Every year we all say that “next year” will be the one when we won’t stress as much during the holidays, and that we won’t “do so much.” There’s sometimes even crazy talk after a glass of mulled wine about doing a “handmade-only gift exchange next year” but anyone who’s tried to handcraft a gift for a teenage girl who doesn’t happen to be building an Amish hope-chest understands that this is what I refer to as “crazy talk.” No, sir! you protest. Next year will be different! Well, that’s bullshit and you know it and I know it, but for the sake of not wanting to alienate a reader, I’ll let the assertion stand.
But you know you’re lying; by this time next year your holiday gift list will have grown exponentially and you’ll probably be hosting that neighbourhood mixer you swore you’d never participate in. And what’s that? Oh yes; I even see a cookie exchange in your future. So yeah; you’re a liar, but it’s okay because so am I, and I’ll be right there with you trading Air Miles for something “Extra-Blaster-Turbo-Action-Starter-Pack” for my son despite the mountain of gifts for him already under the tree. We mean well and what counts when the fiery end finally comes is that we meant well, right? (I am no fun at Christmas parties.)
With so much to get done during the holidays it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Once you factor in baking, decorating, and wrapping gifts, there’s hardly any time left for sobbing into your eggnog because the only Christmas card you received was from your divorce lawyer.
In case you “swear-ta-God-cross-my-heart-stab-me-with-an-icicle-if-I’m-lyin’-I’m-dyin‘” mean it about less stress next year, here are some tips to get you started.
Elf on the Shelf
Get rid of it. If you’ve got more than one kid, the truth is you don’t need an Elf, unless it’s a real one who brings you chocolates and knows how to fix the dishwasher – we could all use more of that in our lives. If your children have siblings, you’ve already got a built-in Elf on the Shelf every day of the year. I’ve got two kids, and I’ve even given them incentives for reporting unsavoury behaviour. For example, one tattle earns a square of toilet paper. Two tattles? You get a sheet on your bed tonight! Three? That’s the big time, helper child, and you just earned yourself a full glass of non-powdered milk with dinner. During the holiday season nothing happens in this house without me being aware of it, and if something is so well thought out that it involves both children, I don’t want to know.
Just say no. Seriously, does anyone even do this anymore? If you must participate in this tradition, make it easy for yourself: simply drive around the neighbourhood with your car windows open, cranking an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas CD.
Today’s home chef has the ability to make treats rivaling those found in European bakeries. Thanks to specialty shops and pushy friends selling Pampered Chef products, you too can churn out delectable, gorgeous treats just like those in a bakery. Have I said “bakery” enough times to indicate you should just GO TO A BAKERY? No one will know. Jab a few holes in the cookies with your finger, and maybe throw a couple into the toaster oven to burn the bottoms if you’re worried about appearing too perfect. I wish I had your problems.
Fancy papers, ribbons and bows, personalized name tags…Where does the madness end? You’re already getting a present. Now you expect me to spend 30 minutes carefully wrapping it in gold foil paper with coordinating hand-punched calligraphy name tag? Take a cue from my ex-husband: wrap everything in the bag it came in and seal it up with whatever roll of tape is in the junk drawer. Some of the nicest things I ever got came in duct taped Walmart bag. (And by nice I mean “okay.” And by “okay” I mean “not good at all.”)
Right now my lawnmower is sitting out, mid-lawn, where it ran out of gas in August. I just threw some lights on it and called it a day, so maybe go elsewhere for decorating tips. I hear they do that shit over on Pinterest.
Planning nutritious meals for your family while you’re busy with things like shopping and crying, or wrapping and crying, or trimming the tree and crying can be hard. Fret not, friends, and wipe those tears away! Blow your nose on your light-up Christmas sweater because I bring to you one of the greatest gifts God ever bestowed on the Universe: the grocery store rotisserie chicken. This golden BBQ bird has saved my hide (and potential calls to Children’s Services for suspected neglect) many, many times. In fact, in the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” the verse “partridge in a pear tree” was originally “A chicken in my buggy.”
