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Merry Marilyn and her bag of tricks

December 27, 2015

I’ve managed to pull myself out of my sugar cookie coma just long enough to piece together a blog post before the week runs out. This is not a drill, people. Today alone I’ve consumed 2 snickerdoodles, 2 chocolate mint cookies and 4 peanut butter Frosted Flakes candies. I hope your Christmas was full of family, food and chaos, just like ours. At 6, 4 and 1, the kids were so into it this year and it just made for so much fun. Candy the elf was here with her typical shenanigans and, for the first time, I set an alarm but didn’t have to go wake up the girls. The sound of those excited little feet, followed by, “He came! Oh my gosh, Santa came!” made my ovaries wink up at me with that familiar ache of fleeting bliss. It was the sweetest. (The girls, not the ovary wink.)


But as much as I feel like I get through the season with some successes – ignoring the fact that I’ve never gotten Christmas cards out the door and didn’t roll sugar cookies of my own for the second consecutive year – I always find myself in awe of the master of the holiday, my mom. I was born from Mother Christmas and she is as legit as they come when it comes to jivin with the holly jolly.

Here are a few things I’ve observed in my time watching her in action.

The more the merrier.
I’ve mentioned the Grand Lighting Ceremony and a bit about the outdoor decorations, but truly, my parents’ house is a joyful joint in its entirety come November 29. I don’t know where she keeps all this stuff the rest of the months, but once the turkey goes in the fridge, every beam is garnished with garland, every cabinet topped with a stuffed Santa and his pals, every light adorned with ornaments. When your dwelling is deemed the “Christmas house” I suppose you acquire a lot of yuletide knickknacks. It makes sense. But it’s during this time, when her home is dripping in glitter and gifted craft show Santas, that my mom seems most comfortable in her house. And I love the smell … like sticky kids and cinnamon pinecones.

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Be the classic. Let others experiment.
My mom always hosts at least two, often three, Christmas gatherings at her house every year. The amount of food this woman churns out makes my wallet, back and stomach hurt. Rows of slow cookers brimming with simmering meatballs, ham balls, chili cheese dip, macaroni and cheese, and wings. Platters of rye bread, cheese and meat. Ham sandwiches and homemade vegetable dip on the relish tray. As impressive as the quantity of it is, the menu is constant from year to year. She has mastered her holiday spread and thus, her plan of attack the day before and morning of the party. People look forward to her predictable fare and never get bored because everyone else brings different sides and desserts. Every Christmas is deliciously familiar with some new things to nosh on as well. Genius.

Get a list and then get creative.
I can remember, when I was a young girl, my mom would give me the catalogs that came in the mail and a marker and I would go to town. I’d circle things I liked and triple circle the ones I had to have. No doubt three circles, pressing hard with the marker, was unspoken code for, “Put this one next to my new Popple, yo.” Guaranteed, on Christmas morning I would get my most-treasured catalog callouts but also, a handful of the most thoughtful surprises. Things I didn’t even think of, but I was so glad Santa did. A classic is the year Mom got a beagle puppy for my brother. She hid the dog for at least a week, often right under Matt’s completely unsuspecting nose. Christmas morning, she has him close his eyes and plops this precious little pup down in his lap. I swear the giant smiled the most sincere, most surprised grin I’ve ever seen. It was like holiday urban legend. It was my maternal role model at her finest. She conditioned me to go for the big moment. Now, as a mom, I have to have at least one thing for everyone in my family that they weren’t expecting and, upon seeing it, realize they can’t live without.It’s an exhaustive pursuit, but when it works out, it’s like Christmas crack. I know a lot of folks like to give their loved one a list with very specific links to very specific products in very specific colors. I dabble in that, but I still love the unpredictable presents. It’s a Marilyn move, and it’s pimp, to deliver a Christmas miracle for someone you love, especially when they never saw it coming.

Holiday albums on fleek.
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, the Judds and Sandi Patty. Those are the CDs that magically pop into the shuffle every December at Mom and Dad’s. Just a few notes into “A Christmas to Remember,” with Dolly’s sweet, sugary voice popping from the speakers and I am all in for holly and twinkle lights.

Throw a blanket on it.
When it comes to the packages under the tree at my family’s Christmas, three things are guaranteed: 1) My mom will have at least 5 gifts with no name on them that she then has to open herself to hand out to the proper owner. 2) At least one person will get a gift that makes them sob like a little holiday bitch. (This year it was a hand-painted portrait of Mom’s dog, Buddy, who she lost last year.) and 3) Childlike excitement will build around the giant gifts in the corner with blankets thrown over them. Sometimes it’s a big ticket item, sometimes it’s a laundry basket. You just never know. And that’s the joy of the blanket. In the end it doesn’t matter what’s under the blanket. It serves its purpose by populating hype. It’s a mind game and she’s the master.

