Archives for category: holidays

Who wants a Friday phone-it-in post? I do! I do!

Thanks to Ginger I get to have credit for posting while still doing very little work. This is an excellent system and I approve. Also, holiday spirit, yada yada.

Presenting the holiday meme:

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Egg nog at Christmas, hot chocolate the rest of the year.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa wraps, in his own paper. Until a couple years ago I didn’t know Santa didn’t wrap sometimes. I think that variety of Santa is a bit lazy, frankly.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White. Colored lights make the ornaments look weird.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No.

5. Tacky holiday sweaters: yea or nay?
Nay. I do wear red sweaters but for some reason I do that a lot anyway.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Food other people make that I eat. Food that I make that I eat. Food that I eat. Food.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? The family fight around whether the tree was straight which always ended up with it falling on my swearing father’s head. What? We are that kind of family. I treasure that memory so much that Michael and I recreate it each year.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I read too many Nancy Drew novels and tried to make my mother submit a handwriting sample so I could do a full graphological analysis. So she just told me. Right after she stopped laughing. I think I was 9ish.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
I think we did sometimes? We were pretty inconsistent on Christmas traditions. But it’s something I’d like my kids to do. I think it’s fun.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
With a lot of really tacky ornaments we’ve collected/made over the years plus some ancient lights plus the world’s most bizarre paper star on top (I’ll post a picture this year). Last year I knit a red wool garland that was pretty awesome. Basically it’s like a summer camp’s arts and crafts session threw up on a tree. It’s great! [Aside: I’m thinking of entering the lifestyle blog market. What do you think?]

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
I don’t mind it really, especially if I don’t have to drive in it. At least until March or so which is when I’m over it, done, go away snow. (Please note that some years the snow doesn’t go away until May.)

12. Can you ice skate?
Yes, though not with any fancy moves.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Uhhh…not really. I remember getting a ten-speed bike one year. That was exciting. (This is also why I try not to sweat over getting the perfect gift for my kids. Few people seem to remember this.)

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
You know, I think this gets lost in a lot of places, but we are so far north that I really feel in tune with the celebration of warmth and light that surrounds this time of year. When it is dark and cold by 3:30, I will take a crackling fire and some twinkly lights, yes, please.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Pumpkin pie. Hands down.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Swearing aside, I really like decorating the tree.

17. What tops your tree?
As mentioned above, a truly ridiculous paper star with glitter paint and a picture of baby Annabel on it. I’m not kidding. We may change that this year. But probably not.

18. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving?
This is one of those trick questions designed to reveal my true self, isn’t it? Forget it. I am committed to remaining an enigma.

19. Candy Canes: Yuck or Yum?
*gag*

20. Favorite Christmas show?
The Grinch. Naturally.

21. Saddest Christmas Song?
Saddest? As in the lyrics are the saddest or it makes me the saddest to hear it? I’m going with the latter: The Little Drummer Boy. That song is looooaaathesome, pa rum pum pum pum.

22. What is your favorite Christmas song?
Silent Night. Or Carol of the Bells, which I always find enchanting.

It’s another major holiday, so that means it’s time for me to pay another visit to the Craft Failure department.

I don’t know why I try. I don’t. I think it’s because I am surrounded by some truly, amazingly, unbelievably-talented crafty people and I believe this will somehow rub off on me. More likely, it’s because on holidays like Easter the traditionalist in me is disturbed by how few traditions we seem to have.  I do believe in the importance of cultural and family touchstones. I do want my children to be able to anticipate what’s to come each year based on the year before. I do want them to have fond memories of their childhood focused around things we do together.

However, I’m beginning to fear I’m going to have to hire those things out to someone more competent.

I wanted to dye Easter eggs.

Is that really too much to ask?

It probably was, considering that in the deepest, most in-denial part of my imagination, the finished eggs looked something like this:

Photo borrowed from the clearly infinitely more talented Avelino Maestas on Flickr.

Spoiler alert: our eggs didn’t look like that.

