Christmas Vacation

I mean winter break. That’s what they call it in school. Although I was at school last week and the place was suspiciously decorated like everybody was celebrating Christmas. Trees, lights, ornaments, etc. Which is somewhat humorous if you go back and spend a little time learning about these holiday traditions. From what I’ve been able to gather, some northern Europeans started bringing evergreen trees indoors, or what passed for indoors a few thousand years ago, to celebrate the winter solstice. The Christian church incorporated this tradition sometime around the 1500’s. Maybe earlier depending upon whom you ask. The thing I find humorous is that the tree was a tradition begun by pagans, adopted by Christians and then condemned by secular left who renamed them holiday trees because the trees represented Christian tradition. Funny how those things happen.

Regardless, I was in school last Wednesday with Mom to watch the 4th graders in the Wax Museum of Inventors. Every 4th grader picked an inventor, prepared a brief presentation, and then pretended to be made of wax. We walk through the gym, err museum, and step on the “start” buttons and they’d come to life and we’d hear the presentation. Kinsey was Dr. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone. Here’s the prop she used:

Then Thursday morning Riley and I had to run back to school because Rye left her iTouch in her desk. And there simply wasn’t any scenario in which we were going to listen to the whining that was certain to fill every single day of Christmas vacation should she be without the iTouch. So I drove her to school and convinced the janitor to let us into her classroom so she could retrieve the aforementioned device. Mission accomplished.

So we’re well into Christmas Vacation for the girls. And it got me thinking about when I was the girls’ age and my Christmases in 2nd grade, 4th grade and 6th grade. This turned out to be harder than I expected. My second grade Christmas was 1977. My most distinct memory, aside from the fact that Christmas Eve mass forced me to miss the Steelers-Broncos playoff game, was a Chicago Bears helmet. Just after Thanksgiving in ‘77 we moved from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to the suburbs of Chicago. For Christmas, my folks got me a Chicago Bears football helmet. It looked like the real freaking thing! It had the double bar gray facemask! For 1977 this was pretty damn amazing. Authenticity was not a priority for the NFL’s licensed merchandisers back then. Regardless, the freaking helmet was too small for my 7 year-old head so my folks concocted this story, which seems completely reasonable now, about how they’d get Santa to switch it for one that fit. Yeah, never happened. Now I realize this was 34 years ago and I should just let it go. But I was 7 and an authentic looking football helmet was a big damn deal to me.

Two years later, Christmas rolls around I got these:

The shoes not the jeans. So it was a good year. By the way, looking at these old Christmas catalogs is awesome. Google “1979 Sears Christmas Catalog” and go to the flickr site. Stuff is gold! Gold I tell you! But they own these pics so don’t mistake them for mine.

Sixth grade Christmas was 1981. It’s a little hazy but I’m almost certain that was the year Santa brought me a Rubik’s Cube. Man, otherwise, I’m drawing a blank on ’81. It might have been the year Santa brought “Dungeon” the boardgame. Which, and I’m just spitballin’ here, is the less dorky version of D&D. Still pretty darn dorky however. Didn’t stop us from playing though.

Regardless, what I remember most about Christmas and Christmas vacation in ’81 was watching the end of the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night. Less than a minute to go, 4th down from Georgia’s 33 and Marino hits John Brown down the middle of the field for the TD. Pitt wins. I learned a lesson that day. The lesson? My Mom has good instincts. I was watching the game and my Mom was on the other couch in the family room with me. When it was 4th down, I was so discouraged that I changed the channel. Pitt had already blown the national championship earlier by not only losing to Penn State but getting blown out at home on the last weekend of the season. So I was totally bracing for disappointment. So my Mom asks if I was sure I wanted to turn the game off. I flip the channel. A couple minutes later, I flipped back and learned I missed it. I missed it! And that, my friends, is why you never, never, never, turn a football game off involving one of your teams. Of course, I find it hard to turn off any football game, but that’s not really my point…


Merry Christmas Everybody

“It’s Christmas Eve. It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.”
– Frank Cross 1988

So listen, it’s Christmas. And whether you say “Merry Christmas” to folks as you see them during the holidays or you’re the person who gets upset and offended if someone says it you, remember this:

Tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.

Now go watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2 with your kids.

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s Pony Tail School

We’re finishing up our preparations for Christmas. Christmas cards are out. Presents are wrapped. I mean except for the ones I’m giving Mom. From what I’ve been able to gather, the lack of wrapping for Mom’s gifts are because I’m responsible for wrapping them. But all our decorations are up and I put up more outside lights this year than I ever have in the past. But that’s not really saying much. My brother and sister in law would tell you, whether you asked or not, that Christmas spirit is directly proportional to the number of lights you put outside your house. Now I’m not certain as to whether this is an approved measurement of Christmas spirit but they seem to believe in it however. That belief has, according to some rough calclulations, placed them squarely between Burl Ives and Bob Hope Christmas Specials in the Christmas Spirit Rankings. Sure it’s subjective but probably still more accurate than the BCS. C’mon giving Alabama a second shot instead of Oklahoma State? Boooooooo…

