Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Fresh Look at Leftovers

Does anyone actually eat leftovers or are they just part of an elaborate plot to sell more plastic storage containers?

My family is – at this very moment – protesting indignantly: “We eat leftovers. What are you talking about?”

To them I say: “Ha.” Or, in the style of leftovers: “Ha. ha.” Eating leftovers once every three months is not the same as eating leftovers at least once every week.

In the interest of transparency, and because my family is – at this very moment – preparing to protest indignantly once again, I will admit that I am lax when it comes to eating leftovers as well. However, since I work from home, there is a much greater chance that I will come in contact with leftovers for lunch. Granted, sometimes that “contact” is limited to sliding the leftovers out of the way so I can reach the mayo and lunch meat. But my point stands.

Leftovers were a staple when I was growing up. In fact, I'm pretty sure we ate leftovers every night, which is pretty impressive given that you would think something would have to be a first-over before it could become a leftover.

Whenever I complained about having leftovers again, Mom would tell me about the bad old days when times were tough and money was tight. Back then, she said, the family would have a big roast or ham with all the fixin's for Sunday dinner (roast one week, ham the next), followed by roast or ham with fixin's leftovers on Monday, roast or ham casserole on Tuesday, leftover roast or ham casserole on Wednesday, roast or ham sandwiches on Thursday, roast or ham soup on Friday, and roast or ham leftover surprise on Saturday (Surprise! We still have leftovers!).

Things had improved by the time I came along, but we frequently experienced the 3-day leftover rotation of roast beef, hot beef sandwich, beef and potato hash; as well as the 4-day leftover rotation of baked ham, fried ham, cold ham sandwiches, and last but certainly the best -- ham and potato soup.

My dad, having spent several years as a bachelor, was a master of the leftovers as well. For lunch on Monday, Dad would combine a can of Chef Boyardee beefaroni, a can of vegetable beef soup, and a can of northern or cannellini beans (sometimes branching out to lima beans). This would serve as the base for his lunch leftovers for the rest of the week. Bits of dinner leftovers or another can of this or that were added as needed. Dad always stored his lunch leftovers in the sauce pan, in the fridge, ready to go the next day. He washed down his leftover stew with a glass of iced coffee – which was leftover from breakfast.

I know that eating leftovers reduces food waste and saves money. While I like to think I inherited some of my parents' sense of frugality – my favorite clothing designer is “sale” – none of that penny pinching practicality is left over when it comes to leftovers.

That doesn't mean I don't try, though. Take today, for example. After having hot pulled pork
Being frugal isn't cheap.
sandwiches Sunday evening, and cold pulled pork sandwiches Monday noon, I decided to make ham salad for lunch today. But before I could do that, I needed to replace my grandma's old, hand-crank grinder. While that grinder is one of my favorite leftovers, I'm not sure rust is the best way to get iron in your diet.

How hard can it be to find a small food grinder? Pretty dang hard, as it turns out. Nevertheless, I persisted. Bright, shiny, stainless steel blade grinder in hand (so to speak) I returned home to capitalize on the “economics” part of “home economics.” As I ate my ham salad sandwich I couldn't help but feel a little smug for having saved money by eating leftovers.

And to think, saving money only cost me forty bucks for a new grinder!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Think That I Shall Never See

I am not a tree hugger.

Oh, I like trees just fine. I admire them, actually. They're beautiful! Majestic, colorful and downright amazing. They're useful! Breathing clean air is one of my favorite things to do. They're fun! I used to love to climb them and always wanted to hang a tire swing from one.

But I always figured a tree was a tree was a tree. You chop one down, you plant another one. Sure they take a while to grow, but eventually . . . right?

Until today.

We had two big, old, beautiful trees removed today. In addition to the two not so big, but still beautiful in their own way trees that were removed yesterday.

All the removals were necessary. The two not-so-big trees were ash trees and had apparently been visiting all sorts of web sites catering to emerald ash borers, sending them nude pictures, and setting up 1-800-Eat-Meee hotlines It was only a matter of time, really. A preemptive strike. Mercy removal.

