I Do NOT Want a Melon Baller For Christmas!

christmas giftI hate making a Christmas list for my husband because I am of the opinion that after twenty-four years of marriage he should know what I like. I don’t really, truth be told, “need” anything. At this point in our relationship, I wouldn’t mind receiving a few gifts that are well thought out, though. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?

He has hinted that my refusal to tell him what I want for Christmas is some kind of an elaborate trap — as if I’m testing whether or not he truly knows me. It’s not. Well, it didn’t start out that way, anyway. Now, however, I feel like it’s “game on”! I am also beginning to think that I’ve made a huge mistake.

Frankly, I think that I’ve set the bar pretty low. I don’t expect expensive handbags or jewelry, for example. A nice potholder in a lovely toile, pajamas that fit, or a bottle of my favorite scent would mean more to me than knowing that he walked into some fancy store, plunked down some cash, and bought whatever the salesperson suggested.

It would be nice to receive a gift that says “Hey, I’m paying attention!” I don’t think that buying something for someone you’ve known intimately for nearly thirty years should be fraught with difficulty — or require pictures. (That’s what he wanted me to send him — pictures!)

Fang always gives me a list. This year it included socks (both white and colored) and click pens (NOT the gel kind!). Socks and click pens. Really? These are things that any idiot could pick up at the supermarket, which is what this idiot will do. Why a grown person would ask for such things is beyond me, but ask for them he did.

Most years he wants some kind of techno thingamajig —- something that requires more information than I am able to retain. When he requests this type of product, I am grateful for the list. This year, however, I think that I probably could have handled the request for socks and click pens without the specifications that he insisted upon providing for me.

Do you know why he doesn’t like gel pens? I do. He doesn’t like gel pens because while they are “fast-drying”, they do not dry quickly enough for a left-handed person NOT to smear them all over his hand while writing with them. How do I know this? Because I pay attention, people. I pay attention.

When my husband asks for colored socks I know what he really means is that he needs dress socks — not that he wants athletic socks in a color other than white. Again, I know this because I know him. I don’t require a photograph of an argyle-patterned sock to get this right.

As most of the things Fang asked for didn’t merit a trip to anywhere other than the grocery store, Fangette and I took a chance and went “off list” — we put our heads together and purchased him a couple of things that required some thought and no small amount of attention paying. He’ll probably hate them, but, at least, we’ve tried.

I’m loathe to admit it, but I’m a little nervous about having sent Fang out to shop for me without any direction whatsoever. The other night he mentioned our need for a new pizza cutter. We actually do need a new pizza cutter — we cannot find the old one. (Don’t ask what kind of people “lose” a pizza cutter!) Still, I’m hoping that he doesn’t just troll the gadget section at the local market and fill my stocking with things like pizza cutters, melon ballers, and/or cheese graters. (Though I wouldn’t mind a “zester”!) That might prove a little disappointing.

Knowing Fang as I do, I’m fairly certain that he hasn’t done ANY of his shopping yet, so there’s still time for me to break down and compile a list — I could make a digital one — complete with store maps and images of things that I like. If I don’t want a gadget-filled Christmas, I’d better get crack-a-lackin’ on that right now!

photo credit: morguefile

Avoiding the “Vague Idea”

crucifixMen are not really equipped for the whole shopping gig. Yes, I know. This is both sexist and promotes a certain stereotype. Sometimes, though, stereotypes linger because they’re true. For example, I’m Irish. I used to drink a lot. Many Irish people drink to excess. Not all, but many. That’s how it became a stereotype. Because it’s true. Perhaps you know a man who is not challenged by a shopping trip. Good for you. He’s a keeper! If you are not, however, involved with the exception to the rule — a man who has the shopping gene — don’t despair. All is not lost. They can be trained. Ultimately, what must be avoided is anything resembling the “vague idea”.

