I adore the holidays but as most other mothers out there, I loathe the dreaded, inevitable post-holiday clean-up. Which is probably why here we are in late January and I am just publishing this blog post. And my nuts are still marching around singing Christmas carols. Actually that’s kind of awesome. But back to my original point…..
Everyone is frantically hands-on putting UP the trees, but as my Mum and I both know, it is the job of the lonely Mama bear who takes everything down: every little, teensy-tiny, itty-bitty, breakable snowman and adorable little angel. And then you (d’oh!) inevitably keep finding just ONE more decoration left for the few weeks after New Year’s when everything is put away. This irritates me greatly-and why, yes, the holidays bring out the very best of my obsessive compulsive disorder. I either need a cocktail or an episode of Days Of Our Lives (yes, it’s still on) to complete this incredibly dull task. Or maybe I need both. And enough bubble wrap to sink the ark. And no little feet running around to crush the delicate ornaments. As I get older, I get more and more kitch-y so we tend to have more and more stuff. Much to my better half’s joy. Just oooooooone more decoration hanging in the hallway. Right about about 10 other ones. And just one more set of lights to put up. We now even have two Christmas trees-one mini and one normal sized. I am thinking, though, of ditching them both and finally getting “the big one” that rivals the White House Christmas tree. Every year, I get my “Christmas itch” where I kind of, sort of, really need to buy just a few more decorations. And the more sparkle, the better. Perfect for a gaggle of little girls.
I also love, love, love Thanksgiving and every year, my better half or as I like to call him, my bartender, shakes his head as I spend an entire week prepping, chopping, mixing, shaking (along with my cocktails, but that’s his official job), a full Thanksgiving meal for our family and abooooooout 20 other close friends. And I like to make everything from scratch-from the cranberry sauce to the piecrusts. So it takes about a mere 3,000 hours to complete. And then there’s the massive industrial clean-up afterwards. I am usually covered in flour and grease afterwards but it makes me happy. I love that cosy-house Thanksgiving feeling. And even though we are usually sweating bullets drinking the hot-mulled wine in the climates where we tend to live, we do it as a love of this tradition.
Thanksgiving is also the only time of year where I open a can of crack, ie Crisco. Crisco is the one of the secrets of my pie crusts. And I cringe a little at the thought of all the lard+transfats that we are about to ingest, but just once a year, it’s worth it. Lard-in-a-tin, it makes the world go around. And it takes better than a butter crust. My crusts turn out flakier than a crust that Betty Crocker herself could whip up. Yes, I am bragging but they are awesome.
However! I love doing it. When I was a kid, my Dad was a foreign student advisor and every Thanksgiving, we would invite a hand-full of foreign students to our house for their first Thanksgiving dinner. Made of course by my born and bred English Mum. We would have students from Iran to Iraq to Japan to Dubai to Germany at our dinner table-very informal and always hot-mulled wine made by my Mum to accompany the Thanksgiving traditions. Our house smelt divine. And for an English lass, I still have yet to meet the chef who can hold a candle to her homemade sausage stuffing, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato biscuits and her homemade gravy. I swear, there is a tiny slice of Southern belle in my Mum. And also, perhaps, in little ‘ol me. And on that note-I could live on fried chicken, homemade mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes, and so on and so forth but that’s another blog entry…..
Back to Turkey Day, I can spend an entire day searching for that perfect turkey centerpiece (is there such a thing!?!) so that my Thanksgiving dinner table is up to my standards. And I might just have done that this year in Antigua, Guatemala, about a month or so before the start of the holidays. Much to Sacha’s delight, I wandered all over Antigua looking for my perfect ceramic turkey centerpiece. And let me tell you, ceramic turkeys are hard to come by in Central America!! I found one, by the way, as well as about 20 tiny bobble-head turkeys to add just a little extra pizzazz to each table setting.
