It’s Official, The Holidays are Over

Just when I was getting into the holidays, they’re over. Gone in a flash. Before you could say, “Ho, ho, ho,” it was, “Bye, bye, bye.”DSC00005

Yes. The joyous season is over. Want to know how I finally figured it out?  For starters, I just ran out of the last drop of candy cane-scented anti-bacterial hand soap. Ditto for the holly berry wreath soap I kept by the kitchen sink. What’s more, the sugar cookie and fresh balsam scented candles I bought back in October, have met their last match, having melted down to tiny bits of wax.

Now, I may be no Sherlock Holmes, but I deduced the holiday season to be a goner when I used the last paper towel with dancing gingerbread men to wipe up a spill, sneezed into the last tissue from a box bedecked with with purple snowmen, and used the sole remaining snowman and penguin-decorated paper plate to eat the very last of my daughter’s homemade cookies.

Though if truth be told, there’s one more limited edition, pumpkin spice frozen waffle somewhere in the freezer. It’s been in there so long, it’s become embedded in layers of ice, stuck in the freezer’s hinterlands, and just waiting for some poor soul to fetch it from its resting place. Any takers?

The last vestages of the holiday are now all gone.

The last vestiges of the holiday are now all gone.

As for the half-eaten candy cane that lay in a sandwich bag on the kitchen counter for nearly a month, with the expectation that it would be polished off at any given moment, you’ll find it at the bottom of the kitchen trash. Too bad, because I know a certain Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who had his eye on it. (Better luck next year, Henry!)

Yes, the holiday season is over, though, if I’m not mistaken, it is almost Valentine’s Day. Which, as everyone in America knows, leads to Presidents’ Day, followed in March by Cesar Chavez Day (at least, in some states, anyway). And, so on. You get the picture.

Which is why, I’m still saying,

Season’s Greetings!

After all, why confine this festive salutation to just a certain time of year? Holidays abound all year long and, technically, every quarter brings a new season—winter, spring, summer or fall–right? So, why not say “Season’s Greetings” all year long?

If you ask me, everyday should be a reason to celebrate the joy each season brings. Heck, the fact that we’re alive is a good enough reason to be gathering with friends and family, and having good tidings and all that.

Frankly, I don’t need scented soaps and candles, decorations and gingerbread cookies in order to have goodwill toward all. Nor do I need to have a box of tissues, adorned with snowmen, in order to declare, joy to the world.

All I need is fresh air to breathe, a song in my heart, and a skip in my walk. All I need is knowing that it’s a new day and I have family and friends who appreciate me, and I them.

And, taking my cue from one of my favorite Christmas songs, all I need is you, my many readers who indulge me by visiting my blog, and sharing lovely sentiments in your comments.

In other words, there’s no reason to end the holiday spirit just because December has passed, January is on the wane, and the holiday-bedecked products are nowhere to be found. Let’s continue to spread the good cheer!

Let’s remember that life is worth living and that good friends are worth their weight in gold.

And, to all the cynics out there who think I’m just another Pollyanna, no worries. Before you know it, the holiday season will once again be upon us, and you will be once again safe in the cocoon of “holiday” commercialism. Count on that.

For the rest of us, we’re always going to be in one season or another. So, say it with me, and shout it from the rafters:

SEASON’S GREETINGS!

Now tell me. What will you do to keep the holiday spirit going?

The Fish Who Came to Dinner

So there I was, minding my own business, one frosty night just after Christmas.  My kids and I were cozily watching a movie from among the many DVD’s we exchanged as gifts this year, and we were having a dandy time at that.  When suddenly, what should appear at my doorstep?DSCN6843

A mysterious stranger in the form of a goldfish in a bowl, seeking refuge from the darkness of the night.

Now, before you ask, what’s the big deal with a goldfish appearing at my door late at night, I will tell you: I know nothing of the care and feeding of goldfish. I never had a pet fish in my life, though once, when my son was but a boy, I got him a turtle, followed by a lizard, and both perished within days of being under my care.  Frankly, I just couldn’t keep up with the demand for live crickets and such.

But, back to the fish.  It seemed, my neighbor was heading out of town that very evening, and had forgotten to make plans for the fish while away. Since we were the only ones home at the time, lo and behold, it fell upon us to take the fish in.

Much to my horror, for ten days this critter has invaded our home, and, if truth be told, I feel, ahem, like a fish out of water. What if the fish dies on my watch? I’ve heard it said, you can kill a fish simply by overfeeding it. For all I know, looking at it sideways will cause it to pass out. I’m doomed!

And, why oh why, did I forget to ask my neighbor for the name of said fish? I don’t even know its sex! Shall I call it Jack or simply Jill? Or, should I take a page from Henry, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who descends from royalty, and refer to the fish as Lady Guinevere? Don’t even ask.

