Simply having a … wonderful? … Christmas time. Part 3.

(Don’t miss the prior parts! It will make this make sense!)

The next morning was Christmas Day and as per usual, I woke up vaguely excited. But then I realized that every bone, and several tendons and ligaments, hurt. I began wishing I were in any other place. I was even wishing I were in school. I wanted to sleep in so there would be less of a day to go through. However, my body realized that it was a special day and was wide awake, ready to get going.  I woke up my parents and got my sister, who had finally come back from “work” and slept on the couch the night before.  Nobody wanted to go and wake up my grandparents personally so we decided to make extra noise until they woke up.  Finally, they emerged and we were ready to open presents. As my dad started handing presents to my sister and me, Mafia sat down and said, “What are you doing? We can’t open presents yet. Put them back down.”

My dad turned to him, “What are you talking about?”

“We can’t open presents until the rest of the family gets here.”

“What?! There are presents we’re giving our daughters, not presents to be opened in front of the rest of the family.”

“No, they are presents and we’ll open them when the family gets here.”

“No, the presents we open then are family presents. These are personal presents that we are opening now. You and Mom can sit and watch or not, but we’re opening these now.”

Mafia grumbled about us breaking tradition, even though opening intra-family gifts were never part of the tradition in the first place, all morning. We rushed through the ceremony just to get him to stop whining.  When we were done, we were all hungry and looked at my grandparents expectantly.   We were willing to help cook, but wanted to know what they had planned.

They looked back at us blankly.

We looked at them.

They looked at us.

“uh… breakfast?

Mafia looked at us askance and said, “We didn’t buy anything for breakfast. We can go to Denny’s.”

So, we got dressed, loaded into the car, and headed for the local Denny’s to eat our Christmas breakfast.  I discovered that nothing said “Christmas” quite like the greasy, overcooked food served by a surly waitress who was bitter that she was serving greasy, overcooked food to people on Christmas morning.

Around noon the aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived.  We went through the second present opening, no one observing order and Mafia shouting to make sure the youngest cousin, Blondie, his favorite grandchild, was not getting skipped over, even though, as per usual, her presents took up the entire expanse of one of the walls of the living.  It never failed that she easily had 5x the presents the rest of us did.  It ended as it always did, with Mafia and Blondie exchanging their special gifts they got just for each other. Afterward we had our traditional Christmas dinner – a deli tray.

Eventually they all left and I was relieved because I knew I too would soon be going home.  It was the first and last Christmas we spent like that, all future Christmases spent on our terms. I don’t really like to break to tradition. I learned a too hard lesson that when traditions are thrown out, misery takes over the reins… At the very least, you will end up with a bad back.


Simply having a … wonderful? … Christmas time, Part 2

(Don’t get lost! Read my Thanksgiving post to meet my family, and read Part 1 to get some context!)

So that night, as my parents and grandparents started to do that yawning and stretching thing, and all of the signs of impending bedtime, I started thinking…. Uhm, my grandparents may have had two extra bedrooms, but only one of them actually had a bed in it. The only other option was the floor of the second bedroom or the 1960s couch… I chose the second bedroom.  A pallet of blankets was made up.  As I laid down I realized… there was absolutely no padding between the very, very thin carpet (leave it to my grandparents to get builder’s basic) and the concrete foundation.  To this day I have a bad back and I’m pretty sure it came from sleeping on that floor.

The next day I woke up feeling like every bone in my body had settled at a right angle in the middle.  I got up slowly, cracking my back, and wandered into the living room to find out when my parents could take me to go see my friends.  I was informed by my mom that it was family time. In other words, “if I have to suffer, so do you.”  I was beginning to think I had vastly overestimated this vacation.  My only consolation was that my older sister, who lived and worked not far from where my grandparents lived, was being forced to spend the time with on too. I inwardly cackled with glee that she would have to suffer too.

My sister was more clever than I had counted on, however. That night, she slipped out after dinner, claiming that she had to “work.” I glumly went in to play my snake-eating-apples game.  When that finally got too boring, I walked slowly out to the living room – not wanting to, but having nothing else to do.  In the living room I found Mafia asleep in his Laz-E-Boy, and my parents sunk into the 30 year old sofa.  Jeopardy! was playing on TV.

