Monday, December 23, 2013

A Toast To Christmas, The New Year, And To You, My Dearest Readers

"...All seem to say
Throw cares away.
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old,
Meek and the bold."

Happy, happy Christmas, Dearest Readers. I hope you made it to your Holiday serene and relaxed and ready to celebrate a lovely time with those you love the best.  And I look forward to my own Christmas, doing the same and then spending another year with all of you. 

Cheers to you and to 2014!
Nance and all of the Dept. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Little Holiday Happies

Dearests, I know this is Holiday Crunch Time, and that many of you are In The Midst.  I am as well; today is Present Wrapping Day, and I will not quit until every single one of them is wrapped or giftbagged or concealed in some way by snowmen, candy canes, Santa heads, or some combination thereof.  That is my vow to you.

I did, however, promise St. Patsy that I would update you all on a little item:  the Tradition Of The Wheat continues.  My sister Susan and her husband Paul discovered that the food for their boys' pet hamsters has a high volume of wheat in it.  One night, they all sat down and spilled the box and began the painstaking task of picking out the wheat kernels.  St. Patsy conveyed them safely to her place at my brother's and set them in their shallow bowl of water to sprout.  The planting was successful, and each sibling will get a pot of wheat with a candle on Christmas Eve, thanks to Zach, Jacob, Susan, and Paul, and of course, Cleo and Hipster.

Certainly that does not count as a Christmas Miracle, but perhaps we can count it as a small Christmas Blessing.

I'm also counting the four days of temperatures in the forties and fifties (!!) as a Christmas Blessing.  That streak means a smiley goodbye to our five inches of snow, the gutter icicles, and the icy spots on the deck, porch and driveway.  What a spirit lifting sight the green grass is.  How lovely to go out shopping in just a blazer and scarf.  And, in a burst of Non-NEO Climatological Whimsy, we actually had a sunny day or two! I felt renewed.

In spite of the latest research by Science that my cats don't love me, and despite the fact that menopause is causing me to store all my wine in a spare tire around my waist all of a sudden, I am still counting small happies daily.  It's not that difficult to do.

Have a lovely, calm-as-possible, happy Run-Up-To-Christmas.  Take good care of yourselves and each other.  And for my Readers who are not Christmas Celebraters, sit back and enjoy the show.  As you know, it's always a good one.  Let that be one of your little happies.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Unloading My Cerebral Slop So That I Can Achieve Navidad Nirvana

Some Skull Scraps are skittering about, threatening my Holiday Organization and my Christmas Zen, so I thought I'd unload a few of them here.  How are all of you doing with your Holiday Preparations?  Are we downsizing and common-sensing?  Have we redefined our Holiday Philosophies?  I can't wait to hear!  Anyway, on with the Cranial Clear-Out!

Rick's company Christmas party was a little while ago.  It was a very
nice get-together at a local restaurant. His boss is so genial, and his coworkers are friendly and fun.  We ordered off of the menu--so cheffy and seasonal; I had fresh-made pasta--and the bar was open for the evening.  Unfortunately, at one point, one of the guests suddenly slumped forward in his chair, eyes closed, and he became unresponsive.  His wife, who said nothing like this had ever happened before, was paralyzed with terror.  Everyone talked at once, all trying to help, and it was a circus.   Finally, I grabbed a napkin, dipped it into my ice water, and started to press it against his wrists and forehead as well as the back of his neck.  I bent low, and in my Teacher Voice, I started asking very direct questions, addressing him by name.  I asked him where he was, what day it was, and who the President of the United States was.  He answered each one correctly.  I then asked him if he took medications for high blood pressure, then diabetes.  He said no.  Still, however, he was slumped and his eyes were closed.  I concurred with others that there should be a call to 911.  As I continued to apply a cool cloth, I overheard two other guests talking.  "Is she a nurse?" asked one.  "No, she's a teacher," responded the other one with a confidence and reassurance that made me smile.  She might have said, "No, she's Batman."  Happily, the stricken guest, after a night in the ER for tests, is back at work, but he has been scheduled for a stress test and more bloodwork to make a final determination regarding diabetes. 

Help me out here.  Is it just me, or is this package of men's underwear really...ambiguous and sort of winky winky nudgy nudgy?  I mean, when you have the words POUCH, JOCKEY, PACKAGING, and FIT on a bag of men's undies, you cannot tell me that I am the only one who is standing there in Macy's thinking...Those Thoughts.  Is this really a serious pack of underwear?  What exactly is "Same great Pouch fit"?  I asked Rick and he said he had no idea.  Then again, this is not his brand or type of undergarments.  And why is Pouch capitalized like a proper noun?  Is that an anthropomorphic name for men's genitals?  So, say a guy wants to have sex; does he say, "Honey, come to bed and say hi to Pouch"?  I'm telling you--this sack of underwear is taking up a lot of my time.

Tuesday night I was preparing dinner--another Nance Original--and it involved a lot of chopping and cutting. In the middle of quartering a Brussels sprout, the knife slipped and sliced deeply into my little finger, right at the tip on the side.  Holy crap, did that thing bleed like hell.  Of course I was home alone.  I applied pressure with a paper towel and held my hand above my head and ran to the bathroom.  Do you know how hard it is to try to open a box of bandaids and then put one on with only one hand, all the while trying to keep the cut hand elevated?  It is damned hard.  And bloody.  AND--do you know how hard it is to type with your left little finger all bandaged up and sore?  Do you KNOW how many words have A's in them?  Too effing many is how many.  I should have had stitches, but since that requires a visit to the hospital, that would be a NO.

I still have so many things to tell you about my terrific trip to Gettysburg.  We had an outing every single day, and sometimes more than one.  You know, I've been going to Gettysburg for more than forty years.  And one of the things I love about it is that it isn't afraid to change.  Oh, the historic preservation is astonishing and thanks to a very involved core of the citizenry, more and more land is regained by the land conservancy and kept from developers.  I don't mean change like that.  Gettysburg will always love and revere their history, and they constantly fight to preserve it.  I mean change as in perspective and truth.  When I first went to Gettysburg, it was all about battle strategies, generals, and casualties.  Into the seventies, it changed its perspective to peace and became more about Lincoln.  Now, Gettysburg focuses on the townspeople, the people whose lives were invaded by a war they didn't fight in, but one that came into their lives and changed them anyway.  It highlights the lives of women who were suddenly nurses, black citizens who had to live in fear of becoming slaves and being shipped south, and German immigrants who were accused of being cowardly and disloyal.  It also gives child visitors a look at the way children of the town helped out even though they were frightened.

One stop in Gettysburg was at a gallery called Lincoln into Art.  I met the artist, Wendy Allen, and she told me a little about her work and her gallery and living in Gettysburg.  She paints Abraham Lincoln.  He is her subject, her inspiration, and her livelihood in town.  It's really quite amazing.  She paints in a variety of styles: Pollock, Van Gogh, a sort of Mondrian with the words of the Address, even some Impressionist influence can be seen.  So many of her portraits had a singular feature which captivated me--the eyes.  She does Abraham Lincoln's eyes so that they convey the gentle melancholy of the man.  Visit her website here.  Incredible.

