Friday, December 30, 2005

Non-Resolution

Well, that makes 36 Christmases in a row with NO PONY. What the hell?

Fucking Santa! Fuck!

But My Ho did come through on Christmas morning (and he's Jewish, for cripes sake) with a beautiful extra-blingy ring for me.

No, not that kind of ring. Everybody just caaaaaaaaalm down.

While Demigoddess the Younger had been warned in advance of the gift that turned out to be not-that-kind-of-ring, Demigoddess the Elder somehow missed the memo, and therefore experienced a small moment of freaking out when she saw the little box. But it all got straightened out before too long, and I once again assured both the Demigoddesses that, if I ever do decide to get married again, I will inform them about it before I go to Vegas and get hitched at the Graceland Chapel. I will even have them at the wedding. UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE.

For most of this week, the Demis have been with their father, and prior to the opening of the gifts, I had lots of very ambitious plans for my days of solitude. But then I also received the entire first season of LOST on DVD (again, from My Ho) for Christmas, and I have watched 22 episodes since Monday. ‘Nuff said.

The Demis return this afternoon, and tomorrow night we’ll ring in the new year with a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament in our very own Vegas-style dining room/casino (sans the Graceland chapel). I'm confident that one of these days they’ll figure out how unwise it is to play poker with one’s mother. But until that happens, I’m happy to take full advantage of the fact that I can read every thought that passes through their na├»ve, trusting little heads.

We don’t play with real cash, anyway, and even if we did, I’d only be collecting back money that I gave them in the first place, which is really not all that exciting if you think about it.

I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions, mainly because I have learned not to set myself up for failure. But I do have some ideas for making 2006 better than 2005, at least in the Demis' and my own small corner of the universe. There isn't much I can do about natural disasters, the Alito nomination, domestic spying, or the freaking White Sox. But I have a lot of hope, and I have plans to change a few of the things I can. And that's something, I think.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holiday of Your Choosing!

I'm off to celebrate for a few days. I hope you all have a safe, joyful and rejuvenating Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus or Totally Non-Religious Day of Gift Opening and Eating of Way Too Much Rich Food.

To amuse you in the meantime, I give you one of my all time favorites by David Sedaris, which I have no permission whatsoever to publish, but I know it will bring you a serious holiday laugh. And if he sues me? Well, that would almost be an honor, wouldn't it?

Six to Eight Black Men

A heartwarming tale of Christmas in a foreign land where, if you've been naughty, Saint Nick and his friends give you an ass-whuppin'.

by David Sedaris Dec 01 '02

I'VE NEVER BEEN MUCH for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cabdriver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don't really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They're nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn't tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.

What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I've learned from experience that it's best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I've heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn't want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that's become so homogenous, I'm reassured by these last touches of regionalism.

Guns aren't really an issue in Europe, so when I'm traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. "What do your roosters say?" is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark "vow vow" and both the frog and the duck say "quack," the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty "kik-a-ricki." Greek roosters crow "kiri-a-kee," and in France they scream "coco-rico," which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says "cock-a-doodle-doo," my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.

"When do you open your Christmas presents?" is another good conversation starter, as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It's nothing I'd want for myself, but I suppose it's fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.

In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.

Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.

One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn't have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he'd most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn't speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he's not fluent, and he certainly doesn't eat tapas.

While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I'm not sure if there's a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.

"Is it just him alone?" I asked. "Or does he come with some backup?"

Oscar's English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.

"Helpers," I said. "Does he have any elves?"

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive, but I couldn't help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. "Elves," he said. "They're just so silly."
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count.

The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."

"A switch?"

"Yes," he said. "That's it. They'd kick him and beat him -with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."

"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"

"Well, not anymore," Oscar said. "Now he just pretends to kick you."

"And the six to eight black men?"

"Them, too."

He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you, but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old-fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.

"Six to eight, did you say?"

In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution--so what's not to love about being Dutch?

Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy--very good company--but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sister Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

Last evening's sister/cousin gathering was a tremendous success.

Tiffany filled me in on her trip to Norway, and, in particular, her private tour of the leprosy museum, which appears to have been the highlight. But I'm afraid she now believes she is actually Norwegian, even though our family is about the only one in the entire state of Minnesota without a drop of Scandinavian blood. Unless it’s via the Vikings raping and pillaging in Ireland, of course.

Shanna agreed with me wholeheartedly on the subject of Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth, and was astonished that I hadn’t seen the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice before.

