Traditionally, at this time of year, I turn my thoughts exclusively to Xmas-related subjects on this and my other blogs, taking a break from telling you amazingly-self-centered stories about my life to telling you amazingly-self-centered stories about my life at Xmas. I am nothing if not consistent. And self-centered. Consistently so.
But to help offset the self-centeredness, remember, I'm still hosting the Merry Christmas To All, (e)book a day, traveling blogathon...OF DOOM! and so each of these posts lets you get a free book just by commenting! So leave a comment and I'll pick one commenter to get a free (e)book!
As everyone will recall, if you want to stay on my good side (the left, because you can't see my lazy eye if you are looking at me from the left), lasts year I invented SUPERXmas! which needs no explanation but which I'm going to explainate anyway.
SUPERXmas! was my attempt to do something Xmas-y every single day for, I don't know, 28 days or something like that. Frankly, I've gotten bored talking about it. So if you want to know what it was like, you can go read all of the posts (in apparently nonchronological order because that is how the internet loaded them) in this link.
I learned a lot, at SUPERXmas! last year, and became what I can only describe as "an expert on Xmas," I can only describe it that way because I haven't given you permission to describe me that way, but if you are reading this sentence then you are hereby bound to hereinafter refer to me as "An expert on Xmas" whenever you are talking about me, which is probably a lot. I'm pretty fascinating. Just ask me.
Anyway, I have decided to share, free of charge, unless you want to send me some money, which you probably should do, because you don't want me to think you're kind of a leech on society, do you? I mean, when people say "pay what you want," they don't really mean pay what you want, because I never want to pay anything. They really mean pay what you would want to pay to keep us from thinking you're a jerk, "us" being the rest of society, but what I think back is "look, you people who work at the Art Institute of Chicago and/or the Radiohead website, I don't know you and I won't ever run into you again" so I mostly pay nothing.
But that's me, not you. You should definitely pay something. Because that SUPERXmas! knowledge didn't come easy: It came at a great personal cost to me. For one thing, I never saw Marion Ravenwood again. *Sob*.
Anyway, given that I am now an expert on SUPERXmas!, I can tell you how to have your OWN SUPERXmas! and I will do that, beginning in this post, and over the next couple of posts, in which I will relay all of my extensive knowledge of Christmasry, as follows:
TODAY, I will tell you about "1. Decorating your Xmas tree for fun and profit even though Sweetie will not actually accept any of your ideas."
And then in future posts I will let you in on the secrets of...
2.The Office Xmas Party: night of incomprehensible jokes and weird foods.
3.Xmas shopping the way the pros do it.
4. How to contain your disappointment when your McDonald's Egg Nog Shake (TM) does not come with a cherry even though the drive-thru guy promised you it would have one on it because apparently he is that kind of person.
and finally, I'll finish up with:
5. Post-Xmas Letdown: How soon is too soon?
This is gonna be great. Let's dive right in, metaphorically speaking! Or NOT metaphorically speaking if you have the latest development in computer screens, the submersible screen that, once you touch it, pulls you into the world of the computer! You thought it was just an 80s trope about computers that was being recycled in lazy, 2010-era cartoons, but no, it's real and it's where Bill Gates disappeared to.
NOTE TO SELF: Check to see if Bill Gates disappeared before this post goes live.
"1. Decorating your Xmas tree for fun and profit even though Sweetie will not actually accept any of your ideas."
Tell me this idea would not make a jillion dollars:
Helium-filled Christmas ornaments that hang upwards from the branches of the tree.
I know, right? HOW INCREDIBLE WOULD THAT BE? I would never stop looking at that tree and loving it and secretly sucking the helium out of some of the ornaments in the back and saying "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus" in a high, squeaky voice. I also might do a version of "Santa, Baby," but that is a private thing and you ought not to judge.
About a month ago we started trying to think up how we were going to decorate our tree this year. Each year, we decorate our Christmas tree in a different style, a "tradition" that goes all the way back to the demise of Fort Christmas when we decided it was crazy the way we were letting Mr F and Mr Bunches dominate our lives to the point where we built fences around our Christmas tree.
