I’m not Santa


I’m not Santa.  I have played his representative at this household for …um…thirty years, but I suddenly find that my term is over.  All my girls have their own little ones and, hence, have assumed the role of Santa for themselves.  And all my girls have their own guys who are responsible for ensuring Christmas happiness and long life for themselves by buying the appropriate girly-pleasing gifts for them.

I am off the hook.CIMG7567


What does this mean exactly?  Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I spend less on Christmas.  Relinquishing the role of Santa corresponds with assuming the role of grandmother–to an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.  (Insert smiley face.)  Consequently, even though I had said that the grands were getting only one thing, I still zipped over to the Hereford Pharmacy to buy some cute little stuffed critters.  I just couldn’t bear to give them each just a plastic thing. For toddlers you  get a lot of bang for your buck with plastic toys, but on Christmas Day, when their naps schedules are all messed up, they need something cuddly to calm them down.  They do.  Trust me.  I’m a professional.   I’ve been doing this Santa thing a loooooooooong time.

There are categories of Santa presents.  If I’ve told you this before, bear with me.  It’s just that it’s important.  Pathetic little tears on Christmas are at stake.   Categories start simple.  Little ones don’t even know Christmas is coming, so lights and boxes to play with are enough.  Soon, very soon, categories become essential.

  • Category 1:  Something to do.  The gift has to keep them  busy for at least part of Christmas Day, and preferably days thereafter.  That is why six year old boys are given 1000 piece Lego sets.  Anything smaller will be assembled in less than twenty minutes.  This could also be called the technology category–Ipads, Ipods, Iphones, I-whatevers.  I..I..I… (me…me…me…?)
  • Category 2:  Something to cuddle.  For little ones, it (hopefully) soothes them through a disrupted nap schedule.  For older ones,  it (hopefully) soothes them through the disappointments of the day.  I failed to fill this category the year my oldest stopped believing in Santa.  She went to bed in tears because she did not get a teddy bear.  How was I supposed to know that it was her test item–the only item on her list that she told no one but Santa?  This category continues to be important through the hormonally treacherous teen years.
  • Category 3:  Something to wear.  Initially this is more a gift to the parents than to the child.  Once the school years begin, it is really important that the child have something new to wear back to school in January, preferably something that is “cool”-whatever “cool” happens to be that year.  Underwear technically fits this category but, for lack of coolness, does not count. Clothing continues to be significant until the child is old enough to work at, say, White House Black Market or Loft.  Once that happens, there is no reason to compete with their hefty discount.  They should be buying you clothes at that point.
  • Category 4:  Something to take to bed.  This can be combined with Category 2.  But usually this involves pjs.  You can’t go to bed with a Lego set or a bicycle.  The perfect Christmas Day ends with warm snuggly pajamas.
  • Category 5:  A surprise.  It’s no fun to only get what you asked for.  That reflects a lack of creativity on Santa’s part.  Some children make this a very difficult category to fill by providing extensive wish lists.   A certain six year old I know thinks he didn’t miss a thing on his list this year.  Responsible adults in the family informed him that even Santa doesn’t have a TV in his room.

    This list is comprehensive but not complete...Santa must fill in missing categories.

    This list is comprehensive but not complete…Santa must fill in missing categories.

So, since I’m no longer Santa, I don’t have to worry about categories.  I am not responsible for their Christmas happiness.  They are responsible for their own families.  And they have men in their lives to fulfill their deepest longings.  So all I have to do is get them a present.  The happiness of the day does not depend on what I get them.  What a relief!  If Christmas Day is a gift-giving disaster, it won’t be my fault.

I repeat the mantra to myself: Not the Santa, not the Santa, not the Santa…  It’s liberating, like when my daughters got married and I was no longer responsible for them.

Then why the extra trip out to buy stuffed animals?  Santa-emeritus just knows.

