Family Christmas parties, Dirty Santa, and the art of regifting

Shrimper

Every year, my husband’s family has a Dirty Santa Christmas party. There’s the pepperoni bread that all the teenagers love, the Bisquick sausage and cheese balls that are like savory truffles, and the peanut butter balls that take an insane amount of powdered sugar to make. When my husband’s aunt was alive, it was an Italian feast, even though she was from Maine and of French heritage. (My husband’s father, however, was Italian.)  

I don’t even bring food anymore because there is so damn much, and there are always too many desserts.

My brother-in-law (BIL) works for a liquor distributor, so there’s always plenty of boozea must-have for any holiday gathering where you’re seeing people you only see once a year and only because you happen to be related. 

As an introvert with social anxiety that I happen to hide very well (unless I’m around someone I think is hot or who I swear is laughing at me on the inside, which is sometimes the same person), I’m not a fan of parties with lots of people I don’t know well. It’s emotionally exhausting, but my six-year-old daughter is an excellent buffer.    

As I am not friends with any of my husband’s family on Facebook, and my husband ditched his account last year, we’re like the black sheep (my husband likes to call himself the stray sheep) of his family; in my family, I’m like the golden fleece, so think what you will about that!  

I cannot compete with my husband’s successful sisters, whose careers have been established for years, while I’m just figuring things out. Their kids are either grown or practically grown, whereas my daughter is in the first grade, and I am working on my bachelor’s degree at 38. I guess my husband and I are both late bloomers.  

So, “Dirty Santa” is always my favorite part of the party. I don’t have to mill around and mingle, as we are all sitting in a circle, opening presents. Honestly, gift giving is a lot more fun when it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s all in fun—when you don’t give a rip about what you’re going to get because you already know it’s probably going to suck.

The year I was into couponing, I tossed some Maxi pads (with wings; it isn’t an angel in need if it doesn’t have wings) in a gently used gift bag. That might have been the year I threw in a Bing Crosby CD in which he dreamily crooned about white Christmases (what the hell is wrong with a green Christmas where we don’t have to worry about dying in a blizzard?). So yes, sanitary napkins + Bing = a hard candy Christmas. 

Another year, I gave away some DVDs when a lot of the same movies I could just DVR (I will never, however, ever part with my Wings and I Love Lucy collection). Last year, I threw in some unused candles (from my candle collecting days), and this year, there’s “The Shrimper”a running gag that’s been passed around my husband’s family for years. I don’t mind getting stuck with it, as I am the queen of regifting. Most of the gifts probably end up donated or regifted anyway; I am not spending money on a nice gift so I can get a bobo present. A good third of Dirty Santa gifts were left behind last year, which, to me, shows a complete lack of regard for the hosts, who have to figure out how to (probably) dispose of them.

Since I have run out of things to regift (ain’t minimalism great?), I thank God for “The Shrimper,” as it’s recurrence keeps another item out of the landfill.

Something for Everyone: Resecting at the Sunday Breakfast Table

Something for Everyone: Resecting at the Sunday Breakfast Table

Resection (noun): Surgery. The excision of all or part of an organ or tissue.

For the Swen family,
The Deseret Daily Dispatch was like a game of “Operation.”
There was the crossword for cross-eyed Aunt Luz,
who tended to scrabble when it came to Sudoku,
for her numbers were often puzzling.
Grandma Posy read the obituaries,
always saying she was going to be next.
Joey Bischoff, aged 12,
whose E.I. was higher than his I.Q.,
ate the Sports section & Wheaties for breakfast;
his Irish twin, Jackie Oh,
would read her horoscope with horror & fascination.
Janey Rebel, at 6,
much to her daddy’s chagrin,
liked making paper dolls out of the society pages,
or drawing moustaches on the women
& dresses on the men in the funnies.
Perusing the personals was Mrs. White, the maid,
who played matchmaker on herself.
Mr. Swen, the brooder of the brood—
the rooster of the roost—
treated the op-eds as an appetizer to the business section.
With a sniff,
he’d claim that all the opinions smelled
like the late Mrs. Swen’s cooking,
which she had let burn while she read Dear Libby
or Helen’s Household Hints—
advice she never took & hints she never got,
for her tombstone read:

Here lies Anna Fox Swen,
beloved mom & Mrs.,
who just wouldn’t listen.

