Category: Holiday

Leave the Reindeer, Take the Cannoli

So, over a decade ago, when i was still married to my second, and my weedlings were still little, my ex and i used to put a lot of effort into decorating the house for the holidays. We strung up lights, suspended a star, and, for a while, had lit-up deer for the yard. Now, maybe it was because we bought them on clearance. Maybe it was because we got one that had been dropped. Or maybe it was because we are Italian. But one of those deer could never keep his head on.

The very first night we put them up – One curled up like a momma, and one standing and animated to bob his head up and down like he was eating – we were delighted at how pretty they were. Fancy holiday decor for a young family! And flashier than anyone else on the street! We were so proud! We left them aglow all night… And woke to a decapitated Prancer with his head still moving on the ground beside him. It was the stuff of childhood nightmares.

We turned them off and spent most of an hour reattaching Prancer’s noggin.

Back then, we had a lovely tradition of spending an evening driving to various neighborhoods to look at other people’s holiday displays. We would make up little papers that said “Elf Award” and stick them in the mail boxes of people who had especially good decorations and lights. Christmas carols blaring and hot chocolate in hand, it was always a good time. And that year, we made sure to leave our winter extravaganza up while we went around admiring others’.

While we were gone, Prancer apparently got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Again on the lawn, Prancer’s head was dancing next to his body. It seems silly to say so about a lawn ornament, but it really was an unnerving sight. We stuck the head back on and turned off the lights. Next morning? You guessed it… Sleeping with the fishes.

We were starting to get seriously creeped out by the Reindeer Godfather’s visits. It was time to get inventive. Using wire, we twistied and sewed Prancer’s head to his body, leaving just enough wiggle room to allow for the animation. MacGyver himself couldn’t have done a better job. That night and the next few, we were able to sit outside and enjoy the prettiest decorations Lowe’s had to offer. It snowed, and the movement of the lights became all sparkly and magical. This was a winter lawn at its finest. Then Marlon Brando paid another visit.

I half expected to see bloodstains on the snow where Prancer’s head lay twitching. It was horrifying.

It became ritual: We would light up the yard every night, and in the morning, go out and reattach Prancer’s head. It was a running joke and the subject of family bets, how many nights would his head stay on before the Godfather would visit. When, in January, we took the decorations down, we kept the deer. We figured we’d come up with a way to keep Prancer’s head on by the next year.

We never did.

We re-headed Prancer regularly for many years. It became a holiday tradition (Certainly no worse a tradition than plum pudding.) And it also became part of our family mythos.

Many years later, while cleaning out the garage, my ex decided to finally throw in the towel and gave Prancer away. Since he was free, there was no need to disclose Prancer’s embarrassing secret. As it turned out, the deer had a different idea. He outed himself. As his new owner was driving off with him tucked into a pile of finds in the back of a pickup, he lost his head yet again. As we watched with equal parts horror and humor, Prancer’s head bounced down the street at the end of a string of lights, makeshift wire fasteners dangling in the breeze.

We still talk about poor Prancer every Christmas. We laugh and shake our heads. We do impressions of his head going ‘plop’ in the snow…

And then we watch cartoons so we don’t have nightmares.

The Good, The Bad, And The Fruitcake

Well, friends, it’s time for the annual seesaw, made even more so by the upcoming election. Week by week, day by day, hour by hour; we’re all getting ready to ride the wave.

It starts with Halloween. I’m glad i was a kid at the time and place that i was. There weren’t all these big costume stores like there are now. Most of us didn’t even get one of the uncomfortable plastic masks from Woolworth’s. We found clothes and accessories at Goodwill, or made them from things we had around the house. We painted our faces with dime-store makeup that was sure to cause a rash. We went out to trick-or-treat without our parents or a cellphone. And not only were we given far more candy than we ever needed, we were even given awesome homemade treats like popcorn balls and caramel apples that we were actually allowed to eat. It was tradition stay up past midnight and gorge until you puked candy corn.  And yes, there was always some story about a neighborhood that had someone passing out apples with razor blades or something; but the worst i ever remember was a second hand high from some pot-head teens whose door billowed sweet smoke when they appeared to give us Snickers and pennies for our UNICEF boxes. As an adult, i love spending Halloween night dressed up as the witch that i am, watching scary Vincent Price movies, and giving out treats to the few kids who still go house to house.

Into November. This year, we start off with a bang when we elect the next Commander in Chief. I truly wish the position was purely ceremonial, as neither of the likely candidates this go-round thrill me with their ability to be a banker during a random game of Monopoly, never mind the President of the United States. I love my country. I love its spirit, its diversity, its  founding principles. But regardless of which of the big two wins, i’ll be shaking my head and wondering why they were the best we could do. It isn’t always like that, tho.  In general, the buildup to a presidential election is usually an exciting trip on the upside of the seesaw.

