Thursday, November 30, 2017

Have Yourself An Ugly Little Christmas Sweater

The Halloween pumpkins are moldering on the front stoop, and the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been left over for their last meal, ushering in the most angst-iful time of the year:

Ugly Christmas Sweater Season.

While I do loves me some Ugly Christmas Sweaters, I do hates me the potential for offending someone by complimenting them on their Ugly Christmas Sweater – which they do not consider to be an Ugly Christmas Sweater. As the mother of two teens, I am empathetic to having clothes judged so harshly. 

For example, when I asked The Little Princess what makes an Ugly Christmas Sweater ugly, she said “Anything that comes from Goodwill and looks like it was made by a Gramma.” When I asked The Little Prince the same question, he hesitated, quickly scanned what I was wearing and shrugged.

His response made me a little teary eyed, because that was the most he talked to me last week. And because I was wearing a normal, ordinary, not ugly, black sweatshirt, proudly emblazoned with “IOWA” in gold lettering.
Ugly? Or Taste Challenged?

That's the problem with Ugly Christmas Sweaters – there is no clear-cut description of what constitutes ugliness in a sweater, Christmas or otherwise. This new trend of marketing ugly as ugly has only made the situation worse. Just in case you've been living under a rock (or you shop at much nicer stores than I do) you can now buy Ugly Christmas Sweaters, Sweatshirts, T-shirts, Socks, Hats, Pants, Dresses, Pajamas and Suits. Some of these items try just a little too hard (like the suits), blowing right past Ugly Christmas Attire to Hideous Christmas Attire.

In my humble opinion, the beauty of an ugly sweater comes from the fact that it is not trying to be ugly. Are they tacky? Maybe. Tasteless? Probably. Ugly? Well . . . . It seems to me the ugliest of the Ugly Christmas Sweaters are the Ambiguously Ugly Christmas Sweaters. And this is where I struggle to know what to say, and whether or not to say it.
Trying too hard.

Should I say “I like your sweater,” and run the risk of looking like I don't recognize an ugly sweater when I see one? Or should I say “I like your ugly sweater,” and run the risk of offending the wearer, who may or may not think their sweater is ugly?

Which brings me back to my original question: What makes an Ugly Christmas Sweater Ugly?

Is it the embellishments? Does the addition of pom-poms, bells (which should be outlawed), bows, glitter, rhinestones, or puffy paint make the sweater ugly? Or is it the amount of embellishment? Personally I think lights or music (not just bells) should result in disqualification.

Is it the color? There are certain shades of pink and aqua which have taken up a firm residence in Christmas-color-land and which need to be sent back to the 1950s, from whence they escaped. Or is it the combination of colors? Red is OK, red and white are OK, but red, white and green start edging towards ugly.

Is it the pattern? There's nothing inherently ugly about snowflakes, reindeer and evergreens individually, but put them all together and the potential for ugly grows. Is it the image itself? Are reindeer, cats, dogs, penguins and elves OK? What about reindeer, cats, dogs penguins and elves wearing Santa hats? Are small images OK, and BIG images ugly? Or is it the other way around?

Ugly Christmas Sweater Season would be much less stressful if you were required to wear a button that proclaimed “Yes, I think this Christmas (fill in the blank) is ugly.”

Preferably a LARGE button, in off-pink and off-aqua, with flashing lights, music, bells and pom-poms.

And a Santa hat.
NOT an Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trick-or- Let's Do The Time Warp-Treat

I remember being SO excited when the Little Prince was born, not just because we had one of each, but because I thought I would be exempt from bathroom-escort duty for the newcomer.

That, of course, did NOT happen. What did happen, however, was that I became exempt from trick-or-treat duty.

Even better.

The Little Princess was three-years-old when the Little Prince was born, so she was of her first, real, mobile-on-her-own, Trick-Or-Treat age, when he was most certainly not. At the time, we lived near one end of what was, arguably, the busiest street for T-O-T in W.L. – North Calhoun Street. For non-W.L. residents, this is one great big, long, almost completely un-side-streeted street that stretches for nearly a third of a mile – or the equivalent of at least 6 blocks, without any cross-streets. This was/is parent/child T-O-T paradise – let your kids out at one end, slowly drive your car up the street (and observe from warm comfort) as they go door to door to door, until they have a melt-down, their bag breaks from all that candy, or time runs out (or until you get bored), whichever comes first.

We had to take out a second mortgage to pay for all the T-O-T candy that we gave out when we lived there. (Never mind what we ate ourselves).

