Thursday, January 27, 2011

I took this photo out the window of the car as we drove through Amish country over the holidays. I was a little nervous when we stopped for the shot; I suppose it felt strange to infiltrate their simplicity armed with a laptop and smartphone. I'm glad I did, though. It is so beautiful out there, with the bank barns and twisty roads and clotheslines taller than roofs. Seriously-what is up with this? My guess--when a family lives without electricity, getting their clothes dry is less about that fresh-as-a-breeze smell, than say, the reason I hang clothes on the line. These people are not messing around--they just go ahead and crank those plain-colored, non-vainglorious clothes right on up to the heavens because that's where the warm air is. I, on the other hand, own an electric dryer, but choose to pin up a rainbow of happy garments because, a.) it saves money, and b.) it looks, to the average passerby, like I'm meeting/exceeding domestic expectations instead of standing in front of the fridge eating ice cream. 

A little further on we stopped again, this time turning down an unmarked road that led us along a partially frozen stream to a middle-of-nowhere greenhouse. This time we lingered, admiring the arborvitae from the car and making plans to come back when the shop was open--if we could ever find it again, that is. As we idled there, I saw in the corner of the landscape, a little girl standing on the porch of the adjacent homestead. The house sat back far from the road, and almost didn't notice her--and I guess that's the point--but there she was, in the sub-forty degree weather, whipping the wet out of clothes, getting them ready for the cranked-up clothesline. No, they don't even dry them a little bit in the dryer to get the wrinkles out; this is serious stuff. She was dressed all in black, or maybe it was navy, I couldn't tell--but boy, when she saw us did she take off running for the barn. 

It didn't surprised me, really-a little girl just fetching her dad to say: somebody's here. That struck me as fairly universal. My own children have done it a hundred times, so the act itself wasn't unusual in my sight. It was the way she ran: like someone who had never seen herself running, or considered how ridiculous she would look. Arms and legs flailing, no grace, style, or self-consciousness. She ran to get the job done. Utterly utilitarian. It made me laugh out loud, then just like that, we drove off for home. But the whole way I was thinking how nice it would be to experience life without such painful self-awareness. To not always be thinking of myself. To run like a schizophrenic gazelle and not care. New Year's resolution, maybe?

So, what are yours? Does it include tackling more laundry, complete with a mile-high clothesline? My only  resolute to-do for 2011 is this: quit using my children as my alarm-clock. In our house, we don't wake up to buzzers or radio newscasts--and never have. Joshua is programmed to arise at a time he predetermines the night before, sans electronic assistance. It's absolutely nuts, and I'm telling you I don't know how he does it. But if he needs to get up at six, he gets up at six, unaided. You may have seen this on an episode of Seinfeld. I on the other hand, have been cranking up at the bedside rooster crow of my children, who come in when they feel like it, to introduce the morning. Sometimes, this includes crawling in bed with me, other times the greeting is a bit more jarring. In either case, I'll say this: waking up to a four-year-old's predawn bedside rendition of Take Me Out To the Ballgame does not exactly make a person feel they've got the upper hand. So, my goal: to be up and around before the kids, to at least give the impression I'm one step ahead of them. And to start the coffee. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up: Christmas Photo Post

A pink tree for a pink lady.

The countdown chalkboard featuring a garland of all the ornaments the children have made, ever, plus thirty pounds of glitter on the floor underneath.
Christmas Eve: I lit all the candles and glitteredmy whole house. Good thing I don't own a bedazzler.

I don't know what the big deal is with fake snow. I think it's a holiday must, but some people, who will remain nameless, had to stop mid-Christmas-morning and vacuum. But, like I've said, crazy doesn't take a holiday, now, does it?

Does anyone in my family even appreciate my wrapping job? I was happy to be able to use some old wallpaper, so I made Joshua hold it up for a glamour shot. 
 Tutu alert.
A bench built by my hubs. Old window wells plus wood from my grandfather's office. 