Santa from Wanamakers in Philly circa 1960

Santa from Wanamakers in Philly circa 1960

Little man hands

Lesson 1 in tractor maintenance--he'll be working on this same tractor for the next forty years

It was too quiet Friday morning, so I looked outside and saw the little guy working on the tractor with PopPop.  From the upstairs window it was just the cutest thing.  Then I went outside to inspect closer.  Oh my.  Grandson was busy at work scraping gunk off the tractor engine.  This is a 1952 tractor and I know for a fact that no one has cleaned any gunk off that tractor since we moved up here in 1993, and who knows when before that.  But PopPop had the six-year-old happily at work.  The smile on kiddo’s face attested to “happy;” the automotive grease smeared all over his face, winter coat, and jeans attested to work.

And then there were his hands. We have countless pairs of disposable gloves around the house, but why would you give a boy gloves to wear to scrape twenty years of engine gunk off a tractor?   Hmmm????

The kid had man hands.  No, I’m not referring to the Seinfeld episode.  I’m referring to the man-sized grime on those little mitts.  He looked like a regular mechanic, and he was proud of it, too.  Well, before Mr. Junior Mechanic entered the house he needed a lesson on how to use the de-greaser.  It’s pretty cool for a kid to have hands are sooooo dirty that he has to use a pre-wash on them.  He dutifully used the de-greaser (twice, at my insistence) and rubbed the grimy glop off his hands with paper towels.  Then we went upstairs to the bathroom, with me opening all doors and turning all knobs.  Gobs and blobs of soap followed, with a soak in the sink and a nail brush loaded with more soap.  Grimy clothes were removed and deposited by the washer to await PopPop’s grimy additions later.

Cleaner than tractor grease, but dirt + water + boy still = needs a bath.

Earlier in the week, grandson helped PopPop with sawyering.  That was a cleaner project–even with the tumbles into the dirt.  His job was to hose off the logs and then each board as it was sawn.  When not busy with the hose, he climbed all over any logs or branches he could find.  He made an impromptu see-saw from a few pieces of wood.  Later, he practiced his balancing by walking across logs.  I pondered briefly whether he might break his arm or something if he fell, but  I still managed to get distracted by PopPop cutting down a tree just as the little guy fell from his balancing post.

“MomMom, I fell.”

“Are you hurt?”

He points to his chest.  A quick examination reveals a three-inch scratch.  We go inside to clean it and apply a band-aid the size of Montana.  I warn him that a band-aid that size will freak out his mother.  And sure enough it does, because he knows just how to present it.

“Mom!!!  I fell off a tree and hurt myself!!!!”

“Oh my gosh, honey, are you ok?”

He pulls up his shirt to reveal the band-aid the size of Montana.  I’m upstairs but can hear her maternal wail.  The kid is totally messing with her.  There is nothing wrong with him.  He is 100% boy.  And he knows his mom is 100% girl.  He has already figured out how to work that.   And after a day of hosing logs and falling over trees, he doesn’t understand why he might need to change and wash up before heading off to a birthday party.

Ah…little man.  And learning from the master of dirt himself–PopPop.



Bugs–visible and invisible

Some would say I deserved the wasp sting.  That’s what I get for being home on a balmy day in February, relaxing in the backyard without even a coat on.  Well, I was minding my own business, when this nasty wasp just came upon me and stabbed me through my sweater.  The nerve!

I quickly hobbled inside to care for the sting.  This was tricky because the sting was on my cane-bearing arm: hence, hobbling was particularly awkward.  The last time I experienced a wasp sting, it turned into a blood infection, so I washed thoroughly with soap and water, disinfected with alcohol, and rubbed it with cortisone cream.  An hour later, as the swelling progressed, I applied ice, took a Benadryl, marked the perimeter of the swelling with a marker, and lay down.   When, an hour after that, the swelling had encompassed my entire forearm from elbow to wrist, I went to the doctor.

Back home three prescriptions later, I start channeling Retta Harp, my husband’s grandmother, who had all the fruit trees at Maywood chopped down due to her fear of bees.  I’m ok with bees and yellow jackets but something must be done about the wasps!!!

Mom,” says Shelley,” you were outside.”

So?  Your point is…?

I go to bed, not before lining up the 7 different bottles of meds I’m currently taking for me, my hip, and the wasp.  Did you know that Benadryl aggravates Restless Leg Syndrome?  I read that at 1am while googling because I couldn’t stand thrashing my legs in bed any more.  The good news, of course, is that my new hip is healed enough to  thrash.

