Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Day After Christmas (a Poem)

Christmas is over! Long live Christmas!

'Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house,
All the garbage was strewn on the floor and the couch;

The stockings, once hung by the chimney with care,
Were down on the ground, contents flung everywhere.

The children were still nestled snug in their beds,
Asleep, with their favorite new toy by their heads;

And Momma and I, still in need of a nap,
Were staring at wrappings no longer a-wrap.

Looking over the living room, so full of clutter,
That I thought it was hopeless and started to mutter;

There was paper, and boxes, packing peanuts, and more,
There were those stupid twisty ties-- all over the floor.

Then, all of the sudden, I moved like the Flash,
And gathered up garbage to throw in the trash;

The Wife and I picked up and swept with the broom,
And worked 'til we'd cleaned up most all of the room.

When what to my wondering ear did appear,
But the sound of the garbage truck rumbling near;

With a little old driver, all bearded and thick,
That he looked, for a moment, like a grungy St. Nick.

I gathered my bags and I ran to the street,
For I knew that the garbage truck I had to beat;

'Else I'd live in a house full of garbage all week,
And if it sat around that long, no doubt it would reek.

I stuffed bags in my dumpster, one, two, three, and four,
And when I thought it was full, I stuffed in several more!

I filled it so full I could not close the top,
It was bursting with garbage; it was ready to pop.

Then the truck it approached, and it was sort of smelly,
It picked up my trash and dumped it into its belly.

And dropping my empty bin back to the ground,
The truck pulled away with a loud revving sound.

And the driver yelled out as he left in a streak,
"Merry Christmas to all! I'll be back here next week."

Edited from a post originally published on 12.26/2017.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Let's Rate the Christmas Traditions!

There are a lot of different Christmas traditions out there. Everyone has their favorites. But, some of them make absolutely no sense. Today, I'm going to go through some common Christmas traditions (and some that aren't so common) and rate them on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being lame and 10 being awesome.

Let's get started!

Leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus--It really all depends on what kind of cookies they are, doesn't it? Store bought: 6 out of 10. Sugar cookies: 8 out of 10. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts): 6 out of 10. Homemade chocolate chip cookies (without walnuts): 10 out of 10.

Mmmm...cookies! (Too bad they aren't chocolate chip.)

Going to a movie at the theater on Christmas Day--Again, it would really depend on which movie, but aside from that I'm of the mind that this would be a better activity for early afternoon on Christmas Eve, or one of the days after Christmas. Christmas Day itself should be for the kids to break their new toys, not to see the latest Star Wars side-quel. 4 out of 10.

Having a big turkey (or ham) dinner--Is a big dinner really necessary? You just had a big meal a month ago at Thanksgiving. Plus, you've already spent most of the morning nibbling on the candy from your stocking. There's really no need for the big production of a huge meal on Christmas. 3 out of 10.

Leaving hay on the roof for the reindeer to eat--When my brother had young kids, he started this tradition with his family. The first year or two the kids thought it was pretty fun, but by the third and fourth time he did it, the novelty had worn off and all it became was a dangerous endeavor to see if my brother would fall off of the roof and crack his head open. 2 out of 10.

Birthday cake for Jesus--My oldest daughter was just over a year and a half old when she first started to understand much about Christmas. When we explained to her that the whole holiday was a celebration for the birth day of baby Jesus, she asked if we were going to have "birssday cake." How could we say no to that? So, every year we celebrate the birthday of Jesus with a delicious chocolate cake! 10 out of 10.

Mmmm...cake!!! (Do you sense a trend? I like me some dessert!)
Singing Christmas carols--When I was a kid the whole family would meet at Grandma's house, but before we could open any presents we had to all gather around the piano and sing "Silent Night." Under the right circumstances, this could be great, but let's just say that no one will ever mistake us for the Osmonds. 6 out of 10.

Getting pajamas on Christmas Eve--We've been doing this in my family for years. Everyone gets a pair of pajamas before going to bed on Christmas Eve, so that when they wake up in the morning they will be wearing nice, new pajamas in all of the pictures that will be taken. Parents love this, but kids are mostly indifferent. For kids: 5 out of 10. For adults: 7 out of 10.