“Hey, mom and dad,” I whispered. They turned to me. “Seinfeld should be on.”

Realizing I was right, my dad got up and turned the TV to the right channel (Mafia was clutching the remote control in his hands). Soon we were laughing and, of course, it woke up Mafia.

“You need to learn stuff,” he grumbled. With that, he punched buttons on the remote and turned it back to Jeopardy!  He promptly fell back asleep.

My parents and I looked at each other, dumbfounded.  Not quite sure what to do, my dad got out his laptop and took it into the breakfast room. Upon hearing the familiar “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” (Hey, it was 1997, that was normal) of his hooking up the Internet, I jumped up and said, “OH I know a fun game we can play! You have to download it though.” My dad quickly agreed. As I punched in the right URL, my mother joined us. The download window popped up. It estimated twelve minutes to download.

The game was the only thing going for us, so we watched the progress as it downloaded. 11 min 50 sec…. 11 min 45 sec… 11 min 39 sec… The seconds slowly ticked by…  11 min 32 sec… 11 min 28 sec… The three of us huddled around the laptop, staring at the screen like it was the last morsel of food on a desert we were all stranded on.  The final Jeopardy! Theme song played in the background. “Do do do do, do do do. Do do do do  Dop! Dodododo, do do do do, do do do. Dop, do do do, do do do.”

It reached five minutes! We were in the homestretch!

Wait, it still says five minutes.

Five minutes…

Still five minutes…

It’s stuck on five minutes…



“NO!” We all shouted at the screen in silence. Our hope all lost, we stared at the screen in silence.

“I’m going to look at Christmas lights,” my dad announced, bolting out of his chair.

I’m coming too,” my mom and I followed. Grabbing our coats and quickly tossing them on, we hurried to the front door. Just as we were about to reach it, the dreaded creature jumped out in front of us, blocking our path.

“Where are you going?” Wino asked in her perpetually chipper voice.

Frozen, we looked at her in terror. My dad spoke first. “Uh… we’re going to look at Christmas lights.”

“Oh, give me a second, I’ll go with you.”

“NO! Uh, no, that’s ok, you don’t have to. We won’t be long anyway.”  With that, we slipped past her, out the door, into the cold December air, and practically dove into the care. As we drove to the other side of town, which unfortunately took about five minutes, we grumbled about what a miserable idea this vacation had been.  When we got back thirty minutes later, I headed straight to bed. At that point, the rock-hard floor was a welcome friend.

Simply having a… wonderful? … Christmas time, Part 1

Christmas time is a time of tradition and memories. Every year, I look back and think of Christmases past, with the Christmas Eve candlelight church service; homemade spaghetti and meatballs; getting up at 6am Christmas morning with my sister grumbling, “The presents will still be there at 8:00, you know;” and having a big breakfast of country ham, eggs, and grits. These were the elements of my favorite Christmases growing up.

And then, one year…


One thing to know about me is that I grew up in North Carolina, but when I was 15 we moved to Indiana for my dad’s job.  Before we moved, Christmas had always been a tradition-filled, festive, special holiday for my entire family. Both my mom’s family and my dad’s family had always lived within an hour of each other and the usual holiday schedule was for us to spend the weekend before Christmas with the maternal side and Christmas Day with the paternal side.

The year my parents and I moved to Indiana, leaving my college student sister behind, we were presented with the problem of where to spend Christmas.  My parent finally decided to spend it like we always had – with family.  The only difference is that instead of spending a nice, warm glowing Christmas Eve in the comfort of our home we would stay at my paternal grandparents’ house.

At first, I was really excited. Going to North Carolina would provide me with the opportunity to see all the friends I had left behind. There would be trees! And hills! And actual lakes instead of retention ponds called lakes in order to sell houses facing said ponds for higher prices! Sure, my extended family tended to get on my nerves (surprise, right?), but I wasn’t going to spend much time with them anyway. I’m not sure why exactly I thought that given that I was 15 and couldn’t exactly drive myself anywhere, but, you know. It was a teenager’s idealism.

