Home Sweet Hurricane

I washed my windows today, inside and out. Now before you start feeling bad about yourself because maybe your windows are still dirty, DON’T. I do this one time a year tops, sometimes only every other year if we don’t put up Christmas lights, which tends to emphasize the grime, bird poop, dog slobber and the broken one right in the front. (We get a lot of window salespeople knocking on our door.) This year the windows were dirtier on the inside than they were on the outside, which tells you how good of a housekeeper I have been lately.

You see, I promised my daughter we would put up the Christmas decorations on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And I’m determined to do this. So this is why I cleaned the windows today: so the coffee filter snowflakes will stick to them and not fall off from the scotch tape being made unsticky by dirt.

I need to explain (mostly to myself) that the activity of decorating for Christmas strongly accentuates the shame I feel about my worn out, cluttered and almost always dirty home. I don’t really like admitting my shame. It goes against the very core value that I try to keep sacred which is to always be grateful for what I have. But I think that this might actually be part of what brings on the shame: I don’t take care of what I DO have all that well. I have been putting my time, talent and treasure elsewhere and not on my home.

Most of the time I’m just fine with things as they are and where I choose to invest the resources I have. But every so often, usually during the holidays, I find myself comparing my home to pictures people post on social media of THEIR homes, with all the pretty, orderly decorations and serene atmosphere. And that’s when I usually go on a cleaning frenzy to at least try to momentarily conquer the clutter and dirt, which can at least make the ‘worn out’ look loved instead of abandoned. 

I don’t think we talk about this kind of comparison shaming all that much: home shame. 

So I’m gonna come out of the closet and talk about it. Well, I WOULD come out of the closet accept I can’t get IN any of my closets because they are all  filled with too much shit. You can’t come OUT of something you were never IN to begin with. 

My home so often looks like a hurricane hit it. It’s all these people and pets.

But here is something for you (and me) to ponder if you ever feel embarrassed about your home and look at the perfect pictures on social media or visit your friends gorgeous home with a little green monster on your shoulder: 

Some people are just GOOD at making their homes beautiful: be it from plenty of money, lots of time or just natural talent and desire. Admire this. Enjoy it. Visit them often! Validate them! For this is their way of being in the world and it takes effort and diligence to make and keep things so nice.

But I believe that there are more people than not whose homes are dirty, cluttered or worn out. Sometimes it’s all three at the same time. They’re just careful how they take their social media pictures and crop out peeling paint or broken windows or dirty floors. But it’s a HOME. So let us validate them as well. They are more than likely putting their resources elsewhere and everyone’s priorities are relative. When it’s important enough to them they will wash their windows, not because other people are washing their windows or judging them for not doing so, but because they just want to have a little clarity.

And make sure the coffee filter snowflakes stick this year. 

Christmas Trees: Not Just for Christmas Anymore!

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Every year my kids ask me if we can put the Christmas tree up on the day after Thanksgiving. A lot of people do that but I always feel like we should celebrate Thanksgiving all the way through the four days off before we start kissing under the mistletoe and whatnot.

So I always say no and put it off until mid-December. It’s just something I have to gear up for. Namely because I have to rearrange the furniture which leads to a conniption fit on my part because of all the socks, pet hair, pencils, candy wrappers, etc. that are discovered under the couches. One year I found a chicken bone.

But!

I came up with an idea. I know. Brace yourselves.

And I can only say this now that we no longer have toddlers in the house to break the ornaments or knock down our 25 year old fake tree. It turns out that Mitchel is nine now and no longer a toddler. Who knew?

What IF we kept the tree up all year long and just changed the decorations to celebrate whatever holiday was most prominent that month? Then I wouldn’t have to know ever again what is under the couches.

In January we can hang cans of Slim Fast and Nicorette gum and maybe our passes to the gym (that we currently can’t find.) Plus champagne under the tree. To celebrate all the resolutions we will have broken by February. Oh plus a few pictures of Grant because it’s his birthday month.

February there would be hanging hearts of course. Lots of them. Some of them would be broken, to signify past present and future love gone bad. Plus a chain of Ben and Jerry’s single servings for heart healing. And a couple of hams to prepare ourselves for resisting meat on Fridays during Lent.

Ugly little leprechauns and mini bottles of Irish whiskey would be hung on the tree in March. And snakes. Not live ones. That would be a bit much. St Patrick is known, among many things, for driving all the snakes out of Ireland. He did this before he was named a saint, which happens after you’re dead. Not YOU, the saint. I mean you COULD be a future saint but you are certainly not dead if you’re reading this. At least I don’t think you are. I think both Duncan and Mitchel would be fine sharing their birthday tree with leprechauns, Irish whiskey and snakes.