A side note: As a child growing up in WL, I lived two blocks (TWO BLOCKS!) south of this marathon stretch (T-O-T Nirvana/Valhalla) of North Calhoun, and never, in my recollection, did my T-O-T route venture that far north. (What kind of fool was I? What kind of kids never shared reports of this candy over-abundance?) Those were the days of grade-level class parties held at the town's churches and the Masonic Lodge – all of which (at that time) were South of the Thin, Sugared Line. (Except for the Middle School, which was 2 blocks East of NC, and therefore in a world all its own) At the time, my main concern was to plan out a route that was guaranteed to get me to my party on time! My most vivid, T-O-T memory is of the night my BFF nearly became a real, live, ghost/zombie in her haste to cross the 2-lane state highway that bisects the town. (P.S. I told her to wait.) (I blame the crappy, plastic masks of the day, of which I never was privileged to wear. Can you say perpetual hobo costume? Not that I'm bitter. Actually, Mom made me a furry Monster mask, which I wore For. Ev. Er.)

But I digress.

So we moved to a quiet sub-division of quiet W.B. A quiet sub-division, populated primarily by grandparents. There were probably eight children of T-O-T age in our subdivision that first year. But I was still in W.L. (and specifically North Calhoun) candy-buying mode. After amply supplying our approximately 20 Trick-Or-Treaters, we still had enough candy left over for one-bazillion and three kids.

The important thing is, His Royal Highness took The Little Princess Trick-Or-Treating, while I stayed home with The Little Prince, and handed out candy to the less-than-overwhelming horde.

And thus a tradition was born.
G&M, or M&M, circa a long time ago. Dang,they're cute.

The King took the Royal Progeny trick-or-treating on those cold, wet, dark (did I mention cold?) nights, for as long as they required an escort. I stayed at home, in the warm, well-lit, dry (did I mention warm and dry?) house, handing out (and eating) candy to an ever-shrinking number of trick-or-treaters.

And thus it came to pass, that on this All-Hallow's Eve I stayed at home where it was warm, dry, and well lit, and handed out candy to the neighborhood kids. (The grandparents have down-sized and moved away The sub-division has been re-populated by young families, of which we are not one).

And each time I answered the door I thought of my little ghost and goblin, and the costumes I sewed for them. (They were off doing who-knows-what kind of late-adolescent, it's-probably-better-I-don't-know kind of things.)

On the up-side, all the brown Tootsie-Pops have been handed out.

And I still have two bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

(Which I can give The Little Princess and The Little Prince when we have family dinner this weekend.)

(If there are any left.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Way To My Brain Is Through My Stomach

 I was mixing up a pan of Mr. Dell's Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole and looking out the window at a gorgeous Midwestern fall day, when I was reminded of something The Little Princess said:

“I feel sorry for people who don't live in the Midwest. They've never had Puppy Chow. Or Scotcheroos.” (She also feels sorry for people who live in Australia because, apparently, they don't have the pop-n-fresh, “whomp biscuit,” canned-type cinnamon rolls. On the other hand, she says they call McDonald's “Macca's”, so . . . point for them.)

As I layered the cheesy with the potatoes, I wondered if this was strictly a Midwestern thing. There's a good chance it is, and if so, I feel sorry for everyone outside the Midwest who has never had the warm, gooey, cheesy, delicious, comfort-food goodness of hash brown casserole (or puppy chow, or scotcheroos).

And then I wondered what equally gooey, cheesy or chocolaty, delicious, comfort-food they might be enjoying that I have never tried.

And that reminded me of a quick trip we recently made to Madison, Wisconsin, for a wedding. From the interstate, all the metropolitan areas we by-passed looked alike – at least if you use restaurants as a point of reference.

There is a certain comfort in the familiar, a certain relief in uniform sameness, a feeling of safety that comes with sticking with what we know. When traveling, I – more often than not – eat at the chain restaurant nearest the hotel, rather than trying something new.

But . . . .


Where's the adventure in that? Where's the excitement of trying new things, of developing new tastes, of meeting new people? Where's the thrill of a new experience? The exposure to new ideas?

Comfortable conformity is all well and good, but when it is all, is it still good?

I could count on one hand the number of new restaurants closer to home that I have tried during the last year. What's worse, I tend to order the same thing every time I go to one of our familiar, “go to” restaurants – even when I swear I'm going to try something new. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I wonder what might I be missing. (Granted, not all my “new” restaurant experiences have been winners, but still . . . .)

