The Ghost of Christmas Past

christmas_110006500-012814-intI suppose it’s not fair that I blame my mother for ruining that Christmas.  I must have been eight or nine, old enough not to “believe” anymore, old enough to understand that whatever my mother bought would be hidden somewhere in the house. I was just being a normal kid, curious, with hope in my heart.

But if my mother had been a normal mom, she would have hidden that doll better.  In fairness, it couldn’t have been easy to hide a three-foot baby doll, with the size and proportions of a real child so it could be dressed in toddler clothes.

But really, Mom, in the bathroom cupboard barely covered by the stiff, gray bath towels?  I was sorry right away that I had found it, and I learned what happens to delight when surprise is erased.  About the dread of faking surprise on Christmas Eve  when we opened our gifts.

Maybe that Christmas was also the one when my mother used needles as fine as toothpicks to knit Barbie Doll clothes.  It is only now, remembering those clothes, that it occurs to me that my mother must have waited until I went to bed to knit them so they would be a surprise, buta2162a27c67eb106d2a75a4825ec96ce I remember that I was surprised, and disappointed, that I didn’t get the slutty black strapless sequin dress I saw at Woolworths, the one that came with the microphone.

But, oh, the anticipation of opening those presents on Christmas Eve afternoon when Dad finally got home from his foundry’s Christmas party.  No matter what was in those packages, it was more than what I had.   We weren’t poor, but middle class kids just didn’t have much.

My mother often made me something. The Christmas I was sixteen, Mom  made me a grey fur-trimmed maxi-coat that had a Dr. Zhivago hood going on, and it closed with metal frogs.  It never fit exactly right, because of course Mom had to sew it when I wasn’t around, but I loved it and felt very sexy and sophisticated when I wore it to Rick’s uncle’s Christmas dinner.

After I opened my gifts with my parents and brother, we headed to my grandparents’ two doors down.  First we had our mock turtle soup dinner, and once all of the dishes were washed and the tables were set for Christmas breakfast – this took forever, it seemed – the door to the family room was opened to reveal the bounty of a very generous Santa.  You had christmas-gift-vector-decorative-template-with-bows-gift-boxes-pine-branche_mjfgr1v__lto sidle in to find a seat; the entire center of the room was mounded with packages.

Most gifts you received in those days were surprises, but not too surprising.  You might ask for a sweater, but you never know what color or pattern you’d get.  Or earrings, but you didn’t know if they’d be silver or gold, studs or dangles.

Back then, you rarely returned gifts, unless they were damaged or the wrong size.  You loved the gift because you loved the giver, and you always made an effort to use the gifts in their presence.

My crazy–in-mostly-a-good-way aunt really didn’t care about your wish lists.  She bought what fancied her, like the year she bought all the adult children gingham nightshirts.  My dad and his siblings and their spouses with the ankle-length nightshirts on.  Wish I could find that picture.

My grandmother had an algorithm for determining her budget for each gift—a certain amount for children and their spouses, another for her grandchildren, and the smallest amount for her great-grandchildren. She would always buy a gift from your wish list, but  if the gift did not cost the budgeted amount, you might find a pair of stockings or knee socks or two dollar bills in the box to make up the difference.

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We Don’t Talk Anymore


So, we’re on a road trip.  We’ve spent five days in the car together.  Fortunately, we have a Bill Bryson audiobook, and there are plenty of weather changes and road construction to lubricate our conversation.

We (that would be I) decide to stop for a nice dinner at Smoke and Porter, a restaurant that’s a half-step above Applebee’s.  After I criticize where he chooses to park, we unfold ourselves and get out of the car and perform our synchronized choreography of stretching frozen joints.

He looks at me and says, “Uh, are we going to …”

“Talk?” I shake my head and wave my paperback novel at him.

Talk?  Whatever could we talk about.  We’ve been together for 47 years.  There is not one damn thing left unsaid.  If it hadn’t been that monsoon that swelled up over the highway that afternoon, we probably wouldn’t have said a thing to each other all day.

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Don’t Be a Turkey:  No Politics at Thanksgiving


Maybe we should just skip Thanksgiving this year.  Given the political climate, is it prudent to gather a diverse group of people around a dining table where a carving knife plays such a prominent role?

And there are so many soft, creamy foods—pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce—that would be perfect vehicles for arsenic.

Corn bread and biscuits can be repurposed as projectiles.

Even the Thanksgiving lingo is fraught with ambiguity.  “Turkey” is poultry to be consumed or an insult to be dished out.  Take “stuffing,” which can be a toothsome, fat-laden side dish or it can be mean an aggressive way of filling a relative’s mouth with a sock.

And the before-meal grace?  What a landmine!

Dear God, we are so grateful that you have delivered to us a man who will make our floundering nation great again!


Heavenly Father, We thank you for this bounty and humbly ask for your guidance in removing the dark stain of Satan from the Oval Office.

Don’t want to foul/fowl up Thanksgiving? Ban politics.funny-turkey-in-hat-vector_myq7xm_l

There are always the usual social lubricants we can fall back on:

  • The weather, how it’s hotter or colder this year than last or the blizzard back in ought two.
  • The tip you learned on FB about how to change your life with Ziploc baggies.
  • The speed trap in Elmwood Place.
  • The merits of white vs. dark meat.
  • The year Junior ate three pieces of pie and threw up in the dog dish.
  • And howsabout those Bengals?