I wandered among history and, at times, became quite lost in it.  Yet, oddly, I felt quite comfortable among the relics of the Past as if it were sort of a homecoming.  It's hard to explain.  Certainly much of it had to do with a familiarity of having grown up with the battle and its lore since forever.  Being with my aunt and uncle, both gracious hosts and history enthusiasts, had quite a lot to do with it, too.  Still, I cannot discount the real affinity I feel with Gettysburg and what happened there and how much the people now work to preserve its legacy.  My family there--especially my cousin Mark--are all involved in the land conservancy project.  It's heartening.

Speaking of family there--allow me to end with a bit of a commercial.  Ann's items--or Purdy Sew 'n Sews--can be shipped Priority Mail in time for Christmas.  FREE!  But don't dilly dally.  Not to impose upon your New And Improved Relaxed Christmas, you know. But...even we don't have Forever.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

My Past May Become A Present For You: An Announcement

One of the best things I saw on my Gettysburg vacation was my cousin, Ann.  We're just a couple of years apart--she's younger than me--but once we hit our teens, we never really recaptured the closeness of our youth.  At that point, Ann gravitated more toward my sister Susan, who was a couple of years younger than her, and I wandered off, probably to read or be serious or something.  I don't blame her.  I recall a lot of bossiness, generalized snottiness, and overall being kind of a pain in the ass, to be honest, all by Yours Truly. What happens to some of us when we reach our early teens?  Must we become insufferable?

Ann remembers all the good parts, like all those summer days we spent eating dill pickles (a shared obsession) on Grandma and Grandpa's front porch in their glider, pushing it back and forth and back and forth, then letting it coast like we were riding it.  Other days, we'd go to The Lake, and when we weren't swimming or drinking Kool Aid from the brightly colored aluminum glasses, we were sitting at the big table in the cabin making our own paper dolls with dozens of outfits for any occasion.

Because Ann lived far away from northeastern Ohio, I didn't see her very often.  Sometimes Grandma would go visit her, and the time they had together proved Golden.  Ann would watch for hours while Grandma sewed or pieced together a quilt, lured by the colors and patterns and textures of fabrics.  Sensing a kindred spirit, Grandma taught her to hand-sew some scraps of bright cloth together.  Years later, in seventh grade, and long graduated to machine sewing, Ann made her first outfit, a red and white, very seventies pantsuit.

Of course, I didn't know any of that.  But I do now.  So...why am I telling you?

When I reconnected with my cousin Ann, I discovered that she is a talented artist, especially with textiles.  Her sewing is now her art.  She makes one-of-a-kind articles with incredible design details.  She sews every single day.  Her favourite spot is her workshop, where the hum of her sewing machine soothes her.  And even though she creates something every single day, it still tickles her to know she made it.  It's her idea made real.  That fact never ceases to make her smile.

She has many pieces--functional items--that she would like to introduce to the marketplace, and I'm happy to say that she is opening up a temporary shop here at the Dept. of Nance.  You'll find her initial offerings up for sale by clicking the tab marked Purdy Sew 'n Sews.  Right now, you'll find clutch purses and personal organizers/portfolios.  She makes quilts, purses, bags, pillows, and many, many baby items as well.  Do I know what might be added next? No.  Does she?  Not until the idea grabs her.

Check my sidebar for the Purdy Sew 'n Sews logo for an email link if you have any questions for Ann.  Maybe this will help you with your Christmas Shopping, even for yourself.  At any rate, scroll up top under my blog title where the tabs are and click Purdy Sew 'n Sews.  You may get inspired yourself.

Ann and I reconnected, and this venture was born.  So was a new, more mature relationship.  Thank goodness I grew up.  And thank goodness she waited for me.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Making Memories Is Like Oatmeal, Or In My Case, Like A Porcupine

Pressure Busting Tip #21
I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving.  I know I did. If you shared it with your extended family, more than a few stories were likely shared.  Probably several were precious, adorable, and embarrassing, the latter featuring you as the main character.  My mother especially loves to tell her entire repertoire of Hapless Nance stories as often as possible to as wide an audience as she can.  She doesn't do this to Patti* of course, nor Bobby, nor Susan.  And it would be at least a Venial Sin to do this to (!gasp!) a Grandchild. (*favourite child of all)

One of her All-Time Favourites is Christmas-themed.  According to St. Patsy:  "Nance is sitting there with her nose in a book, as usual, while everyone else is busy doing something, when all of a sudden, she starts hollering to me in the kitchen to come quick.  'Mom!  Mom!  Hurry up!'  Now, I have no idea what's going on.  I'm in the kitchen; I don't remember what exactly I was doing, but I was busy.  Maybe I was doing the dishes or making dinner or something like that.  Anyway, I probably stopped to wipe my hands on a dishtowel.  She screamed one more time, 'Mom!', and then I hear a whoosh and a crash and the sound of things breaking.  I run in there, and there's Nance, standing by the TV, and the entire Christmas tree, lights lit and all, lying on the floor.  Here the thing had been tipping over, falling, and instead of catching it, she just got out of the way!  Just scooped up her book and ran out of the way.  I asked her, 'Why didn't you catch it?'   And she said, 'Mom!  I'm not gonna catch that big tree!'  So she just let it fall.  What a mess!"  And here she keeps shaking her head, remembering the mess of it all, while chuckling at the same time.

All I can remember is a bigass, fully decorated, seven-foot balsam tree leaning and going, and my mother seeming unconcerned as I hollered for her to come quick.  I was, at the time, probably ten years old.  Maybe eleven. There was no way in Hell that I was going to intervene between gravity and, say, fifty thousand sharp little evergreen needles that were in various stages of dryness.  Plus, that tree had at least two feet and more than a couple pounds on me.  Back in those days, we used the large, old-fashioned lights, and those things got hot.  Did that woman honestly think I was going to catch what amounted to a burning hot, seven-feet tall porcupine in drag?  Exactly who is the crazy one?  But it was funny, just the same.  (Since I'm alive to talk about it.)

This brings me to my final Pressure Busting Tip, #21. ( I had hoped to have 30 of them, remember?  My original plan was to post one every day of November, but that didn't happen.  Oh well; I still did a pretty good job.  No one is perfect.  It's impossible.)   Stop striving for The Perfect Christmas.  It's Impossible.  Stuff happens.  But the Stuff is what makes memories.  Families are like oatmeal--lumpy, sticky, and a little bit messy.  That means anything connected with them will be the same.  If you look back at your memories, your pictures, your Life--it's the little imperfections that have made it interesting.  And, remember, Christmas comes every single year.  You can always try again.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

No Matter How Long It Takes, No Matter How Far, You Will Find It!

