Have Yourself an Eco-Friendly Christmas

It turns out that some scientists think we’re headed for a mass extinction. Merry Christmas!

chimney-exhaust-gases-factory-60575I guess our greedy attitude about the world’s resources is taking its toll on the oceans, rain forests, various ecosystems and the ability for celebrities to own a different fur coat for every day of the week.

In order to reverse this Christmatasrophe, we need to change our crappy behavior. I’ve put together some new holiday rules that might just save the planet. (You can thank me later.)

  • Due to the inversion, chestnuts can no longer be roasted on an open fire. Chestnuts can instead be microwaved and then sprayed with a chemical-free Roasting Chestnut air freshener.
  • In accordance with PETA guidelines, reindeers will not be allowed to fly for 24 hours without a bathroom or smoke break.
  • Naughty children will no longer receive lumps of coal, but will instead be given a stocking full of organic Brussel sprouts. (Much worse than coal.)
  • Colorful Christmas packages can only be wrapped in old newspaper, making them neither colorful nor timely.
  • Thanks to global warming, dreaming of a White Christmas is no longer allowed.
  • No Christmas trees can be displayed unless they’re made from reclaimed barn wood.
  • With the rapid rise in STDs, mistletoe can no longer be hung at office parties. (All other unacceptable behavior has been canceled.)
  • Christmas carolers can only go door-to-door with the proper permits and background checks.
  • The phrase, “Let your heart be light” only applies if your heart is powered by solar panels.
  • Because of the increasing number of people with diabetes, cookies for Santa are no longer allowed.
  • No family can send out Christmas newsletters. (Not to save the planet. I just don’t want to read them.)
  • Due to the melting of the polar ice caps, Santa’s workshop is being relocated to Canada.

While these changes are great, it’s not just our harmful environmental attitudes that need a holiday makeover.

Unregulated capitalism in America has created a society of materialistic little buggers (i.e. teenagers) who are never content. Cutting back on holiday extravagance could remind your family the importance of the season. As Thoreau once said, “Simplify, simplify.” (Although you’d think he could have said it once.)

You can tell your kids you’re trying to save money or you can tell your kids that Putin has “annexed” the North Pole and put a sanction on gifts made in Kris Kringle’s workshop. Whatever works.

Decorate your home with nature. Pine cones, dried leaves, artfully arranged twigs and fresh pine boughs (cut from your neighbor’s tree) can add a beautiful touch to a mantel or centerpiece. I went in my backyard to find some nature but only discovered little piles of Christmas spirit left for me by my dog.

For Christmas dinner, whip up a delicious batch of grass fed, locally-grown, free range sweet potatoes. Forgo the annual ham or turkey and try a fresh holiday green salad. (Don’t cook reindeer burgers, unless you want PETA to jump out from behind your couch and smack it out of your hand.) You could even give your guests a paper bag full of food scraps as a Start Your Own Compost Kit.

abandoned-abandoned-building-building-938044Then, on Christmas morning, while you’re sitting with your family amidst piles of gifts made from recycled soda cans, old socks and discarded toilet paper rolls, you can bask in the warmth of an eco-friendly Christmas. Or, according to scientists, it might be the warmth of poisonous gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. Happy holidays.

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O Tidings of Comfort Annoy

blur-business-card-211290Now that Facebook has become a year-round newsletter, packed with enough posts to make us feel miserable all year long, can we finally call it quits on those dreadful holiday letters?

I understand a family newsletter can be a highlight of the season, recapping all your adventures with witty repartee and candy cane clip art, but to many people, this bragalicious tradition is lemon juice in the paper cuts of life. Reading about how you cured black lung disease or saved an endangered species makes others’ successes look like table scraps.

My newsletter would go something like this, “Dear family and friends, I did not get arrested this year. Happy New Year! Love, Peri.” (Disclaimer: The year’s not over yet.)

So, first of all, don’t write a Christmas letter. However, if you feel you must write an annual message or your life won’t be complete, here are tips to make it bearable for friends and family.

Let your children do the writing. I would LOVE getting a Christmas message that read, “Mom cries in the bathroom and tells us to eat Froot Loops for dinner. Dad has a special ‘drinking mug’ in his garage. Aunt Ethel spent Thanksgiving in the county jail for walking streets. Happy Holidays!”