It was merry and bright, but now we're done, right? You may all now officially begin your New Year by kissing your neighbor. Don't be surprised if he/she responds with alarm.

I will commence by resuming my regularly-scheduled progamming, except more often, k?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up: A Tale of Two Advent Calendars

I promise on a big stack of chocolate candy this evidence has not  been tampered with.
It's obvious, of course, that these holiday calendars belong to two very different animals children.
We got started a little late--four, maybe five days into the month? 
No big deal, we thought. 
In these situations, a catch-up strategy is employed until one becomes "current". 
Then, each square is opened on its corresponding night.
These photos were taken on night one. 
The child represented by the photo on the left is a planner.
He enjoyed the extra candy, then quietly placed the calendar in his or her room,
and went about his business.
Child number two was found sometime later, in the basement, attempting to stash the evidence of an unforeseen hyena attack on her advent calendar. 
I'm fairly certain the culprits didn't care that it was organic.
It's a shame how hyenas have infiltrated small towns in America, don't you think?
They just have no appreciation for Free Trade Chocolate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up: The Royal Tannenbaum

It's funny--when I tell the story of how our Christmas Tree came to be, I almost always forget to mention the part about how I was involved in a minor auto collision en route to the tree lot. I'm not trying to cover it up, there were just so many other things that went wrong post-accident that make what happened seem irrelevant. Either that, or the PTSD I encountered as a result of getting my tree caused me to block out entire chunks of my Before-Tree existence And I'll never get those hours back, will I? Except, why would I want to when they included both a rear-ending and a really bad sandwich?

Because I was right beside a Lowe's when the incident occurred, and since the entire situation had really ended up in a way that can only be described as a Christmas Miracle, I felt it only fitting to march right in that big old home improvement mega-store and get my yule on. And so that's what I did, my beeline interrupted with just one detour to the Indoor Decor department, where I preceded to push the "Try Me" button on every piece of animated holiday trim and then laugh maniacally. Which was not at all creepy.

Outside, though, where the trees were, was a little strange. There were plenty of them, all lined up in rows, and all I had to do was choose--but where was the help? Where were the piped-in carols, the twinkly lights and free hot chocolate? It was a ghost-town. It was also the middle of a weekday, a time when most normal people were doing laundry or crunching numbers or watching All My Children, not trying to resuscitate their Christmas spirit. I decided to go inside and fetch myself a helper, someone to help me choose and drag and bag the beast--and eventually, tie it on my car.

I could tell Employee Number One was a little miffed about having to remove himself out from under the Customer Service heatlamp, but I made nice by selecting the first tree he laid his hands on, which I know he appreciated--in the same way my mother appreciated when I, after trying on just one wedding dress, looked at myself in the mirror and said "You know, I think I like it." He perked up slightly, wrapped it in plastic webbing, and deposited it up front for checkout.

This is where the story starts to get a little complicated. It seems there are some people out there who just don't like their jobs! Or Christmas! Or being cold! Imagine!

Okay, listen, I totally get being in a bad mood. But I am also a super-stickler when it comes to service, and cannot fathom being rude to a customer, no matter how Cold/Hung-over/Tired/Emo I was. I also know more than a handful of people who are without jobs; people who would be delighted to work, in sub-freezing temperatures, hitching a tree atop some stranger's minivan while she asked them why they hated Christmas so much.

They were the ones who brought it up--Christmas. Although, I admit, my timing isn't always the best. But it's not often I experience retaliation for getting up on my ethical high horse; I can usually escape unscathed.

This time was different.

I drove out of the parking lot, picked up my little girl at preschool, who thought that having a tree on our car was beyond wonderful-and it was. For the first few minutes of our drive home, the two of us were giddy with talk of ornaments, lights, and maybe, would it snow on Christmas? We'd passed the church, the market, out of the school zone and onto the highway...when suddenly:

Why are all these people flashing their lights and honking at me? Why is that woman pointing frantically at the heavens? Why is that man motioning for me to pull over? And Dear God, why does it feel like there's a sail attached to my luggage rack?

