Of few things am I certain,
but that there is something magical in the Christmas holiday,
and perhaps it is only the sparkling paper
and cinnamon scented kitchen air,
but you, I find, are transformed in these moments
and I see in your smile the boy you were
before you lost enough to turn you into the man you are.
This morning my children are dressed in their Christmas best.
They are ready for Sunday School and in all the hectic chaos of such mornings, my son asked for cologne.
So, I ran into the room, apologized to the sleeping bear that is the husband and grabbed his cologne, patting it on my fingers and dabbing the smelly stuff on my son’s pale little neck.
My daughter wanted smelly stuff, too.
My mother went and got perfume and it hit me, the second she lifted the cap on the bottle.
Even over the smell of the Polo on my fingers, I could smell the White Shoulders, tears filled my eyes, and for a moment I skipped back.
*This is a piece from my first book, Wake Up a Woman.
Have you ever noticed that there are places in this world that at certain times, and this is only every once in a while, time skips? It’s like life is a record player, and in our little record are a few cracks. Oh they are nothing major, and the music still comes through, but at times, just certain times, the needle catches. It pauses there, and the music stops. Then, within seconds, it jumps over the crack and starts anew. Who knows how long those seconds are? I mean, what does time mean to God? An eternity for us is but a blink of the eye to Him.
Of course by this point my grandmother had stopped my explanation of cracks and records skipping. She had one of the sighs, the kind that let me know she was ready to come out of her silence. We were sitting there on that park bench, the kind with the curved metal back, that looks uncomfortable, but you end up melded right into it like you belong with the scrolls and dips and dives. Leaves floated around us in the colors of flaming ash, all reds, oranges and yellows. My Grandmother’s cape was red. Not the red of the leaves, or a sunset over tired skies. No, her cape was the color of a fire engine. As if she should be putting out all those little flames that fell around us, and she could have too. She’d been putting out fires all of my life.
“Now stop this nonsense, and tell me what’s really going on.”
Her voice was one of soft strength, and as she spoke, one small, wrinkled, beautiful hand slipped out from under that cape and grasped mine. I couldn’t just settle for her hand though, and instead I curled myself into her, like I’d done since I was a child. My grandmother was no twig of a woman. She was the kind of woman you hugged and instead of being afraid you might break her, you knew she was the one holding you together. She was comfortable, and as I hugged her the scent of White Shoulders chased away everything else.
It was easier to talk now, so I told her of school and how well it was going. I talked about my professors and how much support they have given me in my writing. I spoke of work and the fun I have with the girls there in our efforts to make everyone fall as much in love with their writer’s voice, as we are. I told her of my children, and how we made gingerbread cookies, even though it wasn’t nearly Christmas yet, simply because the kids wanted to cut out cookie shapes. She laughed at that, and reminded me of her old recipe for cookies, one my mother and I don’t make nearly enough.
“Remember you have to roll them flat. Real flat. You want them really thin. Your mother and you never quite get them thin enough.”
And she was right, we didn’t. My mother and I didn’t come ingrained with that same ever-flowing font of patience that my grandmother had, and is. We’d get that cookie dough as flat as we felt like, even though we could hear her in our mind saying that they weren’t ready yet, and roll them flatter. I started to laugh then, and she laughed along with me, the sound filling the empty silence around us. It rose and fell over us, slowly twinkling out, stuck on the breeze and drifting away.
I sat there on that bench and turned to the empty place beside me. My fingers brushed the dead, brown leaves from the seat. Music played again, sweeping through the trees and shaking everything up at the roots, and the world spun around. I laughed again, loud enough to drown out the music. It was laughter laced with tears, and they fell and darkened the wood where my grandmother had sat.
“I miss you Mommom, so much.”
Perhaps I’ll stay here for a bit. Perhaps I’ll make this my home for a time. What is time anyway? It may only be another breath, another heartbeat, and the needle will catch again, and silence will fill a world scented by White Shoulders.
The husband and I have been butting heads all Christmas season it seems. He wants to do more and more and more than I think is even necessary. So when my mother and I discussed whether we were going to do stockings for the adults this year (something the husband and I normally take care of), we figured we’d save some money and not bother with them. It isn’t as if they are full of things we all desperately need, or even that stockings are that important for the adults. It’s just something we normally do, and didn’t think we needed to continue to do.
I told the husband we were going to skip stockings for the adults this year.
And he flipped. Now, when I say “flipped” for the husband’s reactions, it means he gave me Eyebrow of Doom, growled a bit, and informed me that the foot was down and the stockings were happening.
Fine. The stockings are happening.