Pressure Busting Tip #20
I don't have a funny story today, which is kind of odd, considering that the person who gave me this tip was one of the funniest people I have ever known in my life.  Talk about a good time!  I met Ann online--in a discussion forum twenty years ago--chatting up people whose common interest was the film The Last of the Mohicans, and later, (sigh) Daniel Day-Lewis.  Pretty soon, a core group formed from that, arranged meet-ups, and yada yada yada, Ann and I became close friends.  Although she lived in Florida, thanks to The Interwebs, we could chat often, and we also had marathon phone calls of more than ninety minutes long.  We also exchanged long letters--ten-page booklets of news and politics and oh, anything we thought of.  Her job allowed her to arrange visits to various locales, and I flew out to see her several times.  Her truelife stories were hilarious, and she told them with a light southern accent and just the right sense of timing.  She wrote romances for a couple of publishers, primarily Harlequin, yet she never married.  And all of her books had a good dose of her humor, not something commonly found in that genre, I'd imagine.  Her book money was her fun money, and she once arranged for a theater to show a print of The Last of the Mohicans to a small group of us, twice, as private showings.  As you can tell, she was terrifically generous.  She wasn't just generous with her money, either, although she did set aside funds for her nieces' college educations.  She was generous with her time, her sympathy, her advice, and her ability to listen and understand.  She would arrange wonderful meet-ups, and she and I would share our frustrations when a few people would explain that they couldn't or wouldn't come.  "You know what?"  Ann would say, "It's a question of priorities.  If it's important enough, you'll make it happen.  You'll find a way.  It's as easy as that."

In 2011 after a long string of health problems exacerbated her breast cancer, Ann died in Florida.  I had not seen her for over a year.  The email from her sister was...incomprehensible to me.  Just retired, I had plans to write to Ann and tell her I was ready for anything--let's plan a getaway.  And now...I had to find a way to grieve the loss of a friend who I could not even see.  It took me a year to find a way through it.  I miss her so much, and in a way that is somehow hollow and aching.  It feels very unfair.

Ann lived a very full life.  She had a loyal and loving family, and she had great friends.  She would really do things to excess for the people she loved, yet she made no apologies for it.  She had a way of cutting right to the core of things; she could analyze and she could prioritize.  I'm making one of her favourite sayings into Pressure Busting Tip #20.  If something is important enough to you, you will find a way to make it happen. Maybe that something is having a cup of tea at the end of each December night, you and your spouse, looking at your tree.  Maybe it's stopping for a moment, having some time for a prayer with the kids, then watching as they cross the day off of their Christmas calendars.  Maybe it's a thirty minute soaky bath with a mug of hot cider.  Maybe it's a short walk in the morning to clear your head and get your blood running.  Maybe it's calling your mom and telling her what you're doing that day.  Is it important?  To you?  Find a way.  There is always a way.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Do You Believe In Miracles? Then You Must Laugh, Laugh Very Often, And Especially At Christmastime

Pressure Busting Tip #19
For the longest time St. Patsy, Patti, and I would go out on the day after Thanksgiving and shop till we dropped, literally.  We would start at some ungodly hour--like 7AM--and pile into Patti's Big Red Van, armed with our bigass coffees, and take off for a distant mall.  I liked shopping a bit far away because the chance of me running into students was slimmer.  We'd shop that mall down to its baseboards, then hit the TOYS-R-US, and end at the KMart in the strip next door for cheapo stuff, stocking stuffers, and our fave, gift wrap.  By then it was at least six or seven PM, and we'd collapse at a restaurant, eat dinner, and drive home in a stupor with our swollen feet throbbing.

But we always, always had fun.  Because something, deep down inside, is terribly, terribly wrong with my sister and I.  I have no idea what it is, but when any of the Three Sisters combine, some sort of chemical imbalance occurs, and it is only exacerbated by the presence of The Mother.  One year, St. Patsy had a severely pinched nerve and had to have a wheelchair handy.  Patti and I took turns shoving her around, and she would hold the bags and ride in style.  We were in one store, and I zoomed her into the glove section, at her request, and turned her around.  "There!" I said sternly.  "Now stay there and don't go wandering off!"  Mom and I turned around in time to see a store clerk looking at me, shocked.  I simply smiled and walked off toward another section, amused to see my mother playing along, lowering her head in sad obedience.  Shortly after that, in another store, Patti, St. Patsy, and I were looking at some baby items.  St. Patsy rose from her wheelchair carefully to look at a few things up a little higher.  Then she moved a few steps to one side.  Noting a few shoppers nearby, I jabbed Patti in the side.  "Oh my God!" I gasped loudly.  "It's a Christmas Miracle!  Mom! Mom!  You can walk!"  Patti stood there in rapt amazement.  The people who gathered around looked shocked and awed.  Hands flew to faces and open mouths.  Gazes widened.  Murmurs ran through the crowd.  My mother stood stock still; she had no idea what to do.  It was perfect.

There is no way, no way ever that you can beat The St. Patsy Christmas Miracle as you go about your Christmas shopping this--or any!--year.  But if you pick up Pressure Busting Tip #19, you can still reap its benefits.  Inject some fun into your Christmas shopping. Take someone along who is a good time.  Start noticing the really dumb Brookstone-type gifts, or the awful kiosk wares.  Decide that you are going to get at least one goofy Dollar Store gift for each person.  Watch people and what they buy.  Surreptitiously sneak things into other people's carts at a Target or a Kohl's.  I know it's sophomoric, but it's harmless, and you'll relax a little.  It's easy for me to say "Do a little at a time" or "Stop shopping when you get tired or crabby"; I'm retired.  I can shop at 10AM on a Tuesday if I want, and I often do.  But I know that isn't possible for all of my Dearest Readers.  I honestly wish I could shop for you.  I do.  Since that isn't an option, please try to lighten your step and your mood when you go out amongst the retail madness.  Make your own Christmas Miracle, and have fun out there.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Put Away Those Red And Green Running Shoes

Pressure Busting Tip #18
When I was a kid, my parents were all about The Ritual.  They excelled at The Event.  Even the smallest, most mundane thing was turned into a Special Treat, Something Worthy Of Note, or as my father liked to say, somewhat sarcastically as he skewered the slang of the time, "A Happening."  Merely talking about a future trip, a celebration, a gathering--that was more than half the fun.  And we all got good at it.  I can remember my dad and my mom sitting at the kitchen table, talking about going someplace.  They'd describe to each other and, if we were listening, to us kids the route, what we'd see, places we might stop and what we'd do there, how the ice cream might taste, the breeze might be cool, and the way the little puffs of clouds would hang above the horizon over a certain mountain.  In the weeks before Christmas, my sister Susan and I would lie awake in the double bed, and she'd say, "Tell me about Christmas Eve."  And I'd begin to weave our-ages old, shared story about how we would get everything ready.  "Mom will make us get up early, and we'll have to wash woodwork, dust, clean the bathroom, and run the vacuum.  Patti will be allowed to hang all the Christmas cards.  We'll get out all the candles and make sure they're lit right before everyone comes.  Aunt Martha is always first, and she comes in singing Jingle Bells. Aunt June will be in soon, and she'll have her flash camera ready, and yell at Uncle Jul all night.  We'll get out the relish plates and the potato salad and...." The routine was so familiar and so wonderful.  Susan could have--and often did, in places--told the story to herself, but she loved to hear it.  I don't know if Mom and Dad built this into us on purpose, but it was a great idea.  All of us learned from it.  We learned to appreciate an entire experience.  That the journey is as important as the destination.

