these a few years ago. The butt-load of money was a massive home remodel. I remarked to my husband that it would have been easier and faster if the writer had just itemized their expenses in one neat column. It would have saved us the tedium of reading about how they agonized over giving up their old high-flow toilets for the low-flow kind.
Here's a Debbie Downer for you. It wasn't a newsletter, but a short hand-written note inside a Christmas card sent to my mother. The sender is deeply religious: "May the wonder of that first Christmas, the joy of the Father's abundant blessings, and the peace of His Son's presence be with you today and throughout the New Year. P. S. Oliver is still doing very poorly." Wait...what!? (Update: we found out later that this lady died shortly after New Year's from injuries sustained in an automobile accident on Christmas Eve. There goes another card to the back of the file.)
No. 6 is not easy for me. I am not a religious person, so including a religious message similar to the one above would border on hypocrisy and insincerity. Instead, I usually end with a little homily like this one, from 2011: "When you are caught in the holiday rush, it is easy to lose sight of things that matter: good health, self respect, being happy with what you have, the joy of friends, the love of family, compassion for others, and the ability to laugh at yourself. As you strike those “to do’s” off your list, take the time to count your blessings."
And that's as good a place as any to stop.
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
I've never been a fan of Shakespeare, but I do admit the Bard came up with some memorable quotes. The one above is from Macbeth, and as I recall from my high school English daze, it was one of the witches telling her sisters that by the tingling in her fingers she knew King Macbeth was coming to see them. Who knew stirring cauldrons caused carpal tunnel syndrome? Anyways, Macbeth was the "something wicked"; a man who committed regicide to become king, and then continued killing to hold on to his power before descending into madness and ultimately losing his own life.
But this blog is not about Shakespeare. It's about scary movies. For the whole month of October it's hard to find a movie on television that isn't schlock-gore, especially on AMC that proudly trumpets Gory Matters Here. The celluloid monsters of my parents' generation were primarily misunderstood creatures. Dr. Frankenstein's experiment in reanimation was actually a gentle soul who yearned for human contact, but was shunned because of his appearance. My generation brought forth the slasher genre with Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy Krueger; men who were either born psychopaths or bent on revenge. And now we are overrun with the current monsters du jour: flesh-eating zombies and sparkly vampires.
I enjoy horror films, but I am not a connoisseur, by any means. To be a true horror film buff, you have to be willing to take repulsion to the next level, and I have my limits. If reviews for a movie on Netflix contain too many warnings, I won't watch it. I Googled "top horror films" and found lists from real connoisseurs that contain movies I've never even heard of. On one such compilation (Time Out London), I've seen only 23 of the 100 films listed, plus a couple I think I remember watching. I guess that doesn't say much for those two movies, does it?
Here are the films that stand out for me, with a little commentary. They are in no particular order and may have spoilers:
The Shining: (Quote: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.") The Overlook Hotel high in the Colorado Rockies is full of deviant ghosts, rotting corpses, and dead children. But it's not the blood and gore, of which there's not much, or the supernatural moments that makes this movie so scary. It's watching Jack Nicholson's portrayal of a man, a struggling alcoholic, slowly succumbing to madness from the months spent isolated with his family in the spooky old place. No one, but no one, plays deranged with the same manic glee as Mr. Nicholson. In the book, Jack Torrance's character constantly swung between his bad self and his good self. Even at the very end, as he is bent on finding and killing his own son, the good self, the loving father, surfaces briefly to implore Danny to get away. In the movie, however, there was nothing likeable about the character.
The Exorcist: (Quote: "You @^#&+!? !*#?&@#&!") I'm not sure which is more horrifying: seeing Linda Blair violate a crucifix, or listening to the vulgar language spewing, no pun intended, from her child's mouth. And when you depend on closed-captioning like I do, having to hear AND read it at the same time kind of rips your soul. The first time I saw this movie, I was in high school. I was with my best friend and it was a squirmy business watching it with her. My husband had no such luck. He saw it with...get this...HIS PARENTS. Me, I would have packed my bags, left home, changed my name, and never seen the 'rents again, because how can you possibly face each other after sitting through something like that? I still cannot get over how incredibly stupid he was, but he blames his sister. She, apparently, raved on and on about the film, and actually encouraged her parents and brother to go see it. I don't think she meant "go see it together", but she quite obviously left out a few pertinent facts.