And then I spoke to a friend, who informed me in the nicest way possible that I was basically being an inconsiderate biatch.
You took a man with none of this. No real family life. No traditions. None of it, and you gave him all of that. You don’t get to take it back.
It made me stop and think. All these little things we do during the holidays that have become just a thing to me, mean something to him. They mean something, because we took him in. We made him part of our family. We drug him through our little traditions, and now he is defending them. He’s defending them because he’s got the caveman personality. This is his family, his Christmas. He’s the defender on the wall of our little one-story castle.
And here I’ve been, poking holes at it with my dull little javelin.
We didn’t make him part of this.
No. The gift my husband gave me is that he made all this something that was finally whole.
Which is crazy to think, you know? That we actually lived -coughsurvivedhack- an entire year.
As a wonderful new friend of mine has so kindly shown me the path, I am following in her hilarious, crooked, mismatched, and possibly tipsy footsteps to a new holiday tradition. If you are interested in this sort of visual Twister game, please, please go visit Hacker.Ninja.Hooker.Spy and her awesome Family Christmas Letter. You will love her, I swear.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about holiday traditions. But Christmas Happened was more of the slightly funny, but mostly sappy flavor. And since I can’t get through the holidays only baking up one kind of festive holy-crap-I-made-that-and-it’s-actually-pretty creations…I’m here to add my own, traditional Family Christmas Letter.
You know those letters. Those “Look what I did this year” letters. Those “Isn’t my family beautiful and perfect” letters. Those “Aren’t you just so jealous that I have the time to condense my entire fabulous year into 12 pages of ego vomit for your misery pleasure” letters.
Merry Christmas! Season’s Greetings! Happy Holidays! Joyous Kwanzaa! Pleasant Hanukkah! God/or Whoever You Do or Do Not Believe in Bless You!
2013 was a fantastic year for our big, mixed up (we have too many last names to put them all here) family! And as you can see, we’re still working hard on our promotions across Facebook for the freedoms for all religions to worship, or not, as they choose. We’ve added to our list of Things We Post to Make Our Family Block Us: Women’s Rights, Left-Wing Conspiracies, Democrats for Hilary Clinton as President, and Science Does Exist (as does global warming and evolution). I’m happy to report that I’ve gone from almost 300 friends to a overwhelming 27 co-conspirators. We have been so blessed.
The year started out with so many resolutions. I resolved myself to the fact that I was going to have to be a writer, whether I wanted to or not. The voices simply would not leave me alone, and so I chose to accept them. I started three different blogs, with one who managed to survive to today. My little baby, Badass Women of History is still alive, but struggling. Let’s all say a prayer, have a moment of silence, or ignore this completely if you’d like for her. Hopefully she’ll be out of therapy and on her feet again in 2014!
I even enrolled back in college, discovered the world was still full of young morons we are happily promoting to statuses allowing them to make important decisions for future generations, and so one semester later…I escaped. That’s right. I ran for the hills and left behind the digital world of online learning, where intelligence doesn’t matter and grammar is a myth. Yes, the world of week long discussions on “Who’s your favorite President of all time?” and “What was cool about that character?”. The magical land where you lose letter grades for writing half a page over the required two pages for a final paper, or mantras like “Who needs to understand the meaning behind this story? NO ONE!” are chanted on every available chat room corner. Yes. I escaped.
I even started a diet this year. Five times! It was an amazing process. I kept watching the Kellogg’s commercials and then I would run drive to the store (this diet never mentioned exercise) and buy up all the crap is that cardboard? tasty Kellogg’s flakeys I could find. Yum. I gained ten pounds this year. I’m so proud of me.
March was exciting. I published my second book. I sold two copies of it. Which is eight less than my first book. I knew I was on my way then, and immediately set out to work on book number three. I mean, the only way I had to go was down, and with some really hard work and perseverance…I did it. Book three came out in October and I’ve sold…wait…ZERO COPIES. I know. It’s so exciting!
Towards the end of April we had a bit of excitement. I even documented the conversation, just so I could remember the wondrous feelings of panic, stress, and oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-puke.
Me: My brother’s coming home in June.
The Man: Yeah? Cool.
The Man: -Playing his video game.- We’ll get married while he’s home. Go ahead and set that up.
Me: –Insert my own Eyebrow of Doom. (It was a rare sighting, purely brought on by immense shock and unable to be viewed again.)- Whaaaaa?
So the wedding planning began…the next day. It was a beautiful affair (no sarcasm here folks…it was very pretty). The night before was a lot of fun. The man, the brother, and the friend/crazy stressed-out wedding planner and myself got to decorate the entire space the night before. The man was sick. He got dizzy on a ladder and I got to send him home, to fall asleep without me, while I continued to fill this space with as much green, orange, and yellow as humanly possible.