As a kid, by mid November, the teeter totter went the other direction when you realized you’d eaten all the good candy and had nothing left but boxes of raisins in your bag. (Raisins??? Really, people??? That’s just wrong!) The only excitement was the goofy enjoyment of making pilgrim hats and turkeys out of construction paper and tempera paint. As an adult, the downside is the beginning of Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations and travel plans. You curse the inevitability of traffic jams and forgotten cans of condensed milk. You exchange your breath mints for Rolaids. You remember a time when your biggest issue was being left with raisins. Then and now, you’re stressed and frustrated til Thanksgiving.

But, oh, Thanksgiving! The one holiday with no ulterior motives. No gifts. No bashes, balls, or awkward cocktail parties. Just gratitude and a celebration of family and food. Leave your worries and fancy duds behind you. This calls for contented relaxation and elastic-waist pants. For kids, it’s a day of freedom, as the adults are tied up either preparing the meal or watching football. The soporific effect of Thanksgiving dinner is a high unlike any drug on the market. No Opiate can compete. It’s bliss. I have known big warm Thanksgivings, and some that were definitely not. But no matter how hard the year has been, there is always something to be thankful for. Even on the rare occasion that i’ve been alone on Thanksgiving – which, don’t get me wrong, really sucks – I still found myself imbued somehow with gratefulness. It’s the magic of the holiday.

After the warmth and comfort of Thanksgiving comes the downward spiral into debt and depression that is Christmas shopping. Or, the kid equivalent: Painfully long days full of anticipation. This time of year doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. As none of my family has had the financial luck of Scrooge McDuck, there is no longer any obligatory gift-giving except to our children and parents. It is my choice to hand make smaller items for the other members of my family. The time and effort that goes into gathering supplies in relatives’ favorite colors and such, and turning out something that they can hopefully use and enjoy, makes me happy. And i’m certain it helps dissolve some of the holiday stress. Plus, it reminds me of the fictional times represented in the holiday shows that don’t really match anyone’s experience.

Christmas itself is a mixed bag for most of us. One one hand, the love and joy that comes from the spirit of the holiday. Hearing or meeting up with old friends and family. Christmas carols (And Chanukah songs – Yes, there are a few more than just the Dreidel Song, and they are wonderful!) The fun of driving past the one house in town that rivals the Griswalds’. The Heat miser, Charlie Brown, and all the other characters from the holiday television specials. Two weeks off from school! On the other hand, travelling, traffic, and crowded venues. The cardboard merriment of forced social gatherings. Worry about how to pay for it all. And as an adult, the letdown of knowing you’ve no chance of getting what you want for Christmas, because it’s a purely existential thing that can’t be bought, even on Amazon.

December 31st.  The scrubbed clean start of a new beginning. Oh, the possibilities! Such hope! Such good intentions! … And it all goes to shit when you realize that you will be alone New Year’s Eve with no one to kiss when the ball drops;  Or you have a great celebration planned with the love of your life, but all the holiday eating of the last 6 weeks means no amount of spandex is going to get you into the Little Black Dress you bought back in October.

Up and down. Hot and cold. Good and bad. It’s that time of year. Really, i suppose all of life is like that, but because there is so much packed into the next couple months, it seems more pronounced. And just like the rest of the year, a lot of the downs are problems we create for ourselves. Whether or not the boss is impressed with the jello salad we brought to the office pot-luck is not a reason to dread the holiday. Spending a holiday on our own isn’t the ideal, but it isn’t the end of the world either. We just have to make the most of it. Change any of the unpleasant things that we can, and then put the rest in perspective.

There will be times we may feel overwhelmed, lonely, or even unwanted. The times when everyone else is invited to the party, and we aren’t. The times when we open a package only to find that it contains a dusty, store-bought fruitcake. The times when the game is cancelled for rain, the power goes out before the turkey is finished, the kids are all sick with the flu,  and there’s no rum for the eggnog.  Those times are painful. But it could be worse. It could be January 2nd, and six weeks til the next holiday.

“Civic” Is Not Just a Car

With all the 4th of July celebrations that have been going on, my social media friends have been flooding hyperspace with pictures of fun gatherings and quotes of patriotic bent. But along with that, there have been exclamations of anger at the groups of people that aren’t respectful to the reason for the celebration. Generally, this is usually followed by nasty comments about immigrants. How all they want are our benefits without being “real Americans”.

Seems to me, the naysayers haven’t been paying close enough attention.

I was at the same Independence Day celebration as most of them. And yes, when the national anthem was played, i noticed it too: People still sitting, talking, eating, goofing off. Even tho the emcee said, “Please rise for our nation’s anthem!” But here’s the thing… If you looked closely, it wasn’t just a bunch of squatters from south of the border. There were a lot of stereotypical Americans who didn’t even take a moment to set their beer down.  And most of the teens didn’t even seem to notice the flag at all.  Even when people were standing up right beside them.

