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Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’

Safe Topics for the Holidays: Stick to the Turkey

November 22, 2011 7 comments

People are evidently nervous this time of year. I’m seeing a myriad of “How to Survive the Holiday” topics in the blogosphere, and #StuffBetterFast is trending on Twitter. North America is buzzing with hints and tips on surviving this time of year, when we are stuck inside with no choice but to engage our extended family in scintillating conversation.

This can be a terrifying prospect, wherein the only solution can be found in the bottom of a bottle, be it ruby red or palest garnet. I, however, have been handed an extended family which frowns upon such liquids which might put a hint of joy in an otherwise morose day. My sober state has paid off in spades however: I’ve learned how to talk about absolutely nothing with ease, and at length.

If you, too, want to navigate the holidays free of catastrophe, stick to the following topics:

1. The cooking of the turkey. Is the white meat moist, while the dark meat still falls off the bone? Bonus points! This will always vary from holiday to holiday, so bears mentioning, and will allow you to explore the meals of holidays past, wistfully or otherwise.

2. The texture of the turkey. Is it gamey? Bland? Does it melt in your mouth? This can be explored while the gravy is being passed around, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce in the event of an overdone bird.

3. Where did the turkey hail from? Usually good for a tale involving lineups and holiday frenzy. Beware the temptation to sojourn into the topic of organic, free-range turkeys, however, as this can lead to polarization from one’s relatives. Ahem.

4. The turkey accessories. Do the carrots complement the dinner? What is the consistency of the mashed potatoes? Is the gravy perfectly lump-free? Is the group assembled pro-brussel sprouts or con? (For some reason we share a collective forgetfulness with this issue, so need to revisit it each occasion, but it never gets old.) The turkey accompaniments can provide you with minutes of frivolity; play around a little and have some fun.

5. The temperature of the meal. Is everything bubbling hot? The water ice cold? This can naturally send you into another blissfully safe topic to round out the meal: the weather.

Now, if you sail through these topics before second helpings are distributed, or Aunt Betty’s apple pie is polished off,  you can always revert to my standby: round table bets on how many dinners will be gleaned from leftovers. Add a quarter to the pot to add excitement and intrigue.

Generally, if you stick to the above conversational points, being sure to lean on the positives of the meal, while downplaying the negatives, you should be able to navigate your way through the entire meal without offending anyone, and you can retire to your football game stuffed, but otherwise intact. (Or in my case, a scene out of 1950, where the men retire to the football game and the women clean up the mess.)

It goes without saying that politics, greenhouse gases, the deficit, the euro crisis, whether fighting in hockey should be banned, ‘who is Kim Kardashian anyway?’, Glee, and anything else that could be considered remotely interesting, are all potentially hot topics which could leave someone in tears. Engage in these controversial subjects at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Easter will be here before you know it.

Pragmatic Romantics: Boycott Valentine’s Day Flowers

February 14, 2011 10 comments

As the rain pelted sideways on the weekend, I stooped to throw a bouquet of roses into my grocery cart. An attempt to cheer up our joint on the darkest of winter days, add a little sunshine into the mix, mask the stale aroma of February. But I was horrified when I noticed the normal $14.99 price tag had been jacked up to $29.99, courtesy of my least favorite Hallmark-induced holiday, Valentine’s Day.

I was prepared to leave this one alone this week, to let bloggers and columnists wage their own wars with cupid, falling either in the pro or con category. If I were to predictably fall into the con category, you might think I am a washed up cynic, jaded by fifteen years of marriage, any romantic spark long since replaced by everyday realities.

And you would be right.

Suckers only need apply

My image on the line, I’m still prepared to go down this route to exploit the flower industry as the crooks that they are. Forget Hallmark, who at the very least can’t double the printed cost of their red and pink cards as February 14 rolls closer, the florists of this world are the biggest benefactors of this artificial holiday. I’m disgusted with the injustice of jacking up their cost of arrangements to double their normal price tag.

The last thing I have ever wanted for Valentine’s Day is flowers (honey, are you reading this?). I have long been a proponent of the “give me flowers any other day of the year instead, when they are half the cost” club. I cannot relate to all of those tweets and stories I’m reading about women who just want flowers for Valentine’s Day – “would that kill him”? What is romantic about receiving flowers on the day some marketer has deemed it romantic to receive flowers? Our collective lack of imagination has too many people resorting to being sheep, with the florists of the world being the lucky benefactors.

