I have enough adorable kid photos to fill a recycling bin.

When did Christmas cards become all about photos of people’s kids?

This is really two different things, in my mind. One is that so few people even send Christmas cards anymore. I know they’re a pain in the ass. Every year I think, “Oh, I can write Christmas cards while I wait for the laundry/cookies/dinner/this show on TV,” and every year I get halfway through and think, “Why the hell does it take so long to write some Christmas cards?!” But it’s tradition, and I think it’s lovely to actually spring for the $0.46 (and whatever the breakdown cost is for the card and envelope) to let someone know I’m thinking of them during this season.

As of right now, I have received 15 cards. That’s it. How sad is that? Granted, a lot of my friends and family are last-minute types, so maybe I’ll get a few more in the coming days, but I’m going to bet that I top off at 25, outside. Which means that half the people I send cards to don’t return the greeting. (I’m pretty sure that half the cards I’ve received only came because they got mine first.)

I haven’t even gotten a card from my parents yet.

Of the 15 cards I’ve received, eight are collages of kids. The only cards that came with art and not snapshots of precious children are the ones that came from people who don’t have children.

Here’s the irony: 20 years ago, these photo cards would have been grand. You know why? Because it would actually have been a year since I’ve seen some of these kids. I wouldn’t have been force-fed photos semi-weekly on social media since the day they were born. I have actually seen these kids grow up. Which means I have no need for photos of them in my mailbox.

Except my nephews and my niece. I’ll take those.

It’s not that I don’t like children; regular readers know that I do. It’s just that I don’t like narcissism. (And I have noted before the irony of disliking narcissism while being a blogger.) And I thought, for a while, that it was an affordability issue, but then I looked it up and it turns out… these cards are way more expensive than the photo-less ones I buy at a store. Way more!

I realize that many of you who are reading this right now might be photo-card-senders. Please understand that I don’t dislike the people who send them. I love them; that’s why I get cards from them, and why they get cards from me. But I guess I’m kind of old-fashioned in addition to being childless. I guess that means I don’t get it. When I was a kid, parents didn’t brag that much about their children. When my parents were kids, parents mostly thought their children were horrible burdens and gaping mouths clamoring to be fed.

It was a simpler time.

My cousin, who is single and childless (and 41 and has never moved out of her parents’ house, but I digress) also sent a photo collage card… but it was a collage of places she traveled to this year. She’s always been a little all about Eve, but once I got past that, I couldn’t help but like the idea. “In your face, Parents of Adorable Offspring. Did you get to go anywhere besides the grocery store this year? Nope.”

So, though I love all the kids who are peering happily at me from the meager string of cards I’ve collected, I’d like to ask that people do two things next Christmas:
1. Send an actual card
2. Try to make it about something other than themselves and their kids

Feel free to tell me I’m an asshole in the comments section.

Like Taking Wine From A Baby’s Mama

I’m still getting used (I just tried to spell that “youst.” True story.) to the holiday festiveness of my new job. Today was the office Christmas party, complete with a baked goods contest and a white elephant gift exchange. Yes, a Christmas party. There was food that didn’t come out of a vending machine and by “party” I don’t mean merely “group of people working at the same time and eating simultaneously,” which is what “office party” meant in my old career.

Unfortunately, the white elephant exchange made me slightly violent, which may have spoiled the festivities a bit for me.

I didn’t participate in the gift exchange because I
         A) forgot about it; and
         2) didn’t go buy something for it.
So I got to watch, which was perfectly fine because I had already totally beasted a game of holiday-themed Taboo in which my VP, who had apparently never heard of nor played the game before, had totally bombed. She’s very competitive, so she was kind of pissed about it. Then she said something about hating angels because they’re dead babies. Which made me reevaluate my entire concept of what angels are. And made me plot to decorate her office with angels.

It was kind of a weird party.

Anyway, there were some pretty nice gifts in this exchange, including a bottle of sangria, a bottle of limoncello, a bottle of Bailey’s and a bottle of merlot. And I was sitting next to a coworker who is exactly no days away from her due date to deliver a child that she, quite frankly, looks terribly uncomfortable lugging around internally at this point. Friday she thought she was going to have him because he was breech and the docs decided to try to move him, but since that comes with a risk of elevated fetal stress, they also planned to induce her if there was a problem. She had gotten all psyched up to deliver, one way or another, and then she got to the doc and found out he’d flipped to head-down position and now she just has to wait him out. 

The woman needs a drink. Is what I’m saying.

So it was pretty great when she scored the bottle of sangria in the gift exchange.

But then Marty, having been relieved of his original gift and stuck with a stuffed school mascot, came over and took the wine away from the pregnant lady.

I did not make that up.

Marty is kind of an ass on a regular day, so if anybody was going to do this, it was going to be him. He’s affable enough, but he’s a blowhard and he is also, by virtue of a weird inter-divisional galactic hiccup, my client. For the most part we do just fine with each other, but it’s crap like this that makes me realize what a spazz he really is. 

When he triumphantly swiped the sangria from Ellen and replaced it with the stuffed school mascot he didn’t want, the entire room groaned as if to say, “Wow. You just did that.”

The game continued, with my artsy friend Dwight enamored with his Circle of Wetlands Creatures Holding Flippers Around a Candle candle holder (he walks to work and we had decided he should light the candle and then walk slowly home in the dark with it as though it were some sort of hippie-nature-commune-of-one parade for peace) and my boss struggling to open a package (the entire room watched him for what seemed like an endless three full minutes as he battled a curling ribbon without success). Something like seven people later, I was still stewing about Marty’s low move. Work Husband Rob and I schemed. Non-participants ourselves, maybe we could get someone to collude with us so Ellen could get her bottle back.

