Our Easter this year was definitely low key. Gone are the days of egg hunts with cousins and waking up at 6:00 AM to see if the bunny came. Instead, the Beetle slept all day, and the Goose went to a friend’s house. I must say, I was strangely at peace with the fact that I did not have to hide eggs. That was never my favorite part anyway. However, it would have been nice for the Beetle to actually look at the contents of his Easter basket and show excitement over chocolate. (On a side note, I found it interesting that the Easter Bunny brought both my kids laundry baskets this year. Did he have a message for them? Yes. He was saying, “Do your own laundry. The maid has retired.”)

I spent some time yesterday remembering Easters past, and I realized, though while I was growing up, my family was not really religious, Easter was a pretty good holiday for us.

We always went to church on Easter. For a few years, we were regularly attending the First Baptist Church in town, so we went there. However, most of the time, we went to my grandmother’s church. She wouldn’t darken the door of the First Baptist Church because the preacher had once dropped the door on her instead of holding it open when she was walking behind him into a store. I’m pretty sure the whole congregation was condemned to purgatory for the preacher’s actions.

I was happier going to my grandmother’s church than to the First Baptist Church. At least grandmother gave us gum, even if it was just half a stick. (She was too cheap to let my sister and me each have our own stick of gum, so she would break it in half for us. She said it still tasted the same, and I guess she was right.) At least at my grandmother’s church, no one glared at me.

At the First Baptist Church, my whole Sunday school class hated me for some reason. I’m pretty sure it was because I was not as holy and righteous as they were, but I can’t be too sure. All I know is, Mia Talcom used to glare at me during the prayers.  I would feel eyes on me, and I would look up to find her ugly face glaring at me. For the entire time we attended that church, that girl hated me, and her posse did too, and I never even knew what I had done wrong. (*Note: changed after original posting...I first did not change this person's name because I figured no one would ever know who it was anyway. I didn't think I could even spell her name right. However, my sister immediately sent me a link to this person's Facebook page. Apparently, I remembered how to spell her name correctly, so she was really easy to find! So, as much as I hated to, I changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent. By the way, she still isn't too pretty and still has an unpleasant look on her face. And she wears too much makeup. That is all.)

Then, there was the kid who stabbed me with the pencil. I don’t remember him name. I’m not even sure I knew his name back then, but he attacked me with a pencil. I was there, in all my Easter fanciness, with my pink dress, white floppy hat and white gloves. In the middle of children’s church, the kid reached over and stabbed my hand and my pretty white glove with a pencil. I carried that lead mark under my skin until I was 40 years old….a reminder of how much the First Baptist Church children disliked me. It finally disappeared sometime a few years ago. I guess my wounds have been healed.

Let me be honest here. It definitely wasn’t the church services I looked forward to on Easter. It was the candy. (It’s still the candy. I love, love, love Easter candy….much more than I should! I try not to buy it as much anymore, but I still love it. I love the bright colors and pretty packages and happy bunnies and chicks. What’s not to love?) In Easters of my childhood, it was the candy that made me look forward to Easter. Well, it was the candy and the swimming.

Every year, regardless of the temperature outside, my daddy would open the pool during the week before Easter. By Easter Sunday, it would be ready to swim in. It could be 70 degrees outside and colder in pool, but it did not matter. On Easter, my sister and I were going swimming. It might only be for five minutes, and we might be blue and shivering by the time we were finished, but we WERE going swimming. It was one tradition we lived for.

Since having my own kids, I have tried to carry on at least some of the traditions I had as a child on Easter. The Beetle used to always get new Easter outfits. Sometimes, to Mr. Everything’s dismay, those outfits involved white knee-high socks. That slowly turned into the Beetle getting a new dress shirt on Easter and finally ended this year with him wearing whatever was clean.

The Goose has managed to always get a new dress for Easter. That’s probably because she was willing to go shopping with me. She also reminds me relentlessly that we need to go shopping until I take her shopping. I have gotten a new Easter dress for most years. There were a few where I just wore something from my closet. In my mind, I was clothed in that pretty pink dress with my white floppy hat and white gloves (minus the pencil mark).

My kids have gone swimming at my parents’ pool for most Easters of their lives. This year, though, the pool sat quiet and empty as all the grandchildren had “better” things to do with their time.

One of my favorite Easter memories was about nine years ago. The Beetle was about nine, and the Goose was about five. It did not actually happen on Easter Sunday, but it involves the resurrection of Christ, so I’m counting it as an Easter memory. (I just wanted to tell you this story. It’s really funny.)

We went with a group from our church to a theme park in Orlando called, “The Holy Land Experience.” This was sort of a strange place is it was sort of an amusement park, but it was built on the idea of Biblical times. The whole place was made to look like various places read about in the Bible. The schedule of show times was built around the life of Jesus, and the final performance was a processional through the park with Jesus carrying the cross. Then, they showed Jesus nailed to the cross and crucified. I was concerned about this whole idea as I was not sure my kids were ready to see this. The entire day, I had an uneasy feeling about letting them watch the “show.” Most of the people in our group acted like I was silly, but I just really was not sure whether my kids were old enough and mature enough to handle watching Jesus die on the cross. I could only hope the acting would be bad as that would lessen the intensity of it.

When the time came for the final “show,” I told Mr. E to help me keep an eye on the kids. I had an escape route planned to get my kids out of there if I decided it was too much for them to watch. The processional began, and my kids were glued to every movement. As the actors led Jesus through the street, and he struggled to carry his cross, they were enthralled. As they led him up the hill, the Goose and the Beetle did not blink. As they pretended to nail Jesus to the cross, my kids were wide-eyed. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable and beginning to wonder if I should take my babies and run. Then, the Beetle leaned over to ask me a question I will never forget.

