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Archive for December, 2008

it was hiding under the tree

and a partridge in a pear tree

All it took was some pretty lights.

We made hot chocolate and Rice Krispie treats, put on some Christmas music and decorated the tree. It was a nice, cozy family evening and as soon as we turned the house lights down and the tree lights up, my Christmas spirit exploded in a mess of gushy sentiments.

It looks like Christmas. And with a winter storm on the way, it feels like Christmas. Taking a vacation day today certainly helped as well, as a build up of work related stress wasn’t helping my grinchiness.

Thanks for all the helpful comments yesterday, especially Kristine, who reminds me of the old “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” commercial. Without the product placement.

Now, if I could just find my motivation the way I found my spirit, I could actually use this day off to get a lot of necessary Christmas stuff done.

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it was hiding under the tree

and a partridge in a pear tree

All it took was some pretty lights.

We made hot chocolate and Rice Krispie treats, put on some Christmas music and decorated the tree. It was a nice, cozy family evening and as soon as we turned the house lights down and the tree lights up, my Christmas spirit exploded in a mess of gushy sentiments.

It looks like Christmas. And with a winter storm on the way, it feels like Christmas. Taking a vacation day today certainly helped as well, as a build up of work related stress wasn’t helping my grinchiness.

Thanks for all the helpful comments yesterday, especially Kristine, who reminds me of the old “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” commercial. Without the product placement.

Now, if I could just find my motivation the way I found my spirit, I could actually use this day off to get a lot of necessary Christmas stuff done.

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Warning: It’s long, it’s rambling, it’s not proofread.

I came to terms with something today. It was not so much a self revelation as an admittance of something that’s been lingering deep inside for many years. I’ve been keeping it at bay, reluctant to tell anyone what I was feeling, hoping that it would pass and I would never have to utter these words out loud.

I hate Christmas.

There, I said it.

I didn’t always hate Christmas. When I was a kid it was all Santa and presents and 500 hundred cousins gathered in one place. It was snow and caroling and completely magical. Even after I learned there was no big, fat jolly man hopping down my chimney every year, I still found magic in the holiday. It was the feel of everything around me. I loved how the world seemed lit up and everyone was caught up in the joy of the season. I suppose this was before I became a cynical realist. When you’re a young idealist, you can put a Pollyana spin on anything.

As I got older, Christmas lost some of its charm, which is just the natural progression of things. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own when I started to drive myself crazy every year, starting in November. I had to make the perfect Christmas. I had to get the perfect presents and a perfect tree and the day had to be absolutely without flaw. It had to be the way my parents set it up for me; presents overflowing under the tree, a house full of decorations, a steady stream of relatives stopping by to say hello and there’s always desserts on the table and hot chocolate at the ready and everyone is full of Christmas cheer. And it had to be the way society set it up for me as well; my kids had to scream in glee at every present opened. My house had to look like something out of a fairy tale. My cookies had to be perfect, my company polite, my smile ever present and our entire Christmas season full of perfection.

I have based the entirety of my Christmas expectations upon hazy memories of Christmas past, coupled with the lie of Christmas Perfect that mass media has foisted upon us. Was Christmas ever perfect growing up? Probably not.

Every year as an adult I would wonder – what is this all for? Why do we shower people with gifts on this holiday? Why do we spend over a month getting ready for this one day? I’m not a religious person, in fact, I’m agnostic. My family are all Catholics, but no one ever stresses the religious aspect of the holiday. It’s about the presents, the food, the family. Which is all well and good. I love family gatherings, especially when there’s a veritable buffet of food involved. But the presents? Every year that I head out Christmas shopping I have that moment when I stop and think to myself, why am I doing this? Why am I stretching my budget and practically going into debt to give my children the most perfect gifts ever, to give everyone in my family presents when I gift them all year long? Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s Day, plus the sheer amount of crap I bestow on my kids throughout their lives?

I do it because it’s expected. I do it because it’s what my parents did for me. I do it because I don’t have the balls to say to my family “this year, let’s just give each other the gift of love and family.” So I go about the business of making it all happen. I don’t want to disappoint. I don’t want to break with tradition or rock the Christmas boat. I have to buy and wrap and decorate and force this cheer upon myself and my family, when all I want to do is stop looking at my shopping list, stop stressing about the gifts I bought and the gifts I didn’t buy and the time.

