Don’t Forget November

pumpkins-on-a-table-3094075Sandwiched between October and December, November is the bologna of months. Everyone pulls it out, gives it a sniff, then tosses it in the trash. Once Halloween is over, we blast into a frenzy of Christmas shopping and decorating, forgetting all about this beautiful month full of autumn leaves, crisp apples and carb overload.

We need a marketing team to change the perception of November from “Brownish month when we count our blessings” to “A kaleidoscope of excitement. And pie.” Okay, maybe “kaleidoscope” is overkill, and it’s hard to spell, but you get the idea.

Thanksgiving continues its reign as the best holiday between Halloween and Christmas but even the cherished turkey day has its opponents. It’s almost impossible to tell the origin story of Thanksgiving without pissing someone off. Let’s just say people living in America (probably not its original name) in the 1600s created the first Chuck-A-Rama, minus the carrot-filled Jell-O.

In the U.S., any holiday that has the tagline “An Attitude of Gratitude” is doomed from the start but what if we created a terrifying mascot? People like threats and merchandising. What if Gerta the Ghoulishly Grateful Goose (sold as a freakish Beanie Babies stuffed animal) flies into your bedroom on Thanksgiving Eve to make sure you’re being thankful. Not enough gratitude? She pecks your forehead and flies off with your pumpkin pies. Instead of Elf on the Shelf, how about Goose on the Loose? You read it here first, people.

What else happens in November . . . ?

Election Day! The first Tuesday after the first Monday when the moon is full and pythons are mating, is set aside for foreign nations to measure success by screwing up election results with fake social media content. As opposed, to genuine social media content. Consider this year a dry-run for the 2020 Apocalyptic Election to End all Elections.

Black Friday is also in November. What if we protest Black Friday sales and refuse to shop or decorate for Christmas until, call me crazy, December 1? Christmas is sneaky. Once you allow Christmas tree lots to set up in November, it’s an easy slide into year-round Christmas where everyone is miserable and broke. Charles Dickens could (posthumously) pen a story where we learn Ebenezer Scrooge was right all along, perhaps titled, “A Christmas Peril.”

Movember is also a thing where men are encouraged to grow mustaches to raise awareness for the importance of shaving – and men’s health issues. A group of women have also sworn to stop shaving for the month. That group is called Europe.

The first Wednesday in November is Stress Awareness Day, created by parents who realize Christmas is weeks away and their children are reaching frenetic levels of idiocy. Maybe November needs its own alcoholic beverage that we start drinking on this day. How about a mulled cider with a tequila chaser called the No No November?

Veteran’s Day is cool. World Kindness Day is super nice. But let’s tackle the real meaning of November. Pie.

Pie is the reason for November. With harvest foods like apples and pumpkins and close-up-of-tasty-looking-baked-goods-2955816.jpgpeaches and pears and banana cream, pie in November is as necessary as breathing, especially if breathing is slathered in homemade whipped cream or served a la mode.

So instead of treating November like it’s some type of disgusting mystery meat, can we agree it’s at least hamburger, maybe even a sirloin? Who knows, if we keep slapping Christmas back to its own month we might even enjoy the leaves, the apples – and the pie. Always the pie.

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 

Power Up

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” I think of this when I’m feeling glitchy, when my processor runs slow, my memory won’t upload and I can’t download complete, coherent sentences.

When my energy drains like a cell phone battery, that’s the sign I’ve neglected my mental health for too long. I get snappy with my husband to the point he tells me to get out of the house and come back when I can act like a grown-up. After flipping him the bird, I pout to my car.

Self-care isn’t just bath bombs and margaritas. Bath bombs dissolve too quickly and margaritas only get me into trouble. Self-care is tapping into activities that recharge your energy levels. This might mean asking for help (I know, a woman’s ultimate sign of weakness) or finding more time for yourself.

Ordering pizza Monday nights is just fine. Jogging through the park is just fine. Hiding under your bed eating Hershey kisses is just fine. Telling your family you’re going to get ice-cream, then taking a month-long drive through the Andes is on the border of just fine.

The point is, find your own self-care routine. This should involve spending time alone. I’m sure in the 1600s, women who practiced self-care were burned at the stake. Why would a woman want to be alone when she gets to care for a 75-year-old husband and 10 children? She must be a witch.

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I must admit, coming home from work I’ve had the thought, “I have so much to do tonight. I can’t even.” Then I drive around listening to self-help audiobooks until I can face life again. Sometimes self-care is hiding in the bathroom with a magazine for 30 minutes because if the kids ask for One. More. Thing. they’ll find themselves living in the garden shed for three months.