Old habits are hard to break. New things can be hard to try, whether they are new foods or new points of view. But maybe there's more to life than hash brown casserole and puppy chow.

Maybe I need to potluck more

Maybe we all do.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Stuff and Nonsense

The King and I moved into our current house when we outgrew our starter castle. Two young(ish) people with the usual assortment of starter-outer stuff had become two not-as-young(ish) people with two toddlers and a rapidly expanding amount of stuff. Rather than continue to make the boy-child sleep in what was basically the hallway, we pulled up stakes and moved. We gained a bedroom for the boy-child, if not much more in the way of storage space.

Years passed and  what was once cozy for two adults, two small children, a kitten, and all their stuff, became claustrophobic for two adults, two teenagers, a full-grown cat, and all their stuff. So we added on, expanding by approximately 860 square feet. And one teenager left the roost.

In a time of down-sizing and “tiny houses,” we added the equivalent of two tiny houses to our already regular-size house and decreased our population density. And there still isn't enough room for all our stuff.

The worst part is that we haven't added any new stuff since the remodel. In fact, we've gotten rid of stuff. While I was packing up stuff for storage I sorted, donated and threw away stuff we didn't use or need. As well as stuff I was tired of packing. I repeated the process when I started unpacking stuff from storage – sorting, donating and throwing away stuff I realized I hadn't missed while it was in storage. As well as stuff I was tired of unpacking.

We have twice as many cupboards in the new kitchen, and yet I still have pots, pans, dishes and gadgets sitting on counters (and in totes) waiting to find a home. The closet in our master bedroom is almost half-again as big as our old closet, and yet we still have totes and bags of clothes waiting to be put away.

The Little Prince, who is so low-maintenance he could subsist on air alone, moved into a room twice the size of his old room . . . and immediately filled up the larger space. Granted, his drum set, which once took up a big part of the “toy room” now takes up a big part of his bedroom. Unfortunately this did not (surprise?) free up any space in the room formerly known as the “toy room,” presently known as the “I don't know where else to put this stuff room.”

The only room in the house that doesn't seem to be overloaded is The Princess' room. I suspect that is because she has moved out of our house and into an apartment at college . . . where her room is filled with stuff. And to be honest, here at home her closet, bookshelves and the space under her bed are filled with stuff . . . that wouldn't fit in the “I don't know where else to put this stuff room.”

Evidently I had developed some seriously next-level, Tetris-master type storage/stacking skills pre-remodel, when we first realized we were space challenged. In theory, what I need to do now is figure out in which of the remaining un-unpacked totes those skills are packed.

Because I shudder to think what might happen if I had to pack everything up again while we add on even more space.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Good Night, Sleep Tight (But Not TOO Tight)

I haven't been sleeping well lately. Maybe it's because I've reached that age at which a woman's body goes haywire (but it's not puberty). Or maybe I worry too much. Or maybe I have an over-active imagination.

Or maybe it's my family.

Take the other night for example – it doesn't matter which night exactly, because they're all the same – I was having trouble falling asleep because The Girl Child (AKA The Princess, when I'm not so worried) is starting her second year at college, so she was not under my roof at that moment. And she's a girl so I know how she thinks, because – believe it or not – I was once a college-age girl. And because she's My Little Girl and I'm Her Mommy and I'm supposed to worry about her.

And that made me think of The Boy Child (AKA The Prince, when I'm not fretting), who is starting his junior year of high school, so he was under my roof but won't be for long. And he's a boy so I have no idea how he thinks, or even if he does sometimes. And because he's My Little Boy and I'm His mumblemumble Mom and that's just what I do.

But I forgot about those things because The Darling Husband (AKA The King, when I'm not distraught) was snoring so loud I couldn't sleep, and snoring may be a sign of sleep apnea. And just at that moment HE STOPPED SNORING and I freaked out because OBVIOUSLY HE WAS DEAD!

While I was straining to hear him breath I started wondering if I had “accidentally” smothered him with my pillow because HIS SNORING WAS DRIVING ME NUTS, but all of a sudden SNRKXSZERK he was snoring again and I was glad he was alive, but I was also kind of annoyed because HOW COULD I SLEEP WHEN HE WAS SNORING SO LOUD?

Then the cat, sensing my distress, jumped up on the bed. But instead of purring his rumbly, comforting purr, he curled up behind my knees on the outside edge of the bed, pinning the blanket down. This was a problem because TDH had pulled the blankets tight on the other side of me, so I was TRAPPED LIKE A MOUSE IN A BURRITO and I couldn't move. And between the little, furry body on one side and the bigger, furry body on the other I was HOTTER THAN HELL.