Let’s go through some reasons why:

  1. I couldn’t be bothered to purchase actual egg dye, or go through the effort of making homemade natural dyes, and opted instead to use the food coloring that had been in the cupboard for, oh, three years.  Food coloring can be used to dye eggs but, as I discovered and you will, too, shortly, it’s not all the subtle. Or pretty. Or easy to blend.
  2. I neglected to do things like “investigate technique,” or “gather supplies,” or “dig any deeper in the junk drawer once I found a single rubber band to use for a stripe.”
  3. I was working with eggs from our chickens, which are not pure white.  Or perfectly smooth. Some of them were actually blue.
  4. I thought that it would be fun to simply paint glitter onto the blue ones. Okay, glitter glue. Okay, glue with big sparkly chunks in it.
  5. The purple didn’t come out purple. The purple came out brown. Apparently red + blue = purple is too difficult an equation for me to follow.
  6. Annabel dropped an egg.
  7. Sam tried to eat an egg.
  8. I attempted to draw a design on one, despite having the hand-eye coordination of a drunken orangutan.
  9. And, oh yes, I was working with two preschoolers.

At the end of an hour I was covered in food coloring with glitter glue in my hair, and this is what we produced.


It’s not quite what I envisioned.

Annabel came around the corner later in the afternoon and peered into the basket. “WOW!” she said. “Those are bee-YOO-ti-ful.”

For a moment I believed her.  I believed that we really had produced something homespun, yes, but essentially lovely.

Then I remembered that this was a girl who dressed herself that day in a shirt with one kind of stripe, a dress with another, a floral print skirt, and leggings with dogs all over them. This is who I’m taking my taste cues from? What does she know?

But maybe she’s onto something. Maybe that’s our Easter tradition: making really crappy crafts, getting glitter everywhere, and pretending that it’s all beautiful in the end.

Nah. She’s only four. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Happy Easter.

I have a history, you might say, with Valentine’s Day.

When I sit down to analyze it, and you know that I do, I find that there are a few different ways to be superior on Valentine’s Day:

1) Effort superiority “Oh, these? It was simple. I raised the goat from birth and then collected the cashmere this past spring.  After I combed the fleece out, I dyed it using berries I picked and crushed myself.  Then I spun it into yarn over the course of a few evenings while my husband read selections of Proust aloud.  I measured all of the children and designed custom pieces for each with consideration to minimizing body flaws as well as accommodating each individual’s resting basal temperature.  Then I just whipped them up.  And–TA-DA!–Valentine’s sweaters for each member of the class! So easy.”

2) Creative superiority “Well, I was just looking at a pile of discarded dryer lint and I thought surely there must be something to do with it. They do make darling, gossamer-like wrappers for these homemade cayenne cherry cordials, don’t they?”

3) Wholesomeness superiority “I didn’t want to give the kids sugar, obviously, so I thought a toy was the way to go. And why buy a plastic toy from China when these perfectly darling wooden cars from sustainably-harvested wood are made by the local toymaker just down the street? He donates all his profits to charity, too.”

4) Above-it-all superiority “I don’t like getting caught up in this hoopla for a made-up holiday, so I just bought some Sponge Bob Valentines from Walgreens. Who has time to worry about this stuff, right?”

I usually wrestle with one or more of these demons each year and I think I was trying to top it all this year with some sort of plan for homemade cards (#1) made with a homemade stamp (#2) and accompanying homemade, heart-shaped sugar cookies (#3).  And, of course, each of these carefully considered items would be just imperfect enough to demonstrate that they were made by the children, not the mother, and thus proving none of this was planned! It just happened! Like magic! Tee hee! (#4)

Yeah, well, you know what happened like magic? A raging, killer stomach virus happened. It started with Sam, then hit Michael, then Annabel, then me, all in such quick succession that we all took a family sick day with everyone in some varying stage of it by Monday. And that is about when I realized that Valentine’s Day was arriving in just a few hours.

