Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years Rocking Eve

Oh we are a bunch of party animals, if being a bear in hibernation counts. We will throw a few logs on the fire, steam up some Maine lobsters because they have become, like petrol, ridiculously inexpensive and our vegetarians will eat these gluten free crustaceans. We will pop a bottle of poor man’s champagne: Prosecco, and we will curl up around our new tv set for a year end film festival with the dogs trying to squeeze into our laps. (Although the teen is lobbying for a BBC sci fi fest)

As the wicked witch says just as she melts: What a World, What a World!

I have in mind all the people I love as this year turns, in Mumbai, recovering from shock and sadness, in Israel, newly up in flames, in Athens where they also have problems, in Burgundy and Ireland and Finland and England and Berlin and Amsterdam, all over these sort of united States, and my sweet site director now a Peace Corps volunteer, celebrating with no running water or electricity in Malawi, Africa. It is an amazing thing to be alive where I have friends literally across the planet, and where I can type out a letter that they will get in their email box in a few seconds. It is stunning that I can carry a communication device so my children can find me where ever I go, including, with a lot of time on the customer service help desk, anywhere in the world (theoretically). If we can maintain connections and communicate across the globe, there is hope that we can learn to live together. It is but a slender fragile hope, but there it is.

I lift a glass to all of us, to a fresh new year and all the mistakes we will make in it on our way to making the world a better place. We step off into the future not knowing what it holds, but moving forward anyway. Say goodbye to all the lessons and history and big juicy everthingness of 2008.

Cowabunga, 2009!

Friday, December 26, 2008

After Christmas Blues

Christmas has come and gone.

The glittering diversion that makes winter bearable is now over, the wrappings recycled or burned, our unwrapped trophies stacked beneath the tree. The holidays are not completely past: we still have a few warm candle-lit nights of Hanukkah left, and there’s New Years Eve, a decidedly low key affair in our house, and then winter settles in for good, with bone chilling cold, beautiful but difficult snows and endless grey days. Spring is a long way away. We awoke today with a coating of ice on everything. I decided not to risk driving, but fell three times walking and taking the train to work. The headline on the paper this morning was Too Many Accidents to Count…….

I need the holidays to face the winter. I need all that expectation and bustling to bear the darkness that clutches at my heart, and to force me to get up in the morning. Those twinkling lights hold the abyss at bay. Was this the holiday I wanted it to be? Never! We ended up with part of the family in one location, the dogs and my husband in another, and after trying to make everyone happy, in the end, I made everyone unhappy. Santa’s low budget offerings were not particularly well received, and I am a complete failure at bringing my family to an understanding of the principal of gratitude. Actually, after Christmas, I usually feel like a complete failure at everything. The expectations are too impossibly high, and Hallmark, I ain’t. But I self medicate with spirits and chocolate and I manage to get out of bed each morning which is counter to every instinct in my body. I am part bear in temperament and inclination and I could be perfectly happy taking to my bed for the next quarter.

Whenever I am faced with an unwinnable task: trying to create a lifetime of memories for my children when I am working 60 hour weeks in the summer, or trying to fulfill the overly hyped visions of sugarplums that make up everyone’s holiday expectations, I clutch a checklist like a lifeline. The checklist is the 10 or 15 things that have to happen, that must be fulfilled for me to get a passing grade for the season or event. It’s my rubric. For example, last summer we had to eat a picnic outside, go to an outdoor concert, have Horse Camp, eat at Super Dog, see fireworks, eat ice cream and swim in Lake Michigan. I got it all done, so in my mind, I got a passing grade. I did NOT exceed expectations and this was not an honor roll summer, but in the end, I passed. This year’s holiday season included the following assignments: Latke party, live tree, home made gifts, some family baking event (this I delegated—note the Gingerbread fantasies, including a fish house) see our cousins, be with people who are important, donate, sing carols. We are not totally done with the holidays, but I have completed my assignments.

I have forgotten to put things like SLEEP on this list. I did not get my traditional holiday nap done as I was running around, and I sure feel it today. But some days, the human condition is such that you get by, by the skin of your teeth, by the accumulated guilt of your tribe, by the checklist that becomes your driving force, your talisman, your mentor to get you through. Whatever it takes, whatever it takes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Entertaining

I wrote this and sent it out two years ago, but in these frugal times, I think it deserves repeating.

The Ten Laws of Modern Entertaining. Or the things Martha Stewart is not going to tell you because none of us keep stylists on our payroll.