The next day, Shelley comes down with the flu. So… achey, coughing, feverish Shelley goes to the doctor where the nurse practitioner gets the Bedside Manner Award for yelling at her for not getting a flu shot.  She staggers home to bed with wonton soup and Gatorade.  She declined the $94 prescription for Tamiflu.  (The nurse practitioner also gets the Economic Sensitivity Award. )

Early, early, early the next morning, John and I hear Shelley in the bathroom with a crying Harper.  He’s throwing up.

Later, at a more sensible hour, I hear feeble, febrile Shelley’s conversation with a much-improved Harper:

“Quarantine.  We’re under quarantine.”

“No, you cannot go visit Nana and Great-Grandgrad.  No, you cannot invite Ethan and Madison over.  We are sick.  We are quarantined. You get to watch tv and play video games all day.”

Nothing takes the fun out of tv and video games like being told that’s what you have to do all day.  Maybe I should give Harper the Bug Zapper and put him to work on the wasps.

Going Squirrelly

I don't have a picture of a squirrel, but chipmunks are equally annoying woodland rodents.

At 8 a.m. on a school day, this disabled French teacher sits in bed, surrounded by fluffed pillows, sipping from an enormous Parisian coffee bowl, and pondering an early morning dream in which a school colleague was driving a  group of  teachers in our old dilapidated ’91 minivan (the one that literally limped its way to the junk yard and died in a cloud of smoke) down Frederick Road in Catonsville which turned into Atlantic Avenue in Margate, New Jersey.  There was more to the dream, but I have hopes of actually holding onto my job, so I will stop there.

The sound track to this little scenario is the pitter-patter of little feet. Our resident kindergartner has not yet gone to school.

Pitter-patter.   Pitter-patter.  Thump, thump, thump.

Pitter-patter.  Pitter-patter.  Thump, thump, thump.

The sound is coming in stereo.  Above me, in the attic, I hear the pitter-patter thumping of a squirrel.  Below me, in the foyer, is the pitter-patter thumping of a little boy.  They run in the exact same rhythm.  The boy has the same energy as the squirrel.  The only difference is that the boy is also singing, “This old man, he had five, he played knick-knack on my hive, with a knick-knack paddy-whack, give a dog a bone, this old man came rolling home.”  Over and over again.  It’s stuck in my head…and now it’s stuck in yours.

(Yesterday John took him to the bus stop but, because it was cold out, wouldn’t let Harper out of the car until 8:25.  So Harper stared at the clock on the dashboard saying, “8:23, 8:23, 8:23, 8:23………….8:24, 8:24, 8:24, 8:24, 8:24….” until the clock beamed “8:25.”)

I pray for Harper’s teacher.

I hide in my room until every last person, husband included, has left the house.

Some of you may be thinking that I’m going squirrelly being home on disability for weeks and weeks.  Those who really know me will understand that I’m going squirrelly because there’s always someone coming or going around here!

John asks, “Will you be ok home all by yourself?”

“Yes, I will.”

My mom asks, “Are you sure you don’t need me to come over?”

“Really.  I’m fine.”

I’m currently reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain.  It’s about introverts in an extroverted society.  For an introvert, there is nothing earth-shattering in what she has to say.  It’s just nice to have a book that validates what we know to be true.

  • Introverts need time and quiet to think.  Thinking is needed in our loud society.  Introverts are needed in our society.
  • Our society does not value introverts.
  • Not all societies extol the extrovert model, which has implications for internationals in our country.
  • Introverts communicate better through writing than speaking.
  • Introverted teachers act out a role in class, a role which leaves them exhausted at the end of the day.
  • Introverts are highly reactive to stimuli.  Therefore…
  • Introverted teachers are more stressed than extroverts by noise levels and multi-tasking.  So, for example, a study hall duty with students who need constant reminders to find something to do and which requires constant interruptions to write out hall passes does not in the least little bit feel like a planning period.  It is a frustration in the day. Likewise, it is impossible to work in one’s classroom after school in a hallway containing the after-school room, basketball team “study hall,” and cheerleading practice.  And lunch duty….don’t even get me started on what it means for an introvert not to have a chance to recharge mid-way through the day. (Sorry…I got a little carried away there.)

