Seventh Heaven

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Dad with #1-3.

My sister Janet hosted Christmas dinner for 31 guests. She does it every year, and I’m in awe. All we had to do was show up with Hasselback potatoes and festive socks.

On the way out of our house, I grabbed a bottle of red wine and two bottles of champagne. The Curmudgeon’s Irish clan used to begin drinking champagne at 9 o’clock Christmas morning. By noon, we were all a bit tipsy and in need of naps.

I thought he’d appreciate me bringing two bottles to Christmas dinner in honor of his parents, who died several years ago. His Dad used to have a case of champagne on hand.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “One bottle of champagne is enough.”

Um, maybe if we were using thimbles. We argued for a minute, and then I loaded the bottles into the car. When we arrived, my brother-in-law David volunteered to bring them in.

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My sister Janet with my brother-in-law David.

“Oh no you don’t,” I said, sounding a little like George Constanza when he bought Elaine the big salad. “I mean, it was my idea, and if you bring them in, people will assume you brought them. I’ve got this.”

Several people offered to uncork it, but I held my ground and asked for a kitchen towel. I don’t open champagne often – maybe once or twice a year – and I enjoy it. But mostly I wanted control over the champagne, which could disappear quickly in this crowd. I succeeded until I turned my head in conversation. Someone slipped in, grabbing whatever remained in the second bottle.

Watching food (and drink) like a hawk is my specialty. When my sister-in-law bought a few pounds of swordfish for 12 people to give us a taste last summer, I commandeered the platter. Everything else was served buffet-style except the fish, which I parceled out in 12 even pieces. When someone tried to steal a piece before dinner, I told him he could, but that was his portion. He backed off.

When there are seven kids, someone’s got to be the food general and I assumed the role. My mom served dinner family-style, beginning with my father at the head and proceeding counter clockwise around the table. I was always the second to the last kid to get the food. And though we never ran out, my table positioning made it impossible to get the best piece of chicken, roast beef or fish.

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An then there were 7. Our clan with my three cousins in 1968 on Cape Cod. My cousins are at extreme left and right in photo.

One of my friends suggested I blog about growing up in a house with seven girls between ages 11 and 1. What stands out most is my preoccupation with food, specifically making sure I got my fair share. I’m still a little like this, taking umbrage when someone takes a double-portion of potatoes or a pile of meat before everyone is served.

Growing up in a large family teaches a measure of consideration for others being fed. I was reminded of this when I observed birds on my suet feeder the other day. Each bird takes his turn on the suet block while other birds watch and wait patiently on nearby branches. As far as I can tell, there are no winged hogs, with the possible exception of a large red-headed woodpecker.

Since my friend asked, here are a few remembrances from growing up as #2 of seven:

  • Watching the platter of veal cutlets as it rounded the table, silently cursing when someone took the piece you wanted.
  • Hiding your heart-shaped Valentine candy box in your bedroom closet, being horrified to discover mouse teeth marks in your favorite chocolates.
  • Stealing away with the leftover Chinese fried shrimp from your parents’ night out, then eating so much you’re sick to your stomach. (Not me.)
  • Never having the house to yourself.
  • Learning the art of a good fight involving hair pulling, scratching, screaming, slamming doors and occasional headlock between thighs.
  • Referring to #4-7 as “the babies” even when they were in their teens.
  • Referring to siblings by number.
  • Having your clothes and shoes stolen before you even wore them.
  • Having your grandmother refer to the youngest as “Little Marianne” into adulthood.
  • Getting the same sweater in seven different colors from your aunt at Christmas.

I envied my friends with one sibling, preferring to hang out at their calm, quiet and orderly homes. My friend Lizzie had Pinwheel cookies – graham crackers topped with marshmallow and chocolate – because she didn’t share her house with a pack of  “wild Armenians.” I asked my mom if we could get them, and she shook her head: “Those would be gone in about a minute.”

My friends liked to come over my house. I think one of my friend’s mothers encouraged her, figuring my mom wouldn’t notice another kid. I don’t think she did. Mom didn’t mind chaos, screaming or inability to find a quiet corner. One of two children, she wanted 10 kids, stopping at seven when her body wouldn’t cooperate.

Growing up, I thought every mom’s pants had an elastic panel to accommodate a growing belly. I’d circle the block on my bike every 18 months or so, waiting for my parents to bring home the new baby. By 10, I could balance a kid on my hip and change diapers – the cloth kind with diaper pins and rubber pants.

Being the second of seven kids meant going places with your father because your mom was busy with the babies. My parents divided and conquered, with Dad handling the oldest three. He took us to Sunday Mass, followed by breakfast at a place with a treasure chest full of of prizes. He hated being alone – except when he wanted to be – and often carted us along to the golf course or an occasional movie.