I think it's something to think about when it comes to Christmas, too, and it can help ease some of the holiday pressure we feel as adults.  So many times during Christmastime, I felt like I was rushing, rushing, rushing headlong towards a goal, a sort of finish line of December 25th.  It was hard to appreciate or enjoy anything I was doing to get there.  All of the Stuff I Was Doing up to then seemed more like obstacles rather than part of Christmas.  Shopping, wrapping, preparing food, baking, spiffing up the house, decorating--all of that was in my way of reaching my goal of Christmas.  That was my mindset.  When I was able to realize that, in those simple terms, I was--to be honest--stunned.  And a little embarrassed.  Why hadn't I ever understood that before?  And when had all that happened?  And, more importantly, how can I fix it?  It's important to go back to The Ritual.  Recognize that Christmas is not a goal; it's a whole season, a many-faceted celebration. It is made up of a myriad of interwoven experiences and memories and traditions and sensory mementos.  Pressure Busting Tip #18 is a reminder that Christmas is a journey, not a destination.  It's not just you working and running your head off and then rip, crash, bam, it's over in a half-hour of giftwrapped pillaging.  It's the kids making Christmas Calendars the day after Thanksgiving and crossing off the days before they go to bed.  It's taking the family out for breakfast and then to a store to pick out a special ornament for each.  It's going and getting a tree together.  It's decorating the tree and then having a special Christmas-themed dessert with a little red candle stuck in it.  Afterwards, you can play "I Spy" and lie under the tree, looking up at the lights. It's hot chocolate with little candy canes hanging on the side of the mug.  Or going to find a Giving Tree, then picking out a gift or two for a child or family less fortunate.  Tell the stories of your Christmas.  And build some Christmas Stories of your very own.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Yes, Linus, They Do Still Make Wooden Christmas Trees, And One Year...

First, an apology to my Dearest Readers for my seemingly haphazard posting as well as sporadic (at best) responses to your comments.  I am actually in Gettysburg at present--have been since Saturday afternoon--for the Remembrance Day events commemorating the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's immortal Address.  My gracious hosts, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Dick, have been so wonderful, squiring me about Adams County, showing me the sights not only of the historic offerings, but of the rich history of the outlying areas as well.  I am quite busy.  I've met one of my Dearest Readers here, too, and we shared a lovely dinner together.  I'll have lots of things to tell you soon.  But we are still working on Pressure Busting Tips, and I am committed to helping you have a serene Holiday Season.  Off we go.

Pressure Busting Tip #17 
When I was a little girl, we had a huge extended family Christmas the day after at my Grandma and Grandpa's house less than an hour away.  (I've written about their house before, here.)  Grandma had seven children, and they'd all come home at Christmas to that house, bringing their children, many of whom had spouses, and then the great-grandchildren, and pretty soon it was a massive affair of thousands of people and food and talking and then, believe it or not, something we cousins had dubbed The Big Bad Gift Exchange followed by The Annual Slide Show (and Giggle Fest).  My grandparents were teetotalers--well, at least Grandma was; Grandpa always had a bit of cider going "hard" in the cellar--so the in-laws had to do the whole thing sober. But there was always some humor supplied inadvertently by Grandpa.

One year, we saw that year's laugh as soon as we walked in and looked for the tree under which to place the presents we had brought.  There, in the corner, of the few things that had the ability to render me speechless in my life.  It was their Christmas Tree.  But, not.  Oh, it was evergreen.  It had a string of lights.  There were some ornaments on it.  But it was, more precisely, a Branch.  The Christmas Branch.  But not just one evergreen bough from the pine tree out front.  Grandpa had wired a branch jutting out behind on either side as well, in a strange, cockeyed sort of effort to, I guess, add dimension or a sort of trompe l'oeil effect. The whole thing was sitting on top of their little television which was now covered, stand and all, by a bedsheet.  I had, quite honestly, no idea--not a single one--what to say.  My Grandma, who I adored and worshipped, came out of the kitchen and said, "How do you like that tree?  Isn't it pitiful?  I told Pop it was just terrible."  Almost on cue, Grandpa came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.  He winked at all of us kids.  "That came right off the pine tree out front," he said.  "See here how I wired these other branches back here?"  Grandpa always loved to give us all a guided tour of any and all of his projects.  That tree met with a variety of responses that day, but most of them were a smile and a shake of the head and some sort of "That's Grandpa!"  It got the job done, and it gave us all something to talk about and the historians of the family took, I'm sure, plenty of pictures.  Now I wish I had one.

When it comes to our Christmas Tree at home, I am, I admit, pretty picky.  I always want a balsam or a Fraser fir.  I like the shape--all those nice tiers--and I like the fragrance.  I want the trunk nice and straight; I want the shape to be a nice triangle, and I want some nice gaps for my drop ornaments.  But I do try to remember that it is a natural tree.  I don't expect perfection.  And when we decorate, I want a family tree.  I wrote about that before, too, here.  Some ornaments--like the two from my dad's family tree--always get a place of honor.  I love it when my boys hang their own ornaments, the ones they picked out when we had our special day together each year to do just that.  I love the ones with their school pictures on them.  I want the decorating of the tree to be warm and homey and happy.  Grandpa's Christmas Branch, though goofy and contrived, was still warm and homey and happy.  And as I said, it gave us all something to talk about, plenty of great memories, and it got the job done.  When you decide to go get a tree, or go into the attic or garage and get out your tree this year, remember Pressure Busting Tip #18, courtesy of J.W. Picking.  Your Christmas Tree doesn't have to be a style statement. It can be the stuff of good times, great memories, and just get the job done.  


Monday, November 18, 2013

Because, Really, How Much Can You Eat, Anyway?

Pressure Busting Tip #16
For years and years my sister Patti, mother St. Patsy, and I used to hold what we called the yearly Bake-Off at my house during the first week of December.  I'd take the day off of school for it, and Patti would schedule her day off from the bank.  St. Patsy was just damn happy to be there any old day.  I'd get all my supplies out: cooky sheets, mixers, bowls, flour, sugar, nuts, and all the other necessaries the night before.  Patti and Mom would, too, but they'd pack them all up in boxes and load them into their cars.  They'd drive over to my house by eight or nine in the morning, and we'd start mixing dough for Christmas cookies.  Most times, one or all of us would have at least one type of cookie dough already mixed and ready to go into the oven.  We did not believe in wasting time, especially oven time.  All the batches were tripled, and all of us made whatever we wanted.  St. Patsy always made her more traditional Old World cookies, left over from the days of making Croatian recipes for Dad and the aunts.  We baked and mixed and talked and laughed.  We started having Themed Bake-Offs when we had one Bake-Off on Pearl Harbor Day.  One year, so many things kept going wrong, and we kept reassuring each other that "It was okay."  That was our Stuart Smalley Bake-Off.  We'd break at noon and I'd go get Chinese food for lunch.  And all along, we'd save the Mistake Cookies so that when Jared and Sam came home, they could have them for a snack.  We had a great time.

