The gift that keeps on giving

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‘It really is the thought that counts’

First, I must extend my heartfelt apologies to The Child for using that photo up top from a Christmas-morning-in-her-early-teens-when-she’d-dyed-her-hair-an-unfortunate-hue. But it’s the only picture I could find of her actually presenting us with Christmas Coupons. So I simply could not resist.

As for the Christmas Coupons themselves, here’s one I had the foresight to save. Too bad it has, alas, expired.

I don't have a photo of The Child presenting me with this, but she was not a teen, and had normal-tinted hair at the time. I'm thinking maybe 8 or 9

I don’t have a photo of The Child presenting me with this. But I’m betting she was 8 or 9 at the time, with untinted hair and pretty impressive cursive

The Child came up with the idea of Christmas Coupons when she was barely able to scrawl with a Number Two pencil on lined paper. Instead of going to the Ben Franklin store to buy her Mommy a teensy vial of Evening in Paris (like I did for my mom, and which she probably still has), The Child would inscribe small bits of paper with promissory notes, usually for personal services. (Her foot rubs were in great demand, by her Dad anyway; I’ve never been able to let anyone anywhere near my feet.)  Continue reading

The Perfect House meets The Perfect Storm(s)

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‘The Little House that could. For a while, anyway’

A few weeks ago I told you about sharing a very small beach house with a couple of necessarily very small people.

This week’s story is about an even smaller beach house. At 450 square feet (this included the deck), it made the share-with-the-short-people boat house seem like the Taj Mahal. But at least it was ours-all-ours. It was the first house we bought, and we didn’t have to share it with anyone. Well, at least not till The Child came along.

This house was so small (around 20×20; think about it) that the whole thing could fit into the kitchen of the house we have now. And, trust me, this kitchen is pretty much a normal-sized kitchen. But darn it, that Gerard Drive house was cute. And located right on the water. Gosh, it had water on two sides.

Our teensy little house was the second one from the top (right after the squinched-in bit) on that skinny little road running down that itty-bitty piece of land that looks like an appendix. Or a Junior Florida. Or something

How could we afford this waterfront-front-and-back property? Well. The wiring was spaghetti, the insulation was nonexistent, and the plumbing? Well, when you turned on the shower, the water came on just fine — but in the closet. So we basically had to rip it down to the studs and start over. (The studs, incidentally, turned out to be recycled burned timber. Sigh.)

Looking from our bedroom into our kitchen. The good news -- and bad news? That's Gardiner's Bay outside

Looking from our bedroom into our kitchen during our ‘remodeling’. The good news — and bad news? That’s Gardiner’s Bay right outside

Well, every renovation has a silver lining. Or, um, a price that would equal, like, tons of silver ingots. But we ended up with the snuggest little shipshape house you ever did see. Everything was designed like we lived on a boat: no wasted space at all. No room for a closet in the (one) bedroom? Fine. We had a bed built with drawers in it. No room for a second story? Fine. We put a boat ladder up to a ‘loft’ (ten square feet with a futon). Add some skylights and sliders to the afore-mentioned deck, and we had ourselves all the sun-drenched room we needed. And boy, was that house easy to clean (!) Ten minutes, tops, and that included scrubbing the (one minuscule) bathroom. Continue reading

It’s a wrap

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‘Yet another Christmas has come — and gone.’

When you were a kid, did you have an Advent Calendar? If you did, you got it around the first of December, hung it somewhere handy, like on the fridge, then every day you opened this little numbered door to reveal a gift or an animal or an ornament. Whatever was behind that little door didn’t really matter. It was just fun to do, and added a sort of ‘countdown drama’ to your already-overexcited anticipation of Christmas. (BTW, I just googled ‘Advent Calendar’ and guess what? It was invented by Lutherans.)

[I remember that The Child had a particularly clever Advent Calendar (a gift, natch) made of felt with little toys and ornaments that stuck to it with velcro. It’s buried somewhere in a bag full of (now underutilized) ornaments, ready to be unearthed and pressed back into action at some future (extremely hypothetical at this point) grandchild-populated date.]

But even if you weren’t a Little Lutheran armed with an Advent Calendar, waiting for Christmas was a pretty exciting time. We Henrys got so jazzed that we called December 23rd ‘Christmas Eve Eve’ and sometimes even December 22nd was dubbed ‘Christmas Eve Eve Eve’. But that’s nothing compared to one of my Facebook friends who posted on June 25 that it was ‘just six months until Christmas’. Now that’s a person who’s really got her Christmas Countdown down. Continue reading

Who’s yer Santa?