As I leaned down to hear him, and I braced myself to give him an honest answer, he said, “Mama. I have a question.” “What, baby?” I asked. With the most serious face, he said, “How much does that actor get paid to let them nail him to the cross?”

I’m pretty sure it’s inappropriate to laugh during the crucifixion, but I just couldn’t stop. I told Mr. E what the Beetle had just asked, and he started laughing too. We had to walk away from the “show,” but it was not for the reason I had anticipated.

Though the Beetle has grown and matured since them, I can never be fully prepared for what will come out of that kid’s mouth. I have crazy kids, and we’ve spent some crazy Easters together. While it seems our “little kid” Easters are over, I have memories I will never forget.  -Al

Click the Photo for Instructions
“You know normal families don’t do this, right?’  These are the words I have said over and over again for the past 24 hours.  Of course, no one ever accused us of being normal, but still, I like to remind my kids that other families don’t do the things we do.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment to them or to us.

It actually started on Tuesday.  We were supposed to drive back to High Springs to finish cleaning out the house we just moved out of.  Mr. Everything and I had to run a few errands, and then we would be on our way.  I told the kids we would be right back, and I’m pretty sure the Beetle’s response was, “Uh-huh.”  Five hours later, they were calling to see where we were.  I told them things had not gone quite as planned.  Neither child was surprised by this.  Things never go as planned for us.  Frankly, at this point, I’m not even sure why we make plans. 

The kids were in a tizzy because we hadn’t left yet.  I told them to chillax. (I like that word.)  Since we were now into mid- to late- afternoon, we might as well just wait until rush hour traffic was over.  There was no point in sitting in a car in traffic when we could just wait and go later.  I assured them we would be leaving as soon as rush hour was over.  Again, the Beetle answered with, “Uh-huh.”  I was beginning to not like his attitude.

Five hours later, when it was beyond dark outside and most normal families were starting bedtime routines, we considered leaving but decided just to wait until Wednesday to go.  Mr. Everything said that would mean one less night of sleeping on an air mattress, so I was good with that.  The Beetle gave me an, “I told you so,” look.  Twit.  We assured the kids we would get up early (but not too early or we would be in rush hour) and we would get going.  This time, it was the Goose who said, “Uh-huh.”  Who raised these children?

So, on Wednesday around noon, we finally left.  We made the trek toward High Springs, but we had to stop by our odd little church in Newberry, so we could pick up potatoes.  Part of our purpose of heading up when we did was to spend Thanksgiving at the church’s community dinner.  This tiny church was planning to feed about 150 people from around town.  How could we possibly resist that?  Since we had access to the camp’s commercial kitchen, complete with industrial mixer and huge oven, we volunteered to make the mashed potatoes.  We also said we would cook the pans of dressing.  No problem.  We could do it.

The plan was to pick up the potatoes (we’ll discuss just how many potatoes later) and the dressing and head to the camp so we could clean out the house and finish packing the remaining junk.  We were down to the “I don’t know what to do with this,” and, “Why do we even have this?” kind of stuff that inevitably remains at the end of any move.  When we moved last week, we ran out of boxes, and we reached a point where we just couldn’t do any more.  The plan was to get ’er done when we went back for Thanksgiving.

We left home so late and arrived at the church so late that, by the time we talked to the preacher (you KNOW how long a preacher can talk), it was too late to head to the camp.  We had church on Wednesday night, starting with dinner at 6:00.  By the time we were ready to go, it was 4:00.  With a ½ hour drive each way, that would only leave an hour to get anything done at the house, so we decided just to wait.

After church, we took the potatoes (lots of potatoes) and headed to camp.  When we walked into the house, the entire laundry room and kitchen had about 2 inches of standing water.  I had to laugh as I realized my family did not even react to this.  We just waded through the water and put our stuff down.  This was the first time of many that I said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  Mr. E and the kids just looked at me like they didn’t know what I was talking about.  I explained that, to a normal family, standing water from an obvious leak would be a big deal.  In fact, to some, it would be a downright disaster.  We all agreed that it was, after all, just a little water and we’d been through worse.

So, we got the Homer Bucket Vac (might I add this is one of man’s most ingenuous inventions), and the Goose and I took turns sucking up water.  It wasn’t nearly as much fun as I’d envisioned.  I wanted to just hold the hose down and watch the water come up like a reverse waterfall.  Nope.  It was very anticlimactic.

Meanwhile, Mr. E began packing up all the stuff that no one else knew what to do with.  Bless his heart.  The man can pack.  In a matter of a few hours, he had corralled that junk like nobody’s business.  (What does that phrase even mean, anyway?)  While the Goose was taking her turn sucking up water, the Beetle and I began peeling the potatoes.  We sat on the loveseat and put the peels in a big pot.  We figured we were abandoning the loveseat at the house anyway, so what was a little potato starch between friends?  As we peeled, I again said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  Well, they don’t.  Normal families would not sit on a couch to peel potatoes.  Normal families would have used potato buds.  Okay, actually, really normal families would never have offered to make the potatoes in the first place. 

Finally, at midnight thirty, the potatoes were peeled, the junk was corralled and the air mattresses were full.  We were nestled in our snug and warm beds (more accurately, we had finally gotten warm after shivering for several minutes) when I realized something.  I had to go to the bathroom.  It never fails.  I got up, teeth chattering, and did my business (maybe that’s what the “nobody’s business” phrase means!).  I was back in bed and had finally calmed my shivering and was getting warm when the Goose started coughing.  I’m pretty sure it was 50% real and 50% trying to drive me crazy.  Regardless, it was real enough for her to come stand over me, asking for cough drops.  Since I didn’t happen to have any cough drops, I told her to take a sip of water and go to sleep.  (It sounded much nicer than what I was thinking in my head.)  Ten minutes later, as she gasped for air because she was coughing so hard, Mr. Everything and I realized we had to do something.  (And let me insert here, before you call child protective services on me, the child is very dramatic.  She’s 12, and she’s a she.  I rest my case.)  We got up, put on our jackets and drove down to the nurse’s cabin at camp, hoping the entire way that we would find something to make her shut up, er, I mean feel much better.  God bless the camp nurses, because they left us just what we needed….cough syrup and cough drops.  Jackpot!  We went back, threw the medicine at the Goose and passed out.  This was 1:15 in the morning. 