The two big, beautiful trees were actively sick. One barely had any leaves and the other had some sort of sad, tree-leprosy that caused it to shed chunks of bark quicker than Chris Hemsworth sheds his shirt as Thor – but it didn't look nearly as good as Hemsworth. And they were both too close to the house (the trees, not Hemsworth). They were so close to the house that every time the wind picked up I worried I would find a limb – if not the entire tree – inside the house. Heck lately, what with the leprosy and the maple pattern baldness, I worried all the time, regardless of the wind.

I was not home when the two ash trees were removed. It was not by design, but that probably worked out for the best. I wasn't emotionally attached to them. They were located at the backety-back of the back yard. They were lovely to look at from the deck or window over the kitchen sink, but grew right next to the property line, so they were not an integral part of back yard exploration and play. And they produced an unreasonable amount of leaves to rake, come fall, for no bigger than they were. I think they pushed a few extra bushels out there at the end of the growing season just to spite me.

Still, their absence creates a hole in the view. There are now two gaping spaces -- like missing teeth --  between the evergreens. (Another “good” reason to get rid of them -- things were getting too crowded out there. And you don't have to rake leaves from evergreens.)

I was home today for the removal of the two, big, beautiful (dying) trees. I was trapped, actually, as I couldn't get my car out of the garage because of the tree removal equipment. So I watched, off and on, and waited nervously, on and on, as first one and then the other tree came down. I worried – What if it falls on the house? What if it crushes the tree guy? – and I wondered – Should we have waited until next summer? Were they really dying, or were they just resting, like those bloated deer along the side of the highway? What were the odds either tree would actually fall on the house, and not away from the house? Although, with one on either side, chances were pretty good someone's bedroom was going to get redecorated.

Their bad points were their good points. One tree shaded the east-ish side of the house from the morning sun, the other shaded the west-ish side of the house from the afternoon sun. I could see the leaves from one tree shimmy in the breeze, looking through the windows in my office and the living room, I watched the squirrels scamper through the other tree, looking from windows in the bedroom and the dining room. One protected the plants along the front of the house from the summer's heat, the other protected the deck – and provided the squirrels easy access to the metal roof over the bedroom so they could run back and forth at 6 a.m. The little darlings.

The yard looks so empty now. We've lived here for almost 16 years. Those trees – which were already well established – grew so much in 16 years. The Little Princess and The Little Prince managed to get a hula-hoop stuck in one of those trees. Don't ask. Their swing set sat under the other tree. The kids grew so much in 16 years.

I can hear thunder in the distance. Another storm is forecast for tonight. There will be lightning – at least one of the trees had been hit at some time, the tree-guy said – more rain to soak the already soggy ground, and winds. There will not be limbs tapping on my office window, or brushing across the roof over the bedroom.

Tomorrow we can start to plan what type of trees we will plant and where. Tomorrow we will plan a day when The Princess and the Prince can help plant the new trees.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Erma Notes 2.108

I'm not sure which was more difficult for this quiet introvert: Transitioning from the solitary introspection of a seven-hour road trip to the boisterous celebration of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop Tribe of Loud, Smart, Funny Women and Men (emphasis on the loud), or re-acclimating to the silence on the way home.

Speaking of quiet car rides . . . I was a little surprised to find that I hadn't worked my way through all the Billy Joel albums on my iPod by the time I got to Ohio. I was a little embarrassed to find I still hadn't made it through my play list by the time I returned home to Iowa.

And another thing about driving . . . One of the best but overlooked aspects of the workshop? The door-to-door shuttle service between the hotel and the classes. Back home I am the shuttle service. And, unlike my kids, my fellow shuttle-ers were always ready to talk!

Speaking of kids . . . When I returned to my hotel room each day, my bed was made-made (not just straightened) and all my crap was neatly arranged on the bathroom counter. I wondered if this is what my family feels like when they come home at the end of the day.

Speaking of being a mom . . . Shout out to the guy at the gas station in Indiana who called me “Miss” when trying to get my attention. I wasn't ignoring you. It just took me a while to realize you were talking to me.

Speaking of Indiana drivers . . . Does everyone there drive like they're qualifying for the Indy 500? I worried I might lose time by taking a two-lane “shortcut,” but pulled in behind a line of cars going darn near the same speed we were on the interstate! Not that I'm complaining!