It: (Quote: "Want a balloon?") Richard and I made the mistake of watching this movie when our older son was just a toddler. Needless to say, he has hated clowns ever since.
Xtro: (The following quote is attributed to yours truly: "Oh, geez...turn it off...TURN IT OFF!") We happened to catch this little gem on television late one night, probably around 1984. A woman has an encounter with an alien and gives birth about five minutes later to a full grown man. Trust me, the scene in Alien where the infant monster hurtles out of the guy's abdomen is nothing...NOTHING compared to this. I've never been able to erase that memory.
Psycho: (Quote: "A boy's best friend is his mother.") The first time I ever saw Psycho was on television. I was with a friend who was babysitting some neighborhood kids. We'd managed to corral the kiddos in their beds, and settled in to watch the movie in the downstairs den. At the end of the film, when Norman's mummy swivels around in her chair, I screamed. That woke the kids up and it was the last time Shannon ever asked me to keep her company while she babysat. I guess she figured she didn't need another child to look after.
Alien: (Quote: "Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.") I have always loved Alien's PR tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream. Alien, for me, was not about searching for and eliminating a drooling, reptilian life form with a double set of jaws and a nasty disposition, but about how space can be unimaginably vast and claustrophobic at the same time.
Halloween: (Quote: "Was it the boogeyman?") This was the very first movie Richard and I saw together, back when we were dating in college. Every time we see it he has to remind me of this little fact. His best friends, Tom and Lennerd, went with us, so I can't qualify this as a real date. Anyhoots, there are two things I like about this film. First, the violence is not graphic. The director, John Carpenter, relied on a lot of false startles to ramp up the nerves, and also on the audience's mental eye to supply the blood and gore. Secondly, the music score, a simple piano melody, was practically a character in its own right. I sometimes watch the movie just to hear the music.
The Omen: (Quote: "Look at me, Damien! It's all for you!") Before Jason and Michael there was Damien, an angelic-looking young boy who had an ungodly penchant for attracting all kinds of mayhem. The latter half of the film was a thriller, as Damien's father tried to unravel the mystery behind his son's birth. The movie's tie-in with the verse from Revelation makes it especially chilling: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, three score and six." (Rev. 13:18)
Macbeth laments at the end, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Kind of like this blog.
While out Christmas shopping one day, my husband and I went to a store across from the SMU campus called McCartney's. This place sells everything Greek you can imagine and we bought our daughter some Zeta Tau Alpha knick-knacks. It wasn't until I got home and started wrapping the items that I realized what I had done...I had become my mother. Let me explain.
One Christmas, during my tenure at Texas A&M, my mother went overboard on the Aggie stuff. That wouldn't have been so bad if the gifts had been useful. Among other things, I remember getting an Aggie mug (a ceramic mug with the handle inside), a couple of Aggie joke books, and TWO different kinds of calculators. One was a giant pencil attached to an electrical cord, the other a thin plastic rectangle with holes to stick your fingers through. I also got a maroon and white striped necktie. I never really understood the significance of the tie. Did she mean for me to wear it? because neckties were a preppy fashion statement for ladies back in the day, a la Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Or did she mean for me to hang it over my dorm room door knob, which was a whole other kind of statement?
At any rate, by loading up on sorority stuff, I was doing to my daughter what my mother had done to me. The apple didn't fall far from the tree, no matter how much I try to kick the damn thing out from under its shade.
Speaking of ties, my older son got three of them. Two from us were an early Christmas gift. He needed a tie for a dress-up office party and was going to borrow one from his dad, when I told him I would buy a couple for him instead and make them an early gift. Then his grandfather got in the act and bought him another tie. Poor kid already knows what Father's Day is going to be like down the road. I couldn't blame him for wanting to exchange one of the ties for something else.