At 7:00 AM, our alarm went off.  It was time to rise and shine and get all those potatoes cooking.  We headed down to the kitchen and started the burners.  It was very reminiscent of the last time Mr. E and I worked in that kitchen together.  That led to a little story I called, “Mr. Everything & The Trauma Center Part 1 and Part 2.” (You can click on the purple letters if you want to read those.)   I kept ducking as he lit the burners.  It was a little unnerving, but he assured me we would be okay.

With four commercial sized pots of potatoes cooking and 5 big pans of dressing in the oven, we were off to a good start.  Mr. E said he would have to get the industrial mixer out of storage.  We weren’t sure why it was in storage, but we would soon find out.  Mr. E was smart enough to plug in the big, heavy mixer before moving it, so he made sure it worked.

He somehow managed to get this behemoth into the Suburban by himself.  It was so heavy, it cracked the threshold of the back doors of the vehicle.  Mr. Everything got the Beetle to help him move it into the kitchen, and they finally got it situated.  I heard Mr. E say, “Uh-oh,” and I turned to look.  He showed me the problem.  The lever that was supposed to raise the bowl up to meet the mixer was jammed.  The bowl would not move up, so the mixer would only mix the top half of the ingredients in the bowl. I figured this was not a problem.  After all, the man didn’t have the name, “Mr. Everything,” for nothing.  It just meant I would have to wait a little while for him to fix it, as he does everything.

Thirty minutes, two 2”x 4”s and a crowbar later, Mr. E and the Beetle had managed to force the mixing bowl into an upright position.  They used plastic cups wedged in there to hold the bowl in place.  Part of this whole process involved Mr. E standing on the counter top pressing down with the crow bar while the Beetle pushed up with the wooden piece.  It was quite a sight.  I wanted to get a picture, but my cell phone was at the house.  Mr. E’s cell phone was in his front pocket, so I couldn’t sneak up and grab it.  I was pretty sure it was not the most appropriate time to ask him for his phone.  I did say, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  They didn’t acknowledge me.  When they put the mixer on the floor and began pushing down on it, I could resist no longer.  I managed to grab his phone and snap a shot.  The photo does not do the whole process justice.  It was very entertaining.

Not Nearly As Entertaining as the Live Show...
Mr. E washed the bowl and the mixer and got it all set up for me.  We put the potatoes in, and he flipped the switch to turn the mixer on.  Nothing.  (You did see that coming, right?)  He turned it off and turned it on again.  Still nothing.  I said something about normal families.  I’m pretty sure you know what I said.  Then, Mr. E turned the mixer on and off.  And on.  And off.  I asked him if he knew the definition of insanity.  He didn’t answer me.  (By the way, the definition of insanity is, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Pretty sure I’m insane.)  Mr. E assured me he had tested the mixer.  It had worked in the storage shed.  I said maybe the plug wasn’t working and they needed to move it to another spot in the kitchen.  The Beetle let out a whimper at the thought of having to move the thing again.  Mr. E reached over and turned on the microwave that was plugged into the same plug.  It worked, so there went that theory.

Then, I had a moment of genius.  These moments happen rarely for me, so I must cherish them when they do.  I said, “Doesn’t the safety cage have to be closed for the mixer to work?”  Mr. E closed the cage, and sho-nuff, it worked.  It was a modern day miracle! 

35 Pounds of Potatoes!
We mixed and mixed and mixed the potatoes.  We prepared 35 pounds of mashed potatoes.  We used four pounds of butter and half a gallon of milk.  The potatoes filled two commercial sized foil pans.  We had enough mashed potatoes to feed an army!

We had told the preacher at our odd little church that we would try to be there as close to 10:30 as possible.  At 10:45, we pulled out of the driveway.  I really hope punctuality is not one of the admission tests for heaven, or we are surely doomed.  We pulled up to the church building at 11:15.  The lunch started at 11:30, so we were just in time to have the dressing and potatoes hot for the masses.

The masses, which were supposed to be about 150, turned out to be 46, counting the preacher.  As we sat, surrounded by mainly strangers, eating our Thanksgiving meal, I said, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  But as I looked around, I realized I was glad we weren’t normal.  Normal is so, well, average.  This was better.  We enjoyed being with our odd little church because, frankly, we fit right in.

The number of people was a little disappointing, but the dinner was not.  Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we were glad to be there to help.  I think next year, if we go up to Newberry to help our odd little church with Thanksgiving, we’ll offer to bring the sweet tea.  Better yet, we’ll supply the plates.  

After the meal was finished and we divvied up the leftovers, we headed back to the camp.  The mission was to finish loading up the stuff and to clean the house.  Mr. E needed to repair a wall that got a hole in it from a chair rubbing against it.  He also needed to change door knobs.  Most of what needed to be moved had to be done by him because it was too heavy for me to lift.  I was okay with this, because I was wiped out from the events of the last few days.  We got back to the house, and I made the mistake of sitting down.  The next thing I knew, I woke up in the fetal position on the loveseat.  Meanwhile, Mr. E walked back and forth, carrying stuff to the car.  I felt bad, but in my defense, I never claimed to have his energy level.  The man is a work horse.  He can work harder and longer than anyone I’ve ever known.  I can’t possibly live up to his standards.  I added that to my list of things to be thankful for - he didn't even fuss at me for not helping.  He really is a good man, Charlie Brown.  