 “Psst. Donna,” I whispered across the table. “Donna! Donna!” 

Donna turned.

“When it’s your turn, are you willing to play along and take Ellen’s mascot so she can go get her sangria back from Marty?”

Donna winked. “Sure.”

Hehehehe.

Like thirty-two rounds later, it was Donna’s turn. “Gimme your mascot,” she said to Ellen with a smile.

“Go get your wine, girl!” I said.

Interestingly, though Ellen has had some trouble walking lately, she did not have any problem wobbling the length of the large conference room to get that sangria back from Marty, to the hoots and applause of the rest of the room’s occupants.

But two rounds later, another coworker (one who is not an ass), took the sangria.

You guys. What the hell?

These were childless men taking the sangria from the pregnant woman, by the way. Because of course.

So Ellen went trolling and found the bottle of merlot, which she swiped from the new guy who just started in the web department two days ago. And everyone applauded, including, by the way, the new guy who just started in the web department two days ago. 

Content with her merlot, Ellen situated herself in her chair again in whatever position was possibly less-than-miserable.

Two rounds later, we came to the end of the game… the part where the person who picked the first gift gets last dibs. Well, guess who had picked the first gift.

You got it. Marty. Marty, who, after several rounds of vindictive communal swiping in retaliation for his dick move with the sangria, found himself saddled with a bag full of stupid gag gifts.

“I swear to God,” I said to Ellen and Rob, “if he comes over here looking for that wine, I’m smacking his hand.”

The rat bastard came back and took Ellen’s merlot.

I smacked his hand and it had no effect.

You would think that, the first time you swipe a bottle of wine from a dilating woman, you’d learn to read the room. The faces of all persons gathered for Festivus reflected the same thought: “Really asshole? Really? Twice, you’re going to do that?”

You know what, Marty? Noted. Noted.

I looked at Rob across the table, rolled my eyes and said, “It’s really a wonder that he’s still single at the age of 46.”

But there was salvation at hand—as there always is on Christmas. Remember my friend Dwight, with the woodland creatures candle holder? He won the award for Best Baked Good in the blind taste test. Said award was a bottle of pink bubbly, which seemingly would suit him really well, except for the fact that Dwight has a deteriorating spine and is on medications so hard-core that he may be in violation of a few laws. Which means he can’t drink or he’ll die.

So he gave his bottle of bubbly to Ellen.

SCORE! Take THAT, Marty!

Naturally, I had a meeting with Marty right after the festivities were over. I was so seriously annoyed with him for being a douche rocket that I could barely speak. (I am apparently a little too invested in this matter.) But then as the meeting really got rolling, I started putting out a few ideas and he loved them. After a while, he told me I was on a roll.

“You know what?” he said. “Here. You win this for your ideas.”

And he handed me the bottle of merlot he had stolen from Ellen.

I played it cool. I didn’t want him to know what I was going to do with it. I acted like I didn’t really want it. I left it on the table between us, half-sure that he would take it at the end of the meeting. But wouldn’t you know… he picked it up off the table and handed it to me again. “This is yours,” he said.

And I walked that bottle of wine right over to Ellen.

Girlfriend went home with the merlot and the pink bubbly.

Hurry up, baby boy. Mama needs a cocktail.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

My sister had sent me a picture of a child’s drawing. It was a little disturbing. This is what it was:

Yowza.

Yowza.

She told me she and my mother had discovered it in a pile of drawings my grandmother had kept since all her grandkids were little. It was in with all the other stuff my sisters and I had drawn, colored or made. This was in the 1984 section. But this was the only thing that didn’t have a name or a date on it. I know that the fiery stick on the left is either a cigarette or a match. I’m fairly sure the red-glowing stick on the right is a cigar, meant for my grandfather. I have no idea what the thing at the top is. A car cigargette lighter on a tripod? A bull’s eye?

And what had they won?

My grandparents were smokers. Actually, to say my grandmother was a smoker is an understatement. My grandmother was basically a human cigarette. A chain-smoker so serious about her nicotine fix that it had to be constant. She smoked four packs a day. That she got emphysema was no surprise. That she never got cancer is astounding.

Sister 1 is fairly convinced that I must have been the one who made this painting. I would have been seven in 1984. But I’m not at all sure it was me. First, I’m certain that I knew there was no H in “want.” Secondly, I’ve never made my Gs that way. Third, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have double-punctuated.

Even at seven, I was a bit of a grammarian.

I think one of my cousins was behind this, and it somehow got mixed in with my sisters’ and my stuff.

The bittersweet irony of this discovery is that my grandmother, in addition to emphysema, also had Alzheimer’s. By the time she was in her early 70s (when I was in my mid- to late-teens), she wouldn’t have even known she had stashed drawings away. She would have looked at them as though she’d never seen them before. She would have stared at her handwriting on the backs, with names and dates carefully kept, and had no idea the handwriting was hers.

Those precious (and discomfiting) memories she’d saved had all been lost, despite her care. Left for her adult grandchildren to find more than a decade after her death. Left for us to try to interpret. Memories have become mysteries.

This is the final post in my Twelve Days of Christmas series. As those who read it last year may recall, I used it to be mindful of the gifts I received every day. I have done the same this time.