Ten days! This was supposed to be my holiday, which I was using to spend time with my son and my daughter, and catching up on all sorts of activities, like organizing the closets, baking, reading, and doing pretty much as I please when I please.

In other words, I had other fish to fry. But now, I have to worry about just one fish and making sure it stays alive for at least 10 days.  After all, I don’t want any animal welfare groups to come after me.

Should that happen, one would hope that Henry would vouch for me in a pinch, but, alas, with Henry, you just never know. When push comes to shove, if the police were called in to investigate the mysterious demise of a certain goldfish, Henry would probably feign silence at first, and act as if he didn’t understand the language at all.

Perhaps, after the detective’s persistent queries, he might just say,  “Is Cook a friend to animals? Why, I wouldn’t know. I did see her once do something horrid to a spider, and then there was the time she forgot to give me my dinner, so you decide.”

And, that would be enough for the detective to surmise foul play and take me in, handcuffs and all.

It’s been three days now. Thankfully, Jack/Jill is still alive and we are all holding our breath that it stays so. Even Henry, who has little faith in my fish-caretaking abilities, sighs in relief whenever he passes the bowl and sees the fish still frolicking about.

“All’s well! Seven o’clock and Lady Guinevere is still kicking,” Henry exclaims loudly.

Seven more days. And yet, with each passing one, the water in the goldfish bowl seems to get a touch murkier and I can’t help but wonder, who’s going to clean that bowl out? Will Lady Guinevere (aka, Jack/Jill) be blinded by the dense gunk within? Should I do my best to procure a fish tank and all those fancy supplies that are used to keep the tank clean? And, while I’m at it, does Lady Guinevere need a Sir Lancelot for companionship?

Oh dear. I’m fretting so about this one-inch fish, and praying it survives life in my abode. Oh dear!

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had to care for someone else’s pet, without a clue as to what to do?

Well, that’s my fish tale. Any advice is most welcome. In the meantime,

Happy New Year, friends!

If you have a moment, please check out the results of my Fifty/Fifty Challenge!

A Christmas Remembrance

That's me posing with Shirley and my brother, Rafael, too.

That’s me posing with Shirley and my brother, Rafael, too.

Note:  I first posted this two years ago when my readers were few and far between.  Thanks for reading, and may your holidays be happy and warm!

Each of us has moments in our lives that we’d like to recapture. For me, one of those moments was the Christmas I received Shirley. I was seven and the excitement of the season was still fresh in my heart, beginning with the signal from my mother indicating it was time.

Time to venture down to the basement and rummage through stacks of boxes until we found the right ones. My mother would pretend not to see them, allowing me the thrill of spotting the boxes first. Worn from years of use and handling, they were filled with fragile, shiny ornaments and treasured decorations. Out came the large red Santa boot, made of Styrofoam, red paint and glitter, which we’d hang on the front door. Nestled in another box, we’d find the plastic reindeer that would spend each Christmas watching over us from its perch on the hi-fi. Meanwhile, my father would take my brothers to purchase a tree from a nearby lot. Once they returned, we’d open the box with the delicate ornaments. We’d peel away the tissue paper to uncover each gleaming object in hues of red, blue and silver.  As we decorated the tree, Andy Williams and Perry Como records serenaded us with such classic songs, as “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

A few days before Christmas, my mother would take my brothers and me into the city. There, we’d move swiftly and purposely through the snow dusted streets, where the warm scent of chestnuts roasting in the vendors’ carts filled the cold, biting air. First, we’d catch a matinee at Radio City Music Hall, not so much to see the film, as to see the Radio City Rockettes perform in their Christmas show, always a spectacular sight. Afterward, we’d cross the street to Rockefeller Center to gaze upon the enormous Christmas tree, ablaze in lights in the dusk of a New York City evening, and watch the skaters glide gracefully across the ice. Before taking the subway back to Queens, we’d make one last stop at Macy’s on Herald Square.  Riding the elevator to the 8th floor, the anticipation of seeing Santaland made my heart beat faster. For the entire floor it seemed had been transformed into Santa’s village, replete with fake snow, starlight heavens, miniature buildings and a wooden bridge you’d walk across as you headed to see the man himself, Santa Claus.

We’d open our presents on Christmas Eve, which in our family was even more important than Christmas Day. The gifts were modest and simple as my parents couldn’t afford more than that. One year I received a plastic set of checkers. Another, a Dr. Ben Casey doll that had been purchased with S&H green stamps. In fact, green stamps were used to purchase many of our gifts.