Little by little, life would get in the way.  Patti would have to leave early for an appointment or a kid emergency.  One year, I was too seriously ill to have the Bake-Off.  Another year, there simply wasn't a day we all could do it together.  Finally, we all realized that we were giving away the cookies instead of eating them.  None of us was really eating that many sweets anymore.  The Bake-Off days were, sadly, over.  Of course, the person that misses them most is St. Patsy.  But she really did used to make far too many cookies and nut rolls and poppyseed rolls and butterballs and nut horns and cheese rolls and...see what I mean?  And then Patti would make four kinds of cookies and I would make four kinds plus my Christmas cake and pretty soon it was Cooky Armageddon.  NO ONE can eat that many cookies, ever.  Plus Susan and her pastry chef husband Paul would bring approximately eleven thousand cookies as well. It was overwhelming.  And a little shameful.  Pressure Busting Tip #16 reminds me of the wise words of Coco Chanel who said, "The last thing you should do before you go out the door is glance back at yourself in the mirror and take something away."    Streamline and simplify your holiday meal, especially if it is a buffet.  I'm also going to steal a line from the movie Sabrina and say as a backup here, "Sometimes more isn't better; it's just more."  Stick with just a couple of tried-and-true, very good dishes, and add very little.  Once in a while, add back a heretofore missing dish, but take something else away.  People are there for the food, yes, but it's the fellowship, mostly.  They will eat, but not as much as you think.  Don't you always have plenty? Make easy things that are easy to keep warm or cold, easy to eat, and that you make well.  If anyone wants to bring something, and you'd be okay with it, tell them, "Bring your specialty! Or, just bring yourselves. I have everything. We're having a simple dinner."  Then do that, and enjoy it!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sharing, Caring, Merry, And Joy--No, Not The Four Lost Dwarfs, But Some Key Words For The Holidays

Pressure Busting Tip #15
I don't even remember how it happened.  Maybe she saw it someplace else and liked it.  Maybe she used it on the one at the bank, where she worked.  Maybe it was on sale at a ridiculously low price at Hill's Department store next to the bank, and she couldn't resist it.  No matter; all I know is, one year my mother decided to add tinsel garland to our Christmas tree, and once it made its appearance, nothing budged it.  It didn't matter that we four kids thought it was "ugly and stupid and dripped all over all the ornaments."  Mom liked it.  Our appeals to Dad went unheeded.  "Your mother likes it," was all he said.  And since Mom put on all the lights and all the garland anyway, he knew he didn't have a vote, either.  For years and years, we had never had anything but a nice glazing of tinsel strands.  And we liked it fine.  Now this!  And my mother, all five feet three inches of her, had to stand on a kitchen chair and use a notched yardstick to drape the stuff artfully over the branches.  "It's just a lot of extra work for that junky thing," we crabbed.  To my mother's credit, that was the one thing she held the line on, probably in her entire career as our mother.  But honestly, no one liked it but her.  Couldn't she have given in a little?

Keep St. Patsy's garland in mind when you consider Pressure Busting Tip #15.  When it comes to decorating, take turns and/or allow some eclecticism.  One of my Dearest Readers emailed me and related to me a very poignant personal story about how decorating the family tree was enough to cause bouts of hyperventilating and real fright.  The worry and fear of hanging the ornaments in the wrong places; the ensuing criticism from a parent; the feeling of failure, all were enough to ruin Christmases for years and years later.  How sad is that?  Don't take the joy out of Christmas for yourself or anyone in your household.  At the very least, just do what I used to do:  move a few ornaments later, once everyone has gone to bed.  Don't fight about whether it's to be an angel or a star at the treetop.  Grab a small mason jar, fill it with M&Ms.  Have the two sides guess how many M&Ms are in the jar.  Then count them in front of the factions.  The winning side gets its choice for the treetopper.  The losing side gets the M&Ms.  Kind of win-win!  And so what if the kids want to add a few non-traditional figures to the nativity scene?  Do you mean to tell me that Baby Jesus wouldn't want Mickey Mouse, Elmo, and a Hot Wheel at his birthday party? Duh.  Remember, the saying is "Merry Christmas."  Loosen up and make merry.


Friday, November 15, 2013

We Interrupt Regular Programming To Bring You This Special News Report

No tip today, Dearest Readers, thanks to this horrid headache which has taken up residence since
Wednesday night.  I'm presenting instead a sort of Palate Cleanser whilst I wait for my Uninvited Guest to take the Pharmaceutical Hints I keep dropping and leave.  Let's call the following some Sad Reminders Of Our Company here in these United States.

First off is a sign photographed by my nephew Zach, who spied it in his very own high school.  He snapped a photo of it illegally surreptitiously, and sent it via cellphone.  It's glorious in its mystery.

Like you, I wonder.  I wonder at the emphasis of Lights.  I wonder if there is a "/" missing between ALL and NONE.  I wonder if the lights can stay on after school functions.  I wonder why the author didn't just write PLEASE TURN OFF LIGHTS.

This next example appeared on a dessert forum that I happened upon somehow in my travels around the Interwebs.  Someone wanted some ideas for a dessert she could make that did not require sugar or an oven. This answer made me simultaneously laugh and feel true horror at the squalid state of some people's education.  It is cut-and-pasted here exactly:

 Jello and whip cream,fuirt saladfuirt sherbertfreeze a can of any kind of fuirt and serve it in a bowl...crapes and sugur free ice cream..or traffle of jello whip cream fuirt..repeat to the top of the bowel.

I want nothing to do with anything of that last dessert.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Space, The Final Frontier

Pressure Busting Tip #14
Our house is tiny, and what it lacks in closet space it makes up for in crawl space/knee wall storage.  Pretty
much the entire upstairs, which we finished for the boys' shared room, has space behind three of the walls for squirreling away boxes of stuff, the baby crib and changing table, Sam and Jared's toys, and the Christmas decorations. Each year, Rick would go upstairs and haul out the stuff marked "Christmas"; later, I would go upstairs and separate the crappy stuff that went back into storage because 1. I got better stuff; 2. It had some bad provenance attached to it; 3. It was from when the boys were little and liked a lot of schlocky stuff; 4.  It was from my long ago crafty period.  Finally, I realized that the whole routine was idiotic.  Why was I storing a bunch of Christmas stuff that I never used?  Little by little, I either gave it away to people who appreciated it and would love it/use it, or tossed it if it was really awful.  I consulted the boys if I thought they would be sentimental about it, of course.  Now I'm down to only the stuff I really use and need, with a few things kept aside for the boys when they want them for their own trees in the future.

I'd urge you to take an hour and do the same, if you haven't already.  Pressure Busting Tip #14 can really be liberating and free up some storage space as well as some headspace.  Go through your Christmas Stuff as you haul it out and find homes for what you no longer need, want, or use.  Those things can brighten up a homeless shelter, a church charity sale, or even a school.  Drop them off at the Salvation Army or Goodwill.  Take them to work and put them on a table with a FREE sign.  It's really true that "one man's trash is another man's treasure."  And I would add "sometimes space is a treasure."


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Another Way To Lighten Your Spirits...(Sorry)

Pressure Busting Tip #13
Back when I used to send Christmas cards, I was always fascinated by the ones that showed an Olde Fashionede Christmase Treee with lit candles on its boughs.  Two thoughts occurred to me:  1.  Who ever thought that was a good idea?  2.  How ever did they keep them lit?  Lights on a tree are a constant source of angst for my family, both when I was growing up and in my own family now.  As a kid, I was an expert at snapping my finger against a Christmas bulb to get it to light again.  I could also whip up and down a string of dead lights, snapping, tightening, unscrewing and re-screwing in order to find the faulty one.  My special talent was getting the vintage (even then!) bubble lights to start bubbling.