Looking back on it, I give my parents a lot of credit for traveling in a pack. It’s not easy going places with kids, especially when you’re so outnumbered. Here are some other recollections as #2 of 7:

  •  Filing into restaurants behind your parents like ducklings and having patrons ask, “Are all of those yours?”
  • Volunteering to drive on road trips to South Carolina when you’re 16 because you’re assured elbow room and control of the car radio.
  •  McDonald’s duty on Thursday nights, waiting for that hamburger without pickles and onions for your picky little sister.
  • A mom who is more relieved than worried when you get your driver’s license because you can shepherd the flock.
  • Throwing names into a hat and picking them every Saturday morning to assign chores.
  • Cleaning the pots every night and cursing your mother for using every one in the house.
  • Having people constantly say that your father must have been gunning for a boy, and must be disappointed that he never got one.

I think my Dad wanted a son, but he never said so. I have no idea how he handled the comments, but he never gave us the impression we were second rate. It was other people’s comments that made me feel that we had somehow failed him being girls.

“I feel sorry for your father,” people said when I’d say I was one of seven girls. I often wondered if they would say the same thing to a father of seven sons.

My mom laughed when I asked her about it the other night. She said their friends began betting they’d have a boy after my sister Diane (#3) was born.

“We won so many bets when I had another girl,” Mom said. “Our friends figured the odds were in their favor, so they’d bet us a dinner that we’d have a boy. For my last pregnancy, Uncle Jim was so convinced I was having a boy that he bet us a weekend at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. We had the best time that weekend.”

“Your father loved his girls,” she added. “But he had to deal with a lot of stupid comments from people.”

I’m often grateful that a boy never came along because he would have been spoiled, insufferable and usurped me as my Dad’s golfing  buddy.  As it is, the youngest in large families are often far more coddled than the older kids, although I do know of exceptions. And perhaps I’m generalizing like #2s tend to do. I’ve found most #2s are quite opinionated and outspoken.

 

 

Rising Temperatures

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The kind of thermometer that doesn’t need to be shaken, but does need to be turned on to work properly.

The Curmudgeon has a fever.

I know because he’s taken his temperature 10 times over the past 12 hours. When I asked why, he said, “I want an objective reading of how I’m doing.”

I knew something was up when he awakened yesterday with a stiff neck. I suggested that he swim at the YMCA. “I don’t want to share a lane with five people,” he said

He has never gone to the Y since we got our family membership two years ago. One of the reasons I joined was so he could swim. He swam in college, and was a lifeguard. He’s saved a few people from drowning, including a woman caught in a riptide off Martha’s Vineyard.

I thought he’d love to get back in the pool, but I was wrong. He’d rather run and complain that his feet and Achille’s tendons are killing him.

He went to work and had a kick in his step when he came home. He went down to the basement to work out, and then came up and ate dinner. While eating, he complained of being chilled. When I suggested that he wear a new cozy fleece jacket I bought him for Christmas, he refused. “I don’t want to get it dirty,” he explained.

“It is so weird because usually when you’re sick, you don’t have an appetite,” he mused this morning. “But I ate like a pig and then the fever took over. I was chilled and couldn’t move.”

It’s true. He climbed into bed around 9. He asked me to find one of six digital thermometers kicking around our house. I brought him one, and the initial reading was 100.5 degrees. Well, he thinks it was  a 5. The Curmudgeon said it might have been an 8. “I couldn’t really see because my eyes are so shot,” he said.

He fell asleep, awakening only to demand a large glass of Sprite with ice (?) and to take his temperature. He went a little ballistic when my daughter brought him a glass of Diet Pepsi instead.

“I asked for Sprite!” he said. “I don’t ask a lot, and when I ask for Sprite, I want Sprite. With a lot of ice!”

The temperature taking was not all smooth sailing. At one point, he woke up, grabbed the digital thermometer and began shaking it like an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. An hour later, he put it in his mouth without turning it on. When his temperature hit 101, he mused, “That’s a lot when your baseline is 96 degrees.”

To be fair, I’m a little (extremely) obsessive when I have a fever too. I check it often because I want to confirm there’s a reason for feeling so crappy. Other people, including my sister Janet, don’t even own a thermometer. I don’t know how they manage though.

A fever is a sure sign of being sick. When you complain that you were sick in bed, everyone asks, “Did you have a fever? What was your temperature?” No one believes you were truly sick without a fever.

A fever determines whether your child goes to school. When my kids were little, a temperature was the litmus test for staying home. If there was no fever, I’d sort of taunt my son: “You, my friend, are going to school.”

Fevers also determine whether you climb into bed and feel sorry for yourself or stick to your routine. Anyone who has ever been laid up with a fever knows how enervating they are. When you finally get out of bed to join the human race, everyone seems to be moving very quickly.

“Do people always drive or walk this fast?” you think. You wonder if that slight spacey feeling or desire to nap under your desk will ever go away. You wonder how you ever managed to work eight hours without feeling so drained.

