Oh, Christmas tree — November 30, 2022

Oh, Christmas tree

I have a public admission to make. When I hear friends talking about the multiple Christmas trees in their homes or see the photos of said trees, I say to myself, “Self, what is wrong with these people?”

And, no, this has nothing to do with my inherent thriftiness.

I’ve heard some mothers – note the use of the word some – joke that they forgot the pain of childbirth, which is the reason they had subsequent children.

That’s the way I feel after decorating a Christmas tree. Every year I’m so mentally and physically exhausted that I have to recuperate in a bacta tank. I cannot imagine being so energized by the process that, after finishing a tree, I say, “The living room tree is up. Let’s move on to the kitchen tree so we can decorate the bathroom trees.”

It’s not so much the stringing of the lights or the hanging of the ornaments. It’s the shaping of the branches. I’m always surprised when I assemble the sections of the tree and they don’t magically take shape. We have phones that can take photos. We can, if we choose, tell someone named Alexis to turn off our electronics. We can watch our front doors from anywhere in the galaxy. A self-shaping Christmas tree is not too much to ask for.

This year was especially exhausting because I bought a new tree. No, I did not pull off a heist. At my advanced age, I had purchased one full-sized tree. When the branches on that tree legit fell off, I inherited a hand-me-down tree. This year, I agonized over the decision to buy a tree. Then I remembered one day several years ago when I took my mom shopping. As she agonized over whether to buy a tree, I encouraged her to do so, telling her that she and my dad had worked hard. You deserve that fancy-adjacent new tree, I said to her.

With those words echoing in my memory, I decided to buy a fancy-adjacent new tree.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t want a pre-lit tree, which limited my options. I found a couple trees online that met my eligibility requirements, but I couldn’t really tell anything about them because they were, you know, online. I made several trips to five local stores before I finally said, “Expletive it!” and bought a fancy-adjacent tree whose price was drastically reduced. That last part made the process a tad easier.

And it is a good-looking tree. A good-looking tall tree. It’s so tall it could be the National Christmas Tree. It’s so tall I have to stand in the back yard to get all of it in a photo. It’s so tall I considered renting a cherry picker so I could decorate the top branches.

Okay, maybe it’s not that tall. But I did have to drag out the step ladder to reach those top branches. The good news is that decorating the tree qualified as my daily workout.

Now that I’ve made this admission, I’m going to forget all about climbing the ladder and shaping the branches. That way, I’ll want to decorate that tall tree again next year.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Need I remind me — December 22, 2021

Need I remind me

Most of the ornaments on my Christmas tree were hand painted or handmade by my mom, by my sisters, or by me. I’ve also adorned my fake fireplace and my real mantle with a plaster village and other decorations that I painted. Indeed, most of the tree’s hand-painted ornaments are plaster.

Some are wooden, though. They represent my first attempts at craftiness. I can remember the first time I spotted said ornaments in my mom’s craft catalog, which is heavy on needlepoint items. I cannot do any type of needlepoint, but I am a catalog fiend. Hence, that is why I was flipping through the catalog on that snowy day back in the 1990s.

When I spied those wooded ornament kits, I said to myself, “Self, you’re not artistic, but this is like paint by number. What idiot can’t paint by number?”

At first, I tried my best to prove that this idiot couldn’t paint by number. In fact, the first ornament I painted – a gingerbread house – looked so bad that I eventually threw it away.

Although I never put that hideous thing on a tree, I kept it for a while. It served as inspiration.

Take the deformed bunny. (By the way, for reasons I don’t understand, the bunny is hanging out with a polar bear. What kind of bunny befriends a polar bear?) The bunny is shown in profile and its eye sets too far down its face and too close to its nose. This leaves entirely too much of a forehead. Oh, and one ear is too pointy and the pink part of the other ear extends onto that big ole forehead.

I have put other not-exactly-hideous but less-than-pleasing-to-the-eye ornaments on the tree. I still do.

I also created a semi-deformed donkey.

The donkey resides on one side of a house. Not a real house in which humans live. How would I hang that on a tree? A mini house. It’s part of a six-house set. The donkey actually doesn’t look that bad – except for the snout. Not only is it rather large, it has no holes. I’m not sure how the donkey has been breathing all these years.

Another house features a figure whose existence makes my loved ones laugh and laugh. All I’ll say is that he’s supposed to be Santa. Since he does not look a thing like Santa, he has caused tremendous excitement over the years. In this year alone, on separate visits to my house, two loved ones have scampered to my tree and strained their bodies, asking, “Where is he?”

I put him and the deformed bunny and the semi-deformed donkey on the tree each year because they elicit chuckles and because they remind me of how far I’ve come.