At home now the little mini-lights are more of a pain.  So difficult to get one out; so many bulb variations, and all so darn tiny!  And for years and years, our tree was an evergreen giant, both in height and girth.  One year, an entire string right in front went out almost as soon as we decorated.  Every single person who came over said helpfully, "Hey. You have a big string of lights out right in front."  And that included each and every one of the forty guests on Christmas Eve.  By the time Christmas was over, I actually hated and detested that tree.

Of course you know now what Pressure Busting Tip #13 is.  Check your tree lights in advance.  Last year, Rick and I simply tossed all the mini-lights and, taking advantage of early sales, bought all new LED lights with some gift cards he got from work.  The old lights were just that, old.  And on the dangerous cusp of failure.  Naturally, as he strung the lights on our tree last year, he ran out, even though we downsized our tree dramatically.  Nothing a little lot of tinsel can't fix.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Scotch Tape And Scissors: The Reasons For The Season, And Why You Should Go Find Them Right Now

Pressure Busting Tip #12
Gosh, I hate to throw St. Patsy under the Holiday Bus again, but darn it,
she is the perfect example for today's tip.  My mother had several nicknames in our home.  My father never, ever called her by her real name, which was Patricia or Pat.  When he met her, he called her Doll right away, referencing that song that goes, "Oh, you beautiful doll, you great big beautiful doll...."  Another name he called her which was not so complimentary, but gently chiding, was The Great Procrastinator.  My mother could put things off longer than anyone I knew. (We once hung paper shamrocks on our formerly live Christmas tree. Yes, for St. Patrick's Day.) Christmas was not her best season.  After hosting the family Christmas Eve open house, which usually ended in time for everyone to go to Midnight Mass, she would come home from church, finish cleaning up, and then she and my father (if he was home and/or could stay awake) would wrap all of our Christmas presents.  Later, as each of us got older, we helped.  We would sit back to back, and our mother would hand us each a box.  "That's for Patti!" she would snap.  "That one is Susan's!" she'd command.  And we'd sit there, handing tape and The Good Scissors (one pair) back and forth, lose the pens, be exhausted, and wrap and wrap and wrap.  Sometimes our own gifts if she was really getting tired.  On one memorable year, we ran out of Scotch tape after about three presents.  We used electrician's black tape for a bit, then found some old carpet tape, then no tape at all.  We were horrified.  We had to use curling ribbon and string to keep the packages wrapped.  I thought I would die. Christmas morning always, always had several On The Spot Regifts.  I remember one in particular.  I unwrapped a gorgeous mint green sweater with a band of baby pastels going across the front.  As soon as I lifted it out, my mother said, "No, that's Patti's.  Nance, give that to Patti."  My heart was broken.  I immediately gave it to my sister, but I was loathe to do it.  It's a source of personal pride that I never made that error with my kids.  Then again, I only had two.

It's easy to get flustered when you leave stuff to the last minute, and when you simply don't have your collective shit together.  Now that the boys are gone, I use part of their former room upstairs as Christmas Central.  (At the risk of sounding like Martha Perfect,) I set up a card table to wrap gifts on, have all the necessary supplies there like rolls of wrapping paper, tape, pens, tags, empty gift boxes, and tissue paper.  I pulled over a strong floor lamp so that the lighting is good.  Nearby, folded and ready, is a huge old tablecloth.  I find Pressure Busting Tip #12 a real relaxing and enjoyable and time-saving one. Establish and stock a place for wrapping gifts, then wrap as you go.  Easy, I know, when I'm retired.  But even if you can't wrap them right away, you can put the item in a gift box, write the recipient's name on the outside of the box, stash it under the table, and spread the old tablecloth over.  It will hang down and cover up the boxes until you have a minute to wrap a few.  Sometimes I get in a groove and wrap everything; sometimes I get bored and wrap one or two.  Sometimes Certain Cats make it impossible for me to wrap efficiently, and I have to just use gift bags.  (Which are, by the way, The Best Things Ever.  They are so easy to use, and come in such cute and clever designs. I'm a big fan.)  Another great thing about gift bags:  no tape required.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Feel Free To Adopt This As Your Mantra, Especially When You Need To Rally For The Holidays

Pressure Busting Tip #11
Even though I'm not a Wide Open Sharer here on the site, you still know quite a bit about me.  Like a lot of True Blue Democrats, I'm an unabashed liberal.  I listen to NPR.  I drive a hybrid.  I'm a conscientious recycler, and I like to support local enterprise.  Two weeks ago, I stopped at my favorite produce stand to grab whatever they had for the end of the season, and to get some of their honey.  Shirley, over at gfe--gluten free easily, is also a big proponent of honey.  She and her husband are honey producers, and when I visited there last year, she taught me quite a bit about sustaining local honey.  I use honey every single day, so I needed to buy big.  Unfortunately, Mary's stand had none.  She gave me the name of another beekeeper, but it was quite a drive, and I had other errands to do that day.  One errand was to pick up cider at an orchard just minutes away and, as luck would have it, they stocked local honey from the very place that Mary had written down for me.  I grabbed the Industrial Size and hit the road, feeling smug and saintly.  I had gotten what I needed and helped out bees, local farmers, the local agro-economy, and my health.  Holy crap, I was awesome!

But here's the deal:  deep down inside, I am full of bullshit some all a lot of the time.  Number one, I am retired and I have Almost All The Time In The World to run all over the county to do stuff like this.  It's almost never inconvenient to me.  I can spend half the day chasing down sustainable cat treats if I want. Number two, chances are if the orchard didn't have that honey, I'd have made do with store honey until Rick and I went on a long drive someplace or other and I happened to remember, "Hey!  Let's go get some farm honey."  Number three, we all remember that I am the one whose patronization of Amazon is what caused the demise of Borders bookstores nationwide.  I'm a bigass hypocrite.  And I know saying it doesn't ameliorate it in the least.  But--I did still buy farmstand honey.

My point--and I do have one--is this, Pressure Busting Tip #11:  Just because it was easy doesn't mean you didn't care.  Listen, if you can get online and get all your shopping done in one fell swoop and still have time to grab a glass of wine and watch Modern Family, then kudos to you!  You have this on lockdown.  My mother once walked into Target, grabbed a different little LCD handheld video game for each grandchild, a big package of AA batteries, and voila!  Done.  Toy part of gift = accomplished.  And all the kids loved them.  Like nuts.  You know what it means when something comes easily to you?  It means you are talented.  Do you think Mozart was great at music because he didn't care?  Or that Shakespeare could write plays as poetry and nail the human character so well because he didn't care?  Please.  We're good at this stuff.  We can do it.

We're awesome.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In Which I Mention The NSA, The Salem Witch Trials, Maroon5, And Still Focus On Christmas Tips

Yesterday was a busy day and a lovely day.  Rick and I were out and about, and then had a cozy dinner of bruschettas and merlot in front of a fire and Netflix.  I'll atone by giving you two Tips today.