The Curmudgeon’s malady is probably a virus. He’s been complaining that his kidneys hurt (?), his neck is stiff and he has terrible chills. He awakened this morning and the fever broke: 96 degrees. But he cautioned that it’s rising. When he took it 20 minutes later, it was 96.6.

Will it hold at 98.6? Only time – and his trusty thermometer – will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Countdown

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The inspiration for the G Sandwich – my mom Gerry.

I’ve started about a half-dozen year-end wrap-ups, and I hate them all.

It’s hard to write when you don’t feel it, so I’m giving it one last shot. I hope this is ultimately published, but I don’t know. It may linger in the draft bin forever.

I’m not crazy about wrap-ups because you’re dredging up old news. 2017 is almost over, we know what happened, so why rehash it? One of the things that drives me nuts is doing the same thing twice. I used to go ballistic when a story – generally a very long one – would disappear just as I was finishing it.

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Family first.

After screaming for the computer tech Todd at the top of my lungs and hearing that the story was gone forever, I’d try to write it from memory. But make no mistake, I was angry, frustrated and cursing the whole time. For me, doing things twice is the ultimate waste of time.

Trying to write a year-end wrap-up seven times is frustrating and dispiriting.  I’m not sure what I’m trying to say. Like shopping, I always say I’ll know when I see it. But it’s harder when you’re writing something. There’s a thin line between what I’ll post and what I won’t. And don’t ask me what it is because I don’t know.

I have no idea what will make the blog. I’ve posted 69  times since I began last May, and have 78 drafts that never saw the light of day. My sister-in-law Ann praised my ability to self edit, but it’s more than that. I can’t publish something if I’m not happy with it.

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A last-minute lobster feast is easier to put together than you think.

Some people criticize me for being too competitive, but I can’t help it. I’m the second of seven girls. If you wanted to be noticed in a brood that large, you had to find a way. I was outspoken, extremely competitive in sports and something of a rabble rouser. My mom often called me “TM” for trouble maker. (Guilty as charged.)

This translated well to reporting, where you strive to beat your competitors every day. But make no mistake, the competition ended when the papers went to bed. I’m still friendly with some of my reporting rivals, who are the nicest and most decent people I’ve ever met.

I didn’t realize writing’s importance in my life until I began this blog last May. My brain likes to write every day, helping me process and share thoughts and experiences with others. I know some (many) people don’t care what I have to say, and that’s fine. But I’m writing for that one person who does.

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My (Budding) Curmudgeon on our anniversary.

A lot of bloggers say they don’t watch numbers, but I think we all do, some more than others. We want to be liked, and we especially want our work to be noticed. Most of us don’t receive any compensation for our blogs, so our only reward is reader affirmation.

WordPress cares about numbers. It sends you celebratory notices when you hit certain marks – 50, 100, 500, 1,000 followers. I know because other bloggers have shared their success, and I’m very happy (envious) for them. It’s a major feat to have so many people who aren’t relatives following your blog.

I take it one day at a time, writing when the spirit moves me. I write in the morning, often reclined with my laptop on my quads. It is great for writing, not so great for your bod. Let’s just say I have my work cut out for me in 2018.

It’s frustrating to spend hours or days on a piece you love and have it get 2 likes, while someone posts a pithy one-liner and gets 50 likes. It reminds me of a girl in high school whose work was published in our literary magazine. Her entry: “Uninspired” on a blank page.

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I don’t have any idea what this look is about.

There’s an immediate rush and relief when you post. You sit back and wait for feedback, and when it doesn’t come, you check to see if you’ve refreshed your screen lately. Yes, one like. Well, at least it resonated with one woman. You check again a few hours later. You’re still at one like. You mean the world doesn’t revolve around you and your posts?

Nearly everything is potential blog fodder – tailgaters, drivers who blind you with high beams, loud eaters, the sad appearance of the Old Saybrook, CT., state Department of Motor Vehicles, lousy parents and marital strife. I’ve never started a post thinking it’s going to stink. But if it doesn’t get posted within five minutes of my final edit, it’s not going up.

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My blog is an outgrowth of months of trying to find a creative outlet for my writing. I wracked my brain, discussed options with friends and did three months of morning pages as prescribed by Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.” One morning, I awakened and announced: “I’m writing a blog and this is what it’s called.” I’m still not sure what that was all about.

I’ve written about some incredible people who have taught me the meaning of charity, patience and living one day at a time. Self-pity is hard to find when you meet a guy who waited for a heart transplant for 7 years, and raises barns in honor of his unknown donor. Volunteerism takes on a new meaning when you meet a supermarket produce manager who spends his lunch hours and days off collecting and distributing surplus produce to food banks.