Kerry breezed in late bearing gifts of hemp brownies (the legal kind), and then breezed out again a short while later, because she had to get home to the baby.

Aunt Karen’s hair has grown back almost to the point where she can go to work without her wig. Almost.

Molly kept our glasses perpetually filled with flirtinis (with pomegranate seed garnishes). Heavens, those are delightful.

Meghan got my mom all whipped into a frenzy talking politics, and, as always, looked fabulous doing it.

Dad worked the room and yelled at the dog, who discovered tasty party snacks of his very own in the cat box.

My Ho endured it all admirably, and did not try to escape even once.

And then Betsy changed out the Christmas music for the Neil Diamond CD and I nearly died laughing as the Demigoddesses joined them all in dancing and singing all over the dining room.

Take my hand in yours
Walk with me this day
In my heart, I know
I will never stray
Halle, halle, halle, halle, halle, halle, halle

It's Love, Love
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies
Grab the old ladies
Everyone goes
Everyone knows
Brother Love's show

Amen

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy Solstice. Can we please have spring now?

At what other time of year is one willing to pick up and eat any old random cookie or candy or handful of caramel corn that happens to be left unattended around the office?

I have been nibbling my way through this day and was well into yet another homemade caramel-y chocolate-y something when it occurred to me that I had no idea who had made it or where it came from. For all I knew, it could have been laced with arsenic. Or boogers.

And these are the visions of sugarplums that dance in my head on this, the day of the darkness that never ends.

I miss the sun. I would like it back, please.

In addition to my ill-advised snacking, I made another poor, poor choice today by attempting over my lunch hour to exchange the sweater I bought for Demigoddess the Younger to wear on Christmas. I was just going to “run in” to the mall and do a “quick” exchange.

Sometimes my stupidity astounds even me.

But soon, all will be well, for I will be spending this evening with my sisters and sister cousins, who are all but one in town for the holidays. We will drink alcohol and eat excellent food and sing along with our favorite Christmas songs, but not “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which my sister Molly calls “the date rape song,” because Tiffany works in a non-profit sexual violence crisis center and she is not a person one wants piss off.

Because she is exactly the type who would put arsenic in the cookies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Plastic Body Parts, EVERYWHERE

The latest season of “Project Runway” has inspired the Demigoddesses to put together all-new rounds of their home version, “Barbie Project Runway.” They choose a theme (ensembles made from things found in the kitchen, for example, or formal gowns made from pages ripped from magazines, etc.), and then hot glue their creations together to outfit their army of Barbie dolls.

Happily, Head Trauma Barbie has made a full recovery, and is once again able to participate in the competition.

My Ho is always the judge. He affects a pseudo-Klum accent (sounding more Fab Five than German supermodel) as he points out the merits or detriments of each creation, which are presented anonymously, of course. So far, he has managed to distribute the wins pretty evenly.

Last weekend’s collection included “fashions made from food,” and was highlighted by breakfast cereal, bow-tie pasta, and toasted pumpkin seeds strategically hot-glued directly to the dolls’ torsos. To me, this looked both uncomfortable and impractical. Plastic flesh does not scorch, of course, but how were these creations going to come off again? According to Demigoddess the Younger, the hot glue “picks off” fairly easily. Who knew?

So anyway, yesterday, when he found this article, My Ho forwarded it to me under a subject line that read, “Maybe this is what the hot-glued Barbies meant...

No, I thought to myself, more likely it was what the Barbies they threw in the street last summer, to see what would happen when busses ran them over, meant.

And I’m not even going to go into the Jamie Somers/Bionic Woman doll that my sister Meghan once de-boobed (MY Bionic Woman doll, I might add). Suffice it to say, the child had ISSUES.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tissues? Check.

I volunteered to work at a charity “toy store” tomorrow. It’s one of those places where people donate new, unwrapped toys, and families who can’t buy Christmas gifts for their kids can come and choose a few for them so they’ll have something under the tree on Christmas morning.

I volunteered to help out because I donate toys to these kinds of organizations every year, but I don’t know anything about what happens to the Barbies and Scrabble games and modeling clay craft sets after I drop them into the collection bins. Throughout my own financial disasters, I endured a variety of humiliations, but they all paled in comparison to the thought of disappointing my kids. I guess I thought that if I could help make things even a little bit easier for some other family, then my own hard times could be good for something more than making me obsessive-compulsive about checking my online bank balance and writing down every cent I spend.