Since I have so much trouble sleeping I hate to interrupt any one else's sleep, even if it is the cat and he sleeps 26 out of 24 hours, so I reached down to scratch his little ears and maybe get him to move just a little bit BUT HE DIDN'T MOVE AT ALL and I realized that HE WASN'T PURRING EITHER, in fact I DIDN'T THINK HE WAS BREATHING and oh, great, first my husband almost dies and now my cat, when all of a sudden SNNNNNTTFF the cat started snoring.

So I was thinking “Phew, really dodged a bullet there,” and I wasn't sure which would be worse, if my husband died or the cat. Because the kids would never believe me if I lied and told them the cat “ran away,” but they might believe their dad “ran away” because they've both threatened to run away whenever I start dancing or singing. On the other hand TDH might help me dispose of the cat's body, but the cat would be ABSOLUTELY NO HELP disposing of TDH's body because I clean the litter box and I know how bad he is at burying things.

In the mean time, I was going to SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST, so TDH and the cat would both be reduced to ashes and there wouldn't be ANY bodies to dispose of.

And I'd have the entire bed to myself so I could finally get some sleep.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sandwich Mom in the Sky With(out) Diamonds

Yesterday I made my annual trip to the happiest place in the midwest – the Iowa State Fair. Other state fairs may come close, but I agree with the marketing geniuses who declared “Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair.” Nothing compares to the food (deep fried, bacon-wrapped, chocolate dipped, and on a stick), the fun (outhouse races), the culture (balloon sculptures), the spectacle (the gargantuan bull, boar and ram), the long lines (for the butter cow), the butter cow (at the end of the line), or the traditions (all of the above).

And for me, nothing compares to the terror of The Sky Glider.

I've had my moments of unbridled emotion before, but nothing compares to the near-hysteria of The Sky Glider this year – not even the time my Billy Joel concert ticket was so close I could see the stage with my bare eyes!

After a full day of fair fun my fair-going friends and I decided to wrap things up with a round-trip Sky Glider ride. Twice the ride, twice the terror.

The ride got off to an rocky start when it stopped – briefly – just after we reached cruising altitude (far enough off the ground to make my palms sweat). The ride restarted and I resumed my white-knuckle grip on the safety bar just before The Princess – my daughter, rock of bravery and gondola partner – said “Oh.”

“Oh?” I asked, WITHOUT turning my head OR MOVING in any manner.

“I can't do this.”


I realized I would have to dig down deep into my Super Mom Power reserves to keep it together and set a good example. I had no choice but to suck it up and my assume my resp-Mom-sibilities. I relaxed my grip a little, forced a smile, and began chatting about all the ways this ride WAS NOT ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIYING. I even managed to LET GO OF THE SAFETY BAR WITH ONE HAND long enough to point out the lovely architectural details adorning the roof line of the historic agriculture building. I pointed out the happy people in the gondolas on the return side, the lovely breeze, the dense foliage BENEATH US AND OHMYGODLOOKUP! Look UP, UP! at those fluffy, white clouds.

All the while I was mentally cataloging the things that TERRIFIED ME:
What happened to those riders?

  • Looking DOWN at the roof line of the ag building.
  • The riders on the return side who were smiling and laughing as if UNAWARE OF THE DANGER WE WERE IN.
  • The asphalt roads BENEATH US which we would SOON BE SPLATTERED UPON.
  • And the fluffy clouds WHICH SHOULD BE MUCH FARTHER ABOVE US.

By that time we were NEARLY three-quarters of the way up the hill – or nearly three-quarters of the way to the HALFWAY point if you have forgotten AND HOW COULD YOU FORGET? that we were making a round trip – and I had begun to giggle nervously, and maybe cry a little . . . because that's just what happens when I start to giggle uncontrollably/hysterically.

It was at precisely this moment The Third Musketeer – who was riding solo in the gondola behind us – announced that she WOULD NOT BE MAKING THE ROUND TRIP ON THE SKY GLIDER OF TERROR. And I started to giggle/cry a little harder because I HAD JUST BEEN THINKING THE SAME THING! I gave her a thumbs up over my shoulder BECAUSE I COULD NOT TURN MY HEAD AND LET GO OF THE SAFETY BAR AT THE SAME TIME.

