The Witching Hour

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We all know Halloween is funded by Big Dental to create more cavities but it’s also true that Halloween traditions started long before lobbyists destroyed the planet. Black cats, pumpkins and ghosts existed at least 50 years ago, and probably longer.

So how did Halloween customs get started? Lucky for you, I researched this topic on the Internet contraption.

Did you know Bobbing for Apples was actually a dating game in ancient Rome? Kind of like Tinder, only with more drowning.

My elementary school did a dry version called Bobbing for Marbles. Teachers filled a plastic pool with flour and mixed in a few dozen marbles. We had to use our mouths to find the marbles. The two most likely outcomes were a) Inhale flour and die or b) Inhale a marble and die. Not even joking here.

Jack-o’-lanterns have a weird backstory that involves a guy named Stingy Jack, the devil and wandering spirits. I guess ghosts are afraid of gourds and root vegetables.  Who knew? Originally they used turnips, not pumpkins, but who’s ever heard of a turnip spice latte? So they had to start using pumpkins.

Black cats became associated with Halloween because witches have black cats. Duh.

Costumes date back to Biblical times when Jacob dressed up as his brother to trick his blind father into giving him keys to the donkey. It was also the first trick-or-treat on record.

When I was a kid, costumes included plastic masks, made from asbestos and glue, that would slowly asphyxiate you if you didn’t walk into a ditch first because you couldn’t see s*** through the pinpoint eyeholes.

Bats get a bad reputation. They’re not inherently evil, except for vampire bats that turn into the bloodsucking undead to hunt humans for food and eternal life. But originally, people would sit around bonfires (the 1780’s bug zapper), wishing for things like penicillin and electricity. The fires would attract insects and the insects attracted bats and people freaked out. As we are wont to do.

Handing out candy has several origin stories, including buying off zombies with snacks, bribing the dead, and kids going from house to house asking families for dinner because they didn’t want to eat what their mom had spent hours making for them because they’re ungrateful little . . .

Anyhoo.

Treats handed out to children have also evolved. It’s gone from apples and boiled carrots (boo) to king-size Butterfinger bars (hooray!).

Here’s what my Halloween bag contained when I was a kid: 8 dozen rolls of Smarties, 17 types of rock-hard bubble gum, 38 Bit-O-Honeys, 422 Pixie sticks, 25 pounds of saltwater taffy, 14 spider rings and one mini Snickers bars. It was the ‘70s. Don’t judge.

adorable-animal-canine-1564506One element of Halloween remained a mystery to me. When did we think dressing dogs in tutus was a good idea? I assumed the whole pet costume fiasco was started by rich, white girls with too much time and money. Turns out, in the 19th century, dog costumery was a thing – with the animal fashion industry churning out traveling cloaks, silk jackets, tea gowns and . . . wait for it . . . dog bikinis.

What Halloween traditions do you observe? Knife throwing? Handing out real goldfish to trick-or-treaters? You never know what your customs will become centuries from now.

Whatever you do, don’t sell your candy to a dentist. Big Dental just sells it back to grocery stores to reuse for the next Halloween.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper 

Take Your Best Shot

Untitled design (3).pngI’m stating right up front I hate vaccinations. I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m just more afraid of getting a tetanus shot than dying a horribly painful death.

My dad scarred me for life when he told me to avoid petting strange dogs. I didn’t know what made them strange, but he went on to explain how dogs have rabies and if you get bit, you get a great big shot in your stomach – or you die. #OldYeller

That was enough to scare me away from dogs for at least 40 years. The neighbors got tired of me screaming every time their dog barked.

And it made me terrified of shots.

My mom did her part when it came to scaring the DiSeases out of me in regards to vaccinations. She showed up at school one day to give me a ride home, which should have been my first clue. Mom never drove us to or from school, even in the snow, even in the rain, even when we were late, even when stupid boys threw earthworms at us.

But there she was, in the pick-up line with a big smile on her face (second clue).

