Holly Jolly Christmas

Way back in November (well, it was just last week, but it WAS November), I was whining about the fact that I not only didn’t have a single Christmas present purchased, I actually didn’t really have any idea what I was getting anyone. Now it’s December, and I’m happy to say gloria in excelsis deo! I’ve got all of my gifts either purchased or I at least know what I’m getting everyone. The merry little elves at Amazon are keeping busy with this Christmas shopper.

Well, I know what I’m getting almost everyone. There is one grandchild — and I won’t name names, but she is named after the main character in Atlas Shrugged — who is giving me all sorts of fits….

But an idea will come, I’m sure of it.

Every day, packages come trickling in from the postman or FedEx driver. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, even if it doesn’t look a lot like Christmas at this very moment. As usual, I’m putting off the inevitable wrapping of the gifts. Maybe next week I will turn up some Christmas music and start my engines.

Speaking of Christmas traditions, I have been watching a shameful number of Christmas movies. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime are screening many of them — some old, and some new. I prefer the old movies, but admit to watching my share of new films as well.

As you know, Christmas movies almost always involve romance. The problem with the newer movies is that they all have the same plot. And for the most part, I am pretty sure they all have the same actor playing the love interest. All the male heartthrobs look the same — dark hair with a two-days’ growth of beard and big muscles. Dreamy….


These past few days, I have been concentrating on the older movies. Holiday Inn…..

…..and White Christmas being two of my favorites. No one croons like Bing Crosby….

While A Christmas Story remains my favorite holiday movie, I will somewhat shamefully admit that I am just a tiny bit in love with the much more adult movie  Love, Actually.

I’ve also been listening to Christmas music, mostly while I’m driving or baking Christmas cookies…..

My Christmas playlist includes exactly no sad songs. I refuse to listen to sad Christmas music. Where Are You Christmas? (Faith Hill), Merry Christmas Darling (The Carpenters), Same Auld Lang Syne (Dan Fogelberg), and the saddest one of all, The Christmas Shoes (Newsong). Seriously, a Christmas song about buying shoes for your terminally ill mother who will die before day’s end? This is Christmas, aka The Most Wonderful Time of the Year), unless your mother is about to die.

Instead, my playlist includes songs like We Need a Little Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Every year I have a different favorite. This year it is Pentatonix’s version of Mary Did You Know?.

My feelings about Christmas are kind of summed up by something my grandson Micah told his mama the other day when they were singing Christmas carols. “It seems like Jesus is the main character,” said Micah…..

Out of the mouth of babes.

Sounds and Smells

The house in which I grew up was pretty small. We had a kitchen which had just enough room for a small table that fit the six of us. There was also a dining room, a living room, three bedrooms, and a small bathroom with a tub only, no shower. I never asked, but I would guess the house was no more than 1,200 or 1,300 square feet…..

With a small house like that, someone could practically swallow in one room and someone else could hear it in the next. Not many secrets among family members in a house that size.

When I was growing up, my mother worked at the bakery, and she worked a lot. I think when I was really small she stayed home with us, but as we grew older and started school, she spent much of her day  at the bakery. I remember that Bec got our breakfast ready for us on school mornings because Mom was already at work; smokey link sausages and toast. I love smokey link sausages to this day, but she never makes them for me anymore!…..

Bec was always helping Jen and I with something or other. Jen looks surprised, and I’m clutching my bride doll like she’s preparing to elope.

Anyhoo, it was mostly Sunday mornings that I remember waking up early and hearing the sounds of Mom in the kitchen making breakfast before church. I could hear the radio that sat on her kitchen counter playing in the background. K-F-A-B, in Omaha. That’s how the jingle went. I can hear it in my head to this day. Nat King Cole singing Mona Lisa or Andy Williams singing Moon River. I could hear the refrigerator opening and closing. The sounds of dishes clanking brought me to my feet and I crept down the short hall to the kitchen. As I approached the kitchen, I would hear  Mom’s cough, caused by years of smoking. In fact, it was this very cough that inspired my dad to announce to Mom one Sunday morning that they were going to quit smoking. They did, and never smoke another cigarette……

Our kitchen was very woody. My brother is washing something. Probably Matchbox cars.

