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.

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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/

Dressed to Kill

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Every autumn, as I reconstructed our home after three months of child infestation, my daughters settled into their school classes and thoughts turned to Halloween. More specifically, thoughts turned to Halloween costumes.

I’d load my girls into the minivan and we’d attack the pattern books at Joann fabric, looking for the perfect costumes. (These pattern books weighed approximately 450 lbs. and had to be moved carefully or they would fall off the narrow perch and crush your hip bones.)

Costumes ranged from Disney princesses to Death, and each outfit had to last for decades because they were worn all the time and handed down for generations. (For example, one daughter, dressed as Snow White, shredded the hem of her gown under the plastic tires of her Big Wheel. Her dress looked like Snow White had been attacked by a pack of very short raccoons. She still wore it every day.)

After finding the right pattern, we’d roam the aisles, looking for fabric that didn’t cost the equivalent of an actual Disney movie.

During my costume-making tenure, I created all of the Disney princesses, a cheerleader, Super Girl, a lion, a pumpkin and several witches. (Sidenote: A witch costume in 1990 consisted of a long black dress, a long black cape, long black hair, a black hat and a broomstick. Now a witch costume is a black miniskirt, fishnet stockings and a push-up bra. I have no idea how to fly a broom in that outfit.)

Speaking of slutty clothes, my daughters were often pushing the envelope when it came to modesty. According to my daughter, her belly dancer’s shirt was too long, so (when I wasn’t around) she rolled it up several times to display her 10-year-old abs, and the gypsy Esmeralda’s blouse kept “accidentally” falling off her shoulders.

Daughter number three used her Cinderella costume as a method of seduction as she walked up and down our driveway in her slappy plastic high heels, flirting with the men building the garage. Did I mention she was four?

During another Halloween, she wanted to be Darth Maul. I made her costume, painted her face, but refused to put horns on her head. She grew her own devil horns a few years later.

By Oct. 20, all my intentions to create the perfect Halloween costume for each daughter devolved into madness as I frantically sewed to have everything done for the school’s Halloween parade (which is now the Fall Festival).

My Singer sewing machine would be thrumming 24-hours a day as I slowly lost my mind. I’d throw boxes of cold cereal at them for dinner, while I shrieked, “I’m making these costumes because I love you. Now shut the hell up!”

Once Halloween was over, costumes went into a big box and were worn by my daughters and their friends all year. At any given moment, a girl wearing Beauty’s voluminous yellow ball gown would be chasing Super Girl through the living room, with a toddler-sized Jack-o’-lantern nipping at their heels.

My daughters have carried on the costume tradition. My grandchildren have been garden gnomes, Austin Powers, a unicorn, and even an 18-month-old Betty Boop. It makes my black Halloween heart smile.

Now, my Singer gathers dust and I haven’t looked through pattern books for years, but every October my fingers twitch and I fight the urge to take my girls to browse fabric aisles. I wonder what my husband is doing this weekend. He’d make a beautiful Disney princess.

 

Things We Forget

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There was a time, before we got all jaded and grumpy, that our main purpose was to have fun. As kids, we jumped out of bed every morning, eager to find the best ways to a) get candy, b) meet friends, c) watch cartoons and d) avoid chores at all costs.

We had it all figured out. Why did grown-ups make everything so difficult? Politics, manipulation and sociopathic behaviors were things we didn’t understand. (I still don’t understand.)

After life punches us in the face for several decades, we get out of bed a little slower and rarely find time for cartoons or candy. Friends become precious. Chores increase exponentially.

But maybe those 10-year-old versions of ourselves were right all along. Maybe we need to remember some basic rules about life that were totally obvious to us before we finished elementary school. These things are truths at any age.

  • Going to the bank is boring—unless there are those chain-attached pens you can play with
  • If you’re good at the store, you might get a Butterfinger
  • Going to the zoo sounds like a good idea, but it’s actually exhausting
  • Visiting grandma gets you spoiled
  • Sometimes you need to stay in bed all day reading a good book
  • Making friends is easy
  • Going to bed early is a punishment
  • It’s okay to cry when your feelings are hurt
  • Saturday morning cartoons are awesome
  • Spending an afternoon in the park is the best use of your time
  • A $20 bill makes you rich
  • When your friend is mean, it’s okay to tell them that wasn’t nice
  • It’s fun to be excited for birthdays and Christmas
  • Eating cold cereal for dinner is the best
  • Throwing a water balloon at your sister is thrilling
  • You never have to watch your carbs
  • Shoes aren’t always necessary
  • Cloud watching is not a waste of time

So how did we go from being fun-loving kidlets to cranky adults? When did we decide it was better to be busy than to have fun?

As with most terrible things, I blame the teenage years. Being 13 years old can be devastating. If you watch the movie Eighth Grade, be prepared for some serious junior high PTSD as a beautiful young girl destroys her own self-esteem with anxiety, junior high romance and pool parties. Seriously triggering.

Once we drag ourselves out of the primordial swamp of high school, we’ve become a little less trusting and optimistic. Then we double-down on our cynicism as we enter the workforce.

When you were in elementary school, dreaming about the time you’d be a grown up with your own car and the ability to eat ice cream after midnight, you never considered the possibility that working sucks. Sure, we saw our parents come home from work, down a bottle of gin and collapse on the couch like a bag of old pudding, but that was because they’d had SO MUCH FUN at work!

Something needs to change.

If you find yourself scowling at happiness, it’s time to check back with your inner fourth-grader and do something fun. Skip work and go hiking. Have an ice-cream sundae, without promising to jog later (because 10-year-olds don’t jog). Start a conversation with a stranger. Spend $20 on something entirely useless. Have Lucky Charms for dinner.

We need to remember, it’s fun to a) get candy, b) meet friends, c) watch cartoons and d) avoid chores at all costs. Life’s too short to grow old.

Originally published in Iron County Today–http://ironcountytoday.com/columns/life-laughter/things-we-forget/

Darth Vader/Donald Trump

I’ve sensed a disturbance in society. A dark shadowy figure looms across the country, demanding loyalty from all those around him. A powerful force instigates unrest, encourages outrage and hate, and challenges his followers to embrace their inner rage to find their true destiny.

This person could be Darth Vader. This person could be Donald Trump. The similarities are eerie. Ever since Trump assigned Jar Jar Binks to take over the Office of Silly Walks, I’ve noticed his connection to the Star Wars universe and his uncanny resemblance to Darth Vader.

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I’ll present the facts. You decide.

  • They both have helmet head
  • They both have a thing for the Space Force
  • They are both seduced by power
  • They both lead a staff of brainless clones
  • Both try to destroy those who rebel against them
  • They both surround themselves with wacky characters
  • They consider themselves the center of the universe

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(If you look very closely, you’ll see a black hole at the center of the universe. That’s Trump’s soul.)

  • They both love the sound of their own voice
  • They’ve either tried to boink or kill their daughters
  • They have a love for long, flowing capes and ties
  • Neither of them give a shit about endangered species
  • They both answer to a bigger bad guy
  • Neither understands sarcasm
  • They wear suits that demonstrate their inability to fit in with society
  • They both demonstrate personality disorders
  • They’re both proficient at swinging a lightsaber/golf club
  • The Death Star is powered with coal and is coated in Russian asbestos.
  • They both reconnected to their inner goodness and light. Wait. Only Vader has done that.  I guess Trump still has time. . .