The 2021 Christmas Newsletter

Salutations, mon ami.

Lest you think this is one of those sweet family newsletters full of accomplishments, exotic travels, and perfectly manicured photographs, I shall remind you that I have a full sized bathtub sitting on my bed right now. I just made a drug run to Target for a sister who tested positive for the ‘Rona. And my nails are chewed down to the nubbins because, life.

Compared to the 2020 Newsletter, this one feels hazy, but slightly more constructive.

I think the photo above captures the general #mood. If there’s one thing the Covid kitten taught me, it’s that naps are good, kibble is better, and for a truly uplifting experience, nothing beats shredding an entire roll of toilet paper. Indy is over sixteen pounds and spoiled rotten. It obviously works for him.

The beloved Hubbs hired a contractor to build us a bathroom. The one I gutted almost two years ago. The contractor showed up every day with a smile, worked hard, and only swore in Finnish. He is my new favorite person. We have had bathroom parts and boxes strewn across the whole house for weeks. I cannot overemphasize the level of chaos here, but if the bathroom gets DONE, I will put up with almost any amount of it.

I don’t want you to think the bathroom is the final destination, though. No. We’ve been using the guest bathroom and apparently it was designed just for looks, not actual bathing, because now it not only needs to be gutted but ALSO the entire property because Kid #4 went and got engaged and the happy couple decided the perfect venue was, um, here.

Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath. Good.

They are mostly after the giant oaks in the backyard, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. A wedding means winery-quality ambiance. Mood lighting. Archways. A balcony for the mariachi band harpist. Bribing the neighbors with cake. Underground parking. They set the date for next November, so we have plenty of time to run around the place shrieking in panic. The boys took out a massive hornet nest the other day, so we are on our way!

Other than that, Kid #4 is doing fine.

Hubby, too.

Did I mention Kid #4 moved across town? No? And Kid #1 moved down from LA and took his room? Okay. Back up. They did.

Kid #5 and Kid #1 are living downstairs and it’s fun to watch a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old together. They are both passionate about art and craft magic in the basement. The elder makes a living with it, though, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s out again. I miss him already. Thankfully, the younger still has to graduate college as a mechanical engineer. It’ll be awhile, but I love that they inspire and encourage each other.

Kid #3 lives in Los Angeles and manages a Kahoots Pet Store and took her dog to the snow the other day. Communication is not her forte, but this vid clip pretty much sums up her year:

Kid #2 graduated this weekend with her “Master of Arts in Education: Learning and Technology” and has the pointy cape hooden thingy to prove it. Afterward, she and the fiancés went to see Hamilton. I’m still jealous. She’s already got teaching jobs lined up and I’m happy to say she’s staying local for the time being.

That’s all I can remember from this second year of pandemic. I kept my head down and got some books written and frankly, it’s time for a nap. We wish you peace and joy in the coming year.

More kibble.

Less panic.

All the bubble baths.

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #1

 

Every year, my family wants to know what I want for Christmas and every year I react like a deer in the headlights. Gifts are tricky little things and I am notoriously hard to shop for because, frankly, I don’t need much. I like the simple things. Think hygge, peppermint mocha, and twinkle lights.

I like wide, open space. Secretly empty closets. Peace on earth.

And reading. In that empty closet, if peace on earth is scarce.

If you love books, then you’ll love this themed gift list. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Everybody wins.

Throw on your jammies and get ready for a shopping spree!

