The time the New Year almost started without us

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‘Cancelled flights, skidding limos, and a surprise side trip to a Holiday Inn in Jamaica’

Somewhere there is a photo of a seven-something Child, slumped in one of those ‘exotic’-looking high-backed wicker chairs that corporate decorators like to install in chain-motel lobbies in the tropics, looking a tad tired and more than a little pathetic. The Child, not the chair. Well okay, maybe the chair too.

I can’t find the picture, and to be honest, it’s probably just as well.

It was New Year’s Eve sometime in the late 90s, and, instead of being in Bonaire as planned, We Whitmores had been shunted unexpectedly to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Where the only room to be found anywhere was in the Holiday Inn.

No, we’re not at the Holiday Inn. No pictures exist of that memorable New Year’s Eve. Not that I can find, anyway. Here we are, celebrating in New York City sometime in the mid-nineties

If memory serves, the whole shunting-to-Jamaica Thing was due to weather. Or maybe an Air Jamaica malfunction. Or both. Whatever the reason, we were (sort of) grateful to have a roof over our heads, what with the Holiday Crowds and all. Believe you me, that Holiday Inn was packed. And packed with families.

Families who were making the most of the all-inclusive amenities. There were pools, there were water toys, there were activities leaders. There were even young women who would braid your hair in dreadlocks. This was a very popular amenity. You have never seen so many Bo-Derek lookalikes in your life. And, trust me, most of them were not “tens”.

Nope, still not the Holiday Inn. Here we were at a Big Fancy Party to ring in the New Millennium

The Child and I passed on the dreads. But we were interested in the pools and eager to try out the outdoor spa. That is, until we actually saw them. Let’s just say that the requirement for showering before entering the pools was, um, relaxed. And yes, the spa was nice and steamy — but it was so full of children that it resembled kid soup. Kid soup with a nice rich brown stock, if you get my drift.

Speaking of food, “all inclusive” also meant you could eat all you wanted, as long as the food you wanted was on the buffet. And, since The Child was in her Extremely Picky Eater phase, that meant the only thing she wanted that was on the buffet was bacon. She literally ate huge plates of bacon, and bacon only, three times a day. Good thing her beverage of choice was water.

In retrospect, we should have known this trip was doomed. Even before we got shunted to Jamaica, we’d had a misfire in leaving New York City. We’d travelled all the way out to Newark Airport only to have our flight cancelled because of snow. We grabbed a recently-vacated stretch limo and slipped and slided our way back to the City in mob-boss comfort (there was a very well-stocked bar) — where we grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep, then went right back out to Newark, where we boarded our ill-fated flight to Bonaire (er, Jamaica).

Me, pursuing my favorite New Year’s Eve activity. Nope, this was not taken in Jamaica

Anyway. Here we were, stuck in a Holiday Inn on New Year’s Eve. The Dude hunkered in our itty-bitty windowless paper-thin-walled room while The Child and I searched for adventure. It was New Year’s Eve, for pete’s sakes! And adventure there was — Jaws III (right up there with the worst movies ever made) was playing on big suspended screens. (There was no sound, but it really didn’t matter.) As for sound, that was the year of “Who Let The Dogs Out”, (which Rolling Stone ranked at number 8 on a “worst songs of the 1990s” poll) and all you could hear was a joyful sort-of-melodic barking while a big conga line snaked around the grounds. Yes, we joined it.

The Dude spends another New Year’s Eve in another room, another trip. As you can see, he still prefers to hunker

I’ve forgotten exactly what happened at midnight, except that it must have been fairly G-rated, since there were so many dreadlock-bedecked children participating. I do recall sipping from a plastic cup of “champagne” while wearing a funny hat and yelling “Happy New Year!”

New Year’s Eve adventure, 2018-style. Yes, I did have some champagne. And yes, I did stay up till midnight

When we two Celebrants returned to our room, we found The Dude curled up in bed, his head stuffed with ineffectual earplugs, trying to ignore the whooping and hollering of all our neighbors. Fat chance. There was a party going on.