Make your parties “BYOBAFAYNLUEICU”: Bring Your Own Booze and Food and You’re Not Leaving Until Everything is Cleaned Up. Enforce this. Take people’s coats, their keys, whatever items you can pillage from their pockets during hello hugs, and hide them under piles of crusty dishes and empty wine bottles. When guests help clean up the mess, they find their stuff! This is also a great way to keep guests entertained, and eliminate the needs for additional party games. Win/Win. Plus, you’ll secure a reputation for being the “hostess with the mostest” by employing this technique.
So there you have it! A season of merriment awaits you. And please, add your tips in the comments if you’ve got some to share. We’re in this together.
*this post was modified from a post I originally ran on December 20, 2012. I changed a few things and thought I’d offer it earlier in the season this time around, while there is still time to run for your lives. You can also see by this that I’ve learned nothing.
When we change the clocks for Daylight Saving Time it becomes evening here at 4pm. I won’t run out for a head of garlic in the evening because the last clove fell under the stove drawer and no one comes back from there unscathed in sunlight for another five months. It’s cold and dark when I get up in the morning, and it’s cold and dark when I go to bed. The small blue light on the coffee maker is piercing and hurts my eyes in the morning gloom, and because the kitchen faces north even in the summer our large trees in front shade the windows. In the winter they block any effort from the sun and only gray diffused light pushes against the edges of the tree’s silhouette. It’s not enough to warm the kitchen and so I make lunches, inspect heads of hair, supervise responsible breakfast choices, and pack knapsacks under the yellow glow of a pair of 60 watt incandescent bulbs.
Then I drive my daughter to high school, see my son off to the bus stop, and return home to sit at a keyboard where I proceed to think through my fingertips. I make mistakes – a lot of them; for a writer I am a horrible typist and my screen is often filled with additional characters. Ampersands and percentage signs break words in half and numbers and symbols from another language appear where they do not belong and where they are not welcome. This is seems completely appropriate.
It’s after 7pm now and all traces of daylight have been gone for hours. I am again in the kitchen and the window is a sheet of dull black, save the small white points of light reflected from the neighbours Christmas bulbs. They are LED lights and they are far too bright. They’re too harsh for a season I take part in but don’t fully celebrate. These are impressive lights and while I don’t begrudge them, they make me feel woefully inadequate for not having my own display, but ugh, ladders.
I know my ennui will pass. It always does and there are things to look forward to and I keep looking forward. We laugh everyday and I thank god or the creator or whoever wished me into existence that they gave me a sense of humor. When it’s dark at 4pm you need it.
Get your comfy “line standing shoes” polished up and dust off that one man pup-tent!
Yes; pack a lunch and a soup can to pee in, because “Charlie Brown” the movie is coming to the big screen and there is gonna be a line-up for tickets the likes of which you won’t believe! This thing is gonna put “The Hunger Games” pre-sale to shame and I…I can’t do this.
I discovered this exciting cinematic revelation on Google a few weeks ago. I was feeling pretty good – too good, in fact – and realized I needed to be taken down a peg or two on the happiness ladder. Nothing takes me down faster than the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special,” so I Googled it up and it did not disappoint. It was just as depressing as I remembered.
My cousins and I watched it every year, locked in my Grandmother’s small front room with a kitchen towel wedged in the door frame. I have no idea what possessed adults to inflict this torture on their offspring, other than maybe payback for horrific labours and stolen youth.
Even as a child I thought that Charlie Brown television specials were probably the most depressing children’s programming that ever there was. To be fair, “Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired in 1965, and while this was long before the concept of self-esteem for children was part of the parenting “toolbox,” I still think someone at the originating network was a kid-hater. Five minutes into my YouTube revival and the Peanuts kids had already called each other “stupid,” “hopeless,” and “dumb.” I’m pretty confident “asshole” and “douche-bag” sit reluctantly on the cutting room floor, due only to FCC interference.
So, hey, MERRY FREAKIN’ CHRISTMAS, ya stupid dipshit blockhead!
I read several of the articles outlining the upcoming movie and it appears that Charles Schultz’s son and grandson will write the movie screenplay, which sounds like a lot of work when you first think about it. But really, how much work is needed for something consisting mostly of depressing tuba music and a lot of WahWahWAH?