The First Day: Memories

The Second Day: Comfort

The Third Day: Grace

The Fourth Day: Patience

The Fifth Day: Books

The Sixth Day: Hope

The Seventh Day: Perspective

The Eighth Day: Aspiration

The Ninth Day: Bounty

The Tenth Day: Simple Pleasure

The Eleventh Day: Inventiveness

The Twelfth Day: Mystery

These series have given me a gift of their own: the ability to look back and find a gift in something that seemed mundane or even irritating at the time.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Ephipany: the day the Three Kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, following the star to his manger.

May 2013 provide you all with a star to follow, so you may find your gifts, and give them to those who are worthy.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, lunch took seven hours.

The plan was really kind of ridiculous from the start: Mom would drive down to Aunt Beth’s house to pick her up, then drive over to NJ so she could sign some retirement paperwork at her investment guy’s office, not far from Sister 2’s house. Then they’d pick up Sister 2 and Youngest Neph and go to lunch. I went along because I was visiting to spend quality holiday time with family.

As you may remember from the Third Day of Christmas, my mother has become a terrible driver. It should take about 30 minutes to get to Aunt Beth’s house from my parents’. But there was a road closure and my mother’s head exploded all over the inside of her CR-V, which took a while to clean up, and so the 30-minute ride turned into 75 minutes and, unbelievably, a dose of Dramamine. (I can drive forever and not get sick, but if someone else is driving, I’m on the clock for 90 minutes. Half that if there’s a lot of stop-and-go. And with my mother lately, there is a lot of braking.)

“Why don’t we go back to Route 1 and take it down to Rhawn?” I suggested lightly. I knew my mother would know where she was going from there.

“Because it’s too far out of the way,” she responded as though being out of the way was the worst thing ever.

Let’s review. We were driving down to my aunt’s house, 30 minutes from my parents’ house, “on the way” to go to lunch with my sister in New Jersey, in order to avoid taking two cars across the bridge. Because that would be silly. Going straight to my sister’s house from my parents’ house takes 45 minutes. Getting there from my aunt’s house takes 45 minutes. So we’re already going 30 minutes out of our way and using probably $3.50 in gas one way for the sake of saving $3 in bridge tolls and maybe $1.50 in gas round-trip.

Secondly, how are you “out of the way” if you are, in fact, getting exactly where you’re trying to go in a manner with which you are quite familiar, as opposed to wandering anxiously around roads you don’t know, occasionally in the wrong direction? But avoiding going “out of the way” was a recurring excuse for bad driving in the last 24 hours. I held my tongue.

About 60 minutes into our 75 minute tension-filledbut for the love of God, not out of our way jaunt to Aunt Beth’s, my sister called. “What is going on? Why aren’t you guys there yet?”

“How did you know we’re not there?” I asked as my mother made a terrible and sudden left onto a side street. “Philmont Avenue was closed. We had to recalculate. I’ve been trying to call her to tell her.”

“Aunt Beth called the house,” my sister replied.

It was official: logic had been collectively abandoned. “Why the hell did she call the house and not Mom’s cell phone? And why isn’t she answering her phone?”

“She’s been outside cleaning out her car.” Such efficiency. Cleaning out your car to make that time spent worrying that your sister-in-law is dead on the side of the road a little more productive. And also make it impossible for your sister-in-law to call you and tell you not to worry that she’s dead on the side of the road. If my head didn’t wind up going through the windshield at some point on this drive, I might start banging it on the dashboard.

Opportunity knocked. My mother suddenly decided to turn left into a parking lot, prompting the long bleat of a horn as another car came up and rocketed past her on that side.

“Okay, I gotta go, Mom’s going to kill us,” I told my sister brightly. “Talk to you later.”

Finally we arrived at Aunt Beth’s, who began insisting that we blow off the paperwork she needed to sign since we had been so late, and instead just go get my sister for lunch. The whole point of my mother and aunt going to New Jersey was to get that paperwork taken care of; lunch with my sister was the bonus. Now we weren’t going to accomplish the paperwork, which meant my aunt would have to drive over another time, very possibly with my mother, and God only knew who would be collected in the carnage along the way.

I tried to tell them that my sister wouldn’t be ready for us to arrive yet, but they didn’t want to listen until I texted her and she told me she was naked and about to get into the shower. That convinced them to go accomplish the whole point of the trip first. Phew.

The paperwork thing took like seven minutes. I got out of the car to stretch, still nursing my back and very aware that I’d been sitting in a car for an hour and 45 minutes now.

Finally: lunch. Afterward, back at Sister 2’s house, Mom requested a duet with my sister on piano and me on vocals: “Memory” from Cats and “O Holy Night.” Don’t ask me why “Memory” has become a Christmas tradition in my family. It’s to do with my father wanting it sung at his funeral, and Christmastime being a traditional time for music-making. We can’t do the song at Dad’s funeral because we’re Catholic and it’s not a sacred piece, and also because it’s our dad and he would be dead and we probably wouldn’t be in the mood to sing and play. But in fairness, the song is from Cats, and that show itself is fairly deadly. And now every time I hear it, I think of my father’s eventual demise. Super-inspiring. Very Holiday.

Finally, we got back to Mom and Dad’s house. We had left for paperwork and lunch at 9:30am. We got back to the house at 4:30pm.

And then I had a martini and wondered how many lives I’d used up on that trip.

 

On the Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, I realized where I got my trust issues.