The morning that we left, I got up at 5:00am because my Dad insisted on us being on the road by 5:30am. It was easy for him because he has a special brand of insomnia wherein no matter what time he goes to bed, he wakes up at 4:00am, wide awake.  He’s practically ready for lunch by 5:30.  I, on the other hand, cannot function if I wake up at any hour that starts with anything less than a 6. And at 15, I normally saw the AMs before going to sleep.  And believe me, if I haven’t gotten 8 hours of sleep, WATCH OUT. “Mandy,” my evil alter ego (I have a really good story about this which I’ll post someday), comes out. You don’t want to meet Mandy. You wouldn’t like Mandy.

Barely able to keep my eyes open, and often failing even at that simple task, I got ready. I pretty much just blindly reached into drawers and threw stuff on. I would have fit right in on People of Walmart.

After stumbling downstairs with my suitcases, I folded myself into the small compartment left in-between all the gifts and luggage while my parents spread out in their spacious front seats.  The evidence that I was only 15 at the time is that I was still able to sleep with my feet draped over the luggage and my head laying on my parent’s travel bag. In fact, I slept most of the day given that my dad’s worst nightmare is actually STOPPING while on a 10 hour drive. I mean, God forbid any of us have any hunger or needs for bodily functions because my dad IS NOT STOPPING FOR ANYTHING. PEE IN YOUR PANTS IF YOU NEED TO.

Finally, around 4:00pm, we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway. My grandmother, Grandma Wino, ran out of the house, arms outstretched to wrap each of us into a hug, careful not to spill her ever present wine, and cooing how happy she was to see us in her high-pitched, Edith Bunker voice that I think she purposefully raises in an attempt to sound younger. Following her was my grandfather, Mafia (since passed, God rest his Italian soul), slowly and casually walking out as if he had just interrupted his programs and we had just seen him last week instead of months ago.

I grabbed all of my suitcases and followed my parents into the house. Nothing had changed. It was still the eternally dim house (electricity costs money, dammit!) with the fake tree laden with 1970s ornaments. They still had the same furniture they had when my dad was a teenager. The table in the attached dining room was covered by already-opened bags of Doritos waiting for us to snack on.

“Do you want something to drink, Amanda?” Wino asked. “I had Mafia go out and buy you a Pepsi.”

Thinking that maybe this was the year she would remember that I do not drink diet soft drinks, I answered, “Sure.” She shimmied over to the refrigerator and pulled out the bottle. Diet Pepsi.  What a surprise.   She poured me a big glass and handed it to me. As everyone else settled around the table with yummy, yummy, yummy, wine (ok, I didn’t know at the time how yummy it was because I … actually didn’t drink as a teenager), they began to catch up from the last visit and I sipped my vile liquid.  Finally, after a few minutes I went back to my grandparents’ office where they had their 1990 desktop computer so that I could go play that one game where a snake goes around obstacles to something (was it apples?) and every time you ate one you grew and you had to not eat yourself? Does anyone remember what I’m talking about? Anyway, that’s how I always spent my time at my grandparent’s house. By the way, I’m pretty sure my grandmother still has that same desktop computer.

To be continued…. Next time…What was the rest of Christmas Eve like?

I am a Christmas tree Scrooge

Driving through my neighborhood these days makes me feel like the laziest person on earth.  We have a bunch of decoration overachievers in my neighborhood where people put out these really elaborate and beautiful holiday displays — in a classy way (uh, mostly), remember my HOA. I haven’t taken any pictures of the Christmas decorations, but enjoy this set of Halloween displays (I try to make this blog timely for you guys!):




Now remember this is for Halloween. The Christmas decor gets ramped up by about 10x the light and decoration power.

Last year I was so excited to be in my first house that we went all out and really tried to decorate the place up. We still didn’t do even half of what others in my neighborhood did, but I was proud of how my house looked.

This year, I’ve just been… eh. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas, but I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for some reason. Last weekend I got out a box of Christmas decorations and put up the stocking holders, a gold glittery reindeer I love, and a ceramic Christmas tree and was spent.

Now, I’m even questioning whether or not to put up a Christmas tree.

You see, we don’t own a Christmas tree.  For the first three years of my marriage, my husband and I lived in a house my parents owned.  It’s their retirement house and while they don’t live there because they haven’t retired yet, it’s on a lake and it’s where they come to vacation.  They have a fake Christmas tree that all of us put up and decorate every Thanksgiving so I’ve never had to own a Christmas tree before.  My husband and I intended to buy one last year, but then the entire family went on vacation over Christmas  so we didn’t bother since we wouldn’t actually be in our house on Christmas Day.