April contains the second BEST holiday of the year next to Thanksgiving: April Fool’s Day. Oh no wait. It’s Easter month too. Rats. Well. We can string five year old hardened peeps and hang plastic eggs filled with real scrambled eggs like my mom did one year for our (adult) annual combat Easter egg hunt. (One lucky egg had money in it.) We would have to put a very beautiful cross on top of the tree too. That would actually be cool and it would overpower all the irreverence.

In May there would pictures of me of course on account of Mother’s Day.  But only ones where I look skinny and I am not making a weird face (why do I do that?). No post-baby pics. There HAS to be a few of those SOMEWHERE. And maybe some garland made from twenty dollar bills: fun mom money. Oh and bottles of wine and cheese under the tree: GOOD cheese. The wine can be cheap. I would probably have to share some of the fun mom money and cheese with Dillin because it’s his birthday month. But not the wine.

Wow. June is my birthday month! But it’s also Maria’s. It will be easy though: we can leave the pictures of me up another month and add a few of Maria. And presents under the tree for both of us. But I will probably have more presents. CRUD: there is also Father’s Day. I hope the tree will be big enough for this month. We will have to hang a few knives, guns and golf balls on the tree as well.

July will have flags of course. And flip flops, which were the only thing I could wear when I was pregnant with Dan (whose birthday is in July) because my feet were so fat my shoes didn’t fit.  Plus flip flops signify summer and freedom. Oh. An flags do too. I would put sparklers on the tree but that idea could possibly go down in flames.

Speaking of burning, in August we will hang sunglasses and bottles of sunscreen, to signify the month we are all finally conditioned to put on sunscreen. This month is also when the kids finally remember to leave the back door OPEN for air circulation. It will at this point in they year take until mid-December for them to start remembering to shut it again. But I can’t hang a door from the tree.

In September we should hang foot balls and athletic cups on the tree along with gas cards to help with the five practices a week for three boys in three different locations but of course at the same times. I am not actually complaining here. There was one year when we had seven games to watch in a week so you can probably imagine the number of practices. I have kind of blocked much of that year from my memory. It’s practically a holiday with only three in sports now and I no longer feel (as much) need to carry a purse flask.

By October there will already be plenty of cobwebs on the tree.  Add a couple of fake bloody fingers, maybe a few arms and feet (FAKE ones, jeez), some deer horns (it’s hunting season too) and I think maybe one of those paper chains the kids make to count off the number of days until Christmas. Only this will be to count the number of days left of school football. It will be orange and black. To keep with the Halloween spirit. The carved pumpkins would look nice under the tree as well. Much more festive than the ‘smashed on the street’ look.

November’s tree gets all the wishbones that we have not wished on yet from the year past. (We eat a lot of bird.) We could have a wish day, maybe on the last day of November. Also I think we should wrap up all the frozen turkey and chicken carcasses in pretty Thanksgiving wrapping paper and put them under the tree. When they are defrosted we can have a ceremonial broth making day. I am a carcass hoarder. I know it’s weird. But it’s for soup. To someday make. But I will admit, our third freezer is getting a little creepy. Grant actually snuck this year’s turkey carcass to the garbage when I wasn’t looking. I’m trying not to harbor resentment. I keep telling him I will seek help but haven’t yet. The closest ‘meeting’ I can find is this group called “smart people who are prepared to feed their family if there should be some kind of apocalypse”.

I will be then so glad in December that the tree is already up that I will be much more joyful and calm come time to battle with the not working tangled up lights. I can already feel the peaceful Zen filled decorating party. There will also have to be a couple pictures of David. Not that he is competing at all with Jesus for birthday kudos, he would never do that. His is AFTER Jesus’s birthday. We could maybe hang the Star of David somewhere on the tree. Even though we are not Jewish. Jesus was though. So I don’t think it would be blasphemous.

I bet Jesus would be fine with sharing His tree. He was always up for a good celebration.  At any time of the year.

How to Survive and Perhaps Enjoy the Holidays without Taking Speed, Owning a Time Machine or Robbing a Bank

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Alright, so you (my ten or so readers) may have been deceitfully hooked by the title to this post, thinking that I have the answers on how to be some kind of angelic, high energy, ‘joyfully get it all done before December 25th without the use of narcotics’ parent. Well, don’t bother to take notes. This is not a “how too” lesson.This is instead a few festive thoughts from a well-seasoned maniac. You can judge me without walking in my shoes. I’m okay with that. I don’t even walk in my own shoes most of the time. I prefer either sprinting or going barefoot, which brings me to my first holiday survival tip…denial…

…it is very important to get yourself into full denial as early in November as possible, like when you are looking at your bank statement and it is clear that perhaps the $42.32 that you have managed to save for the Christmas season is not going to be enough to buy presents for six children (or, even more realistically, for you saner people, TWO children). Simply be cheerful that you have made progress and hum a lot (but don’t hum Christmas songs, it’s much too early for that… hum something like “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, or maybe a bible song, or any Johnny Cash stuff… “Ring of Fire” comes to mind) and think: “Wow! Progress! $42.32 is SOMETHING after all!”

