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.

Pavlova

Good morning to you! Take a moment and breathe deeply. I hope you’re in your comfy chair.

Enjoy the sounds of excited kids, perhaps the hissing of the tea kettle or distant bells on the street corner.

Smell the pine or the dinner cooking or the candles on the table.

This is a moment for peace and reflection.

It may become my one lasting tradition.

Although my family has grown through many stages and tried several holiday traditions, I have to admit none of them really stuck. We used to make a family photo card every November, but no one will sit for it now. Young children made paper countdown chains, teens did puzzles from an advent calendar, but now we are never all home at the same time for those 24 doors to be faithfully explored.

Perhaps it’s a good thing not to be too tied down to any one ‘necessary’ bit.

Flexibility is key. One year we chopped down a palm tree that had the audacity to grow where it was not wanted. That’s the tree we brought in and strung with lights.

When we moved, I brought along a Christmas tradition. Or so I thought.

For many years we’ve made cookies or truffles or cinnamon rolls or biscotti, wrapped them up and delivered them to our neighbors. Our old ‘hood was steady as a rock and our kids knew everybody.

As the kids grew, the tradition somehow morphed into me doing everything and then begging someone to help deliver the goods. They have better things to do than decorate cookies I guess.

All of our new neighbors are strangers and seem to be constantly moving themselves. I can’t decide if a plate of slightly crooked gingerbread men delivered by slightly surly teenagers will solidify a month-old relationship.

It may just make them reconsider their new location.

So maybe it’s time to re-think this tradition as well.

I can fuss and plan and stress and make huge kitchen messes all by myself.

Or, they should all be expecting wine-in-a-bag.

I will be choosing by the label design, how else?

One Christmas we hosted a wonderfully fun family from Australia. Among the many memories we made, a recipe for pavlova is one that stuck. Probably because I wrote it down.

Her measurements were metric and my kitchen was not.

The ingredients had to be interpreted. ‘Caster’ sugar is finely granulated, but we used what I had and all was well.

This lovely lady reached for my pint of buttermilk, thinking it was milk. I only just saved her cup of tea.

She was gracious enough to demonstrate her pavlova magic for me and with the leftover egg yolks, prepared a chocolate cake from scratch a couple of days later. No one bakes from a box except us Yanks. She used cocoa powder and the flavor was distinctly different. Her kids were in heaven, and so was I.

I had the cooking channel right here in my kitchen! Woot!

Don’t let the recipe worry you. I made it successfully for a couple of Christmases thereafter and it’s a nice change of pace, especially if you top it with fresh fruit or perhaps crushed candy canes.

Lovely Pavlova

  • Separate 4 room temp eggs (they should sit out for at least 20 minutes first); save the yolks for another recipe.
  • Beat the whites and a pinch of salt until they won’t slip in the bowl when it’s tipped sideways. (Use a glass or metal bowl. Make sure your bowl and mixer were dry.)
  • Gradually beat in 2 cups of white granulated sugar until it’s stiff and glossy. This will take forever. (Because the sugar must melt a bit at a time. If a pinch feels grainy between your fingers, you’re adding too fast. If you over beat it, it starts to separate or curdle; start over.)
  • Last, beat in 1 tsp each of: cornstarch, baking powder, vanilla, and white vinegar.
  • Lay a sheet of foil on a cookie sheet. Parchment paper works. No rim on your pan.
  • Gently spread your egg glop onto the center of this foil, spreading into a 10” roundish cake shape. (You could use a plate to mark a guide first if you like. But messy is also pretty. And a gentle hollow in the center will hold fruit nicely.)
  • Pop it into a pre-heated 300 degree oven, and then immediately reduce the temp to 250 degrees.
  • Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave it in there to cool and dry out. No drafts allowed. (A challenge on rainy days. Better during santa anas.)
  • When ready to serve, beat 2 cups heavy whipping cream with a pinch of powdered sugar and a drop of vanilla until stiff. Spread it onto a completely cooled pavlova and top with fruit, etc.
  • Refrigerate leftovers.
  • If, by chance, your pavlova is cracked or tanned or weeps or acquires other beauty marks, eat it all the same! You could switch up this recipe into a lot of flavor variations. Have fun!

The Christmas Shopping Coma

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly…Fa La La La La La La La La!

Now that you are in the department store elevator with me, let’s chat.

Because it will take my mind off the numbing fog of whirlwind Christmas preparations. Maybe I’ll just rest my forehead on this sterile tinsel-free elevator wall for a moment while you talk.

How are you coming along with your Christmas list? If I really had my life pulled together, I would have finished mine in August. If I left Hubby in charge, he would be cheerfully racing through the malls on Christmas Eve without a budget, buying random and completely unsuitable gifts.

My reality falls somewhere in the middle, but it is never pretty.

Did you find a parking spot? On Mars? I out-waited three other cars for a space near the front and I fully intend to sell it to the highest bidder when I’m done here.

I walked in on the bottom level which was a big mistake. The line to see Santa snaked around the corner and the screaming limp children were torturing their whimpering limp parents.

People pay to do this.

I didn’t even reach my first store before I fell into my Christmas shopping coma. It happens every year about this time. I look like a sincere and cheerful shopper but I am actually sleeping with my eyes open.

Here’s my proof.

Our mall boasts a three story Target. Three. Stories.

This means they have escalators in there that take you and a cart full of stuff you don’t need but are buying anyway up and down all night.

It feels exactly like you’re in an airport. Which is fine. If your flight is cancelled, everything you need to live on is in there.

I had my daughter with me and we were heading down the down escalator while my own sister, who works there, was riding the other escalator up.

I looked her right in the face and she smiled at me as we passed, two ships in the night. Her smile dissolved into a puzzled frown just before she disappeared into the second floor.

My daughter waved and tossed out a quick “Hi!” as we dropped to the first floor.

Then she turned to me and said, “Mom? Why didn’t you say ‘Hi’?”

I leaned over and whispered, “Sweetie, I don’t know who that is.”

After some extreme eye rolling and patting me on the head, she left me to wander aimlessly while she dashed off to the food court.

My sister will understand. My daughter will check me into an old folks home.

It’s just that I find the frantic holiday push a little too…pushy. And my coma is a subconscious buffer zone.

There’s only one year in my memory that I joined the ranks of the frenetic and loved every minute of it.You can blame it squarely on Starbucks.

My children are all bigger than me, faster than me, and even, if you can believe it, bossier than me now. But when I was at the top of this food chain, I dragged my feet putting up Christmas.

It just feels harsh to jump directly from giving thanks for what we have to writing up all the stuff we suddenly want.

Plus, it’s a lot of work.

So, the first week of December was almost gone and everyone was wondering why Mom was still not in full Christmas mode. Where was our tree? Why were the ornament boxes still in the garage?

The neighbors have had lights up for a month for crying out loud.

Hubby and I had a date night. We went out to a movie and then over to Starbucks for dessert. I had recently discovered the joy of gingerbread lattes and treated myself – why not – to a venti.

That’s Italian for “we just put three shots of espresso into your veins”.

Which at the time, I didn’t realize.

An hour later, I was higher than a kite on caffeine and the whole world just glittered. I imagine that’s because my eyeballs were jittering in their sockets.

The family was in bed when I first eyed the Christmas stuff.

I was putting the finishing touch on a triumphant nativity set when I noticed the time.

Three in the am. Boom!

Every single holiday item we owned was on display. The family woke up to a winter wonderland.

And this, my friend, is why my comforting little coma will remain.

It keeps me solidly between Grinch and Tasmanian Devil.