In our early years together my husband was fond of purchasing me jewelry. The problem? I don’t really wear a whole lot of jewelry. Well, at least not the jewelry that he was choosing. In an effort to indulge the obvious pleasure he got from shopping for jewelry, I started to drop hints about jewelry that I might actually like to own. (Enter the “vague idea”.) They were, I thought, fairly straightforward things. I mentioned items such as, a cross pendant, “X” earrings, or a simple gold chain. How could someone screw that up? Fairly easily, as it turns out. The small, elegant, understated cross turned into an elaborate filigreed crucifix that might at one time have belonged to Madonna. For those of you who don’t know, there is a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A cross is a modified “T” shape; a crucifix has a sculpted and bloodied man wearing a crown of thorns affixed to the “T” shape. I like Jesus as much as the next gal, but I don’t want four gruesome inches of his death hanging from my neck. Too flashy and overtly religious. Definitely NOT me.

The “X” earrings? They were large enough to partially obscure my cheekbones and heavy enough to stretch my delicate earlobes. When I returned them I think they put them back on the branding iron from which they had been removed.

A simple gold chain? Try a quadruple herringbone. Cleopatra probably sported something smaller. It gave me a neck ache. I also imagined that it might catch the eye of some ne’er do well who would garrote me while attempting to tear it from my tender neck. Again. Not for me.

Those jewelry store clerks definitely saw my husband coming. He fell, hook, line, and sinker, for the old “bigger is better” adage. And he fell hard.

Obviously I returned all of this craziness. (And made a handsome profit, I might add.) Following the quadruple herringbone disaster (he really could not understand what could possibly be wrong with something so obviously expensive and well-made — and in Italy for crying out loud!), he vowed never to buy me jewelry again. Obviously his inability to select something appropriate was all my fault. He stayed true to his word, though, and steered clear of the jewelry stores when my birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day rolled around. I began to receive things like candle snuffers (designed for taper candles, which I do not own a one of), snow boots (bright pink and two sizes too small), scarves (mostly “medallion” prints, I’ll likely drag them out when I’m 80), pajamas (flannel and sized to hold at least one other person — and, no, not because he had any kinky ideas — because he operates under the assumption that my feet are petite, but my ass is at least two sizes larger than it really is), and, of course, the inevitable robot vacuum cleaner (he does the vacuuming, so I guess that one worked out for him).

More than twenty years of well-meaning, yet still not quite right, gifts forced me to adopt the bold strategy of asking for exactly what I want. No more hints. No more leaving dog-eared magazines or catalogs lying around (like the ones he used to look quizzically at finding atop his pillow). No more candle-snuffers, cleaning-related products, or stage-worthy jewelry for me! Last year he even relaxed his “No Jewelry” policy and agreed to buy me the small Tiffany “Love” ring that I’d had my eye on for ages. This year I asked for AND received a new pair of chocolate brown UGGS mini boots (in the proper size!). Let me not leave you with the impression that my husband is perfect, though. No. He’s still working out the kinks with the whole “Christmas pajama” tradition. This year they weren’t flannel nor were they completely ludicrous. They would have been great if it weren’t for the see-through white top that accompanied the XL bottoms. So, while there’s always room for improvement, there is no substitute for proper training.

photo credit: crucifix

On Swans and Shepherds: Christmas Pageant Memories

twelvedaysofchristmas“The Twelve Days of Christmas” has always had a special place in my heart. When I was in the first grade I got to be one of the “Twelve Drummers Drumming” in our Annual Christmas Pageant. Having always attended Catholic school I had heard stories from my public school friends about singing “Frosty the Snowman” or “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”, so a foray into the land of secular music was something like a Christmas miracle. (What I didn’t know then is that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” may be just as religious as, say, the “Ave Maria”, but in a different and clandestine kind of way.) My mother made my drum out of an empty Quaker Oats container, which we wrapped and decorated. It hung from my neck by gold ribbon. It was the bee’s knees, I’ll tell you that.

We spent weeks practicing. Being part of the last verse gave me plenty of opportunity to witness the visual spectacle that bringing the song to life created. It also afforded me a front row seat to all of the “days”. It didn’t take me long to figure out that some “days” were better than others. (Ain’t that the truth!)