That was clearly insane, we decided: we cannot let our lives be dictated by the fact that our two youngest children are not so much children as they are forces of nature, and not the good forces of nature like sylphs or mermen, but the bad forces of nature like tornadoes, only in little boy form and with far more cheese-puff powder residue on them than your average tornado has.
Fort Christmas, of course, had developed as a response to the fact that we were raising elementals, not kids, and so we had fortified our tree by putting a series of fences around it. We did not electrify the fences, but that was just by sheer chance, since we almost certainly electrified the Christmas tree by virtue of the fact that we were using 10-year-old Christmas lights bought, originally, on markdown at Walgreens, which is not exactly where you would go if you wanted to get quality electrical wiring.
The next year, we abandoned Fort Christmas in favor of a concept I loosely refer to as "not really caring," but that sounds bad, so let's call it "Kid-Friendly Christmas Tree Making". That's really what kid-friendly means, after all: it means I give up.
I am 100% serious about that. Our house is completely kid-friendly, or it's at least 99% so. I have to hedge my bets a little on how kid-friendly our house is because we have this one outlet in the kitchen that has two electrical sockets and a light switch and there's a 3x5 index card next to it, written in my handwriting, that says "DO NOT USE THIS OUTLET" in stern letters.
I don't remember why I put that there.
I don't even remember putting it there.
I had forgotten that it was even there until recently I cleaned our kitchen in preparation for Thanskgiving and noticed it, I assume noticed it again since I probably noticed it when I put it up but that's not a guarantee, and when I noticed it this was my honest-to-God first thought:
"Screw that, past-me," I thought. "I am going to use this outlet." And I was about to try plugging the toaster into it when a few other thoughts crowded into my mind. Those other thoughts were:
So aside from that light switch, and my very existence, our house is 100% kid-friendly which is to say that we've given up trying to teach our children, well or otherwise. Instead, we have tried to make sure that our kids cannot get into any real trouble, and give ourselves a break in the process, because Mr Bunches and Mr F are each about three full-time jobs and if we had a regular house we would never be able to sit down and relax.
A. I do not totally trust our toaster, what with its "bagel button" and the way I can't tell whether it's set on "7" or "1" which is a really big deal if you don't want to have to re-toast your toast a jillion times.
B. Past Me probably had a good, electricity-based, reason for putting up the index card and, let's be honest, Past Me probably thought way more clearly in that Past Me had not gone six consecutive years without a good night's sleep, whereas Present Me was at the tail end of that 6-sleepless-years streak and had in fact been awakened that very morning at about 5:00 a.m. by Mr Bunches, who wanted to cook pizza. At 5 a.m. On Thanksgiving.
C. I talked Mr Bunches into cooking pumpkin pies instead and I'm sure they were delicious except that I did not eat one because I had a sore wisdom tooth that turned out not to be a wisdom tooth problem at all, it is apparently a sore muscle in my jaw, and how I can pull a muscle in my jaw is beyond me, except apparently I did and I was told by the dentist who said it was my muscles and not my wisdom tooth that I should cut my hamburgers into small bite-sized pieces to eat them.
D. To which I thought: "Screw you, Future Me. You're going to just have to suffer with this because no way am I becoming some sort of hamburger-cutting weirdo."
Let me give you an example, using something you probably take for granted: A silverware drawer.
Many of you probably have a silverware drawer, or so I assume from knowing people who keep their silverware in a drawer, the way we used to but no longer do. A silverware drawer is a handy kitchen item where you can keep forks, knives, spoons, and sporks,if you have them, all in one location, easily accessible and at about waist-level to make for easy sorting, reaching, and putting away.
A silverware drawer is also the equivalent of crack, or Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, same thing if you ask me, to Mr F, who cannot resist the siren call of the silverware drawer.
Mr F, remember, likes to tap things. He's always holding a tapper of some sort: a coat hanger, or spatula, or scrub brush, or that little weird prong-y spoon you're supposed to use for spaghetti but if you have a special spoon for spaghetti I think you're kind of a snob. And the Holy Grail of tappers, for Mr F, is an actual real-life honesttoGod silverware fork, because it makes a good, solid tap! and has the added bonus of being able to possibly put his eye out if he trips while using it.