So this morning I met with some of the other people who will be volunteering tomorrow. None of us have ever done this "toy store" thing before. We each received a team T-shirt and a list of instructions on how to take families through the process. It all sounded pretty straightforward, although even with the instructions, it’s hard to know what to expect until I get there.

Toward the end of the meeting, one of the other volunteers said a friend of hers works for the organization we’ll be helping. Her friend told her that during this distribution of toys, the parents tend to get particularly emotional, because they feel bad that they have to accept charity toys for their kids. “So bring tissues,” I said, finishing her thought for her. She nodded.

I’m a weeper myself, which means that if I see tears, I am powerless to stop my own. If somebody near me cries, I cry. If I see somebody on TV cry, I cry. Sad books, extra-sweet greeting cards, whatever. From Bambi’s mom to “Million Dollar Baby,” it’s truly a wonder that I haven’t died of dehydration. My grandma was notorious for being incapable of saying grace before dinner without weeping halfway through. It seems that I inherited her eye-faucet connection.

And I’ve been to enough Al-Anon meetings to know about the tissues. Sometimes people hurt in deep places, and sometimes, words only make it worse. There is simple, powerful comfort in having another person silently hand you a tissue when you can’t stop the tears from coming. And there is simple, powerful comfort in having one to give.

Luckily, I never leave the house without a supply handy.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Best Secret Santa EVER

The deal on the floor where I work was that on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, the Secret Santas were to sneak a gift worth $5 or less onto the desk of their designated recipient. Then, on Friday, during the big reveal, the Santas would present a final gift worth around $10, and after that we’d all have a potluck. (Oooh... potluck...)

I drew the name of a guy I don’t know very well, but thanks to some suggestions from his administrative assistant, managed to come up with some items that I thought couldn’t go wrong—some dark chocolate, an electronic game keychain, a video rental gift card, and for Friday, a remote-controlled model BMW. With batteries, of course.

And here’s what my Secret Santa left me:

Tuesday—$5 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. I won $5. Free money! Nice!

Wednesday—Five Joe Mauer baseball cards in plastic sleeves (three from the minor leagues, two in Twins uniforms). Very nice!

Thursday—An 8″x10″ glossy color photo of Johan Santana, also in a plastic sleeve. EXCELLENT!

At this point I’m pretty sure my Secret Santa is a guy, not because of the baseball stuff, but because of the lottery tickets. A chick would never give another chick lottery tickets. It just doesn’t happen.

And I’m pretty sure it’s a guy who knows a little bit about baseball, because the progression from Joe Mauer to Johan Santana clearly implies that my Secret Santa understands the hierarchy of Minnesota Twin deliciousness. Plus, the fact that the items were in plastic sleeves indicates that my Secret Santa knew to go somewhere like the ProShop to purchase them.

Sure enough, a little while later, an executive who has talked ball with me on occasion, and who has even been known to pass some very choice game tickets my way every once in a while, stopped by my desk and confessed to being my Secret Santa. He said that he was going to be out of the office on Friday, so he was giving me my final gift right then, and then he handed me a yellowing copy of the StarTribune newspaper from October 28, 1991, the day after the Twins’ last World Series win.

The front page has a huge four-color photo of Dan Gladden being mobbed by teammates as he touches home plate in the 10th inning, and the giant red and blue headline says “Twincredible!” The sports section has another huge color photo of Kent Hrbek hugging Jack Morris.

I was speechless for a moment, and finally managed to say, “Are you sure you want to give this away?” “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve still got the Pioneer Press.” Then I remembered something.

“Oh! Hey!” I said, “You know who’s in here?” I began paging through the sports section, searching for it.

“Who?”

“My sweetie!” I said. “He used to cover the Twins for the Strib. Why can’t I find his name?”

I closed the sports section and then picked up the front page again. And there, right under the headline on the lead story (Oh, what an ending! Larkin’s big hit turns agonizing into ecstasy), I found him.

My Ho.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Six Degrees of Jittaun R. Townsend

After my mistaken-identity post the other day, a friend did some digging and unearthed an address and phone number for the in-default and most-definitely-not-me Jittaun. Feeling victorious, I called the student loan holder’s customer service department to bestow this bit of information upon them. I was quickly shot down, however, when the phone representative informed me that they already had that address and phone number, and neither was valid any more. Gar.

Then my friend, who is apparently very good at digging up information, and who should perhaps look into a secondary career as a private investigator, came up with some more for me.