Indeed, another visitor this year commented on the village and other decorations adorning my fake fireplace and my real mantle. When I explained that I had painted them, the visitor looked closer at one of them and noted the detail.

I saw no reason to point out the deformed bunny.

Merry Christmas!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A character story — December 15, 2021

A character story

Of all the great holiday movies, A Christmas Story is my favorite. The saga of Ralphie Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder B.B. gun never fails to entertain me, to make me laugh, and to touch my he

And of all the great characters in the movie – Ralphie, his old man, his mom, the Bumpus dogs – it’s a relatively overlooked character – Ralphie’s brother, Randy – who serves as my favorite.

Most of the time, when I hear people refer to Randy, they call him Ralphie’s brother. It’s as if he doesn’t have a name. And most of the time, when they’re referring to him, they’re comparing something in their lives to the scene in which Randy and Ralphie’s mom dresses Randy in so many layers that he can’t put his arms down.

That is a fantastic scene, but there’s so much more to Randy. Take my favorite scene in the movie. In the voiceover, the narrator (Jean Shepherd, who wrote the stories on which the movie was based) explains that Randy has not eaten a meal voluntarily in three years. Displaying her ingenuity, the mom asks Randy to show her how the piggies eat. Randy, pretending to be a pig, puts his face into a plate of mashed potatoes and does just that. Whilst eating like a pig, he oinks and oinks and laughs and laughs.

The laughter is contagious. Just like Randy, I always laugh and laugh during that scene. (I do not oink and oink, though.)

In my everyday life, I also frequently quote Randy’s rant in this scene: “Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.” People respond by looking at me as if I have lobsters crawling out of my ears.

Anyway, when Ralphie finally breaks bad and beats up bully Scut Farkus, it’s Randy who runs home and fetches his and Ralphie’s mom. What a hero! Later, Randy hides under the kitchen sink and cries because he’s afraid their dad will kill Ralphie for fighting. What a sweetie!

By the way, once again, their mom handles Randy like a pro. She doesn’t drag him out from under the sink. She gives him a glass a milk and lets him process his feelings in his own time. She should have written a book on parenting.

Later in the movie, the family goes to a Christmas parade and to Higbee’s Department Store. While there, the boys get an audience with the Big Man aka the Head Honcho aka Santa. Some might say Randy should have comported himself better when he finally got to see Santa, but I retort that Randy was but a child and he had been standing in line for dozens of minutes. Besides, Santa and those elves were scary. I would have screamed, too.

Near the end of the movie, after Randy has exhausted himself opening presents on Christmas morning, he falls asleep with his arm clutching a toy zeppelin. He’s so adorable and so unaware of the B.B. gun- and Bumpus dog-induced drama about to unfold.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Oh, happy day — December 8, 2021

Oh, happy day

My sisters and I have always enjoyed a close relationship. Sure, they hurl accusations of hatefulness my way and I deride Pam’s ear-splitting witch’s cackle and Kathy’s ability to fall asleep whilst holding a scalding hot cup of coffee.

No, there’s nothing like that sisterly bond.

But, a few years ago, a wedge developed between us, a wedge that threatened not only our relationship but my freedom of speech.

You see, I developed a theory, which turned into an idea for a column. I mentioned the theory to Pam, who said, “No, you can’t write about that.”

Since I value her opinion, I decided to remain silent. Yes, I decided to keep my readers in the dark. It’s a decision I grew to regret.

Anyway, a few days later, Kathy approached me and said, “Pam told me about ____. Don’t write about that.”

I held my pen for two reasons: We were celebrating the holidays and I wanted to prove to my family I’m not nearly as hateful as they believe. But I said to myself, “Self, how much longer are you going to allow them to silence you? How much longer are you going to allow them to abridge the freedom of the press?”

But after my sisters once again ordered me not to write about this controversial subject, I thought, “That’s it! No longer will I remain silent!”

So, at the risk of ruining my relationship with my sisters, I shared my theory with newspaper readers and now I’m sharing it with you: I think Fonzie and Mrs. C had an affair.

What, you ask? Arthur Fonzarelli, the cool, motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing, thumbs up-giving, shark-jumping mechanic on Happy Days carrying on with the all-American housewife Marion Cunningham? Surely I jest.

Surely I don’t.

This is the Fonz. This is a man who could make a dead jukebox come back to life just by pounding on it with his fist. Do you think Marion could resist that kind of electricity?

Need more evidence? What about their nicknames for each other? She purred his first name “Arthur” as if she were auditioning for the lead in a Marilyn Monroe biopic and whenever he called her the scandalous sounding “Mrs. C.” she came running.