Pathetic. Disgraceful.  And utterly disrespectful.

Our founding fathers and mothers gave up everything and fought with all they had to make this nation what it is. Generations of soldiers and sailors have given their lives for it.  So get up off your ass, put your hand over your heart, and shut your pie hole for those few minutes as a sign of gratitude for the creation of the country that protects your freedom!

I was taught as a child to always rise for our flag, our national anthem, and our veterans. Hat off your head. Hand over your heart. Truly, unless you are physically incapable of standing or are forced to recognize that country as a prisoner of war or other involuntary circumstance, you show respect. So when the first few notes of The Star Spangled Banner come across that speaker, with the possible exception of Native American peoples, you had better be on your feet!

Even when in another country, when their national anthem is played or their flag is on parade, i was taught to stand and be silent. Obviously, it isn’t required, or even prudent, to pledge to a country that isn’t yours, but as a gracious guest, you assist them in paying their own respects. So, if you are a squatter from another country  – On your feet! Bare minimum, close your yap and let us show our national pride without interruption.

If i sound harsh, it isn’t unintentional.

The parental, schoolmarm, pissed-off-veteran tone of voice is 100% intended.

Because it seems that is what is needed. Either people haven’t been taught, or they have forgotten. In either case, it’s time for some remedial learning. If you have gotten into the habit of ignoring the ceremonies of patriotism, or if you were never taught them to begin with, there is no better day than Independence Day to get (re)educated.

Here is a good place to start: Flag Etiquette

I realize our country isn’t perfect. I mean, after all, we basically stole it like pirates. But the ideals behind the original intention: Liberty, equality, freedom, are blessings of the highest magnitude. The racial ignorance and ethnocentrism (And the accompanying violence) of our forefathers aside, those founding principles are worthy of reverence. They are for all of us now, not just previously-English men. The uniformed services protect the rights of all of us. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the masses to set the booze and cigarettes down while the flag is raised. I don’t think your kids are too young to learn that running around screaming is not proper behavior while the stars and stripes ascend. And if you hate this country so much that you’d rather choke than take any of the above actions, well, the government isn’t forcing you to stay.

Part of being free means you are welcome to leave.

Personally, i do give the native tribes the choice in their reactions to our patriotism. After all, their lineage were, essentially, prisoners of war; and the stipulations surrounding much of their given communities are hardly recompense for what we took from them. But in my experience, their culture is far more gracious and civilized than their captors. Their protests are usually centered around education. Good examples of “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” It is my hope that we all show that same spirit of gallantry when we are allowed into their patriotic ceremonies. Even if we don’t show it with our own.

So there is my soapbox for today. I apologize to those of you who didn’t need this little lecture. I am just so tired of everything lax in this country being blamed on others. It is us. We, as a country, have gotten lazy, forgotten the rules, and expect the benefits of our country without remembering the responsibilities. And, honestly, if we behave that way, how can we expect better behavior from others?

In the end, our children, our friends, our guests… They all follow our lead.

So lets try to be better leaders.


To Die With Honor ~ Memorial Day 2016

So the Klingons have this saying, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” (Unsurprisingly, but a bit disappointingly, they didn’t coin the phrase. They stole it from Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.)  Warriors have this credo running in their blood.

What good is life if we merely exist as chemical creations, without letting ourselves shine forth like the miraculous spirit-filled beings we are? The energy we house, the ideas we birth, the inventions, the music, the poetry! We must be free to liberate these things from ourselves, or it is all for nothing. Not all of us have the strength of body or will to fight the good fight for this human cause. For freedom. But there are a special few whose hearts are bursting at the seams with a need to plow the road for others, so that they can live and laugh and love without tethers to an ersatz owner.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NASB)  Soldiers have this credo in their veins. The men and women who serve our community and country are all of a special breed. Being willing to die for your fellow citizens is a commitment that few make. Whether storming the beach at Normandy, protecting a village from conquerors, or becoming a human shield for an innocent, the ones in uniform have proven themselves heroes time and again. And as the saying goes, tho all gave some, some gave all. And it is those we honor today.

I served. And tho i never expected the time would come, i did end up in a war zone. I did my job to the best of my ability and i never gave a thought to bailing, even tho, like most of my brothers and sisters who served with me, i didn’t really understand why we were there. And if i had died there, i’d have been pissed. My spirit angry at the emptiness and vanity that comes with the mockery of a calling.

“Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar. And still there are things worth fighting for.” ~ Norman Schwarzkopf. And this, THIS, is what makes the difference between a mercenary and a hero. A patsy and a protector. If i had died without contributing to a human cause, i would have considered it senseless.

