Archives for category: Holiday

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My kids are older now. But I still really dig Halloween.

While my 16 year old still ADORES Halloween, and will still go out trick or treating, she is a little more interested in just attending parties. My 23 year old? She’s happy to stay at home with me and hand out candy.

Every year we have totally decked out our house for Halloween. While we don’t have any animatronics or blow ups, we bedeck our house with lights, flying ghosts, hanging ghouls and an enormous spider web, complete with a giant black widow.

And my reward is usually about 6 trick or treaters.

We live on a busy road, and none of my neighbors for at least 4 houses in either direction, decorate for Halloween. They don’t even keep their house lights on to invite kids.

Many parents will drive their kids around, and let them out of the car to hit a group of promising houses. I am a tiny oasis in a sea of darkness, so most times, my house gets passed by.

So this year,  my daughter suggested we take a different approach. Rather than sit inside waiting for the bell to ring, she suggested we deck out the bottom of our driveway, and sit there on Halloween night with our bowl of candy.

We can play music, set up lights, and welcome families for a quick stop rather than them having to trudge up our driveway and steps. And it will solve another problem of mine.

Hubby isn’t really into the whole holiday decorating thing…not like the kids and I are. This way, we really only have to decorate the entrance to the driveway – I’ll still hang lights on our deck, but the day of Halloween, we will really trick out our driveway entrance and spend a nice night out in the October air.

I’ll let you know how our experiment turns out.

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I don’t know what is wrong with me. I have zero Christmas spirit this year.

It might be because December was very busy for us this year. We had things to do every weekend from visiting family, one daughter’s birthday, and another daughter’s college graduation. The next thing I knew it was 10 days before Christmas and I didn’t even have my tree up.

Here’s what I did do.
I got a tree and put lights on it.
I put up lights on the house.

That’s it.

The tree has no decorations. I haven’t addressed a single Christmas card. I have started our family newsletter, but can’t seem to finish it. I didn’t set up our Christmas village…didn’t even take one box out of the closet. I didn’t set out any of my Christmas chachkis…The tin santas, the snowman on the sleigh, my wire reindeer, and the wooden santa with the little tiles that count down the days to Christmas are all still in their box up in my closet crawlspace.

As it got so late in December, I figured it was a waste to take them out only to have to put them back a week or so later. Same with the tree decorations. We don’t have a single ornament on the tree.

I had almost no time to shop. I did a fair share of it online, and one of my packages didn’t come at all even though I ordered it in November. Fucking low rent seller on Amazon. They’ll be getting a call from me on Monday.

Even wrapping presents today was a chore. I came to the realization as I huddled over my bed, struggling with cheap paper and a stubborn roll of scotch tape, that I hate wrapping.

I have deemed 2016 as the most unmerry of Christmases ever.

This may have a lot to do with my dad dying and a giant dangerous Cheeto as president elect. It seems life has little meaning.

At least I have good health coverage.

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My family and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in a small hotel room in Hampton, Virginia. Hubby had a week-long stint driving the Zamboni for Disney on Ice, and rather than make him spend the holiday alone, we decided to spend it with him.

I’m not a big fan of staying in hotels. I’m an early riser and my family is not which can be troublesome in a small hotel room. I don’t like not having all my stuff, and I don’t like living out of a suitcase. Plus, I never get to watch what I want on the TV.

But our biggest struggle was where to eat on Thanksgiving. Most restaurants were closed. Their were places offering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but were also super expensive…like $40 per person.

Nuh-uh.

We were contemplating one restaurant with food that cost around $15 each, when we discovered that Golden Corral was open until 4 pm. $15 for all you can eat (which is half the point of Thanksgiving dinner) or $15 for one plate of food.

We opted for all you can eat. It’s not Thanksgiving unless you need to undo the top button of your pants, right? Besides, there was a certain white-trash allure to eating at a Golden Corral.

What an experience it was.  The place was absolutely mobbed. Line out the door, and a cashier who complained the whole time she was filling our water glasses and taking our money.

The food? It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible either. Kind of like Thanksgiving at home when I cook.

Ha ha.

What struck me as odd were the throngs of families, who, rather than gather at someone’s house to eat, decided to pay $15 a person to sit and eat at a Golden Corral. I mean some of these tables had 15 people at them – that’s a chunk of change.