Even to a six-year-old, as yet unwise to the ways of the world, it was clear that the coveted roles were the golden rings. That year the young Marcia Brady look-alikes who snagged these parts were actually wrapped, toga-style, in gold fabric. Oh! My! God!

This was slightly troubling. I already had a complex about Marcia Brady. My hair was neither blonde nor straight. And my mother insisted on a pixie cut, which was the only way to tame its natural unruliness. My eyes, too, presented a problem. They’re brown. I looked like the wrong Brady: Mike, not Carol.

I came up with a plan. I noticed that the “golden rings” were fifth-graders, so I would have some time to grow, dye, and iron my hair. I convinced myself that I would be old enough to do these things when I was ten and also that no one would notice the eye color if I could perfect the Marcia Brady hair flip.

In the meantime, I took note of the many poultry-related aspects of the song (and how their players were being directed to act them out). I quickly decided that none of these were for me. (The swans being the notable exception— I’ll get to that in a moment.) I immediately dismissed the partridge. In our version the partridge carried a branch and a pear. Nary a snazzy fabric or a shiny ribbon in sight. The partridge was ho-hum. The only allure of the partridge was in its single solo and significant stage time— still, not enough cachet.

At least the two turtle doves “cooed”. There may also been some linking of thumbs and flapping of hands, to indicate flying, but that was about it. To Sister Maria’s credit, she made what may have initially seemed a brilliant casting decision that year. The turtle doves would be played by the O’Neill twins. What Sister Maria was unaware of (until it was too late) was that the O’Neill twins suffered from a severe case of one-upmanship. The cooing quickly got out of hand. The hand motions almost caused them to come to blows. Poor Sister Maria had no idea what formidable opponents Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary O’Neill would turn out to be. The O’Neill’s performance gave credence to the old adage “there are no small roles, only small actors”, but I was still skeptical about the whole turtle dove thing.

Putting aside the turtle dove casting fiasco, Sister Maria did make some excellent choices in the areas of costuming and set direction. (You were paying attention when I mentioned that the “five golden rings” were virtually wrapped in gold, right?) In a stroke of genius, the three French hens were outfitted with berets AND given makeshift French flags to pin to their shirt fronts. In addition, the three French hens were instructed to keep their hands behind their backs and bobble their heads in a way that suggested pecking. The beret alone was almost enough to convince me that the French hens were cool. Almost.

Even Sister Maria’s genius couldn’t save the four calling birds, though. She tried, God bless her. Apart from directing two of them to encircle their lips with their index fingers and thumbs while fluttering the rest of their fingers while the other two each cupped an ear— to indicate calling and listening, I would imagine. There is little else associated with this part of the song that I remember. I suppose she could have incorporated a bit of cooing, but she already had her hands full with those crazy O’Neill’s. Being cast as a calling bird was, obviously, to be avoided.

Sister Maria was either incredibly naïve or dumb like a fox. If you’ve had little contact with nuns it’s probably difficult for you to imagine their naiveté. But what other reason could there have been for her to expect that seven prepubescent boys could pull off “geese-a-laying” with a straight face? It probably didn’t help that they were instructed to pretend that they were laying eggs. Maybe she knew that none of the girls would ever mimic egg-laying in front of their families and the entire school. The boys, as it turns out, were the comic relief of the evening. I’ve always enjoyed getting a laugh, but not at the expense of my dignity. I wouldn’t be caught dead pretending to lay eggs. No matter how big the laugh.

The Swans, however, were the exception to the “Don’t be a bird in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ rule” I was cunningly constructing. They had headdresses made of white feathers. Truthfully, they were just paper plates with cheap feathers glued to them, but to me they were straight out of a Busby Berkeley number! The swans’ only stage direction was “to float”. So, they did. They just kind of meandered around center stage, as Swans are wont to do. They were beautiful. If my inability to look like Marcia Brady kept me from my dream of being a golden ring, I would settle for being a Swan. I knew that my normally craft-challenged mother could pull off something as simple as attaching some feathers to a plate. She’d managed the drum, for God’s sake. I even dropped a few subtle hints to my unsuspecting mother when we were in the Five and Ten. I pointed out the feather boas, examined their shoddy construction, and indicated that the feathers could easily be removed and glued onto something else. As I recall, she muttered something along the lines of “Removed and glued on to what, exactly?” “I don’t know”, I shrugged innocently, “maybe a paper plate.” It’s never too early to start planning for being a Swan.