I only had one major freak out before the ceremony, so I count that as a complete win. And I’m not responsible for any of the therapy I may have induced when I lost it in the kitchen and stood there in my dress, demanding they bring me The Man while tears drew streams of make-up down my beautiful, blushing cheeks.
I only managed to hurt myself by accident once this year, and it involved a slip-in-slide, so it wasn’t completely my fault. I mean, in my defense, the year before I played on it all day and I was fine. How was I to know that after four or five slips I would be reduced to a hunched over, whining pile of shit-I’m-that-old. I may have had a birthday this year, but I’m stopped counting them. Everyone else got older though. Everyone.
The husband and I both hurt ourselves on purpose. I let a few men stab me, and he let a big Irish guy poke him. I don’t judge…I let the Irish guy poke me, too.
For some reason I believed that the massive canvas that is my thigh wouldn’t be painful. I wore the Cone of Shame on this one. That’s okay though. I wore the Cone so much this year, I should have gotten an award for it. I may have actually, but since this year was the year the husband domesticated me, and since I suck at that as much as I do, the award is probably lying under the pile of clothes that has never found its way into the closets and drawers…or maybe behind that stack of books that we now use like an extra coffee table. It might even be under the bed. I don’t know what’s under the bed anymore. I think it is alive and it eats things…like my award.
So yes, the husband domesticated me. He started a new job and I quit mine. I mean, I don’t need a job. I’m a woman. My power increases tenfold when I enter a kitchen. I become an unstoppable force, surrounded by a cloud of flour and spitting pure vanilla extra into the eyes of my enemies. I am so glad the husband noticed my wonderful disposition towards this lifestyle, and I’m learning my place, truly.
I even got all the good kitchen stuff for my bridal shower, including the waffle maker I use specifically to crush cinnamon rolls down into crunchy, made-for-my-thighs goodness. I went on an absolute baking spree, and even did a halfway good job of it. Enough so that I looked into what it would take to open my own bakery. That’s right…I was going to start my own business. I am so good at following through with everything I start…I’m still home with no bakery. You figure it out.
But those cooking supplies are coming in handy, because we’re back in the holiday season, and now that the husband has made it his goal to put us into eternal debt for Christmas, I’m going to need these baking skills I’ve been ignoring mastering.
All in all, it has been a good year. My children are still alive. I haven’t used my “one” (the one chance I have to nail the husband in the face with no threat of retaliation), and I am still the tattooed, dyed, offensive bitch with a backbone that I’ve always been. I wish you the best in whatever holiday you are celebrating and remember…you’ll never quite be as awesome as I am, but that’s okay. I’m just here to give you a visual image of something to strive for.
Last Christmas, my pantry room floor was given extra texture and dyed bright green. That’s not where this story begins though. No, this story, like many other Christmas tales, begins with tradition. I come from a family with multiple traditions, though we never thought of them that way. These things seemed so natural, that come Christmas time it was second nature to go through with them.
The day after Thanksgiving the tree goes up. The men put on the lights, and then the women and children decorate it. The children get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, which is normally a new pair of pajamas to sleep in that night. Christmas morning starts early, and after the living room is transformed into an explosion of brightly colored paper, oodles of packaging, and zip ties that hurt about as much as Legos when stepped on, the family has a hectic Christmas breakfast. The rest of the day is spent, lounging in pajamas, learning how to work new toys and gadgets, and picking at the turkey that was cooked the day before.
Something happened in the last few years though, and these traditions were changed, altered, or all-together gotten rid of. The tree gets up, sometime after Thanksgiving, except my father cheated and bought one that was pre-lit. Now the men don’t have to do anything with the lights, and I consider them something close to traitors. My mother has implemented miniature trees for the children, filled with boxes numbered one through twenty-four, and every single evening, through December, the kids get to open one and get a small gift: a chocolate coin, a dollar, erasers, tiny Dollar Store toys, and the list goes on and on. And there’s no more lounging on Christmas day. Now my family gets to pack up and haul children all over the place to visit my husband’s family. It becomes some ruthless packing adventure, deciding what can stay and what has to come along, and “No, you can’t take that. You just got it. If you lose it, we won’t be able to get you another one.”
We kept Christmas breakfast though. I refuse to let that tradition go away. Just like I refuse to let the pre-Christmas baking disappear. I wish I could say that I did more baking through the year, but I don’t. However, come December my dining room table is in a constant state of floured and sugared disaster. Tins and jars line every counter full of more junk than one family should be able to eat. And sometime in those crazy weeks, my mother and I tackle AP cookies.