That was when we FINALLY began our descent, and I was able to take an actual breath and look around me and that stubborn, pig-headed, go-big-or-go-home, warrior-princess within me said AWWW HELL NO! I WILL NOT BE BEATEN BY AN IRRATIONAL FEAR! I WILL NOT BACK DOWN!

And in a quieter but no less convincing voice, the cheapskate in me said I will not waste a return ticket. I MAY BE A CHICKEN BUT I AM A CHEAP CHICKEN AND BY GOD I PRE-PAID FOR A ROUND TRIP RIDE SO I'M DAMN WELL GOING TO MAKE A ROUND TRIP RIDE.

So I TURNED to face The Princess and I asked her if she wanted to get off or if she wanted to ride back down the hill WITH me. She looked at me with admiration – or as if I had sprouted a horn on my forehead – and considered her answer carefully before answering.

“I will ride back with you. Because I don't think we can pry your hands off the safety bar.”

I would love to say that we bravely continued our ride and we lived happily ever after.

But the truth is I had just dried my cheeks and started to realize I HAD MADE A HORRENDOUS MISTAKE when our gondola came around the end point to begin the return ride and the nice young man checked the safety bar and smiled at us.

“Enjoy the ride,” he said.

And I started laughing so hard I SNORTED and the look of surprise on his face was so funny that I laughed HARDER and when we reached cruising altitude and the RIDE STOPPED AGAIN DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN my eyes filled with tears. And for the entire two-and-a-half hour (or five minute) return trip The Princess and I laughed and “ooohed” and “awwwed” as we watched the lights of the midway, and talked about the breeze and the architecture and the foliage and the smell of deep fried, bacon-wrapped, chocolate-dipped fun on a stick.

And made plans for doing it ALL again next year.

If you're not afraid of heights, or if you want to experience them vicariously, check out this video (not shot by me, obviously because there is no screaming):

Friday, August 11, 2017

Apple Pie and Aliens

I stepped out of my house and into a Norman Rockwell painting.

Sunday's weather was unusually comfortable for an early August afternoon in Iowa, if a bit overcast. A few clouds were turning dark around the edges, making the sky look slightly ominous, while keeping the temperature in the mid-70s.

I chatted in passing with a neighbor working in her yard. Her hanging baskets overflow with beautiful flowers every year, filling me with envy and awe, as I struggle to keep hostas alive. We both grew up in a small town barely 12 miles away. Our current hometown high school and former hometown high school were arch rivals back then, and, as we were both cheerleaders, switching loyalty between the two would have been unthinkable. But a mom's first allegiance is to her children. We both wear t-shirts emblazoned with the current hometown school's mascot – requisite small-town boosterism.

I hiked down the dirt path snaking through the farm field that separates our subdivision from the town proper. The field was all grown up in weeds this year, although whether it was purposely allowed to lie fallow, or if the farmer just grew tired of people tramping through his corn and beans, I do not know. I do know the path moved a few feet to the west this year, skirting the worst of the erosion-carved ruts, particularly at the bottom of the hill.

As I emerged from the last of the weeds and scrub brush, a car pulled to a stop in the middle of the street ahead. A woman stood curbside, keeping one eye on a wobbly toddler, while visiting with the car's driver. I walked down the block, turned the corner, and still did not see any traffic that would disrupt them.

The streets were not entire deserted. I watched as a statistically correct family bicycled by in a neat line -- Dad, followed by Duckling One, Duckling Two, and Mom. On the next block, a small group of small kids played a game of driveway basketball. The “poing” of the ball echoed between the houses, as their shots fell short of the regulation-height hoop.

The dogs in this neighborhood are familiar with me, yet still bark a welcome and signal my approach to the dogs on the next block over, which they relay to the next, and so on.

I headed up another hill, this one covered by carefully manicured lawns. This street was part of the Hometown Days parade route the day before, yet not a speck of post-parade debris remains. American flags flutter from every porch or yard, many the result of a Lion's Club fundraiser/patriotic service project.

I listened as the wail of a siren grow louder and nearer as I approached the nursing home, then breathed a sigh of relief when the flashing lights stopped at the top of the hill, near the water tower. By the time I arrived, firemen were exiting the water treatment plant – a building not much bigger than a single-car garage. A few neighbors, drawn outside by the commotion, were heading home as the firemen repacked their gear. I recognized most – some by name, others by face.

It doesn't get much more “Our Town” than this, I think. I doesn't get much more Apple Pie, much more Red, White and Blue than this. Every Midwestern stereotype, every All-American, small-town cliché is played out here in my hometown. It is movie-set perfect.

So why do I find myself wishing for an alien invasion?