In a holiday-themed episode I watched around Christmas that year, Fonzie was frustrated because a blizzard left him stranded at Arnold’s restaurant and unable to reach Mrs. C. Meanwhile, she was stuck at her house, equally frustrated yet resplendent in a vibrant green floor-length dress and upswept hair. Oh, some might say her disappointment arose from her physical distance from her children and her cuckold husband, Howard. Not me. I recognize subtext when I see it.

Either my sisters refused to see the truth or they didn’t want me to share the truth with the world. For the sake of our relationship, I have chosen to believe the former.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Portrait of a man in red — November 17, 2021

Portrait of a man in red

It’s the week before Thanksgiving, which means people have been complaining about other folks’ Christmas decorations for almost a month. As I’ve mentioned before, I mind my own business when it comes to other people’s decorating timelines as well as when it comes to when they choose to start listening to holiday tunes.

Well, there was that one year someone in the general neighborhood kept his or her Christmas lights up – and turned them on – well into summer. That did make me turn my head on more than one occasion, but what really caused whiplash was when the neighbor took down the lights in late summer.

I will admit it was none of my business, but I will admit I was also perplexed. If you’ve already committed to more than half the year, what prompts you to go to the trouble of climbing a ladder and removing the lights in August?

Speaking of August…that’s around the same time of the year Hobby Lobby brings out their Christmas merchandise. That’s also the same time of the year I start asking this question: Is there really a market for portraits of Santa Claus?

I guess there is or the store wouldn’t stock them, but who buys a big ole portrait of Santa? Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of Santa. He spends the entire year making toys for all the good – and I suspect even the bad – boys and girls around the world. Then he somehow delivers all these toys in the span of one night. I know he gets help from Mrs. Claus, oodles of elves, and a team of flying reindeer, but there must be a bit of magic involved. And a few maxed out credit cards.

But that does not mean I want to hang a portrait of him inside my home.

I am not here to judge and, just as with the people who left their lights up until August, this is none of my business. Oh, but how those portraits fascinate me. Every year when I see them, my initial question leads to other questions like: What is the demographic of the Santa portrait purchasers? Are the purchasers parents who buy them for their younglings? If so, why? I know times change, but I don’t remember begging my parents for a portrait of Santa.

Do they keep the portraits up year-round? If not, do they remove a family portrait or a portrait of, let’s say, a fox chase to make room for Santa during the holidays? Do they do so to make Santa feel like he’s one of the family when he shimmies down the chimney on Christmas Eve?

Maybe I’ll ask Santa for answers to these questions for Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Soap gets in your mind — December 30, 2020

Soap gets in your mind

During normal times, I take down my tree and the other holiday decorations the day after Christmas. As of this writing, however, my family has not celebrated Christmas. What’s more, I’ve enjoyed taking in the tree against the backdrop of the snow that continues to blanket my yard. So, for now, the decorations shall remain within my view and not hidden in a closet.

Anyway, my decision to wait a few days to un-decorate has led my mind to one obvious location – soap operas.

Although I no longer watch soaps, I, like most people who were raised right, grew up watching stories, as they were known to some. Thus, every year at the holidays, I was flabbergasted by how the characters waited until Christmas Eve to decorate their trees. (I was also flabbergasted by how they wrapped presents. They wrapped the top of the box and the bottom, but not the entire present together. So, this meant that characters simply lifted the tops of the boxes to reveal their gifts. It seemed like a waste of dramatic effect to me.)

Back to the subject at hand – procrastinating until Christmas Eve to trim the tree. If you were/are a Days of Our Lives’ viewer, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, once they gather together on Christmas Eve, the Hortons decorate the tree with ornaments bearing their names. It’s a tradition. What’s she got against traditions?”

Nothing. And while I might be persuaded to grant you the Hortons’ tradition, what about all the other families on Days and the other soaps? Trust me, at one point I tried them all, so I can safely say that the lot of them wait until Christmas Eve. I know they’re busy having affairs and plotting revenge and world domination, but you’d think at least one or two of them could squeeze in a few hours to decorate a tree. Or, I don’t know, have a servant complete the task.

Because decorating takes time. One of the reasons I do it around Thanksgiving is because I’m not expending all that effort to create a masterpiece that will disappear in two days.

Speaking of masterpieces…once my mind settled on soaps, it also started thinking about how the genre’s villains tend to have giant portraits of themselves in their homes. I’m not sure if they commission these portraits or if they’re gifts from minions or family members who don’t know what else to give a super villain for birthdays and Christmas.