Children’s television programming completely devoid of parental presence freaks me out. It’s best not to give my kids get any ideas. I’ve seen the way my son eyes me up after an episode of “Max and Ruby.” Like Max, my son also has a big sister, and the rooms in our house are an odd jumble of coloured, mismatched wallpapers. This boy could be living “la vida orphan” if given the opportunity. No; best not provide a match for that fire.
There’s no word yet on the upcoming movie’s plot, but I’m hoping it somehow explains why so many children in the Peanuts gang have only four greasy hairs on their head. Was having the hair of a retired plumbing parts salesman from Indiana normal for the children of this era? And I’m no professional, but why isn’t Charlie Brown seeing a self-esteem therapist? And could someone please just lock Lucy in a cold cellar?
Charlie Brown television and movie plots really are just the most depressing media events ever. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the new original movie.Stay tuned until 2015 for my review on “Save our Playground/Abandoned Nuclear Reactor Plant, Charlie Brown!”
At Christmas 1980, I was seven years old. I wanted a Lite-Brite, a Spirograph with coloured pens, and a Barbie Dream Castle.
Christmas morning I got pajamas, books, Tomy fashion plates, and purple soap-on-a-rope that smelled like my grandmother’s bathroom. The gifts came in green and gold wrapping that very closely resembled the living room wallpaper. I’m sure I received other presents as well, but between the ether like smell of that soap and the psychedelic wallpaper, my memories up until the spring of 1981 are pretty fuzzy.
So I didn’t get the dream castle. My friend Joanne did.* Joanne had a pink bedroom with a matching Sears furniture set, two parents, and a jewellery box with jewellery in it. I had a jewellery box too, but the musical ballerina was long gone and it held only candy wrappers and a dime store ring my grandfather bought my at the Parry Sound Mall near our cottage. It was the most beautiful ring I have ever owned.
I’ve also always been a bit of a bleeding heart left winger, and a homeless Barbie was out of the question, so I did what I had to do: I got to work building her a house out of empty beer cases. (Actually, I built a Barbie sub-division and strip mall. There were enough beer cases.) I used pink quilted toilet paper for the curtains and bed spreads and tinfoil wrapped around a cigarette package made an excellent large screen television for Barbie’s Wizard of Oz movie parties. Barbie had a waterbed made from a half filled Ziploc sandwich bag stuffed into a Tupperware ice cream keeper. The plastic safety cap from a disposable razor made a great bedside alarm clock, although Barbie usually slept through it, what with being exhausted from all those late night movie parties and having a super cozy waterbed. We used a juice container and string to pull her up the side of the boxes, just like the elevator on the “real” Barbie house did. I had the best customized Barbie beer case castle you’ve ever seen, and I made it.
You can bet Barbie loved it too. What independant women wouldn’t want to live alone in a 7-storey building that smelled like a frat house? Who amongst us would not appreciate corrogated cardboard walls upon which to pin fashion plate tennis queen wallpaper? Hasn’t everyone at one point or another wished for a “Old South” carton to transport them to their 5th floor popcan toilet?
That’s why Santa will bring the Lego, the Air Hogs helicopter, the Cars 2 movie, the camouflage clothing, and yes – God help us – probably even the catapult.
The iPod touch and 1 trillion dollars can wait until another year.
* names have been changed to protect the lucky, selfish, ungrateful people who make fun of others for having only dime store rings and candy wrappers in their jewellery boxes.
Tuesday was my first day back at school for the winter semester. I should have gone back Monday, but I read the start date on my schedule as 10/01/11 and my brain told me, “Jeni, you go back to school on January the 11th. Make sure you wear pants.” My brain is smart enough to remind me to wear pants, but not smart enough to notice that the actual date is January 10th, 2011. I really need to start wearing a helmet when I ride my bike.
In the class I remembered to go to today, the Professor asked our small group of 20 or so to introduce ourselves. I won’t relay them all, but here are some approximate statistics:
- 6 students are applying to a graduate program, after which they will likely apply to teacher’s college
- 7 students are applying directly to a Teacher’s college
- 1 student had a really wrinkly neck, muffin top and corn chips in her teeth, and is now seriously re-evaluating her plans to apply to teacher’s college
Here’s a typical introduction:
“Hi. I am a fourth year English major, minoring in bio-medical sciences. I spent the last semester abroad where I compiled a detailed thesis on the complete works of every great modern author. I also just returned from a winter holiday at a health spa retreat in the Mediterranean– that’s why my hair is so shiny, and I have a youthful glow. After graduation I have been accepted to Graduate School with a full scholarship. I belong to Greenpeace, PETA, the Student Council, play forward on the soccer team, write for the University Newspaper, head up the local Amnesty International Chapter and play bass and keyboards in a band. I organize the annual food bank drive to feed the homeless and I am looking forward to what this year brings!”