Seven days til Christmas. The countdown is everywhere. On the tongues of kids, on the front page of the newspaper, on the television, in the windows of stores. That “ONE WEEK UNTIL CHRISTMAS!” is not a sign of excitement to me. It’s a reminder of all I haven’t done. We have yet to decorate the tree. We barely got any lights up on the house this year. I have presents left to buy, nothing is wrapped, and with each day comes the worry that I didn’t do enough. Will they be happy with what I am giving them? What the hell am I going to get my father, the most difficult man to shop for? Do my kids know how much I spent on those big presents they wanted? Can you put a monetary value on what is supposed to be a moment of giving from the heart?

The time crunch is getting to me. I lay awake at night thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet. And then, before you know it, the day will have come and gone. It will be Christmas night and all the presents are unwrapped and the food is devoured and while everyone is snug in their bed sleeping off a holiday drunk, I’ll be sitting on my couch, staring at the Christmas tree, wondering how it all came and went so fast, and for what? It seems almost senseless in retrospect.

I look at all the Christmas commercials and ads and think, where are all the crying kids? Where are all the too drunk adults? Where’s the kid who is locking himself in the bathroom crying because he got clothes when he wanted a video game? Where’s the cousin who stupidly reveals a family secret at the dinner table? Where’s the family with the mother who is crying as the kids head off to their father’s house for a separate Christmas Day? Instead we get the perfect husband who buys his presents his perfect wife with a shiny new Lexus. “I love you so much, I gave you a gift that’s going to add $300 a month to our bills, in honor of Jesus’s birthday!” We get the perfect mother who bakes with her kids and does Christmas crafts with them and never loses her patience or hits the bottle of gin when the money gets tight and she wonders how she’s going to afford that toy that “Santa” promised her little girl.

Maybe I come off as bitter. Maybe I am. My ghost of Christmas past could dredge up some awful memories if I let it, most of them as an adult. Those memories color a lot of my reactions and they force me to do two things: overcompensate with others, and berate myself. It’s my own fault that I let things in the past have rule over my present, I’m aware of that. But those things are just part of my Christmas stress, not the whole of it.

Christmas was probably never perfect in my life. I mix nostalgia up with memory and they combine to give me this glazed over version of what my childhood Christmases were really like. In my version, we are all Norman Rockwell, when in reality, we were more Griswald. Yet every year, I force myself to go for the Rockwell version, where life is lived in this static snow globe, where everything remains beautiful and wonderful and is never tainted by tears or arguments or mistakes. I am living in a past that never existed, and I’ve based my entire present upon that.

Yes, there are things I like about Christmas. I like the pretty lights. I love the absolute joy on a small child’s face when they spot Santa at the mall. I like spending time with my family. I love the way the Christmas tree looks all lit up in the living room. One of my favorite things to do is to just sit on the couch late at night when everyone is sleeping and stare peacefully at the blinking lights on my tree, so pretty with all the perfectly wrapped presents sitting underneath. It’s my moment of pure nostalgia, where I remember the parts of Christmas past that were almost perfect, where I forget I have holiday photos and home movies of crying children, where I forget all those Christmases I was so disappointed; in myself and in life. You’d think it would be easier to enjoy Christmas now that I’m happy. But I can’t. I’m too stressed out once again trying to create the perfect Christmas that will never happen.

I don’t like the pressure I put on myself, nor the pressure my own family unwittingly puts on me. I don’t like the shopping, I don’t like wrapping presents and I don’t like trying to come up with the perfect gift for each person I love. I don’t like spending all that money and time and energy for one day. I don’t like trying to live up to expectations that are too grand to ever accomplish and I don’t like that I still force myself to do it even though I know there’s no such thing as perfection.

I don’t like Christmas.

There, I said it.

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[today at this is not pitchfork: X, Iron Maiden, Korn]

There’s snow on the ground, which means it’s panic time on Long Island. I know, we live in the Northeast, you’d think we’d be used to it. But no, there are still plenty of people here who go into EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM mode when any snow is forecast.

