Christmas


Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian o...

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I love the voodoo side of Christianity – Catholic ritual especially. Like getting ashes smudged unto one’s forehead to mark the beginning of Lent. I was in high school before I realized that the priest was supposed to be marking us with a little cross. The priests at our parish were old, curmudgeonly and lazy as lizards in the sun, so for most of my childhood, Ash Wednesday meant wearing a big fat thumb print of one misogynist or the other.*

We made a game of not washing our faces and letting the ashes wear off. That whole day in school was marked with the constant flake off of burnt palm leaves from the Easter before as we endeavored wear our religion like a Brownie badge.

Of course, in my nearly all Catholic town, it was those without ashes who stood out. The rest of us were “in the club”.

It wasn’t until I was off in Des Moines and teaching that I gave up the start of Lent, as I eventually gave up Lent itself. Finding a mass to attend became inconvenient when I was anchored to the teaching day. And Des Moines was a Protestant dominated place with evangelicals and even more loony to the right of far-right’rs. I quickly tired of their prejudice and worse, their willful ignorance of any faith but their own.

“Do Catholics really drink blood.”

Seriously, someone asked me that. Someone grown up and with a college degree.

But mostly, I came to realize that it was the ritual, outward trappings and the psuedo-polytheism in the form of saints that really was what Catholicism was about for me. The silly trappings and not the beliefs or the foundation they were built on was my “religion”.

But even now, I miss the spiritualism. The mantra of prayer and response. The pageantry of Christmas and even Easter though I always found the latter to be a bit sick and perverse as it feeds an unhealthy self-loathing that often manifests out and at others. I have never found shame, guilt and fear a good basis for a relationship and yet that is the one we were instructed to build with the Almighty.

But the ashes were kind of awesome because regardless of the twisted nature of Lent, they were a rather good reminder to live in the now.

“Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”

 

*Not an exaggeration. Neither man liked females in the slightest and took no pains to hide their contempt from us. Mothers, nuns or little girls. We were all barely tolerated.


Christmas Eve in Bulgaria

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After the last family member packed up goodies and said goodnight, Rob and I snuggled up in a delicious hug and he complimented my fine turn at hostess, a role that hangs on me like a Snuggie made of sandpaper.

“We haven’t done too badly, ” I agreed, “for two people who are as anti-social as we are.”

He just laughed.

Inadvertently, we find ourselves in the midst of a blizzard of relations that is slowing but not completely stopped.

My mother-in-law and her fiance arrived on Wednesday and will not leave until tomorrow night. Shelley’s ex-brother-in-law’s sister hosted us for Christmas Eve after the nephew she shares in common with Shelley invited us.

It is an odd thing for some to wrap their mind around – family that is not family – but one I grew up. Many of my “cousins” were actually the children of my parents’ friends.

Dee wanted to know how everyone at the Christmas Eve gathering was related to her. Because her older sisters are related, she believes she must be as well. My attempt at explaining the metaphysics relationship just caused her brow to crinkle so I said,

“They are cousins.”

Cousins is a handy term with elastic possibilities.

Shelley’s older sister, who drinks a bit and has the convenient memory thing to boot, couldn’t attend, so the evening was stress-free and enjoyable.

Christmas Day couldn’t have gone any better. Really. There is nothing to top “perfect”.

The older kids arrived promptly for breakfast despite having outlasted us the night before and not getting to bed themselves until 3.

The Fiance fit in well. And food, presents, Wii, lunch, movie, more Wii and dinner later found us still companionable and pleasant.

Rob’s younger sister twisted the tension knob and amp’d it last evening with her arrival and we are having lunch with them today, so the fun will continue.

Oh, it wasn’t a trailer park death match in a cage. More like kitty claws.

Her older sister was much the same. They both revel almost in telling tales on their mother, who apparently could have used a book or two on the topic of parenting.

It’s not that I don’t understand having a mother who didn’t have natural instinct for it, but I don’t personally think that it does anyone any good to beat a horse that died long ago or keep its stinking juicy carcass in your main living space.

I tried to coerce Edie and Mick into coming for dinner last night in the hopes that they could steer conversation. Lord knows that the boyfriend my SIL brought along was doing his level best to deflect and distract, but Rob’s siblings are like dogs with new chewies when they see an opening. Give up a chance to rehash a miserable childhood? Not happening.