I really was pretty much useless the entire afternoon.  By 5:00, Mr. E said he could do no more.  We still had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us, and I couldn’t drive it.  We were pulling a trailer, and I don’t *do* trailers.  The Beetle could drive, but it would be difficult for him because the trailer and the Suburban were both so loaded.  This left my husband.  He said he could do it, but he had to quit working.  The hole hadn’t been fixed yet, and there were still more items to be loaded.  We decided just to go up there another day.  For posterity sake, I reminded him one last time, “You know normal families don’t do this, right?”  The idea of driving two and a half hours to fix a hole in a wall would be foreign to most.  Most people would say, “I guess the landlord will have to fix it,” but we’re not most people.  So, Mr. E and I will be driving to High Springs one day soon to fix a wall and get the rest of our junk.  Who knows what other adventure that will bring….     

I’ll admit it.  I love food traditions.  I love the traditional dishes that we eat on certain days of the year.  It could be because I’m a creature of habit.  I want what I want, on the day I want it and how I want it cooked.  I don’t want to try a new recipe for Christmas or a new dish for New Year’s.  I want the same thing we’ve eaten every year since I was born, and I want it cooked the exact same way.

I guess I’m really like that every day of the year.  If I make pot roast, I want mashed potatoes, gravy and bread.  With ham, we have to have macaroni and cheese.  With meatloaf, northern beans and mashed potatoes are the way to go, and the mashed potatoes have to have Hellmann’s mayonnaise in them.  (Try it!  It’s good!)  The food habits run strong and deep for me.

New Year’s Day is a day of life-long food traditions for my family.  I’ve eaten the same thing on New Year’s Day every year since I had teeth, except for one year when I missed it. (And you DON’T want to know what happened that year!)  I have to eat it.  It’s tradition.  Many of you have some of the same traditional foods for New Year’s.  We have to eat pork roast, black eyed peas, collard greens, sweet potatoes, cornbread,  perlo rice and macaroni and cheese.  Here are the superstitions behind this meal:

The pork is for good health.  (That doesn’t really make sense, does it, since so many people say pork is unhealthy?)

The black eyed peas and collard greens are for wealth.  The greens stand for bills, and the peas stand for coins.

The macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes are to kill the taste of the other foods.  (This is the notyouraverageal version.)

The cornbread is to soak up the juices of the peas and greens so they don’t contaminate your macaroni. (Again, my superstition.)  By the way, I really hate it when my foods touch, but I guess that’s a topic for a different day.

The perlo rice is because you have leftover juices from the pork so you might as well make rice.  (Perlo rice, or at least my family's version of it, is rice cooked in the broth of meat instead of just plain water.  We don't get enough fat from the meat, so we cook the leftover fat into our carbs.)

The peas and greens are a southern tradition.  According to folklore, this meal dates back to the War of Northern Aggression, AKA the Civil War.  The Yankees had stripped the lands of anything edible but had left behind black eyed peas and collard greens for the animals.  The leftover peas and greens allowed the poor, victimized southerners to survive until new crops sprouted after the new year.  (Come to think of it, this may be the South Carolina version of things.  That’s where I learned my history, you know.)

Thinking about my upcoming meal made me start wondering about other food traditions around the world.  Here are some traditions I found:

Pork is eaten by many cultures to symbolize progress.  Since a pig moves forward as it digs, eating pork symbolizes moving forward.

Germans eat sauerkraut.  (Don’t they do that every day?)  Cabbage is associated with luck and wealth.

The Danish eat kale sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.  (Um.  Ew.  Kale is gross.)

My BFF is from Ohio and has a Polish background.  Her family eats pork and dumplings with sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.  When we became friends, she taught me how to eat Yankee food, and I taught her to be southern.  It was a friendship made in heaven.

In some Asian countries, they eat long noodles to get a long life.  If you try it, you can’t break the noodle before it’s all in your mouth, or the long life thing is null and void.

In Mediterranean countries, people eat pomegranates for luck.  I like my peas and greens better.

Then, I found some non-food traditions that were interesting.

In the Philippines, people believe wearing polka dots and decorating their tables with polka dots will bring them good luck.  I’m pretty sure the Goose is part Filipino.  At least, she was when she was three, because she loved polka dots (and stripes, together!).

In Ireland, single women put mistletoe leaves under their pillows to help them find a husband.  (Sorry girls.  This will not work to find a replacement for your husband.  For that, you’re going to need something stronger.)

In Ecuador, people burn a scarecrow at midnight.  This is to symbolize getting rid of all the bad from the past year.  That’s actually not a bad idea.  We’ve had a rough year…it might take a few scarecrows to do the job for us, but fire might not be the way to go.

In Denmark, people throw dishes at their neighbors’ front doors.  Seriously.  Who thought of this?  Apparently, it is supposed to symbolize the fact that they have a lot of friends.  There’s a store called Hallmark.  Just sayin’.

In Bolivia, people wear colorful underwear.  Red is usually the color of choice, but it’s at least got to be bright and bold.  I guess colorful underwear helps you get lucky, er, I mean have good luck.

On that note, I’m outta here.  Whatever your tradition is for New Year’s Day, I wish you health, wealth and happiness in 2013.  Have a blessed new year!  -Al

It's the day after Christmas, and I'm wearing my watch.  I’m counting the minutes, seconds and milliseconds.  How long do I have to wait until it is appropriate to take down the Christmas tree?  It’s taking up precious space, and it must go.  I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but Christmas is over, right?  The tree has done its job, and while it was nice while it lasted, it is now quickly wearing out its welcome.