But this year was different. This was the year that I was given Shirley, a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed doll in a pink dress and crisp pink and white striped pinafore.  She was absolutely breathtaking! Shirley, whose name my mother had chosen because the doll reminded her of Shirley Temple, was the most beautiful doll I’d ever laid eyes upon–and she was unattainable through green stamps. No ordinary doll, Shirley was a Madame Alexander doll, purchased at the most prestigious, high-end toy store in New York City, F.A.O. Schwartz. I hugged my new doll tightly, breathing in the smell of brand new plastic. In my delight, it didn’t cross my mind to ask how my parents were able to afford such a doll.  Too excited to even sleep that night, I just didn’t think about it. During the night it snowed. In the morning we’d all go sledding. But tonight I had Shirley. This was Christmas for me.

It wasn’t until later that I learned how a number of relatives and close family friends had pitched in to help my parents purchase Shirley for me. I learned how my parents made the decision to not give each other gifts that year, so that I could have Shirley.

Throughout my childhood, I received other dolls, but none compared to Shirley. The other dolls, for the most part, are gone now, but I still have Shirley. She is safely stored in a cedar chest, which I sometimes open at Christmastime, for one more look, for one more touch of my old, dear friend.  For when I hold Shirley, I am surrounded again by my parents’ love, their real gift to me.

So, how about you? What are your best holiday memories?

Holiday Shopping Madness

Every year it’s the same. You’d think, by now, I would have learned, but no. I say to myself, this is the year I’m not going to break the bank. Just get gifts for my kids and that’s it. After all, I’m not made of money.

That’s the intention, and it lasts about 24 hours. Which is when, I realize my plan is not going to work. Okay, then. Just my kids, and my brother who lives in Chicago because he always remembers me this time of year and sends me something that he knows will be meaningful to me. But, how can I get him anything without getting my brother in Florida a gift, too? And isn’t my sister going to be in Florida with our brother, like she is every year at Christmas? I can’t forget about her.

Just a little gift to remind him of home. That's all Henry wants this year.

Then, I remember the two Secret Santa groups I’m in. At work we draw names every year. And the ladies I met one year at a gym for women, also do Secret Santa, though by now Santa is no secret. Each has a $25 cap, and already I can hear the cash register bell going, “Cha-ching!”

There’s also my neighbor and friend who used to take walks with Henry and me before she got sidelined with a foot injury. Cha-ching. Oh, and my handy friend, Gale, who stops by everyday at lunch time, when I’m at work, just so that Henry can take his mid-day stroll through the neighborhood. And, what about my cousins who moved here last year, and my niece who’s stopping by on her way to spend Christmas with her partner’s family? I can’t forget any of them. Cha-ching, cha-ching!

Then, there’s the woman who does my hair and who gave me a small tin of butter cookies the last time I was in, as a hint that she wants a big tip. I don’t even like butter cookies, but I got the hint just the same. There’s also the woman who waxes my eyebrows, once a month, so that I don’t end up looking like Frida Kahlo. Not to mention, the guy who delivers my water, so I don’t die of thirst. There’s the one who protects me from ant infestations and came to my rescue when I was confronted by a rat in my garage. There’s the UPS guy, who wears spiffy, brown shorts all year long, looking quite dapper as he delivers all my packages from Amazon, without suffering any breakage. He’s been looking at me as if he expects somethin., After all, he more than meets his delivery quota with me. And, while I’m at it, I can’t overlook the team of women who arrive like kamikaze cleaners to spit shine my home every other Thursday. I know they’re expecting a little something. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, goes the cash register, as I watch the dollar bills flying out the door.

Even Henry gets miffed if I don’t bring him home a new toy or biscuit. “Something to remind me of home,” he says, looking forlorn. And by home, I know he means England. I don’t dare tell him he was actually born west of the Mississippi. Instead, I bring him a box of crumpets from the bakery, and a DVD titled, The Lost Prince.  This makes him deliriously happy.

Then, there’s my son’s new girlfriend. This is her first Chrismukkah with him—and us (yes, we celebrate both). Already, she feels like part of the family, and I couldn’t be happier. So I have to get something for her and of course it can’t be just one thing because I have so many ideas on what she’d like! Cha-ching!

And what about myself?  I can’t see a Black Friday sale or any other sale, for that matter, without getting something for me. Which is why I buy two of everything! CHA-CHING, CHA-CHING, CHA-CHING!!!

Oh yes, every year it’s the same. But next year, it’s going to be different, I am certain of that. Next year, I’m going to keep it simple. Which is why, next year I’m planning to sleep through December, and not wake up until the strike of midnight, January 1st.

So how about you? How did your holiday shopping fare this year? Were you good, or did you go overboard like someone I know, whose name I’d rather not mention, ahem.

