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.

Better late than never? — December 11, 2019

Better late than never?

I have a confession to make. And after you read this-here confession, I will understand if you delete me from your reading list. Here goes – I have never seen any of the “Home Alone” or “The Santa Clause” movies.

Of course, even without having seen the flicks, I understand their respective premises. In the original “Home Alone,” a family forgets the existence of their little boy and flies to Paris for the holidays, leaving the tyke to fend for himself. Somehow, similar scenarios play out in sequels. Having never had children, I probably shouldn’t judge, but it seems to me that, after the first incident, parents would count their kids before boarding a plane.

In “The Santa Clause,” Tim Taylor from “Home Improvement” becomes Santa or takes over for the jolly old man or something like that. Having never seen the movies, I cannot be expected to know everything about them.

Anyway, I’m apparently the only person in the galaxy who hasn’t seen these flicks, and I have no plans to rectify the situation. Of course, it’s not that I harbor ill will toward them. Indeed, I’ve wondered why I didn’t watch them in their infancy.

But I didn’t and now it seems that, much like backpacking through Europe or training as a trapeze artist, I’ve missed my chance. Honestly, though, it doesn’t bother me. Well, maybe I’m still haunted about not studying the trapeze. But my ignorance of the movies is not what keeps me awake at night. After all, I have seen two other holiday standards – “Elf” and “Christmas Vacation” – each once. Neither of those viewings occurred until years and, in the case of “Christmas Vacation,” decades after their releases.

After oodles of years of buildup, there’s no way those movies could have met my lofty expectations. So, when doofus Cousin Eddie showed up in “Christmas Vacation,” I said to myself, “Self, people laugh until they wet themselves over this?”

Having had little exposure to these movies, I’ve forgotten much about them. So, when family, friends, and coworkers quote Cousin Eddie or Buddy the Elf, I have next to no idea what they’re talking about.

Sure, the movies had their moments. It’s just that I don’t want to relive those moments. Then again, I did enjoy the local theatre’s production of “Elf,” especially since it featured younglings in the roles.

Maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I need to watch younglings perform in theatrical productions of “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” and “The Santa Clause.”

Or maybe not.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Skirting the issue — December 4, 2019

Skirting the issue

78708555_427740308110462_7948906814651760640_nMy gently-used Christmas tree has a lovely new skirt. And, to think, it took me only four years to buy the tree skirt.

Well, the transaction didn’t take four years. But it did take four years for me to find a tree skirt I deemed worthy enough to play an important role in my holiday decor.

Of course, there wasn’t anything wrong with my previous tree skirt. It was winter white and featured a silver-and-gold Santa and snowperson as well as raised stars. Well, I don’t think it was genuine silver and gold, but as I didn’t have it appraised, I guess I’ll never know for sure. Anyway, I can still remember the day I bought it at the Supercenter. Feeling guilty for behaving so extravagantly, upon my return home I called my mom and asked if $12 had been too much to spend on a tree skirt.

She assured me that it wasn’t and, for the next 16 years, the tree skirt added a touch of grandeur to my household. But thanks in part to my cat army, the silver and gold had frayed and many of the stars had quietly disappeared.

So, four years ago, I started shopping for another tree skirt. But choosing one represented a huge commitment. After all, I would have to live with my decision one month a year for the ensuing decade or even longer.

Faced with that realization, I struggled to find a tree skirt that suited my fancies. Sure, I’d run across one I considered cute or even cozy, but then I’d focus on a feature such as fake fur or felt reindeer antlers and reconsider.

This year seemed like the right time, though. Indeed, I welcomed a hand-me-down tree into my household and it would have been gauche to drape an aging skirt underneath a gently-used tree.

As luck would have it, I spied a lovely tree skirt during an autumn visit to the home improvement store. The skirt, resplendent in Christmas red, featured the words “merry and bright” stitched on the front in white as well as white scalloped edging.

