Tag Archive | holidays

Looking forward to/hoping for some trick or treaters…

Squad ghoulsThis is our second Halloween in the new place. Last year we didn’t get any trick or treaters at all, but then last year there were only two other places in addition to ours with any Halloween decorations up, so I suspect our apartment building didn’t look like it was worth stopping at. Several more of our neighbors have lights and jack o’lanterns and such visible, so maybe we will get some this year. The magical-thinker in me also points out that we bought less candy this year than last, so maybe that will cause us to get swamped. We can hope. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I had planned several more blog posts last week and this week leading up to this, my second favorite holiday, but things have been really weirdly busy. It also feels as if fewer people are doing Halloween stuff. I thought maybe I was just being busy and distracting, but I saw a few posts floating around tumblr where a lot of people were feeling as if there is a lot less Halloween enthusiasm in their social circles, and so forth. A few posts specifically noted that the silly Pumpkin Dance video had not showed up in their social media stream. Which made me realize I hadn’t seen it being posted and shared, either.

I’m planning to stay up a bit after midnight to make at least a symbolic start on NaNoWriMo (since I have to get up and go to work in the morning). Usually long before this we discuss what spooky movies we’re going to watch while hoping for trick-or-treaters. Last year was watched Hocus Pocus and Witches of Eastwick.

It’s been a number of years since we watched Ghost and Mr. Chicken and I can’t remember when we last watched Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; for that matter, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since we watched any of the classic Universal monsters, such as the 1931 Frankenstein, and we have all of those in the collected. On the other hand, I should look through our movie database and see if there is anything spooky that we’ve bought in the last couple of years. I don’t know. Our usual Halloween fair isn’t slasher movies and the like, and tends toward comedies… and this year I’m feeling much more like a good laugh than typical. I suspect we all know why that is…

Anyway, I hope you have wonder Eve of All Hallows!

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What’s spooky for me may not be spooky for you

“If you've got it, Haunt it!”

(click to embiggen)

Many years ago the gaming group I was in rotated who was running the game and which system/world we were playing in, and most of us gave our scenarios titles, which sometimes we told the players in advance. One time I had titled a sci-fi adventure where the players eventually found themselves in a dark, twisty location being pursued by something which they weren’t sure what the something was, just that it had killed some other people, “Welcome to Your Standard Nightmare.” I didn’t mention the title up front, it was after we were finished that I identified the scenario, and suddenly we were having a debate on what, really, a standard (or universal) nightmare ought to be.

I was reminded of this incident by two different events recently. First, after a few weeks of working on my Halloween playlist, I took a dip into a couple of music streaming services to see what they were serving up on various Halloween channels. The other was a series of disturbing dreams I had in the wee small hours of a recent morning.

Quick digression: the psychological definition of a nightmare is an unpleasant dream evoking an emotional response which disturbs the sleep cycle. It doesn’t necessarily have to be scary to be a nightmare as far as psychologists are concerned, but it does have to actually make you wake up to qualify as a nightmare. So while colloquially we usually think of nightmares as bad dreams, usually invoking fear or despair, other kinds of emotions can be involved.

So, I’ve more than once had a nightmare where I woke up extremely angry. And that was very disturbing, especially during those initial moments of waking up where you don’t quite realize it was only a dream. I had a new one, this time, I woke up extremely annoyed. Three times in one night. The first two didn’t really have any element most people would think of a spooky: I was trying to set up some sound equipment for some kind of party or concert, and someone kept moving my toolbox full of patch cables. There were a number of people in the dream, most of whom I haven’t seen in person in many years. And they were all being uncharacteristically unhelpful. The second one involved someone I didn’t recognize who kept trying to make me go to this place I also didn’t recognize and pack up things that had been left behind by someone. Oddly, once I gave in, I recognized all of the blankets and towels (which were only a subset of the items) as ones that had belonged to my family when I was a child and a teen-ager. The third one was like a combination: I was walking somewhere intending to retrieve something I needed, and I noticed an open door of an apartment, I think, and inside I saw scattered around clothes that belong to me. When I was checking out the place and gathering things, people kept wandering in to try to take stuff from me—and they people each had these weird glowing eyes and I was absolutely convinced that they were undead or something similar.