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Why blog when you’re not getting paid for it? Besides bringing attention to some amazing people, it’s incredibly rewarding having people read your posts and relate to them. After my post on National Adoption Day in November, a friend told me she was adopted, but never sought her birth parents for fear of hurting her mother. That’s tender stuff that I’d never know without the blog, and I’m glad she felt comfortable enough to share it with me.

My pieces on adoption are closest to my heart. This year was a biggie in the adoption department because we reconnected with one of my children’s birth parents and half-siblings. I wrote several pieces that never made it to the blog, but helped me deal with the mix of emotions I felt – loss, joy, love, threatened, annoyed, grateful. The experience made me feel a little like a Gumby – still whole, but stretched to the limit.

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The blog has also reconnected me with some of my oldest friends and people from my hometown, who know what I’m talking about when I mention the junior high or “the neighborhood.” It’s also prompted letters from my cousins and scribbles in Christmas cards from relatives (shout out to Carol BB).

Mostly though, the blog has brought my family closer. One of my sisters began her own blog a few months ago (she won’t let me share the title until she has a few most posts, but it’s great), and my mother joined WordPress at 84. I told her she should write a blog about raising seven girls, but so far she’s been silent.

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I’ve posted a series of photos because they tell a little about the past year. Most are of my family and extended family. I saw a lot of them over the past year, and am grateful that I live close enough to see them often. I’ve also included a photo of my buddy Sweet  Johnny B, who has encouraged my writing and pathetic golf game over the past year. He is undoubtedly the luckiest person to ever play golf. I won’t even begin to list the ways he skirts trouble out there. At his urging, I got a new set of irons for Christmas, and hope to finally wipe that grin off his face this year.

Playing With Sand

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You can barely see the heart in the dried lavender at Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT. Store employees shape it every day so they can see when people play.

I went Christmas shopping with my son.

It doesn’t seem like much, but he’s 20. The last thing a guy this age wants to do is hang out with his mother. I told him he was going and he didn’t argue – my own little Christmas miracle.

I wanted to spend some time with him, and a shopping excursion to Lavender Pond Farm about 15 minutes away fit the bill. I front load my time with him because extended college breaks have a way of getting away from us. I’ve never had him return to college and not lamented that I barely saw him.

When he was younger, we were best buds. But things changed when he turned 13 and rebelled. People say it’s normal, but it stung. Everything I did annoyed him, from my high-pitched dog speak to hugging The Curmudgeon. He went from delightful to surly overnight.

When he was little, I called him “Buddy.” He was my sidekick, even going to some interviews when I was freelancing. He was that kind of kid – give him a pack of crayons and a coloring book, or a box of dinosaurs, and he’d entertain himself. Other moms found it annoying that he traveled so well.

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Meandering the shop.

He was better behaved outside the house  – a trait that continues today. I once tried to phone interview a prominent Yale neurosurgeon researching Parkinson’s disease. My son, then 2, badgered me to draw a shark. When I finally relented and angrily drew one in black magic marker, he said, “Now draw another one.”

That marked the end of my (unprofessional) attempt at multi-tasking. I realized I couldn’t be a mom and freelancer at the same time. I started getting up at 5 a.m. to write and doing interviews while he was at preschool. That worked until my daughter joined the fray. You can juggle a lot of things with one child, not two. I raised the white flag when she was about 3, putting my writing on the shelf.

I don’t regret the time I spent home with my kids, but it set me up for a huge letdown when my son left for college. I had a lot more time on my hands, and nothing or no one could fill the void. I wondered what I had been doing for 18 years, convincing myself that raising two decent kids is a contribution to society. But I still felt an enormous loss of purpose. It seemed that everybody was working, and I couldn’t even get a job interview.

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I went to Wheaton College in Norton, MA., a women’s college (now co-ed, which still seems weird) where we were encouraged to think independently and forge careers. Though the phrase “a ring by spring” was pretty much obsolete when I went there, some of my classmates wanted traditional roles. One of my friends told me she wanted to get married, have four kids, play bridge and join the garden club.

I thought she was kidding – even if you aspired to be a housewife at age 21, you’d never announce it during the era of great feminism. I didn’t tell her I thought her goal was lame, but I thought it. Who the hell wanted to be a stay-at-home mom?

Many alums were mentors and the college urged us to use the “old girl” network to get our foot in the door of major companies. I used it to snag my first job – an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press in New York City. (I quit after one day, realizing I was more of a Gal Friday. This did not go over well with the old gal who pulled strings for me.)

But then kids come along and priorities change. Instead of running to the driveway to see if your story’s on the front page, you’re running into the baby’s room, where he’s chirping like a bird. Instead of plotting your next great scoop, you’re driving to the Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT., to gawk at dinosaur bones, stuffed grizzly bears and arrowheads. Instead of sources, you’re calling Birth to Three because your toddler isn’t talking and everyone’s worried, including you.