“Why are you here?” I asked, suspiciously.

“We’re going to get a treat,” she said, all innocent and everything.

“Super!”

As soon as I was in the car, we drove to my doctor’s office where he proceeded to give me an MMR booster.

There are no words.

When my daughters needed shots, I dreaded it more than they did. Usually. There was that one time when teenage daughters #3 and #4 literally ran around the doctor’s office to avoid their immunizations. They only settled down when the cute male nurse came and stood in the doorway.

Even when it pained me, my daughters got all their shots. Every. Single. One. Plus, I threw in a few more just to be safe.

Back in the day, when people died from pretty much everything, the arrival of vaccines was celebrated. Some diseases were so deadly they were used as weapons. #NotCool

When the polio vaccine was introduced, the public went wild. They were tired of watching their children die.

Finally, scientists created ways to protect us from smallpox, rabies, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria and BTS. Each year, vaccines prevent up to 3 million deaths worldwide.

You know there’s a but.

But for the first time ever, this year the World Health Organization (WHO?) added “vaccine hesitancy” to the list of top 10 health issues. Not because there’s a shortage or because vaccines are unavailable. Nope. Parents just don’t want to get their kids immunized.

They worry vaccines aren’t safe, despite generations of success, millions of lives saved and numerous studies from important medical people like Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I understand this is a divisive topic. I’m just not sure why.

Yes, there can be risks, but they are small compared to the overall health of the universe. That’s like saying, “My neighbor was in a car crash and the seat belt broke her ribs. I’m never wearing a seat belt again.”

Some say immunizations go against their religious belief. Is it possible God inspired scientists to create vaccines as an answer to millions of prayers? He inspired someone to create fudge-dipped Oreos. That was a definite answer to a prayer. #AngelsAmongUs

Thanks to social media and digital platforms, anti-vaxxers continue to wage war against science and common sense. In the meantime, disease is on the rise.

As school starts, get your kids immunized, which is super hypocritical considering I’ll most likely die from rabies or tetanus.

Originally published in the Davis Clipper.

Hang Me Out to Dry

After happily drying our clothes for a decade, our dryer hit its tweenage years and started giving us the silent treatment. It would only work when we said magic words or used pliers to wrangle it into submission.

I wasn’t ready to plop down several hundred bucks for a new dryer, so I suggested we string a clothesline in the backyard for fresh, sunny, natural drying. But with all the snow and the rain and the wind and the snow and the snow, I finally gave in.

clothesline-cold-depth-of-field-166592One weekend, the hubby and I got in the car, girded our loins (I think that means we buckled our seat belts) and drove to the gargantuan furniture/appliance store where we were immediately attacked by suit-coated salespeople.

They swarmed from everywhere. I thought, at first, they were zombies and impaled a couple of them with the leg of a kitchen chair before I realized my (understandable) mistake. One of them valiantly latched onto us, and the rest of them staggered back into the bowels of the store.

Our salesperson/creature had mainlined 17 Dr. Peppers and hopped around us like a crazy ding-dong until we reached the appliance center. There were washers and dryers as far as the eye could see, which isn’t far because I’m pretty nearsighted. But trust me, there was a huge dryer selection.

Mr. SalesCreature launched into his spiel. “I want you to have the dryer that your future washer will adore. Not the washer you have now, but the one you’ll want in two years.”

I explained we weren’t looking for an appliance matchmaker, but he continued.

“You don’t want a dryer that will be mocked by your future appliances,” he said, as if he weren’t talking nonsense. “You want a dryer that will raise the standard of your home.”

He’d obviously never seen our home.

He guided us to the Drying Machines O’ The Future, detailing all the dryer features we never knew we needed. Throwing out terms like Wrinkle Shields, Quad Baffles and All Major Credit Cards, he described a Utopian laundry room where unicorns came to raise their young and clothes never smelled like mildew.