Mr. Jittaun R. Townsend, it seems, is actually a Ms. The R. stands for Renee, and Ms. Townsend appears to have shared a couple of different addresses with an Otha E. Townsend, which might explain why she's been so difficult to locate lately.

Otha E. Townsend’s most recent place of residence, you see, is Stillwater State Prison. He is there serving a life sentence for shooting two women in the face. One of them died.

Neither of the victims was Jittaun, but there it is. Whether she was the wife or some kind of relative to Otha E., one can hardly blame Ms. Townsend for changing her name and not leaving a forwarding address.

Jittaun, honey, I hope you’re okay and managing to build a new, safe life for yourself. But girlfriend, please. You GOTTA pay that student loan.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Leather, It’s So Buttery

I just had the most impossibly serene, productive shopping experience. The kind of shopping experience that isn’t supposed to happen ten days before Christmas.

And I almost didn’t go at all, because it has been snowing and snowing, and I was afraid that the roads would be bad and the mall would be crowded, and I’d have to rush around so much that by the time I got back to work after lunch I’d be totally strung out and surly. But my father’s most inconveniently timed birthday is this weekend, and my mother, she knew of the perfect gift. At the Sharper Image. At the mall.

So I went.

And then…

I found an underground parking spot. The sales people were friendly—charming, even. Not only did I find the items I had gone there for, I even found items I forgot I needed. And the perfect book for little Madge.

The line at the bookstore was short and moved quickly. There was no line at ALL at the ATM. And that’s when I knew I had stumbled upon a genuine Christmas miracle.

I even had time to stop in the Cole Haan store and pet the handbags.

Somebody. Pinch me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In the Name of All That is Holy, Jittaun R. Townsend, Please Pay Your Freaking Student Loan

Several months ago, I began receiving mail that was addressed to a Jittaun R. Townsend. Whenever I receive mail that is not addressed to ME—as in, me by my current name, which is not the name I had when I was married, because anyone who does not know that five years after my divorce is probably not anyone I want to be hearing from anyway—I throw it away. So that’s what I did. For a while.

Around the fifth or sixth item that arrived in my mailbox for Mr. Townsend, however, I began to suspect that the bank that was listed on the return address, which also happens to be a bank I have accounts with, seemed determined to reach him. And since he and I share a last name and first initial, and since he apparently has been living at my address without my knowledge, I thought it prudent to make an effort to contact the bank and let them know that I am not Jittaun and I don’t know him.

It seems that Mr. Townsend is very, very far behind in paying his student loans. I am not. After I explained the situation, the bank’s customer service representative verified that my account numbers matched my name, address and phone number, and determined that there had been a mistake. He apologized for the confusion, and said, “this actually happens quite often.” Super.

A few weeks later, the collection agency began calling. Six. Times. A. Day. Twice I called the number left on my voicemail and was connected with the collection agency’s voicemail, into which I explained the situation, spelling my name AND Jittaun’s. The calls continued. Twice, I spoke to actual human beings, and two times more, I explained. I am not Jittaun R. Townsend. I do not know Jittaun R. Townsend. PLEASE STOP CALLING ME SIX TIMES A DAY.

Then, the calls stopped, and I thought it was over.

Until last night when I received a voicemail from the bank explaining to Mr. Townsend that he would be reported to the IRS if he did not call back before 8:55 p.m.

“Okay, let’s see if we can get this cleared up,” the very friendly phone representative said. I gave her my name, address and phone number. “What is the name of the person the voicemail was for?” I told her. “Can you spell that?” Hell yeah, I can freaking spell it. “J-I-T-T-A-U-N. Last name same as mine.”

“Oh yes, here he is,” she said. “Wow, you got that on the first try.” A-bloody-stonishing.

“Okay, I’ve found the name of the person who contacted you and I’ll be sending him an e-mail right now. We apologize for the confusion, and you won’t be receiving any more calls.”

Promises, promises.

If anyone out there knows this Jittaun R. Townsend, please let me know. I have a very important message that I'd LOOOOOOOOVE to deliver to him personally.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth on Horseback

I’d been curious about the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice ever since reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, and not long ago a very wise and literary friend gushed praise about it (as in, “…nothing has ever been better than that.”). So when one of my sister Betsy's friends loaned her the DVD set, there was no way I was going allow it to leave Betsy's possession without seeing for myself what all the swooning was about.

On Saturday, while wrapping Christmas gifts and knitting mittens, I watched the entire thing—all five delicious hours—in a single sitting.

And then, that night, I dreamed I was having sex with Mr. Darcy.