Next day, we were able to make our way to Bonaire, our intended Holiday Destination — where there were no dreadlocks, no dog songs, and not even any bacon-laden buffets.

Aaaaaah. A conga-line free pool — and with nice clear water at that

Since that ill-fated Eve, we’ve spent very few New Year’s out of the country — or even out of the house, for that matter. But we’ve enjoyed each and every one.

Happy New Year, dear readers. Here’s hoping 2019 is a good one, and that pretty soon I’ll stop writing “2018” on my checks. 

New York City. January 2019

Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.)

The traditional pot roast, as it was consumed in Days of Yore. Meaning when we had Other People over to help eat it

The Dude, who doesn’t have a Swedish bone in his body, goes along with this, I’m thinking, because it’s more fun to open presents with wine than with coffee. Though my Personal Sister, also married to a non-Swede, fuels her Christmas Mornings with what she calls “happy coffee”, which she swears by as a gift-opening lubricant.

The Whitmores’ unwrapping lubricant of choice

So. Everything thing went swimmingly on Christmas Eve, with our tummy-satisfying dinner of beef, and our bubbly-infused soul-satisfying exchange of gifts.

Wombat guarding the Stocking after Santa has arrived from Queens (er, the North Pole), but before The Child has

Christmas Morning was pretty sweet too, since we have not relinquished the custom of the Christmas Stocking — even though now The Child is practically large enough to actually wear said Stocking.

Stockings and Starbucks: our new Christmas Morning tradition. That’s a pomegranate she found stuffed into said Stocking’s toe. Very Dickensian

We loafed around in our jammies pretty much all day, admiring each other’s taste in gifts, until we started to get, well, peckish. There were certainly enough Christmas treats around — caramel corn, toffee, a giant tin of cookies, and Godiva galore — but it was getting on towards dinnertime and we wanted something, well, more substantial.

We’d demolished that pot roast on Christmas Eve (there weren’t even any leftovers), and, silly me (the One Who Cooks), had in the back of her lazy-butt holiday mind that on Christmas Itself I could take it easy and we could just “grab some sushi”.

Hah! (Or should I say “Ho-Ho-Hah!“)

“What? I’m not worried about dinner. Dinner’s in a bowl. On the kitchen floor. Like always.”

As Christmas Day started turning into Christmas Night, I got to thinking of a piece I had read in the New York Times that very morning about how eating in Chinese restaurants got to be a Jewish tradition in New York since they were the only places open on Christmas Day. (When I mentioned this to The Child, she said “Oh, Mom, that’s such a cliche.”) Well, Nervous Me, I got to thinking we should call the sushi place, you know, just to make sure they were open.

The Child shows off a Polaroid shot with a Christmas gift (A Polaroid-like camera) of us hanging around and dandling the cat

Riiiing, riiing, riiinnnng. Nothing doing. I then consulted Open Table. Equally nada. The Child, Millennial that she is, started consulting her apps. Uber Eats had a Thai place that would send takeout. Did we like Thai food? Sure! we said, then proceeded to waste half an hour arguing over the menu. (“Do you like curry?” “Sure, I like curry. But all these have coconut milk. Ick!” “Mom, all Thai curries have coconut milk.”) By the time we agreed on what to order, the place was closed. It was 5 o’clock.

Next she found a taqueria. (“Tacos? Sure, we like tacos. Sort of.”) Closed. Then a poke place. “Poke! What on earth’s poke?” Ditto. Closed tighter than a Hawaiian drum. At around 5:30, we realized we were all out of options. So Chinese it had to be.