Being a mom means never being tied to plans. The mall trip with your friend is scuttled when your kid comes down with the stomach bug. The stupid movie is scrapped when your kid announces there’s a high school concert at 7:30 p.m. and she needs to be there by 6:30 p.m. The visit to your relative’s house to see the tree and exchange presents is off because your preschooler has lice.

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Lavender-filled pillows.

It’s tough to go from being a kid’s primary caregiver, protector and cheerleader to the person on the receiving end of an occasional text or FaceTime chat. You think you’ll pick up where you left off when they’re home on breaks, but you don’t. You’re lucky if you  snag an hour for lunch. Which is why I insisted on our trip to Lavender Pond Farm.

I drove, putting him in the passenger seat like old times. We argued over songs – he became frustrated when I insisted a singer sounded like Logic and it turned out to be Khalid. So sue me – I’m lucky to even know who Logic is at this stage of the game.

I pointed out icicles on rocks, reminding him that we took photos of them for a science project on water evaporation in middle school. He chided me for not waving at highway flagmen, noting it’s a nice thing to do. He told me to chill out when a driver swerved into our lane, assuming we’d brush it off because we have silly reindeer antlers on our car. “They’re taking advantage of the fact that we have Christmas spirit,” I said, as he looked at me incredulously. (Hey, there’s a reason The Curmudgeon and I are still married after 34 years.)IMG_2468

We walked around the shop and he plunged his hands into an old sink full of dried lavender just as I did when I visited over the summer. A sales clerk assured us it’s OK, noting she shapes a huge heart in it every morning, and knows someone’s been playing when the heart is gone. A little like a grown-up version of playing in the sand, even if only for a few seconds.

My Pink Sleigh Day

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Walking through The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop in Westbrook, CT.,  is magical.

There’s a place a few towns over called The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop. It’s open from July to December, but I usually only get there around the holidays.

Though I’ve lived out here for almost 15 years, I didn’t visit the famous shop until last year. I stumbled onto it doing errands, and turned into the driveway.  I walked in and discovered that the friendly couple who own it live one street over from me. I wasn’t surprised. I live in the kind of neighborhood where you don’t meet some people until they’re moving out.

I went to The Pink Sleigh last week because I needed it. The Curmudgeon and I have been sick with colds, and it’s starting to take its toll. We’re tired, grumpy and we don’t have our usual stamina for long hikes or runs. We traded naps as Eli Manning and the N.Y. Giants lost another game. As diehard Giants fans, we accept the season is over, but still watch to catch a few plays and nap. There’s nothing like a one-sided game to trigger a nap.

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The Pink Sleigh is one of the reasons I’m happy to live in New England. Founded in 1963, it’s one of the country’s oldest Christmas specialty shops and exudes charm. Housed in a 150-year-old post and beam barn, it’s packed with all things Christmas: ornaments, garlands, nutcrackers, ribbon, snow globes, sleigh bells and miniature villages.

The Sleigh’s magic hits you before you even enter. Rows of old Radio Flyer sleds painted in primary colors and stenciled with snowflakes, snowmen and toy soldiers flank the entrance. You check the $89.99 price and gulp, thinking this might be a good do-it-yourself project. You’re not deterred, just on notice that this will cost more than a swing through the Christmas Tree Shops.

You walk through the door and your inner child screams to get out, so you let her. You’re on autopilot, making a beeline to glittering ornaments depicting the State of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben. You pick up a sparkly Eiffel Tower for your niece studying in Paris. It’s a keeper, something she’ll have when she’s 50 to remind her of her crazy youth.

Your eyes dart, marveling at glass ornaments swirling on the magnificent 12-foot centerpiece tree stretching to the second floor. It’s covered with all manner of ornaments, some turning on tiny rotators affixed to branches. You’re in awe of a large tree branch suspended from the ceiling and covered with hanging crystal snowflakes and lights, thinking of ways to replicate it. You quickly dismiss the idea, realizing it will require a handyman and could damage the ceiling. But it was a cool idea.

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Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben ornaments at The Pink Sleigh Christmas Shop.

You’re thrilled that you came during the week, and had the place to yourself for about 30 minutes. The owners praise your good fortune, noting weekends are so crowded that it’s hard to walk around. You’re relieved. This would be an entirely different place crammed  with harried Christmas shoppers fighting over ornaments.

You’re not surprised when you learn that the Sleigh is a tradition for many families, who exchange special ornaments each year and then wrap them in plastic or newspaper so they’ll live to see another Christmas. You wish you had established the tradition with your family, but are pleased that you jumped in now. Better late than never.

Walking through the Sleigh reminds you of the importance of presentation in retail. As you browse, you’re transported, almost forgetting you’re in a store. It’s almost like a  holiday show house with trees trimmed by decorators and designers. Yes. that’s it. The ornaments are as much on display as for sale. You get the impression that sales figures aren’t driving this operation.