Wassailing--Sometimes, people will say that they went "wassailing" at Christmastime. Apparently, "wassail" is supposed to be some kind of drink. I don't think it actually exists. I have never seen nor tasted "wassail." If someone tells me that they enjoy "wassail" or have been "wassailing," I don't believe them. I think it's all a fib, just like when people say they see something in those "magic eye" posters. So many lies! 0 out of 10.

Reading the Christmas story from the Bible--This may not be the most exciting part of the holiday, but it is one of the most important parts. There is a reason they say "Jesus is the reason for the season." 10 out of 10.

Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Edited from a post originally published on 12/23/2016.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The 12 (good) Days of Christmas

Is it really the most wonderful time of the year? Of course it is!

Oh sure, there are some things about the holiday season that can be really annoying, (see: The 12 (bad) Days of Christmas) but for the most part, Christmas time is joyous. Here are a few reasons why:

12. Receiving gifts-- I know, I know, we're not supposed to dwell on getting things. That's not what the season is about, and we're bad people if all we care about is getting presents on Christmas. Still, it's a fun feeling to start unwrapping a present, not knowing what it is, but knowing that someone cared enough to get you something.

11. Giving gifts-- While we're on the subject of Christmas presents, there's nothing quite like the feeling of giving something to someone else and seeing the happiness that it brings them. (Even if it's just a gift card.) (Some people really like gift cards.)

10. Bells-- For most of the year, bells are loud and annoying; they're used for things like letting us know when we are tardy. But during the Christmas season, they're jingly and happy, and bring joy to the world.

9. Christmas carols-- (Speaking of "Joy to the World!") Sure, we each have some Christmas songs that annoy us (talking about you, "Santa Baby") but we also each have songs that we love to hear and sing. Who doesn't love a good "Hallelujah" every once in a while?

8. Treats-- Whether it's cookies, or fudge, or divinity, or candy canes, or chocolates, or maybe even fruitcake, there's some kind of treat for everyone to enjoy. (Okay, probably not fruitcake.)

7. People are nicer-- Have you noticed that people are nicer during the Christmas season? Maybe they're more likely to give up a chair for someone, or hold a door open. Maybe they're doing it because they are genuinely nice, or maybe they just don't want to get on the naughty list--either way, it's a good thing.

6. Christmas lights-- As long as I don't have to climb up on the roof, I love Christmas lights! It's great to see the neighborhood lit up with beautiful colors and creative decorations. (Especially if they aren't blinking through the bedroom window.)

5. Eggnog-- Everyone loves the thick deliciousness of eggnog! (Okay, not everyone loves eggnog, but those who don't are wrong.) (See: An Ode to Eggnog!) The only sad thing about eggnog is that it's only available during the holiday season.

4. Spending time with family-- It's great to get together with the family at Christmastime. Sure, there may be some members of the extended family that you'd rather avoid due to annoying political views and/or questionable hygiene habits, but there are also some fantastic cousins and cool uncles and aunts that you don't get to see very often.

3. Time off from work-- It is so nice to have a little time away from work to be with the family and celebrate Christmas! (Yes, I know there are some who still have to work on Christmas. Here's a shout out to the police/fire/hospital workers who need to always be at the ready to help, and all others who have to work on Christmas.) For most of us, though, it's a relief to leave the worries of work behind for a day (or more.)

2. Children's smiles-- There's nothing quite as wonderfully contagious as a smile on a child! Whether they're playing with a new toy, or happy to see Grammy and PopPop, the genuine joy of a child's smile is about as good as it gets. (I wish I still got excited enough about things that I'd jump up and down like a little kid.)

1. The birth of Jesus-- There is a reason we celebrate this season, and it's not because of reindeer or snowmen or Santa. We celebrate because a child was born; a child who would grow up to show and teach us how we should live, and who would be willing to give his own life so that we could live. That's a pretty good thing.

Friday, December 14, 2018

What's In That Present?