About a year ago, -ish, Mr F discovered silverware forks and specifically our silverware drawer, which was full of a mismatched hodgepodge of forks we had collected over the years from relatives who gave them to us as Christmas presents even though we'd have preferred movie gift certificates, because honestly we don't have a lot of formal dinners that require us to sit down and eat with forks, and part of what makes us so lucky as to not have those is because we are ill-equipped for serving guests at our house, to the point where once we gave our in-laws ice cream, served to them in coffee mugs with forks to eat it.
That's part of our charm, I like to think, and not just purely a defense mechanism.
Mr F could not handle the allure of a silverware drawer, and we spent a fruitless week trying to dissuade him from going back to the drawer to try to get forks. We'd be sitting around our living room, trying to read or playing Mousetrap with Mr Bunches (he doesn't really let me play but I get to watch him play, which is not as satisfying but it's fine because I don't remember how Mousetrap was supposed to work, like, what are all those little cheese slices for?) and suddenly Mr F would bolt into the kitchen, and we'd hear the drawer open and silverware clatter and Mr F would go tearing upstairs with an armful of forks, and I'd have to chase him, and make sure we gathered up the forks and put them back, and I'd try to lecture him and give him a time-out and he'd just laugh maniacally and give me that smile that always disarms me because it is a phenomenal smile, if you could have Mr F smile at everyone in the world one time per day, there would be no more war.
And that would happen every 0.000001 seconds, that he would steal the forks, and we'd chase him, etc.
Which is a lot of times.
So ultimately we kid-proofed our silverware drawer by giving up: we took the silverware and put it in a container on top of the refrigerator and left the silverware drawer empty, and now Mr F sometimes goes and peeks into the silverware drawer forlornly, and then wanders away to tip over the chair in their room and sit on it upside down, and we, meanwhile, when we need a fork, have to rummage around in a bin that's higher up than my head, and I can never find the right-sized spoon. We have two kinds of spoons: regular-sized spoons that are made for normal, sane people to eat cereal or ice cream with, and insanely-large, insanely-sturdy, MegaSpoons that are roughly the size of my hand and weigh about three pounds and which if you used them to eat cereal you'd be done in one bite with room left over on the spoon, but it takes three people to lift the spoons, so they're pointless and I'd throw them away except that my cereal is getting soggy and I've got very little time left to get the right spoon and eat it.
The rest of our house is similarly kid-proofed, and our Christmas is kid-proofed as well now that we have given up entirely on our traditional Christmas ornaments, which sit untouched in a box on my workbench in the garage, year after year, the ornaments that include a Raiders football helmet and a tiny Triceratops and a metal globe with Santa flying around it and probably others: we don't use them anymore, and I don't actually miss them because I don't really get sentimental about things, especially if they are things that I didn't make and which nobody made. It's hard for me to get sentimental about an ornament like the Santa Globe, which I always kind of liked, because it has no real particular meaning to me. It was just an ornament that my mom, or my dad, or somebody, got me, one year, and I kind of liked it, and hung it on my tree each year, and then one year I stopped hanging it on my tree, and that was that. There was no real tradition behind it, and I couldn't see myself someday, at age 70, hanging the ornament and saying "I remember the first year I ever hung this ornament...no, wait, I don't," and then going to get Mr F out of the silverware drawer while The Boy shoveled our driveway using one of our MegaSpoons, which we still have in the future for some reason, probably because I'm kind of lazy.
Instead of hauling out the same old ornaments year after year, we started decorating our tree with a theme each year, focusing on something that would be fun, and easy-to-do, and kid-proofed. And so the first year, we printed pictures of our family on colored construction paper and decorated them with glitter and yarn and cut them into Christmas shapes like "stars" and "round" and the next year we had the Candy Cane tree, which was decorated entirely with candy canes of various sizes and stripeages, and also had a vacuum attachment on it, the crevice tool that you use to get at the carpet at the edge of the room, because Mr Bunches wanted to hang that on the tree and we let him because Christmas means different things to different people and while to us, that year, it meant "Candy Canes and colored lights" to Mr Bunches it meant "Optional vacuum cleaner attachments that you never really use" and who's to say that he was wrong? Not you, you don't even know him.