We then learned about laundry pedestals; the crazy 12-inch tall invention that raises your washer and dryer by, well, one foot.

“Why do I need my laundry machines on $300 pedestals?” I asked. “That seems like it’s setting a bad precedent for other appliances in my home.”

“You won’t have to bend over to get your clothes,” he said, jumping in place. “They even have pedestals with a tiny washing machine to wash small loads, or to store cleaning products!”

“Wouldn’t I have to bend over to reach that?” I asked.

He blinked, then started again with the benefits of appliance pedestals, but I interrupted.

“Look,” I said. “We have $300 in cash, $200 in collectible stamps, $123 in Kohl’s cash and $67 in pennies. What can we get with that?”

His face fell. He waved his hand in a vague direction that could have been behind him or downstairs, then walked away. We wandered until we found a machine that could dry our clothes. We purchased it and ran from the building, making no eye contact with any sales-zombies in the area.

The new dryer is beautiful. It’s shiny. It’s not coated with lint-covered laundry detergent. It actually seems kind of haughty, so I’m glad we didn’t buy it a pedestal.

We assure our old washing machine that it’s still a valuable part of our family. We hope positive attention will keep it working for a few more years, but it’s also in the tweenage stage, so I’m expecting tantrums and/or the silent treatment at any time.

First published in the Davis Clipper: http://davisclipper.com/opinion/hang-me-out-to-dry/

To Infinity and Beyond

As our country devolves into a 24/7 protest, people are casting their eyes to the stars. They’re either hoping for a) an asteroid to hit the planet, b) our alien overlords to save us from catastrophe or c) the chance to flee to Mars to populate (and eventually destroy) another planet.

astronomy-earth-lunar-surface-87009Life on this beautiful blue marble (or beautiful blue dinner plate if you’re a flat-Earther) has had a good run. We’ve evolved from being hunters/gatherers to being couch potatoes while creating technology that is certain to bring about our impending doom. Do we really need a talking fridge?

But Mars! Oh, the possibilities!

I envision a world where everyone lives in hexagonal domes, speaks in British-accented tones, and wears white flowing robes. That could be a problem. I can’t wear white, even when I’m not living on a planet covered in red dust. Every night I would look like a red chimney sweep.

NASA wants to send the first humans to Mars in the 2030s, which creates an interesting predicament. I’ll be too old to populate anything, but every planet needs a wise old woman giving cryptic warnings to the younger generation. I could fill that role, assuming I survive the seven-month journey to the Red Planet.

The possibility of relocating to the planet of war has become an animated discussion in our home.

Me: Would you want to live on Mars?

Hubbie: Of course!

Me: Wouldn’t you be afraid we’d die on the way there?

Hubbie: Wait. You’re going, too?

Seven months is a long time to give someone the silent treatment.

Describing the flight to Mars, NASA uses magical terms like “transfer orbit” and “astronomical position” which I’ve learned are NOT part of the Kama Sutra. Voyagers traveling to Mars could lose fingernails, have spinal fractures and vision problems, and there’s always the chance you’ll upchuck in your spacesuit and suffocate after blocking the air system with your intergalactic vomit. So, there’s that.

Once we land, we’ll spend a lot of time cleaning up abandoned movie sets that Abbott and Costello, Matt Damon and Santa Claus basically trashed during filming. But once that’s done, then what do we do?

I guess people will build greenhouses and grow food. I won’t be on that crew because I can’t even grow mold. Others will install solar panels. Solar companies are already training door-to-door salesmen for the Mars market.

ai-artificial-intelligence-astronomy-73910There will be a team working on communications so we can keep up with our favorite Netflix shows and hopefully someone will open a really good Mexican restaurant.

Space enthusiasts have wanted off-Earth colonization for decades. There’s been discussion about creating a city on the moon, but scientists feared people would treat it like a giant bounce-house and not get anything accomplished. Plus, one day on the moon is equal to one month on Earth. And you thought an 8-hour workday was bad.