Years ago, I was at my sister's house celebrating Christmas. We began exchanging gifts, and she had her three year-old son bring a present to where I was sitting. As he handed me a large, square box wrapped in Christmas paper, he said, "Here's your present. It's a basketball." And, of course, that's what it was.

Why do we wrap Christmas presents? We wrap them so the person receiving the gift doesn't know what it is. There's that element of surprise when someone opens a gift, not knowing what it might contain. A wrapped Christmas present is the great unknown.

Some people see this unknown as a challenge. They feel they must know what each present is before they unwrap them. They'll study the wrapped present. Feel it. Shake it. Squeeze it. Yes, they'll even sniff it. To these people, no Christmas present is a successful Christmas present unless they know what it is before they unwrap it.

My brother-in-law is one of those people. He has an uncanny knack for announcing what each gift he received was before he opens it. He'll hold the wrapped gift up to his face, as if mentally connecting to it, then say exactly what the present is before opening it. It used to drive my sister crazy. She began wrapping the presents in elaborate and creative ways in an attempt to confound him, but he would still usually announce the gift correctly before opening it. We never knew exactly how he was doing it. Was he carefully unwrapping and re-wrapping the presents? Was he doing detective work by checking out credit card statements and looking at receipts? However he did it, he was good. (And my sister enjoyed playing the game with him.)

Nice jeans!
Not everyone likes to play that game, though. For me, Christmas is stressful enough without having to figure out how to hide presents, or wrap them creatively, or try to keep secrets from my wife. My wife and I have an agreement. Neither of us try to guess what we got each other. It's like we tell our kids, we "get what we get and we don't throw a fit." For us, it makes for a more pleasant Christmas morning if we are surprised here and there, and it makes the preparation for Christmas easier, too. If I really wanted to know what my wife got me, I could just look through at her Amazon account, or look through some of the boxes in our hiding area. (We both hide gifts in the same place. We just leave them in boxes and trust each other not to look.)

It helps, too, that sometimes I'm not very bright. One year my wife got me the DVDs for the first nine seasons of the show Smallville. She wrapped each season separately, sometimes in different shaped boxes. And I was so dense that, even though I had already unwrapped Seasons 1-3 and Seasons 5-9, I was still surprised when I unwrapped Season 4. (My brother-in-law would not only have known he was getting all nine seasons, he would have correctly predicted which season was in which box.)

So, this Christmas I'm not worrying at all about figuring out what gifts I'm getting. I'll get what I get. And I'm also not worrying about trying to hide what I get for my wife from her. What I am worried about is trying to figure out what to get her. That's stressful enough. (Maybe I'll get her a basketball.)

Edited from a post originally published on 12/9/2016.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The 12 (bad) Days of Christmas

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it?

The Christmas season can be exhausting. There are a wide range of things to worry about, stress over, and cause anxiety. The whole holiday season can be quite the hassle. We're supposed to be jolly, but sometimes it's pretty easy to get pushed to the edge.

Maybe I don't want to be jolly.

Here are just a few of the things that might set you off:

1. Finding a parking spot at the mall-- Did you think you'd make a quick run to the mall to get a few things? So did every other person in the tri-state area! In December, parking spots can be about as precious as frankincense or myrrh. (But not gold--gold is still better than parking spots.)

2. Decorating the house-- I think it's great when people decorate their houses with Christmas lights, and I'll even put up some lights at my own house--but not on the roof! Roofs are steep and angled; floors are level and flat. There is a reason we walk on floors but not on roofs. I don't care how pretty the Christmas lights might be--they aren't worth me falling off of the roof!

3. Writing the family Christmas letter-- There's only so many ways you can write "Still at the same job for the past 20 years," or "Still haven't written the next great American novel," or "We've managed to keep the kids out of jail for another year."

4. Figuring out gifts for everyone-- Face it, the older you get the more people you know; and the more people you know, the more people you're supposed to get gifts for. If you can come up with five genuinely good ideas for gifts each year, you are doing fantastic. The rest of the people on your list had better be okay with gift cards or fancy crackers and cheese.