Last year, we hit on the most popular tree of all, the Candy Bar tree, which improved on the Candy Cane tree by not having Candy Canes on it, because let's face it, candy canes aren't actually that good. Nobody ever opts to eat an entire handful of crunchy mints, right? So why would you eat an entire stack of them? You wouldn't.
Sweetie came up with the Candy Bar tree idea last year, when we were talking about how to decorate the tree and she said "How about we hang candy bars on it?"
Which was a genius idea and shows again how smart I was to marry Sweetie. So we did: we took minibars and regular bars and hung them using colorful yarn and the effect was magical and delicious, as the lights bounced off the merry-colored foil wrappers and we were free to eat the ornaments whenever we wanted, even for breakfast, if Sweetie didn't catch us, and everyone who came into our house loved it, and we were the hit of the holiday season, at least as far as we were concerned and that's who really counts if you ask me.
When this year rolled around, as years tend to do about 3/4 of the time, we sat down just before Thanksgiving, and began to make Christmas-related decisions, the first of which was that we were going to have to get a new Christmas tree, because our old one was no longer any good, I think.
Last year, at the end of Christmas, I was looking at the tree, and was about to engage in the worst part of Christmas, which is taking down the tree. SOMETHING I HATE. Not only is it tedious, and annoying, and scratchy, but it is all of those things at the same time as the magic of the holidays is gone and we have to get back to the part of life where we can't eat candy bars for breakfast, no matter what, and who wants that? Taking down the tree is a terrible part of the holidays and I decided last year that I was not going to do it.
"Why should I?" I asked Sweetie, who generally ignores me when I say things like that because she knows it always comes back to haunt me but that I'm going to be unreasonable about it anyway, like the time two years ago when I decided it was stupid to rake leaves more than once in the fall because I'd just have to go do it again three or four times and then again in the spring, so I opted instead to wait until the leaves were done falling and then rake one time, only the snow covered the leaves before I could rake them at all and the next year I had to rake out a bunch of soaking-wet half-disintegrated leaves that had begun to decompose and it nearly killed me, in that I got really really sweaty.
"I think instead, I'm going to leave the branches up and the lights on and just put the tree away in the garage, wrapped up, and next year I can just bring it upstairs and stand it up and we can decorate it and we'll avoid the whole assembling and light-putting on part that I hate," I told Sweetie.
I don't remember what Sweetie said to that but I'm sure if she had been at home when I told her that she'd have agreed that my plan was genius, and so I devised a system of wrapping up the tree using garbage bags and duct tape, which was probably the single classiest thing I've achieved this decade, and then, having successfully converted our Christmas Tree into a giant, pine-tree-shaped bundle of duct-taped plastic, I wrestled it down the two flights of stairs into the garage, noticing for the very first time ever that the steps into our garage are only about half as wide as a standard Christmas tree--
-- I should note that we have an artificial Christmas tree, if you didn't get that already. We do not have real trees, because Sweetie fears them and won't allow a real Christmas tree within a hundred yards of our house. Once, I said "Maybe we should get a real tree," and I was only through the syllable May before she said "No" with that look on her face, the one she gets when I suggest getting a real Christmas tree or say that I am going to climb up on the roof to knock the ice off the satellite dish because how else are we going to see the Superbowl? --
and so amidst much cursing out of the person who sold us our house, which I do silently whenever something in our house annoys me, which is a lot, because why are the outlets all upside down?, I got the Christmas tree into the side area of the garage, by the air conditioners that we put in the windows in the summer and the boxes of unused ornaments and the kids' old bikes and my golf clubs and a couple of boxes marked "4th of July" that appear to contain clothing, and I congratulated myself on my smarts because I was not going to have to reassemble the tree or put lights on it next year. I was already looking forward to Christmas, 2012.