I would rather receive a new water bottle.

At least most retailers worth their salt have wizened up and offer pre-Christmas sales, so we don’t feel we are complete victims to the cause. If you are one of those smug people that goes around toting flowers at double the cost on Valentine’s Day, you may as well have “sucker” tattooed on your forehead, or  “kick me” attached to your behind.

Contrary to how this sounds, I actually am romantic, but also pragmatic. Read me a poem on Valentine’s Day, instead. I promise I won’t laugh.

Anything is possible in 2011

January 3, 2011 8 comments
Happy New Year 2011

2011 just doesn’t have a nice a ring to it.  ‘2010’ sounded modern and hip, New Age and full of possibilities. 2011 in comparison packs extra syllables, making it a tad awkward and not as catchy.  It’s not even-steven and in fact, is a prime number.  You almost get the sense that this will make it an unremarkable year, a throwaway perhaps.  A year to be forgotten before it has even began.  Or maybe its oddities will make it a bang up, stand out, sensational year unlike any other.

I prefer the glass half full philosophy, so let’s go with that.  I am more excited about this new year than usual, but for no particular reason.  It is more like a feeling in my bones.

Making resolutions at the beginning of the new year has never been my thing; not because there is nothing to improve upon, as my husband would quickly attest, but I don’t like to set myself up for failure.  Besides, my imperfections are charming.

Yet lately, there is a phrase that is following me around everywhere: it is whispering in the wind, it is written on a bracelet I just bought, it’s on billboards, I could see it written in an airplane’s exhaust, and it was spelled on my kitchen counter when I spilled a package of rice today: Anything is possible.  I’m not sure from which direction it materialized, but these words won’t leave me alone.

the sky is the limit

Likely it’s a middle age thing; having reached it I realized I need to pick up the pace, as though I am at the 5km mark of my 10km race and I’m feeling great and on track for a personal best.  Or in the same vein that I pack a week’s worth of intentions into my last day of vacation.  Anything is possible.

Maybe it’s because my children are finally independent people, who can make their own beds and get themselves a glass of milk, freeing me to do other things, like tie my shoes, or think.  Anything is possible.

Or simply because the sun is now shining on our city and mountains, making them vibrant, after a month-long monsoon where gray was uniform and ever present.  Anything is possible.

In the past year I saw people I loved diagnosed with cancer, who proceeded to do battle with this sickening diagnosis and beat it.  Anything is possible.

Or could it be simply a change in mindset that I’m not afraid of failure anymore.  Anything is possible.

Perhaps I should just have another drink.  Anything is possible.

Whatever the cause or reason, this mantra is playing in my head like the annoying neighborhood dog that won’t stop barking.  As I look towards 2011, these words house hope of a brighter and more meaningful future.  There is comfort in the knowledge that if you have the courage to try something, only to fail, there is more to be learned from failing then never trying at all.  Anything is possible.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2011, where the sky is the limit, and the possibilities as numerous as the pine needles currently on my floor.

I’m dreaming of an intoxicated Christmas

December 27, 2010 8 comments

At the risk of sounding like a lush, Christmas dinner is just not Christmas dinner without a glass of Viognier – my favorite turkey pairing wine- or at the very least, some liquid containing alcohol, be it moonshine or cognac.  Like Art Garfunkel’s lackluster solo career without Paul Simon, turkey dinner is bland and tasteless without wine, and my mood is certainly not as festive.

That I have married into a family that does not drink is a source of considering wrangling, not to mention countless thoughts of “what was I thinking?”.  Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day trapped within the confines of your in-laws house, a pack of sugared-up children squealing in delight as they chase each other around, and no rum for your eggnog in sight?

Without beer goggles, hopelessly mundane conversations become unbearably hopelessly mundane.  That story about the time my sister-in-law was doubling her Barbie on her bike, and turned to watch her hair blowing in the wind causing her to fall and break her wrist is not as charming the tenth time around.  With a glass of wine in hand I suspect I would be more patient.  I consider weighing in with my own memories of the time I mistakenly drank my father’s glass of whiskey – I was pretending I was in the Flintstones, I was Betty, Wilma was giving me medicine, incidentally – and my 5-year-old self drunkenly fell down the stairs in front of my parent’s company.  I keep this memory to myself – this would be akin to blasphemy.