Pressure Busting Tip #9
The NSA is overlooking a vast resource among its citizenry, and that is the untapped pool of mothers and teachers.  No one in the entire world is better at ferreting out secrets, reading minds, or being able to hear the smallest whisper, whine, or whimper.  Within that pool is the subset of The Secret Weapon, of which I am one:  The TeacherMom.  Like it or not, I am that deadly combination of Compassionate Mentalist--the person who can read your face, gestures, and thoughts, and sometimes even your words, and then relay their meaning to you with empathy as I figure out what we can do.  I can hear the crinkle of a forbidden gum wrapper six rows back and forbid it without even breaking stride during a lecture on Predestination and its influence on the Salem Witch Trials, or a baby turn over (without any monitor) and know instantly if it will fuss or just sigh and snuggle down drowsily.  And I can remember dates, names, places, authors, wrongs, page numbers, joys, sorrows, casual mentions of things seemingly trivial, and the name of the paint we used in the baby's room eleventy hundred years ago when we first bought the house (Cloud Blue).

Now that the kids are in their twenties and out of cribs and into their own distant apartments, and I'm no longer in the classroom pontificating about anything, one would think that my finely honed skills are going to waste.  One would be wrong.  Christmas is great for airing them out, and you should hone yours at Yuletide, too. So, for Pressure Busting Tip #9, I urge you to Become A Spy For Christmas.  Start listening carefully to all your Gift Recipients.  Watch them; observe their environments.  Just last Thursday, I picked up on two major gift ideas for St. Patsy.  A few weeks ago, I got an awesome idea for her and also my brother and two sisters, who are not normally people I buy for, but this was just perfect for all of them, so I pounced on it.  I also get emails daily from a new service called Amazon Local, and it plopped a gift idea right in my lap. Not spying, but it was something I knew St. Patsy would like because I had spied.  Maybe you could even toss on a trench coat and listen to the theme from Mission Impossible on your iPod while you do your thing. I don't, but hey! whatever works for you.

(PS--I'm no shill for Amazon, and I'm not receiving anything for the mention.)

Pressure Busting Tip #10
Christmas is always a time of surprises.  For children especially, because of Santa Claus, everything they open is magical and wonderful.  A beneficent old man in a red suit brought them all these wonderful things, some of which they didn't even know they wanted!  But they did, turns out, and they love all their gifts!  When I was a kid growing up, Christmas retained its surprise well into my teens, and here's why.  First of all, St. Patsy did ninety percent of the shopping for all four of us kids while my dad worked at the steel mill.  As we opened presents, we always showed them to our parents, and my dad always said some variation of, "Hey, that's really nice!  Where'd you get that!?"  When we were little, we'd say, "Santa!"  When we were older, we'd laugh and say, "From you."  Then he'd turn to my mother and say, "Good job, Doll.  I really like that." When he worked nights on Christmas Eve, sometimes he'd be pretty groggy on Christmas Day.  He'd be mostly asleep on Christmas Morning.  So for days and days afterward, he'd be asking, "Where'd you get that?  Is that new?  Hey, that looks really nice.  When did you get that?"  It was hilarious then; now, I feel a little bad.  But he would go shopping at least once with Mom, and he'd find neat little things, unusual things that we always loved.  He was a personality shopper, and he knew each of us deep down inside.

My mother, always beleaguered and collapsed by Christmas, tended to lose track and get down to the wire by Christmas Eve.  There was always at least one gift that was a double, so either Patti and I both got one, or Susan and I both got one.  Or, in The Case Of The Maroon Knee Socks, Patti got all of them.  Holy crap, I think she got like five pair one year.  Mom just kept buying them.  No one knows why.  So, in tandem to PBT#9, let me, in honor of St. Patsy, give you Pressure Busting Tip #10.  Use Lists Like Crazy.  There is no shame in it, and if you're shopping a little early or in fits and starts like we Spies do, it's vital.  I have a pad with headings on each page, and I keep it with me, either in my car or in my purse.  I don't like to overbuy, and I don't like to overspend or duplicate.  And, because I am One Of Those Moms, I like to make sure Jared and Sam have an equal amount of gifts.  Even now.  Sigh.  Anyway, The List.  So helpful!

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Friday, November 08, 2013

Tevye And Scrooge Learned The Hard Way. Don't Make The Same Mistake

Pressure Busting Tip #8
When my father's parents came to the United States, my grandmother was anxious to leave the Old World behind and become completely American.  She happily adopted an Americanized version of her last name, the fashions of the day, and even went so far as to insist upon only English, not Croatian, being spoken in the house.  As a result very few customs and traditions of our family's Christmas hearkened back to my father's European family's roots.  One did, however, and that was growing wheat at Christmas.  My dad would go to Broadway Feed Store downtown and get a small bag of wheat seeds which my mom would start at Thanksgiving, shallowly planted in a decorative container of potting soil and placed in a sunny kitchen window.  After it grew in nice and thick and green, she'd keep it trimmed neatly at a height of about five or six inches.  On Christmas Eve she'd put a red or white taper in the middle of it and tie a red ribbon around the blades of wheat.  Lighted, it was placed in the middle of the kitchen table amid the huge platters and bowls of food.  Aunt Martha, Aunt June, Uncle Paul, Aunt Rose--all the Croatians or Croatians by marriage--always nodded approvingly.  "Ah, Pat!  The wheat!  You remembered!"

About thirty-five years ago, Broadway Feed stopped carrying wheat.  Everyone did.  My dad had to read labels and see which animal feed or birdseed contained whole, not cracked, wheat.  He brought home several pounds, and we kids sat at the kitchen table and picked out enough wheat to plant for Christmas.  It was fun--sitting there, laughing, making fun of what we were doing, having contests, and goofing around.  Then we all grew up, moved away, and my mother had to do it by herself.  The big wheat plant became little individual plants for each household, carried lovingly by my mother to each of us.  We lit the candles and put them on our tables. We trimmed the lengths and remembered, especially after my dad passed away more than ten years ago.

Now, my mom has arthritis, and nerve damage has left her fingers numb.  It is a Herculean struggle for her to pick up a nickel, let alone a grain of wheat.  This tradition may have ended.  One of us may pick it back up.  I don't know.  But the tradition of the wheat makes me think of a piece of advice to pass on to you.

Pressure Busting Tip #8:  Don't invest too much meaning and importance in traditions.  Of course the tradition of the wheat is very sentimental and important to me and my family; moreso since the death of my father.  And as I become closer and closer to my mother, I know that her inability to sort seeds and glean the wheat represents her aging and progressive frailty.  So sometimes, traditions need to be put to rest.  Maybe they simply represent sadness now; maybe they are too time-consuming; maybe they're just pointless and don't make sense to your celebration.  Feel free to put them to rest, for whatever reason, and make new ones.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Somehow Or Other, It Comes Just The Same--Even The Grinch Knew That

Pressure Busting Tip #7

When I taught high school not so very long ago, I taught five classes a day.  The average number of kids in each class was about 23-24.  Normally, my schedule was three sophomore honors classes, my Creative Writing I/II class, and my junior regular class.  Strict organization was vital to my survival.  I knew where every single piece of student work was at any given moment in its journey from the moment it was handed in to the moment it was handed back with a grade upon it.  Never once did I lose one shred of student work.  I had a system of inboxes, stamps, and codes in my gradebook that was absolutely fail-safe.  More than once a student would say, either admiringly or in sheer, unadulterated awe or amazement, "Mrs. D., you are the most organized teacher I have ever seen in my life!"  But don't misunderstand; I was never a slave to my system.  I created the system to work for me.  And it did, unfailingly.