In any case, it was a pretty hum-drum holiday…one that I don’t want to repeat next year if possible. The one good thing about it was, I had my family around me. My two girls and my Zamboni driving husband.

That’s really all that mattered.

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I’m going to have a different kind of Thanksgiving this year.

Hubby will be driving the Zamboni for Disney on Ice in Hampton VA that whole week, so we are spending our Thanksgiving at a hotel. That means, for the first time in my life, I will eat Thanksgiving dinner out.

I’m not sure what that will be like. Sure it’ll be nice to not have to cook all day. It’ll be nice to not have to do 2 or 3 loads of dishes either. What I’m not looking forward to is the traffic. Whether I decide to travel the night before Thanksgiving or the morning of, I think I’m in for some serious bumper to bumper action.

Then I wonder, should we try to find traditional fare that day, or should we just eat whatever…steak, burgers, Chinese? I guess it all depends on what’s open. I’d rather not get stuck at a Golden Corral or a Cracker Barrel, because to be blunt – the food pretty much sucks. But I also don’t want to pay $35 bucks per person either. So we shall see.

I mean, why should I care…it’s just a meal, right?

But Thanksgiving has always meant a lot to me – it’s family, and food, and wine, and laughter and a feeling of home. I don’t know if I’ll feel that at all this year, spending it at a hotel.

It should be an interesting weekend.

We are spending Thanksgiving evening viewing the annual Holiday Lights at the Beach. Seems they gussy up the Virginia Beach boardwalk with zillions of lights and displays, and you drive your car down the boardwalk and soak it all in.

Perhaps it will give me ideas for my Christmas decorations…a thing hubby and I argue over every year. He likes it simple…I’d rather go all out.

One bonus about this weekend? I already know what I’m making for Christmas dinner. Turkey with all the trimmings. For sure.

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It amazes me at times when I think back to some of the stuff I did as a kid. Either my parents were a pair of progressive, easy going nut-jobs, or they just had faith that the universe would take care of us. Hmmm, that’s kind of the same thing.

Anyway, last night while driving home I thought of a Christmas tradition that my sister and I did for quite a few years. We would gather the kids who lived next door, put in an hour or so of practice, and head out Christmas caroling.

s-l225Yes, at night, unsupervised, a group of roughly 5 kids would travel around our block knocking on every door and, when opened, sing the residents a Christmas carol or two. To make matters worse, we actually held a little tin measuring cup for the sheer purpose of collecting tips, but in a very nostalgic, old-timey Christmas fashion.

So upon reading this are you like, “Awwww” or are you like, “Ewwww?” Because thinking back on this, quite frankly, I’m struck with both emotions.

On the side of “Awwww” – We were really cute! All bundled up with scarves and stocking caps, spreading good cheer through music. And we were pretty darn good. We had harmonies worked out, and each house got a different song. I think we had about 10-15 good songs in our repertoire. Many times people had family over, and they’d all gather in the doorway listening to our song. Sometimes they’d ask for more. Other times the threw a buck or a quarter in our cup and wished us well.

On the side of “Ewwww” – Some folks did not want to be bothered. We had a few doors slammed in our faces each year. I’m sure many folks found us totally obnoxious. Who wants to be bothered on Christmas Eve with a gaggle of strange kids singing “Jingle Bells?”

Plus, as a parent (who tends to have some helicopterish tendencies), if my kids ever asked if they could go out in the neighborhood knocking on stranger’s doors to sing Christmas carols? I’d hum them a few bars of “No Way José.”

I guess that’s why I started this post talking about my parents. That wonderfully permissive pair almost never said “no” to these sort of antics. Hell, once we went out collecting on Labor Day for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon. Those are the kinds of shenanigans my parents allowed us to take part in.

After we would make our rounds, we’d head back to our house and divvy up our earnings over some hot chocolate. We usually wound up with around $5.00 each, which, to quote Spicoli, was righteous bucks back then.

It’s a good memory for me. To this day I can harmonize with almost any traditional Christmas Carol out there. After all, I had all those years of practice!

 

Wishbook

When I was a kid there would come a time each fall when my mother would bring home the Sears Christmas Wish Book—600+ pages long and as thick as a phone book. The arrival of this book would trigger a month-long “it’s my turn!” between us four kids, because this book had a killer toy section.