In keeping with the mandate that middle children are overlooked, I don't remember what we got Brent.
"You set standards that no family activity can live up to."
"When have I ever done that?"
"Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays..."
"Good night, Ellen."
My favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Clark Griswold wants nothing more than to treat his nearest and dearest to an Old-fashioned Family Christmas. Unfortunately for Clark, reality never measures up to the Christmas of his dreams. With few exceptions, there is so much in this movie that hits close to home, it's scary.
"Clark, Audrey's frozen from the waist down."
"That's all part of the experience, honey."
This year, our Old-fashioned Family Christmas got its official start on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Texas Tech played Baylor at the Cowboys Stadium, and because our daughter is a Red Raider, we bought tickets in the nosebleed section to show her that, maroon-blooded Aggies though we may be, we can root for Tech, too. Of course, it helped that the Aggies beat Tech (and Baylor) earlier in the season, so we could afford to be magnanimous. In addition to the five of us, my husband's sister, niece, brother and father tagged along. The four of them had never been to JerryWorld, and this was the perfect opportunity for a family outing to see what is now the second largest HD video screen in the world. Too bad Jerry Jones didn't have the smarts to purchase a Best Buy Buy Back program for the day his video screen got outclassed.
Anyhoots, based on the weatherman's predictions, my husband planned a nice tailgate. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but cool, calm and sunny. Instead, something like a first cousin to a Maine nor'easter blew into town. The wind was vicious and it was drizzly. I tried to be the Voice of Reason and suggested that maybe we should have our tailgate indoors. I could light a fire in the fireplace, turn on the tree lights, and we could all pretend we could see the stadium from the living room windows. My husband acted as if the weatherman had deliberately lied to him and refused to consider it. Needless to say, it was the most miserable tailgate I have ever attended. The wind was so bad, one of the blue Porta-Potties scattered around the parking lot actually blew over and was last seen headed toward the stadium. God forbid someone was in it.
"Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?"
This takes me back a few years to when our kids were small and my parents were still able to make the drive up from Houston to Dallas. Since I insisted the grandparents stay with us, that meant the kids were driven out of their rooms to sleep in ours. The sleeping bags were dragged out of the attic and our rugrats were arranged on the floor all around our bed, one on either side and a third at the foot. We were snugged down like a pack of wolves, and almost as surly.
This situation created an immense problem for the cat we had at that time, a very shy creature that lived under our bed during the day, and only came out at night, vampire-like, after everyone was asleep to eat and use the facilities. Once Maddie had safely traversed the bedroom floor, she would invariably meet up with my dad, who was a night owl himself, and both parties would freeze in their tracks...Maddie because there was no going forward or back, and my Dad because he had forgotten we had a cat. The arrangement created traffic problems for us, too, because as carefully as we tried to tiptoe around the bodies of our children, sloshed as we were on eggnog spiked with bourbon, inevitably we would step on an arm or leg or head. Eventually, the kids got too big to be spending their Christmases sleeping on the floor and my parents were put up in a nearby hotel.
"Welcome to our home...what's left of it."
Right this minute, my house is in pretty good shape. That's because there are no kids to mess up things. It's nice to walk by their rooms and see them neat and tidy. Even the cats seem to be respecting the new regime and are staying off the beds and not shedding white fur all over the boys' navy blue comforters. But I know this will come to an end next week when the two youngest come home for their holiday break.
"If that cat had nine lives it sure used them all."
My daughter used to have mice for pets. At the time we were between cats, or I would never have consented to purchasing a mouse, much less two. The two quickly became a lot because one of the little buggers was pregnant when we bought it. Anyway, we had mice out the wazoo for two or three years before they finally, mercifully died off, and as much as I hate to admit it, I had a hand in the death of one of them.