The tree!

I pulled off the road, thinking it best to gather my thoughts before proceeding. Winnie, I said, the number one thing is that we are not going to panic. We have a bit of a situation on our hands, but Mommy is ON TOP OF IT! I then called my sister, in a complete panic, to let her know that my tree was literally dangling off the side of my car and what exactly did she think I was supposed to do about it?

I pulled back into the stream of 55-MPH traffic, doing maybe 25, hoping to make it to the next exit without further incident-which, thankfully, I did. I parked outside a gas station and walked inside, the damsel in distress, and asked if anyone could help. The station was TEEMING with able-bodied individuals, some of them wearing tool belts, even, but when the universe wants to have a chuckle, there's just nothing a girl can do about it, is there? Out of all these rugged Old Spicers, the only guy that even halfway raised his hands was wearing Jams. Literally. And boy, was he a complainer. First it was the cold, then he wasn't sure if he had time to help because he really did have to make it to his doctor's appointment about four towns over, until suddenly I'm convincing him why he shouldn't help me. No, really, don't worry about it, I said. You go on.

Well, I guess I've got some bungee cords in my truck you can have, he said, with which he hitched the wannabe kite, with my help, back in position, with only a few more exclamations of how late he was going to be. And how cold he was. And how he didn't have a coat on. Note to mankind: It's  DECEMBER/NOT the year 1986. Jams are no longer in session.

All complaints aside (his and mine), I was very grateful for the help and thanked him from the bottom of my heart about 57 times. He said you're welcome and that he hoped he wasn't going to be late (!), and we were all on our way.

We drove home like this: with our Christmas spirit on sideways. As we barreled down the road that cut through the cornfields, there wasn't a moment when I didn't think the thing was going to fly off altogether. There are places where the wind can be so strong and sudden that the farmers had already put their snow-fences up, just in case. If it blew away, would I go after it? I imagined the tree rolling through the dirt like a tumbleweed, me chasing it like a lover. Don't leave me. I may have said this out loud.

When we crossed the bridge into town, I let out my breath. I'd made it. I guess the tree could still fall into the creek, but it didn't seem likely. I slowed down, nearing home, and could see my dad, in plaid, putting up wreaths on his windows. I parked and got out.

Dad, I called out. You'll never believe what just happened to me. 

I got my Christmas spirit back.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up: Christmas Part I

And so it was Christmas. With the smell of smoked pork shoulder all but gone from our humble abode, I decided we were ripe for a tree-a tree with its own perfume to fill up the corners where the aura of charred meat still lingered, an excuse to hang sparkly things and whatever mismatched strands of lights we could get our hands on.

There's something poetic about trees, right? And Christmas, obviously. It makes me lapse, ever-so-slightly, into a cartoonish, quasi-Victorian vernacular. I can't help myself, but somewhere in the next few paragraphs, I just know I'll bust out with the phrase "And Lo".

It took me a few days to work up my Christmas nerve. This was to be our first at-home holiday. No ten-hour car-rides on the horizon, no myriad shopping trips or late-night wrapping excursions in order to complete our preparations just in time to leave town. Of course we'd had a tree before, but it was always a little bit of an afterthought. We'd decorate it, but since it wasn't the tree we'd be gathered around on Christmas morning, how special was it required to be? Our usual M.O. was to throw some ornaments up at the last minute and return from a two-week vacation to find the tree had celebrated the blessed day by promptly dropping all its needles on the wood floor. Fun!

Not this time, I told my husband. This is going to be a big old tree, with personality. This tree will have something to say. It will not be taken for granted. Wait-am I still talking about the tree?  I imagined a flocked tree, puffy and white. Or a shiny gold disco tree with a glitter-ball topper. In the end, scent reigned supreme and we decided that a traditional Fraser Fir would smell most divine on Christmas morning. Especially, I added, when mingling with the scent of a new handbag, and p.s. I could also use some pajamas.