It was a girls’ night out – just Mom, my three sisters and me. Mom had gotten us tickets to see “A Christmas Carol” up on the campus of Princeton University at a place called McCarter Theater. We were having dinner first. But Mom had never been there and really wasn’t sure about directions. Her computer was giving her trouble.

Enter trust issues.

Mom had fretted about the directions since before we got in the car. I had told her we could use the navigator on my phone, no problem. She wanted me to look up the directions that way 30 minutes before we left. And I would have, just to put her at ease, but I didn’t have my charger and I didn’t want to run down the battery too soon. My phone gives turn-by-turn directions and directions in list form, but I had figured turn-by-turn might be better if she found herself anxious in an unfamiliar area. Still, even in the car, as I tapped in the address on my phone, Mom was impatient. “I want to take Route 1,” she said.

“Okay,” I said as I plugged in the information. 

“Well, where does it say to go?”

“Well just get on Route 1 and we’ll go from there.”

The tires nearly screeched as she slammed on the brakes. In the middle of a populated road. “I’m not going any farther until I know where I’m going!”

What the…?

“Mom,” from both myself and Sister 3, in the backseat. She’d nearly been thrown into the windshield. 

I knew that explaining to my mom that the phone would give live directions from wherever we were, so that it was literally impossible to get lost, would only make her feel like I was talking down to her. It was enough that I had told her she has a navigation system on her iPhone. “It’s not hooked up,” she had replied, and I had had to keep myself from telling her it doesn’t need to be.

“Just get on Route 1,” I said again.

There was much second-guessing of the Google navigation on my phone, which has never erred. “Route 1 splits. It goes to New York or it stays in New Jersey. Which one does it say to take?”

I have to edit myself a lot around my mother. I didn’t say, “Well… we’re in New Jersey and we’re staying in New Jersey…” I said, “You’ve got it right. Just stay here.”

*******

–Braking!–

 

“This says Bank Street. I thought we were supposed to be on University.”

“It becomes Bank.”

*******

–Braking!–

“How am I supposed to go straight? There is no straight.”

“Yes there is. Look, see across this road here, that little street there?”

“That one?”

“Yep.”

“But I can’t get down that street.”

I didn’t say, “Mom, see the speed limit sign? See the other car going down that street? It’s not as narrow as it looks.” Instead I said, “Sure you can,” in a deliberately light and airy tone which I cannot believe she ever, ever buys, because it does take effort and she has to be able to tell that it takes effort even though I try to make it sound like it does not take any effort.

We managed to get to Palmer Square. It’s a lovely little village full of shops and not full of parking. We got there at 5:03pm, 27 minutes ahead of the time we were meeting Sisters 1 & 2. But we didn’t walk into the restaurant for 30 minutes, because of the angsting over the parking. Note: I did not say we couldn’t find parking. I said there was angsting.

 

First there was the agony of the parallel spot. I know everyone thinks they’re a better driver than whomever they’re riding with, but really. Very herky-jerky with the gas and the brake. I kept bracing myself and trying not to insult her by looking like I was bracing myself. A casual bracing. Nonchalant preparation for impact. “Oh, I’m just gonna put my hands here and lean my head against the headrest because I’m so relaxed by your constant brake-jamming. Oh, by the way, when did you become such a horrible driver?” 

Thirty-two unnecessary adjustments later, we get into the spot, and there’s a meter. My mother reads the sign aloud. My mother reads every sign aloud. She gets that from her mother. All women strive, be it wisely or not, to never become our mothers, and so I have sworn I will never read signs aloud. Nor will I hum a non-existent song or “do do do” silently so that the only sound anyone hears is my tongue clicking against the spot where my teeth meet my hard palate.

So she reads the sign aloud, muttering time limits and expanses and conditions. What it boils down to is that the meters are running for another two hours and 45 minutes, but there’s a two-hour limit on the spot. Which shouldn’t be a problem, because we have to drive from the restaurant to the theater, so we’re not staying in the spot longer than two hours anyway.

But there is great angst. There is much change-counting (requests only for quarters, refusing to hear that the meters take dimes and nickels, too, even though I offer them). Then there is a heavy sigh and a trek into an art shop for change. I watch my mother walk into the store.

“Ohmygod,” I heave as I lean my head against the window.

“Right?” comes from Sister 3 in the back.

“She’s exhausting!” I say.

“I know,” from behind me. 

“The braking?”

“I know!”

“Seriously?”

“Really.”

“You can’t just stop on a highway, Mom.” 

“Oh, but she did.”

Ten minutes later, Mom comes out and tells us about the very nice woman in the art shop who didn’t give her change, but did give her a free pass for a parking garage around the corner. Lovely. We go. 

“Lot full,” Mom reads the sign aloud. 

More angsting. “Should we just go back around and try our luck at that spot again?” We don’t answer because there is no good answer. My mother thinks out loud, particularly when her daughters are around, and truly every single thought she’d had in her head for the last 40 minutes had been spoken. I’m used to this, but I still don’t know when I’m supposed to respond and when I’m not. She pulled into the driveway of the lot and suddenly – 

— braking! —

“I don’t want to park here. I can’t park here.”

No reason. Just.. can’t.

Instead of driving around the lot to pull out head-first, she backed out of the driveway, nearly getting hit by another car (more braking). 

After we finally did park in another garage, and had dinner, and all piled into Sister 2’s Highlander to ride together to the theatre (no time limit on the garage), we really enjoyed the production of “A Christmas Carol.” I particularly loved the costumes, the sets, and the intermission when we realized there were two women who appeared just as pregnant as Sister 2, sitting in the row behind us. One of them asked my sister how far along she was.