Okay, so returning to Christmas. And the over-glued, too-glittered, forlorn-looking, angel-without-the-arm homemade ornaments that my girls have made over the years. However, these ornaments get a special category all to themselves. Because I love them. I love every crooked triangle-shape on the wobbly star that Zoë made (along with her photo from age two when her curly hair looked like it belonged on a 1972 Euro soccer star, the patch-work Christmas tree made out of Senegalese fabric that Mia carefully OVER-glued when she was four, Remi’s slightly-zombie looking snowman (her first decoration), the silver angels that we had made for each girl in Egypt, engraved with “Mia” and “Zoë” (and Remi’s is blank because we didn’t know what she would be as I was pregnant at the time). And the beautifully hand-made stockings too, with everyone’s names in English and Arabic, and Remi’s too which was blank until Dani sewed on her name last Christmas for us. My tree is a representation of the very vibrant world in which we live and in which my children are being raised-decorations that my parents had when I was a child, ornaments that Sacha and I have acquired over the years, non-traditional, funky fabric garlands from Central America, brilliantly colored fabric ornaments and handmade decorations made from gourds from Senegal, beautiful blown glass shapes and glittery camels from Cairo, and of course, a few pink princesses and glittery decorations for my girls.
Christmas is also a time for the dreaded elf to make his evil appearance. And for me NOT to forget to move him around our house, doing mischievous and cheeky tricks with him, moving him to a different, awesome place every evening and remembering to put him away every morning. Holy crap. This elf was GIVEN to us or else I would NOT have been caught in this commercial trap!!! And now I am in waaaaaay too deep. My girls insist on wondering when and how the elf will show up, what his name will be, what his cheekiest antics will be. Toilet paper on the tree? Check. Daddy’s underoos wrapped around the elf’s head? Done it. Hung-over elf after a night of antics in our liquor cabinet? Naaaaaaaah. So I am stuck with him. The elf, that is, not my husband. And as much as I try to pawn him off onto my better half, the one and only time Sach successfully remembered to put the elf out for me the night before, he promptly forgot to put the damn thing away the next morning and our sewing teacher (poor thing) touched him and the girls shrieked louder than the witch melting in the famous scene out of the Wizard of Oz. We all needed to go to therapy for that one. Even the elf. Sebastien Lopez is his name, by the way. Remi named him after a little boy in her class who is apparently in love with her. Come to think of it, for the three years we have had this dreaded elf, he has taken on the name of a boy in one of my girl’s classes. First time, it was Ben. Mia’s “best friend” in her class in Falls Church, VA. Her Dad was veeeeery suspicious of that kid. And then there was Thomas, last year’s elf. Another boy-the son of friends of ours. I am seeing a pattern here. And one that their Dad does not like.
Then there’s also the advent calendar that we have to stuff with chocolates every evening. It’s enough to make anyone start drinking, all the remembering I have to do around the holidays. I would wake up in a cold sweat at 1 am and think to myself, “I FORGOT THE FREAKING ELF!!!!” Meanwhile, my better half would be snoozing solidly next to me and doesn’t wake up even when the earth beneath us shakes (we live in earthquake country here in El Salvador).
Our tree always looks a little lop-sided (too many gin-tonics?) because of the weight of the million decorations we have as well as the help of three pairs of teeny-weeny hands who insist on putting them up “just so”. And who end up covering the side of the tree and the entire bottom section and nothing on the top or the back, because, well, they can’t reach or see back there. And who wants to put decorations anyway, on the back of a tree? The tree represents us-loud, colorful, sassy, whimsical, international, funky, creative, and lovingly imperfect. Our tree isn’t round and bushy-it’s slowly tilting to the side and a wee bit scraggly. However, with enough Christmas decorations on it, our bedraggled little tree transforms into a vision of holiday hope. And as Zoë says, it looks like “a rainbow shooting out of the sides”. Now who wouldn’t want to see a rainbow pouring out of a Christmas tree? I just love the way my girls amazing brains work. And as much as I complain about cleaning up after the holidays, deep down, I know it’s where I belong. Right in the thick of our wee scrappy Charlie Brown Christmas tree. With my three little nuts and my bartender.