I had all of these, by the way. Sigh…I wish I still did.

Page after page of Barbies, Fisher Price Little People playsets, doll houses, slot car sets, play kitchens, record players, puppets, and tons and tons of games. As a child you practically drooled as you turned each page, eager to see what “it” toy was going assault your “I want that!” senses next.

I think we had this too. If not I know we wanted it badly

I think we had this too. If not I know we wanted it badly

But you didn’t get to dawdle when you had the wishbook, not at first anyway. Once a sibling saw you with the book in your hot little hands, you were asked to hurry up, and sometimes not so politely. Of course, every so often when you took too long, the coveted book was simply ripped out of your hands, leaving you staring at the linoleum counter top as opposed to Malibu Barbie.

One of the creepier pages in the book - I don't think I'd be happy opening the Seance game on Christmas morning.

One of the creepier pages in the book – I don’t think I’d be happy opening the Seance game on Christmas morning.

But eventually there would come a time when the book was all yours. My brother and sisters had had their fill of rod hockey and Jerry Mahoney dummies, and I could take the Wishbook in my hands and do what I did best…pretend.

I would stare at each page that held a toy I wanted and imagine playing with it. I’d just look at the toy and actually pretend that I was opening little Barbie kitchen doors or bringing a plane in for a landing at the Fisher Price airport. I could spend hours in a pre-Christmas fantasy land. What a dork I must have looked like…sitting in a corner talking to a catalog.

bad fashionsAs time marched on and we got older the Wishbook was less alluring. We spent more time glancing at the front of the book which displayed “today’s hip fashions.” However, let it be known that I did not spend much time imagining myself wearing any of the clothes.

With the exception of a bathing suit when I was around 13. I loved that suit. It was my first maillot.

I highly recommend visiting the site wishbookweb.com. Pick a book and flip through the pages—you just might lose yourself remembering all those great toys you got one Christmas.

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Last night I had a horrible nightmare. I actually had several bad dreams throughout the night, but one was a real doozy.

In short, I dreamt that my youngest daughter, who in the dream was only 6 or 7, was murdered. She ran away from me at a crowded carnival, and as I was trying to call her back, a man picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, and disappeared into the throngs of people.

My voice wouldn’t work. I was trying to scream and couldn’t. It was incredibly frustrating. People were staring at me, but nobody was helping, and like that, she was gone.

I knew she was dead, but at first couldn’t convince anyone in my family. My husband was strangely optimistic she would come back unharmed. As I sat stuffing envelopes a coworker of mine put two six packs of beer on the table next to me (dreams can be super weird, right?) Then she sat down and told me they had found her body.

The grief I felt was overwhelming. I was crying from a place I didn’t even know existed. My brother in law Mike looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I’m never going to see her again.” I cried, and moaned, and screamed in utter sorrow.

And then I woke up.

At first I wondered if anyone had heard me…it was so real that I was certain I had to be making noise in my sleep. Then I went to my daughter and held her hand, and looked at her, thankful beyond measure that it was just a dream. And I thought of all those mothers who have lived through my nightmare only to have nothing to wake up from.

With Christmas just days away, I thought about the parents of poor Hannah Graham, the UVA student who was abducted and murdered this fall by a loathsome creature who should only live in nightmares, not be a living, breathing thing prowling the streets.

It must be such a sad time for them, this first Christmas without her. There’s no stocking to hang for Hannah, no gifts to buy, nothing to pass to her at the Christmas dinner table. They must be feeling a hole the size of the Grand Canyon without her there. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, especially when it’s at the hands of a monster.

When my baby girl wakes up, I’m gonna smother her with kisses. And hugs. And then more kisses. I’m so thankful she’s still here.

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The other morning I went into a gas station to prepay on my gas pump. There was a woman at the register cashing in winning lottery tickets, and another woman behind her. I fell in place as #3, wishing I could have just paid at the pump, but that morning all I had was cash.

The lottery machine is down the counter by another register that was not open – this is where the lottery lady and the cashier had moved to in order to complete her transaction. An old woman walked in, saw me and the other woman waiting in line, and walked over to the second register. I eyed her suspiciously, but knew that the cashier wouldn’t take her before us. After all, we were here first.