Following the Swans, of course, are the Maids-a-Milking. They, too, had hats. Normally I’d have been all about the hats, but a boring bonnet is just no substitute for a feathered headdress. They also wore aprons, carried buckets, and got to skip. You really have to hand it to the good Sister here. One doesn’t normally associate apron-wearing and bucket-carrying with skipping. She got a little careless with the Maids, though. After the skipping she had them stop downstage, plunk down their buckets, and pull milk from imaginary udders. It reminded you that the Maids were commoners; it was suggestive of servitude. I would have been down for the skipping and I might even have settled for the bonnet, but I had to draw the line at the milking.

The Ladies Dancing might have held some appeal if Sister Maria hadn’t plum run out of ideas. I think she just gave up after the Maids. Or maybe there wasn’t much room left on the stage. In any event, they didn’t so much dance as they curtsied. I’ve never been much for the curtsy. Outside of meeting a monarch or playing Anna in “The King and I” there’s really not much call for it.

The Lords-a-Leaping and the Pipers Piping were reserved for the boys. Sister Maria really went out on a limb back in 1971 casting ganders to play geese, but even she wouldn’t use girls as Lords or Pipers.

I took my role as a Drummer very seriously and acquitted myself as well as any six-year-old with a Quaker Oats box tied to her neck with a gold ribbon could have been expected to, but I have to admit that I may have lost my beat here and there while I watched the Golden Rings and the Swans. Sadly, Sister Maria was moved to another parish and our Annual Christmas Pageant reverted back to The Nativity. I was cast as a shepherd. (I can’t think why. Maybe we didn’t have enough boys?) I got to say, “Hark! Who goes there?”

Having a line as a second-grader was pretty impressive, but still, as I laid there in the field awaiting the Wise Men and my one line, I couldn’t help but curse the itchy beard while I daydreamed of gold fabric and white feathers.

photo credit: 12 Days of Christmas

The Pub Crawl at the Mall

drinkingshoppingThere was a time when malls were for shopping. These days they are veritable entertainment complexes. Drinking establishments are around every corner. The mall is a great place to be an alcoholic. Those of you with a drinking problem can take full advantage of this by participating in a little activity I used to engage in, back in my drinking days— “The Pub Crawl at the Mall!”

Here’s how to play:

Reward yourself with a drink, or several, following a successful purchase. Start small. Buy a box of cards that you have every intention of sending out (but that you never will). Earn a glass of buttery Chardonnay. Chilled.

Knocked the Christmas pajamas off the list? Time for a martini! If you’re feeling particularly festive, opt for the green apple martini. Request a cherry garnish. Red and green! Fa! La! La! La! La! La! La! La! La!

Two gifts and two drinks down— and it’s not even noon! Plenty of time to do more damage to the pocketbook and the liver!

Now that you have a slight buzz on, hit one of the finer department stores. Surely someone on your list (or everyone) can use some nice earmuffs. Buy a half-a-dozen. Throw in a couple of scarves for the ladies and several body wash sets for the guys. You’re on a roll now! Get yourself some lunch. A few chicken wings and a couple of beers should do the trick. Find the place with the Christmas Ale on tap.

Woozy, yet fortified, make your way to the big electronics store. It’s only a little walk through the parking lot. And it’s right next to the place that offers $1 margaritas and free chips and salsa after 3:00. Timing is everything! Kill some time browsing and asking questions of the staff about things you have no intention of buying. Take a crack at making the right decision regarding DVDs. (Remember, last year you bought two copies of “A Christmas Story”— don’t make that mistake again!) Listen intently as the clerk describes the slight, but critical differences, in the latest entries to the “point and shoot” digital camera marketplace. Let him sell you the most expensive one, because it’s 3:05 and, let’s face it, there are a few margaritas calling your name. Never mind that your husband has no interest in photography.