Speaking of GPS shortcuts . . . This was the second time I relied solely on my car's navigation system. There's something reassuring about the confidence with which Sally (my GPS) gives directions. I may not know where we're going – heck, Sally may not know – but by god, we're going there with confidence!

Speaking of Sally's confidence . . . I'm good with her confidence, but does she have to sound so exasperated when she says “recalculating”?

Speaking of recalculating . . . I'm not willing to take all the blame for Sunday morning's little excursion through downtown Dayton in search of an on-ramp, Sally. “Keep left” is a bit wishy-washy, don't you think? It's either turn or don't turn. On the plus side, there's very little traffic in downtown Dayton on a Sunday morning.

Speaking of speaking . . . About the fourth time Sally exasperatedly told me she was “recalculating” I started wishing she had a little of the warmth and wisdom of the Erma Tribe. The new and improved Sally – nicknamed “Erma,” of course – would have laughed and joked when I missed that turn. “ErmaGPS” would have known instinctively that I was not ignoring her demands, but searching frantically for a Waffle House. “ErmaGPS” would have pointed out that I could never make it 65 miles until the next rest stop.

In other words . . . Sally's a great gal and all, but if she really wanted me to listen to her, she'd try to sound a bit more like Erma.

Or like Billy Joel.

Monday, February 19, 2018

English May Be My Second Language

There are days when, as an English major, I believe I have a pretty good grasp on the English language.

Then, there are most days.

Take last Thursday, for example. I was in downtown Iowa City pleading with local bookstores to carry my self-published book, Scout's Honor. (Scout's Honor as in “that's the title of my book,” not “Scout's honor” as in “honorable promise.” Although I promise I am being honest about the title and the following story.)

I should mention up front that just being in downtown Iowa City has an unsettling way of making me feel . . . unsettled. And inadequate. With the University of Iowa being right there, downtown Iowa City is part college-chic/intellectual and part “hold my beer”/party town.

As I walked the block between Iowa Book and Prairie Lights, I was considering my good fortune – my meeting at Iowa Book had been delightful (they said yes!), and I had found a primo parking spot two days in a row. I wasn't sure if I should buy a lottery ticket or build a bomb shelter, but I was hoping that my luck would hold until after I'd been to Prairie Lights.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young man, no more disheveled than any other college student, exiting a bar/restaurant. Lost in my musings, I made eye contact. Small-town hick mistake.

“Excuse me, ma'am,” he said. (Ma'am? Ouch.) “I'm looking for a salad.”

His request threw me for a loop, both because I was daydreaming and because . . . salad? It was almost noon, and he had exited a pizza/bar place. In the “hold my beer” part of downtown, they may not serve salad. On the other hand, I think the intellectual/chic laws require all establishments to serve salad. Even fro-yo shops.

“Do you know where I can get some lettuce?” he asked.

Something about his tone of voice made me wonder if, in fact, he was talking about “salad” and “lettuce” as in “fresh, leafy greens that you eat.” I began to suspect he was talking about “lettuce” as in “dried leafy greens that you smoke.” Or even as in “leafy green bills that you spend.”

I mumbled an apologetic “No” and kept walking, but my friendly, inner small-town hick felt guilty. What if he really was looking for a healthy lunch alternative? Not knowing what he might have meant by “salad” also made small-town hick me feel very un-intellectual and un-chic.

I was still pondering the whole salad/salad conundrum when I walked into Prairie Lights. This legendary bookstore appeals to my inner nerd, while still making me feel unworthy. It's not just the books themselves, of course, but the great writers who have been there – the realization that you may be standing in the very same spot that Jane Smiley or Kurt Vonnegut or Toni Morrison once stood.

One incident in particular illustrates the depth of my feelings of inadequacy in regards to Prairie Lights and to downtown Iowa City in general. Years ago I was herding The Little Princess and Prince through Prairie Lights when I happened to overhear a woman, pushing a very posh stroller, ask her very quiet, well-behaved child if he/she would like to go to the coffee shop for a “cwaa-saaah.”