Dateline: Christmas, 2012. The thing is, a Christmas tree is not something you can have just sitting around the house. Over the course of 11 months, you will occasionally knock over that tree trying to get your old bike out because you want to try riding it again, which you will do one time because you have this heart condition thing, and you will shove the tree aside when you get the air conditioners out to put them in the window, and it'll lay on its side, in its Hefty Bag Wrapping, for a week because you'll get to it, all right? You'll pick it up eventually but right now the pizza is getting cold" and then eventually, around November 1, you're going to pause at your workbench, and look at the Christmas tree, propped up against the "4th of July" clothes, and you're going to think "I really should replace that light bulb in the garage because it's dark" and then you'll realize that this tree is never coming back into the house again, and you're going to have to get a new tree, and so you text the older kids and ask them if one of them wants the old tree, and Oldest Daughter texts back:
how big is it
WHICH IS EXASPERATING because OLDEST GREW UP WITH THIS TREE AND KNOWS EXACTLY HOW BIG IT IS, SHE HELPED DECORATE IT FOR YEARS.
|NOTE: Technically these are Halloween decorations, but this particular house has not yet put up their Christmas decorations so I'm going with their Halloween efforts.|
As we've been shopping around for that, Sweetie and I also began to discuss what our themes could be for the tree this year, to both kid-proof it and make it fun, because we don't want to simply repeat the candy bar tree, although honestly I'd be fine with that. One night, we were sitting around discussing ideas for the tree, and I came up with several very good ideas, which included:
The Gift Tree: we could hang miniature wrapped boxes and gift bags on the tree, so the entire tree would seem to be gifts. We could even put small gifts in them, like little toys or candy bars. I realize I am stuck on the candy bars but they are delicious.
The Toy Tree: we could skip the wrapping and get a bunch of little toys and cars and trucks and stuff and hang them on the tree.
Sweetie did not like those ideas, but she tried to at least look like she was giving them consideration.
"No," she said, as I began to talk about the trees. I also threw out The Angel Tree and The Snowflake Tree and those were a little more acceptable to Sweetie, who said "No" to each of them but at least let me finish.
Then I came up with the best idea ever, which was The Helium Tree: "Imagine," I said, ignoring Sweetie's "no", "A tree that has the ornaments hanging UP, instead of down. We could get little mylar balloons and fill them with helium and use yarn to tie them to the branches and the ornaments would be in Christmas-y shapes like "star" and "round," and it would look AMAZING."
"No," said Sweetie, without even given due consideration to how revolutionary this tree would be. So I continued:
"You know how people have upside down Christmas trees?" I asked her, but she denied knowing that was a thing and I had to assure her that in fact it was an actual thing that actually existed and people did stand their trees upside down to make sure that the ornaments all hung straight up and down, which was something my mom used to insist on because nothing says "Christmas" like the kind of insane perfectionism a clumsy kid with a lazy eye can never achieve.
"Well, the Helium Tree would do that without having to be upside down and weird," I told her, but Sweetie wasn't buying it.
"No," she said, by way of debate.
By then, I was already beyond arguing with Sweetie, and instead I was envisioning a world where you could buy The Helium Tree Kit, a pre-packaged set of balloons and a small helium tank to inflate the. The fun the kids would have, inflating this year's ornaments! The magic of a tree in which the ornaments all hung from the tips of their branches, gently wafting in the gingerbread-laden currents, bobbling and tippling as they tried to reach the very heavens from whence the first Christmas had been proclaimed! The money I would make! The days I would no longer have to get up and go to work!
"No," said Sweetie, again, and I hadn't even gotten halfway through my marketing proposal.
We... make that "we"... decided on "stars" as our theme this year, a theme which is not so very different from angels and which might pose problems for Sweetie if she thinks about it because she doesn't especially like stars, judging by her reaction last night when we drove through the subdivision of really nice houses we like to drive through for the purpose of looking at the really nice houses, then saying how the houses are really nice, then saying how we would never ever ever spend that much money on a house, then growing silent as we both secretly think "But actually we probably would if we were being totally honest, here" because the houses are really really nice.
We drove through that last night, and I saw, at the top of a hill, a giant, brightly-lit star decoration on the side of a house, probably this star was five feet in diameter, if you measure stars by diameters, and this being America, I can do whatever I want, it's right there in the Declaration of Constitutionality or something.
"Look at that," I said to Sweetie, and she said:
"Oh, I don't like those stars," and we both looked at it for a second and then I said
And she said
"Because they always make me think they're Satanic," and I tried to assure her that the satanic star was something entirely different but then I wasn't sure so we talked instead about how ridiculous the older kids were in whatever it was they'd done. (Answer: very ridiculous.)