I believed it was in everyone's best interest for this "tree-getting"to be a Designated Family Outing, during which we all wore plaid and were photographed looking at once charming, a little self-deprecating, and deeply in love. Except, everybody was in a mood that week. Sometimes collectively, sometimes individually, but in every case, me especially.

Fine, I said. I decided I'd had it-I'd just do all my Christmas shopping from home in order to avoid interacting with humankind.  I would sit at my desk, drink hot chocolate, and listen to the George Winston Winter Album until they pried my cold dead hands from the keyboard. After a while, this began to sound less like Bing Crosby and more like Seasonal Affective Disorder, so I put my coat on and hit the city--which involves driving through the barren fields to civilization; can you understand now why it's so hard?

I bought myself a sandwich that was not as good as I expected, but with Mariah Carey jingling on the FM, and a few flurries in the air, I was going to get Christmasy, come hell or bad music.

Then I rear-ended the guy in front of me.

Which didn't help my mood. Of course, I told everyone it happened when my boot slipped off the brake at an intersection, but what really happened was I looked down to pick a roasted vegetable out of my good-for-nothing sandwich and pop it in my mouth, when suddenly (at an intersection), my feet got confused and I was accelerating in a moment of temporary insanity. Brought on my gluttony.

Lucky for me I am used to these kinds of episodes. The guy got out of his car, just loaded for bear, to find lil' old me, looking unkempt and terrified but somehow benevolent in that harried housewife sort of way. I asked if he was hurt and he said yes he was; I then apologized and led him to the back of his car which was perfect on account of the caked-on-snow-buffer that had undoubtedly saved his bumper. He decided right then and there that his aforementioned pains were of no consequence, waved goodbye, and drove off with me yelling Merry Christmas after him like I was Tiny Tim.

And Lo, the hour of tree-buying was upon me. Just like that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thanksgiving, Part II

 I didn't even know this animal was there until someone caught it on camera. See?

Since my last post, my husband has expressed some concern over the fact that I characterized his people as "knowing how to eat". He said something along the lines of: It makes us seem like bunch of fat a's. Except he, of course, would only say "a's", not the unedited version of the word. That's the difference between he and I. And I'm pretty sure he's wincing right now, or at least executing a gigantic, "honey, why do you always have to go there" eye roll. Sorry, babe! I Yam what I Yam!

But, just to be clear, allow me to take this opportunity to say that in my untrained medical opinion, they are all of an average weight/height ratio. I would post a photograph, but I don't think it's healthy to to indulge these insecurities. Plus, the only photo I have on hand is one from last Thanksgiving, right after they've all eaten and look like a bunch of stuffed ticks. Ha!

So, anyway: The Relatives came. And my hopes of a paper-lantern feast were dashed, but my parents were so kind to open their hearts and home for our holiday table that I could have just bursted (word?) with actual thanksgiving. Plus, we still all got to be tangled together for late-night talks and breakfasts and sleeping, but since my dad was doing most of the cooking, I didn't even have to stick my unsuspecting hands inside the nether-regions of a turkey...bonus!

Right around the time I'd started to feel really chillaxed about the whole week, however; Joshua had this idea. That we wouldn't have enough food. (IRONY alert! Man with body-image issues fears meal-time deprivation!) He began throwing the names of random animals and their parts around in conversation. Pheasant, goose, duck breast. And then: PORK SHOULDER.