When lottery lady walked off with her 23 tickets (and hopes of hitting it rich), the old woman stepped right up and began her business with the cashier. I looked at the woman in line in front of me and said, “Well that’s not right…” to which she replied, “I was here before her.”

Apparently the cashier, who I know from first hand experience is a miserable old man, could have given a rat’s ass who was next in line.

Another case in point – we’ve all been at a grocery store with too few cashiers open. The lines grow long until they finally announce “Aisle 5 is open with no line!” In my world, the folks who were already in line should get first dibs at life in the fast lane. But no…it’s always some tool who wasn’t even in line yet that zooms his cart to the aisle. Sometimes I find that I am in position to be that tool…but I always offer the place in front of me to someone who was already waiting.

Or take the deli counter. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who pushed their cart up to the counter first. In my world, when the deli dude asks “who’s next?” it’s customary (and polite) to turn to your fellow shopper and ask permission to go next…or to relinquish your turn and let them go first. Folks who just barge up and ask for two pounds of baloney are dickheads.

Then there are the car cutters. Those folks at an intersection that can’t wait the extra 6 seconds it would take for your car to pass. No, even though there is nobody behind you, they feel the need to insert their vehicle between you and the car you were trying to keep a safe distance in front of you.

I hate line cutters. I really do. Is there a special something in their molecular make up that leads them to believe that they are above waiting their turn? Some sense of privilege that I am not privy to? The only thing I hate more than line cutters is my inability to call them on it. Like George McFly, I’m not very good at confrontations. I usually rely on the wrath and big mouths of others to set these assholes straight.

Folks, it’s the holidays, where lines are long and the roads are crowded. If you find yourself in one of the aforementioned situations, stop, think, and wait your turn.  And if you see someone cutting, call them out on it for those of us too meek to do it for ourselves.

If all else fails, just sing along with Spongebob Squarepants…”Don’t be a jerk. It’s Christmas!”

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Earlier in the year, a woman began working at our real estate firm. When she introduced herself I recognized her accent right away and asked if she were Slovak. She confirmed that she was, and thus began the conversation of family ties and foods we eat, etc. I love meeting fellow Slovaks because I find it to be such a unique heritage, especially here in Virginia.

corn husk dollsI have always embraced my Slovak ancestry. Our living room had photos and portraits of relatives in traditional Slovak garb, our china closet had Slovak dolls and corn husk figurines, and once a month our fridge reeked of garlic and spices from the sausages and  meats my dad would bring home from a Slovak butcher in New York City.

My older brother and sister had to attend Slovak school on Friday nights and a few times a year were dragged in full costume to several Slovak events in New York City along with cousins of mine. My brother even had to take accordion lessons.

I had travelled twice to my dad’s birthplace in what was then Czechoslovakia, staying with relatives and gorging myself on incredibly awesome foods…soups, goulash, dumplings, cookies and wine. I’d been to Prague, Bratislava and the Tatra Mountains. All these things combined left me with an overblown sense of being in touch with my heritage.

Hovadina.

Yesterday afternoon, my Slovak co-worker, Marcela, called to invite me to her St. Nicholas celebration. Not having any clue what she was talking about, she explained that it was a Slovak Christmas tradition where Mikuláš (St. Nick) shows up to give the children treats. She said that she does this with a group of local Slovaks every year, and wondered if I would like to join them. Hmmmm – I wouldn’t know any of these people, but I figured it would be fun to meet them and see what this St. Nicholas thing was all about.

Slovak Sandwiches

My daughter and I arrive at the party to a table loaded with traditional Slovak open-faced sandwiches (aka obložené chlebíčky – had to look that one up), cookies and puddings, and a gigantic pot of goulash on the stove. I ate and talked to the other guests, all of whom were phenomenally friendly and social. They knew I was a newcomer and took great pains to include me in conversations, and I was grateful for it.

Then came time for St. Nicholas to arrive. Called “Mikaloosh” by everyone there, he entered the room flanked by a devil in all black, and an angel in all white.  I had asked about the tradition earlier in the evening, and was told the tradition was meant to keep naughty kids in line. The devil carried a sack over his shoulder, and if a child was deemed bad, was carried off in the sack. If Mikuláš found the child to be worthy and good, the angel gave him or her a treat.