Even then, when I woke up, I wasn’t feeling fear, but extreme annoyance that I had to deal with weird creatures and someone stealing my clothes when I really just wanted to go get the thing—whatever it was—that I had started out looking for. (And no, I don’t need any dream analysis. My subconscious is never subtle. I know what I’m feeling anxiety about right now.)

The thing was, even though my feeling at each awakening was annoyance—neither anger nor fear—there were still moments while I was waking up where I felt that disturbing confusion about what was real and what wasn’t. Which is its own kind of spooky.

Many Halloween playlists I see on various streaming services or that people post often contain songs that I don’t think are spooky at all. Many seem to be chosen because the title of the song has a tenuous connection to some spooky concepts, while the lyrics of the song are often just standard pop fare.
I happen to believe that a Halloween playlist should consist of tracks where the content of the track has some connection to ideas, moods, et cetera, that people associate with Halloween, trick or treating, monsters, and so forth. I make exceptions for instrumental tracks from movies and such that I personally find spooky. I realize that most of those don’t seem spooky if you don’t recognize where they are from (but some are very eery and really set a spooky mood even when you don’t recognize their source). Anyway, here is my 2018 Halloween playlist:

1. “It’s alive!” From the Young Frankenstein soundtrack. This isn’t a song, it’s the dialog for one of the funniest scenes in the movie, when Dr Frahnk-in-steen finds out that he put an abnormal brain in the body of his creation.
2. “Monster Mash” A blue grass cover of the classic Halloween song by a band called Hayseed Dixie. It’s quite fun.
3. “Science Fiction Double Feature” From the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the campy lyrics describe several classic sci fi thriller movies.
4. “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” by Julie Brown. “Everybody run! The Homecoming Queen’s got a gun!” and “…it’s like the whole school was totally coked or something!”
5. “Anything Can Happen On Halloween” by Tim Curry from the movie The Worse Witch. A fun song.
6. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson (with narration in the middle by Vincent Price). A classic for Halloween. And you can dance to it!
7. “GhostBusters (I’m Not Afraid” by Fallout Boy. An interesting cover/re-imagining of the original Ghostbusters them recorded for the new GhostBusters movie.
8. “Rest in Peace” from Once More, With Feeling, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode. “Whisper in a dead man’s ear doesn’t make it real.”
9. “Bad Moon Rising” by Mourning Ritual. A very creepy re-imagining of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival hit that I first heard in one of the spookiest, creepiest episodes of the Teen Wolf TV series. I can’t hear this song without reliving the scenes where Void Stiles was doing various horrific things.
10. “Monster Mash (featuring Black Magic” by Halloween FX Productions. A cute cover of the Halloween classic.
11. “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space” from Little Shop of Horrors just fun!
12. “Haunted Honeymoon Main Title” by John Morris. A spooky instrumental from one of my favorite comedies ever. Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, and Dom DeLuis in a hilarious send-up of 30s mystery radio shows and spooky forties movies.
13. “Teen Wolf Main Theme” by Dino Meneghin & Bloody Beetroots. The theme for the Teen Wolf series is just some really dramatic music.
14. “Theme from the Ghost and Mr. Chicken” – if you aren’t familiar with this comedy send up of various Hitchcock-esque movie tropes starring Don Knotts, you really need to Netflix it or something. And the organ music is suitably spooky and silly, at the same time.
15. “”Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” Yes, the theme song from the original cartoon series.
16. “Dark Shadows” the original eerie, spooky, haunting theme song from the ’60s gothic horror soap opera.
17. “Funeral March of a Marionette” an orchestral piece which was used as the theme for the old Alfred Hitchcock show.
18. “The Munster’s Theme” by Jack Marshall. A tiki-fied cover of the them song for the 1960s horror comedy series.
19. “Mamushka” by Raul Julia and Marc Shaiman. The silly show-stopper song from the theatrical Addams Family movie.
20. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers. The original, classic Halloween Novelty song.

Getting ready for the coming spooks and books amid the rising dark

An otter climbs has climbed inside a jack o lantern, head and one forepaw sticking out of the opening on top.

Someone’s getting ready for Halloween!

Last Sunday I needed to run to the grocery store for a couple of things before my football game, which was earlier this week than it usually is. I started the car, flipping on the wipers to clear the heavy layer of dew off the windshield, and lowered and raised the side windows for the same thing. I started to put the car in gear when I realized that my music wasn’t playing. I looked at the stereo in the dash and the main screen said “No Device.” We have a small collection of old iPods loaded with various subsets of my music library that I rotate through the car. So there’s always an iPod plugged into the stereo, and the stereo is set to automatically start playing music from the iPod on shuffle when it starts up.

