Sunday, December 26, 2004


Driving home from Darcy's around the lake, this afternoon, I saw at least four little kids, wobbling along the path ecstatically on shiny, shiny, dazzling new bicycles as their parents strolled beatifically along beside.

Aw, Santa, you old still know just how to get me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NotMe and Ida Know

Julius is demonstrably my Bad Cat. He eats the plants, he tips over his water dish, he torments his sister daily. He goes knickknack fishing when he tires of the vast array of designated kitty toys; I'm forever stepping on something unexpected in the dark of the night on the way to the bathroom. He surfs on the throw rugs and hysterically trash-talks the benign neighbor cat through the windows.

Tulip, on the other hand, is essentially an affectionate decorative throw pillow. With appalling cat fud breath.

So far, the cats have been largely indifferent to the Christmas tree. But among my decorations are little garlands of paper Scandinavian flags...and for about a week I've been coming home to find here a flag, there a flag, everywhere a slightly soggy chewed-off flag, all around the living room. Naughty, naughty Julius, I thought. I've been lightly scolding him for days.

You can imagine my surprise when, last night, Tulip (fresh from a nap) sidled up to the tree, snagged a flag and started tugging. SHOCKED, I tell you. "Hey! No no no," I told her. And she looked right at me, with huge glowing dilated crazy!pupils, and chomped down on the poor little candy-cane bear ornament, dangling adjacent. (He's already got only one eye--cut him some slack!)

Those who say that pets are not like people, let alone backstabbing, sibling-rivalrous children, obviously have none.

I should be relieved, though: check out the Very Bad Cats indeed Iris and Fern, decorating their own tree.

Monday, December 13, 2004

It's not Christmas until Poppy cries

I got to participate in another long-held holiday tradition Sunday morning, actually, when I attended a St. Lucia brunch. My mom's friend Cookie has been doing this as long as I can remember, hosting hordes of people for coffee and pastry to celebrate "the Swedish Christmas." When we were little, Cookie's daughter, DerDer, would play the role of the Lucia Bride, leading us into the dining room with the crown of candles on her head--tipped with gold foil, when we were very small, and thrillingly, fearsomely lit, when she was older. (Apparently battery-operated ones are now de rigeur.) DerDer married, last year, so the celebration has moved to her home.

There were a lot of new attendees this year, neighbors who didn't know the story, so DerDer and Cookie gave a little presentation. I didn't know much about the actual legend, either, it turns out. Lucia was an Italian saint, and it's not clear why the Swedes so fell in love with her. One story has Lucia, a devout Christian, refusing to marry a Pagan husband and putting out her own eyes. Another has her bringing bread to starving, persecuted Christians hiding in tunnels and caves; she wore candles on her head to free her hands and light the way. Yet another has her arriving in a harbor on a ship, bringing light, bringing food to the hungry.

When I was a kid, the processional part of the celebration seemed interminable--though I envied DerDer the attention, and her gripping role, fraught with danger. We'd gather around the table and listen to the traditional hymn--originally on a record, later copied onto cassette--a choir of children warbled verse after verse in Swedish or Latin or whatever, and some of the grownups would fumble along tunelessly, and all I wanted was to get it over with and get to the food. I was eager to line the pockets of my corduroy jumper with gingersnaps and start running up and down the stairs with DerDer and her three brothers, my sister and all the neighbor kids and cousins, shrieking and slamming each other's fingers in doors while the adults drank gallons of coffee and didn't notice when we kept slinking back to the table, keeping our blood sugar levels just on the frenzied side of a diabetic coma.

I don't know when it changed. I think it's partly Poppy's fault. DerDer's stepdad is legendarily, hilariously sentimental; he weeps at the proverbial drop of a hat, at Hallmark commercials and Notre Dame championships. When DerDer announced her engagement, Poppy cried for an entire year at the mere thought of walking her down the aisle. We mock poor Poppy, with great love...but even as we laugh, he has the power to get everyone else going too. (During the father/bride dance at the actual reception, my particular table of friends and family sobbed so hard the d.j. had to crank it to eleven to drown us out.)

So. This year, DerDer and her husband had actually burned the Sankta Lucia hymn onto a CD for her folks. This is close, but not quite the same version; you have to imagine it dubbed and redubbed off the original vinyl, with the pops and scratches, the needle hissing in the groove. DerDer pressed "Play." The introductory measures wavered across the living room. And...

...Poppy let out an audible, gulping sob and abruptly swiveled his Barcalounger to face the wall.