I’m sure their panic went into full attack mode this afternoon, when it was announced that – hold onto your hats, now – we would get one to two inches of snow! Gather the children! Man your posts! DEFCON ONE! And, like a sea of panicky lemmings, they drive en masse to their local delis and supermarkets and Dairy Barns, stocking up on milk and bread. Yes, milk and bread. It’s an interesting phenomenon and I’m not sure if it’s indigenous to Long Island, but it’s been around for as long as I can remember. There must be some forgotten urban legend that wove its way around the Island decades ago. A suburban family wakes one morning to find that it has snowed. The patriarch of the family cautiously goes into the kitchen only to find that there is only a half quart of milk and two slices of bread left! The horror! The family screams in unison, the children start crying, the mother frantically tries to pump milk out of her breasts even though she weaned the youngest eight years ago. And oh, irony of ironies, the deli just two blocks away has one gallon of fresh, whole milk left and one loaf of white bread on the shelf. If only there were some way to get two blocks away with having to trudge through the monster snow storm that dumped two inches of the white stuff all over town!

That would explain the way people head out in droves to the store when a storm warning hits. Innate fear, left over from the telling and retelling of the fate of the poor Levittown family who had to eat each other’s flesh and drink each other’s blood to stay alive during the great snow dusting of 1945.

I’m not trying to disparage those who feel the need to prepare for a snow storm. If the weather channel says we’re going to get eight inches of the white stuff, it’s a good idea to have the things you need in the house. It’s just the whole milk and bread thing that’s perplexing. I worked at my uncle’s deli for about seven years and every winter, it was the same thing. Snow alert equals run on milk and bread. No one bought anything to go with the items. No cheese or ham for the bread. No boxes of hot chocolate or cereal to go with the milk. No one bought toilet paper or soda or cans of soup. Just milk and bread. It would get to the point where a line would snake around the deli and I’d be ringing the customers up as fast as I could, to get them in and out before a fight broke out over the last loaf of Wonder bread. He’s buying a gallon of milk and he lives by himself! Lynch him, that selfish pig! Flaming torches and pitchforks ensue.

As I look up and down my street, I notice that every house has at least one SUV parked in the driveway. Here are all these people with four wheel drive on their behemoth mountain vehicles , yet they are afraid to go out the door as soon as the first flake hits the street. And those who eventually do venture out fall into two categories; the overly safe driver, who clutches the steering wheel in a death grip and takes each turn as if she were navigating Mt. Washington, and the No Fear guy, who does 90 on an icy road just to prove he’s a man. Meanwhile, all the other people are ensconced in their homes, rationing out the milk and bread. They eye each other suspiciously and the oldest sibling, who has been designated family captain by the father, has to escort each family member to the bathroom, making sure that no one is trying to make a break for the kitchen try and steal someone else’s ration.

Never mind that there’s six pounds of chicken in the freezer, two dozen eggs in the fridge and a Poland Springs cooler that offers hot or cold water in the kitchen. We’re talking milk and bread here. No one wants to end up like that long ago family, turning into cannibals and then possibly zombies because they were unprepared for the storm at hand.

Two inches, baby. A little ice, a little snow, which will all disappear by morning. Still, I’ll stop at 7-11 on my way out to get a quart of milk, simply because I am out of milk. There will be no milk. And then I will have to inch my way to work tomorrow as a thousand drivers in their Navigators and Expeditions make the treacherous drive through some dirty slush, everyone riding their brakes and fighting off panic attacks as the sprinkling of leftover snow hits their windshields.

Go ahead and laugh at us, Buffalo and Syracuse. Smirk at us, Montana and Minnesota. We deserve it.

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christmas songs for inclusive times

I’ve done this before, and I’ve often offended people while making fun of people who try too hard not to offend people. Which is offensively fun.

These new, improved holiday songs, designed to be politically correct, all inclusive, non-offensive and completely devoid of holiday cheer. Look for them at your local All Encompassing Holiday Sing A Long, In Which No Santa, Snowman or Dreidel Will Appear.