“Oh, about 31 1/2 weeks,” she said.

“Oh, that’s what I would have guessed!” replied the other pregnant woman brightly.

“How about you?” my sister asked politely, figuring they were the same.

“Oh, I’m actually 37 weeks.” A coy eye roll and smile.

My sister’s eyes popped. “WHAT?!?!” she shrieked. Not quietly. In a theater. She pouted the rest of the show, gap-legged with her hands folded atop my little niece’s grow-chamber. She later admitted she had forgotten her line, which, of course, is, “Oh, you look so great! Good luck! Wow, hope you don’t go into labor during the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future! Hahaha!”  

Heading back to my parents’ house, Mom followed Sister 1. Sister 1 did not go back to the house the same way we had come. Instead, she got on I-95.

— Braking! —

(A groan from Sister 3 in the backseat.)

“We’re on 95?!”

“Yes,” I replied. 

“I wanted to take Route 1!” Mom declared.

A few miles later, Sister 1 pulled over to the side of the road and put on her flashers. Immediately, Mom thought the worst. Something was horribly wrong. “Is something wrong? Is she sick? Does she have a flat tire? Is her car dead? Oh, God…” Muttering, muttering, gloom and doom, horrors… we’ll all be killed here, obviously…

(Sister 1 had gotten a parking ticket and just spotted it affixed to the windshield on the passenger side. She stopped to grab it so it didn’t fly away. That’s all.)

Now I was glad I had stayed with my mother. Sister 1 had offered to have me ride home with her, but I wondered if Mom was comfortable getting there. Turns out, my suspicion was right. Mom didn’t know how to get to the house from here. It wasn’t tricky – my parents live right off of I-95. Mom can get there just fine coming from the south. This was the third time in the day that she was nervous about getting somewhere she knows how to get to. 

So I guided her back, careful not to sound – even to her – like I was at all surprised that she wasn’t sure. But I guided her down to an exit lower than she’d needed, figuring it was easier and much more familiar to her once she exited. 

“I should have gotten off back there,” she bemoaned as though she’d just lost a chance to donate a vital organ to a family member. “Oh my God, I’m sooo far down!”

I looked in the mirror at Sister 3, who just rolled her eyes and smacked herself in the head soundlessly. From where we were, it was two miles to my parents’ house. I wondered why all the drama.

The Ghost of Christmas Future revealed that next time? I’m driving.

 

 

 

On the Second Day of Christmas

At some meager hour of the second day of Christmas, I heard the freezing rain hitting the windows. I probably grimaced in my bed. After sun-up, when I got up and made my way to coffee, I saw the fat flakes falling at an awfully quick rate. It looked so pretty, but I kind of groaned again, wondering how much snow we would get (I hadn’t seen a guess at accumulation) and whether it would be fairly impossible to get out of my parking pad in the muck. Then it switched back to freezing rain. And then a mix. A mix of ick.

I debated calling in sick, since my back was still crooked with spasm and I wasn’t at all confident I’d be able to get to the car and clean it off without going down hard and shattering something made of calcium or cartilage. But then my phone dinged and I learned that the Chinese food Christmas feast had poisoned a coworker. Crab wontons. Now I had to do her job instead of mine.

So much for the fantasy of nursing my spine, watching movies and eating soup.

So much for fantasies in general, apparently, if that’s what gets me excited these days. Sheesh.

Well, wait a minute, I realized. That’s not how it has to be. Maybe I can at least partly save that really pathetic fantasy.

After treading very carefully down my marble front steps with a tray of cookies in one hand and the iron railing gripped in the other to deliver cookies to a neighbor, I got back in the door, took off my wet shoes and pulled up “The Family Stone” on my DVR. As it began, I heated up a can of Progresso chicken noodle. And then I settled down to seek proper lumbar support and spend an hour with Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes (my celebrity lookalike, as several opinions go) and Craig T. Nelson, throwing forks and accusations and meaningful glances at each other. There is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold, walking sock-footed, wrapping up in a blanket and warming yourself from the inside out. I got to hang out just long enough for the mucky mix to switch over to rain, sluicing some of the heavy snow off the car to help me out with the clearing job.

I got out of the parking pad without incident. I made it through the lengthened work day without too many grunts of pain alarming the coworkers. And later, I got to take in one of my favorite events of the year: The Kennedy Center Honors on CBS… a blatant, gluttonous, indulgent display of the best artistry in the country.

And also Kid Rock.

Who I didn’t hate if I had my eyes closed.

The day turned out less painful than I’d feared, on all fronts.

On the First Day of Christmas

I was on the road at midnight when the day turned from Christmas Eve to Christmas, crossing into Pennsylvania. An hour later, I very quietly – I mean really, really quietly, entered my parents’ house, determined not to stir Twin Nephs and prompt them to come out asking if Santa had arrived. Instead I found their mother, Sister 1, framed in an idyllic scene. She slept peacefully on the brown leather couch, covered in a red blanket and backlit by the string of white lights that decorated the mantle where the creche awaited the baby Jesus. She had waited up for me… or tried. I took a picture in my mind before I gently woke her so she could go to bed.