For the moment, I am alone in a quiet house, thinking.  The sun beams in my window.  Outside, the world whooshes by on the highway.  I’m now ready to tackle the to-do list.

Forward ho.

Hip Chronicles: In Which the Hipster and Hanny Go on an Outing

(If I’m lucky, Hanny won’t read this post.   But I’m not that lucky.)

In the third week after surgery, it is time for a real outing, but I need a chauffeur.  That would be my mom, aka Hanny, who is not old  but is a generation older than a daughter with a new hip.

The first stop of the day is the hairdresser.  Nothing restores one’s sense of normal like a good cut and color.  And a smart-aleck gay shampoo guy from New Zealand who eyes my walker and asks my stylist, “What’s wrong with ‘er?  Too much sex?”

Hanny picks me up from the salon.  Our next stop is lunch.  We haven’t decided where to go, but aim for Towson because our goal for the day is to purchase a Nook for Hanny at Barnes & Noble.

“Let’s go to Razmataz,” she suggests.


“You know.  Razmataz.  That place across from the mall where we had dinner when Dad was sick.”

I now know exactly which restaurant she means, but “Razmataz” has completely obliterated the real name from my brain.  It’s coming…it’s coming….Razorback!

And we’re off.  I limit conversation so as not to distract her.  Besides, I’m busy gripping the door handle and pressing my foot into the imaginary passenger side brake pedal, and it’s hard to pray and carry on a conversation at the same time.

Razmataz  just happens to be next door to the Loft, where my daughter Shelley works.  She’s not working that day, but we stop in anyway, eyeball a few things, and Hanny tries on some cute cardigan jackets.  I’m starting to feel like one of those geezer husbands in need of a chair while the wife tries on clothes.  The palms of my hands are pressing harder and harder onto the handles of the walker.  Maybe we should get some lunch.

We enter Razmataz, a long narrow windowless restaurant in a strip mall.  The first thing that hits me–after the darkness–is the smell of bleach.  As appreciative as I am that they are microbe conscious, the predominant smell in a restaurant should be food.  Really.  I just can’t stay.  I’ve been cooped up at home for a couple of weeks and I need light.

We cross the street to the Cheesecake Factory.  This involves parking at Towson Mall.  The Cheesecake Factory has valet parking, but why pay $5 to have someone park the car?  I suggest that Hanny drop me and my walker off at the door and then park, but she wants someone to witness where she leaves her car so that we don’t have “issues” later.  We need a spot that’s fairly close ( I do not have a handicap tag).  We find one, but one of the cars is not parked straight.  It’s hard to tell which one, but it’s probably the obnoxiously dominant big fat red SUV.  Hanny parks parallel to it because the other car is so nondescript that, well, I can’t describe it.

After a delightful lunch, I have another geezer moment in the ladies’ room.  The handicap stall has support rails!  Right where I need them!  Ok, I know they’ve always been there, but I’ve never actually touched them before.  I thank God for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s time to head over the Barnes & Noble, but wait!  Pottery Barn is right here, by the Cheesecake Factory.  We can’t resist.  I use up the rest of my pedestrian mileage for the day gliding around Pottery Barn making a mental list of all the things I’d like my sister-in-law to get me with her employee discount.   The walker handles dig deeper into my palms.  I think my palms are bruising. We head back to the car, where Hanny finds a post-it note with not-so-friendly suggestions about her parking skills.  It was a rather lengthy note for a post-it and for someone with such a nondescript car.  Who has that much anger over a parking job?   Plus, even if Hanny  scratched the car (which she did not), who would notice?  It’s so nondescript.  Hanny checks her car, relieved to see that the parking fiend hasn’t keyed it.

Somehow the drive from Cheesecake Factory to Barnes & Nobles evolves into a tour of the entire Towson Mall parking maze.  Round and round we go.  Where we’ll emerge, nobody knows.  If it weren’t for my crippled-ness, we could have walked.  At last, the Barnes & Noble lot.  Hanny circles for a spot.  Ah hah, she finds one.  Slowly she turns…quarter turn by quarter turn.  Cars are lining up behind us.  She eases the car in.  But she’s sensitive after that friendly note at the last parking spot, so she must straighten the car.  Back out she goes. More cars are lining up.  Slowly she advances.  Inch by inch.  And we’re in.