And the Chinese food delivered, literally and figuratively. Though we were on hold longer than it took the food to get to us, we enjoyed every MSG-infused morsel. (As you can see in the photo at the top of this post.) The only thing disappointing were the fortune cookies, which weren’t, in my opinion, fortune cookies. They were more like saying cookies, since they said things like “Laugh and the world laughs with you”. And “Hard work is its own reward”. A fortune is something like “You will meet a tall handsome stranger”.

Or, in our case, “You will eat Chinese food on Christmas Day.”

Or maybe: “You will eventually change out of your Christmas jammies.”

New York City. January 2019

“They’re just blankety-blank-blank so good!”

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‘Some Christmas Movies you might not know about’

Well. Another Thanksgiving’s been added to the Memory Bank. The leftovers are long gone, and Mr. Turkey himself has been stripped down to his carcass, the broth boiled from his very bones.

Remains of the Pie. This was a couple of years ago. As you can see, I had not yet perfected my crust

And, as much as I adore my Absolute Favorite Holiday, I honestly can’t look another sweet potato or cranberry in the eye. I don’t even want more pie.

But am I ready to move on to Christmas? Starbucks certainly seems to think so. (Half an hour ago, there was Judy Garland on the speakers warbling “I’ll be home for Christmas” as Miss Barista handed me my carefully non-religious “Holiday”-themed vente latte.)

In spite of an email inbox crammed with cyber deals, I’m so not ready to shop for Christmas. And even though my building lobby is tinseled and lit, I’m not ready to decorate for Christmas either. And thank goodness I know no small children, because I am certainly not ready to bake for Christmas. (Nor will I ever be, unless and until some small children reappear in my life.)

But I am ready to dig into my stash of Christmas movies. I’m the kind of person who really gets into Christmas Movies, even though, as I’ve made perfectly clear by now, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’d probably like Thanksgiving Movies even more — but, as far as I know, there aren’t any. Well, except for “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles”. And, sorry. As much as I adore Steve Martin (I even had a date with him once, honest) it just doesn’t crack me up as much as, say, “Home Alone”.

“Home Alone” — hilarious. “Love Actually” — hilarious, raunchy, and schmaltzy too

And of course there’s “Love Actually”, which I love, actually. I have whole sections of that one memorized. True, there are some unforgivably schmaltzy parts (that cringeworthy wedding subplot featuring a mouth-breathing Keira Knightly), but I never tire of Colin, God of Sex, telling the caterer that the teensy carrot hors d’oeuvres look like dead baby’s fingers. My kind of humor, that.

Der Bingle, Der Kringle, and that’s Charlie Brown up there in the corner

Now, I’m not going to waste your time extolling the virtues of “White Christmas” or “Miracle on 34th Street” or even “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. (Notice that I do not mention “It’s a Wonderful Life”; I honestly do not think it’s a wonderful movie. Waaaay too sappy for me.)

The Child’s “Miracle Moment”. No, I did not take this photo myself. In fact, I did not even take her to see Santa myself

Rather, I’d like to call your attention to some Christmas Movies you just might not know about. Like “The Apartment”. This one has an utterly marvelous and adorable very young Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon wearing a funny bowler hat to look older and Fred McMurray as the villain, for Pete’s sakes. I dare you to watch it and not cry at the end when Miss Kubelic tells C. C. Baxter to “shut up and deal”.

And how about “Die Hard”? It’s totally a Christmas Movie. With not one drippy drop of schmaltz. And if you’re not a Bruce Willis Fan (which how could you not be?) there’s Alan Rickman. I rest my case.

Christmas sans schmatlz

Last, and certainly not least, there’s the Christmas Movie from which my title takes its quote. Or something like that. And this is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”.

A Christmas Carol sampler of sorts. That’s Mr. Magoo front and center

Now “A Christmas Carol” has been done, and done to death. There are at least two “serious” versions, the only one of which I can abide is the Alistair Sim One, shown above. But if I have to watch Tiny Tim, watching him as a Muppet is much less cringe-inducing. And he most certainly is in “The Muppet Christmas Carol”. In fact, the only human in this one is a very uncomfortable-looking Michael Caine. (He must have had a car payment to make.) But it’s worth watching him woodenly interact with puppets to see the Muppet Mice sing “Heatwave”.