This year it’s different. I keep looking for a fake tree to get, but I’m a huge Christmas tree snob and I haven’t found one that I think looks full or real enough that doesn’t cost $500. I started thinking about just buying a real tree, but then I was watching the news and they were talking about how the problem with real Christmas trees is that they can come infested with bugs and there’s pretty much nothing I hate more than bugs.  All bugs. I’m an equal opportunity bug hater.

Plus when we went to go look at Christmas trees I couldn’t find one that looked as good as the nice fake Christmas trees.  Isn’t that sad? Then I start thinking about having to hang the lights and ornaments and put out the Christmas tree skirt that I don’t even know where it is because it probably never got unpacked from the move and I don’t even know where I’d put a stupid tree in my house and I’m just exhausted now.

So now I’m facing a prospect of not having a Christmas tree.  We don’t have kids and will probably spend Christmas Day at my parent’s lake house with the family, so I’m not feeling that sense of urgency.  But I still feel like I’m a total Scrooge and loser for not having one. I’m having an existential crisis over here.

I wish I could just buy a fake tree already decorated that I can take straight from the box and put up. Does anyone know whether such a thing exists? Oh, I’ll just check Amazon.

P.S. Ha, ha, already decorated trees totally exist. Oh, Amazon, I love you.

Because I’m sure there is nothing fake-looking about a tree that you put up like this:


(image source: BrylaneHome, for all of your pop-up tree needs)

Creepy Christmas

I really didn’t think that there could be any creepier Christmas item than Elf on the Shelf. I mean, just LOOK at this thing:






Well, recently I was at my local neighborhood convenience store, turned a corner, and ran into THIS:


Double GAH!

Can you imagine opening this on Christmas morning and being greeted by this face?


I’m going to have nightmares tonight.

I’ve decided that the best use of this doll might be as a tool to whip kids into shape.

“Jimmy, if you don’t start behaving RIGHT NOW, Santa is going to bring you THIS! Now you go sit in the corner and think about that.”

It might qualify as child abuse, but I’m filing it away for when I have kids.

Confession: I’m just really bad at Christmas and gift giving

Does anyone else do this? All year I try to file little things away in my brain when one of my loved ones states they want something so that I can get it for them for birthdays or Christmas.  And then said birthday and Christmas rolls around and my brain just looks at me blankly, all “I really don’t remember you putting anything in the filing system. I think you drank those memories away.”

Christmas is a little bit nightmarish for me because I have to think of a bunch of presents all at once. I don’t have the mental capacity to even starting planning or shopping until after Thanksgiving.  This year, I was all about getting me some good deals. I’ve already sung the praises of Amazon and I decided I was going to use Cyber Monday to my advantage to get all my Christmas shopping done at once.

After about an hour of scrolling through Amazon’s Cyber Monday lightning deals (uh, which I totally did not do at work for any coworkers who may stumble upon this), I came to one conclusion:

I don’t think Amazon’s Lightning Deals are meant for me or my family. I can never find anything I’m even remotely interested in or would be even a little bit useful to anyone I have to actually buy gifts for.

So I’m scrolling, going through hundreds of items that are super on sale and I start to feel desperate because I feel like I SHOULD be able to find something considering how many people I have to buy for and how many items are listed. Then I start talking myself into terrible ideas like “yes! My in-laws would totally love the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD!” (And holy freaking cow, why so expensive? Are there really that many people who are yearning to spend $350 on a TV show from the 60s?)

By the way, this is what happens when bad things happen to mediocre good (created) rubies: Behold. Think my grandmother would like it?

So, in desperation, I turn to those gift giving guides that various websites have to try to help you think of good gift ideas.

These have never, ever been helpful to me. I just can’t picture myself giving my loved ones a Snowman Kit or a patterned wireless mouse.

I hate gift giving guides that suggest stuff like the iPhone. I need gift giving guides that are like “The totally perfect gifts for your friends and family that cost $20 but looks like they cost $100!” If I had $400 to spend I’d already have a pretty good idea of what to get because I could pretty much afford whatever they’d ask for.