1. Carry out served on good china is suitable for company, any company from your boss to the Queen of England. Just make sure it’s good carry out.
2. Carry out served on paper plates makes you a “spontaneous hostess” and saves cleanup time (invest in cute disposeables)
3. She who dies with the most yardage wins. Collect patterned fabric, tablecloths and schemata where ever you can find it---it will cover a multitude of sins. If its not machine washable throw it out when you spill on it. Ethnic textiles are so in and can be found in dollar bins at the local everything store.
4. If one plate is not going to match, make sure none of them match. Same with glassware; that’s called eclectic table settings.
5. If the bathroom, the room you cook in and the space where you are dining are clean, you can have company over. (This could mean having a picnic in the living room if like me your dining room is full of your work-at-home projects) Only light the pathways to the rooms you want people in and its ok to disconnect the light bulbs in the rooms you do not want anyone to see.
6. You are allowed to only serve dessert if that’s all you can muster. Or only serve hors d’oevres—just make sure the guests know before they come so they do not eat your centerpieces from hunger.
7. If the house is a total disaster and it’s above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, you are allowed to serve an “al fresco” meal. If it’s below 60 degrees, though, I would burn something. Bonfires are “quaint”
8. If the house is a total disaster, turn off all the lights and only use candles. Claim a power failure. Its “atmosphere”.
9. If you are not going to have time to change between the meal preparation and the guests arrival, wear all black to cook in and add a dashing accessory when the doorbell rings. Scarves are not a good choice unless you find one that does not show stains. I like metal for accessories myself.
10. It’s supposed to be FUN to have people over to break bread and converse.

As you can see, on the spectrum of hostessing, I fall towards the slatternly end of the scale. But everyone has a good time, so go figure. While it is wonderful to go to a sit down dinner on fine china in gowns and tux, my style is chili and beer while the kids fight over Halloween candy, or fried potatoes by the poundful at our annual latke fest. And if you are totally broke and still want to party, remember the potluck!

Happy entertaining.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

End of year letters

Every year, I am supposed to sit down about now while digesting our fabulous smoked all natural specially ordered free range turkey or sipping on my three day to make it turkey carcass soup which tastes like love and tradition and getting through the long cold winter in a bowl, and I am supposed to write the family holiday letter.

I hate this task. It strains my writing ability. I hate feeling like a publicist for my family. The last few years have had a bunch of nasty bumps in them, bad hands dealt in the card game of life and long about now when its dark by 4pm and cold and I have to chisel my car out (the doors have frozen AGAIN) I am not all sweetness and gratitude.
I hate plastering a smile on. I hate having to spin my own life.

Don’t get me wrong--I am grateful, really. And blessed. I thank the universe that I do not live in the 9th ward, still in a trailer after three years. I am not living in a hotel room in California after my house went up in flames. I am not standing in a line at a shelter for my turkey soup. No one in my immediate circle is in stage 4 cancer (that was last year). I have my lovely spacious dilapidated house to ramble around in and for now it is heated. I have a job when multitudes don’t. I have a partner and 3 artistic creative beautiful kids and a zoo full of animals. The angel of really bad stuff passed me by and I am breathing a sigh of relief. We hung on, and in our way, we triumphed. We were in many many shows,--we all managed to get into at least one opera this year. We went to Berlin. We did Horse Camp and American Revolution Camp and Pirate Camp. We went camping and to Mackinaw Island. We ate a pie we will never forget. We went to Florida and California for Bat Mitvahs and danced with the family.

It was not easy. Some of our gifts were given, and many were earned. We did not always get what we wanted but we learned what we needed. Sometimes you have to stop denying the ugly parts and stare them down. So instead of the letter I give you my honestly Angelas List of 2008. We had:

1. People who care about where we are and keep calling so many times to ask us when we are coming home until we just stopped answering the phone.
2. Food that is so exotic and delicious everyone is afraid to try it even though its vegetarian AND gluten free and really really healthy—oh and prepared with love.
3. Lots of animals that love you more than anything and chew up everything you own because they are so upset you are not there but they are so cute you kind of get over it.
4. So much art and creativity that you can’t even walk through the room and everyone is talking at once and whatever you need we have or we can just whip one up.
5. Health insurance. With big deductibles and copays and its all costing a fortune but everyone is happy to see us because we have it, we actually really really have it and we can get the care we need.
6. Way too much to do because we are interested in everything and we could add just one more sport/theatre/art thing to our lives because Angela will do anything in the universe to get out of the dead end, soul shattering task of doing housework which no one ever appreciates anyway because they immediately mess it all up.
7. Really good thrift stores which if you are pack rat are really dangerous things to walk into but its so nice to get a cashmere sweater for a dollar that you just love it anyway.
8. OCD and ADD and drama and sturm and drang and all kinds of labels which we are kind of learning to ignore or get over or reframe or get beyond.
9. Music, and beauty and laughter and friends.

Ok? I hope that the beautiful mess that is your life is rolling along without too many trainwrecks….Our family puts the Fun in Dysfunctional.