This obviously intellectual/chic woman pronounced “croissant” exactly the way the fancy French chefs on TV do. It was clear, even to a small-town hick that she was talking about “cwaa-saaah” as in “a delicate, over-priced bakery-store pastry” and not “crescent” as in “common, refrigerated, whomp-biscuit pastry small-town hicks serve.”

Prior to entering the store that day, I had bribed my children into three-minutes of relative un-monkey like behavior by promising them a package of crackers from the bottom of my purse. When they balked at the broken remains, I told them they were “oyster crackers” – as in “fancy, small crackers” and not “crackers made of shellfish.” The children counter-offered to behave in exchange for bake-shop chocolate chip cookies – as in “we can't be bribed by bread alone.”

That chance meeting plays through my mind every time I walk through the doors at Prairie Lights. I close my eyes, breath in that rarefied smart-book air, and BOOM! – I'm reminded that I'm a chocolate chip cookie trespassing in a land of “cwaa-saaah.

Last Thursday my “cwaa-saaah” inferiority complex was compounded by my “salad” anxiety, with a bit of parking meter angst thrown in, leaving me more befuddled and less able to speak coherently than usual. When the polite lady behind the big, book-piled desk asked if Scout's Honor was distributed online through “Ingram” I heard “cwaa-saaah” and may have said “Me write book gud. Please to sell?” (Ten minutes and two miles later I realized the correct answer was “Yes.” I think.)

Despite my inability to communicate verbally she agreed to carry my book. YAY! Of course she may have meant “carry” as in “use them to prop up the leg on that wobbly table.” Whatever the reason, I am grateful that both stores (and Burlington By The Books) agreed to carry Scout's Honor. However, I dread the prospect of trying to string together a coherent sentence when I pick up the unsold stock. In fact, I've considered paying someone to go to Prairie Lights to buy them out.

If only I knew someone who needs to make a little lettuce . . . .

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

New Car-fessions

I have a new car.

It's a black, sleek, shiny, stylish hatchback.

It also has four-doors, front-wheel drive, gets great gas mileage, and was reasonably priced.

It's sporty AND sensible.


There are those in my family who say pairing the terms “sporty” and “sensible” is an oxymoron, if not an outright contradiction. They think I'm delusional.

The Little Prince, who is 16 years old and male and therefore an expert on all things automotive, is not a fan. I have been running new car suggestions by him since I first started “theoretically” looking for a new car.

If I were to get a new car, and I'm not saying I'm going to, but if I were, what about a Fiat? … Escalade? … Mini Cooper? … Renegade? … Escape? … Charger?”

His answer never varied in content, tone, or delivery. By now, I am so used to his monosyllabic, post pubescent baritone response that I could hear his voice in his texted reply to my text.

Me:“Signing the papers! Honda Civic Hatchback. It's sporty. And sensible!”

Little Prince: “No.”

But my Mom-enhanced voice recognition software picked that up as “Nnnnnnnnno,” revealing all the underlying apathy and disinterest reserved for any vehicle short of a V-8 or Miata.

The Little Princess, who is 19 and therefore an expert on all things, is not a fan. She still has not forgiven me for allowing her father to sell the ginormous, rattle-trap, rust-red, manual transmission, 1994 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup she learned to drive in. Nothing I picked out – short of a Ford Raptor – would have pleased her (and then, only after I gave it to her).

Me: “It's a Honda Civic Hatchback! It's sporty! And sensible!”

Little Princess: “It's the world's smallest car. There's no room for stuff.”

Pass that through any Mom-translation program and you get: “There's no room for MY stuff.”

The King, who has been my husband for 25 years and is therefore an expert on staying married, did not say anything.

He didn't have to. Thanks to our marriage-telepathy, I could tell that he was mentally calculating how long it would take me to break one of my New Car-mandments:
  1. Thou Shall Not eat in the new car.
  2. Thou Shall Not drink anything besides water in the new car – and then only from a container that can be securely resealed.
  3. Thou Shall park in the furthest corner of the parking lot, away from all shopping carts and two-door vehicles.
  4. Thou Shall Not drive on gravel roads.
  5. Thou Shall Not allow gummy bears or crayons in the new car.
The longest I've followed these rules prior to this car? One week. The shortest? Thirty minutes. (The Vue never lost that new-fry smell.)