Unlike chain stores that sell ornaments in bins or boxes, ornaments are individually hung and grouped by theme, such as nautical, nature, cooking or hobbies. Many of the ornaments are artfully placed on 25 display trees of different sizes, and there’s an ornament for everyone – a red glass blow dryer for your hair stylist, a bumble bee for your beekeeper friend and fuzzy birds for the birders on your list.

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For the birder on your list.

Though some are imported and expensive, many are reasonably priced – just right for the teacher who has everything or the coach who helped your kid through a rough season. You’re a bit saddened when a fellow customer tells you that her teacher friend hosts a party every year where unwanted student gifts are swapped over nibbles and wine.

You think back to the hummingbird feeders you gave one year, and hope they didn’t end up in the Yankee swap. Just thinking about it makes you a little sad.

Note to teachers: buying gifts is a hassle and costly, and parents dread buying them as much as you dread receiving them. If you don’t want presents – and I completely understand why you don’t – tell parents to donate to a charity in your name or have your room mother organize a group gift. I love it when parents pool money and buy teachers a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. It makes everyone’s life a lot easier.

Mostly, the Sleigh’s greatest gift is inspiration and a much-needed infusion of Christmas spirit. Arriving home, you decorate more lavishly than usual. You trim the mantel, suspend ornaments from the ceiling with fishing wire and haul in a fallen tree branch, cover it with mini white lights and erect it in a corner. As a finishing touch, you perch a single bird in a tiny nest: a crimson cardinal to remind you of your father, who loved Christmas.

For the first time in years, the enthusiasm extends to the outside of the house. You hang a string of icicles that you got at Costco from your porch, and wrap red string lights that look like old-fashioned twin ball ponytail holders around your Radio Flyer sled, which has seen better days. You’re thrilled when neighbors compliment your efforts, and one rings the bell to tell you to take a photo because it looks so nice.

You abide by his wishes, hauling out your I-Phone in the snow and leaving the house for the first time all day. It’s night, snow is falling and as Paul McCartney & Wings would sing, “The spirit’s up. And that’s enough.”

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The greatest thing about The Pink Sleigh is the gift of inspiration. I decided to decorate a little more than usual this year after visiting last week. Here’s the place during last weekend’s snow.

 

 

 

It Isn’t Me

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What happens when people think you look like a wrapped Christmas tree?

My journalism friends will suspect I’m milking this topic. This is what reporters do when they need to file a story, find a tidbit of information and craft a new story about it.

In the old days, we were required to file two stories a day. Most reporters had no trouble coming up with one, but two? That often required some ingenious rewriting of previously covered material.

Example: You’re covering a criminal case and prosecutors tell you it’s finally going to trial after two years on the docket. You write a piece about jury selection, and then just rehash the case. I could spot one of these stories a mile away when I was editing. We had one stringer who would write a new lede, and then regurgitate previous information, mistakes and all. She never bothered to read the printed version in the newspaper, so she didn’t realize how much her stories were rewritten.

I didn’t mind that she was milking stories – we all did to a certain extent – but found it maddening that I had to make the same corrections every time. I’d cringe when I’d see a story from her on the daily budget, knowing I was in for a long night.

Milking is pretty standard in journalism, and I don’t mind it if it’s relevant and I don’t feel duped. This happened to me the other night. 48 Hours announced it had some new information in a story I had recently watched, and I tuned in for the update. I sat for 55 minutes and fell asleep when the two minutes of new information came on. It was basically a rebroadcast with 120 seconds of new information tacked on the end.

I still don’t know what happened because I’m so disgusted I haven’t watched it On Demand.

Although I don’t want to be accused of milking my Instant Christmas Tree piece, I need to clarify that wasn’t me wrapped in a sheet in the photo. My sister Joanne and friend John said they thought it was me, but seriously? I’m not a giant, nor do I pad around the house with a hood covering my head and face.

“Well, you said you weren’t feeling well, so I thought that was you in your bathrobe,” John said.

Um, no. A few points:

I’m 5′ 4″ and the tree is 6 feet.

The wrapped tree looks like a misshapen mummy or deranged monk. On second thought, maybe I should spend a little more time on my appearance before leaving the house.

The tree has a bungee cord around its middle. I’ve never used a bungee cord for a belt, though I will admit to using a piece of rope.

The tree is wrapped in a flimsy sheet, not fluffy chenille.  To be honest, I haven’t had a decent bathrobe in years. I love them, but we’re not a bathrobe family. We’re more throw a towel around yourself and get dressed as quickly as possible.

The tree has a bustle the size of Kansas. I’d like to think that people I know and love would not think I’d walk around with a butt like that – that I’d exercise my tail off before I’d go out in public. At the least I’d have the good sense not to cinch the waist. Either way, I was a little humbled and went on my first run in two weeks.

Though the Curmudgeon does not read my blog, I showed the photo to him to get his opinion. “Does this look like me?” I said. “Sure, it looks like you with a hood on. Same height, though you do look like a cone head.”