The Norman Rockwell moments continued in slightly different charm as I bedded down with Sister 3. Others may have been dreaming of a white Christmas. Sister 3 was apparently dreaming of karate. I was a crooked jerky jockey who had driven her crooked hoss with a back kinked by muscle spasm, only to share a bed with Twitchy McGee for six hours of short winter’s naps interrupted by cautious repositioning on my part and wild fits of flopping on hers. 

Still, it was Christmas, and we were glad to be together.

At “seven zewo zewo” on the digital clock, Twin Nephs stormed the bedroom with trumpeted announcements of Santa’s visit. Neph 1 forcibly removed the covers from my person and demanded that I arise. He’s much more of a morning person than his brother, who is usually very quiet upon waking, but not today. Today was not an occasion for quiet upon waking.

Presents, presents, presents! Santa knew the twins had been good boys this year. Amazingly, the first gift that garnered screams of joy from Neph 1 was a safety helmet. Neph 2 was less impressed, but feigned happiness for his brother’s benefit. Neph 1, weeks before, had demanded that someone “take these crazy things off me!” after his first try at roller skating. Neph 2, ever different from his brother, had kissed pavement 10 minutes in and scored a goose egg on his head, only to jubilantly request another go. 

Neph 1 was worried for his brother’s safety. Hence the helmets. But they’ll get other use as well, since my parents gave the boys their first training-wheeled bikes for Christmas. Out on the deck in the cold after all the other gifts were opened, the grown-ups waited with cameras at the ready in various stages of pajama’d dress, looking like fools for ten minutes while the twins found shoes to put over their footie PJs and coats to don, though they knew not why. They payoff was a bit of a letdown, since the boys didn’t shriek with joy, but they did try to ride around the deck for a bit before breakfast.

After the holiday strata and a dose of my father’s Naprosyn, I hit the showers. I only had until 11:30 before I needed to leave for my road trip to work. Sister and BIL 2, along with Youngest Neph, arrived with 30 minutes to spare. Youngest Neph cared nothing for opening my gift; he had fallen asleep on the way over the river to grandmother’s house and now was feeling grumpy. No matter; his red fuzzy blanket sleepered self was all I needed to see.

The day at work was light and we made merry with a “Christmas Story” theme, one coworker donating a leg lamp and all of us paying our own way for Chinese food to be delivered, since the company couldn’t scrounge up a few bucks to provide for us. I settled for bits of carrot and peas (which I don’t even like) in my chicken fried rice instead of red and green sugar sprinkles for the Christmas repast. Late, I carried my crooked self home with music from my favorite mix of choral arrangements before capping the holy night with a video chat to friends in Australia and a glass of wine by the tree.

Then I Rockwelled myself up the steps and into my otherwise unoccupied bed for a long winter’s nap this time, glad of a long day of cheer, and the gift of anti-inflammatories and ice packs.

Heavenly peace.

Merry Lead-Up

I am sitting at my kitchen table, looking out at my festive and merry living room with its golden light cast about by the white ones on the tree and the standing one in the corner and the frosted ones in the Dickens Village houses and their reflection off the yellow painted wall. I am under a kind of spotlight from above the counter-bar behind me. The kitchen window is open a couple of inches to cool the house down from its stuffy 72 degree temperature after having the oven on for the last four hours. It reminds me of winter holidays at my grandparents’ house, when they did the same thing.

I am so damned tired. I yawned tremendously, four times in three minutes while folding laundry a little while ago.

There. I did it again.

But a it’s good tired. (Except for writing. I had “it’s” and “a” transposed in that sentence just then. And then I tried to spell “except” with a pound sign.) I’ve been on vacation this week, which is glorious. I mean that fact itself is enough to make angels burst into song. Fine, the angels don’t give a crap. I’m the one bursting into song. The angels are working overtime right now and kind of resent my absence with pay.

So first one of my besties from college, Joey, came to visit. We dined late on Friday after his arrival, at a cute little French bistro where the onion soup named for its nation was over-salted (and that’s saying something), but the ambiance was lovely and the boeuf bourguignon was divine. The next morning we sipped coffee as he flung open my front door and sang a song to the neighborhood.

I’m not kidding.  He’s like that. Gay playwrights are like that. Not to generalize.

We baked his grandmother’s thought-to-be-complex-but-actually-only-four-ingredients cookies and strolled through the park to the kicky little hipster coffee shop on the other side for a cuppa joe and a grand conversation with the baristo.  We traipsed through a couple of sections of my fun city, popping into shops along the way, trying on fetching and/or ridiculous hats, for example. We perused an appropriately grungy and hip record shop. And then we ducked into a restaurant for dinner, which was fanfreakingtastic as I expected.

I love love love finding new places to eat in tucked-away locales with friends. They are so impressed with me when I do this, because I’ve planned to go here, I’ve mentioned the name. But really I’m totally just using them as guinea pigs for my gastric galavanting. Win-win.

When Joey left on Sunday, I had a day with relatively little to do.

Just that one.

I watched football and read. A book. Lots of pages of it. It’s really good.

Monday and Tuesday I baked and waited for the various repair-type people to come repair things. On Monday night I watched “The Polar Express.” Twice. Because I needed some transportive magic, and that one does it for me every time. Tuesday I had friends over for dinner – my fettuccine Alfredo from scratch, which I make once a year and only once a year because if I make it more than that my arteries will slam shut and I’ll die. After my friends left, I put on “Elf,” saw the first ten minutes and fell asleep through the rest of it. How is it that you always wake up right when it’s over and the DVD is playing the menu screen on a loop?