Some families think it is bad luck to take down the tree before New Year’s Day.  My family has always practiced the opposite.  We think it’s bad luck to leave the tree up until New Year’s Eve.  I’m pretty sure that’s because the mother will go crazy and impart bad luck on all who live in the house with her.

Yesterday, when the gifts were opened, it was all I could do to relax and not start urging everyone to take their new belongings to their rooms.  The belongings are still in my family room.  They are on the desk.  They are on the floor.  They are on the couch.  They are on the love seat.  They are spilling over into the kitchen and are on the table and on the counters.  They are in my bedroom and bathroom.  I’m pretty sure the only place the new belongings aren’t is in the kids’ bedrooms where they now live.  We have too much stuff.  I’m losing it.

It’s not that I’m a neat freak.  Really, I’m not.  Trust me on that one.  It would take just one glance at my house on a regular day to realize that I am not neat in the least bit.  However, when four people live in 900 square feet, we can’t afford to let the stuff gain control.  I’ve been fighting against the Clutter Coup d’Etat for two years, and the coup is winning.  I’m pretty sure I won’t be ruling this home for much longer.  Unfortunately, the coup, the dust bunnies and the guinea pigs have realized that if they work together, I don’t stand a chance.  Maybe I should just wave the white flag and become a hoarder. (It looks like I already am, so if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.)

I don’t want to be a bad mother.  I don’t want to force my kids to put their stuff in their rooms when they are still obviously enjoying looking at all of it spread all over the house.  I’m biting my tongue, but it’s starting to bleed.  I think I’ll set a clock for a count down.  It’s not the count down until the New Year.  It’s the count down until the stuff can go away.

As for the tree, I’m pretty sure it will be leaving us today.  The Beetle gave me a sad look when I said that earlier, but he doesn’t understand.  That tree is vicious.  It keeps attacking me every time I squeeze by it to get to the laundry room.  (I say this in jest.  It’s actually a laundry closet, but room sounds so much better.)  I have scrapes on my arms from that wicked tree.  It must die or go back in storage; whatever comes first.

I enjoyed Christmas.  I love Christmas.  I will love Christmas more when I am not living in a shoe box.  I used to decorate and make the house look so pretty.  Now, if it doesn’t serve a purpose, it must go.  Christmas decorations have no place in my home.  Unless they learn how to sweep, mop or do dishes, they can’t stay.  (I keep saying the same thing to my kids, but they aren’t leaving.)

I would go take a nap, but there is stuff on my bed.  I’d take a bath, but I’m pretty sure there are toys in there.  The stuff is surrounding me.  It’s closing in.  I can't breathe.  Someone come help me.  Save me from the clutter.  Come quickly before it’s too late.  Bring your snow shovel.  You’re going to need it.  -Al

My Christmas has been great.  As I was washing dishes earlier and thinking about the last 24 hours, I started thinking about my favorite things.  Most of my favorite things aren’t even things, but they are my favorites anyway.  My Christmas certainly isn’t over yet as we still have my mother-in-law’s house and my parents’ house to go.  However, I’m pretty sure I’ve already seen my favorite things.

My favorite gift, hands down, was the gift card given to me by the Goose.  The amount and the store didn’t really matter.  (But, by the way, she bought a gift card from one of my favorite stores and spent a week’s allowance on it.)  The fact that she bought me a gift with her own money that she earned is absolutely precious, and I will cherish that fact forever.  This is the first year that has happened, and I am thrilled because she focused on doing for others instead of focusing on what she was going to get!  Not only did she buy me a gift, but she bought one for her brother, her father and her pseudo-cousin, as well.  For her real cousins, she made hand-made gifts.  She put a lot of thought into all of the gifts she bought and made, and to watch it was a blessing.  This mother’s heart is warm.

My favorite moment was last night on Christmas Eve when my kids were baking cookies for Santa.  I’m pretty sure the Beetle was just there for the cookie dough, but he was there none-the-less.  For just a brief moment, my kids were little, and they were getting along.  They both laughed and joked, and no one bickered.  It was a glimpse at how life used to be before hormones started bouncing all around and making my kids crazy.

My favorite fact was that the Goose still believes in Santa.  This very-well may the last year for that, and I loved it while it lasted.  She had to make the annual reindeer food and leave her drawing and note to Santa.  She has left him gifts in the past, but this year, she chose to draw him a beautiful picture.  In a time when both my kids seem to be growing up so quickly, she is still little in some ways.

My other favorite fact was that the Goose woke up at 1:00 in the morning because she was so excited about Santa coming.  (And I love the fact that she told me that this morning instead of waking me at that time!)  Can’t you remember that anticipation and excitement?  I’m glad she has that, even though she lives in a world of technology and instant gratification.

My third favorite fact was that the Beetle woke up at 2:00 AM in anticipation.  (I have a lot of favorite facts.)  Although he is a little older, and he believes a little differently than the Goose does about Christmas, he was excited!  Normally, he is so emotionless that I was glad to see a little excitement.  (And, again, glad that he told me about it this morning.)

My favorite expression was the look on the Beetle’s face when he realized he was getting the one thing he really wanted, a rifle.  I had been saying for months that there was no way I was going to let him have a gun.  I had him convinced.  We had disguised it so he wouldn’t know right away that he was getting it. (By the way, it’s really hard to disguise a gun.)  When he realized it, I saw my three year old little boy who was always happy and was always excited.  It was a rare moment.

My favorite after-gift opening activity was cooking while listening to my family.  I actually enjoy cooking when I’m not having to work all the time.  I loved hearing the Goose hum and singing contentedly while playing with her new doll.  I enjoyed seeing and hearing Mr. Everything and the Beetle out shooting the new gun.  I’m not sure at this point whose gift that really was, because Mr. E was as excited as the Beetle.  (By the way, for those of you who are worried, we have already put rules in place.  The Beetle will not be shooting by himself.  We have a trigger lock and a lock on the other thingy on the gun.  Plus, the Beetle has been through gun safety training.  Relax, mothers, I’m not completely crazy.)