I’m Dreaming of Many-Hued Winter Season
Rudolph, the Reindeer with the Facial Appendage of a Different Color

Oh, Come all ye Faithful, Agnostics and Atheists

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (but it was Grandma’s fault for being in the space set aside for woodland creatures to run free without interference from human beings)

Frosty the Snowperson of An Indistinguishable Gender

Joy to the *World (*The word world includes all nations, including Iraq, North Korea and Iran)

I Saw My Parent/Step Parent/Guardian/Caretaker Kissing Santa Claus

We Wish You a Merry December (and a happy new calendar page for those that observe the years according to other religions or cultures)

I’m Getting Nothin’ for Christmas (because my parents think the holiday is overcommercialized and co-opted from pagans and only capitalist pigs buy presents)

Little Drummer Person

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Buy-Nothing Day

You Must Have Had a Terrible Childhood, Mr. Grinch

Supreme Being of Your Choice Rest Ye Merry Gentlepeople

Oh, Christmas Tree (we will guard you from the lumber industry)

Up on the House/Apartment/Cardboard box Top

All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (but because we don’t have nationalized health care for everyone, my parents can’t afford dental coverage)

Let it Snow (but it won’t because of global warming)

Yes, of course I want you to come up with your own.

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I haven’t been much in the Christmas spirit and my 15 year old confided to me last night that he’s feeling bad that he’s not much in the spirit either. So I’m going to do what any good parent would do; force the spirit of Christmas down everyone’s throats.
 
Tonight we’ll go pick up our tree from the TEN MILLION TREES lot (I look at it as rescuing a doomed tree from it’s prison), then we will decorate that tree while we eat Christmas cookies (that I did NOT bake myself) and drink hot chocolate and play Christmas movies in the background. If I have to make everyone sing Jingle Bells and wear stupid Santa hats to get the mood going, I will. This includes the cat and dog.
 
My favorite Christmas movies are Die Hard and The Ref. Sure, they are not Christmas movies, per se, but they do have a Christmas feel to them and, as such, they qualify. But they will not work for tonight’s festivities. Nor will Bad Santa or Silent Night, Deadly Night, though that’s what will get played if everyone does not concede to my wishes to be in a good, holiday mood.
 
So, Christmas movies. Real Christmas movies that make you feel like a kid, bring joy to your heart and want to shower the world with good will. Ok, maybe not so much that. Maybe more like movies that are about Christmas.
My daughter will insist on Elf, but Todd and I are not Will Ferrell fans, so we’ll probably end up watching Christmas Vacation. Still works, after all these years. Then maybe a viewing of Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas before I declare the night’s festivities over and everyone can take their hats off and I go back to killing zombies.
 
Which, of course, leads to the question: What are your favorite Christmas movies.
And yes, Die Hard counts.
 
 

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hockey and hope

I’m sick and I’ve got nothing today, so I thought I’d use this space for good instead of evil for now.

I love hockey, and I love people doing good for others, and I always like to spread the word about worthy causes, especially this time of year, when people are more inclined to give. So I present you with this today:

When you hear the phrase “Hockey is Life”, it is quite literal for Adam Sherlip – “The Hockey Volunteer”. Hockey is a constant in Adam’s life, proving on more than one occasion that he prefers hockey over social gatherings. To Adam, hockey embodies many of the virtues that we all strive to embody in our daily practice: teamwork, selflessness, loyalty, honesty and accountability.

Adam and U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero went to China on behalf of Project Hope, an initiative of the New York Islanders, providing children from Heilongjiang Province with the opportunity to learn and play hockey. Combining this unique experience with his passion for making a difference in the world, Adam has developed this program to impart the inherent values and cultures of hockey to connect with people around the world.

The first location The Hockey Volunteer is going to is Kashmir, India. Adam will volunteer with SECMOL (Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) in Ladakh, a solar-power, bio-sustainable village in the Himalayas. With your support and energy, we can make this dream a reality! Please donate using the ChipIn button.

You can visit Adam’s site here.

Project Hope.

I had the pleasure of attending an Islanders game when some of the young hockey players from China were introduced. I’m happy to be able to promote this cause here.

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