The Road Taken: Christmas with Pam

It was that time of year again and I was dreading it.  The holidays. I’d been living in Seattle a few years and still couldn’t get used to not having the family around at this time of year. But they were all in New York and I missed them immensely.

At home, it was business as usual. My husband, G, said the pressures of going for his PhD made it difficult for taking any time off, and the holidays were no exception. Besides, he didn’t celebrate Christmas. And I had made a commitment not to, either, as it was important to his family. Most of the year, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed learning about G’s family traditions.

But Christmas was coming and I so missed the traditions of my childhood. Like helping my mother decorate the tree, and wrap the presents, which was an art in and of itself.  She taught me well, where to make the creases, and how to line up the patterns on the wrapping paper, when taping it, so that it appeared seamless. I also loved baking cookies, using a recipe I had learned in my high school Home Economics class. I’d make batches of Spritz cookies, that I would then frost and decorate to my heart’s content.

But with no family in Seattle, just G, and with his insistence on working Christmas Eve and Day, there would be no holiday warmth in our home. Just another day in the life.  I knew a tree was out of the question. The symbolism was too much for him to bear.  Still, I would have given anything to decorate for winter, with snowmen figurines or a pillow decorated with snowflakes.  But G saw those things as a “gateway drug” to getting a tree, and, shaking his head, thanked me for respecting his wishes.

So there was nothing in my home except one thing. The one thing I could still hold on to. The one thing G couldn’t keep out of our house, and the one thing that didn’t cost me a dime:  Christmas music.

Two days before Christmas, one of the local radio stations started playing Christmas music nonstop, with no commercial breaks. Perfect. I took a blank cassette tape from a stack we kept by the stereo and I recorded 90 minutes of uninterrupted holiday music, which, in the still of my home, with no one around, and the lights down low, I’d play over and over. I treasured that tape.

On Christmas Eve day, G left early for the lab. I had the day off.  Around noon, I called home and spoke to my mother. She was busy preparing a turkey, potatoes, and some traditional Venezuelan foods for their meal. Christmas Eve in our family was even more important than Christmas Day itself. Everyone was there. In the background, I could hear the laughter and shouts of glee from my nieces. One of my brothers got on the phone and asked me what my plans were. I felt tears well in my eyes, knowing I didn’t have any, so I lied and said G would be home in a few hours and we’d be having dinner.  He replied with something like, “That’s great,” and ran off to chase after his youngest. They were getting ready to put their boots on and go out in the snow.

I looked out the back window into our patio. The skies were gray with no signs of snow.  Just a cold, light mist.  I turned on the TV and watched It’s a Wonderful Life, remembering how, long ago, my oldest brother had asked me to watch this film with him, as it was one of his favorites. That was long before it became a national holiday tradition. I thought of him now and wished we were watching it together.

When the movie ended, I inserted my tape into the stereo and hit the “play” button.  While Bing Crosby sang about a white Christmas, I decided to look in the fridge to see what I could have for dinner. There was some leftover cauliflower curry and a chicken breast. G was supposed to have taken the curry to eat at the lab, but in his haste to leave, had forgotten. Oh, well. It was mine now.

The doorbell rang. It was Pam from next door. Her siblings had driven in, early that morning, from the Spokane area and she was cooking dinner.

Looking past me, into the darkened room, she said, hesitantly, “We were wondering if you and G might like to come over for dinner?”

“G’s at the lab.”

Pam shot me one of her sardonic looks and raised her right eyebrow. “So Scrooge is at the lab? What else is new?” Then, with slight concern, added, “We need to get you out of here, stat.”

“Are you sure? Don’t you want to just be with your family?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s our duty to take in the riff-raff of society. So stop wasting time and come on.”

In that moment, I wanted to put my arms around Pam and hug her tightly. Luckily, I knew better and didn’t want to push my luck. Grabbing my purse and keys, I locked the door and followed her to her place.

That was the first Christmas I spent with Pam and her family, in the comfort of her holiday-festooned home, and for the next few years, while we lived in Seattle, it became an annual tradition. The scent of pine, and the aromas of her famous rhubarb pie baking in the oven, wafted through her home, while traditional carols played on the stereo. I loved all her decorations, right down to the bubble lights she put on her evergreen, and the kitschy Santa she kept by the front door. Another tradition of Pam’s was to go to the movies to see the latest Disney animated re-release (this was before VHS and DVD made it possible to watch at home). Just the four of us adults–Pam, her siblings and me–and it was pure joy.

Yep, those Christmases so inspired me that, years later, after my marriage to G had ended, I unconsciously adapted her whimsical style in my own home. Perhaps, it was my way of reliving Christmas with Pam.

Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.