Now it’s my turn.  Slowly.  I.  Open the door.  Swivel my legs.  Pull myself up.  Hug the car to reach the walker.  And we’re off.  Shuffle, shuffle.  Gotta cross the cross walk.  I have the right of way.   The cars line up while I do the escargot slide to the other side.

Finally, we have arrived at the mission for the day–a Nook Color for Hanny.  I inform the salesman that when we walk out of the store she should have a Nook, a cover, an account set up with email and her credit card, reading material and apps all set and ready to go.  Beads of sweat dot my brow as I stand at the checkout counter.  I collapse into a chair. We’re in the store with the salesman for well over an hour, uploading software, calling tech support, re-setting user names and passwords, re-typing the oopsies made by the salesman.  (Her account is not at hitmail or hotmale.)

Mission accomplished, we get stuck in rush-hour accident back-up traffic on 83.  We arrive home at dinner-time.

“I think you overdid it today.”

No joke.  I’m thankful to be off the narcotics and  back on wine.

Crunch time: shopping with the kid

Tip of the day:  take a nap before going Christmas shopping with a five-year old.

That is how I survived yesterday.  After enduring the school-wide Christmas party at school (and I confess to ducking out of the “talent” show to get some planning done), I made one wish-it had-been quicker shopping stop before coming home.  I staggered upstairs for a quick nap before picking up Harper from the bus.

The kid leaps off the bus and  jumps into the car faster than I can even realize the bus has arrived.  And the mouth is already in motion: We’re going Christmas shopping!  We’re going Christmas shopping!  Over and over again.  That is, until he segues into Jingle Bells.”  The word “perseveration” comes to mind.

He switches over to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” struggling with the order of the rhymes.

You better not cry,

You better not shout,

You better not pout….

ummm…you better not shout, you better not pout, umm…

I offer to help… (It’s pout, cry, shout, telling you why… and I’m about ready to cry)

“No! No! Don’t tell me!”

This is all within the three minutes it takes to drive down the road to the house.

Back home we unload the backpack and have a little snack before heading out again.  I desperately need a cup of tea.  Harper gets a mug of hot cocoa with some marshmallows and a candy cane to stir in it.  Yes, I acknowledge that sugar was probably the last thing the kid needed at that moment, but it’s Christmas, ok?  How he even consumed it is beyond my understanding–the jabbering is incessant.

Off to shopping, we’re not even out the door when he burps.

“I just threw up.”

“No  you didn’t.  You just burped.”

“Some came up into my mouth.”

“Do you feel ok?”

I’m rethinking the wisdom to going anywhere public.  I’m envisioning an awful scene in Greeting and Readings.  But the kid doesn’t shut up.  He doesn’t sound sick.

“Erin threw up in school today.  At lunch.”

“Was she sitting near you?”


“Well, that’s good.”

“But she threw up on the floor right next to me.”

I’m now breaking out in a cold sweat. Oh, please God, spare us from the awful-awful at Christmas.  All the way to the mall he talks about throw-up.  Why do we throw up?  How does it happen?  He is fascinated with the topic.  It’s making me queasy.

We reach our destination but it’s raining.  Harper has no hat.  I have a hood and an umbrella.  But I can’t hold the umbrella, my cane, and Harper’s hand at the same time.  Harper gets the umbrella.  I should mention that it’s windy.  Either the umbrella is going to turn inside out or Harper is going to blow away like Mary Poppins.  He likes the latter idea and tries to catch the wind.  While bouncing.  Through a parking lot of last-minute Christmas drivers.  My only hold on him is a finger through the loop on the collar of his coat.  He’s going very fast.  Did I mention the cane?

Safe inside, the goal is to shop for Mommy, but everything on his eye level is geared for him.  And there is an amazing array of candy at Greetings and Readings.  Clearly, his tummy is fine because he wants all of it.  We manage to select gifts for baby Emily, Pop Pop and Mommy.  These, dear family, are clearly what Harper wanted for you, in spite of any attempts on my part to steer him toward other items.