My favorite gift guide I’ve looked at so far is MSN’s which is basically a paid advertisement for whomever wanted a space on it.  It seriously suggests an Android app. That’s free. What am I supposed to do with that? “Merry Christmas! Now give me your phone, I have to download your present for you. And I got out of spending money on you! Sucker!”

(By the way, the ad for the app totally worked, dammit. I downloaded it. And it’s kind of cool. STILL not a valid Christmas gift though.)

And oh my God, y’all. Good Housekeeping has a guide for gifts for your pet. This exists. Look, I love my dog as much as anybody, but the most I’m going to do for her for Christmas is get her a new squeaky toy and I don’t really need a gift giving guide for that.

Also, I have no idea why Catnip Fortune Cookies, or a DJ Turntable for Cats even exist. WHOSE JOB IS IT TO THINK OF THESE THINGS?

The other reason Christmas shopping is difficult for me is because that I always end up buying stuff for myself. In scouting out Cyber Monday deals I ended up buying two mirrors for my house, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a laptop.  Me: 5 Family and Friends: 0.

I’m just really bad at this Christmas shopping thing.

Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving or how I had dinner with a guy in a skirt

The best way I can describe my extended family is that they are a piece of work. I can’t say that we’re dysfunctional in a way that people traditionally mean it: nobody *openly* despises anyone else, they’ve never gotten into fistfights or had the cops called on them, and they aren’t even mean to each other. The dysfunction is much more subtle, a disconnect between what our family is like and what they believe or pretend we’re like. I’ll probably explore this more in the future, but for today we’ll leave it at this: It’s a very odd family.

To give a little background to this post, I have to explain that my parents live full-time in another state because of my dad’s job, but they keep a house on a lake near where I live and grew up.  Most of the family is still down here, living near the lake, but we don’t see each other much unless my parents are in town.  When they are, we all congregate at the lake house.

Before I get into the story of Thanksgiving, let me introduce you to the cast of characters:

  • Mom: ’nuff said
  • Dad: ’nuff said
  • Sister: Older than me, we’ll call her “Queen”
  • Brother-in-law: Married to sister, call him “Bama”
  • 6-year-old nephew: First son of Queen and Bama, call him “Ninja”
  • 3-year-old nephew: Youngest son of Queen and Bama, call him “Han Solo”
  • Grandmother: My paternal grandmother. Call her “Grandma Wino”
  • Eldest aunt:  My dad’s older sister, early 60s. Call her “June Cleaver.”
  • Uncle: Married to June Cleaver, early 60s. Call him “Blues.”
  • Eldest Cousin: Son to June Cleaver and Blues, late 30s. Call him “Paulinator”
  • Cousin-in-law: Paulinator’s wife, late 30s.  Call her “Mirror”
  • Female Cousin 1: Daughter to June Cleaver and Uncle, mid-30s. Call her “Hester P.”
  • Youngest aunt: My dad’s younger sister, mid-50s. Call her “Big Boobs McGee,” or “BBM” for short.
  • Female Cousin 2: BBM’s daughter, early 20s. Call her “Blondie.”
  • Step Cousin: My dad’s older step brother’s (now passed) son who I have seen maybe 3 times in my life, early 20s. We’ll call him “Kilt Man.” You’ll see why.
  • Great uncle: Grandma Wino’s brother. Call him “Klaus.”
  • Great aunt: Klaus’s wife. Call her “Mouse.”
  • Sister-in-law: My husband’s older sister. Call her “Mama Liga”

So, along with me and my husband, that’s who came to Thanksgiving.

The annoying fun thing about my family is that when my parents host family get-togethers, they are literally hosting. As in, providing all the food, drinks, and alcohol. Since I’ve become a working adult I’ve tried to help out as much as I can, and my sister does too, but the brunt of the get-togethers fall to my parents.

Husband, Mama Liga, and I spent the night at my parent’s house Wednesday night and got up early Thanksgiving morning to help in the preparations.  In the grand tradition of me, alcohol was well provided for in the form of mimosas. We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, had several mimosas, and cooked my contributions to Thanksgiving dinner: broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin pie.
A good time was had by all.