Use your letter as a weapon. A Christmas newsletter can encourage friendly competition amongst your offspring. Announce who had the most As, the best-cleaned room or who peed the bed the least amount of times. Be sure to embarrass the *&%$ out of them so they’ll be on their best behavior next year.

Create an acronym. For instance, NOEL can be Notice Our Exceptional Lives or No One Enjoys Letters.

Quote Quiz. Choose the funniest quotes said by your family during the year and have your readers guess who said it.

January–“Who left the %&@* lights on?!”

February—“Is there a reason there are a dozen shoes by the back door?”

March—“Who left the %&@* lights on again?”

Write from your pet’s perspective. “This is Peri’s dog, Ringo. I was taken to the vet three times this year and had to get shots. She forgot to give me a treat twice last week, even after I sat under her feet for three consecutive episodes of Westworld. She also didn’t pet me long enough after she got home from work, but she gave me a steak bone, so all’s forgiven.”card-celebration-christmas-1652103

Share a family recipe. If people ask for your sugar cookie recipe, put it in your Christmas newsletter. But don’t be like my neighbor who leaves out key ingredients so my cookies never taste quite the same as hers. Not cool.

Don’t recount Family Disasters 2016. Your water heater broke, your car died in the desert, you have rats in the basement and bats in your belfry. You lost several jobs, were abducted by aliens and SWAT kicked in your door at 3 a.m. Newsletters are not catastrophe competitions. Next!

Don’t brag. For every straight-A accomplishment, for every award-winning dance competition and for every higher-salary promotion you exclaim over, your letter will be read by a man with kids struggling in school, a daughter with no noticeable rhythm and a woman in a dead-end, mind-numbing job. Take it down a notch, will ya?

Even better, since I never receive mail anymore (except for Hickory Farm catalogs and postcards from mortgage companies), maybe save all your glowing updates for Facebook and Instagram where you can gush all you’d like. You can even add clip art.

The Stockings were Flung in the Chimney with Flair

Every year on November 30, while my girls slept, I’d spend the evening putting up Christmas decorations. I’d place every Santa just so and every angel just right. My daughters would wake up to a magical Christmas wonderland with twinkling lights, cinnamon-scented pinecones and beautifully wrapped packages.

branch-celebration-christmas-257909That was my dream. Reality was much different.

Oh, the house was decorated, and the girls were excited, but within five minutes the entire holiday-scape was destroyed.

My daughters would walk into the idyllic wonderland I’d created, squeal with glee and run to their favorite Christmas decoration. One daughter immediately turned on the display that had Disney characters barking your favorite carols. If you haven’t heard “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung in “Woofs” by Pluto for 25 days in a row, you don’t know the real meaning of Christmas.

Another daughter ran to the Nativity scene where she helped Mother Mary run off with Frosty the Snowman, leaving Baby Jesus in the care of a 6-foot polar bear wearing a holiday scarf.

Yet another daughter took the ornamental French horn off the wall and marched through the house trumpeting Jingle Bells. Not to be outdone, her little sister used the tree skirt as a cloak and pretended to be the Queen of Christmas, which caused several fistfights in front of the holy manger.

When the girls went off to school each day, I’d put all the decorations back in their traditionally ordained locations. I found Ken and Barbie naked in a Christmas stocking. I discovered one of the Wise Men snuggled with an angel behind an advent calendar. I glued the shepherds’ crooks back on because the girls would have them fight ninja-style and kept breaking them off.

I found the singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shoved into a pile of laundry. Oh, wait. I’d put that there. Because it never shut up.

The girls would come home from school and spend the rest of the evening rearranging the decorations while I radiated anger.

“Leave the damn tree alone!” I’d repeat 40 times a day.

“But someone moved my ornament from its special place.” (Insert the sound of Christmas decorations falling off the tree.)

When I found the Christmas pillow I had painstakingly cross-stitched had been used to wipe up a Kool-Aid spill, I finally lost it. I was exhausted from trying to redecorate the house every day to keep everything looked perfect.

I screeched, in a very unholiday voice, “Put the Baby Jesus back in the manger before I tell Santa to burn all your presents!”