Side note: this is one example of when a time machine would really come in handy. I could zip back in time and reverse a few ‘poor choice’ purchases. Take for instance the $300 that Grant and I spent at the health food store on a cleanse/weight loss system that was supposed to work miracles (because we were both feeling a little more than chubby and summer was approaching and we thought it would be cool to have hot bods). It actually made us both feel kind of sick and head-spinny on the very  first day, causing us to abandon the plan immediately and head to the Swinging Doors for a chicken fried steak breakfast and two double Bloody Mary’s each to get our systems feeling normal again, thereby spending another $52.00 (including tip) and then $20.00 on pull tabs with the idea that we could win it all back and erase the memory of having been so stupid when we know full well that that shit doesn’t work when you are not willing to FULLY commit. I would dial the time machine to the day before this particular poor choice day and write a note to Grant: “Do not listen to Heather when she suggests going to the health food store tomorrow. Go instead directly to the Swinging Doors, spend $72 on mood leveling food and drink, then secretly stash $228 for Christmas, which will STILL not be enough to buy presents for six kids but will be better than $42.32).

So yes…huge digression…back to the denial idea…practice early on in November staying “PollyAnna Positive” that you will come across a big wad of cash before December 24, otherwise you will go in to a panicky tail spin that is very, very unproductive and bad for your health. It’s important to blissfully remain in full blown denial because this helps you to be your best self as you roll into to Thanksgiving…

…which leads me to the important role of Thanksgiving in preparing for holiday mania…Thanksgiving is the MECCA of all holidays…it is a charge your batteries, four day feel good weekend, beginning with that blessed day when you get to eat yummy food full of tryptophan (a mood leveling chemical that helps with denial), drink a bunch of booze (further promoting denial), watch football (excessive denial, especially with the Steelers playing this Thanksgiving) and generally sit on your ass in sweats and chillax…UNLESS YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF COOKING THE MEAL. Way back, twenty years ago, Thanksgiving used to stress me out, big time. Mainly because I am a crap cook and the pressure of putting on a full holiday spread was just too much for me. I thought this was woman’s work, and fought for that role for several years of my early married life, because I was a cranky, stubborn moron.

Enter (after several years of a lot of bad, bitterly performed cooking on my part) “The Weber” (pause here for dramatic magical background music…maybe something from one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies) and witness a husband whose real life work is about making the world a better place with his amazing ability to cook any kind of meat on said Weber, especially the glorious Thanksgiving-Day Turkey, full of special, yumilicious “Grant Stuffing”. (Pause for more music here: maybe “Magic Man” by Heart). This is when I realized that I could make the world a better place by just being the “Mashed Potato/Pumpkin Pie Side Kick”. Any moron can make mashed potatoes (I have only screwed it up two or three times in the last twenty years) and you can BUY pumpkin pies at the store. This was a huge moment for me, realizing that not being in charge of this meal did not devalue me as a woman, in fact it made me better, stronger, and more able to CHILLAX and watch football and let the master-baster do what he does best: joyfully (mostly) put on an incredible holiday spread. So for many years now, I have looked at Thanksgiving as my time to store up energy, rally my creative mojo, and pray for wads of cash to show up…super soon.

Which brings me to the subject of Black Friday and all the other potential shopping days up until the Saturday before Christmas…here are my thoughts on these days: IGNORE THEM. Carry on with your life, business as usual. Maybe throw up a little garland and let the kids tape snowflakes made from coffee filters on the windows to let them know you KNOW it’s almost Christmas and that you will probably not let them down. But other than that, just hum a lot (Christmas songs are okay at this time, it adds to the festive mirage), ignore the calendar and shun all your friends who have their shopping done by December 1st. They are not real friends; they are braggers who just want to make themselves feel superior to you. Do not let them put even a teeny chink in your armor of denial.