The rest of the family, minus Klaus and Mouse, arrived at about 1:00pm. BBM had her cleavage on display, Grandma Wino walked in saying “What?,” and Blues was wearing his ever-present Indiana Jones hat (he had actually just had a *minor* brain surgery the day before and he said it was to cover the big lump of gauze on his head, but let’s face it, he wore it all the time before surgery, so I’m not buying the excuse). Everything was par for the course.

My mom, God love her, did try to actually get the other families to contribute this year and asked them to bring some appetizers and side dishes. Between my grandmother, June Cleaver’s family, and BBM’s family (which represents, remember, 8 of the 18 people present), this is what they contrived to bring: olives, pickles, canned green beans, and canned corn.

The family immediately headed to the star of the day: my dad’s wine collection. Within the first 20 minutes of them arriving we went through a bottle of white wine and a bottle of red wine. As I was getting ready to go get my own glass, in walked Kilt Man. Why did I nickname him Kilt Man?  He arrived, no lie, WEARING A KILT.

I have proof:

No, we don’t live in Scotland. No, he’s not Scottish. I know enough about his family history to know he’s very, very Italian. I have no idea what the kilt was about.

Notice the jaunty knee-high socks.

Kilt-Man turned out to be a creeper. He liked to hover over me and all the other women at the party, staring at us.  My husband said at one point he was trying to look down my shirt and Mama Liga caught him trying to look down her shirt. My parents’ living room has two sofas facing each other. I was sitting on one sofa and Kilt-Man sat on the other sofa and very deliberately crossed his legs in that man way where the legs are spread open and one foot rests on the other knee. It wasn’t long after that Kilt-Man told me I looked beautiful today and about 10 minutes later that he asked for my phone number.

Naturally, and unfortunately, having a man in a skirt caused a large portion of the Thanksgiving dinner conversation to feature what, exactly, he was wearing under it. My dad asked him whether he had “drawers” on under his kilt and Kilt-Man answered. Hester P. didn’t hear the answer, turned to someone, and asked “What did he say?” Kilt-Man heard and said, “Would you like to see for yourself?” It was all very disturbing. I had a lot of wine to deal with it.

Speaking of wine, my family can go through some wine, man. Well, they can when they aren’t paying for it. Grandma Wino, in particular, is serious about it. I don’t mean serious as in she knows anything about it, but serious as in she sure does like to drink it. Right before lunch I was walking up to the counter to pour myself a glass, and Grandma Wino sped past me, pushing me out of the way, to finish off the bottle.

I looked at my empty glass, sighed, and just grabbed another bottle to open.

The sight at the end of the night of all the fallen wine bottle soldiers was very sad. I almost had to build a memorial to commemorate the multitudes of bottles that gave their contents for our bearable happy holiday.

Lunch was just ending when Klaus and Mouse showed up. Klaus was wearing a Texas tuxedo, always a fashionable choice for formal and informal events alike. Klaus is someone I only saw a couple of times in my life until last year when he decided for some reason that he quite likes my Dad and now. They. Come. Every. Time. My. Parents. Are. Down.

I’m not a big fan of Klaus or Mouse. He’s actually not really that nice of a man and is fairly unbearable because he thinks everyone loves him. Recently he showed me some really personal financial papers that he wanted (free) legal advice on, which made me very uncomfortable given that what he showed me wasn’t anything I had any business knowing, especially since I don’t practice that area of law. I think he was trying to find an excuse to tell me so I would tell my Dad and Dad would offer them money. I outsmarted them on that, though, ha.

Klaus and Mouse have a habit of coming to the house with small quantities of random food offerings. They’ve brought boxes of raisins, Ziploc bags of popcorn, and a bag of beef jerky before. I guess I shouldn’t judge too harshly, though, since most family members come completely empty handed. They didn’t bring anything for Thanksgiving though.  In fact, they pretty much just showed up, ate, and then announced they had to go.

They had to go back home so they could put up their chickens.

For serious.

Anyway, that was my Thanksgiving. There’s always crazy stuff going on with my family get togethers, but I never foresaw I would ever eat Thanksgiving dinner with a man in a skirt. And don’t give me that lecture about how a kilt is not a skirt. If you’re not Scottish, it’s a skirt.

And, furthermore:

Although I don’t have personal knowledge of what he had under there and really, really don’t want any.

So tell me, what was the weirdest thing that happened at your Thanksgiving?