One Christmas, during this mousy phase, I found some real working Christmas lights made for a doll house. I bought a couple of sets for my daughter's doll house, and on a whim, I bought an extra set for the mouse cage. The mice, when they weren't engaged in mouse-like activities like running laps on their wheelie, would sleep huddled under a structure designed to look like a hollow log. I strung the lights around the log and taped the battery pack to the glass, so no one would pee on it and short it out. I had that much sense, but unfortunately, there, my thought processes ended. It never occurred to me that one of the mice would actually chew through the wire, but it did and it electrocuted itself. I imagine this flash of light and a BZZZZZTTT sound, much like a bug zapper. I guess even two AA batteries are enough to bring a tiny rodent heart to a screaming stop. I felt terrible about it, but my daughter didn't seem too upset. I think by then, the novelty of being a mouse den mother had pretty much worn off.
"You got a kiss for me?"
"Better take a rain check on that, Art. He's got a lip fungus they ain't identified yet."
I can’t explain why the Santa in this photo looks like a derelict, but there is a reason why Paige is wearing a hat, and not because it’s cold outside. She was being treated for a fungal infection. Our doctor never did give it a proper name, saying it was “some kind of fungus”, which is a lot like telling the victim of a crime “you are the victim of a crime”. So much for medical science.
Anyway, the mystery fungus caused two big patches of hair to fall out: the biggest on the upper right side of her head, and a smaller patch just behind her left ear. Her hair had to be washed in a special shampoo that stung horribly, and then slathered with another medicine that left it greasy, and its owner smelling vaguely of kerosene. It probably would not have been a good idea to place her near an open flame. After shampooing, I would ever-so-gently comb out her hair, starting at the bottom and working my way to the top to avoid tangling, but no matter how carefully I combed, her hair would come out in handfuls. By the time I was finished, we would both be in tears; Paige, because it hurt, and me, because I had an 8-year-old with a bad comb over.
When this photo was taken, the worst of it was past us and her blonde locks had started growing again. Interestingly, the hair behind the ear came in curly.
This one particular Christmas, we had a real live tree, a Noble Fir that, was...well, quite noble. Of all the Christmas tree varieties you can buy, I have always preferred the Noble Fir because its branches do not make me think of toilet bowl brushes. Anyway, we got this tree home, set up, watered, lit and decorated. A few days go by and I begin to notice flies in the house. This is December and there shouldn't be any flies, but here they are clustered on my dining room window. I Raided them, pitched the little bodies in the trash and forgot about it until the next morning, when there were more flies. Hmmmmm...
To paraphrase the song, things were beginning to look a lot like the Amityville Horror. We knew the insects had to be coming from the tree and as much as we peered into the piney depths, we could not detect any buggy activity. I kept the can of Raid handy and eventually, the flies, much like the mice, died off and that's all I care to say about that.
"You surprised to see us, Clark?"
"Oh, Eddie...if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."
I have no personal experience with this, just love that bit of dialogue between Clark and cousin Eddie.
All quotes and the screen shot are from Warner Bros. Pictures' National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
I started Christmas decorating on Friday. I think my favorite part of the whole decorating deal, besides finally finishing it, is unwrapping each ornament and knickknack. It's like reminiscing with an old friend I haven't seen in a year. Each piece has a story, like the wreath a dear friend, now deceased, surprised me with one Christmas. Every year I hang it on the door and think of Faye and what a special person she was. There's even the opposite of that. A lady I worked with many years ago, someone I didn't think was so special, made reindeer ornaments out of clothespins and gifted everyone in the office with one. Each time I unwrap the little guy, and he's really cute, I remember Jan, just not too fondly.
My mother-in-law, back in her ceramic days, made the figurines for our Nativity set. She was not very happy with two of the three Wise Men, saying their heads didn't come out of the kiln right. I would never have noticed if she hadn't said anything; to me, they appear to be appropriately reverent, but each year when I free them from their tissue bed, I recall the back story and it makes me smile. I also have the big (and heavy, God forbid it gets dropped) ceramic Christmas tree she made. That tree graced the sofa table in her living room for years, now it gets a place of honor in my den. I did draw the line on her Santa Claus, however. This particular piece must have been one of her first ceramic attempts and it's pretty bad. My husband was a little miffed that I forced Santa into retirement, but I have my standards.