After years of coaching from my husband, a.k.a. “The Procrastinator”, I finally accepted the fact that it’s silly to shop early. First of all: kids change their minds…a lot. Sometimes that super cool “Presto Magico Turn Old Broken Crayons into Cool New Crayons shaped Like Cars, Animals or Aliens Machine” that you bought in June for $44.00 (because a certain couple of little boys decided that this cool potential money making machine was going to be number one on their Christmas Wish List) gets crossed off said list in December when something cooler comes along. Unless you intend to cut out cable and the newspaper so that your kids don’t see any commercials/ads touting the latest have-to-HAVE-to-go-on-living thing, ignore everything they say about Christmas gifts until about December 10th. Second, it is standard (at least in my household) that the wads of cash have mostly not shown up yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas is the day that Grant and I do ALL of our shopping. I know. I just heard a couple of you gasp. But we have it all very carefully choreographed. By December 15th the kids have written their carefully crafted letters to Santa (Mitchel even once taped a St Christopher medal to his ‘plea for football cards and not coal letter’ because he knew bribery was his only hope that year) and they KNOW there is no going back on those letters. We do request that they let us read them so that we know exactly what NOT to buy for them, since Santa has our back on these items. It also gives us time to draft counter-attack letters to Santa and send them priority mail should there be any requests for pets, drum sets, or a $600 X-Box One. It’s all about redirecting those kinds of requests with something more suitable to the recent behaviors and/or attention span of said child/teenager (though most of the teenagers in our household have learned early on to NOT take advantage of Santa’s generosity).

We then carefully compile our own list, checking it twice, or ten times (that’s my job) and gather all of our cash from various places: my “found it in the laundry so it’s mine” stash; Grant’s spare change cup-holder in his work truck; my giant jar of pennies I have been saving for the Penny Drive at the school;  a little bit of Plasma donation; a couple trips to the pawn shop and a small loan from our “we really need to save for a new dryer” envelope and we are just-that-quickly armed with what is not exactly wads of cash, but as always, enough for some thoughtful gifts and a couple of “I need to rest every two hours during this ‘why in the shit did we wait until the last minute’ shopping trip from hell ” toddies, which definitely help with denying the fact that we are morons…

…and we head out, the Saturday before Christmas (it is never allowed to be on Christmas Eve-that’s pushing it even for the “King of Procrastination”, plus Christmas Eve is ear-marked for our traditional McDonalds dinner and Christmas Eve Mass, which helps us get into the spirit of the real reason for the season: the proud owner of the BIGGEST BIRTHDAY of ALL TIME: JESUS, plus French fries are fun too)… and we leave the house all positive and giddy and this is without having consumed any kind of narcotic (just a bunch of coffee laced with bourbon (AND!)  NOT having had to rob a bank (though one year we actually wrote out a plan, and may have gone through with it had it not been for a miracle last minute Christmas bonus that saved us from potential jail time) and we just go get it done, laughing all the way…about what morons we are.

Sometimes we don’t find everything on the list (on account of the fact that everyone else got all the good stuff because they are goodie-two-shoes smarty pants early bird people who don’t know how to take RISKS). This is where creative gift certificates made from printed internet pictures (showing what you WOULD have had under the tree if your parents had it all together, but it will for sure be here by at least your birthday) come in handy. We also have been known to wrap up last minute items like cans of green beans, cases of top ramen and old tennis shoes when the number of packages is not equal per kid under the tree. Our children are pretty well-schooled to only expect one or two really good things and a few really weird and/or possibly icky items. Duncan once got an old ham bone wrapped in a deceitfully beautiful box with a bow. (We have an envelope marked ‘therapy money for our children for when they are adults and can’t figure out why they have trust issues” but we are probably going to have to borrow from it this year.) Anyway, it’s really all about (well besides Jesus) the initial presentation under the tree, which is easy to make quite stunning when you have six kids and large imaginations. And I guarantee that our kids will remember with great fondness the quirky gifts (one mystery kid is going to get a half-eaten box of chocolates  this year which I am currently working on, so don’t call ME a procrastinator!) and talk about these gifts with their therapists, more than they would if they got an X-Box One which actually works out great for everyone.

So you see, good people, we have learned through the years the art of denial, the value in the healing power of Thanksgiving and all its lovely role reversing, tryptophan glory, and have the adventuresome ability to condense all our holiday worry into one tradition filled Saturday. We drink, we eat, we come together in merry solidarity (that kind of rhymes) which is helpful during the holiday season, and we get that shopping shit done! This leaves a bit of of extra time after our shopping date to procrastinate a few things, like putting up the Christmas Tree and sending out our annual holiday letter full of exaggerated tales of how great we all are and (more importantly) make plans, should that really big wad of cash come our way (which by then would thankfully be too late to go into “spoil our kids a bunch more mode” and completely (not just kind of) wreck them for all of humanity”) to apply the money to more important things like feeding the poor, putting a bit away for college (insert silly snort here) and maybe having a little left over for investing in a nice January Detox at the health food store. Ha!