But back to Mr. Magoo and his Carol. This was — and still is, I’m thinking — my mother’s Favorite Christmas Movie. Back in the Olden Days we could only watch it when it came on TV. We would scour the TV Guide for its seasonal appearances, and lie on our stomachs on the wall-to-wall carpeting, devouring washtubs of home-popped popcorn (courtesy Youngest Younger Brother Doug, who could barely reach the stove but was still the best corn popper in the family) and/or giant cereal bowls of ice cream, and watch Mr. Magoo do his Scrooge Thing.

What we used to do when we weren’t watching Christmas Movies on TV. That’s popcorn-making Doug on the right

But then a few years ago my Middle Younger Brother Roger performed a Christmas Miracle and found my Mom a copy of the movie on videotape. Which meant that she could watch it any time she wanted. Score, Roger! Best gift ever. And this is the scene she loved best. Which, of course, this being the Age of the Internet, took me just a few clicks on YouTube to find for your viewing pleasure:

Well. That certainly got me in the Christmas Mood. Maybe I’ll get my decorations out. Or not.

Christmas decor, chez nous. The seasonal Switching of the Cocktail Napkins

New York City. November 2018

My breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much

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‘When it comes to turkey, isn’t predictability the point?’

I’m sitting here watching raindrops pelt my newly-washed windows while consoling myself with yet another cup of coffee. I just got back from the IGA, where there were no brussels sprouts to be had. Me, noticing empty bin: “No brussels sprouts?” Store employee, noticing panicky face: “Later, Miss. (She gets points for that “Miss”.) We are waiting for the truck.”

But I did get Mr. Turkey. And he looks mighty fine indeed. Speaking of fresh turkey, did I ever tell you about the time The Dude’s Dad ordered one, then put it in the freezer? We had hamburger and cranberry sauce that Thanksgiving.

On my Quest for the Perfect Piecrust

Anyway. Yesterday, I was scouring my sources for the Very Best Piecrust Recipe, which to me is like the Holy Grail. (No matter how many times I make piecrust, I’m constantly on a quest for a Better Way. The last couple of years I’ve been adding vodka; not sure if it makes a difference, but it’s sure more fun.) Continue reading

Three cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue

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‘The Child declares her Independence’

As she put it oh-so-well and oh-so-hashtageriffic on Instagram, #redwhiteandbluearetherussiancolorstoo (!) And looky here — I found this picture of the Russian flag. Which yes, does feature red, white and blue. Big stripes of red, white and blue, in fact.

Plenty of red, white and blue. But kinda boring, what with no stars and all

But nope, no stars on the Russian flag. (It used to have a star, back in the Good Old Soviet Days — but then it also had a hammer and sickle.) And no stars here in Amagansett, either. By “stars” I of course mean The Child and her friends, a group of whom have been on hand to help me celebrate America’s Birthday for several summers now. (I’ve written about their superstar visits before; check out “Stars in Stripes” for gushing details.)

Yes, that’s a Carvel Cake. It’s from last 4th, when my Stars were aligned. (And present) And no, I didn’t bother getting a Russian-flag cake this year. Tho no doubt The Dude could have polished it off, even with no Girls to help

Nope, The Child and three of her usually-here-for-the-Fourth friends absconded to Russia this year. Partly because one of the group is actually from Russia. (Her Dad, when told they were planning to visit Siberia: “Whatever for?“) Continue reading

If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?