My favorite realization was how much our Christmas has changed over the years.  When we were first married, I insisted on having a fancy breakfast and using the Christmas dishes on Christmas morning.  Now, I don’t even own Christmas dishes.  We had breakfast on the couch while admiring our gifts.  I like that better, because it suits us.  We aren’t fancy.  We weren’t fancy back then, but I was trying to establish traditions.  Now, we have traditions and quirky things we do, and it suits us much better.

I rushed into Christmas this year.  We were out of town until December 16.  I wrapped presents here and there when I had time.  Normally, I put everything out and make sure what I have for my kids is even and that we are giving them a fair amount compared to Santa and other people.  I realized this morning, with horror, that my kids each only had two presents under the tree from us.  They each opened two last night, and one was an electric toothbrush (Lamest. Gift. Ever.).  If I had known we didn’t get them anything, I would’ve made them wait!  I felt really bad and was afraid they would be upset.  If they were upset, they hid it well.  I’m pretty sure they just shrugged it off as, “Mama is crazy.”  I’ll accept that. 

This was a Christmas full of blessings and love.  I came away loving my kids a little more (if that's possible) and feeling like I might actually be raising decent human beings.  I can’t say that about every Christmas.  Some years, I have regretted giving them anything and have vowed to deprive them for months just to make them less rotten.  This year, they did their mama proud.   -Al

Now, let me just warn you.  It’s time for a pity party.  You’re invited to join in, but you don’t want to stay too long.  It’s not a happy place.

This isn’t a plea for attention.  This isn’t a plea for presents or cards or “Happy Birthday” messages.  Really, it’s not.  If you send them now, I’ll just think you felt sorry for me.  So keep your stinkin’ birthday festivities.  I don’t want them.  (In case you aren't familiar with the term, that's called "cutting off your nose to spite your face.")

Why am I complaining?  Well, thank you for asking.  I’ll tell you why.  Having a birthday three days before Christmas stinks.  It always has, and it always will.  Anyone who has a birthday during the week of Christmas knows what I’m saying.  The rest of you can pretend, but you don’t really know.  (You can’t say I didn’t warn you about the pity party….)

Why does my birthday stink?  Why, thank you for asking!  (You really are asking the right questions today!)  It stinks because my birthday is always an afterthought.  Always.  You can deny it.  You can say it’s not, but it is.  No one thinks about my birthday. They think about Christmas, and then they say, “Oh yeah, someone I know has a birthday around that time.”  It’s not that I blame them.  Christmas is a busy time of year for everyone!  I just got an unlucky birthday.  It's not anyone's fault, but it still stinks.

Having a Christmas birthday stinks because your cake (if you are lucky enough to get one) is red and green.  Who wants a red and green birthday cake?  No one.  Why?  Because it’s not a birthday cake.  It’s a Christmas cake.  I’d say it would just be better not to get a cake at all, but it really wouldn’t.  I’ve had that pleasure for several years now.  Last year, I didn’t even get a stinking dessert.

Having a Christmas birthday stinks because you get part of your Christmas presents on your birthday.  My parents can deny it all they want to, but I know what they did.  When I was little, they bought presents and placed them out and said, “Okay.  These can be for her birthday, and the rest will be for Christmas.”  Did I get the same number of presents as my sister who has a normal birthday?  Well, we’ll just never know, will we?

Having a Christmas birthday stinks because your birthday presents get wrapped in Christmas paper.  Why is that a big deal?  Because a birthday present wrapped in Christmas paper is NOT a birthday present!  It’s a Christmas present that someone gave you for your birthday.  If you don’t believe me, let me give you a gift wrapped in Christmas paper for your birthday in July.  We’ll see how you like it.

Having a Christmas birthday stinks because you can’t have a party.  I had a big party two times in my life.  One time involved a very creepy clown, and I don’t want to discuss that.  The other one was an ice skating party.  My two best friends couldn’t even come because they were out of town for Christmas.  Everyone is out of town for Christmas. 

Having a Christmas birthday stinks because you can only wish for things once a year.  It doesn’t matter so much now, but remember when you were little?  If you wanted a new bike, your parents would say, “Wait until your birthday!”  New roller skates?  “Ask for them for Christmas!”  For me, it was, “I guess you’ll have to wait a full year and see if you get them for your birthday or Christmas.”  Boy, I’m in a bad mood.

Before I tell you the story of this year's birthday celebration, let me just say that my parents have always tried to separate my birthday from Christmas.  They never wrapped my presents in Christmas paper, and they bought me non -Christmas cakes when I was a kid.  They tried.  They really did, but Christmas trumps birthday every time.  (I have to defend the parents, you know, because rumor has it that they read my writings occasionally.  The last thing I need is angry parents three days before Christmas!)

So, this year is a big birthday.  I mean, a really big one.  Like the big 4 – Oh-my-goodness-I-am-so-old.  Do you know how my family celebrated?  Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up.  We were at my parents’ house on Wednesday.  We eat there every Wednesday night before church.  Daddy cooked, so the Mister and I picked up a frozen pie for dessert.  We had already cut the pie and were eating it when my parents asked when we were going to celebrate my birthday.  I said I didn’t know, and they said we should have done it that night.  Then (again, not making it up), they asked if it would be okay to celebrate it then.  Well, sure.  Why not?  So, they put ‘4’ ‘0’ candles on the last remaining piece of pie in the plate and sang the annual birthday song. (You do not want to hear my family’s version of the birthday song.  Take my word for it.)  I was given a present and a card, and my birthday was over before it even began.  It was quite the celebration.  So, crappy birthday to me.  Bah-humbug.   -Al

A Statement from the People Pleaser: Although I sound ungrateful and unhappy, I deeply appreciate any gift, any card and any birthday wish anyone gives me.  I’m just in a bad mood.  Most of the time, I am very thankful for anything anyone gives me or does for me.  I’m allowed to be a selfish brat only once a year, on my birthday.  If you don’t like it, you might want to stay away from me for the rest of the day.  I will return to my sunny (yeah, right) self tomorrow.  And, if YOU think I’m grouchy, just think how Mr. Everything, the Beetle and the Goose feel.  They have to live with me.  Even the turtle is avoiding me today.