There was no sign that the car had been broken into (one of the reason we have several iPods salvaged from the junk pile at my husband’s workplace is that we have had about four previous iPods stolen from over the last ten years and two cars), so I knew the most likely cause was that the iPod was too cold. I opened up the console, dug the iPod out while trying not to disconnect its cable and it was definitely ice cold. Electronic devices with internal rechargeable batteries have temperature sensors that deactivate the system if the device is either too cold and too hot, because the chemical processes inside the rechargeable batteries don’t operate as efficiently (and safely) outside certain ranges.

This made me realize that the overnight low temps are cold enough that I probably should sit in the car letting the engine idle for a couple of minutes before driving. And this is yet another sign of the changing of the seasons: sometimes it’s cold enough to disable the iPod. That probably means I should bring swap out the iPod in the car to change out the music a bit.

And that reminded me that while I have been thinking about a new Halloween playlist, all I have actually been doing is listening to all my old ones (I usually make a new one each year). Combine that with a conversation between two friends on social media about playlists for NaNoWriMo, and I spent more than a bit of my free time this week setting up a new Halloween playlist and a possible NaNoWriMo playlist.

I love making playlists. Given that there are literally thousands in my library, I probably love it just a bit much. Writing playlist are assembled in several different ways. Some songs I associate with certain characters. Lots of songs simply evoke moods. A good friend always remarks on how many of the songs in my writing playlists have lyrics. He says he can’t write while listening to people talking or singing words. I get that, and I have a few writing lists that are entirely instrumental. The key, of me, is that the songs that have lyrics can only go into a writing list if I know the song well enough that I don’t have to actively process the words to follow the song.

Many of my writing playlists are intended to help me think about writing while doing other things. Listening to my playlist, “A Dark Lord’s Lady” during my evening walk, or while riding the bus, or walking from the bus to the office, or while working on certain tasks at work make keeps me in the mood to write scenes related to one certain characters and subplots in a couple of the books in my fantasy series, for example. Whereas the playlist, “Devil in the Trickster Details” has me thinking about a completely different set of characters and their subplots across….. many more of the books in the series.

To make a new list for this year’s NaNoWriMo requires me to decide which of many projects to actually work on this November. And that’s a problem, because I’ve been running the Red Queen’s Race in regards to a bunch of writing projects for the last few years, and can’t quite manage to actually finish anything. Which is frustrating, but also entirely my fault.

I think I know what I’m going to do. And I have assembled a new NaNoWriMo playlist (currently titled “A Heart Rattling World Ending”) with 55 songs that focus on characters in a couple of the stalled projects. But I might change me mind by the time November 1 rolls around. If you happen to be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and want a writing buddy, I’m Fontfolly over there, so say “hi.”

Compounding the problem for many of us it the grinding compassion fatigue/outrage fatigue/existential fear fatigue that world events have been inflicting on so many of us. There were literal mobs roving streets of cities this weekend looking for liberals and queers and anyone else the alt-right thinks of as enemies. They beat a bunch of people up, and in at least three cases the cops arrested the victims. It should be no surprise, then, that many of us are having trouble getting into the mood for holidays, no matter how much we may love Halloween. Let alone getting in the mood to write a novel.

But I refuse to give up.

In this kind of social/political atmosphere, creating is an act of rebellion. Having fun that doesn’t come at someone else’s expense is an act of rebellion. I’m trying to remember that. Let’s all try to accomplish some creativity and celebration together, shall we?

Indigenous People’s Day: Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it

“Columbus didn't discover America, he invaded it!”

“Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it!”

I’ve written a couple times before why I support renaming Columbus Day. Yes, I’m a pasty-white-skinned blue-eyed guy whose ancestors came from places like Ireland, England, and France, but I recognize that I only got to be born here because a lot of horrible things were done to the native peoples, including driving them off the land.

And don’t get me started on how the European invaders just had better technology and the land was underused. Get yourself some history about the pre-colonial Piedmont Prairie and Forests, which were maintained by multiple native tribes, who did controlled burns and crop rotation in some portions, carefully leaving other protions alone, so a huge number of species of plants and animals (including a species of woodland bison) could thrive there. The European colonists made land sharing deals with native tribes… and then decided to ignore their own deals and through encroachment, clear cutting, dam-building, and the occasional outright slaughter drove the indigenous people away. And also drove a bunch of species into extinction.