So. Yeah, we all giggled tenderly at Poppy. But it's a long hymn, and you have a lot of time to look at the tree, and the candles glowing, and the faces of family and friends and the babies they have now. You think about being kids, all in a sugared-up Christmas lather; you think of your Grammy, and DerDer's grandma KittyCoat, neither of whom are with us any more. And let me tell you, you harrumph and sniffle and blinkblinkblink HARD at the ceiling to keep from getting mascara face...

...and finally, thank God, it's time to eat. To laugh at yourself, and blot your eyes with an IKEA napkin printed with a little blonde girl in a fiery crown, and hug your own mom and your extra one, Cookie, and Poppy and DerDer, and then hit the smorgasbord. Cardamom bread, generously slathered with butter. Buttered lefse, rolled up with cinnamon and sugar or with summer sausage. Almond ring. "Spritz" butter cookies. Gingersnaps and coffee with cream and soft yeast rolls with butter. Did I mention butter?

It was so lovely. I really feel like the holidays can now get underway. Of course, I consumed nothing but pastry and coffee and red wine for the entire day, so I could possibly be just addled by my nutritional deficiencies.

I did realize that I was fully in a new demographic, staring down the barrel of 35, when I spent a considerable portion of the brunch in DerDer's kitchen, admiring her retro-look electric percolator from Target. It combines classic style with modern convenience!

It's not Christmas until the little baby angels cry

So saith Jacki, one of the regulars at the fifth (!) annual Ugly Christmas Cookie party, which I happily attended at the home of instigator Megan, yesterday afternoon. I'm sure she'll write about it eventually, but I'll tide you over.

I believe that the first Ugly Cookie Day was inadvertent, owing more to the artistic deficiencies of the participants. It was her college boyfriend's particular genius to make unattractive, disquieting, or downright offensive cookies the thematic intent. So every year now Megan and co-conspirator Erica spend a couple days cranking out dozens and dozens and DOZENS of sugar and gingerbread cookies, shaped like everything from trees and snowmen to cowboys and pumpkins. Megan hauls out her array of every food coloring and candy sprinkle known to mankind, and then a handful of us spend four or five hours drinking to excess and obsessively poking frosting around with toothpicks.

We CAN make pretty cookies, and we usually do--in fact, Megan brought a sampling of those that "met the HR bar" to the office today. But there's just something in our sick, sad minds that makes the little frosted horrors so, SO much more fun. Past alcohol-fueled inspiration has produced cookies iced to look like cat barf, eyeballs, poo (both Mr. Hankey and generic), little "ginger whores," cold-sore-spotted lips, far too many "yellow snow" jokes, and a "snowminatrix" in studded leather harness. (Those little silver "inedible"--heh--dragees really come in handy.) A rocket-shaped cookie cutter gets wildly misrepresented each year... ahem. We have made cookies in the likeness of Michael Jackson, Dame Edna, the Green River Killer (God help us all) and the complete GingerVillage People.

Yesterday did not disappoint. We had a tasteful diorama of the effects of mad cow disease. Ginger Martha-in-Prison made an appearance. (Martha, honey--you know we're just kidding. Stay strong, sister-friend!) I frosted a particularly bloated Jason Giambi, and the devil, complete with chocolate jimmies for his vertical pupils. There were Ginger Calendar Firefighters, with big yellow pants and carefully iced abs. This year's winner, in the category of "makes you gag a little even though you know it's just a cookie"? Loreal, the cosmetic-testing laboratory rabbit.

We are nice girls, really we are.

Anyway, I drank three glasses of wine and consumed enough of my "mistakes" to realize, as I do annually, that Ugly Cookie Day is its own punishment. It was 8:30 before I bundled up and started tottering the four blocks home with my own saran-wrapped plate of obscene baked goods. At the end of the block I passed a house blazing like NORAD with holiday lights; if you listened carefully you could hear the dial on their electric meter whizzing around. I glanced through the living-room window and saw...two trees? Crap, how much cabernet had I had? "Wow," I said aloud.

There was a guy having a cigarette in the driveway. "Hey," he said.

"Are there really two trees in there?" I asked. He rolled his eyes toward the house.

"Not even close," he said. "My mother-in-law loves Christmas. Guess."

I shrugged.

"There are FIVE," he told me. "One's in the basement. And they're THEMED!"

"Oh my GOD," I said. "Well...Merry Christmas!"

"YEAH Merry Christmas," he said, and grinned and stomped out his smoke. And I went on, armored against the cold by my flowered wool hat and fleece mittens, smiling, never wanting to see another cookie as long as I lived. Until about four this afternoon, when I slunk down to Megan's office and snagged an innocuous brown bear off the tray.