Years ago, when I got myself into this mess, remaining sober on celebratory occasions was not a big deal.  Back when my social life was in full swing (another way of saying pre-children), waking up without a hangover, or at the very least that sour taste in your mouth, was a welcome respite on Boxing Day.  Those sweet stories of my betrothed’s childhood were charming the first time around.  But as my family has grown, so has my need for a cocktail once the clock chimes five.  My social life now null and void, occasions like Christmas can provide the perfect excuse for even earlier cocktails.

Alcohol causes nothing but trouble, my in-laws argue.  Admittedly, alcohol has gotten us into some hiccups along the way in my own family (a family where the question is would you like a dash of eggnog with that rum?).  There was the time my teenaged brother fell into an alcohol induced sleep with a cigarette burning on our ottoman, and we narrowly escaped our house being burned down.  But for the most part, spirits add festivity and fun to our gatherings.  Those tiring stories become riotously funny.  Tongues loosen, guards drop.  Very rarely, scores are settled.  Always people are teased mercilessly.

The hard stuff adds color.  Christmas dinner with my in-laws is conducted in black and white, and yields ho-hum, stilted conversations.  For instance there is much discussion over the done-ness of the turkey. The conundrum of keeping the white meat moist while cooking the dark meat properly has been dissected and debated to the tiniest detail.  The hours spent on this topic would surely have produced world peace had that been the debate.  This year my in-laws barbecued the turkey: a whole new day dawned.  The teetotalers were so enamored by this progression that the lumpy mashed potatoes and dressing (with or without raisins – always good for a fifteen minute discussion) were scantly noted.

If you happen to be my mother-in-law, I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but offer me a glass of wine next year and I guarantee you will prefer my slightly intoxicated state.  If this makes me an alcoholic, then so be it; the first step is admitting it.  Next year I’m bringing a flask.

Chistmas is killing me

December 13, 2010 2 comments
MD-80 by a Nose

Image by caribb via Flickr

I had the most vivid dream last night: I was standing on an island at the water’s edge.  Not so far away, a 747 was taking off in my direction.  I stood, transposed, as this magnificent beast lazily lifted first its nose, and then slowly its rear, its huge bulk improbably hanging in mid air.  Suddenly, in a horrifying twist, its nose turned downward and it was heading straight towards me.  This prior magical moment, full of wonderment at the marvels of modernity, turned into the shock of modernity causing my death; there was no where to run.

And so it is with Christmas, another altogether beautiful, mass market, man made beast.  It has become an industry that spawns an entire collection of movies, its own section in book stores and the library, encourages even the most gifted of musicians to cover Christmas classics (as if anyone could improve on Nat King Cole’s version of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, but still, they try).  Most importantly, it is the crowning glory of everything retail; spend! spend! spend!, advertisements tell us.  As the days of December tick quickly by, the nose of that 747 has taken a nasty downward focus.

The internet has supposedly made shopping easy: one click and it’s on its way.  Yet I am paralyzed.  I have not bought one gift for my best customers, my children.  The lights are too dazzling, the smell of pine intoxicating, the wrapping paper too varied, the choices of gifts both big, small and insignificant, overwhelming.  I am frozen by the sheer volume of my growing list, and now it is too late to order online.

As the mother who wears the purse, if not the pants, in this family, I am the unspoken provider of Christmas.  I have three little girls who fully expect Santa to bring them a boatload of presents on December 25.  We are working our way through the multitude of Christmas movies Hollywood has faithfully produced, all with the same message: you must believe in Santa for him to come.  Yet, try though I may to believe (dutifully, like all of the cards shout from my mailbox, Believe!), this higher being has yet to materialize.  It will be me trudging through malls this week, battling frantic shoppers who are decidedly not in the holiday spirit as they beat me to parking spots and dash in front of me in long checkout lines.