And if you’re the sort of person who uses “illegals” as a noun and yell at anyone with dark skin, or a non-European name, or who just disagrees with you politically to “go back where you came from!” I have to say, “You first.” Until then, shut up.

Other people have written a bit more about the historical reasons we rename the day and why Columbus isn’t a hero. And since some of them are natives, you should read what they have to say on the topic.

It’s October again!

Once again as autumn settles in I find myself feeling like a new door has opened. I mostly blame school. Between grammar school, middle school, high school, five years attending community college part time while working, then three years at university, for 21 years the end of summer meant a new year beginning. And then I had a few years where I was just working full time without that fall reset until I joined the newly formed Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus, and for the next eight years fall meant the beginning of a new chorus season. It was a lot like school: we’d have our Pride concerts and march in the Pride Parade in June, then have a couple months off until rehearsals resumed at the end of August/beginning of September.

So, while Spring may be what most people think of as the time of renewal for the natural world, for me it’s autumn.

For various reasons, for the last 20 years, the day after my birthday (which is in the last week of September) feels like the big turning point. I start thinking of it as being October on the day after my birthday, which is kind of funny.

I had hoped that this weekend would be a nice, relaxing time when I could finish some chores related to getting the plants in my huge collection of pots and planters on the veranda ready for winter, re-assess my goals, and maybe make some progress on long lingering projects. But I would up working until almost midnight Friday, and still had to put in a few more hours during the weekend. Then there was some construction happening on our building: some work on the roof, and because one of the access points to the roof is a hatch right outside out door, for a big chunk of the weekend there was a ladder braced out there. It didn’t technically block us in, but it was awkward getting in and out of the house. So the weekend was a lot less relaxing than I would have liked.

And I missed two tasks that I’d really meant to get done during the weekend.

But!

Fall is here. Decorating season has begun. We don’t have much in the way of Halloween or Harvest decorations up, yet, but we’ve made a start. And once again I’m re-assessing goals. One thing that has become clear this year is that I have to stop thinking of the long work hours and associated stress as a temporary thing. It’s just a reality of our economy, now. I need to find a new way to keep making progress on personal projects including by not limited to writing, without feeling resentment when I don’t have the energy and time that I used to. That includes both attitude adjustment for me, at the least.

But this is the perfect time of year for me to do that, because it’s my personal time of renewal.

No, today’s official holiday name isn’t what you think

Several years ago my employer did a weird re-arrangement of the holiday calendar that results in the office being closed for almost a full week at Christmas, but we no longer observer MLK, Jr Day, Washington’s Birthday, or get a floating holiday. So I had literally forgotten today was even a holiday until after getting on my bus which was far emptier than usual and never filled up, riding on roads that were very empty, finally walking through downtown front the bus to my office through a downtown that is nearly deserted.

If I had remembered, I might have scheduled the post that published this morning for later in the week and written a new post about Washington’s Birthday and the myth of President’s Day. Instead, I’ll repost something I wrote on this line originally three years ago. Enjoy:

That’s not the name of the holiday

usafederalholidays.com

usafederalholidays.com

I’ve written before about the fact that President’s Day is a myth, the official name of the holiday is Washington’s Birthday Observance. Click the link to read about the history of the holiday, the few states that do observe a holiday called President’s Day (though some observe it in completely different months), and so on. Today, I want to talk a little bit about why there has never been a Federal holiday honoring Lincoln’s birthday, and how that contributes to people thinking that today’s holiday is about anyone other than Washington… Read More…

What’s on your list?

“My Xmas list is short this year: 1. $1,000,000 in cash 2. The souls of all who have displeased me 3. A kitten”

“My Xmas list is short this year:
1. $1,000,000 in cash
2. The souls of all who have displeased me
3. A kitten”

While I agree with the sentiment behind the meme here, this actually isn’t my list. I wouldn’t turn down a million bucks, obviously. And well, certain souls do deserve some sort of torment. I love kittens and puppies and other baby animals, but the sad truth I learned many years ago is that my allergies are much less horrible if I’m not sharing living space with cats. I loved the various cats who owned me (Fiona and Woody), and those I grew up with, but I love breathing, too. Similarly cut Christmas trees aren’t good for the old bronchial tubes and sinus passages.