Sing it if you dare…

On the first day of Christmas, my family gave to me, a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the second day of Christmas, my family gave to me, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the third day of Christmas, my family gave to me, three dirty footprints, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my family gave to me, four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my family gave to me, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my family gave to me, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a- aun-dry.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my family gave to me seven arguments.  Six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the eight day of Christmas, my family gave to me eight soured towels.  Seven arguments, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my family gave to me nine empty cups.  Eight soured towels, seven arguments, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my family gave to me ten new grey hairs.  Nine empty cups, eight soured towels, seven arguments, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my family gave to me eleven crushed goldfish.  Ten new grey hairs, nine empty cups, eight soured towels, seven arguments, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big pile of la-a-aun-dry.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my family gave to me twelve wrinkled shirts.  Eleven crushed goldfish, ten new grey hairs, nine empty cups, eight soured towels, seven arguments, six stinky shoes, five phones that ring.  Four piles of mail, three screaming fits, two sinks of dishes and a big…pile….of….la-a-aun-dry!!!

Whew.  I need to go lie down.   -Al

I said I wasn’t going to cry.  I almost made it this year.  My children have begun referring to the decorating of the tree as the “Annual Cry Fest.”  I pledged that this year was going to be different, and I almost made it.

I remember when I was little that my mother would cry about everything.  When we decorated the tree each year, she cried.  (Except for the year when I was a teenager that I decorated the tree all by myself.  That year, I cried, but I’ll spare you that story.)  When she saw baby pictures of us, she cried.  Oh, and forget the home movies.  We dreaded the home movies.  She was a slobbering, blubbering mess by the end of the first reel.  She used to tell us to stop growing.  I was never quite sure how I was supposed to do that, but I remember always feeling guilty that I was growing.  I had a lot of self-imposed guilt.  (Come to think of it, I still do…Might be time for some counseling.)

Anyway, I promised myself that I would not do that.  It always bothered me that my mother cried, mainly because I felt like it was my fault for growing, and I couldn’t fix it.  I did not want my children to feel guilty for growing. 

I never used to cry when decorating the tree.  It was a happy time.  That was when my kids were young and little.  Now, their hands are bigger than mine, and when I look at their tiny little hand prints and itty bitty foot prints, I can’t help it.  I tear up.  They were so sweet and cute, and they didn’t tell me no (or at least they were cute when they said it).  Good times, I tell you, good times.  I miss the days of simplicity.  I thought mothering was so difficult back then, and I had no idea how easy it was!  I love that my babies are somewhat self-sufficient, and I wouldn’t want to go back to the dependency days, but I do miss their sweet little heads that smelled so good.  Now, if I sniff their heads, they just roll their eyes and walk away, and they don’t smell nearly as good as they did back then.

So, this year was going to be different.  I wasn’t going to cry.  We decorated the tree last night, finally.  Tradition has it that I sit in the chair and pull the ornaments out of the box.  I hand them to the kids, and they hang them.  My kids get a new ornament every year, so the Beetle hangs his and the Goose hangs hers.  They both hang the ‘family’ ornaments.

We started the evening with the Goose fully participating (as she does in every aspect of life) and the Beetle playing a game on his tablet as he absently hung the ornaments I handed him.  Then, a Christmas miracle happened.  He put down the tablet and became engaged.  He actually looked at his ornaments and enjoyed hanging them.  They argued over who got to hang a few that were just ‘family’ ornaments and weren’t assigned to anyone.  Then, there was the bell that no one wanted to hang, for some unknown reason.  After ten failed attempts to hand it off to either child, I threw that one back in the box.

It was going well, until I hit the part of the box that held the baby ornaments.  I just handed those to them quickly and held my breath.  Then came the ornament that Mr. E and I bought on the day we closed on our house.  It was the only home we had ever known as a family until we had to leave it at the end of 2007.  I still miss that house, and my heart is still there.  I just didn’t make eye contact with that ornament and just passed it on.  That was when I found the ornament that helped me get through.  It’s a ceramic flower that I painted in 2008.  It says, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”  That ornament is like a special message that the past-me left for the future-me, and it helps me every year.  No matter where we are in life, I refuse to wilt.  I will bloom, and that ornament reminds me not to feel sorry for myself.

So, with that bloomin’ ornament, I sucked it up and made it through.  I made it through the handprint snowmen, the three eyed Santa that the Beetle made and the reindeer with one regular eye and one very large eye that the Goose painted.  I made it through the “Expecting Baby” ornaments and the “New Baby” ornaments.  I made it through the 1982 Disney ornament that our friend V gave us in 1998.  I even made it through the creepy Santa that sits on the top of the tree, and I emerged from the ornament box victorious!  I made it without shedding a single tear.  I was so proud of myself; though my family, being my family, did not even acknowledge this great feat.

Then, it happened.  The Goose was hanging our stockings, and all at once, she rushed over and hugged me.  I realized quickly that she was crying, and it was all over for me.  I was quickly in tears with her.  I thought we were crying over the emotions that a single red and green box could hold.  I thought we were crying over the memories.  I said, “It’s okay, Goose.  We’re okay.  We still have good memories to make together.”  She said, “What?”  I asked her, “Aren’t we crying over the memories of Christmas?”  She said, “No.  I’m crying over Peanut.”  Then, the laughter kicked in, at least for me.  She didn’t find it funny.

