Carrie On the Holidays: Great Expectations…Thwarted

I heard a great sermon this weekend about expecting the unexpected. You’ve probably heard me wax poetic about the Clark Griswold-esque expectations we often put on the holidays, but this sermon really brought it home to me. My main takeaway from it is that, instead of being disappointed when the 12-foot tree doesn’t fit in our house and the Christmas turkey implodes (which is disappointing, don’t get me wrong), we should also embrace the idea that great things can come, at any time, when we aren’t expecting them. The pastor’s illustration came in a disappointing moment at Disney when his girls were too tired to really enjoy meeting Elsa and Anna. Seriously? Who wouldn’t love meeting Elsa and Anna? His kids. Instead, when they found other princesses and a gorgeous rainbow in the sky later in the day, he had photographic proof that sometimes the magic happens when we least expect it. So, in the spirit of sharing my holiday hilarity, here are a few things that met or didn’t meet my expectations.

allaboutbaste I made a turkey for Thanksgiving. It was my first ever turkey because, let’s face it, I’ve been sitting at the kids’ table my whole life, and then I’ve gotten a pass from the older generation because I have little kids…lots of them! The turkey was delicious, much easier than I thought it would be (thank you, Butterball!), and no one contracted Ebola. Win.

sockprojectAlso on Thanksgiving, we made sock packets for the homeless, which included lots of toiletries, granola bars, and warm socks…in a sock! This was a Pinterest idea. While I thought the magic of giving would light up my kitchen, the reality was more of bored kids who used the socks as Hunger Games weapons to throttle each other because they were hungry and waiting for lunch. Then, the socks sat around the house for two weeks because I didn’t really know any homeless people and didn’t have a previous plan. BUT…I knew that Café Soul Food operated on Tuesdays in my town, so I just drove over there on a Tuesday. And you know what? I gave them to the guys who were smoking outside. And they couldn’t have been happier about them. I left it to them to distribute as they saw fit. Not exactly how I had it in my head, but better!

After Thanksgiving, my mom and stepdad gave Jeff and me the best bbbeyondpresent: TIME. We got to go Christmas shopping at a mall in Little Rock (WITHOUT THE KIDS!!!), where I found this little jewel in Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Because everyone’s bed should say, “I love hunting” and “I love Jesus” simultaneously. We didn’t know if we would get another chance to shop together since Jeff is so busy at work, so we were feeling some pressure to get it all done quickly. And then came the Hunting Halo.

walletI love ordering online, don’t you? This wallet came to our house last year…for my kids. Yes, Sarah’s and Tate’s names were on the package, and when I discovered what it was…well, thank you, Amazon. Our best guess is that…it wasn’t from my mother. Shocker, right? And Amazon must’ve shipped it to us erroneously, unless someone really thought that Tate has a real future in Samuel L. Jackson impersonations. I’m starting a new tradition this year that the wallet will show up in some package for Jeff on Christmas morning each year. It is already hidden, so he’d better watch out…we don’t want any F-bombs on Christmas morning unless they come from the wallet. (I may have to amend this tradition when Tate learns to read. That could go horribly wrong.)

costumesWe are celebrating year two of Tate’s ironic costumes for his school’s Christmas pageant. On the left is his costume from last year, an angel, which never ceases to make me laugh. Ever. Tate as an angel is like George Costanza as Romeo…it doesn’t work, but it’s pretty funny. This year, Tate has donned the donkey costume, and don’t for a second believe that I haven’t noticed this hilariousness. After the pageant, where he sang front and center, knew a few words, and did a few motions, I was so proud that I couldn’t wait to get up and…may as well go for it…”kiss my ass.”

bcpeA crazy cast and I put on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at our church this past weekend. At first, I wanted something for myself, a few minutes every other Saturday to remind myself that I am still a human being with a personality rather than a mom, slaving away for my kids, husband, and home each day. Of course, the play became much more to me. I made new friends from church (really wonderful friends!), was a part of something really good, settled into our church much better than ever, and hoped that our audience enjoyed it as much as we did. The reviews have been positive! In the final scene of the play, the Bradley family leaves the church after a surprisingly successful Christmas pageant. My character tells her son to leave the ham that the wild, crazy Herdmans left for Baby Jesus. Quoting Leroy Herdman who has just learned the meaning of Christmas, my character says, “It’s a present. You don’t take back a present.” In the last performance, a few unscripted tears made it nearly impossible for me to get the last line out. My “play husband” John said it best: “When you seek to be a blessing to others, you actually end up receiving an equally great blessing.” Well said, sir. The play is a present that I won’t be giving back, thanks!