What’s actually on my list are lots of things that aren’t going to happen, such as Congressional Republicans finding moral spines and impeaching the traitors in the Oval Office, real peace coming to several parts of the world that haven’t known it in many years, homophobic relatives seeing the light, and so forth.

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

“When you stop believing in Santa you get underwear.”

Otherwise, when I try to come up with lists, it’s fairly mundane things such as books I want to read, movies I would like to own, nice warm fuzzy socks, or some nice new Andrew Christian underwear. Things that it would be nice to have, but not that I necessarily need. I mean, yeah, socks wear out—particularly for someone like me who has to wear warm socks for medical reasons during cold parts of the year, and thus runs around the house in socks all the time. So, when I put fuzzy socks on my wish lists every year, I really appreciate the folks who get them for me.

I find myself, instead, thinking about things that I’m thankful for and things that I wish I could give to others. Yes, I gave people presents, and the gifts seem to be appreciated. But while I can go to a store and buy someone some chocolate, or that electronic thing they put on their list, or a nice sketchbook, and so on, I can’t give people the job with benefits that they really need, or a non-dysfunctional family, or just health. So I can offer my love and support.

So, this is my list, things I wish for everyone who reads this:

  1. Warmth
  2. People in your life who love you
  3. Beauty
  4. Someone who appreciates you
  5. Peace

Bless us, every one.

May the calendar keeping bringing happy holidays to you!

“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”

“Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”

In 1942 Irving Berlin composed several songs for the movie, Holiday Inn. The most famous song from that movie is “White Christmas,” and it is the only song in the movie that is specifically about Christmas. However the first song in the movie is “Happy Holiday” which in the context of the movie is about New Year’s Day, as well as an introduction to the conceit of the film—that someone could run an inn that is only open for business 6 days a year, each of them a holiday. Still, this song that doesn’t mention anything Christmas-y at all has been considered a staple of Christmas music since the mid 1940s:

Happy holiday, happy holiday
While the merry bells keep ringing
May your ev’ry wish come true

Happy holiday, happy holiday
May the calendar keep bringing
Happy holidays to you

An advertisement from the Duluth News-Tribune of January 6, 1890 is just one example of the use of the phrase for more than 125 years!

An advertisement from the Duluth News-Tribune of January 6, 1890 is just one example of the use of the phrase for more than 125 years!

But one can’t credit Irving Berlin with the invention of the phrase, “Happy Holidays!” It’s been in use for more than 125 years, and was clearly not part of any attempt to secularize the holiday.

Most people point to Bill O’Reilly’s segment on December 7, 2004 about the so-called assault on Christmas as the origin of the myth. But you have to go much further than that, back to the 1920s, when in recurrent segment of industrialist Henry Ford’s newsweekly entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” which opined: “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.” Notice that even 97 years ago the American rightwing was antisemitic.

I was not alive back when Ford and others were trying to use Christmas to inflame anti-Jewish sentiment, but by the time of my childhood in the 1960s, that notion (along with the John Birch Society’s theory that the United Nations and Communists were trying take the Christ out of Christmas) had soaked deep into the psyche of evangelical fundamentalists. Though it took slightly different forms. I’ve written before about how the various Baptist churches my family attended considered Santa Claus an anti-Christian emblem. Some churches banned Christmas trees from the sanctuary, because of their pagan origins. Poinsettias were allowed because popular myth was the the red leaves represented Christ’s blood. But many of the common symbols of the holiday were believed inappropriate for the church.

Which isn’t to say that they forbade you from decorating your home and a tree or Santa — there was just a clear distinction between the sacred meaning of the holy day and the more general public celebration of the holidays. Which is why some leaders of the Christian Right in the 60s and 70s started advocating that Christians should encourage businesses to use phrases such as Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays precisely because all that commericialism shouldn’t be associated with Christ.

That’s right, there was a time when the very same sorts of people that today are foaming at the mouth about Starbucks’ holiday coffee cups not being sufficiently Christmas-y were asking businesses not to profane Christ’s name by labeling their products with the word Christmas.

“Christians be like 'God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.'”

“Christians be like ‘God bless this pork you told us not to eat on this most holy pagan holiday that you told us not to celebrate.’”