I know this; I have been out there already.  I haven’t bought one present for my family, but I’ve been trying hysterically to keep up with the other demands of Christmas.  My daughters are each doing Secret Santa gift exchanges at school, at gymnastics, and now, they tell me, since they are so much fun, with their friends.  They are collecting money for coaches and teachers, to give them gifts, and since it is all about giving, who can argue with that?  Each of their classes are putting together a gift hamper for families in need – the most useful gifts I will purchase this season – but adding three more to my list.  For every party they attend (classroom, school play, gymnastics, soccer) they bring items for the food bank, so my pantry is disappearing before my eyes, and I’m also expected to bake and decorate cookies for these events, as if the twelve other plates of gingerbread men are not enough.  There are dresses and shiny shoes to be purchased,  snow boots and ski suits that must be upgraded for the impending weather.  I’m exhausted and broke and I haven’t even started on the list that includes my own family.

sporting their finery during Christmas 2009

Our tree is up, but my children are begging for more decorations, more lights, more everything.  When, they keep asking, will the presents be under the tree?  Oh yes, those elusive presents.  Telling them I’ve been a bit busy doesn’t fly: doing what? they ask.

The ten shopping days remaining are reduced to five for me, since school vacation starts at the end of this week, at which point I morph into camp director, shepherding my children to the skating rink, ski hill,  indoor pools and playdates in an effort to entertain them.

The nose of the plane is now closing in on me, I am deafened by the roar of its engine.  Should I run or swim, I wonder.  It really doesn’t matter, since it is landing on top of me in any event.  Just as the Grinch discovered, you can’t stop Christmas from coming; but unlike those gracious Who’s in Whoville, my children will not peacefully gather around a tree without presents underneath it, singing carols.

all smiles Christmas morn '09 - no pressure!

Dear Santa, I would like a laptop, an iTouch, a Nintendo DS….

November 19, 2010 2 comments
A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

Image via Wikipedia

Halloween is not in the can for a week, and the Christmas crap starts.

Before I have even taken the skeletons and cobwebs (this, in itself, is alarming: Halloween decorations??) to storage and put away the multiples of costumes, the kids have their Christmas lists finished and are asking about their dresses.

Dresses? For one day?

As I’m questioning the necessity of whether they each need a dress they will never wear (Doesn’t last year’s fit? How about something a little nicer than normal that you will actually wear again throughout the year?), I catch a glimpse of my oldest daughter’s list.

The first item is a laptop computer.  And then the cheeky bugger has listed several other items beneath it, since you can’t simply get one gift for Christmas.

Hardly an original thought, but once more, with feeling: have we lost our marbles when it comes to consumerism at Christmas?

I said as much to her.  “But I need it for school! We don’t have enough laptops to go around,” she wailed.

She is eleven.  Whatever happened to the blackboard?  And slates?

I try not to point my finger solely at her – it is the age in which we live.  Also to blame is her peer group, who seem to up the ante on every birthday and occasion. You can’t blame her for trying.  But it seems to get worse every year, the wish list loftier and longer, the price tags higher, the gadgets fancier.

We’ve traded in American Girls (who knew you could spend that much dough on a doll?) for electronics.  A couple of years ago it was the iPod, then the Nintendo DS, then the iTouch.  (The requests for the cell phone have been ignored although her voice gets louder, and I am sad to report she is in the minority of her group of friends who must resort to land lines for calling home – “use your friends cellphone,” I tell her cheerfully.)

When I was her age I was lucky to get a Barbie.  The world, and not just my daughter, has gone mad.  And you either must buck up in order to make their wishes come true, or buck the trend; in which case your name, come Christmas day, will be the Grinch.  Or Scrooge.  Pick your poison.

The answer, of course, is to educate your children about those who have so little at this time of year; let’s help them instead.  We gather necessities and tiny treasures and put them together for families in need in our community.  We deliver bags of food to the Food Bank.  We talk about all the people all over the world who are simply trying to survive each day, let alone play with a new toy.  We do all this until the cows come home.  And yet when tucking them in at night, it’s back to their list.

This is where the tough parenting comes in.  I love my children to the ends of the earth, but it’s my job to teach them that their happiness can’t be bought.  I want them to be joyously happy on Christmas Day, but not because I’ve forked out January’s grocery money on their gift.  I want them to have great friends and feel secure but not because they received what the rest of their friends got during the holiday.  I want them to be thoughtful, loving, caring, empathetic citizens, not greedy, selfish drama queens.

It’s so much easier to say yes than no, but what is that teaching them?  I always did have a soft spot for the Grinch.