Everyone froze. The daughter who had wrapped Baby Jesus in layers of toilet paper to keep him warm looked at me, eyes brimming with tears. “I just wanted to hold him,” she said, as her lip quivered.

art-celebration-child-701025

That’s when it hit me. I was the Grinch. Why the hell was I ruining Christmas? Why was I trying to keep everything perfect? To my daughters, it was already perfect. They loved the decorations and wanted to play with them for the short time they were displayed.

I took a few deep breaths. I apologized. I even agreed to sit through a Christmas play where the Wise Men kidnapped Jesus and held him for ransom, but a stuffed Santa Claus karate-kicked the Wise Men to rescue the holy babe who was given back to Mother Mary. (She had returned from her illicit rendezvous with Frosty in time to change the baby’s diaper and put him back in the manger.)

My house was messy and emotional, but delightful and creative, too. This was my Christmas wonderland.

Passing the T-Day Torch

NormanRockwellAt what point does the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner get handed over to the next generation? Is there a statute explaining the process of turning the oven mitts over to the daughters/sons so they can begin their own traditions?

I grew up thinking it was a law for grandmothers to make the Thanksgiving feast, with all the favorite dishes like perfectly-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, fluffy biscuits and pumpkin pie with real whipped cream; and the not-so-favorite bowls of sweet potato casserole and giblet stuffing. I never thought T-Day would ever change, that we’d go on eating at grandma’s house until the end of time.

But then my Grandma Stewart passed away. And then my Grandma Brickey passed away. And although I knew my mom was a good cook, I worried that Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same. She didn’t have the aluminum drinking cups that gave grandma’s 7-Up and Kool-Aid concoction that metallic tang. And she didn’t have access to boysenberry bushes to create my favorite holiday pie. And my cousins wouldn’t be around to torment.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and (surprise!) the meal magically appeared on the table—with all the appropriate fixin’s. My mom had done it! She pulled it off! I was impressed, and showed her my gratitude by eating two dozen of her dinner rolls, doused in homemade strawberry jam.

I decided I could put off worrying about traditions being changed for many, many years.

Or so I thought.

One day, my mom announced she was moving to the far-off state of North Carolina with her new husband, blatantly ignoring the fact that her daughters were Thanksgiving-disabled. Oh sure, we brought the mandatory side dish to each holiday meal; but we’d never cooked an entire T-Day banquet. It seemed our choices were either a) move to North Carolina, b) order KFC take-out, or c) eat only pie (which I was totally okay with).

My sisters and I called an emergency meeting. We tentatively agreed to cook a turkey, but had no idea how big that turkey should be, or how many potatoes needed to be peeled, and we were clueless about making gravy. We knew mom’s first ingredient was always butter; we figured we couldn’t go wrong from there.

Luckily, we had mom on speed-dial, and she talked us through that first Thanksgiving without her. We survived with only mild cases of food poisoning, and a broccoli stuffing that was quietly served into the garbage disposal.

But after mom passed away, we couldn’t even call her for tips.

IMG_0654That’s when I realized that I had become the grandmother, that legally it was my role to feed my family Thanksgiving dinner. I still can’t time a turkey; it’s either finished cooking way too early, or still roasting while we eat pie. And I refuse to make sweet potatoes. But we’ve established our traditions, and hopefully my grandkids associate the holiday with my desserts and homemade rolls. And not the overcooked stuffing or too-salty gravy.

I often wonder which of my daughters will take over the role of Thanksgiving chef when I’m too old and feeble to cook (any day now). And I wonder what favorite foods will become traditions at their meals. As our families become more diverse, T-Day might include tamales, shrimp curry or sushi. I’m cool with that.

As long as there are homemade rolls and jam, and any kind of pie, my Thanksgiving is complete.

Breaking Bread

I’ve never been one to follow fad diets. I like food too much to limit my choices to cabbage, grapefruit and a toxic drink of lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. I’m pretty sure that’s a mixture they use to waterproof asphalt.

So when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2016, the idea of taking my favorite foods off the table was . . . well . . . off the table.bake-bakery-baking-5765

My doctor insisted I’d feel better if I stopped eating gluten. I laughed and told him I’d never be one of those people who badger waiters about menu ingredients, scour Pinterest for gluten-free cookie recipes or bore friends to tears with a recap of my gluten-induced misery.