I think that's the problem for a lot of Holiday Bringers:  they are a Slave To The System.  Rather than create a workable system for The Holidays that works for them, they instead adhere so stringently and so rigidly to a set way of doing things that they make Christmas much harder on themselves than it needs to be.  For those tensed-up people who are already making their lists and decisions in advance, I urge them to consider Pressure Busting Tip #7:  Allow yourself to be flexible for The Holidays.  Just because you tied baby candy canes to all the kid presents last year doesn't mean you have to do it every year now.  If you can't find eggnog ice cream for the dessert coffee, use something else.  Does your son want to spend part of Christmas Eve at his new girlfriend's house?  He'll be back.  Don't create drama for yourself.  Gift yourself with the special present of saying, "Oh, well.  Will we still have a lovely Christmas?  Yes.  Then I'm not going to worry about it."  So you didn't get the tree up by the first weekend of December.  Did martial law ensue?  Bet not.  It's great to plan, but your plan should be like the Pirate's Code in the movie--"more like guidelines anyway."


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day, But They Didn't Drag It Out Forever, Either

Pressure Busting Tip #6
Back when Rick and I were first married, the country was struggling through the first recession, circa 1981. So, my teaching certificate/degree and I were working as a bank teller from nine to five, and my carpenter husband was selling shoes at the mall, working various retail hours.  I, a rosy, dewy-eyed newlywed, however, was hellbent on being The Perfect Wife and having a fine, hot dinner ready for My Man whenever he came home from work.  Enter...the crock pot.  Like most new couples, we received one as a wedding or shower present, and I put it to Hard Labor immediately.  That poor thing almost melted its cord.  Chicken Parisienne, Beef Stroganoff, Smothered Pork Chops, Creamed Chicken and Rice, Pot Roast...I practically produced the entire Crock Pot Cookbook in our first month or two of wedded bliss.  Then, one evening Rick finished up his Crock Pot Comestible, turned to me and said very, very tiredly but carefully, "Are we ever going to have anything that doesn't come out of the crock pot with cream of mushroom soup?"

(Thus marking, by the way, the first and only time this man has ever come close to complaining about my cooking.)

Every person has a tolerance level--that holding point; the place at which, for now, things are okay, but one more little breach, and IT'S OVER.  The dam bursts, the volcano erupts, the pimple pops, whatever image works for you.  Every single year, our Collective Tolerance Level For Christmas gets prodded more and more.  This year, I saw my first Christmas commercial on 21 August, for heaven's sake.  Stores made big headlines when they opened at ungodly early hours on Black Friday.  Now, the very Bastions Of Retail are opening on Thanksgiving itself.  It's easy to start feeling rushed and hurried and pushed and bossed into Christmas.  Is it any wonder that so many of us feel resentful, angry, overwhelmed, and bullied by The Holidays?  Well, stop being retail and media's bitch by observing Pressure Busting Tip #6:  Refuse to observe the Christmas Season until December 1st.  Honestly, how much Christmas do you need?  It should be appreciated, savored, and enjoyed.  Not resented, dreaded, and cursed.  It's not a competition, either.  There's no prize for being the first one done.

Trust me, by the time we get done with all these tips, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy a wonderful and full Christmas with family and friends without grinding your teeth at night.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Hey! If You Pay Taxes And/Or Are Nurturing Another Human Life, I Think You Have The Right To Do This Too

Pressure Busting Tip #5

Once, when our family was young and Jared was the Only Kid, we were on vacation and had been driving for quite some time.  We were sneaking in a little sightseeing and got a little lost, I think.  From the depths of the backseat came a tiny but indignant two-year old voice.  "Hey!" it piped up, "am I gonna live in this carseat?"

Kids don't want to spend every holiday in carseats either.  Think about it.  Could it be said that your children could honestly and rightfully associate every Major Holiday with getting in the car?  Something is simply not right about that.  If your family's holiday traditions involve leaving your home, it's time to put your foot down.  It's a tough one, but Pressure Busting Tip #5 will be the gift to yourself that keeps on giving and giving and giving:  Gently but firmly announce to Everyone that it is time for your family to stay at home for The Holidays and begin making its Own Traditions.  Naturally, there will be the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth via telephone, email, and social media.  All you have to do is remain calm, cheerful, adult, and resolute.  Perhaps tossing "surprised" in there might be helpful as well, in some cases.  Remain lashed to the mast of confidence whilst being bombarded by the storms of guilt and accusation.  You are not killing anyone.  You are not being selfish or mean.  Everyone is welcome to come to your home in order to see your family and spread Holiday Cheer on the evenings of said Holidays, after your family has celebrated.  Visitors can come in their jammies!  They can bring comfy slippers!  You can serve pie and/or cookies!  IT WILL BE FINE.

Trust me on this.  I'm a recovering Catholic, raised on years of deep, sticky black guilt.  I did this.  I do this.  And it's been 22 years since I first shocked the world by daring to do it.  And still, there is Love. 


Monday, November 04, 2013

Jolly Einstein Or The House Of Representatives? Make Your Choice This Christmas

Pressure Busting Tip #4

My family is big, but it's not like the Osmonds or the Kennedys.  Still, once my sister Patti had her four kids, and I had my two, and my other sister Susan had her two, and my brother had his two, we all suddenly realized that Christmas was going to get exponentially more expensive.  And for a long, long time if we didn't do something about it.  We weren't being a Scrooge or a Grinch, we were being more of a...Christmas Einstein. While the kids were little, it was a given that we would buy for them.  Heck, most of the fun of Christmas shopping was buying Kid Stuff.  For the adults, we all put our names on an index card along with a few gift ideas that were within our set spending limit.  Then we had a drawing.  After a few years, we all agreed to give that up, too, and simply spend the money on our kids and my mom and dad.  Then the kids all got older and less fun to buy for, and their tastes got really specific and more expensive and we realized that this, too, could go on forever, and when they started having babies, where and when would it ever end?

Madness!  It's like the House of Representatives.  Anyway, this all leads me to today's tip, which some of you may have already implemented:  Set practical, common-sense gift-giving limits and stick to them. In our family we make age 18 the last year for gifts from aunts and uncles.  We do not buy gifts for grandnieces and grandnephews no matter how adorable and wonderful and cuddly they are.  We leave that set to Great-Grandma St. Patsy and the Grandmas and Grandpas among us.  Christmas is for children, but the last thing children need is to be spoiled by ten tons of plastic.  Better that they feel ten tons of love, laps, hugs, and smooches.

Every once in a while, I'll see a small giftie that reminds me of Bobby, Susan, or Patti (my siblings).  I happily pick it up to give to him or her at Christmas as a surprise.  No one expects anything, and if someone gets something and the other doesn't, there are no hurt feelings.  It makes for a happier, less stressful, more loving Christmas.
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