I do know that there’s a present adjacent to my mom’s tree – it can’t fit underneath – that could be a portrait. Although I usually avoid mirrors and likenesses of myself, I won’t be disappointed if a loved one has commissioned a giant portrait of me. I’ll keep you posted.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

No time like the present — December 23, 2020

No time like the present

This is the first post I’ve penned on an actual computer since July.

Allow me to explain.

On a sultry summer Sunday evening, I was putting the finishing touches on a post when my aged laptop quit working. I figured the ole girl needed a break and would be up and running at suboptimal speed within hours.

That didn’t happen. Indeed, she wasn’t up and running at any speed days later.

I considered sending her in for repairs, but an IT expert/friend of a friend advised that it would be more cost effective for me to replace her.

As I appreciate the words “cost effective,” I did a quick search, saw that my preferred company had laptops on sale and planned to order one the next day.

The sale ended before I could place the order, because of course it did.

With no plans to pay full price, I decided to wait for the next sale. But what to do in the interim? How could I pen a post for my dear readers without a computer?

Well, for a few weeks, I used what amounted to a loaner. But I felt like I was taking advantage of the lender. So, then I started penning these-here posts on my iPad.

If you’ve never written anything on a pad or a tablet, imagine sending a 400-plus word text on your phone. Every week. For months. But that represents the lengths I’ll go to for my dear readers.

Who knows how long I would have made these sacrifices if not for my mom and a Black Friday sale.

Of course, at first, I did not react well to my mom’s generous offer to buy me a laptop for Christmas. I think I asked rhetorically, “Do you know how much laptops cost?”

To which she retorted, “No, because you won’t tell me.”

Our heated exchange might have also included her telling me she would spend her money however she expletive well felt like spending it.

Anyway, I consulted my preferred company’s Black Friday sales page, retrieved my abacus, and deduced that, at the sale price, she wouldn’t be dropping an obscene amount of money on me. After all, it’s not like I had my eye on a model that would allow me to play video games or launch rockets. So, I told her I would give her permission to buy me a laptop. She might have rolled her eyes.

No, it’s not yet Christmas. Yes, I am already using the laptop.

This has caused a minor controversy between us. My mom is concerned because I won’t have a gift to open from her. But I opened the box when it came to my house, so that counts, right? Besides, if she wrapped the laptop, that would constitute wasting wrapping paper and tape, which is not cost effective.

Happy Holidays!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Made the moist of it — December 16, 2020

Made the moist of it

fruitcakeAlthough I’m not a fan of fruitcake, except for an occasional nibble of the crust, when my sister asked me a couple years ago if I’d like to make one, I said, “Yeah.” Then, last year, when she asked if I wanted to make one soaked in booze, I said, “Expletive yeah.”

So, last year, we soaked the candied fruit in brandy before preparing the cake and then, after the cake had been baked, we brushed it with more brandy. (We also made the cake a little water bed so it could benefit from even more moisture as it baked.)

All that liquid must have worked because the cake was characterized as “moist” by its adoring fans. This year, we purchased more booze and once again soaked the candied fruit in brandy. By the way, it’s been my experience that you meet some of the nicest and best looking people at liquor stores.

Anyway, if my memory is correct, last year we allowed the candied fruit to ferment overnight. This year, they soaked for several days and nights. You might want to file that tidbit away for later.

The day finally arrived and we gathered in my kitchen and prepared the cake, once again making a little water bed in the pan. With the cake safely baking in the oven, my sister left. As she made her leave, she told me to call if I needed her. I rolled my eyes until they fell out my head. After all, what kind of idiot needs help removing a cake from the oven?

It takes approximately 17 hours for a fruitcake to thoroughly bake. I walked on the treadmill, took a shower, and read War and Peace whilst it baked. (One of those is a fib.) When the skewer I inserted into the cake came out clean, I removed the cake. See, any idiot can remove a cake from the oven.

After letting it sit and settle for a bit, I attempted to transfer the cake from the pan and to a plate.

Note the use of the word “attempted.”

As soon as I touched it, it started to crumble and come apart.

I grabbed the phone, called my sister, and said, “I need you.”

Seconds later, my sister and niece arrived, announcing they had used the car’s emergency flashers. After she washed her hands for 40 seconds, my sister and I attempted to move the cake.

It seems we had made a fruitcake so moist and soaked with booze that it was stuck to the pan and the wax paper. (Yes, smarty pants, we had used generous amounts of cooking spray.) Despite our repeated efforts, the cake would hardly move and when it did move, it was like watching the ground during an earthquake.

Finally, my niece said, “Why don’t you cut it into pieces and then move it?”