It’s an insult to all who don a uniform and serve to send them to die without cause. To use them as anything but the mighty defenders they are. They are not pawns for corporate needs. They are not leverage for your financial interests. They are vanquishers of those who would terrorize innocents. Do not belittle their importance and significance by using them as sympathy points in the media or distractions from real and true human issues.

The veterans at home now, who are committing suicide in droves, this is what happens when you strip soldiers of their honor. When you pointedly tell them in word and in deed that their actions made no difference. When you rip from them their worth by subjugating the notion they hold most dear. When you shrink their value to little more than a penny on the sidewalk, its triviality so obvious that no one stoops to pick it up.

On this, Memorial Day, i am on fire for my brothers and sisters who gave all and are forgotten. The ones whose importance is diminished by government and bureaucracy who don’t hold dear the responsibilities that our soldiers took on before they were taken back by God/Goddess/Universe to the virtuous gemstone quarry from which they came. They deserve better. Their souls deserve respect. Notice. And in their darkest hours, protection of the masses as they once protected us.

Those of us who have served… Who lost someone in service… Who remember a time when the powers that be thought far more of those who volunteered their lives… It is our turn to say thank you. Not just with a day of remembrance, but with voice and action. Humankind is lucky to have those heroes who walked, unflinching, into the face of darkness and never returned. A little gratitude is not remiss. And the best way to say thank you is to keep any other service member from dying without reason. Take care of those who do return. When they have fought to their last breath, breathe for them. Give them a cause worth sacrificing for, and respite when they are spent. It is the least we can do, but all they ask for. Help our government to remember.

War is an evil thing. Be glad that someone took up arms in your stead, so that you wouldn’t have to live the horrors of it. Especially if you are one who sent them to war in the first place.

Yes, Uncle Sam, i am talking to you.

Musings on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014 at 9:39am

Ok. I’m not a traditional Christian. Perhaps i have no right to expound on the meaning of the holiday. Perhaps my ideas are off base and totally wrong. Perhaps no one gives a flip. But i’m going to write it anyway because in the wake of the violence and chaos of the year, i need to put out some good stuff to the cosmos.

So here’s a holiday with two large scale traditions. One religious, one secular. The birth of a man that started a whole new faith of peace and love. The dedication of a man who wanted happiness for all good children. Both present concepts that make us better people.

First Jesus. Whether or not you believe he was the Messiah, consider this. The history / tradition / faith of this man was about the one simple thing that makes us human. I don’t know that there is an adequate word for it. The Buddhists call it “Lovingkindness”. Be good to each other. Take care of each other. Stand up for each other. Respect each other. Protect each other. And above all, Love each other. And on Christmas, we mark the birth of the man who reminded the world that these things are our purpose. Not as Christians, but as people. Not to simplify it too much, but i believe that the goal is to treat people like our dogs treat us… With unswerving love and forgiveness and gratitude. And each year at this time, we all take that message closer to heart and try to live it. (Unless we’re looking for a parking spot at the mall… Then all bets are off). And this spirit is infectious. Each bit of warmth we share, it has the potential to go viral like the latest Miley video, but with less tacky and more love. Especially in this era of war and heartache and division, we need more love. As much as we can stand. And Christmas helps to inspire that. This year, i hope to keep this message in my heart and my actions for as much of the year as i can manage. After all, as a Theist, i can celebrate the concept of Christmas whenever i want 😉

As for Santa – Well, in some ways, he’s a secular example of the same tradition, isn’t he? Reminding people to be good to each other, reminding children to be respectful and do what they should. Would that he’d remind adults to do the same. (Can we say “Politicians”?) Tho granted, especially by the time we’re adults, we shouldn’t need the promise of presents to walk our talk. We should do it to preserve our humanity. But we don’t. Or at least I don’t. Not as often as i should, anyway. I see so many selfless acts in my day to day life and know for certain that i could – and will – do better. And to note – Since there is no such thing as a perfect human, take solace in this, one of my favorite holiday books… How Murray Saved Christmas ( Not the best reading of the book, you really need to buy it and read it for yourself 🙂 )

All in all, what i get from Christmas is a renewed sense of purpose. Of charity. of Humanity. Sort of like a spiritual New Year. And all of my shortcomings from last year… Well, i get a chance to do better. A renewed vow to myself and my God. A karma do-over. Break out my existential chisel and sandpaper and gorilla glue and do some improvements on my heart and soul. And just as importantly, allow others to do the same. The birth of a baby and the charity of an old man are the benchmarks for the best of Humanity. The spirit of Christmas brings the hope that we all can meet those benchmarks. All humanity has a chance to clean their soul windows and let their love shine. Lets see how long we can make it last this year.

Love, Light and Laughter, my friends. For this Christmas and for Always.