I've gotten in, and I can't get out.
I know it's only a matter of time before life – and my bad habits – cause me to slip up. Once you lose that first french fry between the seats, get that first door ding, or find a puddle of melted crayon and gummy bear in a door handle, your New Car (!) is just your (new) car.

But until that happens, I am going to enjoy the heck out of it. In fact, if you need me, you will most likely find me out in the garage, sitting in my spor-sensible car.

Because part of that sporty look comes from a lower-than-I'm-used-to seat-height, and I'm not as spor-flexible as I used to be.

What are your "new car-mandments"? Could I market Car-mandments 1-3 as "The New Car Diet?"

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Mom For All Seasons

Just when I am wallowing in a good, deep, pit of despair because my baby – the boy child, the 16-year-old going on 60-year-old – doesn't need me anymore, life puts a little hurdle out there that proves Moms can be pretty useful. Even if the boy child doesn't want to admit it.

Ever since his sister left for college (thoughtlessly leaving him as the sole recipient of his parent's attention) The Little Prince has done everything he can to assert his independence. Everything he can, that is, while still living under our roof and enjoying free groceries, laundry, and maid service. As soon as he turned 16 he got a job, so he now supports his musical and automotive ambitions, as well as a steady diet of fast-food and jumbo convenience store sodas. Despite his relative economic autonomy, the occasional gas-money donation is still appreciated, and I have found that I seldom (although not never) get change back when I ask him to run an errand for me. This child-labor service charge is a small price to pay for convenience, I suppose.

Between work and well-timed outings with his friends, his schedule precludes dinner with the 'rents most nights (possibly because his mother insists on using lame, outdated slang like “'rents”). He typically shuns homemade leftovers (a trait inherited from his father), preferring microwaved delicacies such as pizza rolls and frozen chicken wings. Likewise breakfast (Pop Tarts) is spent in silent contemplation (a trait inherited from his mother), scuttling back to his room like a hermit to his hermitage as soon as the toaster pops.

I don't blog much about The Little Prince, precisely because he is so self-sufficient and easily embarrassed. I fear any public recognition (actually, I know from experience that any public recognition) will result in an immediate cessation of his already limited acknowledgment of my existence. Let me tell you, you have never been shunned until you have been shunned by a teenage boy.

But I have learned to live with it. Just like I have learned to not jump out of my skin when he slips silently into my office/hermitage and stands there – silently – nodding and occasionally making eye, until I summon all my Super Mom abilities and read his mind.

“Going out with your buddies?” I ask/say/hypothesize.

“Yup,” he says before silently slipping away. My petition to "have fun, be good, love you" chases him down the hallway.

So it was early Saturday morning, when he materialized at my side as I was finishing my first cup of coffee. He stood quietly, nodding with a bit more agitation than usual.

“Heading to work?” I asked.

“Need a coat,” he said, grimacing.

Now, I could have reminded him that I have nagged him for at least two years about getting a winter coat. I could have reminded him that last year I took him shopping and practically forced him to buy a coat before relenting when I realized it would just hang, unused, in the closet. I could have reminded him that he has lived in Iowa for 16 winters and he knows that it gets cold and he knows that his job requires him to spend at least a little bit of time outdoors. But as the temperature hovered at a balmy 2 degrees (expected to fall) and he needed to get to work, I kept all this to myself.

Instead I left my coffee to cool while I helped him search through closets and totes and drawers for a coat, gloves and boots. Then I realized he had grown at least a foot taller since he had last worn a proper winter coat, gloves or boots (since, apparently, high school students are too cool these things) and he had to borrow said items from his father (who was outside and wearing them at the time, because old folks value warmth over coolness).

You may wonder why he didn't ask his father if he could borrow a coat in the first place, instead of making his mother feel like she had neglected him by not forcing him to get a winter coat. You could also ask yourself why (a month ago) he told his mother – at 6 a.m., during her first cup of coffee – that his arm hurt and he thought he might have broken it. And why he then allowed her to sit nervously in the emergency room with him and allowed her to take him out for breakfast when it turned out it wasn't broken.

You may wonder that, but I would prefer that you wonder that in silence. While you're at it, perhaps you could nod your head and wait – silently – for me to acknowledge your presence.