My own family managed a bit of shared time on the dysfunction front.

N2 and his father are moving back to the hometown and N2 is in full emo regalia. The likely outcome of this move is his finally dropping out of high school because the world needs another can’t-tell-him-anything skill deficient half-assed educated teen pounding the pavement for employment.

“Just don’t let him suck you into funding the beginning of his wasted life,” I cautioned my Mom – not that any advice I might have given or ever gave her she’s listened to and acted on.

“Oh, I won’t,” she assured me.

Of course that remains to be seen. The likeliest scenario – because N2 is an emotional carbon copy of his mother – is quit school, be a burden, knock up his white trash girlfriend and be more of a burden.  But some people need to be forty-four and burdened with children of their own before they catch the clues of the universe instead of head-butting them. I refuse to be drawn in and will send a baby gift when the time arrives and coo at appropriate times.

Family is like too much curry though. Spicy eventually numbs and dampens the appetite.

Despite the scary success of the holiday, I am ready for it to be over.

In the word’s of Bilbo Baggins, “Don’t adventures ever end?”

Last night in the quiet of what will be our awesome new living, I told Rob,

“Next year – no big family things at our house.”

I want the neutral corner.


Christmas in the post-War United States

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The always awesomely amazing Julie Pippert, who took a huge chance on me and gave me my start as a blogger beyond my own little realm, asked me if I would share my yoga journey at Choose You today.

Though I meant to blog for you dear readers, the Christmas Express is hurtling at me with deadly accuracy and with in-laws arriving today and the house still at half-ass status (not to mention the demonic dishwasher taking a header – again), my to-do list is long enough to make me cry.

So, head over to Choose You and I’ll update you on the state of progress – or my nervous breakdown – tomorrow.

Oh, and the tree pic? That would not be a representation of ours, which is still a pine-cicle by the swing set in the backyard.


Wall between office/living room

Image by adamrice via Flickr

Apparently, houses stay up better with load bearing walls. Who knew?

No, the house hasn’t collapsed and the beam didn’t drop on my head as I helped steady it though I had visions of an ER visit, split skull and concussion whenever it wobbled.

Unsurprisingly, my husband did not ask for help even though I was sitting not ten feet away in the office and he could have called Silver earlier in the evening as Edie offered his assistance not once but twice in the same number of days this week.

I had to insist a bit. Not because I enjoy helping. All things hoisting provoke visions of muscle tearing and ligament wrenching when it doesn’t simply make me fear for my safety in general. I offered because the grunting is scary and the thumps – alarming.

By quarter to eleven – yes, that’s P.M. – one of new beams was in place and Dee, at least, was not likely to wake up in the former dining room.

The dust had settled enough to vacuum, which was good because my skin itched even where there were no hives and my eyes, one of which had nearly swelled shut, felt as raw as my sinuses. This was not, perhaps, the best week to be scheduled for allergy testing as I am not allowed any antihistamines or cold medication.

Fortunately, a yoga buddy clued me to the awesome power of gogi berry capsules. Two and my eyes were merely itchy as opposed to clamping shut.

The beams replace the load bearing wall and should be up and secured by end of week – all six of them. After that the front room opens up to us again and we can begin making hurried preparations for Christmas.

Rob’s family – blood and in-law – are converging from all directions, and I have a feeling that things will be Chinese curse equivalent at the very least.

But one interesting moment at a time.


Snowflake. Small microscope kept outdoors. Sna...

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Minus 17 degrees Celsius to be exact and my poor thumb is splitting unhappily at the seams from several cold snowy days on top of hand washing every dish in the kitchen after our dishwasher frizzled out – again.

The day before my birthday is a crap shoot as far as winter weather goes. I remember my fifth birthday being gray with fall temps, but my university day birthdays it was being buried under mounds of white.

In 2001, I had just found out I was pregnant with Dee but the weather was more late fall than winter. It didn’t snow until Christmas that year.

Snow has flurried, flaked or dropped like feathers from an exploding pillow for the past couple of days. It piles up here once the temps drop and stay down. There is no melt off really. Slushy glop is rare enough to make me take note unlike Iowa where winter fights to overcome fall and then battles to hold off spring with barely a rest in between matches.