The pendulum keeps swinging back and forth. It’s been popular across the political spectrum to lament the commercialization of Christmas for many years, for instance. But the funning thing is that this commercialization: the emphasis on exchanging gifts (specifically gifts for Children) are part of a puritanical push during the 19th Century to make the holiday family friendly. For most of its history, the Christmas season was associated with drinking and feasting and various kinds of wild partying. So the Victorians decided to wage a war on the previous forms of the holiday. Unlike the Puritans, who banned Christmas entirely when they set up their colonies in the U.S., the Victorian prudes at least understood that you couldn’t ban the celebration outright, but you could encourage people to observe it in a different way.

So the next time someone gripes about commercialization of Christmas, point out that little historical tidbit and watch their head explode.

I could ramble some more, but why not watch this video instead?

Adam Rules Everything- The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here

Holidays are stressful enough, don’t make it worse than you have to

“Don't get your tinsel in a tangle.”

“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle.”

For many years, each holiday season, we would run down to spend time with a bunch of my in-state relatives for either Thanksgiving or Christmas. When my mom was still working, we would pick which one to come down based on when she had to work. Being a lifelong retail employee, she was used to the stores being open on those holidays, and generally if she had to work one, she got the other one off. This followed about seven years of me not visiting at all because most of the family reacted very badly1 when I came out of the closet, leading me inform them that until they accepted my then-husband as my husband, I wouldn’t visit6.

Now while these relatives all seem to genuinely love my husband7, that doesn’t mean that holidays with them are all happy and gay. There’s a pretty big double-standard we have been expected to swallow most years: they can babble about god, evil liberals, et cetera and ad nauseam but if we bring up any counterpoints, we’re the ones who are shoving our politics down their throats. I did manage to get a few to admit this was a double-standard and maybe we should all refrain, but, well, the Bible-thumping will happen, regardless.

Things got worse and worse during the Obama administration. All of them believe that Obama/Hilary are the anti-Christs and only
Trump can save the world for Christians. Or something.

So last year we did Thanksgiving, but we did the minimum: we drove down that day, and left the same day. No staying overnight at the hotel we usually rent a room at8. And then just before Christmas I drove down on one of my days off to drop off presents and quickly visit several of them.

Interestingly enough, when I drive down for the explicit purpose of just visiting and dropping off presents, no one seems to feel compelled to talk about their latest worry about the destruction of the world by those godless liberals. Clearly there’s something about it also being a holiday that fuels some of that.

So, we didn’t go down for Thanksgiving at all this year. And we aren’t going down for Christmas. I dropped presents off on Friday to mom, my sister’s family, my grown niece’s family, and one aunt. I fixed Mom’s computer and helped her with a couple of things one her iPhone. I helped my aunt with some problems on her computer. I took Mom to dinner.

And yes, it was pretty late when I got home, but it was infinitely less stressful than last Thanksgiving had been. Yeah, there was a little random god talk, but nothing like the pro-Trump cheering of last year.

This weekend is real Christmas for us. We’re hosting the holiday party & writers’ night this year. I’ll get to see many friends, share this year’s ghost story, hear the things other folks have brought to read or perform, eat a lot of good food, chat, laugh, and otherwise have a great time. Then on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, we plan to just have a quiet Christmas at home, the two of us.

That will go a long way to getting rid of the stress.

It’s been a few years since I quoted Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, “I don’t need anything from anyone but love and respect. If you can’t give me that, you have no place in my life.”

This year, I’m saying it to myself. Giving myself permission to avoid the people who can’t give both.


Footnotes:

1. One aunt sent me a 28-page handwritten letter listing all of the words and topics that I would not be able to mention in conversation if I visited her house. It also explained that if I brought my friend (the word was underlined every time she used it) we would not me allowed to call each other “honey” or “dear” or any other pet names or display any affection toward each other at all.2

2. In a follow-up conversation she angrily insisted she just wanted to treat us the same we she did her unmarried children when they brought people over. She didn’t appreciate it when I laughed loudly into the phone and reminded her of the time her middle son brought a young woman with him to Thanksgiving at her house and they kept making out3 at the table! She asked him to cool it, at that point4, but didn’t say a word about the frequent more restrained kissings on the cheeks and lips and forehead that kept spontaneously happening for the rest of the dinner5.