Because the important thing here is that my little boy still needs his mom (whether he will admit it or not).

And a coat.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

The further adventures of Randy and Clarice . . . . (Christmas in Stitches, Dec. 25, 2016)

Randy and Clarice sat nestled on the couch, watching the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle. Outside, a picturesque Christmas morning snow was falling – huge, fluffy, marshmallow flakes that swirled crazily in the rosy light of dawn.

“This reminds me of last year,” Randy said quietly, nuzzling his wife's hair. “Remember how we sat in the car outside your folks' house on Christmas Day? Remember how long it took you to get up the courage to go in? I thought I'd loose at least one finger to frostbite.” He chuckled lightly and squirmed. He enjoyed cuddling this way, his arm around Clarice, her head on his shoulder, but they had been sitting that way for nearly 20 minutes, and lack of circulation was making his fingers numb in an uncomfortably familiar way.

Clarice sighed and straightened, attuned to her husband's discomfort. Besides, she was getting a crick in her neck. “You had finally proposed, and I was afraid my crazy family would scare you off.”

“I love you, and your crazy family,” Randy said, kissing the tip of her nose. “You don't regret eloping to Vegas, do you?”

“I'm not sure that qualified as eloping, since both our families showed up to surprise us.”

“I learned my lesson. Never leave unopened mail around where your brother can find it when he jimmies the lock and invites himself in to our house for a beer while we're gone. And always pay cash for airline tickets. Cuts down on the paper trail.”

“Thank you for not abandoning me at the altar with the Elvis impersonators after Aunt Ethel kidnapped the minister. I'm fairly certain her ordination is legit.” Clarice said.

“And thank you for bailing me out of jail after that incident with my uncles at Treasure Island.”

“I'm sure they weren't the first drunken tourist to battle the pirates.”

“No, but they were probably the first to win,” Randy said.

“Besides, I was already at the station waiting to pick up Gramma.”

Randy snickered. “Glad she got those solicitation charges dropped.”

“Entrapment is more like it,” Clarice grumbled. “Why else would they put a handsome bicycle cop right outside a Chippendale's show? Who knew real cops wore spandex uniforms?”

“Good thing she only put a dollar in his shorts.”

“Yeah, he was just going to give her a warning until she tried to make change.”

They went back to quietly contemplating the Christmas tree, and the concentric arcs of gifts radiating out from under it.

“Do you suppose any of those gifts are for us?” Randy asked.

“Don't be silly. Your gift is upstairs in bed,” Clarice said, looking up at him coyly.

“Delivered by Santa himself. Ho, ho, ho!”

Clarice shook her head in amazement. “I'll never forget the look on Santa's face when I went into labor. Thank goodness his pants were water-repellent.”

“Thank goodness Santa was an off-duty paramedic! Leave it to the Donner-Dasher progeny to make a grand entrance. Or exit, as the case may be.”

“I'm going to guess there weren't a lot of requests for baby dolls after that. It was nice of the mall to give us the twins' first photo with Santa for free.”

“Speaking of Santa, did you hear any noises on the roof last night?” Randy asked.

“No, I'm pretty sure all these presents were delivered the old fashioned way – by the postman, the UPS man, and the FedEx man,” Clarice said. “I read that shipping services have been swamped since the older generation downsized to smart cars.”

“True. I don't think a Barbie Dream House would fit in Aunt Lucy's Fiat. But that's beside the point. I could swear I heard reindeer earlier. That's why I was up so early. Do you have any idea the kind of damage hooves could do to a steel roof?”

“I thought you got up early to put together those trikes,” Clarice laughed. “For heaven's sake, the twins won't be able to use them until spring – two years from now.”

Randy shrugged and stood up. “Nothing like a little motivation,” he said as he picked his way carefully along a crooked path through the gifts towards the kitchen. “Besides, they're our kids. I sure they're, ahem, gifted.”

“Your grandfather sure seems to think so. He sent early admission forms to Harvard yesterday, via courier.”

“Do you suppose a Harvard acceptance letter will get them short-listed at Peter Pan Preschool?” Randy said as he poured two cups of coffee, adding a generous splash of Baileys to his.