Life continues with only the barest hint of inconvenience however in spite of flu, which sent us to the ER with Dee on Sunday night and the fact that the reno is crawling along at a pace that is threatening Christmas plans a tad bit.

Dee’s fine. The Fort ER performed at its usual inefficient rate of speed. I don’t think anyone there knows, or cares to learn, about triage.

We waited for three hours before Dee was taken to a room and evaluated. In the meantime, two little boys a bit older than she with colds were seen as were two women with sprained ankles. Meanwhile, a nine month old baby with a temperature of 102.3, a very distressed looking pregnant woman and Dee, who hadn’t held down more than a mouthful of water all day, languished in the lobby.

Dr. Fortune Cookie was on call, which explained a lot. The man moves with the speed of a glacier. But the triage nurse wasn’t too swift and at the three-hour mark with a shift change looming, I walked into the nurses’ station and informed them that if my daughter wasn’t seen soon, I would take that as confirmation that her illness was not serious and take her home.

We were in a room within five minutes.

Most of the beginning for the week was eaten up being housebound with Dee. A bit more was taken up by feeling ill myself and now it is Friday.

Rob let nothing hold him back from finishing the duct work and putting down sub-floor. He even found time to track down a taper for the drywall, and with a bit of grace from the universe, we’ll be able to take down the plastic sheeting and open up the front of the house for semi-use by Sunday.

The new kitchen is going to be awesome, by the way. We are having it professionally designed and custom-built. Extravagant, I know. Very unlike us. But the tea leaves are predicting a long stay here and it makes no sense to live half-assed when we could have a functional kitchen and living area if our reality is being here in this house for another goodly chunk of time.

The last fully functional and modern dwelling I lived in was the first house I bought myself back in 1997. Built to replace a home destroyed by the floods in 1993, it was a townhouse design single family dwelling. Two bedrooms. A walk in closet in the master bedroom. It was a sweet little house in the old Valley Junction section of West Des Moines. Farmer’s Market in the summer just a few blocks over. Running paths all over. Close enough to the freeway to make it convenient but not so close that the noise tattooed itself on my eardrums.

The house Will and I bought was in a better neighborhood still but was very run down on the inside. It was okay. The plans for making it nice got sidelined almost as soon as we moved in.

Our home in J’berg has always been a work in progress. Rob counts his blessings in two wives who’ve been rather “c’est la vie” about the pace of progress. I don’t know really how much of a hand Shelley had in the plans and execution, but I know that Rob gets a bit frustrated with my lack of definite direction about nearly all things decor.

The problem is that I only really know if I don’t like something and then only after I’ve seen it. I have no vision. No color preferences. No interest in trim or curtains or flooring. The furniture just needs to be soft and squishy, and even than, I sit on the floor a lot anyway.*

Our conversation about the mantle for the new fireplace went something like,

“What do you think of red brick?”

“It’s nice.”

“Or maybe just wood?” Silence. “Or marble?”

“Yeah, that would be good.”

“You’re not even listening to me, are you?”

The fireplace will have a wood mantle and white marble-ish tiling. Very clean and tasteful and goes well with the hardwood – which Rob had a devilish time getting me to care about as well.

I just don’t have the DNA. The drawings the designer emailed us pique my excitement and I have definite ideas once I see concepts, but I lack whatever girly gene necessary to initiate.

My birthday will interrupt progress. Dinner and all. Rob thought we’d get a sitter and go out on our own until I reminded him there is really no place for a sitter to “sit”. We had to pass on his company’s Christmas party for the same reason.

So it’s dinner with the kids and cake – though I have no idea where we will do cake. It’s the no kitchen thing.

Rob got me a new laptop for my birthday which is sitting in the box on Dee’s desk. It arrived last week and I have patiently let it be. My poor old Macbook is beyond updates and since Rob installed the new router, it’s been more fitful than ever. I can’t get into iTunes and Firefox is rejecting me.

And that’s kind of it for this snowy day update. The CP Christmas Train invades our little hamlet tonight but we are planning an escape which Dee heartily went along with. Her memories of the last time the train arrived are not filled with joy. It was bitterly cold. She couldn’t see over the adults who crowded her out and the hot chocolate wasn’t to her liking.** I think we are Christmas shopping. Proof that my husband hates crowds more than he hates shopping – although it’s a narrow window between the two.