I doubt the name will sound familiar, as I’ve never actually seen a recipe for them online. I’m not even sure what the AP means, and I never got the chance to ask my grandmother before she passed. I do remember, when I was finally old enough to be considered a help and not a hindrance in the kitchen, my grandmother brought me out with my mother to work on the cookies. I hated that they took two days. These golden, crispy delights should have been done immediately. I attempted that one year, to make them and cook them right away. It was a miserable failure, and I had an entire batch of cookies that were edible, but not right. This recipe calls for patience, something I’ve never been good at.
My grandmother, though, was a fount of patience. She worked with my mother and I, mixing the heavy dough one night, and then spending the next evening rolling it out flat. When I say “flat”, I mean, flat. The act of making these things amounts to more exercise than I get in a year. Even now, ten years after my grandmother’s death, I can hear her in the background.
“They’ve got to be flatter than that. Keep rolling. Thin. Really thin.”
And my mother and I would keep rolling and rolling, until there’s a mass of thin dough covering our table. That’s when we call in the kids. They come running, their hands digging into the bin with the cookie cutters and suddenly random stars and trees and bells start popping into the dough. My children were six and four last year, so there was a lot of wasted dough, many cookies with multiple shapes cut in them, and hours of rerolling and re-cutting, until finally my mother and I started cutting out squares and tossing any idea of shapes out the window.
I don’t remember if my grandmother sugared the cookies. It seems like something I should remember, but I know we do, and I doubt my mother and I would have changed her cookies in any way. So last Christmas, when I asked the kids to go back in the pantry and get the sugar for the cookies, they come back with only a tin of red sugar.
“Where’s the green?” I asked.
My son ran back and grabbed the green and brought it to me. I had just bought the sugar, and I remember staring at the half empty container, wondering where on earth it had gone.
“I spilled it,” my son said. “But I cleaned it up.”
He stripped off his socks, right there at the table, and showed me feet that were dyed green. I kept thinking, It’s okay. He cleaned it up. Just missed his feet. It’s fine. And then I got to my pantry. There on the floor was a wet towel, and I lifted it to see a sticky, green mess of glittering sugar. The broom lay nearby, the ends of it glued together with more sugar. I could hear my son behind me, apologizing profusely, as I tried to clean up the mess with hot water and a rag. Let me just say, this did nothing more than stick the mess further into my floor. I gave up at some point and the green spot is still there.
“So, we’ll only have a few green ones. No big deal.”
My mother gave me the look. You know which one I mean. The eyebrow raised, absolute disbelief, possibly bubbling anger under the surface. We were getting one pan of green ones. One pan of really green ones. I looked at the table to see my daughter, empty tin in her hand, and a tray full of lumps completely covered in green sugar.
We sprinkle the sugar.
She drowned them in sugar.
I almost felt like we should be holding a funeral at this point, because it seemed my grandmother’s cookies just weren’t going to happen this year. But then, amidst the frustration and the mess, the best thing happened. Christmas happened. My son started giggling. He had one of those giggles that was contagious, a full on belly-laugh. Soon we were all cackling, tears running down our cheeks, and in the back on my head I could hear my grandmother.
“Laugh all you want, but they’ve got to be thinner than that.”
It only made me laugh harder. We finished the cookies and they were odd shaped. Some of them had no sugar, some only a few grains, some were so covered it was hard to tell when they’d gotten brown on top. There were a few burnt, when we didn’t get to the oven in time or my son turned the timer off without us noticing. There were some that never made it to the cooling rack, regardless of how many times I told my daughter that they needed to be eaten cold. And none of them were as flat as my grandmother would have made them.
In fair warning, I’m giving you this recipe. That being said, I cannot be held accountable for any grandmother mumblings you hear in your ear about rolling them thinner. That is simply a risk you are going to take when you make these.
Lillian’s AP Cookies
½ lb. butter
1 lb. 10x powdered sugar
½ pt. heavy cream
½ tsp. baking soda in little water
Flour to stiffen – about 4-5 cups
Green and red decorating sugars, if desired
A heaping helping of patience
Children – for laughter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all ingredients the night before and chill in covered container in the fridge overnight. The next evening, flour work surface, make sure it is a large one, and take sections of dough out to roll. Roll them as thin as possible! When you believe they are thin enough, roll them thinner. Just don’t tear them. Use cutters to cut out shapes, or cut into squares. Decorate with sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes. Watch closely for the first couple of trays to get the timing right. They should be just golden brown on the edges. Take out and cool on racks before boxing. Best eaten cold!