3. Full tongue and nibbling on ears and such. It was like accidentally stumbling into a porn shoot.

4. I and his older sister were trying to decide if they were high or just drunk.

5. I’m also pretty sure that one of the times they vanished that afternoon that they had sex in the downstairs guest bathroom.

6. Some of the family did come around before Ray died, but barely two months before he did. Fortunately because Ray and I had gotten through that seven year struggle, things have been much better with Michael.

7. I am quite certain that several of them like him more than they like me, but I’m okay with that. It’s a lot better than what we had before.

8. The last few years as the rhetoric in general has heated up, it has been more and more galling on a personal level to pay for the privilege of biting our tongues all day long even during the occasional anti-gay rant of one relative…

Decorating season is in full swing!

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process... © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process… (click to embiggen)

I have a tradition of putting up the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. For some people that’s very early. But then, I know (and am related in some cases) to people who never take their trees down. Anyway, the tradition started when I was in the third grade in grammar school. Before that Dad would drag us out into the woods somewhere to pick a tree and cut down. As far as I know he never had a permit or got permission from anyone. The one or two times Mom or Grandpa or someone would ask, he would insist we’d gone out on Bureau of Land Management property, therefore it all belongs to the public1.

Anyway, third grade and fourth grade were the years we moved several times during the same school year. Of the ten elementary schools I attended, five of them where those two grades alone2. Because of the packing, unpacking, moving, and so forth—and while Dad’s job often indicated within a certain window how long we would be in one place, the exact date we’d need to move wasn’t always certain—Dad agreed to let Mom buy an artificial tree in November because we might have to move in the middle of the holiday season. That year was also the first year that we didn’t drive back to my paternal grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.

I think that at least half the reason Mom decided to set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was because with deep snow and temps well below zero Farenheit, being trapped in our small house with my sister and I for three days was going to be a nightmare if she didn’t come up with something to keep us occupied for a decent amount of time.

The tree was only four feet tall—short enough that Mom could set it up on top of the console stereo. It still loomed over the room, but there wasn’t enough tree to hold all of the ornaments we owned. This made deciding what to put on where a major undertaking, with more than a little bit of arguing3 between my sister and I. If I’m right about why Mom decided to set up the tree that day, I think her plan backfired.

Twice.

Because here’s the really funny thing: Both that year and the next, about three weeks before Christmas, we had to pack up everything—including undecorating the tree and boxing it back up—and move. In third grade, we moved from Kimball, Nebraska to Opal, Wyoming. In fourth grade the move was from Ft. Morgan, Colorado to Roosevelt, Utah.4

Anyway, the upshot is that for the rest of my childhood, Christmases were celebrated with that same artificial tree. The tree didn’t get retired until I was in my early twenties, after Mom remarried and moved to Arizona with her new husband, while I, still trying to save up money to transfer from community college to university, moved in with my paternal grandparents. As an adult, I’ve bought cut trees for Christmas twice, but otherwise have always had an artificial tree6. Back in 2000 or 2001 Michael and I bought a new 7-foot tall “pencil pine” tree. Unlike other trees we’d had, the body of the tree is very narrow, so it’s easy to fit into a small room, but still tall enough to create the big tree effect, and it holds a lot of ornaments. A couple years ago while we were setting it up, Michael pointed out how some of the branches had lost enough plastic needles to looks scraggly, and some branches were awfully loose. So we used it one more year, and then in an after Christmas sale we bought another, similar tree.

I hung up Christmas lights out on the veranda in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. And then I unboxed our Christmas tree and hauled out the boxes of ornaments. Which is a much smaller collection than we used to own7. The first discovery was that while the tree doesn’t quite touch the ceiling, the two glass spire-style toppers we kept won’t fit atop the tree because of the slightly lower ceiling at this apartment than the old. However, the third topper we kept8, which is a teddy bear dressed as Santa, just barely fit. He is literally touching the ceiling, but he fits!

I got the lights on, which always takes a while, because I’ll string them on, decide they are uneven, unwind them, try again, et cetera. I’ll get myself very dizzy at least once along the way. Then I put a few ornaments on. But I was also doing laundry, and Michael talked me into going on a walk with him at one point, so by bedtime I had started on the tree, but hadn’t finished.

Saturday morning I resumed. This is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have some kind of theme for the tree. Doing a different color scheme and theme every year is only part of the reason we owned more christmas decorations than any eight normal households could possibly use. And because I got rid of so many, I was feeling an urge to fit as much as possible of what remained on the tree. But I still wanted it to look non-random? Which wasn’t really working.

