Monday, December 28, 2009

Happiness Is a Red Tupperware Container

I'm still tidying up after the whirlwind holiday. As usual, I had a laundry list of things I wanted to do before Christmas and, as usual, I fell short. The woman who started Christmas shopping in September didn't quite get it all done. Again. I guess you could say that not getting everything done is now a tradition for me.

We celebrated all of the family traditions that are important to us: We cut down our own Christmas tree at a beautiful farm near Somerset, Wisconsin. The farm has a big beautiful barn and a straw mountain for the kids to climb with ropes. There are also wooden tunnels and hot cider and fresh donuts. It is one of my favorite days of the year.

We went to see Santa again. I know my kids love it, but sometimes I believe that my husband and I enjoy it the most. We had smiles on our faces the entire time. My son wore a suitcoat, and he had his list for Santa folded in the inside pocket. Santa actually laughed when the son pulled the list out of his pocket. He looked like a little James Bond.

My daughter was the Angel in the Christmas pageant at our church. She was a narrator last year. She did a wonderful job with her lines, and she looked beautiful with her tinsel halo. My son spent most of his time on the stage pulling at his tie and looking uncomfortable in his white shirt and blue dress slacks.

I helped with my son's first grade Christmas party. One of the Dads is a musician, so he had the kids doing a musical game with Christmas songs. Another Mom helped the kids make mouse ornaments/candy cane holders out of construction paper and glitter paint. Yet another Mom had a bean bag toss game. And I coordinated the whole event so I took the easy way out and made trail mix for a snack (no baking required), served a beverage, prepared candy bags for the kids to take home, and I helped out the other parents. The kids had a good time and weren't too hyper.

Early on the morning of the Christmas party, my daughter and I mixed up the trail mix for the first graders. I needed a fair amount for 22 kids, so we mixed up a big batch with Cheerios, raisins, peanuts, pretzels and M&Ms. I looked for a container large enough to transport all of it to school. And in the back of my cupboard I found a large red Tupperware container that I inherited from my Mom. It is huge with a sweet little kitschy Pennsylvania Dutch-type design on the front of it. Perfect.

When I was younger, my Mom used this container to store her wonderful spritz cookies at Christmastime. No one can make spritz cookies like my Mom. In later years, she even had a recipe where she used Jello in the cookies to give them color, and it added flavor and made them even more moist and wonderful - though she doesn't remember doing this. I have my Mom's old cookie press though I'd never try making a spritz cookie. Can you imagine how many ways I could mess those up? I tried making my Mom's Mexican wedding cookies this year and messed them up so badly that my kids begged me not to leave them out for Santa because "they are really bad." Evidently, you aren't supposed to use light butter in the recipe. Who knew?

I kept the red Tupperware container on my kitchen counter all through the Christmas holiday. Just looking at it made me smile. It brought back a happy memory of a simpler time. When I was little, Christmas was a wonderful season. We would make gifts and drive around town to see the Christmas lights. At school, the choir would practice Christmas carols for our annual performance. We would practice an hour each day - usually in place of math class which I believe is why, to this day, I suck at math. Our school would have Mass in the cafeteria before school let out for the holiday. We would honor our parent volunteers with little gifts during the Mass, and we always brought canned and boxed items for a food drive collection. We would have a Secret Santa gift exchange in our classroom, and we would always give a gift to the teacher. Some years I would have to sing in the choir at Midnight Mass, and my parents would always let me open a small gift after Mass before going to bed. We celebrated St. Nick's night on December 6th with small gifts. And my Mom was the queen of Christmas baking. To this day, the smell of rum brings back memories of her Canadian rum cake.

And every time I would see that wonderful old red Tupperware canister on my kitchen counter, all of the good memories came back to me. The warm wonderful happy times of my childhood in a drafty old farm house on an acre of land just on the outskirts of a little town in central Wisconsin. I cherish these memories so much. They are always in the back of my mind as I celebrate my new holiday traditions with my own family. They still envelop me like a warm hug from the past. They still live on in my memory.