At the risk of ruining baby Emily’s Christmas surprise, Harper found a baby rattle shaped like a magic wand.  He doesn’t even realize how appropriate that is for the new little Princess who uses her parents as a throne.  The rattle makes a magic wand sound when you wave it.  It’s quite magical sounding.  Brrrrrrrring!  And very easy for a baby to activate.

Because it goes off at the least little movement and there is no “off” switch.

All the way to the counter it sings, brrrrrrrrrrring! brrrrrrrrring!  The saleswoman wrapping it in a box is surrounded by the magical aura…brrrrrrrrrrring! brrrrrrrrring!  Her co-workers laugh at her and swap stories of annoying gifts they’ve given in retaliation for other annoying gifts.

Harper and I walk to the car.  Brrrrrrrrrrrring!  Brrrrrrrrrrrring!  We carry the magical aura with us.  Back in the car, I turn on the radio in hopes of avoiding fifteen minutes of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Fleas Navidog. (Thanks to Linda B.)

Just my luck…they’re playing “Feliz Navidad.”  Harper doesn’t know this one, but he catches on real quick.  Perseveration comes to mind again.  That song is like “The Song That Has No End.”

Bumpity bump down our lane, Harper sings Feliz Navidad and the magic wand croons brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!  brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! brrrrrrring!

Mission accomplished.  I say, brrrrrrrrrrrrrring on the wine.

‘Twas the week before Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house

No one was ready, least of all my spouse.

Stockings are ready to hang in a few,

But what will go in them, I haven’t a clue.


Hubby’s off on his errands with traffic to battle

In our ’99 Jeep with a muffler rattle.

And I at my keyboard go over my list,

Creating and pondering what items I’ve missed.

Around me, shipping boxes and packing peanuts galore

Give an aura of disaster to the kitchen floor.


Then, lo, in my inbox, what do I see?

It’s a Christmas ham gift from the bosses to me!

O joy–quelle surprise!–how it warms my poor heart

To know that even Scrooge is doing his part

To share the love this Christmas season.

Alas, to be Grinchy, there is no good reason.


I  croon Christmas carols and  light up the tree,

I do my gift-wrapping with renewed sense of glee.

As hubby battles crowds to shop for his wife,

I smile and think, “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

Traditions define a family…how weird are yours?

“Please come to the party prepared to share about a Christmas tradition in your family.”

Christmas mantle

Requests like that put a knot in my stomach.  What if my traditions are dumb?  Lame?  Lacking in spirituality/deep meaning/ sensitivity/creativity/all or any of the above?  There’s something about sitting in a circle doing that kind of activity that weirds me out.

But lets notch it up a bit.  Let the party be in your child’s kindergarten class and the mommies have to share.  Mm…pressures’ on.  Kindergargartner’s are only old enough to remember two prior Christmases, so this is all on mommy.  Thinking of daughter Shelley, who faces this daunting challenge, I ponder some thoughts on traditions.

Childhood grudges start here

What is a Christmas tradition?  Simply put, it is something you always do at Christmas.  For example, every year John gets sardines in his Christmas stocking.  Every year, Julie guilts me for not properly replacing her Christmas stocking after it got thrown away that year.  (Losing it was not the issue so much as my failing to remember it was lost until Christmas Eve–year after year after year.)  She also annually guilts me for failing to get a Baby’s First Christmas ornament for her.   Every year, I hang her sisters’ first year ornaments and a little cardboard egg carton bell that Julie made in nursery school.  I know it’s pathetic.  That’s just how it is.

(Another family tradition is the Christmas concert at church.  Don’t tell John, but this year I’m drafting this post during the concert–where he continues the tradition of actually singing in it.  I admit to joining in on the descants, encouraged by someone nearby who is singing the bass parts.)