So… I was having a panic as I hung ornaments because I couldn’t find my Great-grandma’s ornaments. Great-grandma bought a box of mixed-color ornaments on sale in 19579. Great-grandma used them on a little artificial tree at her house until Great-grandpa died in 1974, at which point she moved to the coast to live with Grandma. Great-grandma died about six months after Great-grandpa. The ornaments then spent 30-ish years sitting in the storage shed at Grandma’s house. Apparently Grandma used them only once after Great-grandma died, then boxed them up. So after Grandma died, Mom found them in the shed. When she sent me a picture, I gasped, because even though I hadn’t seen them since I was 13 years old, I immediately recognized them.

Mom split them up. She kept three, then my sister, one cousin who expressed interest, and I got three each. I have put them on my own tree every year, regardless of the theme of the year. So when I couldn’t find them, I was freaking out.

I was afraid I had accidentally mixed them up with others and taken them to Value Village.

I was getting more and more frantic while going through the boxes. By the time my husband woke up I must have been really bad, because moments after coming into the room, he asked, “Do you need to sit down for a minute?”

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

As I told him what was wrong, I pointed at the open boxes lined up that I had been taking ornaments from. I paused.

I counted.

There were only seven file-box sized boxes. “Wait! I distinctly remember figuring out that I could fit eight boxes in the closet before I started purging,” I said. I grabbed a flashlight and went back to the walk-in closet. Yes, hiding under the coats was an eighth box. Which of course had Great-grandma’s ornaments. It also contained a few other special ornaments that I had thought we kept, but that I hadn’t been able to find.

Eventually on Saturday evening we declared the tree finished and I put the boxes of unused ornaments back in the closet.

That wasn’t all of the decorating. Partway through Saturday I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. I had unpacked some non-tree decorations and decided we needed a table runner to go with the dark red table cloth. Especially if I was going to put another of Great-grandma’s old decorations (her plastic Santa, sleigh, and reindeer centerpiece) out. And that led to the acquisition of an outdoor decoration that is another story all its own. But I should save that for later, as this post is incredibly long, already.

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! (click to embiggen)

We have the tree up now. It doesn’t have an official theme, but as I was picking ornaments out, I realized I was picking mostly red, green, gold, and white ornaments. Michael noted that there was something of an arctic theme, since I started by putting all the C. Alan Johnson ornaments on first (we hadn’t used any of those since the Pole-to-Pole tree a few years ago), along with polar bears, seals, and white owls. Of course, there are also three penguins, so we could think of this as a sequel to Pole-to-Pole. I don’t think I will. I’m perfectly okay with it just being the ornaments I decided to use this year, no theme. It’s just our tree—our Christmas/Solstice tree.


Footnotes:

1. Which prompted Grandpa to say, “Which is why you’re supposed to get a permit.”

2. Also five different states.

3. And there was some crying at at least one point.

4. And if you’re curious: we lived in Opal5 for only about two months, then had to pack up and follow Dad’s oil rig out to Cheyenne Well, Colorado, very close to the Kansas border. In June we moved Healy, Kansas, and we literally were still unpacking when the job shifted to Fort Morgan, and we had to move back to Colorado.

5. Which is pronounced by the residents as “oh, PAL” rather than the way most folks pronounce the gemstone it is named after.

6. Among other advantages of artificial trees are they don’t set off horrible hay fever attacks for me during the one time of the year that it is usually cold enough in the northwest that I’m not dealing with pollen or spores from outside.

7. Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?), where among other things I hauled three big Subaru loads of Christmas decorations to Value Village.

8. A subset of our old decorations was a collection that was started by my late husband, Ray, which we called The Tacky Tree Topper collection: five or six different kinds of vary garish stars and two different illuminated plastic wreaths. Plus we had those glass spire toppers in just about every color scheme we’ve ever done (purple, red, green, blue, three different pinks, gold, silver…). Then there were the not-tacky stars (one of was bronze, one was silver and white), a thing that looked like a spray of gold glitter… four or five Sants (one with a purple robe, one with a red, one with a green, one with an ice blue… oh, and a burgundy robed one!)… and so on.

9. We know because she kept the box and it had the receipt inside it, I kid you not.

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