There’s nothing quite like the late afternoon tequila high. It is, however, short-lived. And the only way to recover is a nap. From experience I will caution you about having a brief lie-down near the fountain. There is a very real possibility that you will be pelted with coins and/or picked up for public drunkenness. To avoid the potential for embarrassment (not to mention the attendant legal fees), for the love of God, spend the $12 on a movie ticket and sleep in the darkened theater. Choose wisely, though, don’t go for the blockbuster or the cartoon, select the boring indie title (if there’s a foreign film playing— even better). There’s a good chance you’ll be the only one in that theater, making the cocktail-induced snoring and drooling a non-issue. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, you will need the $15 jumbo bucket of popcorn to soak up the $5 worth of crappy tequila. Don’t cheap out.

This combination of carbs and rest should give you a second wind. Don’t waste it on more shopping. Unless, of course, it’s a brief foray to one of the kiosks where “As Seen on TV” products or calendars are sold. That’s fine. Take ten minutes to grab a pasta pot that’s also a strainer (!) or “The Audobon Official Bird Watcher’s Calendar”. You’ll undoubtedly be able to unload these items on some unsuspecting loved one.

You could rest on your laurels and go home now, but if you want to finish the game (and what self-respecting alcoholic wouldn’t want to do that?), you must cap off your adventure with at least one coffee drink. For added points, ease into this portion of the evening. Nothing says the holidays like a smooth, smoky 12-year-old Scotch! Bartenders just love customers who order $30 drinks! (Remember to tip accordingly!)

Don’t worry about the killer hangover that will be incurred by your fun-filled day of drinking. Starting your day as you finished your night is always an option. Throw a little Bailey’s in your morning coffee. It’s a real eye-opener. Enjoy this tried and true hangover cure while you guiltily fish through your, mostly useless and ridiculous, drunk purchases. Oh, and have a second shot ready for when you tally up the receipts. You’ll really need the “hair of the dog” then. Because “The Pub Crawl at the Mall!”? It never comes cheap.

photocredit: drinking and shopping

DIY Flavored Creamer: Pros and Cons

vanillabeanI noticed that someone had stumbled across my blog while innocently searching for “making elves out of coffee creamers”*. Why anyone would want to engage in anything so ridiculous is beyond me, but lots of folks enjoy brussel sprouts, too— doesn’t mean you’ll find me sautéing them up anytime soon. (I would sooner engage in elf-making than brussel sprout eating!).

I like coffee. I like creamer. And, who doesn’t love elves? So, I did the search, too. Sadly, crafters, I did not find any instructions on elf-making, but there’s plenty of information on making snowmen out of empty bottles of creamer, stemming I guess from the shape of the bottles lending themselves more to your average snowman than to your typical elf. I mention that the bottles should be empty (and clean!) because this seems an important detail, given that it’s number one on all of the instruction lists. Really? People have to be told that? It’s like the “open here” instructions on a packet of cheese. If you can’t figure out that the creamer bottle should be emptied and cleansed prior to turning it into a snowman (or are stumped by cheese), you should probably step away from the glue gun. Also, don’t eat the googly eyes. I know. They look like they might taste good (like a nonpareil), but they won’t. And you might choke.

If the googly eyes are still too much of a temptation, you may be interested in some recipes for making your own flavored creamer that this search also uncovered. It seems that you can make your own, say, French vanilla creamer by mixing up batches of non-dairy creamer, sugar, and vanilla. Okay. But, why? These websites indicate that by doing it yourself one can save a fair bit of money. Really? Where I live plain creamer and flavored creamer will run you about $2.99 for a large bottle of the store brand or, for those of you who are brand conscious, you can go nuts and spend $3.49 for the premium stuff. Incidentally, a good vanilla (not the imitation stuff) can run you upwards of $12 a bottle. My mother, God bless her, hooks me up every Christmas with the Williams-Sonoma “vanilla sampler”. She knows I would never buy it myself and on this she is 100% correct. Three 2 oz. bottles cost $32. This shit is like the smack of the vanilla world. And it makes incredible French toast. Still, crack cocaine is probably cheaper. (And less addictive!)