Anyway, Saturday morning I was watching this:

Week before Christmas 1977. We need a few snow games like this one before the season ends. Anyway, I go down to the basement to get a Diet Pepsi out of our pop/beer fridge and Bails has all four bins of Barbie stuff in the way of the door to the fridge. A closer inspection reveals that the bins are nearly empty and their contents are strewn about the basement floor. It was like she stuffed Barbie gear into a grenade and then watched it explode. After I was done hazing myself for allowing this much Barbie junk to be in my house I notice that the best part was that she had carefully placed four folding chairs nearly equidistant from each other within the blast radius of the Barbie gear. Why you ask? Well she was, much like the Costa Rican squirrel monkey, leaping from chair to chair as not to disturb the Barbie gear. Then she would play with the stuff while in each chair.

“Dad don’t freak out! I’ll clean it up when I’m done!”

My reply? “You’re right.”

Mom brings Riley and Kinsey back from dance and Kinz goes downstairs to see what Bails is up too. This was about 11:45 a.m. The next time we saw either one of them was about 4:30. And that was only because I went downstairs to make sure they hadn’t caused any lasting or visible harm to each other.

I peek around the bottom of the bannister and Kinz looks up at me.

“Hey Dad, we’re playing Barbies. They are going to pony tail school.”


“It’s pony tail school. If you don’t wear a pony tail, you get expelled.”

“Wow, that’s a tough school, Kinsey.”

Christmas spirit rankings for today? How about my holiday favorite songs. I’ve done this in the past. This year my top three are:

Honorable mention to It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams. Okay, I admit it. I’ll listen to anything Andy Williams sings around Christmas. I can’t help it. If I could have somebody narrate my day during the holiday season, I’d pick Andy Williams. He could sing a jingle for your local internet provider and it would sound like Santa himself was a customer.

3-The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
I’ve never had roasted chestnuts. But I do know what it’s like to be around tiny tots with their eyes all aglow. In fact, when it comes to Christmas, they aren’t the only ones finding it hard to sleep in order to see if reindeer really know how to fly.

2-Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Karen Carpenter
This song, more than any other song, defines Christmas nostalgia. Who doesn’t want their troubles miles away? Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by faithful friends like the golden days of yore? You get to see your weird uncle, your kids get to fight with their cousins and it’s the only time of year when you can wear your holiday vest accessorized with a top hat adorned with holly.

1-I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Andy Williams
This song and the last scene in Home Alone when the South Bend Shovel Slayer finally gets to see his son and granddaughter make me feel the same. To paraphrase Frank Cross, Christmas is the one time of the year when you get to be the person you always wanted to be.

Happy Golden Days of Yore

The song says Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. Certain folks say it’s the most stressful. Grumpy people says its too commercial. After you’re done eating, it’s definitely the fattest. More than all of that however, it is the most nostalgic. Thanksgiving is probably a close second. Opening Sunday of the NFL season, that first time in fall when you smell burning leaves…those are all nostalgic days.

But not like Christmas.

Things that are synonymous with Christmas. My mom’s homemade poppyseed roll, college bowl games, Christmas decorations at the mall, It’s a Wonderful Life, and whatever the hell Bing Crosby was talking about when he sang, “in the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas.”

You know what I’m talking about. It’s still there even though you’re not a kid anymore. Although on Christmas Eve, admit it, you take a peek out of the back window near the chimney just before you go to bed and look up. You do it. Everybody does. And just for a second…you’re a kid again. It’s awesome.

Christmas has this mesmerizing quality to it. For one, you physically see it everywhere. Lights, decorations, iconic commericals, and TV specials, etc. In school you sing Christmas songs and have Christmas parties. Or at least we did, but I went to Catholic school. We didn’t have to substitute “winter” every time we wanted to say “Christmas.” We could sing “O Come all ye Faithful” and nobody worried about somebody’s crazy hippie Mom calling the ACLU to sue to the school.

Back in the day we’d get two weeks off from school and the anticipation for that last day of school before Christmas vacation was staggering. Seriously. It was nearly incapacitating. In my mind is burned the date of Friday, December 19, 1980. Last day of school in 5th grade before Christmas vacation. On top of a filing cabinet in the corner of the room was one of those changeable block calendars and I’d stare that damn thing down every day until the bell rang at 3:15 letting us out of school. By the time you are 10, you’ve unfortunately figured out the whole Santa thing. But it didn’t change the anticipation. Which, as I have come to realize, is really the best part. December is like a three and a-half week long Christmas tailgate. I mean there’s nog, special gear you break out, and everybody sings the same songs.

But the best part of Christmas vacation was that first Sunday. You were able to watch all the NFL games during the last weekend of the regular season without that impending sense of dread that you had to go to school the next day.

Anyway, real Christmas nostalgia needs to stop you from doing whatever it is you are currently doing. You hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and you get that goofy half smile. Or you’re out in your driveway and you smell that cold crispness in the December air combined with smoke wafting out of somebody’s chimney. Or you take a bite of the aforementioned homemade poppyseed roll.