Wednesday, Sister 2 came with Youngest Neph (BIL 2 was working), and we hung out and went to see crazy Christmas light displays that I’d tried to take Joey to but he’d pitched a nutty about sitting in traffic and we turned around and went home. Sis and I ate up the wonder on my nephew’s sweet toddler face while he “whoaed” and “wowed” and “dis is amazinged” down the street. Then we had dinner and watched “While You Were Sleeping” because we love that movie and we always laugh out loud at the very best part, which is like five seconds of a newspaper delivery kid riding his bike, flinging a paper and falling over. She drank ah glass of pinot noir, her 32-week-pregnant self very happy to sip it slowly with the doctor’s permission.

When they left this afternoon, I resumed baking and doing laundry (washer’s working! Huzzah!) All baking comes with Christmas music from either Pandora or the cable TV channel or CDs. And that comes with me snap-scatting around the kitchen with Frank and Johnny and Michael Buble’ (they play way too much of him on Pandora). I was just pulling a dozen oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies out of the oven when there was a knock on the door and the declaration of a UPS man’s presence. Holy Fast Delivery, Batman: it was the two replacement wine glasses I’d ordered from Crate & Barrel Tuesday night after I’d shattered a second one of the four I had. They arrived in less than 48 hours.

Clearly, the folks at Crate & Barrel are aware that the world is ending tomorrow and some of us need our wine glasses pronto.

The UPS guy commented on how great the cookies smelled, so I offered him one. He totally wanted it, but he checked his watch and said he didn’t have time.

I don’t know what that meant. When I say, “Do you want one?” do you take that to mean “Please come in, sit down and have a leisurely chew?”

So instead, I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed two from the cooling rack and handed them to him through the door, with a “Merry Christmas” and a smile. He took a bite and groaned with pleasure as he walked away.

UPS guy was kinda hot, by the way. And so I fleetingly wondered what Brown can do for me as I walked back to tend my oven.

And now I’m sitting. Sitting and enjoying. And thinking. I have one more day off before it’s back to the usual grindstone, working through Christmas and all. I still have some Christmas gifts to buy, and I have cookie trays to assemble and deliver. And I have a few more movies to watch in order to complete my holiday traditions.

But that to-do list makes me smile. I’m glad I find so much pleasure in the things that lead up to Christmas, since I so often have to work on the holiday and miss that one day’s shining moments. More and more, it’s about the lead-up, for me.

Merry Lead-Up, all.

For Planning Purposes, Vis-A-Vis Your True Love

It’s entirely too early for this, since the 12 Days of Christmas don’t actually begin until Christmas Day. But in case you were saving up or trying to budget, I thought I’d share a little financial info with you. The 12 Days of Christmas Gifts? Are freaking expensive.

The folks at PNC Wealth Management, having, evidently, absolutely nothing else to do despite this cliff we seem to be hovering over, have worked out how much the 12 Days of Christmas Gifts would cost.

Hint: Your kids can’t go to college anymore.

First, the partridge. Pear trees don’t automatically come with partridges, you know, so you’ll have to fork over $15 for the bird. And then $190 for the tree.

Then there are the turtle doves. By the way, does anyone know what a turtle dove is, as compared to a regular old dove? And why they’re called turtle doves? Do they pull their heads and legs into their bodies when they get skeeved? Anyway, they go for about $65 each.

The hens. Three of them, and French, s’il vous plait. They’re about $55 per bird, which makes them, surprisingly (since they’re French and all) cheaper than the turtle doves.

Now to the four calling birds. Why the hell did this song need so many damned birds? We’re looking at ten birds here, people. Ten birds of varying species, who may or may not even get along. This could be downright Hitchcockian in the end. Your true love winds up being Tippy Hedron.

Anyway, calling birds. I don’t know how they decided on this, but the calling birds in this scenario are canaries. Do you know how much a canary is?! AH canary is $105. Four of them? $520.

And we’ve killed so many in coal mines!

On to the five gold rings. Now, I don’t know the size of these here rings, because as I understand it, gold is presently $1,696.33. So these must be some really skimpy rings PNC Wealth is using, because the five of them only cost $750. By my calculations, that means each one of them weighs less than a tenth of an ounce.

Six geese, specifically a-laying. $210. Thirty-five bucks each. And more birds to crap all over your house. Plus they’re a-laying, so they’re about to multiply exponentially. I don’t think you have to pay for the chicks.

Seven swans, swimming. Again with the fowl. Swans are a grand each, and PNC doesn’t work up how much you’ll pay for whatever they’re swimming in. Also? Swans make a ton of noise, and they’re not pretty noises. They honk.

It’s a goddamned cacophony in the house at this point, and we’re just getting started.

Eight maids a-milking. Milking what? Goats? Cows? Themselves? Each other? I don’t understand. I also don’t understand PNC’s range for their prices, which they put at somewhere between $58 and $10,000. Not a typo. I’m more offended by the $58. Why would maids cheapen themselves so much? They’d be $7.25 each! That’s a fraction of the cost of one flippin’ bird! Is this minimum wage milking for exactly one hour?

Nine ladies dancing. Well, the cost of this depends rather obviously on what kind of dancing we’re talking about here, because any strip club patronizer might say, “Eh, throw a $20 at each of ’em, down your beer, call it a night.” But PNC figures the nine ladies would cost about $6,925, per performance.

Ten lords, hopping around and probably molesting the milk maids. They’re royalty, so that’s a pretty penny right there. $4,767 per ten, per performance.