Every woman’s self-care routine is different. Some women wear facemasks while they create a vision board they hope will teleport them to a mansion in Newport Beach where they’ll frolic with a Hemsworth brother. Some women need a hammock, a book and a set of earplugs. And DIY facial scrubs might get your skin glowing, but your mental health needs some polishing, too.

Women are so good at controlling everything. Well, women are so good at trying to control everything. Stress does not equal control. Worry does not equal control. You going out of your friggin’ mind is not control.

Self-care is a mental practice that involves 1) saying “No” once in a while, 2) saying “Yes” once in a while, 3) not berating yourself, 4) taking plenty of naps, 5) noticing when you’re running on fumes and 6) the occasional margarita. It’s about accepting who you are. Unless you eat Miracle Whip. Then you might need to reevaluate your life.

How often do you play? How often do you sleep? Are you so attached to the whiteboard schedule in your kitchen that any deviation throws you out of whack? Do you often eat an entire chocolate sheet cake while crying in the pantry?

Another favorite Lamott quote: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over the island looking for boats to save. They just stand there, shining.”
Be sure to keep your lighthouse operating. Change the bulb, wash the windows, maybe even a fresh coat of paint so when you need to tap into your energy, it’s fully charged. Otherwise, your system will shut down, all on its own, and getting back online is a b**ch

Originally published in the Davis Clipper

It’s a Jungle Out There

animal-photography-animals-daytime-1260803Sitting in the petri dish of a playground at a nearby fast-food chain, I watch my grandkids jump around like just-released-into-the-wild baboons. Like every other adult in the room, I hoped this stop would be a fun diversion, a place the kids could play while I read War and Peace.

Kids on playgrounds are fascinating the same way the Spanish Inquisition was fascinating: lots of violence, torture, crazy zealots and tattletales. Sitting with the book I won’t be able to read, and eating cold French fries, I’m the Jane Goodall of the toddler kingdom, as I study their animal-like behavior.

There’s a hierarchy to the madness, with the older kids sitting at the top of the pyramid. They push toddlers out of the way and block slides until little kids cry.

The next level down are kids between the ages of 4 and 8. Not quite ready to be the bullies on the playground, they tail after the leaders hoping to be included in any dastardly plan.

Toddlers make up the lowest level of the playground food chain. These cute little kids are a pain in the asset as they try to establish a presence without being trampled by oblivious 10-year-old boys. I’ve witnessed several toddler smack-downs, including my granddaughter who started a fistfight with a little boy over a pretend steering wheel.

The fast-food playground smells like a mildewed diaper pail. It also has a fine layer of mucous coating every possible surface. Everything is sticky. Bacteria gleefully thrives.

There’s a logjam of kids at the bottom of the slide, backing up traffic and causing overall mayhem. Older siblings shepherd brothers and sisters through the throng of screaming and thrashing little bodies, in search of fun and excitement, while being screamed at by their mothers.

I watch kids scramble through the maze of colorful gerbil tubes, listening for the sound of my granddaughter’s screech as she fights her way to the slide, where she refuses to go down, triggering an uproar in the playground ecosystem. Her brother finally convinces her the slide is fun and they both tumble to the bottom. They run back up and do it again.

I hear snippets of conversations. “That boy is taking off his clothes.” “She put ketchup in my ear.” “Look! I can fly!” But when the Lord of the Flies Preschool bus pulls up in front of the building, that’s my signal to skedaddle.

Easier said than done.

As soon as I announce it’s time to leave, my granddaughter scurries up the tunnel, refusing to come down and throwing poo at anyone who approaches. I send her brother up to get her and hear his bloodcurdling scream as she kicks him in the head, and climbs higher into the hamster maze. He finally drags her down, both of them crying, before she steals someone’s shoes, and runs toward the restroom.

Security tackles her and wrangles her back to the playground. She’s covered with either BBQ sauce or blood and tries to scuttle away as soon as I put her down. Chaos has erupted. We duck tranquilizer darts as we run serpentine to the exit.

I finally wrestle them into the car, wearing the wrong jackets and without socks. I spray them down with Lysol and have them take a big swig of hand sanitizer. I just survived a primate attack. Jane Goodall would be so proud.

 

Originally published in the Davis Clipper – https://davisclipper.com/it’s-a-jungle-out-there-p5616-103.htm

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/

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.