In my defense, I at least have been around this block enough times to know that you never attempt to do all of the Valentines in one fell swoop.  Despite my liberal use of a cattle prod to inspire focus, my children do not have the attention span to complete that many cards in one sitting. So we at least had something produced by Monday–paint-splattered paper for Sam and stamped construction paper for Annabel.

Here, Sam, stamp that. Here, Annabel, throw some glitter on those. Here, Cherie, attempt to do wholesome post-dinner baking project with your children in-between severe drops in blood pressure. Here, Michael, take over the entire project when your wife collapses on the kitchen floor because all she’s been able to consume in the last 24 hours is one quarter of a piece of toast.


Annabel’s are the pink, Sam’s are the white, the despair is fully my own. Cookies not included, but we burnt some of them and sent them anyway, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about how little I cared about Valentine’s Day by  9 o’clock on Monday night. Which is when I finished bagging cookies and taping them to the Valentine’s, completely discarded the original plan of tying them into cute little packages with yarn.

I don’t think it was my year.

In case you were wondering, the hot-chocolate-ice-cream-cone lady totally won again.


That’s a Blow Pop flower made from handcut papers with a pipe cleaner stem.

I think I’m just going to outsource Valentine’s Day to her next year.

I can only guess that my deepest, darkest self, the part that’s usually buried under twenty-seven feet of denial and obfuscation, is an optimist. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for why I like New Year’s as much as I do.

I like New Year’s a lot.  Not because of the parties–I don’t think I’ve been to a truly enjoyable New Year’s party since 1999, when I attended a roaring house party mere blocks from the United States Capitol.  I think my theory was that if Y2K was going to launch the world’s nukes, I might as well go in the first round?  I don’t know. I was 24. I’m sure it made sense at the time.

So, no, it’s not the parties, although this year, spent playing card games with my sister and brother-in-law, was pathetically enjoyable. I like New Year’s because of the fresh start aspect; that metaphorical blank notebook is irresistible to me.

Many people get confused about this and think of New Year’s as a time for corrective measures.  Something like, “Boy, I really blew 2011. I’m going to make sure that 2012 doesn’t have all those errors in it.”  Ridiculous thinking, that. Not only will 2012 likely have the same mistakes, it will have brand new ones ready for you. Screw ups you can’t even imagine are lurking just around the corner, folks, and all the vows to eat more vegetables aren’t going to help you there.

(Look, I warned you that my optimistic part was a bit buried.)

I prefer to take a different approach. I like to set a big purpose for the year, some kind of habit I’d like to instill in myself or a big life goal I’d like to work on. I let these themes develop organically over time and usually by the end of December it’s pretty much settled.  I’ll get to my 2012 theme in a second. But first: 2011.  In 2011, I vowed to become a bit more focused on who I was and what I was doing.  As a result, well.

As a result, 2011 was kind of a weird year.

It wasn’t a bad year. I need to qualify that because I know many folks, online and in real life, for whom 2011 was an absolute ankle-kicker of a year.  I am not comparing my year to their years. It wasn’t that way for me.  Really, when you get down to it, nothing about my external life changed much in 2011.  The same basic facts were the same in December as they were in January: same job, same friends, same kids, same husband, same half-built house.  But I think there were a lot of internal changes in 2011. I spent a lot of the year doing very unsettled and antsy navel-gazing, with an especial focus on my excessively neurotic tendency to examine every minute facet of my inner and outer lives by pulling them apart like dryer lint while I look for flaws.

Did you get lost and despairing somewhere in the middle of that last sentence? Good. Then I properly conveyed my mindset for most of 2011.  Feel free to send Michael your sympathies.

But I think I’m just about done with that, mostly because what I learned most about myself and what I’m do is that I’m very annoying.  And that leads me into 2012.

At some point, in the midst of all my fretting and overthinking, it occurred to me that I was spending the majority of my time taking.  I read things, but didn’t write them. I used things, but didn’t make them. I planned things, but didn’t execute them. I thought, but I didn’t do.  That sort of endless taking makes for a bit of a boring world, I’m finding.