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Be Scrooge at the end of the movie.
From Christmas Eve through Christmas night, my madre’s merry spirit makes all of us feel so grateful and giddy and lovey. She is so generous and so thoughtful but doesn’t make a show of it. She just wants to watch everyone enjoy her hard work. She doesn’t even open her own presents until the kids are already playing with theirs. Since having kids of my own, I get it. I gather more jollies from my family’s reactions when they open something special than I do from anything someone could pick up for me at a store. I feel nostalgic about the season and people and the traditions. I see Christmas through my mother’s eyes and it’s beautifully simple and worth all the hard work. God bless us, everyone.

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Happy holidays, everybody. Let’s all meet back here in time to make some New Year’s resolutions and revaluate these bad dietary decisions, shall we?


The Thanksgiving cadence

December 1, 2015

Tis the season for zero free time and a feast ’round every corner. Now, I am a creature of habit, so traditions are an idea that I can really get behind. I love how, every year, the agenda is relatively the same, but the details are subject to change on a whim. The framework of our turkey day festivities typically looks a little like this …

Thanksgiving Eve. 6:30 p.m.
We have a Friendsgiving with a group of Hank’s high school buddies. I was present the night the event was conceived. It was 2007-ish, before we were married. Before we had babies. Before the hangovers hung on for days. The bar scene On Thanksgiving Eve has always been such a trainwreck and we were just never into that noise. So, on that fateful pre-holiday evening, we went to Chuck’s instead. Let’s just say one of the guests slept with his head in a litter box that night and an annual event was born. These days, mini vans line the street outside Chuck’s suburban home and the only trip-inducing raves come from the little girls’ dance party upstairs. Things typically wind down by 10 o’clock (about the time they would start in our younger days) and the conversation is typically WTF (work, traumas, family).

Thanksgiving Morning, 7:45 a.m.
Three years ago, after noticing both of my siblings were signed up, I decided that I, too, would rise at the break of dawn and trot about with hundreds of my fellow townfolk at the Galloping Gobbler. It’s a 4-mile race that winds through a cemetery and I can tell you, that first year was rough. I remember starting out, at a stride even snailier than the 11-minute miles I log today, and my brother looked at me and said, “Is this really your pace?” I nodded, too winded to verbally confirm his inquiry, and he gave me a reassuring, “OK!” (Completely out of character for big Matt.) The course is serene but rolling. At the base of each and every hill, my brother would say, “Oh, this is the last big hill.” But it wasn’t. We reached at least 6 summits on that chilly November morning, but I did it. The next time, with Matt towering at my side again, I did it a little easier. And this year, with him and a few of our friends, I found myself feeling stronger, more capable and in a position to support other people. It’s such an invigorating start to a day that’s inevitably saturated with sugar and all that toxic, delicious temptation.

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Thanksgiving Morning, 11:00 a.m.
After my go-to greasy breakfast sandwich from the golden arches, Matt drops me off at home. The chicks are always hanging out in their pjs eating donuts and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I pour a cup of hot coffee, take off my running shoes and settle in for some cuddles and lip sync performances from up-and-comers perched on floats with dancing gingerbread men and Smurfs. We shower and get ready at a leisurely pace with the dog show on in the background.


Thanksgiving Day, 1:00 pm.
The eating commences. My favorites include but are not limited to: Corn casserole, dinner rolls with cheese slices and turkey on them, deviled eggs and pecan pie.

Day After Thanksgiving, 12:00 p.m.
This is when we typically pull out the totes and start decking our halls. If we haven’t formally met, allow me to introduce myself here. I am not that woman who adorns her mantel with tasteful, elegant snowcapped trees and precise scalloped garland. I don’t discriminate against multicolored strands and I rarely discard a keepsake craft. Each year I pack away more than I unpacked at the start of the holiday. I live for glued-on Rudolph noses and worn trinkets with my babies’ names written on the back. If there’s a clear space, I’m gonna cover it. There’s going to be glitter on the walls and blow ups in the front yard and if you can’t handle it then I can’t handle you during Christmas, soooooo …

Saturday After Thanksgiving, 6:00 p.m.
If, for some ridiculous reason, you want to experience a truly voyeuristic glimpse into my life, The Lighting Ceremony would be it. Growing up my father was Clark W. Griswold. The art of exterior illumination was handed down to him and snowballed over the years into an intense, extensive Christmas display that earned my parents the title of “The Christmas House”. His holiday spirit isn’t quite as bright as it was in its prime, but my mom still bleeds red and green and sneezes tinsel. So, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she sets the dining room table with the special holiday dishes she’s had since I can remember, cooks a feast that embarrasses the week’s earlier attempts and we flip the switch that sparks the official start of the season. We gather out front while Dad scurries around matching female ends to male ends and calling out for extension cords. We clap and cheer and critique and point out what’s better this year than last year. Then we get in our cars and drive by the house on the highway (they live along the interstate) so we can honk … at a house … where no one is because we’re all in our cars. Anyway, that’s what we do. And it always feels like every feeling I have for my family condensed into one magical night.

So, those are my traditions. They are the smells and tastes and faces that make my holiday so warm and sweet. They are part of what makes me who I am and the woven cloth of memories I’ll hand on to the girls. You know, these girls …