Soccer and much-needed hair cuts for Dee and I tomorrow before the festival that is my natal day begins – although technically, I get the whole day being born in the morning and all.

I’ll sign off with a cute boy on boy rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside. Very Rat Pack and buttoned up sexuality in a Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of way.

*Absolutely drove my late husband to distraction that with a living room full of furniture, I sat on the floor.

**She is a bit like me with food and drink. Lukewarm. The drinks that long ago night were just this side of scalding without marshmallows to boot.


Christmas 1979, Northeast Philadelphia, PA

Image by jaycoxfilm via Flickr

With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday nearly upon us and our little house on the Canadian prairie covered with snow, Christmas cannot be far off, and with the holidays comes massive doses of family dysfunction.

No sooner had the Facebook brouhaha with Rob’s younger brother Tyke settled into an awkward semi-silence than noises began emanating from Rob’s in-laws that could spell trouble for the holidays.

This comes on top of my mother-in-law’s future husband’s being targeted by a Canadian Border official with a bug up her butt.

But my family can be counted on to induce annoyance too.

As I was sitting at soccer practice Saturday morning , working on a short story when I suppose I should have been raptly worshipping the mini-me of my loins, Mom called.

In the old days of yore, whenever she called me at home and got the answering machine, she would immediately call my cell. Her use of my cell as a GPS was my chief reason for fighting my late husband’s insistence that I own a cell phone in the first place.

“You need this to be safe,” was his angle. Though truthfully, he just loved cell phones and loved the idea of us being just a transmitter tower away from each other when we weren’t physically together.

“My mother will use this to keep perpetual tabs on me,” I told him. “She will call just to chat, to vent and it won’t matter where I am or what I am doing.”

It wasn’t until the dang-it thing began interrupting us when we were out to dinner or shopping or just flitting about from here to there that he understood what I already knew about Mom.  He considered it a small price for me to pay so that he could call me during our mutual break times during the day.

Now though, Mom rarely deploys her tracking option – unless something is up.

“Have you talked to your sister?” she asked.

I had not and being asked if I had set off internal alerts.

“I’ve decided not to give any gifts to anyone but the little grand-kids this year,” she said.

And by “little” she means Dee and her cousin N2. Not N1, the nearly 17-year-old for whom it’s been Christmas for quite some time in terms of his Grandmother’s largess.

“Did you send us a check last year?” I asked.

Long ago my parents dispensed with the hassle of actual presents and just gave us money. One hundred dollars to be precise.

“I think so,” she said. “Didn’t you get it?”

Although I couldn’t remember at all, I assured her that we did indeed get it because I didn’t need her panicking and prowling through her check stubs from a year ago.

“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “We don’t need a gift.”

“I’m just going to be all about me this year,” she explained. “It’s been Christmas all year for some and I think I should spend my money on myself.”

Hallelujah! I can’t recall how long I have been at her to simply spend her money on herself. The less she leaves behind, the easier my life will be as I am currently named in her will as the executor of the trusts she’s set up for my youngest siblings. I am all in favor of there being nothing to care-take.

“Did they take it well?” I meant my siblings and nephew.

“I’ve only told you and DNOS,” she said.

But they shouldn’t be surprised because she’s already cut them off from the nickel and dime fountain. Which is why she was really calling me.

Baby’s live-in common-law (I guess) mate, LawnMowerMan, is not happy. Baby is used to calling up Mom and nagging the occasional $20 or $30 out of her from time to time.

The money is for cigarettes mainly but given LawnMowerMan’s heavy drinking, I imagine she buys him booze as well when his paycheck runs short.

Cut off from easy pocket change and living so far below the poverty line that it likely isn’t clearly visible from their little pocket of have-nothingness, LMM has resorted to calling up Mom and harassing her again.

Whenever he is tired of Baby, and this usually happens when Baby is broke, he uses the phone in attempt to intimidate my mother.

He’s a violent man. He’s a drunk. And he has such a low stake in life that he doesn’t hesitate to use whatever means necessary to improve his tenuous grip.

DNOS has officially declared both our younger siblings “dead to her”. When things come up with either then, who’s Mom gonna call?