I had never heard of this tradition. We never did it growing up.

Mikuláš began calling children up before him. He was kind, but I have to tell you, these kids were scared shitless, even with the angel there. Each of them got up and listened to Mikuláš list their more virtuous traits, but each time he mentioned a bad thing that they needed to work on, the devil would sneer and gobble at them. Then they had to recite a poem or sing a song.

Each child, all very American, and all under the age of 10, got up and sang a song. In Slovak.

In Slovak.

I’m 50 years old, and I think my Slovak vocabulary consists of 12 words, and 3 of those are dirty ones. And here stood these children singing songs in Slovak –  and it was evident to me that their parents took the time to teach them these songs, and to make sure they rehearsed them to have their performance perfected for good old Mikuláš. I was stunned, impressed, and a little envious.

Here I was thinking that because I had regularly eaten Slovak sausages, could hold my own during a Polka, and drank my fair share of Slivovice, I was a true blue Slovak. Now I feel like I don’t know the first thing.

I know that’s dopey, but I’ll tell you, it makes me want to go cook some dumplings and have a shot of Shlivy…

And teach my daughters a Slovak song or two.

happy-birthday

Today I sat here in my 50 year old body, thinking with my 50 year old brain about birthdays of my past. I don’t have rock solid memories of many of them…after all, I’m 50 now. Remember?

But I do have little snippets of memories from as far back as 6 or so. They are not really stories – at least not all of them, but they are worth sharing (in my 50 year old opinion anyway).

My earliest birthday memory was turning 6 or so. I remember being home alone with mom…all the other kids and chauffeur dad were at Tuesday night Sokol. We were in the kitchen and my mom gave me my present which I eagerly opened. It was a 45 record of Ernie from Sesame Street singing “Rubber Duckie.” At least I think it was “Rubber Duckie.”

I was heavily into Sesame Street at the time so I was thrilled – plus I had just obtained my very first record – something I could play on our little 45 phonograph. But thinking back, I realized how hard times must have been for my parents if all I got for my birthday was a record that cost less than a dollar- and why such little fanfare was made in the way of giving me my present. In retrospect, I’m so glad I was happy with my gift.

Money must have been better a year or two later. I woke up on my birthday to find a Baby Tenderlove Doll in my arms. She was all I had wanted, and she was what I got.

I don’t know when the birthday dinner theme took off in our family, but if it was your birthday you were able to choose what you wanted no questions asked. For the longest time I had my dad take me to the Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on Rt. 46 for the turkey dinner. I don’t know why I would choose that. I had just had turkey at Thanksgiving the week, or sometimes days before. But there was something about that HoJo’s turkey platter that called to me. Maybe it was the yellow gravy.

Years later my tastes changed and my birthday dinner of choice was ravioli. Still is.

I can remember one birthday where we had to travel. We had been visiting my mom’s best friend, known to us as Aunt Dorothy, who had moved to Wayland, Massachusettes. December 1st was our travel back day, and I have to admit I was bummed – stuck in the car all day…happy birthday to me.

So my mom catered to me the whole ride home. I got to pick the lunch spot, I got to sit up front, I got to pick the music….because it was MY BIRTHDAY. Oh, and I took advantage of it too. By Connecticut my sisters wanted to kill me – I had been chirping about it being MY BIRTHDAY all day long. I think they were secretly planning on ditching me at a gas station somewhere south of Mystic Sea Port.

My family wasn’t big on throwing birthday parties, but I can recall two. One when I was in first grade – my husband’s brother was invited. I had a huge crush on him in first grade, and he didn’t seem too happy to be there. I think he gave me a dress up set. Hubby thinks it’s hysterical that his mom had to go out and shop for a birthday present for me 25 years before we knew each other existed.

The other party was when I was in 7th or 8th grade. That one was a blast – boys and girls and every single present I got was an album. Chicago’s Greatest Hits, Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and ABBA Arrival. Ah, ABBA. I played that record a thousand times.

And here I sit – 50 years old and thinking back on all those birthdays. If I’m still writing this blog when I’m 100, I guess I’ll reminisce about the fifty still to come. That would be pretty cool.