Dude, it's all about traditions!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Am I getting enough sleep?

I just arrived at the office and blearily waved my coffee in front of the key-card reader. Hellooo? Let me in, you stupid--oh.

Better turn back and get one for each hand, I guess.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

It's beginning to look a lot like OH FOR CHRISSAKE GOD DAMN IT!

Yeah, yeah, I know. That last post just hangs there, piteously comic, doesn't it? And I was gonna write about it; I had some prime material all lined up, me driving home despondent through the neighborhood streets of shattered pumpkins and dead leaves and waterlogged Kerry signs. I spun the needle on the Stages-of-Grief-Ometer more than once, with the denial and the rage and the what the HELL is the MATTER with half of you people? I fretted. I ate far more than my allotment of frozen yogurt. I wondered, what are we gonna do? What are we possibly gonna do for four more years?

Well, if you need a cause, as usual the writers I dream of emulating have done it better. I shall direct you to This Is Not Okay then. Get busy. Moving on.

So. Those who know me well understand that I'm something of a Christmas dork. My birthday is December 22; my parents brought me home from the hospital on Christmas Day, and for many years I labored under the delusion that the holiday hoopla had something to do with me: I got ornaments AND t.v. specials AND cake AND presents AND carols AND pretty lights for, like, a solid month. A rented Santa from the Heart Association once came to my birthday party. You can maybe forgive my childhood assumptions.

I outgrew most of the megalomania (she blathered, on the Internet), and I eventually discerned some of the crap parts of having a birthday that close to Christmas, too, such as a) the "combo" present, and b) it's something like gloves. These days, I am typically too damn busy to celebrate the anniversary of my own earthly arrival. That said, I've still never quite gotten over the giddy glee of it all. I love to haul out the decorations. I love the memories triggered by each ornament. Here is the polar bear seated on an outsize candy cane, one of his eyes now drawn on with a pen, from when my parents were still married; here is the glitter-smudged styrofoam ball Sis crafted in Brownies; here is the brass partridge-in-a-pear-tree my friend Gwyn left on my document stand in first-period Typing I in the 10th grade; here is the tiny snowman from Holly's first year in Germany. Everything gets a spot on the tree--the heirlooms and the ugly ones. Hell, I've been known to purchase an ugly ornament on purpose, just because I think it's funny.

I love to feed people. I like to bust out the Johnny Mathis album, and whip up gingersnaps and peppermint bark and my grandma's ass-kicking rum balls. Okay, actually I don't like making the rum balls, with the Karo syrup and the stickiness and the rolling and rolling and rolling up those little bastards in a fog of rum-stink everywhere. By the time I'm done, I can't stand it. I can't eat 'em, myself. But I like to watch the faces of the people who do.

I love the tree. How it makes the house smell, when you open the door after a long day, darkness to darkness, at the office. How the cats are all "the HELL?" every year when you haul an enormous piece of Outside into the living room. How each tree is more beautiful than the last, when you finally get it trimmed to your liking.

Which is best done when you have managed to get the motherfucking tree crammed into the cheap-ass, worthless, catastrophically useless plastic stand from the goddamn Fred Meyer, and get it fixed in a reasonably upright position without tying it to the WALL, because the four flimsy bolts ROCK back and FORTH in the crummy plastic slots and the tree favors a jaunty 75-degree ANGLE, pointing accusatorily at the COUCH, and your hands are raw from cranking those screws with fucking PLIERS while your NEIGHBOR held the trunk, to no avail.

We used to tease my mother, for approaching Hulk-like rages while putting up the tree when we were kids. I remember her threatening to throw tree, stand, and lights off the balcony of our apartment; I remember her dragging us to that same Fred Meyer, incredibly enough, to purchase a completely new set of lights at about 9:30 p.m. one year. Good old Mommy--she came to the rescue last night, with a monstrous eight-pronged tree stand suitable for Rockefeller Center. That baby isn't going ANYWHERE from now to January 1. I think I could climb it.

"How did you do this as a single parent?" I asked her. "I mean, I know you used to get frustrated, sure...but how did you ever manage to put up a tree without help?"Our Broken Home trees were smaller, granted, but still .

"I don't know," she admitted. "But when we were still married, your father used to do it. And he would about lose his mind, and I wondered why."

So. Christmas made my parents get a divorce! Well...perhaps not entirely. But it was a contributing factor. I haven't even gotten to the story about their 3 a.m. toy assembly crisis, yet...or the one about the Nat King Cole Suicide Christmas album. Heh. I love the holidays, but they sure weren't kind to my folks' marriage, now that I think about it.