I found out we are having stars as our theme when we were at Target, or maybe Shopko, the day after Thanksgiving, getting presents to send to various nieces and nephews I have never meet and probably never will because they live in other states and when we, as a family, travel to other states we tend to avoid the states where our relatives live, if we can. I know I have these nieces and nephews because we're sending them presents, and Sweetie will hold up a present and say "What do you think about this?" and when I point out that it's a little babyish for the boys and also it's a girl's toy Sweetie will say "It's for ..." and she'll insert some name or other, and I will stare blankly at her until she reminds me that ... is our niece or something and then I go back to looking at Hot Wheels with Mr Bunches, my role in the family having been fulfilled.
Also, every now and then she shows me a picture of a kid and asks me if I don't think it looks like some relative I've only seen once in 15 years. I just agree that it does, even though no kid ever looks like any adult to me, except for my niece Molly who looks exactly like my father-in-law, Ace, which is unfortunate for her because Molly is a nice little 4-year-old and my father-in-law is a 72 year old man. But that's her lot in life.
We were getting presents for all these people and then Sweetie showed me a bundle of glittery stars that actually looked like the ones she thinks are satanic, but these are small and glittery instead of large and on the side of a really nice house, and she said "That's how we're decorating the tree this year."
I said: "Stars?"
And she said "Yes."
The stars are a couple bucks for a pack of 10 or so. I said "You're going to need a lot of them to cover a Christmas tree."
"How many, do you think?" Sweetie asked.
"Probably 40, 50, at least," I told her. One thing about being a man: you are expected to know ... things. As a man, you have to know what is plugging the vacuum, or what a specific sound in a car means, or how many star ornaments from Target it will take to cover a hypothetical Christmas tree that you have not bought yet, and the thing is, I do not know any of those things.
That doesn't keep me from trying to know things. Once, when we took the boys to the doctor because we thought they had ear infections, I watched the doctor peer into Mr Bunches' right ear with that little scope thing, and I said "What are you looking for when you look in there?" and he looked a little bothered and said "Red spots, and irritation and signs of infection."
I said "I was just wondering because I figured if there was a way I could look in there, I could figure out if they had ear infections before I made a doctor's appointment."
He told me I would not be able to tell, but I bet I could, and I bet those little light things are like, $20, so I could save on my co-pays just by search engine-ing "ear infections" and looking in the kids' ears.
So I was just guessing when I tried to figure out how many stars would cover a Christmas tree we didn't own yet, but it was an educated guess, at least, because in my mind I pictured a Christmas tree, and then pictured the stars, and then tried to remember what the formula for the surface area of a cone is, but I couldn't remember it, so somewhere Mr Urban, my 11th grade math teacher, is laughing and saying "Remember when you said you'd never need this stuff?" but the joke is on him because he taught me trigonometry, not geometry,and I've never needed trigonometry.
Later, at another store, we saw some other glittery stars.
"What about those?" I asked Sweetie. "You could get some of those for our tree, too."
"I don't like those," said Sweetie, rejecting what appeared to me to be more or less the same thing as what she'd earlier accepted, probably because Sweetie was feeling bad, I bet, about giving up on The Helium Tree (TM) so early in the project.
We don't, as yet, have our Christmas tree, or our Christmas stars, but we have a firm plan to have both sooner or later, probably in the next week or so. In the meantime, I plan on taking our old Christmas tree over to Oldest's apartment that she shares with The Boy, one of these days, because it's still got a little magic, and possibly some candy bars, left in it, and it seems kind of sad to just throw it out, but it seems even sadder to let it just sit there, forgotten in its Hefty bag shell, down in our garage, next to the "4th of July" clothes.
PS: When I told Sweetie the subject of this post, she said:
"Just so you understand, this is one case where my ideas are better."
But she just hasn't fully experienced the magic of The Helium Tree (TM) yet.
Don't remember Fort Christmas? Read about it in this classic post from 2008: Merry Guckmas!
The Traveling Blogathon Of Doom gets going again tomorrow, with Vanna's post. But you can leave a comment here and I'll choose from among the commenters to win a free (e)book!