But what can I do from 1500 miles away and in another country?

After speaking with her, I tracked DNOS down later in the day and asked her to help Mom put a block on Baby’s home number and to look into re-keying the locks and making sure that only she, our mother and our aunt have access to the house.

It’s all I can do.

Oh, I could call Baby and read her the riot act but she has no control over that piece of shit she lives with and I would probably put her at risk if he were around when I phoned.

I am not afraid of the guy though I am keenly aware that he is capable of hurting just about anyone physically if he is inclined. I am hoping this blows over but as Rob pointed out:

“Of course it won’t.  As soon as we show up there in March, something will happen. We never visit that Baby isn’t at the center of some dysfunction or other.”

So, I may have simply postponed the shit splattering until I can take care of business in person.

Ah, can’t you just feel the holidays coming?


The roasting spit in this European medieval ki...

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My husband is a project engineer and is in charge of – among other things – scope management.  Project costs depend largely on scope and if the budgeted project funding falls short, it’s usually because of “additional scope” or “scope creep”.

Now that the weather has begun the bouncy slide toward winter, we’ve abandoned any pretense that the outdoor renovation will proceed any further than it has already. Rob went at the stone work like a 15th century mason, but even his Herculean efforts couldn’t compete with the rainy damp September and he fell behind his own draconian schedule.

What he accomplished astounded nearly everyone who’s seen it. The neighbors literally stood in their yards and watched in awe. Of course, some of this admiration likely stemmed from the fact that until this summer, we were the white trash neighbors with tar paper standing in for siding and rusting cars parked in our front yard (though it was NOT up on blocks – I cling to that with all my middle-classness).

Reno called by weather means that we move indoors. This house has been in a perpetual state of renovation since the mid-1990’s when Rob, Shelley and the older girls moved here from The Fort. Rob told me a story once about Mick asking her mother how she could stand all the hammering and drilling that is really the sound of summer around here.

“It’s the sound of progress,” Shelley told her.

When he thinks about it, my husband is amazed to have had two wives who – for the most part – are extremely patient women where the state of our homes are concerned.

So now, we are indoors and we’d thought to update our tiny shoebox of a 1950’s kitchen. It is so narrow that only one person can stand at the sink at a time, and in terms of storage or counter space – well – meal preparation is a series of contortions that generally restricts the enthusiasm of the cook.*

The seed planted, took root and then began to grow like creeping charlie.

We thought we’d open up our downstairs space by knocking the wall out between the dining and living rooms. Which naturally led to the idea of extending a breakfast bar off the end of our narrow kitchen for more counter and storage space.

Once the wall was out we thought – why not put in a fireplace to heat the downstairs which led naturally to a flat screen tv above the mantel and that of course means we will have to get a couch again.

The kitchen planner listened patiently and thought maybe she could design something and sent us home with instructions to measure, sketch and photograph to give her a base from which to work. And after Rob had done all these things he said to me,

“I think we need to flip the kitchen and the dining room.”

“We’ll have to build the kitchen from scratch,” I said.

“Yep.”

Which is how our little kitchen reno gained the urgent need for additional scope.

It’s not as if we hadn’t toyed with a brand new kitchen before. The vastness of such a project convinced us we should simply finish this house and look for newer housing in town. But then there was that little heart attack and the fact that getting mortgage insurance will be next to impossible for several years and … well, neither of us are foolish enough to venture down that road.

The demolition begins this weekend. All the floor has to come up and all the drywall has to come off. My lungs ache at the thought of all that dust. Some of it is probably older than I am. The older kids – Edie, Silver and Mick – offered to help but Rob hates to ask them. So, of course, I did. We don’t need any more heart “incidents” around here.

But it won’t be done for Christmas. And Rob’s mother is coming – possibly with her fiance in tow.**

We will have a living room with a fireplace, sofas, and a flat screen. So, good enough.

*Though to be perfectly honest – this cook really has but the barest interest in it. If it were not for the fact that Rob and Dee would starve, I wouldn’t cook at all.

**A very recent occurrence which caught him off guard but not me. The last time she’d mentioned her gentlemen friend, she used phrases like “handy man” and “good with cars”. She sounded like Edie describing Silver.  I wondered aloud how long it would be before Mick found another doppelganger and earned myself “the look” for it.