This was a strange Christmas for me this year. Normally, I would trim the tree while the kids are in school. Unwrapping each individually wrapped ornament gently and placing it on the tree. Thinking back to when and where I got the ornament. Some were from old friends that I'm no longer in touch with, which always makes me sad. Some are from the Christmas trees of my childhood, beautiful antique glass ornaments. Some are handmade loveliness from my children when they were in preschool full of glue and glitter, each containing their name and the year it was made. I even have a beautiful pewter ornament of a cat with my darling Josie's name on it. I always hang it on the bottom of the tree - a place she used to lay and enjoy the lights on the tree. It usually takes a couple of hours to decorate the tree. And this year, I didn't feel up to trimming the tree at all. So, I let my daughter do it. And she did a wonderful job. She even decorated the house with nutcrackers and a nativity scene, snowglobes and a Christmas village. She was so proud, and so am I.

So, the holiday was a bit incomplete for me. I never got to watch all of my favorite holiday specials and movies. I didn't do a lot of Christmas knitting. I lost my Christmas card list, and I didn't get cards out to everyone. It's as though the holiday just passed me by. And now it's almost time to pack everything away. No more holiday music. The stores are bare. The snow and cold seem colder somehow. Time to move on.

And here I am staring at 2010 with my usual feeling of dread in the face of a new situation. I've got that feeling of being on the edge of a precipice afraid to move. I normally don't believe in resolutions. Yet, I have the funny habit of writing a note to myself each year when I pack the Christmas ornaments away. I always remind myself whether the lights worked well that year, or if I bought new lights and where they are located. I leave reminders for myself to do certain things, to give myself more time to accomplish certain tasks. It's hope in a note. And I always like reading the notes from myself the following holiday season. A gentle nudge from the past to get my act together. The constant striving for perfection.

This year, I've decided to write notes to myself to open every three months. Notes that will force me to take stock of things as the year goes along. Ways to measure whether I'm making progress on my goals. Nudges to help me get my act together and take it on the road. A reminder that I am a work in progress.

Yes, next year is the year that I will actually write a Christmas newsletter. I will get it all done. I will even bake spritz cookies, dammit. 2010 is going to be my year. I can feel it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


I am in a quiet house with the Christmas tree lights glowing and snow falling softly outside.

All that is left to be done is to bake some Christmas cookies and get brunch ready for tomorrow morning.

My house is filled with the happiness and peace that only Christmas can bring.

Blessings to all of you and yours this holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Every day I have to get the kids to the bus stop, and every day it is like pulling teeth to get them out the door. Last week, I decided that I would start a little "competition". So, each kid throws snowballs at the stop sign on the corner. If they get a "bullseye", I pay them a quarter.

Those kids can't wait to get out the door in the morning now. Victory is mine.

It should be noted that snowballs aren't very aerodynamic, and kids usually can't throw them very accurately. But that doesn't stop them from trying.

Who just outsmarted her kids? (It's me! It's me!)

(. . . goes off to do an interpretive dance of joy for the cat who will be very unimpressed as usual.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And That Is Where It All Went Wrong

Yesterday, I helped 22 first graders make gingerbread houses out of milk cartons, graham crackers, coconut and candy. It ended up being a wonderful day. It did not start out that way.

All of the first grade parents were required to donate an ingredient for the gingerbread houses. The teacher requested that I make the frosting/mortar which holds the house together. Looking back, I think the first red flag may have been the word "mortar".

Early yesterday morning, I got out my KitchenAid mixer, put the egg whites and cream of tarter in it and started it up. I was supposed to beat the mixture until "stiff peaks form". I mixed and mixed and mixed. I realized I didn't know what a "stiff peak" looked like. I contemplated calling my elderly mother, but it was 7 am, and I knew she wouldn't be awake. I kept mixing.

Finally, the whole mixture globbed up in the whisk of the mixer, and I decided that should be stiff enough for any recipe. I took a spatula and got it out of the whisk and into the bowl. Then, I was supposed to add four cups of powdered sugar SLOWLY. And that is where it all went wrong. Did you ever try to pour powdered sugar? At the exact moment that I fired up the mixer, the whole cup of powdered sugar dumped into the bowl and exploded back onto my glasses, hair, stove and floor. I stood there looking at my reflection in the microwave door wondering what exactly my problem was when it comes to baking.

I managed to get the mortar made and poured into an airtight container before it solidified. I had to literally chisel the remainder of it out of the bowl. Nasty stuff.

I went to get ready to go to school. I toweled as much of the powdered sugar out of my hair as I could, and I fired up my hair straightener. The fact that I couldn't get all the sugar out of my hair should have been the second red flag of the morning. Some information which you may or may not find useful in the future: powdered sugar burns into tiny hard brown bits when you put it in a hair straightener.