I was in denial for several weeks but after a trip to New York where I gorged on pizza, bagels and, basically, bushels of gluten, I ended up in a bread coma. I went off gluten cold turkey, which is pretty much the only thing I can eat now.

My husband has been super helpful as I’ve transitioned to a life of wheat-less sadness. He chokes down gluten-free pizza and cookies without acting like I’m poisoning him (usually), but when I suggested making gluten-free onion rings, he clenched his jaw so tight his ears started bleeding. I heard him sobbing later in the bathroom.

Changing my own diet is one thing. Changing my family’s traditional Thanksgiving favorites is another. Everything about this holiday is a freakin’ gluten fest. You have dinner rolls, gravy, pie crust, carrot cake, Ritz crackers with spray cheese, and stuffing (which I don’t mind skipping because it’s a disgusting garbage of a food).

I experimented with gluten-free pumpkin muffins that had the consistency of ground up snails. Even my dog wouldn’t eat them. Well, he ate them because he’s a Lab and he eats everything; but he whined the whole time.

Researching gluten-free Thanksgiving Day recipes, I found a plethora of tasteless fare. Brussels sprouts in mustard sauce, quinoa stuffing with zucchini and cranberries, and a wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, taste-free pumpkin pie headlined my options. I tried making the organic, gluten-free, high-protein breadsticks. Yeah, they’re basically jerky.

And what do you call gluten-free brownies? Mud.

Why is gluten only found in foods that are delicious, like waffles and cinnamon rolls? It would be so much easier to avoid gluten if it was just in cottage cheese, foie gras or earthworms.

At least I live in a time where gluten-free products are available. Ten years ago, people going gluten-free could choose between kale chips or toasted particle board. Granted, most gluten-free products still taste like you’re chewing on a handful of toothpicks, but with new flours available, like amaranth, chickpea and cricket . . . never mind. It’s still terrible.blur-close-up-environment-289417

I could have gone my whole life without knowing things like kelp noodles existed. Which brings me back to Thanksgiving.

I realize the irony of me whining about what to eat on Thanksgiving—a day dedicated to gratitude and abundance. So as I’m sitting at the table, nibbling on dry turkey breast and jerky breadsticks, I promise to be grateful for all the things I CAN eat, like cabbage and grapefruit, and even lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Just not mixed together.

Originally published in Iron County Todayhttp://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-laughter/breaking-bread/

Table Talk

Thanksgiving Turkey dinnerThanksgiving is a day of stress, even in the best of times, but Thanksgiving 2018 could take the cake. . . er . . pie. Dinner conversations have become landmines. Relationships are as strained as my jeans after five helpings of mashed potatoes. Families haven’t been this divided since the great Toilet Paper Orientation debate of 1954.

Here are just a few topics that could escalate your meal from a civil discussion to Grandpa throwing cranberry sauce into the ceiling fan: The national anthem–Kneeling v. standing; The Presidency–Trump v. a sane person; Women’s rights v. Rich White Men; Nazis v. Not Nazis; and the most contentious subject, Marvel v. DC.

Things are ugly, folks. People are tense.

There are marches and demonstrations covering every perceivable issue. Even asking someone their view on mayonnaise could spark a worldwide protest. So, what can we possibly talk about around the Thanksgiving table so we can still get presents on Christmas?

I gathered a group of unsuspecting family members to practice possible discussion topics. It didn’t go well.

Me to Grandson: Tell me about Fortnite.

Great Uncle Jack: What’s Fortnite?

Grandson: It’s an awesome video game!

Great Uncle Jack: That’s stupid, you namby-pamby! Do you know what my video game was? World War II!

So, I tried again.

Me: Elon Musk plans to take humans to the moon in 2023.

Second Cousin: The moon landing never happened. It’s a conspiracy to keep us docile.

Me: I don’t think it’s working.

Another effort.

Me: How about those sports?

Hubbie: Agents have ruined professional sports! Back in the day, athletes played the damn game. Now, it’s, “Oh, I need an extra $20 million before I can throw a pitch.”

Okay then. Next.

Me: What fun things should we do for Christmas?