“Before you know it they'll be walking, and talking, leaving for college . . . .” Clarice's voice trailed off. Randy returned to find her sobbing quietly, tears streaming down her face.

“That won't happen for a long, long time, sweetheart.” Randy carefully arranged the two steaming mugs of coffee on opposite sides of a gargantuan bow, on top of a Power Wheels Jeep-sized box, which had replaced the coffee table. “There will be plenty of dirty diapers, skinned knees, broken bones, doctor bills, orthodontist bills, prom tickets, . . . .” Randy's voice trailed off.

Clarice wiped a tear from his cheek. “That won't happen for a long, long time, sweetheart.” Randy managed a weak smile. “At least not until they open all these presents!”

“These presents are taking over! I'm sure the dog's bed was in that corner yesterday. Now there's a . . . does that look like a pogo stick to you? Have you even seen the dog lately?”

“I shut Frosty in our room. He was whimpering at the door to the babies' room – I checked and they were sleeping – I didn't want him to wake them.”

“Did that box just meow?”

“You're imagining things. I'm glad we're hosting Christmas here this year.” Clarice tucked her feet up under her, carefully straightening a tower of noisy boxes – Legos she guessed – at the edge of the couch. She didn't remember them being there when she sat down. “This gives us a chance to start our own Christmas traditions.”

“I love your optimism, but my mom has been trying to weasel out of holiday hosting since my oldest brother got a place of his own. Nothing says Christmas quite like 12 Donners dining in a dorm room meant for one.”

“Well, we have plenty of room to host everyone. Or we had plenty of room. Tell me there aren't more boxes in the kitchen.”

“Not yet. Thank goodness our moms organized a pot luck meal.”

“Iowa beef roast meets Minnesota hot-dish with a side of Kosher.”

“And an un-healthy dollup of Paula Deen, balanced out with vegan . . . vegi . . . ovo . . . . What did your niece bring to the last supper, anyway?” Randy asked.

“I believe it was organic, non-GMO tree bark and pine needles, eco-consciously harvested from the ground. At least that's what it tasted like.”

“Happy Chris-Hanuk-Za-Stice. Did you stock up on Tums?”

“And toilet paper.” Clarice sighed. “How soon will the invasion start?”

Randy pointed to a timer perched on top of a huge box which had replaced the television. Around the outside edge of the timer was written “Doomsday Clock.”

“Two hours!” Clarice shout-whispered. “It's still dark outside. I thought we told them noon!”

“We did. But you know my mom is going to want some extra grandchild time, so she'll be here an hour early. And your mom wants extra grandchild time, and she knows my mom will be an hour early, so your mom will be here two hours early. And how long has that pile of gifts been in the doorway? I swear it wasn't there when I got coffee.”

“Honey, it's not like the presents are breeding. At least, I don't think they are.”

“You're right. I'm just nervous. What were we thinking? Both families here at the same time? We'd better enjoy this peace while we can. It will probably be the last quiet Christmas morning we'll have for several years.”

Clarice sighed and snuggled closer to Randy. “And I wouldn't have it any other way.”

As if to prove Randy's point, the baby monitor crackled to life. A voice, quiet as a mouse, spoke: “Good morning, Mother.”

Then another: “Good morning, Father.”

Clarice and Randy sat up straight and looked at each other in surprise.

“Did you hear . . . . ?”

“Did they just . . . . ?”

“Merry Christmas, losers!” A much louder, not at all mouse-like voice bellowed from the monitor. The living room was flooded with lights shining in through the window, and a recording of 'The Little Drummer Boy' began blaring. Randy and Clarice's looks of amazement turned to horror as they realized only one group of people could create an exterior illumination display of this magnitude.

“The cousins!” they both groaned.

“They have a bucket truck! I told you to fix the latch on the children's bedroom window!” Clarice shouted over the music.

“But that means . . . .” Randy and Clarice turned to see both their mothers joyously descending the stairs, holding little Francine and Victor Donner-Dasher aloft. Behind them followed a rowdy profusion of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins from both families.

“Look on the bright side,” Clarice said to Randy. “This won't happen again for 324 days.”

“That soon?”