When I pointed out that it was closer to his height, he agreed. “It’s looks like a dead body,” he said. “Actually, it looks like me.”

Party Animals

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Evelyne and her instant tree salvaged from her garage. She even delivered it.

 

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The instant tree.

I’m having a Christmas party.

I know, it’s insane. No one has the time or energy to socialize during the holidays.

But if I don’t host a party, I’m not going to one and neither are a lot of my friends. One of the pitfalls (among many) of getting older is fewer party invitations. Yes, there are showers, weddings, milestone birthday parties and firm anniversary celebrations. But holiday parties? They’re pretty much a distant memory along with rocking abs, thick hair and staying up past 11 p.m.

At one point, I had at least three Christmas parties to attend every year: my work party, The Curmudgeon’s and one or two thrown by friends. But there are no work Christmas parties any more – an increasingly popular trend – and friends are too busy. Our last Christmas party invitation was about five years ago. Sad, but true.

I’m not sure why people lose their hosting instinct, but I think it’s burnout. Throwing parties is a lot of work, and you reach an age where you’d rather go out. Before one of our annual St. Patrick’s Day parties, The Curmudgeon worked so hard that he got dizzy as guests were due to arrive. I called my sister and brother-in-law and asked if they’d be hosts while we went to an emergency clinic.

When we arrived home about 90 minutes later – The Curmudgeon was treated and released for dehydration – the party was in full swing.  But our little emergency killed my desire to entertain. I thought, “Everyone can stay down here.  I just want to go to bed.”

Christmas, New Year’s, Cinco De Mayo and St. Paddy’s bashes followed, but we began to notice a pattern. The Curmudgeon would mysteriously get sick right before or during parties. The first was the dizziness, which overcame him on a staircase. Besides learning that he was dehydrated, tests showed that he has an incredibly low heartbeat. He attributes it to a lifetime of fitness, but doctors say it’s hereditary.

Another health scare occurred as guests were arriving for Thanksgiving. As the first of them filed in with covered dishes, The Curmudgeon complained of a badly swollen knee. My physician father ordered him into the living room, where he dropped his pants and was examined as guests mingled in the kitchen. Dad suggested he go to the emergency clinic because it could be a blood clot. He arrived home an hour later with a drug to combat Lyme Disease.

A third incident occurred at a birthday party at my parents’ house. As The Curdmudgeon ate a slice of Carvel ice cream cake, he began coughing and gagging on a piece of the crumbly chocolate filling. He dashed to the bathroom, where he sat for an hour and inhaled shower steam. We took him to the ER and learned that he had an inflamed epiglottis. Steroids (and many sleepless nights) followed.

We decided that parties and The Curmudgeon might not mix too well, so we backed off on our hosting duties. However, I’m doing my part in the eat, drink and be merry department this year. I really had no choice after my Pickleball comrade Pat got ahold of me.

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That’s party planner Pat (left) with our friend Nancy.  

We’re not sure how she does it, but Pat has an incredible knack for convincing people to throw parties. Pat floated the idea of a Christmas party by me a few weeks ago. By the time we parted, I was thinking of ways to tell The Curmudgeon that he’s co-hosting the annual Pickleball holiday gala.

I’ve set a few ground rules. I want nothing to do with inviting people, organizing the potluck or the Yankee gift swap. I’ve delegated these tasks to my pal Wendy, who has agreed to handle the administrative end of things. This is the worst part about party planning – the guest list, Evites, and watching people monitor RSVPs to decide if they’ll come. This happened to me several years ago. Someone looked at the guest list 12 times before deciding not to come.

That taught me to respond immediately to Evites. Once you do, you can open the invitation to your heart’s content and the hostess doesn’t know. Stay on the fence and don’t respond, however, and the hostess sees every time you open and close it without responding.

Wendy has removed the organizing component from the mix. She sent out the Evites, and I found myself happily opening up an invitation to my party. I also had the thrill of RSVPing that I’m attending. I guess it’s a good thing because it’s at my house. Today, I received an email reminding me about it. I’m really getting excited to go. Fortunately, I won’t even need a designated driver.

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One of Pat’s success stories: a Godfather-themed dinner party at my friend John’s house.  We all brought Italian dishes and answered trivia questions about the Godfather trilogy.

I also explained to the inner circle that I won’t be in full holiday mode for the party. I don’t want to put up our tree until my (prodigal) son is home from college on Dec. 16th. A friend solved my dilemma, offering her boyfriend’s fully decorated tree in her garage. “It looks like a dead body wrapped in a sheet and secured with a bungee cord,” she said. “Sounds perfect,” I said. “When can I get it?”