Mom would still be in her housecoat and slippers, but breakfast was well on its way. The days of drip coffee were some kind of Jetson fantasy, but there was coffee perking on the stove. I wish kids nowadays could hear the sound of perking coffee and smell its amazing fragrance. It wasn’t quite like the Folger’s commercial (remember that commercial Baby Boomers?) but it certainly had a distinctive sound.

I’ve often asked myself which of my five senses — sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch — I would give up if required to do so. I’m thankful that I’ve never actually had to choose, because God bless all of the people who live productive lives without the use of one or more of these senses. Hearing is perhaps the one I would choose if my feet were held to the fire. But I also believe that sounds can produce a memory quicker than else. For example, a familiar song can immediately take me back to a memorable place and time. But smells can also invoke a feeling of joy. I can scarcely smell bacon frying without thinking about Mom’s breakfasts.

The house in which Bill and I live is hardly a mansion. It does, however, have two levels, thereby decreasing the chances that anyone sleeping upstairs will be woken up by the smell of bacon frying. But I always hope that Court has some of those same kinds of memories as do I. Memories brought about through sight or sound or smells. Memories of being a kid and feeling safe.

Precious Times

My plans for yesterday consisted of going to church, watching the Broncos game, and waiting for the numerous ding-dongs that would indicate the delivery of one of the many Christmas gifts I’ve ordered from Amazon that were scheduled to arrive that day. The various Next Door posts indicating that packages have been looted from front porches in our neighborhood scared the daylight out of me. So Bill and I even ended up going to separate Mass services so that one of us was home at all times.

Those were my plans; you know what happens when we plan….God laughs.

I was making a quick run to Macy’s (leaving Bill to answer the door) when my phone indicated the arrival of a text. I noticed it was from my 15-year-old granddaughter Addie. I waited until I was at a red light to read the text:

Hey! Alastair and I were hoping to go to lunch with you and then go Christmas shopping. Are you free?

It took me the next 10 minutes or so to digest the fact that Addie and her 13-year-old nemesis brother were actually willing to do something constructive together. And given the cheerfulness of the text (notice the exclamation point following the “hey”), it appeared both parties bought into the idea and were fine with it.

I told them I would be happy to take them to lunch and shopping, and would pick them up very soon. Upon my arrival, their mother answered the door. “It’s so nice of you to do this for them,” she said. “They are the best of buds today. It’s making me a bit nervous.”

I was prepared to give them my If-You-Guys-Start-To-Bicker-I’m-Taking-You-Back-Home-Immediately speech, but as soon as I saw them, I could tell there would be no bickering today. Yes, my friends. It was a Christmas miracle.

I was a bit nervous when we stepped outside and Alastair called out, “I’ve got shotgun.” Dibbsing the shotgun seat is always grounds for a really good sibling argument. Much to my surprise, however, Addie came up with a fine solution.

“I’ll drive!” she said. “Nana will be my adult supervisor.”


So, we all got into her 1999 Subaru that she bought with her own money from her aunt in preparation for her 16th birthday in March, me riding shotgun and Alastair in the back seat. We buckled up, and I said a quick and silent prayer to St. Jude (patron saint of impossible situations) for safety. And off we went.

Our first destination was the neighborhood Target. We have a nasty bit of road construction at the end of the street heading to Target that’s been going on now for — oh — 12 or 15 years, or so it feels. We have learned to approach Target from a different and less convenient direction. Addie took off in the appropriate direction, and I was pleased to see that she was cognizant of traffic situations. Until she turned on the left blinker instead of the right blinker.

“You need to turn right here, Addie,” said the 13-year-old boy in the backseat. I agreed fervently.

“My sense of direction is HORRIBLE, “Addie admitted. “I don’t know how to get anyplace.”

I silently thought to myself that perhaps a telephone mount for her car so that she can easily see Google Maps would be a great Christmas gift.

I followed the two of them around Target as they discussed their ideas for gifts for their parents, their siblings, their cousins, and their grandparents. I must admit it was so much fun to watch how they reached their conclusions. Mostly it was Addie telling Alastair what they would buy and Alastair making a joke about it. But they were still getting along, and continued to get along for the rest of the time we were together.