Then she did a cart-wheel.
My introduction was slightly less stellar:
“Hi. I’m Jeni. I don’t understand metric , skinny jeans, or what ‘bio-medical’ means. I own several pairs of brightly coloured velour pants. I forget what year I am at in my program here, but I think it’s eleventy-four. I spent my Christmas break learning Bakugan attributes forcibly at the hands of a tyrant in a Transformers housecoat, pulling Lego out of the vacuum cleaner and giving CPR to a wet hamster. My 6-year-old son has started getting up at 2am every morning and that’s why the bags under my eyes are darker than my future employment prospects. The last things I read were “Franklin gets a Friend” and the Poison Control Centre pamphlet. After graduation I will be wondering how many overtime shifts at Tim Horton’s I will need to work to pay off my student loan. I kick ass at Rockband vocals and haven’t dusted my house since ‘Friends’ went off the air. (That was a show with Courtney Cox before she moved to Cougartown.) This morning I told my son there were no chocolate chip muffins left and then ate the last four of them in the bathroom with the tap running.”
They smiled and nodded. They’re polite, these kids.
They’re also optimistic, assured, confident, and young. They are bright-eyed, energetic and enthusiastic. They have their entire lives ahead of them and they deserve every opportunity the work they do here brings forth.
How the hell am I going to compete with that?
They make me feel old.
But I truly do want them to have all the best life has to offer.
I also want to kick them in their well-toned-skinny-jean-clad-tropical-vacation-tanned-shins.
My living room looks like the set of every post-Apocolyptic movie, but with a sprinkling of dead Poinsettia leaves thrown in for festive measure.
A random sampling contains: Nerf machine gun bullets, a half built Bionicle, assorted playing cards, a chocolate Santa Claus torso, sticky wine glasses, a Nutcracker’s beard pulled off by bickering siblings, bits of sparkly wrapping paper, candy wrappers, a popcorn box, a bamboo cutting board, a partially unwrapped cell phone charger, Styrofoam packing peanuts and ten thousand marbles (low estimate.) There is enough stuff in here to stock the toy, electronics, and craft supply aisles of a decent sized department store.
Right now my son is making a house from the cardboard box my gift came in and a pack of crayons we’ve owned since the Clinton Administration.
Other years I’d have had it tidied by now, but this year I’m experiencing a stronger than usual case of post holiday “dontwanndoanythingitis.” The other factor is that Santa brought Wii Rockband and a Kitchen-Aid mixer to our house. I’ve been rocking it out for the last three days, stopping only to throw together another layer cake or batch of muffins. I’m going to weigh 40 pounds more than I did at the beginning of December, but if I can get the 6 year-old to tighten his drum solo, we’ll be too famous a Rock band to care.
This year I also discovered something that hurts more than Lego when you step on it: Beyblades. Have these come to your house yet? They’re glorified spinning tops with metal edges and you start them by pulling sharp serrated whips. It’s a good thing my son got three boxes of band-aids for Christmas, because he only has skin left on two knuckles. (Side rant: One package of band-aids proclaims “Free Gift Inside!” Is the gift of a properly healed, infection free wound no longer enough for children? “Well, sure; I prevented gangrene and practiced proper hygiene, but WHERE THE HELL IS MY FREE GOOGLY EYED MONSTER STICKER?”
It appears that Beyblades are most effectively played when wearing red velour housecoats and war paint swiped from your sister’s new make-up kit. Shouts of “ATTACK! Storm Pegasus! Rock Leone! ATTTTACCCKKKK!” and high-pitched primal screaming precede small metal disks spinning out of nowhere at speeds upwards of 110 mph. The purpose of the game seems to be to chew chunks of flesh from unsuspecting ankles.
ANKLES THAT DID NOTHING TO DESERVE THIS.