Certainly, I have no wish to re-visit early 19th-century England, where women have no rights and no hope for a future unless they can land themselves a husband of means, and therefore spend every moment of their lives obsessing over doing exactly that, but... but...

Sigh.

Why don't men ride horses any more?

Friday, December 09, 2005

We Are Now Entering the Danger Zone

It’s December 9, and the majority of my Christmas shopping is done. I’d love to blog my experiences acquiring gifts—especially a couple of very exciting E-bay adventures—but everyone I am giving presents to this year reads this blog (except, of course, for Madge, who can’t read yet, but who is clearly very advanced for a toddler, so I’m sure it won’t be long…), and so I’m not going to give anything away. But I think everyone will be most pleased. And that’s ALL I’m sayin’.

These last two weeks until Christmas are what I have learned to call “The Danger Zone.” It’s the time when I have spent all the money I can afford to spend (and, okay, a little bit more). I have accumulated all the gifts I need. I am DONE. And yet… the urge to get out there and keep shopping, to get swept up in the hustle and bustle, to succumb to the siren call of the thrill of the hunt, it continues. In fact, it intensifies. The commercials get more frequent. The stores get more bright and sparkly and colorful. The “50% Off!” signs get bolder.

My challenge now is to steer clear of the mall, keep away from E-bay, lock my Visa card in a vault and quit while I’m ahead, because I know from experience that I will keep going. Because I am weak. And I love shopping for gifts. And I am the queen of the impulse buy.

Those little baskets every store has near the registers—the ones full of charming little items that are only $2.99? They were invented for me. A couple of little things here, a couple of little things there, and pretty soon I have squirreled away enough worthless cheesy crap to more than fill both Demigoddess’ stockings, as well as stockings for every kid in both their junior high classes.

I’ll keep going, and I’ll find gifts that even more perfect than the gifts I already bought. Gifts that are just a LITTLE more expensive. Gifts that, during the other 50 weeks of the year, I would never consider purchasing.

This is a road to insanity that I am very familiar with. I know exactly what’s at the end, and I really don’t wanna go there.

Will somebody please lock me in a closet?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

She's Gonna Have A Smile Like Marie Osmond

After months of preparing, a string of orthodontist’s and dentist’s appointments, three pulled teeth and one trip to the oral surgeon, Demigoddess the Elder is finally getting her braces put on today.

She has needed them for a long time. During our recent financial struggles, one of the things that pained me the most was knowing that she needed braces, but I couldn’t afford to get them for her, and didn’t know when I would be able to.

Demi the Elder has never been a child who asks for much. When pressed, she insists that she’s fine, she’s okay, she doesn’t need anything. Unlike her sister, who seems to have a never-ending list of desires that she is more than willing to share with anyone who’ll listen, I practically have to throttle Ms. Elder to get her to cough up birthday or Christmas suggestions. Any time I buy her something, she asks me again and again, “Are you SURE this isn’t too expensive?”

I began to suspect a while ago that she’d become self-conscious about her teeth, especially since her entry into junior high, but she never said a word to me about braces until a few weeks ago. When I told her that I’d finally made the appointment to have them put on, she was visibly pleased, and confessed that she couldn’t believe it was really going to happen. She had genuinely believed she’d never get them. Talk about a kick in the gut.

So today is the day. I don’t know what to expect because I never had braces, and none of my sisters ever did either. Demi the Elder’s friends have filled her in on all the pains and indignities, and she’s a little bit worried that her new orthodontia will interfere with her upcoming performance in the school musical. But overall, she is very excited to visit the orthodontist today. And I must say, I’m looking forward to it, too.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A-Quiver With Anticipation

The Top Model finale is tonight, followed by Lost, and the new Project Runway begins on Bravo after that. I plan to spend so much time sitting on my ass this evening that I may just finish knitting all those alpaca-wool mittens I’m making for Christmas gifts by tomorrow.

(The mittens are an attempt to convert an unfortunate e-Bay incident into gifts of good cheer for pretty much EVERY PERSON I KNOW, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, the quivering could also be an aftereffect of my job having kicked the ever loving crap out of me over the last couple of days.

Either way, I have a serious appointment with my couch tonight. And there will very likely be alcoholic beverages.