Christmas traditions evolve into being.  This is why it’s hard for a young mother to explain traditions.  They are still evolving.  For many years we had a tradition of visiting the grandparents after church on Christmas Eve.  This started because they lived right next door to church and would say, “Oh, just stop by…”  but when we got there we found the whole neighborhood there (“Since you were stopping by, we invited a few others to stop by.”).  The children filled up on little crescent-wrapped hotdogs and hot chocolate, and my Christmas Eve dinner never  got cooked.  After a couple of years of this, I wised up, planned food to take to my mother-in-law’s, and invited a few people of my own to “stop by.”  To my children this was a wonderful  tradition.  To me it was Plan B.

Christmas traditions are predictable.  Every year like clockwork Mom screams, “Santa will not come until your rooms are clean!”  This continued at our house until Kristin and Shelley were in high school, working as bakery girls at Graul’s.  They were so stressed and exhausted by Christmas Eve that even Scrooge wouldn’t have demanded anything of them.  That was about the time that Julie introduced a new tradition.  Since her exhausted sisters refused to wake up at the crack of dawn to open presents, Julie encouraged them awake by marching into their rooms playing “Up on the Housetops”  on her tuba.  It was great every year watching the two older sisters burrow under their pillows or  throw objects at the tuba, screaming, “Get that thing out of my face!”

Sometime a Christmas tradition only “happens” once.  It is the re-telling that becomes the tradition.  My girls never weary of telling about the time I burnt the Christmas raisin bread.  When the kitchen filled with smoke, I yanked those almost perfect 10 minutes ago loaves out of the oven and slammed them onto the counter, screeching, “Merry Christmas! Here’s your breakfast!”  The dog ran and cowered under the table, and dead silence reigned long enough for a mental “bada-boom” before the entire family burst out laughing.   They all feared for their lives for that silent moment and rejoice in having  survived it.

So what’s a Christmas tradition?  It’s something that you realize years later that you have to do in order for Christmas to be Christmas.  The best ones just happen and maybe no one in the world does them but you.

And as for the kindergarten class?  We bake cookies and decorate our tree with candy canes.

Cleaning the Chocolate Fountain

T-day 2010 with the fountain in the kitchen

A chocolate fountain really adds “wow” factor to a party.  We’ve included a chocolate fountain in our holiday parties for several years now.  If you acknowledge up front that the massive amounts of chocolate are mostly going to be tossed out and that you ought to have an empty dishwasher when you put chocolate-coated parts in it to be cleaned, then you can enjoy the extravagant fun of serving a fountain of chocolate to your guests.

However, as I write, my chocolate fountain bowl is set on “warm” to melt the 80 ounces of chocolate that solidified when the fountain was turned off Thanksgiving night.  I have never done this before.  Every Thanksgiving, no matter how late, I don my rubber gloves, empty the chocolate, rinse the fountain parts in hot water, and load them into the dishwasher.  It must be done, because I have always feared the consequences of just turning off the fountain.  This year, alas, I was just too tired to deal with it.

But Thanksgiving was over a week ago!  I know, I know.  Here’s my excuse.  First of all, I staged the fountain down in the mancave this year.  So let’s just blame that on the Ravens game.   I thought the fountain should be where the people would be.  Usually the fountain is the star attraction on the kitchen island where it reigns over pumpkin pies, sugar cookies, and Vienna Cake, and also happens to be two feet from the sink and the dishwasher.   I made a strategic error in moving it downstairs.  People watching football do not dip into chocolate fountains.  They chug beer and hoot and holler.  And then, well, I forgot it was down there.  I guess I should just be glad someone turned the thing off at the end of the game.

Emily Margaret Reber on her birth-day

Then my daughter Julie had a baby.  Minor little family event.  NOT!!! Just kidding, Julie!!!  Emily Margaret Reber was born on Tuesday, weighing in at a perfect 8 lbs 1 ounce and measuring a perfect 21 and 1/4 inches.  Nothing will knock a chocolate fountain out of the forefront of your brain like a sweet new grandbaby who looks just like her daddy and makes faces just like her mommy.  Between spending time with her and attending to my teaching, I didn’t even get around to emailing her birth announcement, so you can imagine how far back in my brain thoughts of the chocolate fountain have been.  As it is, Julie is going to be annoyed that Emily isn’t getting a full post like her cousin John did and she’s going to add this to the list of things that she will never do as a mother, like not taking pictures of the third child and accidentally throwing away her Christmas stocking.