Somehow, after 37 Christmas celebrations, countless retellings of Christ’s birth story, and at least 2 midnight mass attendances, I still managed to miss the part of the spear wielding caped Lego skeleton riding in on a horse to be part of the Nativity.
When you have kids, you learn so much.
According to my Advil Advent calendar, Christmas is just over a week away. Until now I felt that I had everything under control in the holiday planning department – most of the gifts we need have been bought, wrapped, and are under the tree. My annual manifesto Christmas letter is almost complete; I’m just holding off with some of the details until I see how the judge makes his ruling. I’ve written my final exams for the semester and with the kids still in school for the rest of the week I finally have some time for leisurely pursuits like my annual leg shaving.
There are just a few people we still hadn’t bought gifts for, so PM and I headed out this afternoon, determined to buy everything we needed today. But after all the shopping I’ve been doing recently, I was exhausted after half an hour into the trip.
(Actually it was probably the episode earlier at a Big Box Home Store that sapped my energy. I’m sorry, but when there are more than 6 people in a check-out line and the cashier is interviewing each customer and counting out their change in pennies I cannot be held responsible for my actions. I’m also thinking that most of my shopping will soon have to be done primarily online for legal reasons.)
We decided to be brave and go to the Price Club. By the time we had walked the 40 acres from our parking spot, I was done. PM and I made plans to split the list and meet after an hour. The next thing I knew I was being woken up by a lady in a smock poking me in the face with a tray of European cheese samples. I took her tray and went to find PM. He was looking at electric saunas.
“Hi there!” He was cheerful. “Look what I found while you were napping on the doggie beds.”
I peered into his Hyundai sized shopping cart and said, “I was tired. That car tire sized wheel of Gouda made me drowsy.” I picked through the stuff in the cart. “Are these the gifts?”
“Um…yeah. Yeah; they are.”
“Huh. Who are the pickled asparagus and sledgehammer for?”
“We’re playing Secret Santa at work.”
“Hmm. What about the 40-pack of mousetraps, 2 qt. jar of Cheez Whiz and the 2011 Monster Truck Encyclopedia?”
“Lucky lady. And what’s that?” I asked, pointing to something at the bottom of the cart. “Everything in this cart is for us, isn’t it?”
“I got some pancake mix…” he started.
“That’s a bag of powdered drywall spackle!”
“…and a frying pan that makes snowflake shaped pancakes!”
“For the spackle?”
“If it’s shaped like a snowflake and covered with maple syrup the kids aren’t even going to notice.” He seemed confident.
“Did you find Rock Band 3 for the Wii?” I asked.
“No; but are you sure the kids even want it?” He didn’t seem convinced.
“Absolutely! Yes! Kind of. Probably. I mean, when I mentioned it they didn’t say no…exactly.”
“You told me they were begging for it.”
“Because I think it will be good for them. They need the guitar practice.”
“The Rock Band guitar is an electronic stick with push buttons on it.”
I pressed on. “Regardless, They should master the bass pedal and high hat on the drum kit. Plus, I think they are ready to understand the pressures of the road.”
“Jeni…Jeni, put the cheese down. You are never going to ‘go’ again if you don’t lay off the dairy. And you know that you’re not really in a band, right? It’s a game…something you do for fun – like karaoke or home dentistry. And you really need to stop referring to your minivan as ‘the tour bus.’ I should tell you that people are starting to talk.”
When we left he had to pull his toque down to cover the snowflake shaped red mark on his forehead.
My ex-husband and I took the kids to watch a Santa Claus parade.
I wasn’t in this particular one, but in 1978 I did twirl a baton in the parade with my dance school class. But I’ve never been very coordinated, so it’s probably more accurate to say that what I actually did was walk down Main St. in red tights throwing a cold metal bar at unsuspecting lookers-on.
This year’s parade was pretty good, but as with most things, there was room for improvement. I was about five minutes into an analytical commentary of the festivities when my ex interrupted me.
“Do you realize you haven’t said one positive thing since we’ve been here?”
“I did so. I said ‘thanks for the coffee.’”
“But then you complained because I didn’t have a flask of Bailey’s in my pocket.”
“Well it’s common sense!” Really, some people just don’t get it.