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‘What’s more fun than believing in Santa? Hanging around with a little kid who believes in Santa’

Can you remember when you believed in Santa? I certainly can. We’d be at my Swedish Gramma Peterson’s on Christmas Eve, and we’d hear stomping around upstairs (‘Santa’s sleigh just landed on the roof!’), then here he’d come, ho-ho-hoing his way down the stairs in all his red-suited glory with a big ole pillowcase of presents slung over his shoulder.

It never occurred to me to ask why he carried a pillowcase, nor did I ask to go see the sleigh up on the roof. I never even wondered why one of my uncles was always missing when Santa was in the room. I guess I just wanted to believe in Santa.

Which uncle is missing from this picture? Gramma P, who yes, believed in Santa, eagerly awaits his Big Entrance

Which uncle is missing from this picture? That’s Gramma P, who I like to think still believed in Santa, eagerly awaiting his Big Entrance

Continue reading

(N)o Tannenbaum

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‘I love The Tree. As long as somebody else decorates it.’

One of my earliest memories is of checking out the Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses in the small towns we’d pass through on our way to Gramma’s house in Northern Illinois. The radio would be playing Christmas music (‘Little Drummer Boy’ didn’t exist back then, thank god) and Dad would be driving. Usually I’d be the only one awake. Except for Dad, of course, who’d be smoking and sort of shaking his head from time to time to stay alert. Heady times.

I’d gaze at those trees through those windows and imagine the families gathered around them, the kids rattling the presents and trying to guess what was in there. Which I would do myself once we got to Gramma’s house. (You can see me, and my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, in the picture at the top of this post getting caught red-handed doing just that.)

My Aunt Marilyn, who would be home from college and in charge of Gramma and Grampa’s tree, loved decorating. She’d even decorate herself with Santa earrings and reindeer sweaters and such. She’d pick out the biggest tree she could find and go decorating crazy. I remember these lights that looked like candles. Special ornaments with stories attached. And tons of tinsel, which we called ‘icicles’. One year the tree was so big it had to be lopped off at the top to fit into the living room. She told us that tree went on up through the ceiling. And we believed her.

Continue reading

The fruitcake gene

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‘You either have it, or you don’t’

Have you ever heard someone say ‘Fruitcake isn’t my favorite, but that sure looks tasty’? Or ‘A slice of fruitcake might make a nice change from pie’? No. It’s usually more like ‘Fruitcake! Blechhh. I hate fruitcake’.

Fruitcake is so frowned-upon that there are even jokes about it. You’ve heard the one about there really only being one fruitcake in existence? That it just keeps getting re-gifted? And there is the ‘fruitcake’ pictured at the top of this post. It will ‘never ever get stale’. Basically because you blow it up like a whoopee cushion. And then you don’t eat it.

The 'Fruitcake they'll actually want to get', seen as served. At least you won't have to wash the plate

‘Serving suggestion’ for the ‘fruitcake that never gets stale’. At least you never have to wash the plate

But I have a confession to make. Continue reading

The Smarts against the Dumbs

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‘Show me a kid who grows up playing games, and I’ll show you a grownup who knows how to play games.’

If you have the good fortune to have access to the New York Times on Sunday (forgive the local journalistic boosterism), then you may already be familiar with a feature called ‘Sunday Routine’. New Yorkers of all stripes, including Jim Grant (better known as Lee Child), are asked about their, um, Sunday routines. Heady stuff.

Most of the New Yorkers profiled here, interestingly enough, do much the same as me and everyone else on a Sunday: read the paper, and drink coffee. (‘Lee Child’ drinks even more coffee on Sunday than I do, and that’s saying something.)

Well. I was giving this week’s piece (about some landscape designer or whatever) a perfunctory skim when I noticed her saying that her son wakes her every Sunday with a demand to play ‘Sorry!’. I felt an immediate connection with Whatshername, even though she’s decades younger and lives in a row house in Queens. And it was all about that demand to play a game.

When I was a kid — and even when The Child was actually a child — games were a big deal. I don’t, alas, have photographic evidence, but I swear on a stack of Scrabble dictionaries that we did in fact play hours and hours of Sorry! Also Clue (Miss Purple in the library with a candlestick, anyone?) and Monopoly. (I liked to ‘be’ the iron, for some strange reason.) Board games were big. Very big. And, of course, there was Scrabble. But before I get into Scrabble, let’s talk about cards. Continue reading