That’s why the 2012 theme is: less consumption, more production.  Less taking of the products other people have made, and putting more of my work out there. In short: more writing, making, and doing. Starting here. Starting now.

The 2012 notebook is open. Let’s do this.

One island.

One house.

1200 square feet.

Seven adults.

Four children.

Four dogs.

One bathroom.

(One computer.)

Forty-eight oysters.

Fifteen pounds of steamers.

Three bottles of wine.

One 10 p.m. mildly drunken Christmas tree location shift.

One 5 a.m. wake-up call.

Eleven stockings.

Two hours of present opening.

Forty-six pancakes (or so).

Four pots of coffee.

Four separate walks.

Five naps.

One snowstorm.

Fourteen rounds of Bananagrams.

Still to come:

Thirteen lobsters.

Three more bottles of wine.

Lots and lots and lots of cookies.

Christmas 2011.

By the numbers.

Merry, merry, merry.

Indeed.

Yesterday, in case you missed it, I finished up a long, dull post about my garden.  As I was writing the long, dull post I thought, “It doesn’t matter that it’s long and dull because I’ll write a quick, witty little Halloween update at the end and that will liven everything up!”

And, uh, then I forgot to do that.

So! Halloween! We can still talk about Halloween on November 2nd, right? (I actually don’t care much about your opinion on that matter. Just so we’re clear on our roles in this exchange.)

Remember last Halloween when I couldn’t figure out how to make Annabel’s requested costume and Michael needed to step in at the last second to avoid a scenario in which her costume became Naked Two-Year-Old?  This year, we abandoned that charade completely.  We asked Annabel what she wanted to be, she said, “A pumpkin,” and then Michael nearly ran me over on his way to the fabric store while screaming “I’M MAKING IT.”

I theoretically was in charge of Sam’s costume, a relatively easy scarecrow.  I didn’t come up with that idea. It was suggested by my sister and confirmed by Annabel and Michael. To make his costume, I rifled through the bin of hand-me-downs from other people.

Basically, I outsourced this entire Halloween. If you like homemade Halloween costumes, like me, and you are also breathtakingly lazy, like me, I really cannot recommend this method enough.

Anyway, I present Halloween 2011: the Pumpkin and Scarecrow.

Yes, yes, I know that pumpkin costume is amazing. Feel free to praise Michael extensively in the comments. He deserves it.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a fact I completely forgot until I was standing outside the door to the daycare wondering why there were green footprints on the window.  I am sadly neglectful of the littler holidays, which is why I usually find out on 3 p.m. on Friday when I have a three-day weekend.  In addition to the green holiday, so far this year I’ve forgotten Groundhog Day, President’s Day, and Martin Luther King Day until I was reminded by innumerable Facebook status updates by those folk more on top of American culture.

I try not to think too much about what a disadvantage this puts my kids at, especially Annabel, who does not respond well to newness.  I left her dazed and bewildered amongst a sea of green this morning and I expect to come home to garbled stories about lepekons and green cookies.  Need I even tell you that she was dressed in red and blue, not green? Right.

So that’s St. Patrick’s Day.  Oh, except for one other thing.  March 17th is ALSO Bubba’s birthday.  You may remember* that Bubba is my father-in-law and his harassment was the reason behind beginning this blogging folly in the first place.  So it only seems fitting that I take a moment to wish him a very happy day, indeed, especially since we aren’t in Florida at his annual birthday shindig this year.

My own father passed away when I was 22, so Bubba is the only grandfather that my kids have.  I can tell you honestly that he excels at grandfathering, to the point that I’m kind of glad that he lives thousands of miles away, as if my kids lived nearby he would have them spoiled to within an inch of their lives.  So, even if he weren’t a delightful person, even if he hadn’t raised a really wonderful son, even if he didn’t buy me Cuban coffee each and every morning of our visits, I would love him for his grandfathering alone.

But, of course, I love him for all those other reasons, too.

So say it with me:

Happy Birthday, Bubba!

Annabel and her Pop (and a dumpster) way back in the day.