“Then you said they should have a coffee only line at the bakery, because the people in front of you were taking too long with their order.”
“Who orders 24 cupcakes and a Bundt cake to eat at a parade?”
My daughter chimed in. “Neggggggaaaativeeee…”
My son said, “I want cake!”
I thought about this negativity claim for a minute. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I’ve been called a cynical pessimist and worse. My personal favorite is “dream killer.”
Some people may view it that way, but I think they are idealistic wieners.
I couldn’t let this go. “I have so said nice things.”
“I said that it wasn’t as bad as last year.”
“Jeni, you pointed out every grammatical error on the banners, said Santa’s elves looked drunk, that the brass band were ‘totally phoning it in,’ and that you couldn’t believe how lazy the dancing tiny-tots are.”
“Well come on! Their parents were pulling them in freaking wagons! It’s not a “get-pulled-in-a-wagon-school.”
“But it’s a five mile parade!”
“Hey, I survived it. In tights, with no toque on, and nobody pulled me in a wagon.”
“That’s because parents didn’t love their kids until the late 80’s.”
So on top of the internet and Bakugan, that’s just one more thing my children can be thankful for.
Oops, sorry. Was that negative?
I think my BlackBerry is making me stupid. Or co-dependent. Or some other adjective that denotes dumbness that I can’t muster the brain power to think of.
It appears that I’ve become one of “those” people - the kind of person completely dependent on their cell phone. I used to laugh at those people. I used to hate those people, and still kinda do. But at the same time I never considered not having one. Why not give up zippers and pasteurization while you’re at it? When one friend explained to me that she doesn’t carry a cell phone, it was as if she said she ate puppies for breakfast and thought using toilet paper was “over-rated.”
The kids and I were out for dinner Saturday night when I discovered my BlackBerry cold and dead at the bottom of my purse amid a crime scene of broken crayons and gum wrappers. And I had no way to charge it. (My phone charger broke when I used it to secure the Christmas tree to the roof of my van.) So now I was completely cut off from society. We were headed to the movies, and PM was going to meet us there. When I realized I wouldn’t be able to reach him for the standard last-minute meeting update, I got shaky. Finally I pulled myself together and remembered that he said he’d meet us at 6pm.
We arrived at the theatre I saw his truck in the parking lot, but I didn’t see him anywhere inside. I couldn’t text him, and I couldn’t call. I was completely without agency.
I started freaking out.
What should I do? Should I go ahead and buy movie tickets? Had he already bought them? Should I get some snacks? What would he want? Was he hurt somewhere? Had he tripped on a patch of ice? Was he now lying under a Honda Civic in the parking lot, only 150 feet away, but unable to call me for help because I was a phoneless idiot who used her phone charger as a bungee cord?
What kind of partner was I? WHAT KIND OF PERSON WAS I?
I didn’t know what to do. I lost all ability to rationalize. My problem solving skills and reason had evaporated right along with my BlackBerry’s flux capacitor. I turned around and around in a circle, arms outspread, dumbfounded and incoherent. My son thought we were playing the spinning game and got dizzy and barfed gummy worms on my shoe.
So…cold…I…I…I can’t feel my legs…
Going to the movies had never been so stressful. Lying on the sticky theatre floor, I recalled the carefree movie going days of my youth:
Me: Wanna go to the movies tonight?
End of planning. Hours later we’d be in our seats, drinking apricot brandy from a canning jar swiped from my parent’s cold cellar, smuggled inside a Hyundai-sized purple pleather handbag. No cell phones were necessary in the planning of the event. Why? Because we trusted each other to be where we said we would be, when we said we would be there. We didn’t call each other 17 times to arrange meeting times, or text to discuss show choices, or Blackberry PIN someone at the snack bar to instruct them what snacks to buy. We used our brains and common sense, not our fingers and a keyboard.
Things happened organically. If you were at the theatre, you watched the movie. If you sent a friend to get the snacks, they made a choice. Your friend could be late for the movies and you’d assume she was running late because she couldn’t find her keys, not because she was lying underneath her car, frantically wishing someone would invent the cell phone so she could call for assistance.
I miss those days.
But not as much as I miss knowing where my people are every moment of the day, and so tomorrow I will be picking up microchip homing devices…er…phone chargers for stocking stuffers.
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