Eleven pipers blowing it out their kazoos. (Does anybody have any Advil?) $2,430 per 11, per set.

Twelve drummers. Who the hell invited the damned drummers? One drummer isn’t enough?! $2,630 for the single night’s gig.

Now, if you take the song literally, the sender sends each gift on its given day, and then again each day after that. So by the time you’re done, you’ve got 12 partridges ($180), 12 pear trees ($2,280), 22 turtle doves ($1,430), 30 French hens ($1,650), 36 canaries ($3,744), 35 gold rings (by now weighing just a smidge over three ounces and having cost $5,250, but with a market value just under that), 48 gestating geese ($1,680) and 42 swans ($42,000), plus the 40 maids, who are apparently from Cambodia or something because they work for practically nothing and put up with entirely too many shenanigans from the lords. ($2,320).

That puts us at $60,534 over twelve days.

But we have to add in the performers. Thirty-six dancing ladies. Nine danced once, nine danced twice, nine got three nights, and nine got four. $69,500 total.

The lords: 10 played three sets, 10 played two, ten played one. $28,702.

The infernal pipers: one group for two concerts, one group for one. $7,290.

And the drummers who remind you why you never let your kid have a drum set: one gig. $2,630.

Hey, drummers. Make yourselves useful instead of just creating a ruckus. Gimme a drumroll.

Grand total for the 12 days: $168,656

Assuming the maids will go for the $58 deal, which I find totally discriminatory because they’re making way less than the pipers, drummers and lords (all of whom, I presume, are men) and way, way less than the sluts on the poles.

This does not include the cost of whatever it is the maids are milking, nor does it include the cost of clean-up, feeding, or the new house you might have to buy. I guess for feeding you could, theoretically, kill one set of birds a day and feed them to the performers, plus give them the milk from whatever it is the maids are milking… but you’d better hope these animals are all simpatico or it’s going to get ugly up in this piece.

By the time all of this is over and it’s the Epiphany, you’ve had one of your own: Your true love is a wackaloon with a set of seriously weird fetishes.

But he’s rich.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

The twelfth day of Christmas is the feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church. And I had one.

I finally. Got. Wi-fi.

Epiphany!

Yes, that’s right. Since I moved into this place, 16 months ago, I have been chained to the modem via etherlink connection. The modem is in the only possible place it can be – on the floor next to the TV/cable box in my living room. Which meant I had to be on the floor to use the computer.

Yeah.

For the longest time, it was because they were supposed to set up wi-fi when they installed my cable, but they didn’t, and I just never called them to come back and do it because who wants to call the cable company and invite them over again? And then, one of my coworkers looked at me like I had three heads and said, “Just go buy a router, for crying out loud!”

Oh. I can do that?

We are not terribly technologically savvy here at thesinglecell. I’m not an idiot or anything – I just thought the cable company had to provide the wi-fi service and if I hooked up something else they’d know and accuse me of breach of contract or something. I totally made that whole thing up in my head, though. Turns out.

So yesterday, I got a router. It wasn’t hard. I told an associate at the store what I wanted, she asked if I knew what kind I wanted, I said no, she said she’d send someone right over, I stood in the aisle for five minutes looking at boxes, nobody came, I picked one that looked reasonable (Belkin 300 N with dual something), paid for it and left. The hardest thing about installing it was finding a place to plug it in. And now, I’m on my couch, under a blanket, with the laptop where it was made to be… and I’m online.

It’s like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color.

Obviously, my regular readers have stuck with me through twelve days of the same title for my posts, except for one word that changed. I always celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. I don’t do pear trees or gold rings (note to self: find someone to supply gold rings for future Christmases) or drummers drumming, since they’d just make me nuts. But all my decorations stay up until the Epiphany, the celebration of the occasion when the three kings arrived at the stable to find the baby Jesus.

The little drummer boy may have been with them. I’m not sure.

Rembrandt's "Adoration of the Magi"

Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar brought the infant expensive gifts often given to kings, gifts that may have foreshadowed the path Jesus’ life and death would take: gold, because He was the newborn king; frankincense, which symbolized deity; and myrrh, an embalming oil associated with death. These days, two of those gifts are relatively obscure, and gold is no longer a gift fit only for kings. Most of the meaning has washed away.

It’s easy for us to forget the meaning of the little gifts we get on a daily basis. We are not royalty, not deities. But this year, for the twelve days of Christmas, I wanted to be more mindful of those gifts I receive every day, and how valuable they are.

The first day: Family.

The second day: Love.

The third day: Self-awareness.

The fourth day: Friendship.

The fifth day: Health.

The sixth day: Wisdom (and humor).

The seventh day: Contentedness.

The eighth day: Music.

The ninth day: Fruits of labor.

The tenth day: Freedom.

The eleventh day: Little pleasures.

The twelfth day: Connection.

By no means are these the only gifts I receive daily. There are so many more. Writing about these made me grateful for them, mindful of them. I hope I can continue that throughout the year.

Today, the decorations come down and get put away, and I yank a big, beautiful tree through a doorway nowhere near wide enough for it to pass through. After a considerable amount of vacuuming, my home goes back to its 11-month state, feeling bare and stark for a few days at first. I’ll consider keeping the Dickens Village houses out, at least, with their warm glow and old-world charm. And then I’ll decide, like I always do, that I might as well pack them away now so I don’t have to rejigger all the boxes in storage again when I eventually take them down.

There is no thirteenth day of Christmas.

But I still hope to receive a gift.