  1. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
    1. A Literary Tea Party Cookbook gives a nod to several books, but I’ve always wanted to throw a Mystery Tea Party. Maybe I will some day!
    2. A party-worthy murdery game
    3. Brain teasers for you sleuths out there
    4. The key to 221B Baker St.
    5. Socks, Italian wool deerstalker hat, pipe, and some ‘staches
  2. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
    1. The puzzle, “Run Away to Pemberley” the coloring book, and the book bag (other books to choose from!)
    2. Novel Tea. Get it?
    3. “Obstinate, Headstrong Girl” bracelet
    4. “Marrying Mr. Darcy” board game
    5. The scarf, the magnetic poetry, and the lip balm.
  3. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
    1. Gold Sorting Hat jewelry tray
    2. Socks because Dobby is Free
    3. “I Solemnly Swear I am Up to No Good” magical coffee mug
    4. The cozy Hogwarts scarf & beanie set, choose your house
    5. Or maybe knit or crochet your own!
  4. The Hobbit by J. R. Tolkien
    1. Candles from Middle Earth or the Shire
    2. Doormats: “Speak Friend and Enter” or “You Shall Not Pass
    3. “Not All Who Wander are Lost” moon pendant necklace
    4. Charcuterie board (never miss a Hobbit meal)
    5. One ring to rule them all, my Precious
  5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    1. The paperback Box Set and
    2. A spot of raspberry cordial
    3. “Tomorrow is a New Day, with No Mistakes in It” Charm Necklace
    4. “Kindred Spirit” V-neck women’s T (I love it in green!)
    5. The tea, the mug, the tea towel, and the cookbook!
  6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    1. Typewriter pencil cup, engraved pen, and finger puppet
    2. Flavor adventures with BBQ spice, marinade, and rub
    3. Scroll bookmark “We Are All Broken, That’s How the Light Gets In”
    4. His books on Hunting or Fishing

When Santa Goes AWOL

Silly me.

I thought if I got everything done on The List in the appointed time frame and stood in the long lines without whining and wrapped the presents with gritted teeth while listening to Imagine Dragons really loud (hey, I have to cleanse my palate from the non-stop sugary jumbo pop of carols somehow) that Santa would take pity on me and go away for good on December 26th.

He’s still right here in my office, laughing with glee and kicking up his heels because his sleigh was hijacked in Toronto.

Which landed him and his empty sack on my USPS website, shrugging vaguely and giving me a look that says, “Sister, are you ever screwed.”

I wanted to send two gifts to Canada. How hard can this be?

The first was a gingerbread house.

I went shopping for one and found a magnificent gingerbread condo complete with runts, M&Ms, and sweet tarts for the icing.

When I discovered that I would have to take out a small mortgage on my own house to ship it, I rethought my strategy.

I have a girlfriend who does Christmas every year in her jammies at home, online. She clicks her mouse and Santa’s elves grab the gift, wrap it, sign her name, and deliver it to the doorstep of a lucky recipient.

My particularly suspicious mind cannot wrap itself around this voodoo.

It prefers to pinch and poke and sniff a potential gift before it’s approved for giving.

But it was time to open my mind to this brave new world.

Turns out, there is a version of Amazon in Canadian. Which made me feel great, because even though I still paid for shipping, it was in Canadian dollars which are attractive and make me feel slightly french and translate to smaller American dollars in the end, which is a really fun parlor trick.

I found an adorable gingerbread kit and pushed the “go” button.

Slightly dizzy from the speed wherewith I had just dispatched Santa, I gleefully went further into the website for gift number two.

No dice.

What I really wanted to send was See’s candy, an American thing I guess and would have been wasted on a Cadbury fan, but I knew my girlfriend liked milk chocolate bordeaux. The girl has taste. So.

I brought my box of chocolate delight to the post office fifteen minutes before it opened, and joined the long line already forming down the walkway.

I filled out customs forms and addresses and hummed some tunes and held a shoe judging contest with everyone else in line (the snappy brown buckled boots won) until it was finally my turn.

The post office is exactly like the DMV, only they don’t provide chairs to sit in while you wait. You finally get to the window and are practically hopping in anticipation of being DONE and the employee moves leisurely and chats about the weather and asks “isthereanythinginyourpackageflammableliquidhazardouspotentiallyhorrifyingormaybegrowingmold?”

And you say, “Nope.”

Then they smash it with a hammer, cover the damage with a label, toss it into a bin behind them, and demand all your money.

And you give it to them.

I tracked my first class package online. I’m savvy like that now.

It was a cute little timeline that showed precisely where my bordeaux went, each step of it’s adventure.

It touched in at exactly twelve spots, working it’s way from Los Angeles to Louisville and crossing the border into Hamilton and continuing on into Toronto.

All of this in four days. It was very exciting.

And then it was delivered to it’s final destination: Singapore.

On December 18th, 2015, at 11:01am, within a stone’s throw of my girlfriend’s doorstep, someone in the Canadian postal system must have hit his thumb with his hammer and in the excitement, tossed my package into the wrong bin.