My sister and I, who had been bickering over how long we had soaked the candied fruit last year, looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we do that?”

So, I grabbed a meat cleaver and we did just that.

Oh, I’ve nibbled on the fruitcake’s crust and, at the sake of bragging, it’s quite tasty. And moist. And boozy.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Deliver the goods — December 9, 2020

Deliver the goods

A couple weeks ago, I was in my house, working remotely and minding my own business, when I noticed a car pull up beside my mailbox. It wasn’t the mail person or a car that was familiar to me, so I paid attention.

A few days prior, I had put out some “trash” that solid waste hadn’t picked up. When the driver of the mystery car exited the vehicle, I hoped he planned to turn my trash into his treasure because that would have kept me from having to figure out what to do with it.

Instead, he pulled a box from his car, strolled up my driveway, and deposited the box on my porch.

I said to myself, “Self, what the expletive?”

Granted, I had placed an order for my mom, but I’m not used to packages being delivered in random automobiles. Thus, I consulted my sisters and nieces. The conversation went “something” like this.

“Guys, a man in a (color redacted) car that looked like an old school Monte Carlo just dropped off a package on my porch. Does that seem right?”

“What’s a Monte Carlo?” asked a niece

“It was a car,” said I.

“Would they still be on the road?” asked a sister. “I don’t think they’ve made them in decades.”

“I said it looked like a Monte Carlo.”

“Do you mean Monte Carlo like the city in Europe?” asked a niece.

“Yeah, like where Princess Grace lived,” said a sister.

“Who is Princess Grace?” asked a niece.

“What kind of nonsense is this?! Princess Grace was a legend!” wailed I. “I’m going to disown you heatherns, but first, will someone please answer my question about people in random cars delivering packages.”

“Oh, that’s normal,” answered a niece. “You never know what kind of car or who will deliver your packages.”

Huh. Although I have been fortunate to work from home since March, I haven’t noticed a difference in delivery services because it’s not like I frequently utilize their services. Indeed, since March, I can count on one hand the times I’ve had packages too large to fit inside my mailbox delivered. And I’d still have at least two fingers remaining.

’Tis the season to place orders, however, and the man in a (color redacted) car that looks like an old school Monte Carlo has made a couple additional trips to my porch.

Unfortunately, the trash remains beside the mailbox because I still haven’t figured out what to do with it.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Worth the wait — December 2, 2020

Worth the wait

When I was a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, we decorated our Christmas tree with store-bought baubles as well as ornaments made by my mom and older siblings. Unfortunately, most of these hand-crafted ornaments fell victim to the 1984 flood that also ruined the greatest Christmas present ever aka the Barbie Dreamhouse.

My mom would occasionally mention the ornaments, saying she would love to find kits so that she could replace her lost ornaments. The loss of one ornament in particular bothered me the most. According to my memory, the ornament featured figures frolicking on a snowy scene set against a three-sided mirror.

We had no way of knowing in 1984 that an invention called the Internets would change our lives or that in 1995 an Iranian-American would create a website, eBay, that would allow people to buy used stuff from strangers.

I made my first eBay purchase in 2001. So, I’m guessing it was around that time that I started searching for the ornaments. I didn’t search every day or even every week or every month. But every now and then, working from my scattered memory, I’d look for those ornaments, especially the one featuring a snowy scene set against a three-sided mirror.

And for 19 years, I had no luck.

Until this September.

Of course, when I saw the price of the ornament featuring what I realized was a snowy scene set against three separate square mirrors, my first instinct was to close the browser. But you don’t walk away after 19, no make that 36, years. I sent a picture of the ornament to my sisters and when they confirmed that my memory was correct, I placed the order.

When the package arrived, I took it to my mom’s and we opened it together. The eBay seller had advised that the glue would be dried, so I had already purchased a tube of craft glue.

It quickly became apparent that we would also need to replace those oft-mentioned mirrors. Indeed, it was actually cheaper for me to order 100 square mirrors than to buy a can of spray paint to repair the other mirrors. By the way, the mirrors came packaged like small sleeves of crackers. As I figured they’d be tossed into a Ziploc bag and then thrown into an envelope, that came as a surprise.

With the excessive amount of mirrors in hand, Mom and I set to work on the ornament. We don’t share the same work style or speed, but we managed to complete the task without engaging in too many squabbles and without stabbing each other. I think the fumes from the glue helped keep us somewhat mellow.

ornamentOur efforts were so successful — and we have so many, many mirrors — that we’re planning to purchase additional materials and make more ornaments. As for our first creation, it has a prominent spot on her Christmas tree, surrounded by store-bought baubles and other hand-crafted ornaments.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.