Excuse me? Since when do pigs have shoulders? His plan: to smoke said shoulder (there were actually two, I'm assuming a right and a left) and serve alongside the bird. I laughed him off-he couldn't be serious-until the Monday before Thanksgiving, when two gigantic paper-wrapped hunks and an economy-sized container of chili powder from the restaurant supply store showed up in my kitchen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up Part II: Thanksgiving, Part I

 the autumnal mayhem I thought would be thanksgiving

Have you read the book The Relatives Came? It is one of my kids' favorites, I think because it reminds them of their own extended family, of the once-a-year visits where everyone piles in the car and ventures either this way or that, of the hugging and feasting that ensues once the travelers arrive, but mostly...the sleeping. The way the author, Cynthia Rylant, describes the nighttime--the tangle of arms and legs, a house filled with the strange sounds of unfamiliar breathing--is so spot-on that I think the children must all secretly believe it was written just for us.

 three cousins in a double bed, one hidden

This Thanksgiving it was our turn to host the Relatives-not that we take turns, really, it's more just what results from a slew of phone calls back and forth- a so, what are you guys doing this year?-sort of thing. When I found out my husband had invited a whopping 17 extra bodies for the week, my first thought was this: after 10 years of houses, apartments, and duplexes, he picks this year, when we don't have a guestroom, to host the Relatives?

Go figure.

Then I remembered that extra house we own, the one we're not living in. Perfect! I hired a lovely woman to clean it to perfection (something I would have done myself had I not been on red-alert getting my own digs in order), then I filled it with comfy linens, toiletries, and a coffee-maker, all of which I hoped would distract from the fact that there isn't a stick of furniture in the place. I have to say, it's amazing how the combination of caffeine and Egyptian cotton sheets can make you feel like you're sitting on a sofa! Really! We stacked 11 people in the place, and the rest we scattered between here and my parents' house across the street.

I had hoped to serve the big meal in the greenhouse, drawing inspiration from the bevy of photos I'd found online documenting the recent trend of hosting one's nuptials in a greenhouse. Of course paper lanterns were a no-brainer, and I figured I'd borrow a half dozen tables from church, throw down some brown kraft paper, gourds-you know, unleash my inner Martha. I was certain the seven acres could contain whatever pre-dinner restlessness the little ones might experience, and maybe once we'd eaten, there'd be room enough for games, dancing, and the general mayhem that follows 15 cousins convening in one place.

I am such a romantic in these situations. Can you blame me?

What I didn't count on: a near-freezing weather forecast, featuring rain of biblical proportions. Epic rain. Rain that never had the decency to turn into snow. Playing outside was not an option. My father, as I mention here, follows the radar, so he had the 411 on climate control--and managed to steer me away from my ill-fated idea of a hothouse Turkey fest by offering up his own home as a sort of meal-time ground zero.

Because I have a brain in my head, I graciously accepted. Clean, dry, and-let's face it, my dad is an amazing cook.* In the span of a few minutes, I went from hosting to.....producing? Instead of being responsible for the bird and 18 sides, my job was to show up with stuffing, sweet potatoes, and 18 of my relatives. And let's be clear, these are not my parents' relatives. These people came with my husband, and they know how to eat.

*as is my mother, of course. No one beats her creamed chipped beef on toast! My birthday meal for years!

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Holiday Wrap-Up

In the interest of being thorough, and to prove just how much I've missed you, dear readers, during this Winter Blogging Sabbatical (I made that up myself) I'm going to start my 2010 Holiday Wrap-up with....drumroll, please: Halloween! Doesn't Winnie look super-cute in her Temple Grandin Jessie-From Toy-Story costume? I've said it before, but it bears repeating: give a girl a glue gun, and watch as the miracles unfold before your very eyes. Yes, I'll always lament the fact that I can't sew (yet), but to the untrained eye, those red ribbon doo-dads on her shirt could be real embroidery. Look beyond the globs of dried glue; ignore the burn marks on my hands-as far as I can see, this costume was a rootin'-tootin' success. Yeehaw! 

Sorry, I had to go there. This is what happens when I've been locked up with children for two weeks straight and all I've had to eat is candy canes and bacon.* Stay tuned for more holiday action and tales from the front lines of festive! Happy New Year everybody!

*Not. I've really eaten everything in sight and am rocking the leggings like it's 1989. "Rocking" might be a bit of an exaggeration. Time to put away the elastic-waist pants, I know.