In addition to Target, our stops included Party City, the dollar store, and Michaels. The highlight was our sushi lunch…..

I’m here to tell you that yesterday was a special day. I don’t know how much longer either one of those teenagers will want to spend time with Nana. My best guess is I will be harder pressed to see much of Addie once she turns 16. For one thing, she may get hopelessly lost and NONE of us will see her again.

So, I relished the day, and my lips are sealed when it comes to the secrets I learned. Seriously. S-E-A-L-E-D.

Saturday Smile: House Beautiful

I know it seems like a small thing, and I also know that you’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but what made me smile this week was saying goodbye to our carpet installers. They were the last of the workman, leaving Bill and I to simply enjoy our beautiful house in peace and quiet…..

Our bedroom

My office

In that obsessive way that people have when they are enjoying something new, I have run our Roomba — aka Rosie — a number of times upstairs. I am determined to keep this carpeting clean. While she has carefully cleaned most of the carpets upstairs, she seems determined to not clean the carpeting in our bedroom. The other day I literally locked her into our bedroom, closing the door so that she had no options, or so I thought. When I went up an hour or so later, I discovered that she had gone into our bathroom, shut the door, and spent the hour cleaning our bathroom which is about 6 ft. by 6 ft.

Anyhoo, the fact that our remodel is behind us made me smile.

Have a good weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Clock Dance

Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors. Her books — most of which take place in, or have some connection to, the author’s home town of Baltimore — always contain clever and realistic characters who manage to find some degree of contentment at the end of the day despite obstacles they face.

Having said this, her past few novels have been a bit of a disappointment, at least as compared to such classics as Dinner at the Homestead Restaurant or The Accidental Tourist. But her latest novel Clock Dance was a winner in this reader’s opinion, and left me with a degree of satisfaction that I haven’t come across in a novel since Fredrik Bachman’s Britt-Marie Was Here. Both novels present a female lead character who has spent most of her life doing what others think she should do. Until they don’t.

Young Willa Drake lives with her mother and father and a younger sister. Her mother is mentally ill, probably bipolar. When Willa is about 12 years old, her mother suddenly disappears, leaving Willa, her sister, and her kind, but rather namby pamby, father to cope.

Fast forward to her college years, where she meets, and finally agrees to marry, another student who loves her, but is pretty sure he knows what’s best for her. And having never learned to stand up for herself, she agrees. They are happy together, and have two sons. And then one night, a road rage incident results in Willa suddenly being widowed.

Fast forward once again, and Willa has remarried. Unfortunately, her sons are far away and they have grown apart. One day Willa receives a phone call and her life changes forever. She agrees to travel to Baltimore from her desert home, and becomes the caregiver to — now stay with me — her son’s ex-girlfriend’s little girl — when said ex-girlfriend is in the hospital with a broken leg. It’s only supposed to be for a short time.

But Willa’s life changes forever.

Full of the quirky characters that fans of the author have grown to love, Clock Dance is the kind of novel in which the reader — particularly if the reader is a woman — wants to shout HOO-RAY at the end of the book.

I loved this book. Welcome back to my bookshelf, Anne Tyler.

Thursday Thoughts

The Bee’s Knees
We couldn’t be happier with our new carpeting, and are both relieved that the remodel is finally over. The day after the installation, I eagerly began putting my office back into order, determined to really clean out my desk and files. In the course of going through my things, I came across this photo…..

I had seen the photo before, but had forgotten about it. The girl on the left is my mom when she was about 15 or 16 years old. That’s kind of a guess based on Bill taking a gander at the car in the background and guessing what year the car was built. I believe that the other girl was one of my mom’s cousins, though I know her not. The photo makes me happy. I love how she’s holding the light pole in downtown Cedar Rapids, Nebraska. Rest assured that Cedar Rapids doesn’t look that much different today.