 

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #440: Generation

Party of Five

In a three-bedroom house
lived a gentleman and a lady,
a boy and a girl,
and a woman of The Sandwich Generation.
This woman,
fully-formed,
hadn’t lost her other half,
but a whole part of something greater
they had built together.
And while she cared for those who had treated her
as a daughter,
and cared for those as she had once been cared for
by those whose daughter she had been,
there was no one left to care for her.
For one man came and left,
and then another,
and another.
But never did she leave her father and mother in-laws,
nor the children that had first belonged
to the love of her life,
to cleave unto one of these men.
Rather,
she lived her life,
and when the right one came,
she knew,
for he stayed.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-440

Books: A part of my childhood, a part of my adulthood

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My earliest memory of books was when my dad read nursery rhymes to me—about  kings and queens, farmers and peasants—a precursor to fairy tales. When I won first place for my nonfiction piece, “A Memoir of Mother Goose,” I told my old professor that I had a slight “obsession with Mother Goose.” He’d chuckled and said it could be worse.

Mom and I read the Encyclopedia Brown series together, often in the car when my parents sold lamps and lampshades at an outdoor flea market in Summerdale, Alabama. Books were my salvation from boredom. If I didn’t have a new book, I’d reread an old one. I think I read Mom, You’re Fired! by Lou Kassem every day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where I stayed with my grandparents every summer as an adolescent and tween. I also read many stories in the Mostly Magic installment of the Through Golden Windows series, printed in 1958; I loved all the retro books my grandmother’s bookcases were filled with. I remember it was a lot more fun to sift through books than it was to surf through channels.

Still is. 

Many Moons by James Thurber was (and still is) my all-time favorite children’s book, but I also loved the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar and The Face on the Milk Carton series by Caroline B. Cooney.

I guess you could say I’ve always been a series girl—The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin in elementary, Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal in middle, and V.C. Andrews in high school—the last of which I stopped reading when Andrew Neiderman (Andrews’ ghostwriter) turned out to be a hack.

I read many a Harlequin romance in my early twenties, which I deemed as research. (I wanted to write for them.)  My mom and I shared a lot of books—Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, and Sandra Brown—the usual suspects.  

In my late twenties and early thirties, I fell in love with Linda Hall novels—Christian fiction that didn’t resort to caricatures (as a lot of Christian fiction does). I reread her books every so often, but LaVyrle Spencer’s Small Town Girl will always be my favorite. I remember reading it when I was live-in nannying for three girls in Sidney, Montana, and feeling a bit homesick. The book is set in fictional Wintergreen, Missouri, which, is close to Poplar Bluff. It was because of that reference, perhaps, that I called my Aunt Cheryll (she and my uncle had recently split up after 27 years of marriage), with her telling me that she loved me; I realized then she would always be Aunt Cheryll to me.  

If I had to choose three classic novels that top all the others I’ve read thus far, it would be Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Ironically, the films that were adapted from these fine works were flawless.) Sometimes I wonder if it were the heroines of these novels that make them so beloved—a feisty Southern belle who toughened up when push came to pushing back ten times harder and two precocious girls (one of them a storyteller, the other, a writer).

Though television programming has become portable with the advent of cell phones, back in the eighties and nineties, reading was the perfect, portable form of entertainment. At night, when I could no longer see (no Kindles then), I’d make up stories in my head.

My dad instilled in me, through poetry, a legacy of literacy—just as my mom shared that legacy with me. Thus, I am passing this legacy on to my daughter, who loves Mother Goose as much as I always will.

Updated 12/4/2019

Sweet Little Nothings

Make all food finger food

Her friends & family were like an upended box of truffles:
some were sweet
(enough to cause a zit),
some were soft
(like caramels left in the car too long),
some were hard
(as if they’d long since passed the hard crack stage),
some were nutty
(or just plain legume),
some were chewy
(like “chewing the fat” chewy),
some were creamy
(just pinch a little to see what nasty surprise comes out),
some were flaky
(like coco-loco-nut),
some were bitter
(like cocoa in need of a spanking),
some were dense
(like a math labbie when it came to lit),
some were cake-like
(be it cheesecake or beefcake),
& some were just plain kooky.