Anyway, there’s a time commitment involved with melting eighty ounces of chocolate on “warm.”  This requires the weekend.  I designate Sunday as fountain clean-up day.

I’ll carry the fountain up to the kitchen and melt the chocolate up there, where it will be easier to clean up the mess.

If I turn it on right after church, it might be melted by dinner time.  Sunday was a little rough, though.  I had a lot of trouble focusing on the sermon (could someone please explain what the video clip about Cinderella’s lost slipper had to do with the geneology of Jesus?).  I came home and immediately passed out for a long nap.

My first thought upon awakening was, “Crap!  The fountain!”  I dashed to the mancave to discover a fountain full of melted chocolate.

“I did my part,” says John.  “I melted the chocolate for you.  Now you can do the rest.”

Thanks, John, for turning a knob.

The good news is that it worked.  Engantée*  in one-use plastic gloves, I ladled the chocolate into a disposable container and then loaded all the fountain parts into a plastic bag to carry up to the dishwasher where they are now being liberated from their chocolate coating.  Using the technique I learned from our school nurse in our annual blood-bourne pathogen seminar, I slipped off the gloves without getting any chocolate on my hands.

The bad news is that it worked.  Now I’ll never be able to convince my helpers to give once last push of energy to clean the fountain.  I can hear them now, “Just turn it off, Mom, and deal with it in December like you did last year.”


Engantée–to have gloves on. (Sorry, but it’s just better in French.)

Countdown to Thanksgiving

For some people the upcoming days count down to serious Christmas shopping.  Others are counting the days to shotgun season.  For me, multiple checklists focus me toward the annual Thanksgiving crowd at my house.  With about forty guests expected, the checklists–my marching orders–keep me from total panic.  I used to spend a whole weekend making lists, but one year I used half a brain cell and decided to save the lists on the computer.  Now I whip out those files, do a little tweaking, and get marching.

Ok, marching is an optimistic way to phrase that.  Marching implies order and calmness.  Every year my Thanksgiving prep  begins with total shock. What? Thanksgiving is in ten days???  How  did that happen?  It’s not like I don’t know it’s coming.  Every week since September I’ve been telling myself to clean the cobwebs off the front door.  Halloween has come and gone, along with the excuse for having cobwebs on the front door.  I know it’s November.   Thanksgiving is at the end of November.  What?  It’s the middle of November already?  Ack!!!

Inevitably a family member will email me and ask if I’m sending the annual Thanksgiving Family-gram.  They don’t want to presume that I’m hosting, but…am I?  Of course.  Where better to spend T-day than over the river and through the woods to a cozy log home where there is shooting down on the field and big-screen football inside followed by cigars under the stars?  Plus, over the years, I’ve collected dishes, card tables and chairs, coffee urns, table linens, even a chocolate fountain.  Someone else would have to borrow all that stuff.

So, I have to send the Family-gram.  This is the “tell me who is coming and what you are bringing” communication.  We have finally almost mastered the skill of building the menu online by clicking “Reply All” to the last email and adding meal contributions directly onto the menu.   I say “almost” because one sister, who shall be unnamed but it’s the one who is so high up in corporate management that her territory consists of our entire galaxy, well, she must need a secretary to do it for her.  She can’t seem to get her items into the menu itself.  Every year we try again and inch toward getting it right.

A burst of adrenalin has launched me to the computer. I open all my to-do lists, tweak last year’s family-gram and send it, and order the turkeys.  Now a second wave of denial hits me.  I have almost two weeks to do all the things on the list.  So I write a blog post about it.  I grab a snack and note the despicable condition of the fridge.  I stare at the silver that wants polishing.   I ponder setting the auto-clean on the oven.  (Really, how hard is it to set the auto-clean?  Why do I not have a sparkling oven?)

I may have marching orders, but I don’t march.  It’s more like running hurdles.  With rest-stops between the hurdles.  (No one has ever accused me of being an athlete.)  Ok, I’m going to get up now.  What’s that proverb?  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Really, I am.  I’m getting up now.  Promise.