Of course, I didn’t buy it right then and there. I needed time to mull over my decision and make sure an even lovelier skirt didn’t reside in various and sundry stores or on websites.

When I failed to find lovelier décor, I scurried back to the home improvement store and bought the aforementioned tree skirt, which now decorates the floor underneath the tree.

In spite of its loveliness, I was worried that Alice, the youngest member of my cat army, would not care for the new tree skirt. So fond was she of its silver-and-gold predecessor that she seemingly took up residence on it before I placed it under the tree each year. My worries, however, were proven fruitless. Alice, who regards Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, quickly settled onto the tree skirt as if it were an empty box or freshly-laundered clothes. What’s more, she and/or another member of my cat army has already deposited a fur ball on the lovely new tree skirt.

Yes, it’s officially part of the household.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The early bird gets the tree — November 13, 2019

The early bird gets the tree

It is my belief that people generally fall into two camps – those who refuse to acknowledge Christmas’ existence until after Thanksgiving and those who think it’s fine and dandy to start the festivities as soon as the last trick or treater vacates the premises.

I used to be solidly ensconced in the first camp. For years, I could be heard asking folks to refrain from listening to Christmas music or trimming the tree until I was finished complaining about the Thanksgiving parade or making sure everyone knew that I don’t like turkey.

But at some point, I faced the fact that I was harmed not one iota by early embraces of the holiday. If somebody in my neighborhood or in Nebraska wants to drape a billion red, green, and white lights on their house on Nov. 1, well, that’s none of my business.

And, then, the strangest thing happened. I went away for the weekend in early November a few years ago. This trip occurred when I still listened to the radio, so during my travels, I sought a classic country or rock station. Instead, I found a station devoted to playing nothing but Christmas music from Halloween until the big day.

I stayed with that station for miles, eventually changing only when I heard more static than songs.

From that year forward, I’ve started listening to Christmas music when I dern well please. For the record, every year I’ve dern well pleased somewhere in that sweet spot between Halloween and Thanksgiving. And just because I listen to it on Nov. 1 doesn’t mean I’ll listen to it on Nov. 2. The mood has to hit.

So far, I’ve never been in the mood to decorate or to start my Christmas baking before Thanksgiving. But I do plan to devote the entire month of December to baking. The way I see it, it’s called the holiday season for a reason. What better way to savor the season than by savoring baked goods all month long? Besides, if you wait until mere days before the actual holiday, then you’ll run out of time as well as room in your fat pants.

I also ascribe to the philosophy of one of my cousins. Expressing her reasons for decorating early, she explained that she enjoys looking at her Christmas lights. As she’s gotten older, she’s realized the importance of treasuring life’s simple pleasures.

And if your simple pleasures include complaining about early Christmas decorations, you should have a merry season.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Short and sweet — January 2, 2019

Short and sweet

A couple weeks before Christmas, I set about to whip up some holiday goodies. I started by making a batch of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. They tasted delicious, and I should know because I sampled oodles of them.

Next, I made Christmas Chex Party Mix. I’d been hankering to do so for years. Every holiday season – after hearing my nieces rave about Chex Mix for the entire expletive year – I’d share my plans to stir together Chex Mix, only for them to inform me they don’t like Chex.

This year, though, I decided to make Chex Mix, whether they wanted it or not. I’m glad I did, because it tasted delicious and I’ve received rave reviews. By the way, making the mix wasn’t a difficult task. You wouldn’t know that from a commercial that used to air on the TV. It featured a grown woman reminiscing about holidays of yore when her mom toiled in the kitchen to make Chex Mix for her family. From the way she carried on, one would think the chore took several days to complete and left her mom so exhausted she passed out on the floor.

That was not the case for me. Indeed, it was so quick and easy to complete that I then made a half batch of shortbread cookies. I know what you’re thinking. Multiplying and/or dividing a recipe is fraught with danger because it involves math. But math didn’t cause a problem.

Instead, shortening caused a problem.

Specifically, old shortening caused a problem.