Now, I myself do the same thing all the time, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that at 4:29am local time on December 22nd, my box of bordeaux was processed in Singapore.

Canadians are hockey players. They can get a puck the size of a quarter into a net the size of my car. You’d think they could aim.

Or maybe not.

The status on my USPS timeline still claims the package is “in transit”.

I’ll bet it is.

In transit to someone’s lucky mouth.

I went back to the post office today to mail off the tea to last week’s prize winner.

When I finally reached a human (this week, the neon sketchers won) I informed her that I had grossly overpaid and overestimated their services to Canada.

She mentioned that they had kicked my package to the Canadian curb in record time and once it was across the border, they washed their postal hands of the situation.

She didn’t have the information on the man in Canada who had smashed his thumb, so I could add insult to his injury.

Just as well, I guess.

Christmas and all.

My faith in the postal system shattered, I handed over my tea, wondering who in Iceland was going to end up enjoying it.

I went home thinking, “Well, at least there’s still Amazon. That package made it just fine. That’s it,” I resolved, “I’m using that from now on!”

There was an email waiting for me, from my girlfriend.

There was the gingerbread house I had sent, dutifully put together.

It was a gingerbread closet. Not even a leprechaun would fit without icing up his nose.

It held one breath mint over the front door.

So Canadian grams and American ounces aren’t the same, you’re saying? Am I supposed to translate millimeters and yards and ratios? There’s no math in Christmas!!

I wash my hands of this brave new world.

If you want something done right, you do it yourself.

Guess I’m flying to Canada.

Santa can wipe that smug look off his face.

A Christmas Miracle

Having a BFF with a good memory is both blessing and curse.

You never know what people remember about you, especially if you don’t remember it yourself.

We were sitting among girlfriends over wine one evening, and she said, “Remember the time we took our boys to the Wild Animal Park?”

“Pick any year out of the last twelve…help me out here. No.”

She proceeded to tell, with gusto, a story that was not remotely flattering.

I couldn’t kick her shin under the table, so I did the next best thing: feign indifference.

It seems we had our small tykes out for a morning adventure, and she overheard a chat I had with my youngest just before we entered the gates. He had some spending money in his fist and was hopping up and down in delight at his prospects.

I stooped down and gave him some good advice: “Kid, you have some money that is very special to you. It’s important. You want to put it somewhere safe, so you don’t lose it. It’s easy to lose money when you’re busy having fun.”

I suggested some options: “If you want to, I can hold it for you in my purse. I will keep it safe for you and when you are ready to use it, I can give it to you. You can put it in your pocket, but it might fall out. If you hold it in your hand, you might want your hand for other things.”

He chose to keep it close, in his pocket.

“That’s fine,” I said, “but if you lose it, it’s lost. I won’t replace it.”

And off we went into the wilds of Africa.

“Of course he lost it,” says my BFF, sipping her chardonnay, “and here’s this poor heartbroken little boy and she wouldn’t just give him another dollar. I couldn’t believe it!”

This, people, is why I was never in the running for Mom of the Year.

It’s also why certain girlfriends aren’t going into the running for BFF of the Year.

Ahem.

Actually, I wonder if it helped her be a little stronger with her own firm parenting.

If it didn’t, and you all need more (sigh), here you go:

Money management doesn’t come easy to everyone, anymore than time management or sock drawer organization.

But they are skills our kids should grasp, preferably before the big bad world gets ahold of them.

My daughter is working and going to college and dating and basically living a busy, industrious life from a room that looks like a train wreck, but I digress.

She has a paycheck that covers both her simple needs and her silly ones, and I’m happy to support her finishing what she started, before moving out into the big bad world.

She is going to graduate debt-free which is so huge, she may have no idea until years later, just how huge that is.

Words like ‘priorities’ and ‘budget’ and ‘savings account’ get floated around fairly regularly.

I offer to tell her (and any kid who will listen, aka nobody) stories of back when I was her age, how I had no problem eating beans from a can if it meant I could make rent that month.

All the kids who aren’t listening just roll their eyes.

Fine.