Here are some ideas for spicing up, without burning down, the Thanksgiving table:

  • Pass around baskets of random snapshots from the past and remember the good old days. Laugh about the 70s bell bottoms, the 80s hairstyles. Linger over those of Grandma and the old farm house.
  • Tell the youngsters the stupid things you’ve done. Like the time you spent $14 trying to win a teddy bear at the fair.  Kids love to hear how the old folks messed up, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn from our mistakes.
  • Tell stories about loved ones who are no longer at the table. How Great Grandma Seilkop made butter and sugar sandwiches for hobos during the Depression.  How Grandpa Gil financially supported the Cherokee Nation.  How Uncle Lou fought in the Battle of the Bulge.happy-turkey-holding-a-usa-flag_qkdnqz_l

Look people.  You would probably give a kidney to anyone at your Thanksgiving table without a second thought.  You played together when you were kids and sat on your aunties’ laps without any discussion of politics.  This is not the time to lean into difference.

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton lead our families.  We are in charge of our own families.  We look to our elders to remind us of our values and priorities; we look to our children for hope; we look to our hosts for their generosity and hospitality.  We are all Americans, lucky us, and there is no room for hate at our table.

Strong families help make America great.  Strong families and pie.  Lots of pie.



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Norwegian Dinner:  It Begins With a Saw

Ten Things I’ve Learned as a 64-Year Survivor of Christmas


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My Fitbit Impressed My Friends, Cleaned My House, and Saved My Marriage


My daughter knows my aversion to movement.  Really, I am a pet rock.  Except for brief runs (well, walks, to be honest) to the fridge and john, I could be a wax figure in Madame Tussaud’s Museum.

So it came as some surprise when I received a Fitbit from my daughter who felt compelled, all the way from Oslo, Norway, to send this fancy pants pedometer for her manatee-of-a-mother.

When I got online to set up my Fitbit (“It takes literally three minutes,” my daughter lied) I saw that mine was one of the basic models that costs $150.  I can’t believe my daughter spent $150 on a gift so totally wrong for me.  At least she didn’t buy one of the more deluxe models which checks your heart rate and makes iced tea.IMG_2918

Mine is in a serviceable black vinyl band. It tells the time and the date.   It works like a pedometer, measuring steps, but oh so much more.  In addition to counting steps, it determines how many miles I’ve walked and calories I’ve burned and stairs I’ve climbed–all totally useless features for me–but my Fitbit will also measure and assess the quality of my sleep.  Now those are stats I can get into.

Because my daughter spent so much money on this thingie, I felt obligated to strap it on (like I do my feedbag).  She told me it would change my life, which it has in so many ways.

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To My Chums on National Girlfriends Day


From the Celebrate Each Day website

It is National Girlfriends Day!  I can’t let the day pass without honoring the precious gift of gal pals.

A recent study by Stanford University revealed that the secret to a long life for a man is to be married; for a woman, the secret is to have good friends. Girlfriend time activates serotonin and is as important to our well-being as exercise.  Read that again: as important as exercise! Ha!

Like we needed an erudite Ivy Leaguer to tell us that!  If you’ve seen Menopause, the Musical (and if you haven’t, you must), you’ll remember that the final scene was a celebration of girlfriends.  If I could dance and sing, I would perform a tribute to my friends.  I can only write, so this is my ode to gal pals.

Men, if they’re unusual and very, very lucky (and quite possibly gay) have one or more good friends.  By friends, I don’t mean people with whom they just drink, watch sports, or share an office or power tools.  Not just someone a guy can call to ask advice beer kegs or discount plane tickets or plumbing. A “good friend” is someone a guy can call about his prostate problems (that’s not what I meant about “plumbing”), his obnoxious boss, his significant other, or feeling blue.

My husband has dozens of guy acquaintances, but only one man who seems anything like what I consider a “good friend.”  Rick and his friend George (not his real name) watch sports, play online Scrabble, and dance around their political and religious differences, but I don’t think George has ever confided in Rick about missing his daughter in Europe, nor do I think Rick has ever confided in George about his beautiful, young wife.

I am giddy with gratitude for all I have in my life:  my health, my marriage, my children, and most definitely, my friends.  I have at least three dozen women (and a couple men) with whom I could discuss personal, physical, or professional dilemmas.  I could discuss my checking account, my insecurities, my dreams, and my disappointments with all of them, as well as my thick thighs, facial hair, and vaginal dryness with a couple dozen.

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When Hair Care is a Family Affair

Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.  ~Author Unknown

114-Gpa 80th 061

It’s hard to understand why none of us—not my brother, dad, or I—can remember her name.  She was part of our family for probably a decade.  She was quite visible in our home, and she went everywhere with my mom three days a week.

And yet we cannot remember the name my mother gave her wig.

I think it was expensive, this human hair wig that was dyed the same red as my mother’s was.  Mom’s hairdresser styled it to look exactly like Mom’s hair looked on Friday afternoon after she had had her wash and set:  a helmet of hair, with a smooth crust overlaying a nest of ratted tresses.  A comma of curl on each side instead of bangs.  Like a red-headed Lady Bird Johnson.

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Sandy Lingo

Life itself is the proper binge.  - Julia Child

A writing friend said that when she reads my writing, she always wants a second helping.



Second Helping Subjects