Personally, whenever I see this commercial it takes me back to Christmas when I was a kid. The irony is that it is a beer commercial. But c’mon, it combines Christmas, beer and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

If you really think about it, is there a person on the planet who has ever sounded more like Christmas than Andy Williams? No. No there isn’t.

Anyway, Christmas clip of the day below:

Magical Pony

This is the conversation we had in our house the other night:

Not kidding. I’m telling Mom that we don’t have any pam for the pans. And she gets confused with the pam/pan dilemma.

“Hey we don’t have any of that pam for the pans.”


“Pam. None left. Gone.”

“What do you mean we don’t have pans, you’re cleaning one right now.”

“Pam, not pan.”


“I think I can clean up the whole pam/pan thing. Pamd. With a D.”

That’s when she started laughing. Anyway, right after that Mom says to Riley, “I want you to clean the bathrooms after you’re done with dinner.”

Riley’s response? “Yeah, well Mom, I want a magical pony but we don’t always get what we want.”

That is some quality, quality sarcasm. Quick too. Delivered well. Tone, volume and pitch were just right.

My response?

I busted out laughing while saying, “Rye that was your best line since Mom asked you to clean your room and you said, ‘Beep, Riley isn’t home right now, please leave a message.’”

Mom, as was apparent by the look on her face, not only did not appreciate the sarcasm but also did not share my appreciation of Riley’s quick witted humor.

Still was funny. Magical pony? Where do you come with that? It’s just awesome. However after Riley started congratulating herself for being hilarious, I also let her know that she only gets to say it once. One time is funny, two times is disrespect, three times and I just start random face-punching.

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 11:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Heat is On

If you could plan an early Christmas with your family, what would you include? Christmas dinner, book detailing how the Nazi’s could have won WW II, my Mom’s homemade poppy seed roll, beer, just a dusting of snow? Well, that’s roughly my list.

We also added Tink. What is a Tink? It’s a dogcat. Known to most people as a Papillon. It’s a very small dog. I always thought it was a Steve McQueen movie.

Except Santa decided that wasn’t enough fun. Turns out that dance class on Thursday evening and Saturday morning wasn’t good enough. The logistics accompanying those ordeals, I mean excursions, had evidently become too trouble-free. We needed additional challenges. Like waking up Thursday morning and having the house at a sultry 60 degrees. Now, 60 degrees isn’t really cold…outside. You can do lots of things outside when its 60 degrees, I mean the first time it hits 60 during the spring in Iowa we’re all wearing shorts. But my folks live in Florida so 60 degrees inside is like a Code Red. They show up whenever they visit for Christmas like the pioneers. Just layers of clothes, pelts, snow shoes, etc.

We call the guys who have been fixing our stuff for years and they come right over. After an hour or so they can’t really seem to figure out exactly what is wrong with the furnace. They clean some stuff, examine some connections and replace a couple minor parts. Heat is on. While they’re at the house, we have them replace our broken icemaker. Mostly because after having an icemaker for the last 6 years, we’ve become so lazy that filling up ice trays seems to be unduly burdensome.

So the rest of Thursday goes well. Heat stays on. House is warm. Folks don’t freeze.

We wake up Friday morning and the house is 62 degrees. One important point to remember is that heat isn’t really evenly distributed throughout our house. And our bedroom is easily the coldest room during the winter. So optimistically it is 62 in our room. Time to call the heating guys back. This time, after a detailed examination, they diagnose the problem as an old crappy furnace that has died. Additionally, we have an old crappy air conditioner that is on life support. I’m thinking, yeah right, it’s December. I’m not replacing the AC unit.

Well, turns out that if I waited to replace the AC unit this spring or whenever it decided to go bellyup, it would cost me an additional $575. I know $575 isn’t a lot of money to the geniuses in Congress but it is to me. Obama’s green tax credit and an energy rebate from our utility company saves up about $1100 by doing both right now. Hmmm…

So the nice thing is that by Saturday around lunch we had heat. Which is better than the alternative. Which of course is parents sitting around your house in arctic gear rated for outside work on the deck of cargo ships sailing across the Bering Sea.

When they finally were able to install the new AC unit on Tuesday they discovered that it didn’t really fit in the spot that the old was in. So they offered to mount it to the foundation on a small platform so it would no longer sit on the ground. And these guys were really excited about it. When I checked it out upon completion they were like Mom when she finds a new lamp. “Did you see it? Looks pretty good doesn’t it? Good spot for it too. I think they look so good when they’re off the ground Some people will pay extra just for us to do this.”

Speaking of lamps, check out the lamps Mom bought.

What is your first impression? Was it, “Yeah, they’re nice. They look like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar.” No? Well, that was mine.

Oh and the heating repair guys, along with the heating and plumbing supply guy who actually delivered the furnace and AC unit, got to join us for our early Christmas. Seriously, when the first guy showed up Saturday morning, his third consecutive morning at the house, I welcomed him by name and handed him some coffee and a donut. Installing a new furnace isn’t an easy job evidently. Furthermore it is complicated by the installation of the aforementioned AC unit. We’re all fairly good friends now. If friends leave your house with a really big check that is.