Before Clowns Were Scary
Speaking of photos, while Bill and I were most recently in AZ, we went to a pizza joint which purported itself to be genuinely All Things Chicago. We were fairly unimpressed with the pizza, but quite impressed with the Chicago paraphernalia hanging on the wall. One of the photographs was of Bozo the Clown, who was the main character in a WGN television program called The Bozo Show……

As a side note, Bill’s sister Kathy was one of the lucky recipients of a bicycle awarded by Bozo the Clown. The catch was that the bike needed to be claimed that day. Bill’s mom was tied up for the evening and his father was watching the kids. He had to gather them up and haul them to downtown Chicago from their house on the South Side to claim the bike. As for Bozo, judging from his photo, I believe he might be blamed for the fear some kids have of clowns. He looks positively terrifying to me.

New and Improved
The carpet installers managed to get the project completed within the promised eight hours. Quite frankly, it was probably the noisiest of all of the jobs we had done to our house. I have never heard so much thumping in my life. Our downstairs light fixtures literally shook. One of the men told Bill our carpeting was so old that type of carpeting is no longer manufactured in the same way. Surprisingly, no one came running up to nab some of the carpeting that was being tossed…..

It’s About Time
The carpeting installation put me behind on some household chores, most specifically laundry. Sure, I could have done it the next day, but I was so busy putting my office back together. But yesterday morning, when I looked in my laundry basket, I noticed Bill was down to using his travel underwear. You know, the underwear made of nylon that dries quickly when you hang it on the line in your hotel room. That’s always the sign: RED ALERT. TIME TO DO LAUNDRY.


It’s the Little Things

Some thirty years ago, when Bill was newly divorced, his three kids would spend every other weekend with him. In addition, however, they would go out to eat every Thursday night. He could have cooked for them at home, but Bill McLain doesn’t cook. He assured me of that when we were first married. “I will take you out for dinner any time you want, but I can’t — and won’t — cook,” he told me firmly. So, he and his kids would dine out each Thursday.

I wasn’t included until a few years later, but from the stories I heard, they ate at the same place every week: Chili’s. There was one near the kids’s house attached to a now nonexistent shopping mall. After dinner, the four McLains would walk through the mall and window shop, all the while imagining what they would buy if they had the money. Rolex watches and diamond jewelry were among the most popular items.

Bill tells an unusual story about one of their dinners at Chili’s. Apparently about halfway through their meal, a man at a nearby table had a heart attack. (Don’t blame the Old Fashioned Burger with Cheese and french fries that he was eating. It could have been genetic.) At any rate, according to McLain lore, the servers didn’t miss a beat. They just passed the food across the man now lying on the floor, narrowly missing the paramedics who had been called and were performing life-saving maneuvers.

Now here’s the thing: as the old joke goes, How do you tell when a McLain is pulling your leg? His or her lips are moving. Keeping that in mind, all four of them insist that the man died right there on the floor of Chili’s. They also insist that it didn’t deter them from eating at Chili’s the next Thursday and many Thursdays after that; however, they claim that they always asked to not be seated at the Table of Death.

Bill tells me that whenever they would dine at Chili’s, he would nearly always get the same thing: the chili soft tacos. He loved them, and for good reason. They were delicious. They weren’t anything particularly special, simply Chili’s chili in a soft flour tortilla, with lettuce, cheese and tomato. When I started coming to these meals, they were what I almost always got as well.

And then they stopped serving them. Yep, just took them right off the menu. They started adding things like grilled salmon and Chicken tortilla soup. For a while, you could get them if you asked nicely. And then that option ended, because they simply stopped making the chili. It was a sad day.

Yesterday, Bill came home from a meeting and he was starving. A burger is what he wanted, and the Old Fashion Burger with Cheese sounded good. Let’s go to Chili’s, he said, and so we did.

I opened up the menu to the lunch deals, and what should I see? Glory be to all that is good! Chili’s soft tacos 1975. Seriously, that’s what they call them. And they not only are offering them again, but they taste exactly the same. Hallelujah!…..


And they come with a salad and a side of chips and salsa. Eight bucks for lunch. They have them for dinner as well, and you get three and pay more. Still, Bill and I couldn’t have been more excited.

It’s the little things, my friends. And best of all, no one died at the next table.