There are beautiful beaded felt ornaments handmade by a friend of my mother's for me when I was just a little girl. Another of my mother's friends painted several glass ornaments depicting scenes from our early married life: a cat named Gathright that we had for a short time until we were forced to give her up (stupid apartment manager); my husband's pickup truck; our dachshund Fritz, and even our first house painted from a photograph, right down to the Victorian woodwork on the porch. I have a number of ornaments that belonged to my maternal grandmother that must be 100 years old, or very close to it. Birds with tails made of very fine spun glass threads, and two heads, which sounds kind of gruesome, both of young ladies with the bobbed hair and headbands of the flapper style. I never knew my grandmother, but having her ornaments on my tree links the generations and reminds me of the stories my mother has told me about her.
In the kiddie department, there's an ornament my husband made back in first grade, a Styrofoam ball with his initial in glitter and a pipe cleaner for a hook. The Styrofoam has gotten so brittle over the years, I'm leery of handling it too much. There's also one from my grade school days, another Styrofoam ball with little beads stuck in it. I think I made it in third grade. In my den, I have a small tree, my Kid Tree, that is decorated solely with the baubles my children made over the years...fingerprint mice, reindeer heads constructed of Popsicle sticks, an Indian tepee my younger son made when he was in the Indian Guides, grade school pictures glued to miniature wreaths and frames and snowmen, an angel topper that dates back to first grade with my older son's initial glittering on its paper doily robe.
Our Aggie Tree, a small table tree, includes a see-thru ornament filled with ashes from the 1994 Bonfire, and a tiny replica of the Aggie Bonfire made out of twigs with a miniature t. u. outhouse on top. There's also a remembrance ribbon my husband wore in 1999, when he attended a vigil for the young people killed in the Bonfire collapse that year...November 18th, to be exact.
When my daughter was three, I bought her her first Christmas ornament. She didn't much appreciate the gesture at the time, nor was she too thrilled with the others that arrived each Christmas thereafter. They were, after all, fragile glass trinkets and not to be played with. The impetus for this was because I had nothing for my first Christmas as a newly married wife, not even a strand of tinsel, and I thought it would be nice if my daughter had a starter box of ornaments, so to speak. The thing I didn't anticipate is that I've fallen in love with her ornaments every bit as much as my own, and it's going to be a wrench giving them up when that day finally gets here. I keep dropping hints that she should marry a nice Jewish boy, and I even had a young fella picked out at one time, but so far, no dice.
Someday, my kids will each get their share of the ornaments and Christmas knickknacks they grew up with, and it's my wish that they will cherish them just as much as I do now, even Jan's little one-eyed reindeer.
Halloween is my favorite holiday. What's not to like about a holiday whose only requirement is a bag of candy and a willingness to answer the door all night?
I loved it as a kid, but I really didn't get into it until Paige came along. She has an October birthday and when our little ghoul was old enough to start having real birthday parties, as opposed to the kind with just the family, it was natural to have Halloween themed parties. That meant buying spooky stuff. Lots of spooky stuff. Okay, I admit, it got out of hand.
They say Halloween is the second biggest decorating holiday. It must be true because I have it all: pumpkins, cobwebs (real and fake), spiders (ditto), snakes (completely fake, but the jury is still out where the cats are concerned), bats, rats, crows, tombstones, skulls, assorted bones, chains, witches' hats, ghosts and ghouls, strobe lights, black lights, and lots of novelty lights. And candles, enough that if they were all lit the fire department would probably declare our house a fire hazard.
My husband's only contribution to this annual nuttiness is to play the theme from the movie Halloween over and over and over. You know, where the music goes bummmmm........bummmmm........BUMMMMMMMMM each time a randy teenager meets Michael Myer's knife. It was the very first movie we saw together as a couple, way back in 1978, so I suppose it has some sentimental attachment for him.
To the right of our front door is a gargoyle holding a sign that says, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." Come to think of it, there's no reason why that sign shouldn't stay up all year.
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