5. Finding the decorations in the closet and/or attic-- It sure seems like the only time you go to the closet and/or attic is when you are getting out or putting away the Christmas decorations, and yet every time you go in there the decorations seem to be buried underneath or behind a bevy of other boxes. Where did all of this other junk come from? And where is that one box of ornaments?

6. Fruitcake-- Some well-intentioned person will try to feed you fruitcake. Don't do it! You might think maybe this is the fruitcake that actually tastes good. It isn't.

7. The mandatory office Christmas party-- I don't like half of these people when they are sober--why would you think I'd like them when they are drunk? And keep Roger away from the mistletoe, because that's a harassment suit waiting to happen.

8. That one song that you really hate-- We each have at least one Christmas song that we absolutely despise, and you can be sure it'll get played over and over and over again. (For me, it's "Santa Baby.") (And "Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart.") (And "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.")

9. Needles from the Christmas tree getting everywhere-- You might think that this won't be a problem if you get an artificial Christmas tree. You would be wrong.

10. Wrapping the gifts-- Wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon--I didn't sign up for a craft project; I just want to cover the present I bought. You know that old saying, "If you want something done right you've got to do it yourself?" Well, that doesn't apply to me here.

11. Crowds and lines-- Soooo many people want to celebrate the holidays the same way that you do, whether it's looking at the Christmas lights or trying to get your kids to see Santa. Unfortunately, when you're around that many people, you're bound to run in to some who are on the naughty list and think they are more important than you. ("Sorry, Samantha, but your kids have to wait in line just like the rest of us!")

12. Pretending to like the gifts-- How good are your acting skills? Because sometimes you'll unwrap a present and think, "What the heck?" But, you can't say, "What the heck?" because you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Meryl Streep's got nothing on all of the Academy Award worthy performances that take place on Christmas morning!

And there you have it! But, if you feel this post was a little too much of a downer, be sure to check in next week when I'll go over The 12 (good) Days of Christmas. It'll cheer you up and make you want to sing! (But not "Santa Baby," because I can't stand that song!)

Friday, December 7, 2018

You Better Not Pout (A Friday Fiction Christmas Story)

"Are you sure about this, Santa?" When Jangle asked the question, several of the other elves in the board room gently nodded their heads in agreement.

"Yes," answered Santa. "Yes, I'm very sure about this. It's time we put a stop to it, here and now." Many of the elves who nodded at the question were now shaking their heads ever so slightly. A few of the others nodded in the affirmative, including Cho-Cho, who pumped his fist and shouted, "Yes!"

"Are you aware of the ramifications of this decision, Santa?" Jangle asked.

"This is the Naughty or Nice board meeting, Jangle. Of course I'm aware of the ramifications," Santa answered, sternly.

"Are you? Are you positive you know all that this will effect?" Jangle continued to press Santa, to the point that many of the other elves in the room started to get a little uncomfortable. The Big Guy wasn't usually questioned on his choices.

"I think I do," said Santa, calmly. "But apparently you don't think so, Jangle. Why don't you tell me what it is that you think I don't know." A barely audible "Oooo" filled the room at Santa's stern reply.

Jangle cleared his throat, then took a sip from the mug of water in front of him. He cleared his throat again. "Well, Santa, if you hold firm to this decision, the naughty-to-nice percentages will be way out of whack. My elves are estimating it could be as much as a thirty-two percent swing toward the naughty side. That would put the overall totals well into the naughty camp."

"I'm aware of that," Santa said flatly.

"Do you know what that will do to production?" Jangle continued. "We'll have a surplus of goods. A big surplus of goods. We don't have the warehouse space to handle all that surplus."

"Then we might just have to cut back on production," Santa said. There was an audible gasp in the room.

"Does that mean you might lay off elves?" asked a suddenly very concerned Tooshi, sitting two seats down from Jangle.

"There will be no lay-offs," Santa said. "At worst some of the elves just might not have to work as hard, or they might get a bit more vacation time." Again there was a gasp.

"But the elves love to work!" Tooshi replied.