Brother-in-law: We should stop pandering to the commercialism of a pagan holiday that has no foundation of truth. Might as well celebrate rocks.

I tried a different tactic.

Me: A delicious roast turkey sure sounds good.

Daughter: Do you know how turkeys are raised? It’s disgusting and inhuman.

Me: Turkeys aren’t human.

Daughter: You are dead to me.

I was almost out of ideas.

Me: What do you think about sweater vests?

Everyone: We hate them!

Well, that’s a start.

I’m worried most families will end up sitting quietly, heads down, creating volcanoes with the mashed potatoes and gravy, and making NO eye contact for the entirety of the meal. At least dessert shouldn’t be contentious. (Dessert: Hold my beer.)

There was a time when conversation was an art, a civilized form of speech. Someone started talking, then others respectfully chimed in with their opinions. Sometimes, discussions got heated, but it rarely became a knife fight. Or maybe I’ve just read to many Jane Austen novels where you had to actually pay attention to realize you’d been insulted.

Now everyone is insulted. All the time.

So. On Thanksgiving, let’s practice not being insulted. Let’s try hearing other people’s views without writing them out of the will. We don’t have to agree, but can we be kind?

And the correct answer is Marvel. It’s always Marvel.

Originally published in Iron County Today – http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-and-laughter-table-talk/

Junk in the Trunk

arrangement-blackboard-candle-1449058Trunks are super useful. If you’re an elephant, they’re a necessity. If you want to change a tire, hide Christmas gifts or transport a body, trunks are invaluable. But I don’t understand the connection between trunks and Halloween. Why is trunk-or-treating a thing?

In the U.S., trick-or-treating started after WWII when children went door to door begging for food on Thanksgiving (not joking). Then they continued begging through Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and so on—so I guess someone decided to create a national begging celebration on Halloween.

This mass candy solicitation certainly worked for me for many years. Part of the thrill of trick-or-treating was leaving the familiar neighborhoods, searching for the families handing out full-size Butterfingers. We’d come home with pillowcases full of candy, after walking miles and miles through Murray, Utah.

Now, in our heavily-sanitized society, parents want to make sure their kids won’t be handed anything with sugar, soy, peanuts or gluten, or have to interact with neighbors they’ve never met—so trunk-or-treating was introduced.

I know some churches feel trunk-or-treating (Halloween tailgating) is a way to watch over kids while keeping demonic costumes to a minimum. In fact, kids are often encouraged to dress as bible characters.

(Side note: If I was forced to dress as a woman from the bible, I’d be Jael and I’d carry Sisera’s head with a nail shoved through his temple. But that’s just me. The Book of Revelations also has some pretty messed-up oddities. My daughters could easily have passed for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on any given day.)

blurred-background-bokeh-celebration-1426705Anyway. Part of growing up is being terrified all the time. Kids have so little control over their lives and, unfortunately, they learn early on that life can be scary and unpredictable.

As kids on Halloween, we got super scared, but we also knew that, deep down, we truly were safe. Visiting haunted houses made us feel brave. In our minds, going from house to house, asking strangers for candy, was akin to walking down a dark alley in New York City.

There was always one house on the block you were afraid to visit because it had strobe lights, shrieking screams, ghoulish laughter when you rang the bell and an unidentifiable zombie handing out treats with his bloody hands.

Even scarier was the house where the neighborhood witch resided. Lights turned off. No jack o’ lantern. You knew she was sitting in the dark, staring out her window, ready to cast spells on children who came to her door.

Additionally, my mom had me paranoid about eating any unwrapped candy, convinced my friend’s mom had dipped the open jawbreaker in bleach several times before handing it to me.

But really? How many people did you know that found a razor blade in their apple or received temporary tattoos laced with acid?

On November 1, when we woke up with piles of candy, stomach aches and Halloween make-up smeared on our pillows, we also felt we had survived something frightening—and imagined ourselves a little bit braver as we faced our lives.

But trunk-or-treating is not remotely scary, unless your trunk is part of a 1950s Cadillac hearse, complete with creaky coffin and a driver named Lurch. Maybe instead of meeting in church parking lots, we can stay in our homes and hand out candy as kids go door-to-door. I think that idea might just catch on.

Originally published in The Davis Clipper–Oct. 2015