* A follow-up to that post: when I first put it up Bubba was very sweet about it and then I didn’t hear anything for weeks.  Weeks. Then one day, out of the blue, I got a message on my cell phone from Bubba.  There was a moment of silence and then: “I JUST FOUND OUT WHAT ‘PORTLY’ MEANS.” *click*

See what I mean? You gotta love him.

Some people are competitive.  Some people care a lot about how they measure up against the rest of the world.  I am not competitive.  I don’t really care that much if you are smarter or funnier or better-looking or can run faster.  (I can pretty much guarantee that you can run faster.)  It’s all good.  I’m comfortable in my mediocrity.

But then there’s Valentine’s Day.  I can’t explain what happens to me around Valentine’s Day.

Actually, I can totally explain what happens, or at least why it happens.  The week before Annabel’s first Valentine’s Day at day care, I received a list of all the kids in the center.  I looked at Michael that night and said, “Surely no one is going to bother with valentines for babies. This list is for the parents of older kids.

Valentine’s Day arrived.

We were the only parents who didn’t do valentines for the babies.

We are terrible, terrible people.

I guess I don’t enjoy feeling like a terrible, terrible person, because the next year, I discovered that I had gotten competitive.  So I made homemade glitter cards. I was quite proud of them.

Everyone else did homemade cards plus candy.

Sigh. Mutter. Grump.

It’s okay, fellow parents, I thought.  You want to play?  Oh, I can play.  This year, this year, I was going to make it happen.

I got the glitter paints out.  I made homemade heart stencils.  I planned on making mini-heart shaped sugar cookies but then our oven broke (sabotage, anyone?), so I purchased chocolate instead.  I forced Annabel into endless rounds of valentine making “fun” as first we painted, and then stenciled, and then glued, and then wrote.  And in the end, it was good:

I mean, it wasn’t great.  But for a three-year old who is severely handicapped by the fact that her mother is a Crafting Moron, I thought it wasn’t bad.  Points for authenticity, at least, eh?

I was really looking to score big time points with Sam’s class, though.  First, I felt pretty ahead of the curve because this time I knew that, yes, they really do valentines for the babies.  But I wasn’t sure how I could make a splash with no candy and no little toys and no stickers.  Just a card didn’t seem like enough.  And then it hit me.

How about I knit heart toys for everyone?

Because surely that doesn’t look like a desperate woman who is trying too hard?

When the kids came home tonight, I immediately pounced on their bags.  I’d been anxious all day and I had to know the truth.  Where did I rank in the Great Valentine-off of 2011?

On Annabel’s side, I was strongly holding my own against homemade cuteness and sugar.   And then I saw this:

Well, that’s just ridiculously adorable. It was homemade, contained sugar, and could double as a plaything.  It was like the Valentine’s Day trifecta.

Dang it.

But wait.  Wait.  What is…that?

Oh, you mean the fake ice cream cone filled with hot chocolate mix, chocolate chips, and marshmallows?

I just… I’m totally… I don’t even know what to say about this.

Other than, you are the winner, Ms. Fake Ice Cream Cone Mom.  Big congratulations to you, indeed.  You are the Queen of Craft.

And Sam’s hearts?  Well, they were cute but in the end I’m not sure a bunch of misshapen hearts made from scrap yarn held up against:

Rubber ducky and his glitter heart card.

Fine.  It’s over.  I lose again.

Next year I’m buying everyone ponies.

Just you wait.

At approximately 1 a.m. this morning, after one of the most traumatic travel experiences of my life, we arrived home to a half-dead Christmas tree, several piles of dried-up cat vomit, some exquisitely expired milk in a sippy cup on the counter, and about ten inches of snow.  Which hopefully has melted down a bit since the original storm because all that hysteria for ten inches?  Come on, now.  That’s snow, not SNOOOOWWWW.

I’ll be back after I’m able to stop hugging my living room floor in gratitude and repeating my 700 vows to never travel again, so help me all that is holy.