You see, Peanut was a turtle we had until he was murdered earlier this year by the fish AKA The Murderer.  He had a stocking, as all of our animals do, at the Goose’s insistence. (The Murderer does not and will not have a stocking.  He is not our pet.  He is just a feeder fish gone terribly wrong who just won’t go away.)  

The Goose had found Peanut’s stocking and realized that we no longer have him.  I refused then and still refuse to cry over a reptile, although I did love that little guy.  Reptiles are related to snakes, so I couldn’t shed tears over him.  However, I do miss seeing him wag his little tail at us. (If you don’t believe a turtle can wag its tail, you haven’t spent much time with a turtle.)

In a way, the Goose and I were crying over the same thing.  So many things change in a year.  So many things can happen.  Turtles die.  People die.  People are born.  Babies grow up.  Kids become teenagers who become adults.  Families move away.  Businesses close or even burn down.  The world keeps turning and changing, and the world goes on.  Life is sometimes great, but most of the time, life just hurts.  That Christmas box is just a reminder of all those changes that take place.  Each year, opening that red and green box reminds me of how quickly life can change, and every year, I cry.  Next year, I’m not even going to fight it.  I’m just going to let the tears happen.  They, like the wrinkles on my face, are just a reminder of what I’ve been through and how much my life has changed over the years.  I may start crying in November just to be sure I get it all out.  If you see me in the store next summer and I’m crying, don’t worry.  I’m just getting prepared to decorate the Christmas tree.   -Al

It all started as such a good idea.  Really, it did.  I have such nice memories of baking with my kids when they were smaller.  That was back before we owned the business and back when I had time to do fun things and even breathe every now and then.  Last month, I made a pledge to myself that this Christmas was not going to sneak by without proper preparation and celebration.  I was not going to let another year go by without creating happy memories with my kids.  Too many years have been wasted because of running a retail pottery business and working non-stop, and by golly, this year was going to be different.  Fast forward a month, and here we are, eight days before Christmas.  My tree is still in storage.  There are no decorations in my house.  We haven’t done the cute little advent calendar that lets my kids find a piece of candy each day.  I have bought and wrapped some presents, but I’m nowhere close to being finished.  Christmas is about to be over, and I haven’t even started!

Today, the day after I returned from a week-long vacation and when I have been buried under a pile of laundry all day, I decided to create memories with my kids.  Yeah.  That was a great idea.  See, tomorrow, I have a work Christmas party to go to.  Gifts aren’t necessary, but I, being Superwoman, wanted to make a little something for my co-workers.  I thought about it and decided chocolate dipped pretzels would be easy and fun, and my kids could help me.  Uh-huh.

I bought the stuff this morning.  I already had bought the cute little buckets that I planned to put the pretzels in.  It was going to be so precious.  My children would thank me for creating everlasting memories with them.  (Hey!  It could happen.)

I should mention here that, on top of trying to keep the laundry going, I have been slammed with work all day.  I kept telling the Goose to let me finish a few more reports and we would get started.  The Beetle had no interest in dipping pretzels, so my only hope of creating memories was on the Goose’s little shoulders.

It started out okay.  I began melting white chocolate in one pan and milk chocolate in another.  I called the Goose to come help me, and she came in with an ice pack on her hand.  She had made gift tags to go on the cute little buckets earlier today and had burned herself on the glue gun in the process.  I knew about the burn, but it had not hindered her from doing other activities that she wanted to do all day.  However, it became a huge handicap right in time to help me.

I had two pots of chocolate melting, and I was trying to maintain them both at once.  By this point, I was beginning to snap when speaking to the Goose.  I asked her if she could at least help me dip them.  Oh, the joyful memories!  We were working in about 3 square inches of space (Single wide trailer, remember?).  I had cooling racks stacked.  I managed to get one rack in the refrigerator, and I was dipping pretzels to go on the other rack.  The Goose had given up because she couldn’t dip the pretzels one-handed and left-handed.  She was watching the Disney channel.  (By the way, do they only have 2 episodes of every show?  I swear I’ve seen that same story 37 times in the last month.) 

I called her over and asked her to help me.  We were going to sprinkle little M&M’s onto the chocolate so they would stick.  It worked in the magazine.  In real life, the M&M’s slid down the chocolate and onto the counter.  The Goose left again after she ate the M&M’s off the counter.  I called her back to drizzle the colored chocolate on top.  She left again.  A great time was had by all.

Then, without thinking, I turned on the microwave.  That would have been fine if I hadn’t had the electric fondue pot plugged in and turned on.  All at once, the room went dark, and (halleluiah!) the TV turned off.  I had tripped the breaker.  While trying to wipe off my chocolate-covered hands so I could flip the switch, I knocked the whole cooling rack off the 3 inches of counter space and onto the floor.  The dog just stood there and looked at it, because of course, he wouldn’t eat it.  Good times.

The Goose had disappeared completely.  The Beetle had never been seen in the first place.  I threw away the pretzels that fell on the floor and started over with what I had left.  I finished the pretzels and prepared the cute little buckets to put them in.  As I was finishing up, I realized I was one bucket short.  I forgot one person who does not normally work in the office.  That means, now I either have to run to (don’t say it) Wal-mart (NOOOO!!!!) tomorrow morning or I can’t give these stupid little buckets to anyone.  Maybe I'll just throw them away and call it a day.  First, of course, I have a kitchen floor to mop and chocolate covered dishes to wash.

I’m so glad I had this chance to create joyful memories with my children.  Maybe tomorrow we can make Christmas cards together.   -Al