To be fair, it’s my turn to throw a party. Everyone knows to go to parties, you must host them. I’ve hosted a lot of parties over the years, in part to teach my kids the importance of hospitality. I don’t want them to grow up thinking they’re entitled to invitations when they don’t put themselves out for others. I also want them to appreciate the work involved, to offer to help and ask what they can bring.

My parents’ taught us to always, always make a point of thanking the bride’s parents at a wedding reception. After hosting and paying for seven weddings, this was particularly important for my Dad. I guess it’s no surprise: he knew the financial and emotional investment that goes into weddings. All he wanted in return was a simple thank you from guests.

I’ve decided to view this event as a surprise party for myself. With Wendy handling the tough stuff, all I have to do is provide the place, a baked ham and some sandwich rolls. When I mentioned to The Curmudgeon that four people had already said they’re coming within hours of the invite, he mused, “Wow, their social lives must really be in the sh-&*^.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him ours is too.

Happy Holidaze

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This dog was quite happy to sit next to Santa and get his photo taken.

Meanwhile, this is what my dog did:

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She adamantly refused to cooperate, even when coaxed by her friend Kiera.

It’s that time of year again: getting a photo for the holiday card.

A lot of people don’t send them any more, but I’m old school. I love receiving them, particularly ones with kids, and I’m smart enough to know if I want them, I need to send them. People are only too happy to strike you off their list if you miss a year.

Many people get their holiday photos early – summer vacations, weddings or family reunions are ideal times. But I usually wait until the last minute because I want my pictures to accurately reflect my kids. You may have a great photo from June, but the braces came off in September and you want everyone to see the gleaming smile. At least I do.

Some people go all out for photos. A local family hired a photographer to capture them in their Guilford, CT., green gear. They got an adorable themed photo that’s going over quite well on our town’s Facebook page. It made me think, “That’s really cute and clever. Why didn’t I think of it?” Other people assemble cards with highlights of their kids’ achievements throughout the year. After marveling at their prowess in EVERYTHING, my first thought is, “I wish I was as organized as their Mom. And how did she have the patience to insert nine photos?”

A friend announced on a recent hike that she, her family, three dogs and cat sat for a Christmas portrait. I’m looking forward to seeing it, but can’t imagine the frustration of trying to get three teen-age boys, three dogs and a cat to look at the camera. I wonder how many photos there are with closed eyes, snarling mouths or dogs looking every which way but at the camera. And don’t even get me started on the cat.

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I hoped to get a shot at the Christmas tree farm, but I got this instead.

My mother-in-law was a big believer in a family group photo for her Christmas card. Every year, we’d assemble on the beach and I’d rig my camera to self-timer mode. I was always the person rushing to get into the photo and trying to look like I had not just sprinted to get there. This is probably not a job for anyone over 50 or with mobility issues. Just saying.

Despite our best efforts to inform people it was picture day, we have some years where everyone is in bathing suits with wet hair. After my brother-in-law wore the same red shirt for five years in a row, we told him he might want to wear another color so people didn’t think he had only one shirt. Another year, my brother-in-law Dave couldn’t make it, so we Photoshopped him in. I’m sure no one noticed that he was wearing a collared shirt and suit jacket on the beach.

Taking photos of my kids when they were young was a lesson in frustration. If one was happy, the other was crying. Or I’d get a great shot of one and the other looked awful. I think I shot at least 500 photos of my son when he was 1, and ended up with one that I felt fully captured him. I’m not sure what I was after, but I don’t have the time or patience for that any more. I’m not sure anyone does.

I was reminded of all this when I took my dog Cali to a free photo shoot with Santa at Agway. This is what people do when their kids age out of Santa pictures. We dress up our dogs, cats, and guinea pigs and plunk them down next to Santa for keepsake photos. In Cali’s case, I put a lighted Christmas bulb necklace from the Dollar Store around her neck and headed off with my friend Allison and her daughter Kiera.

I went in with great expectations, but was quickly brought back to reality. Cali refused to get on the dog bed or jump on the bench with Santa even when I sat next to him. This is odd because every time we go to the vet, she climbs into my lap. She refused to sit or look at the camera, making it impossible to get a good photo.

I finally admitted defeat and tugged at her leash to leave. But I decided to stick around and see how the next dog did. It was a terrier dressed as Santa Claus. He hopped up next to Santa on cue and posed for several photos. When I remarked to his owner how good he was, she announced, “He’s used to have his picture taken.”

I tried again today when we went Christmas tree shopping at a nearby farm. I wanted to to snap some cute photos of Cali, but she refused to stay still. Instead of sitting, she rolled around on the ground and got covered with dirt and grass. A woman came up to me and asked if I would take a few photos of her with her family.

I walked over and began snapping photos when Cali suddenly ran over and got in some of the photos.

“I figures,” The Curmudgeon observed. “The only pictures she’s in are the ones she has no business being in.”

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I’m not sure which is harder to photograph: kids or dogs. Either way, they’re not cooperative.