Having this recipe may certainly come in handy on the morning that I find myself sans flavored creamer, but making it is definitely not cheaper than buying it. Of course, you may want to whip up a few servings to give as gifts (as more than one of the recipe sites suggested)! It may, however, be cheaper to sniff out your local drug dealer and give those coffee addicts on your list something that might actually bring them down from their caffeine high. I have no idea what the going rate for marijuana is these days, but I can tell you what Mason jars, gingham, and raffia cost. (Top dollar!) I daresay that packaging your homemade creamer will cost more than making it.

For those of you with oodles of time on your hands and access to a glue gun, pompoms, and felt, there is a solution to the packaging question. Make the snowman bottle and put the homemade creamer in it! Or, don’t do it at all! Use the $15 you saved by not engaging in this tomfoolery and buy them something useful— like a bottle of wine. Be creative. Stick it in one your husband’s old tube socks. (Use a Sharpie to put a snowman face on it if you must.) It couldn’t look worse than this >>>snowcreamer

photo credits:
vanilla/curehappiness.com
someone made this!

*For those of you wondering how a person stumbled onto my blog using the search terms above, I once wrote about elves and creamer, but not in the way you might think. The Elves Did It!

Breaking with Tradition

I saw Life of Pi tonight. It’s a beautiful movie. It wasn’t the highlight of my night, though. What was? Seeing the trailer for Les Miserables. I cannot wait! It opens December 25th. Merry Christmas to me! Maybe.

I’m not what you call a moviegoer. Not by a long shot. But, every once in a while I get worked up about a movie and I just HAVE to see it on opening day! (Harry Potter and The Passion of the Christ, for example.) A Christmas Day opening is a little problematic, though. Damn kid. Damn husband. Damn Family. It’s not like I can sneak out of the house on Christmas Day. My absence would not go unnoticed.

My Christmas day activities are, mostly, kitchen and cleaning-related. If you like and in keeping with the movie theme, you may want to think of me as a slightly better dressed Dobby, the house elf. I make breakfast, which includes dragging out the giant electric griddle so that two pounds of Scottish sausage can be fried up in one fell swoop. (And eggs for those who have not developed a severe case of lactose intolerance, like yours truly!) Then I have to clean up wrapping paper and gift bags. (Checking carefully for hidden gift cards and cash before disposing of them— keeping in mind the great “going through the garbage debacle of 2008”!). After everyone has had time to digest the Scottish sausage sandwiches, it’s time for dessert— Belgian waffles and ice cream. Then I get to clean the kitchen and scavenge the living room floor for the errant ribbon on which the cat will surely choke.

Now, it’s time to relax. For everyone else. They sit around playing with their new toys, watching television, and generally relaxing, while the clean-up committee organizes everyone’s gifts/bags/boxes and puts them away— to make room for the next meal.

For this I jump from Scotland and Belgium over to Italy. Our Christmas is nothing if it’s not an international culinary journey. So, shortly after cleaning up brunch, I work on the cold antipasto and the lasagna. Over the years I’ve considered adding French toast and Danish to this extravaganza, but that would just be ridiculous (as if what I usually make is normal).

When I first brought up the possibility of breaking with tradition this year, my husband saw fit to remind me that we’re not Jewish. We aren’t really anything, but I guess his reason was as good as my daughter’s. Hers being that she works at the movie theater. Again, so what? I don’t expect they’ll see her there and press her into service. My mother (who speaks for my father in these matters) protested that the cost of getting Chinese food for so many people would be outrageous. Yeah. Because all the food I usually cook doesn’t cost a small fortune! My sisters haven’t weighed in yet, but I expect they’ll concoct their own crazy reasons for being against my plan.

I have been trying to make the argument that a cinematic version of a French book with a multinational cast followed by some Chinese take-out fits right in with our diverse traditions. So far, as you can see, no one’s buying it. This house elf is hoping for a Christmas miracle!

photo credit: imdb.com