Monday, December 05, 2005

After We Bought The Tree…

…we drove through the early-evening dark with it tied to the roof of the car. My sister, Betsy, was with us. She had bought a fresh wreath and held it in her lap, pine needles dropping onto the upholstery. I remembered the radio station that plays all Christmas music in December, and the lights on the houses inspired me to take the long way from the Farmer’s Market downtown to Betsy’s house near Lake Harriet, through the wintry woods of Wirth Park and along the parkways that meander through the oldest, nicest neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

ESG: Let’s see how the rich people in the big houses celebrate the holidays.

Betsy: I like to peek through their windows and see inside.

Demigoddess the Younger: I like to illegally trespass in their houses.

Demigoddess the Elder: I like to steal their cars.

"God bless us, every one."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Another Moral Dilemma

First of all, please accept my apologies for yesterday’s holiday downer. It’s true, I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit, but really, it’s not THAT bad.

The single bit of Christmas that I have genuinely been enjoying is the wreath my dad brought back for me from Upper Michigan. A neighbor who lives across the road from our cabin makes them every year out of branches she gathers from the trees in the woods up there. She uses a variety of cedar and pine boughs, so the wreaths she makes are lush, fragrant, and a gorgeous mix of textures and shades of green. Every time I see mine on my front door, I think of the woods and my lake in the snow, and that fills me with the joy of the season in a way that Beyonce’s whole bootylicious family opening their Wal-Mart bounty on TV never will.

I haven’t baked any cookies yet, but I did sign up for a cookie exchange at work, which means that I am now obligated in writing to produce seven dozen of something by next Friday. And, probably, I’ll get a tree this weekend. Mr. Crosby still has not hit the CD player, but I have been making and acquiring gifts.

Which brings me back to the subject of Wal-Mart, and my moral dilemma du jour. I am a loyal Target shopper, and can count on one hand the number of times I have set foot in a Wal-Mart store. My children have been so thoroughly propagandized by their former-union-steward father that they will gladly spout the myriad reasons why Wal-Mart is the devil. They would harass me without mercy if they knew I had given money to the Walton family.

So what is a budget-conscious Goddess to do when she finds that the Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture DVD game that Demigoddess the Younger really, REALLY wants for Christmas is priced $15 less at Wal-Mart than anywhere else?

On the one hand, I understand that this is how they get you. They entice the ethical shopper with their nefariously low prices, and the righteous ease their guilt by telling themselves that it’s just… this… ONCE…

...then the next thing they know they’re dragging around the weight of a thousand child-labor sweatshop souls and the misery of legions of underpaid and uninsured workers, and that smiling yellow crack-pushing demon haunts them in their tormented dreams.

But, on the other hand, $15 is, like, five gallons of milk.

Six if I buy them at Costco.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Magic is Gone, But I Don't Think I Miss It

I used to loooooove Christmas.

I was one of those people who’d get up at 5 a.m on the day after Thanksgiving to stand in line outside Toys R Us, poised for a foot race against all the other lunatics who were there to snatch up a $5 Furby. I’d shop all morning, and then go home, pop Bing Crosby’s White Christmas CD into the stereo, and start hauling out the decorations. I baked, I wrapped, and oh, boy, did I shop. One month of Christmas, it just wasn't enough.

But this year, ever since I first saw Beyonce’s Wal-Mart commercial at the beginning of November (Ooh! It's a bootylicious Christmas!), I’ve felt a tiny bit nauseous. The holiday “cheer” that crammed every corner at Target in the days after Halloween looks desperately fabricated. Thanksgiving was a week ago, and as yet, there has not been a single "Mele Kalikimaka" at my house.

Maybe it’s because the Demigoddesses are of an age when they no longer believe in Santa, or even pretend to believe, as I suspect they did for my benefit for a number of years. Maybe Bing has grown tiresome. Or perhaps the past couple of Christmases have changed my perspective on the whole thing.

This year I don’t have to work a second part-time job at Old Navy in order to be able to afford a few decent gifts. I don’t have to use the ugly fake tree that a generous acquaintance gave us in 2003, when she learned I didn’t have money to buy our usual fresh one. I don't have to read the Demigoddesses all the Christmas stories from the Little House on the Prairie books in order to keep their expectations low (Isn't it GREAT that YOUR only gifts won't be a peppermint stick and a penny?).

I could jump back on the holiday bandwagon. I could go back to working myself into a frenzy trying to arrange and manufacture and purchase the perfect Christmas, and thereby become some kind of holiday hero. But it seems that I don’t really want to any more.

I suppose it’s like that thing Cuba Gooding Jr. said in Jerry Maguire. I’ve been to the puppet show, and I’ve seen the strings.

And I'm not sure how I feel about that.