I rarely use shortening in recipes, so I wasn’t surprised that the shortening in my cupboards was older than my 17-month-old great-nephew. I was, however, surprised by the smell that filled my nostrils and my kitchen when I removed the lid to the shortening.

Still, I persevered, mixing together the ingredients, including the aged shortening. When mixed together, the cookie dough looked like it was supposed to, so I sampled it.

It tasted like failure.

As regular readers should know, I’m on the cheap side. I abhor waste. But there’s no way I was going to serve cookies that tasted like lard smells. That would have ruined my reputation as a baker of some acclaim. So, I dumped the dough, as well as the old shortening, and started over. Consulting the Internets, I found the ratio for replacing shortening with butter, did more math, and made the dough.

With my nerves frayed, I sampled the second batch of dough and it tasted fine. Of course, the butter rendered the dough more difficult to roll, but I was up to the task. I worried, though, even after tasting the delicious cookies. I said to myself, “Self, what if it’s like muscle memory? What if your taste buds only remember how the cookies should taste? What if this batch also tastes like failure?”

Nonetheless, I shared the cookies with families and friends. The next day, I received a message from a friend advising that the shortbread cookies didn’t have the right taste or texture.

My heart sank, but I quickly recovered and formulated a plan. I would track down every cookie that remained and erase the memory of said cookies from the unfortunate folks who had endured eating them.

But then I read the rest of the message. She was joking. She went on to give the cookies five out of five stars.

Shew.

I learned three important lessons from that batch of cookies – don’t use old shortening, always consider using butter, and math can be tasty.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Christmas Chronicles — December 19, 2018

The Christmas Chronicles

Last weekend I watched the new holiday movie, “The Christmas Chronicles,” on the Netflix. The flick follows the exploits of a brother and sister who accidentally cause Santa’s sleigh to crash on Christmas Eve.

While Kurt Russell, who plays Santa, makes the movie worthwhile, it is not without flaw. For starters, the title doesn’t evoke feelings of heartwarming, holiday fare. In fact, when I heard that Russell was attached to something called “The Christmas Chronicles,” I figured he was narrating a documentary that chronicled the holiday through the centuries.

What’s more, the elves are downright scary and annoying. They’re a combination of the demonic Chucky doll and the irritating Ewoks with a dash of Smeagol added to the mix.

Anyway, after the sleigh crashes, Santa and the younglings head to a crowded restaurant looking for help. You read that right. The restaurant is crowded – on Christmas Eve.

As Santa goes from table to table, calling skeptical diners by name and mentioning gifts from their childhoods, I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make a point about how we lose our belief in the magic of Christmas as we age.

But I couldn’t stop wondering why these families weren’t home, opening presents and shoving homemade goodies into their mouths. Of course, I’m sure some of the characters don’t celebrate the holiday due to religious and/or cultural reasons. Could that be true of all of them, though? I don’t think so.

Then again, I’m always surprised to learn that, unlike my immediate and extended family, not everyone starts their Christmas baking early in December for their various pre-holiday spreads. One year, I asked a former coworker of her plans for Christmas Eve. She told me that, as they do every year, she and her husband planned to spend a quiet evening at home. I also learned they don’t do much for Christmas Day, either. Another former coworker complained to me that her husband’s family did nothing for Christmas.

To be clear, the aforementioned folks do not shy away from Christmas due to religious and/or cultural reasons. They’re not orphans. They have loved ones. So, it took all my resolve not to tell the first coworker she could spend a quiet evening at home on the eve of Christmas Eve and ask the second coworker if I could share some recipes with her husband’s family.

Back to the movie. A couple times in “The Christmas Chronicles,” Santa produces vintage presents from the characters’ childhoods in an effort to prove he’s who he says he is. At least one of the characters doesn’t seem to care. Once again, I was shocked. If Santa were to ask me for help, I’d tell him to produce a fully-stocked 1980’s-era Barbie Dreamhouse and I’d drive him anywhere he wanted to go. But those creepy elves would have to find their own ride.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.