There was no time to rewash my hair. So, I stood there with my Diana Ross - Ain't No Mountain High Enough - hair. I realized that it wouldn't be proper to drink Kahlua before visiting a first grade classroom, and I felt like dissolving into sobs. I'd have to deal with this sober.

I threw my hair into a ponytail, grabbed my mortar and headed to school. There was another mother there who also brought in a batch of mortar frosting, and she asked me, "What exactly is a stiff peak?" She had tried looking it up on the internet. Evidently, she did not mix it right because her mortar was glossy and smooth and didn't harden. She and I came to the conclusion that baking skills must skip a generation.

And in the end, the kids did a great job. Fun was had by all. I was concerned that someone's fingers were going to be superglued together by that mortar, but everyone survived unscathed.

Here's what I know for sure: KitchenAid mixer + powdered sugar + hair appliances (or any combination of these) + me = disaster.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Cherie Amour

Years and years ago, I worked downtown Minneapolis. For lunch, I would take a walk through the skyways. In those days, there were people who would sit and play their instruments and passersby would throw money in their instrument case.

There was an African American gentleman who used to sit outside the Baker Center and play his cello. I would put money in his case and request "Silent Night" at Christmastime.

After a few weeks, I would notice that whenever I would walk by him, he would start playing "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder. I would smile at him, and he always smiled back.

And then 9/11 happened, and there wasn't anymore music in the skyways for a long time.

The cellist's name was Hubert. I have no idea whatever happened to him.

Wherever you are, Hubert, this one is for you. I will always remember your smile. Thanks for the music.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Bee Girl Has Found Another Member of Her Tribe

So, last Friday I went to the vet clinic to buy my Gita her prescription cat food. The clerk at the clinic asked me how she was doing. I went on and on about how shiny her fur has become, how alert and playful she is now, etc. We started talking about the different types of cat food, and I told her how I had a cat (who died over ten years ago) that was on a particular type of food. Then, because I'm kind of pathetic and sad, I explained how I still have my cat's ashes in a box in the top of my closet at home. I usually bring this fact up in team-building activities or ice-breakers in a social setting. I like the shock value.

I stood there smiling - all proud of myself and my dead cat's ashes. The clerk looked at me and smiled and told me how she has all three of her deceased pet's ashes in glass urns in a curio cabinet with lights on them. They have photos and name tags by the urns.

I do believe I've found another member of my tribe.

This video is a dedication to my dearly departed cat, Josie. We were kindred spirits. I still think of her every single day, and when I do, I sing this song.

"Love you forever and forever. Love you with all my heart. Love you whenever we're together. Love you when we're apart." Lyrics from "I Will" by Lennon/McCartney

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Bipolar Morning

8:10 a.m. this morning. The kids were getting coats and boots on before catching the bus to school. There is a snowstorm in the forecast today, so I got snowpants out (each kid has a pair that fits and are clean - the planets must be aligned just right) and packed them in the backpacks. The daughter was searching through her hat and mitten bin for a hat that would fit just right over her Christmas tinsel and bell hairband. She tried on five hats and didn't like any of them. I started digging through the bin, throwing hats and gloves about until I found a pink hat that fit just the way she wanted.

Both kids were wearing boots today, so I went to pack their shoes in their backpacks, and I couldn't find my son's shoes. He always takes them off upstairs in the living room, so I went up there and looked around. Nothing. I asked my daughter to look, and she said she couldn't find them. Then she yelled, "And the bus is coming!"

Panic. I started screaming like a banshee, wandering from room to room. Finally, my son found his shoes in the entryway right where he is supposed to take them off each night, and just about a foot from his sister who claimed to have no knowledge of their whereabouts.

I lost it. I looked at my son and said, "Since when do you take your shoes off where you're supposed to?" The look of confusion on his face was priceless.

We raced to get out the door while I apologized for my tirade. No bus. Seems my darling daughter "thought" she "heard" the bus, so she announced that the bus was coming.

It was at this point that I lost what tenuous hold I had on my sanity. Who am I kidding? Sanity is way back there in the rear-view mirror for me.

And all I have to say for myself is that Kahlua is really good in coffee in the morning.

Here's one of my favorite videos - "No rain" by Blind Melon. The bee girl reminds me of myself searching for my "tribe" - someone to listen to my song and dance as silly as it is. One day I know I'll find my bee people. And we'll all be drinking Kahlua in coffee.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Not blogging much lately.

Enjoying every moment with these kids so much.