Santa looked Tooshi square in the eye. "When times are tough we don't all always get what we want." He turned back to Jangle. "Any other concerns?"

"Yes," Jangle answered. "It goes to intent. I don't think most of the people who are guilty of this are intending to be naughty."

"Then what do you think their intentions are, Jangle?" asked Santa.

"Oh," Jangle said, "I think they are just trying to be silly. Or funny. Or maybe even sexy."

"Maybe," replied Santa. "But I've got to draw a line somewhere, and I'm going to draw it here. It's right there in the song. All these people have heard it. 'You better not pout.' They know it, but they're flaunting it right in my face. They purposely pose for their selfies with a pouty face. I'm ending it now!"

"To be fair, Santa, most people call it 'duck lips,' not 'pouty face.'" Jangle could tell he was losing the argument.

"I don't care what they call it. I'm Santa, and I call it a pouty face. Therefore, everyone who has posed for a pouty face selfie this year is going on the naughty list." Santa spoke directly to Jangle. "Is that clear?"

"Yes, Santa," Jangle said as he lowered his head in defeat.

Santa turned to Cho-Cho. "Cho-Cho, you are in charge of this project. Make sure you check everyone's social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flckr, Tumblr, PhotoBob, and any other apps that might be out there." Cho-Cho nodded his head enthusiastically.

"And then," Santa added, "Check them twice."


Now choose a title that best fits this story.

O A. You Better Not Pout
O B. You Better Not Duck-Lip
O C. Naughty, Nice, And/Or Annoying
O D. Checking Them Twice
O E. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Edited from a post originally published on 12/4/2015.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hostage In My Own Home

They said they'd be here today. I put my life on hold, waiting for them to show up.

They never came.

It's happened to all of us, hasn't it? The cable guy is supposed to come hook up the cable. Or, the appliance repairman is going to come take a look at your fridge. Or, they're supposed to be delivering your new bed. Or, the exterminator is coming to take care of those wasps in the backyard.

Whatever the case, you're expecting someone to come--and then they just don't show up.
If I stare at my watch indignantly, will they get here sooner?

Often times they will give you a window of when to expect them: "We'll be there sometime in the morning," or "Expect us between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM." Those expectancy windows are great, but they'd be even better if they actually showed up in the pre-arranged time range. Your anger, impatience, and frustration grow with every minute that passes before that window closes. If they said "morning," 11:59 AM is the official boiling point!

Sometimes they don't even give you a window. The other day I was having some people coming to do something in our yard, and I asked if they knew what time of day they would be there. The text I got back said, "I'm not sure what time they will be out today. They will, however, install it by the end of the day." Great! So I need to stay home all day long on the off chance they come by. (And no, they did not have it installed by the end of the day. They called at 3:30 PM to tell me they wouldn't make it, but they would be there by 9:30 AM the next day. They finally did show up on Day 2 at 1:15 PM.)

So, some of you are asking, "What's the big deal? You are at home, waiting for someone to arrive; you'd usually be there all day anyway. It's not like you had anything else to do." You're right, I'm often sitting around, not doing much--but in this situation I can't do anything else! It's amazing all the things that you'll want to do the moment you don't have the freedom to do them--make a quick run to the store; go drop something off at the post office; go grab a burger for lunch--you can't do any of these things because you're waiting for someone who may or may not show up.

If you're like me, you'll end up spending an inordinate amount of your day gazing out the window, staring at your watch, or impatiently stomping your foot.

The worst thing about this at-home hostage situation is what it does to your bathroom habits. You can't grab something to read and go sit on the porcelain convenience for fear that as soon as you get comfortable on the throne, that's the moment that the cable guy will come pounding on the door!

While I'm waiting, my anger and frustration will build up, and I'll tell myself I'm going to demand a rebate or a discount for having to wait so long. But, when they do finally show up and give me the bill, I'm so happy I'll say, "That's okay! No problem!" I'll be so relieved that the hostage situation is finally over, I'd agree to just about anything. Freedom is a wonderful thing! (At any price.)