Venus was never an option. With skin-melting temperatures, acid rain and a super-dense atmosphere, Venus was too much like Alabama in August. However, nights on Venus can last up to 120 days. Maybe then I could actually get eight hours of sleep.

So, Mars it is.

What if once we get settled, we find a prehistoric Statue of Liberty, buried in the red clay? We’ll discover that billions of years ago, people left Mars to travel to Earth because idiots were destroying the Red Planet. Like one of those giant leaps for mankind, only backwards.

There’s no chance of me relocating to another planet. But I can still stare at the stars and watch Mars twinkle in the distance. I just hope it’s not flat like Earth.

 

Rockin’ Around the Real Christmas Tree

Now that we’re almost empty nesters, my husband tentatively suggested that we destroy Christmas. We were cuddling in front of the TV when he whispered, “Do you think it’s time we invested in a fake tree?”

“No.”

“But a real tree stresses you out each year.”

“That’s not stress, it’s the Christmas spirit,” I replied.

“I didn’t know the Christmas spirit was so grouchy.”

DSC_0798A real Christmas tree has always been the center of my holiday decorating. Growing up, we’d hang stockings, put out Advent calendars and display nativity scenes, but the season didn’t officially start until the tree was plunked into a bucket of boiling Mountain Dew. We had the only caffeine-addicted tree on the street.

After dad strung the lights and went to hide in his bedroom, we’d attack the tree like a whirling tornado, fighting over who got to hang favorite ornaments. Once we were in bed, mom and dad would re-decorate and hang tinsel, one silvery strand at a time, on every branch.

I’ve carried on that tradition (minus the tinsel that would cling to our clothes) to create our own perfect Christmas tree.

Our holiday tree has never been a symbol of opulence. We’ve never had a Winter Wonderland tree with white fluffy reindeer frolicking through snowy silk ribbons, dangling with sparkly Swarovski crystals and silver-sequined snowflakes.

Instead, our tree’s branches are weighed down by homemade angels with ratted-out hair and lopsided halos, clothespin reindeer tangled around hand-beaded wreaths, and South Park characters rubbing shoulders with the baby Jesus.

Decades of school photo ornaments hang amid the evergreen boughs, detailing years of missing teeth, questionable hairstyles and teenage angst. And loved ones who have passed away are remembered with ornaments ranging from dancing shoes to teardrop prisms.

Put together, it’s an explosion of bad taste that would make Martha Stewart cry. But it’s not just a Christmas tree—it’s a family tree representing years of holiday memories.

The finished product is only half of the story. Finding the perfect Christmas tree is a tradition/catastrophe I anticipate/loathe every December. Hence my husband’s misguided “fake tree” suggestion. He just doesn’t understand that a plastic tree is a soulless imitation of holiday beauty, and the first step to anarchy.

Each year, I schedule a day to pick out a tree, and without fail it’s the coldest, snowiest, iciest weekend of the month. My youngest daughter tags along to make sure I get it right, and to help hold the tree on top of the car once the loosely-tied knots start to unravel–much like my mind.

We scour tree lots, looking for an evergreen that is devoid of bare spots, more alive than dead, and not full of spiders. (Don’t ask. It’s a horrible holiday memory.) We also try to avoid tree lots managed by the town drunk. (That’s another Christmas/horror saga involving a leering, inebriated tree salesperson with a chain saw.)

pig angelOnce the tree arrives safely home, we discover the 10-foot tree won’t fit into our 8-foot living room. We attack it with dull handsaws and scissors until it fits, and then, in a flurry of Christmas chaos, we adorn it with lights and ornaments, and top it with a rickety angel, balanced precariously on the highest branch.

When the dust settles, we’ll snuggle by the tree, watching Christmas lights twinkle while the snow softly falls. It’s the epitome of holiday perfection. Until my husband whispers, “What do you think about having Christmas dinner at Village Inn?”

Could be a long, cold winter in our home.

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.

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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.