But there was a wee mix-up at the bank last week in which the sudden collision of college tuition, Christmas shopping, and paycheck timing went into a tailspin, and college came skidding into home plate, leaving Christmas in the dust.

Oops.

I heard my girlfriend’s voice in my head, “And here’s this poor heartbroken little girl and she wouldn’t just give her another dollar! I couldn’t believe it!”

I heard my daughter’s voice in my head, in my texts, through my door, “I just can’t believe it!”

“I can’t buy presents for my friends!” she cried.

“Tell them the truth. I’m sure they have tight budgets, too. Make a new tradition that doesn’t involve gifts.”

“But I love them!”

“Love comes in many languages. Maybe you could write poems for them. Maybe you could bake cookies. Maybe you could clean your disaster of a room and recycle treasures to give away.”

Maybe I could just move to Siberia where all the cold-hearted mothers are sent.

And take some wine with me.

“Mom!” she explained, “just because the Grinch is your role model doesn’t mean the rest of us hate love and joy and puppies and orphans! I have a heart!”

Her look contained pity and horror.

“And re-gifting is just wrong. People want pretty little shiny new things. It’s Christmas!”

“Kid, haven’t you heard of saving the planet? Recycling is cool. Re-purposing is all the Pinterest rage. When you have things lying around ignored, give them to someone who will appreciate it. It’s the young 20-something female consumer like you who should be telling the big fat American marketers that shiny new things are overrated.”

My pouting collegiate huffed from the room, “Oh brother, I can’t wait to see what we get for Christmas this year….”

Three days later, the miracle occurred.

She gave up being rescued from her own hand-crafted fiasco and took the first step.

She started cleaning her room.

And literally found buried treasure.

Who knew there was that much pocket change in the world, scattered thoughtlessly in drifts of laundry and in the bowels of dust buffaloes under furniture?

She’s getting socks for Christmas.

Used ones.

Holly Jolly Folly

I took the Hubby to Christmas on the Prado, or whatever they’re billing it nowadays, hoping some of the frantic holiday cheer would rub off on me.

A local Baptist church puts on the show

A local Baptist church puts on the show

Thinking maybe I’ll come home smelling of cinnamon sprinkled sugarplums and inspired to deck my halls.

How can I put this?

I took an hour just to find a parking spot.

We had to fight off three out of state vehicles and a wino with a shopping cart to get it, but we got it.

And then you get out of your car and walk into the light.

Take a million frantic holiday NASCAR fans, march with them shoulder-to-shoulder down the middle of the streets and circle the International Houses (you want the Scottish one, you really do), tallying your rounds because you’re not ever going to actually get into the tiny building for some “Death by Chocolate” because the line stretches all the way back to the House of Norway’s booth which, so far as I could tell, was selling actual Vikings.

Or maybe just the horns. Who knows. Maybe they were just drinking.

We finally nabbed a tray with dessert samples which we sat down on the spot (concrete curbs: don’t underestimate this prime real estate) and devoured, which was a bad idea for a handful of reasons like the dim lighting which led to my actually ingesting a raisin that was hidden in the bread pudding.

Who does that?

Don’t even get me started on raisin poisoning.

Halfway through my chew I realized my mistake and had to mentally chant “swallow, swallow, swallow” so I wouldn’t spit it directly onto the festively festooned Who-ville child passing by.

Toured the Old Globe Theater, all set up for “The Grinch”

There’s a mini carnie towards the back for shrieking children who are competing with the children shrieking from Santa’s photo booth.

Everyone’s having a marvelous time.

En masse.

We walked five feet, and ate stuff, walked five feet, and ate stuff.

We toured exhibits, enjoyed live entertainment, calmed our indigestion with a soft pretzel the size of a manhole cover, and eventually shoved our way back to the car.

We only trampled a handful of wayward children, but we found Jesus, literally, on the way out, so we’re all okay.

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The event is only for one weekend a year, and really it’s a great way to see Balboa Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.

All the NASCAR enthusiasts hopped into their cars, which were parked up for miles in all directions, and spent an hour or so swerving around the local homeless and tallying laps before fading off into the night, horns honking in victory.

I came home smelling of grilled onions, Indian curry and au de carnival grime.

The only thing I really want to deck are the inventors of the Port-a-Potty.

Because, no.