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‘Sometimes it’s best not to follow the leader’

I have this Teddy Roosevelt fixation. Maybe it’s because my name is Alice*. (In case your history’s a bit rusty, Teddy’s daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a lively cigarette-smoking rebel who grew up to be a famous elderly curmudgeon. She had a needlepoint pillow that read ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’)

*Yes, ‘Lutheranliar’ is really named ‘Alice’. After my Gramma. Middle named ‘Celia’. After my other Gramma, whose actual name was Cecelia. But my mom said she shortened it so I wouldn’t spit on people. Go ahead; try it: “Alice Cecelia”. I rest my case. Or my mom does anyway.

And Teddy? Well, he did crazy things like wander off into the wilderness all alone and lead charges into battle on horseback. And he still found the time to read two books a day — even while he was busy being President.

Teddy almost died of malaria making the same (gulp) trip we did a couple of months ago. Read about his trip in ‘River of Doubt’. Read about ours in ‘Eat. Or be eaten’ or ‘The Curse of the Potoo’

One of the coolest things that Teddy did (or at least I think so) was how he evaded the pesky ole Secret Service. Since Teddy had actually become President when the guy before him, William McKinley, got shot,  there were lots of Secret Service agents following him around to make sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen to him, too.  Continue reading

Put a bird on it

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Tippecanoe and Tyler Too: a totally tired, totally cheating travelogue’

I picked the picture at the top of this post for two reasons. One, because it has a bird (actually, many birds) on it. (Hail, Portlandia!) And two, because it shows a bed.

We flew home very late last night from our latest birding adventure, and boy are my arms tired. (Sorry, fatigue has made me giddy and prone to awful puns.) Meanwhile, don’t you hate trendy gerunds like ‘birding’? Like ‘parenting’ and ‘mothering’. What’s next, ‘kidding’? Oh. There already is a ‘kidding’.

Anyway. Since I have a mountain of sweaty stinky birding duds to burn (er, wash) I’ve decided to take the easy way out and just show you all some pictures from our trip. (I know, I know. Shades of the Olden Days when vacationers would bore their friends with their slides. (Which were like photos, but were these things they’d put in a ‘projector’ and show on a ‘screen’.) But really. If you’d been on a post-holiday night flight full of screaming kids accompanied by adults sorely lacking in Basic Parenting Skills, you’d choose this option too.)

So on with the (not-slides-but-close) show! Continue reading

“I’ll be (at Somebody’s Else’s) Home for Christmas”

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‘”You can count on me (not to give you a hard time about it)”‘

Or not too much of a hard time, anyway. I mean, what did I expect? The Child is a Certified Grownup now, and not even a freshly-minted one. (She is not only ‘over 21’, she is ‘over 25′.)

Hmmm. It’s a wonder she didn’t spend Christmas Away even earlier

Even when she was a wee Santa-Believing Child I knew that, at some point in the Foggy Festive Future, there would come a Christmas that she would want to spend Elsewhere. And, even though we’ve been guilty of ‘downsizing’ our Christmas festivities as the years have whizzed by — going from super-sized Trees complete with all the Tree Trimmings (including a big ole pot-roast-fueled Tree Trim Party) to ever-smaller sort-of-decorated Trees In Pots to No (gasp) Tree At All — I still took it for granted that she would be with us at Christmas.

After all, she made it home for Christmas all through college. Why, even the year she spent studying in Cambridge (the England Cambridge, not the Massachusetts Cambridge), she managed to get herself Home in time for December 25. (Gosh, I hope I fed her some pot roast.) Continue reading

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?

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‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

Continue reading

Hygge for the Holidays

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‘Making a list, and checking it twice’

Okay. Confession Time. First, the idea for this post, which is to make a list of Blessings, comes from a Blogger Who Has Many Many Followers. (Which is kind of a blessing right there, wouldn’t you say, Susie?)

Susie mentioned she had ‘Hygge’ in mind when she made her own list. I would define “Hygge’ for you, but (Second Big Confession Coming Up), I had absolutely no idea what ‘hygge’ meant until I googled it and found an article titled, aptly, ‘What the Hell is Hygge?’ Continue reading