On a related note, if you happened to be on last night’s Delta flight 1432 from Fort Myers to LaGuardia, especially if you were seated in the front section of the plane somewhere in the vicinity of row 7: I am really, really, really sorry.  Really.

Hey, did you know that we are now in the Christmas season?  At least we are in the Christmas season for those of us who do not subscribe to the delusion that Christmas starts after Thanksgiving.  I wish we could, as a nation, release ourselves from this belief because that is the reason I missed recording How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which aired on November 30th.  Why would any self-respecting network choose to air a Christmas special in November?  Especially that one, which is clearly the best Christmas special and therefore should be seen as close to the actual day of Christmas as possible.  You have to build the anticipation, am I right?

At any rate, even a curmudgeon like me must admit that we are now in the depth of Christmas joy and miracles.  Feel the magic.  Do you feel it?  I feel it, at least I would if I was still in Maine.  But I’m not in Maine.  I am in Florida, which is a lovely state in many regards but is not really (to my taste anyway) conductive to establishing the Christmas je ne sais quoi.  The palm trees with Christmas lights are charming and all, but they don’t really invite thoughts of elves and fat men in fur coats.  Nonetheless.  Here I am, as jolly as I can be under the circumstances.

(And just in case you plan on robbing my house while I’m gone, be warned that I may be gone but several rabid chickens and a couple housesitters of questionable mental stability are lying in wait for potential burglers.)

Although we weren’t going to be there for the big day, because I am all about nurturing family traditions and filling my house with tree sap I made sure that we decked our halls before we left.  If by “halls” you mean “that little corner of the living room where we stuffed a scrawny tree” which of course I do.

Scrawny trees are sort of our specialty.  We used to go to a cut-your-own-tree place and that was fun and reasonably priced and we liked them.  But then we bought this property and built this house.  Buying this property and building this house did two things: it took every penny that we had and it provided us with three-and-a-half acres of pathetic-looking spruce trees.  Both of these facts rendered the perfectly nice trees at the perfectly nice cut-your-own-tree place completely superfluous.  So now, instead of driving somewhere for a perfectly nice tree, we bundle up and go hunting for a scrawny tree.

Michael and Annabel survey their domain.

Some years it takes us a really long time to find a tree that isn’t crooked or too big or too small or three-quarters naked.  This year it only took us about 15 minutes.


Sam and I fake helping. Yes, I do need more sleep.  Thank you for noticing.

As with most things house-related, during these little seasonal adventures Michael bears the brunt of actual work while the children and I contribute via non-helpful suggestions and zero-attention span.  Eventually, though, we do locate and cut down a tree.  Okay, fine, Michael locates and cuts down a tree.


Annabel is totally helping via supportive commentary.

And that’s how we select our scrawny tree every year.  It’s really okay that our tree isn’t up to snuff, though, because our tree decorations are pretty awful, too.  I insist on following the flawed belief that art and home decor and tree decorations should grow through an organic method, meaning that we don’t actively seek them out in your typical like-and-purchase way.  We make them, or are given them, or wait for them to spontaneously materialize from the staticky bits of fluff that cling to us all winter.  This sounds very wholesome and down home, I know, but really it just means that our tree looks like crap.  Every year, without fail, it looks like the white trash cousin of a real, perfectly nice Christmas tree.  It looks like a dog with mange who got trapped in a craft store.  It looks like the Charlie Brown tree before the miracle of the Christmas story and a Vince Guaraldi soundtrack made it beautiful.  We have no delusion that our tree is beautiful.  It’s not beautiful.  But it is our tree.

If you want to get philosophical about it, you could say that this annual exercise in ugliness helps us pass on one of our cherished values to our children: that the most beautiful things in the world aren’t the perfectly nice things that you can buy, but instead are the perfectly imperfect things that come from love.  But mostly I think it just teaches them that I am a cheap Yankee and I don’t want to pay for a dead tree or crap that sits in my attic for 11 months out of the year.

And that’s okay, too.

What do I care?  I’m in Florida.

Merry Christmas.  May your holidays be perfectly imperfect in every way.