This holiday season is different for me. Two years ago at this time, I would have been frantically grading about forty 10-page research papers to hand back at the end of the semester. Holiday shopping? Forget it. Even if I had enough time, I was pregnant, had two little kids, and was exhausted.

Christmas of 2013 saw us less busy, in a new state, trying to figure out what an Arkansas Christmas looked like. Where would we put our decorations and our tree? We didn’t know very many people yet, but on Christmas night, we got to go next door to our wonderful neighbors to celebrate not only Christmas but Tracy’s birthday (worst birthday in the world, right?). And it was perfect.

This Christmas, I see people I know at Target and the grocery store. I’m volunteering at the kids’ schools, I have just wrapped the Bad M-Effer wallet, and I helped our Sunday School class deliver food last night to needy people for Christmas. I didn’t know what to expect when we moved here…in fact, I was terrified. But it has exceeded my expectations.

 

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Carrie On the Holidays: Make Like Elsa and ‘Let It Go’

Mine is a family steeped in Christmas tradition dating as far back as I can remember. We have decorated our tree, once a huge live tree until 1991 when my dad dislocated his shoulder falling off the bleachers at my junior high basketball game, ever since a big-fakey, but still amazingly beautiful. There are holiday traditions that I treasure and will always perpetuate, and there are traditions that, by necessity….geography, having small children who run through the Christmas decorations like linebackers, and one kid who floats Hallmark ornaments in the bathroom sink, and…time, have subsided a bit. It’s not that these traditions aren’t important to me, or that I’ll never pick them back up again. But for now, I’ve learned to take a frozen page of Elsa’s bio and “let it go.” Here are a few Christmas things I have let go over the years.

 

This is about as creative as it gets. He is in Tate's room as Tate has been acting like he doesn't want Santa to bring him anything until his 21st birthday
This is about as creative as it gets. He is in Tate’s room as Tate has been acting like he doesn’t want Santa to bring him anything until his 21st birthday

1. I Am Super-Lazy With Our Elf. I’ll admit it…I’ve even written about it, which you can see here. Would I love to be super mom and have a charmingly mischievous elf whose messes and mayhem I clean up each day after the kids scuttle off to school? Sure. But as it stands, I clean up approximately 28 messes per day on average, and I’m certainly not going to work really hard to create an adorable elf scenario and then have to clean it up the next day…for the next 28 days. Our elf sometimes writes notes to the kids and hides up high for fear of becoming decapitated or the dog’s chew toy. At this…he drops the mike and flies away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. I Buy Cheap Christmas Cards. Every year, I swear that “this is the year I’m not going to cheap out.” I tell myself that this is the year that our Christmas cards will have professionally taken pictures which are then translated onto beautifully thick paper that is, preferably, cut into an intricate pattern (costs extra, don’tcha know?) and probably at least a 5×7 size so that I can also pay extra postage. Please note the attached card from Rich, Liz, Betty, and Rob (Shutterfly image, not our friends!). Kids are adorable, card is expensive: 5×7, fancy cut, maybe even some glitter thrown on there. And then you see our card (this is only part of it…still haven’t sent them). I took the pictures. Do you know how hard it is to get three kids to look at you, much less smile all at the same time while being still enough to be expensivecardphotographed. I sort of managed it on Thanksgiving morning, uploaded the pictures to Walgreens (now this is a company who knows how to mark things up and then give lots of coupons to make you think you’re getting a good deal…) but whatever. I send it to Walgreens, load in my 50% off, and they’re printed an hour later. And as much as I love the tradition of sending Christmas cards, I would rather spend the extra money on other aspects of Christmas.

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3. Stocking Stuffers. I am perennially crappy at this. As a kid, I always wondered why Santa used the same presents in our stockings over and over, and when I asked my mom about it, she came up with a brilliant answer that I can no longer recall. But now, the box of stocking stuffers that show up every single year (we have a Fraggle driving a pickle car that my brother and I got from a Happy Meal sometime in the mid-80s, for goodness’ sake)…has been passed to me. So Mom, if you’re reading, please hook me up with the good stocking stuffer explanation when you’re here this weekend. And…I think this trait may be genetic, so I might get a little pass for that.

 

4. In Defense of My Non-Fussy Christmas Tree… Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the beauty and sheer effort it must take to put together a decorator-worthy tree. But my tree is meaningful, holds irreplaceable memories, and to me is the most beautiful tree on earth. All people should feel this way about their trees! My 9.5-feet slim, formerly pre-lit tree, while engineered and assembled somewhere in China, can bring me to tears if I look at it too closely. It has ornaments from my childhood, ornaments that my beautiful guardian angel Grandma Betty lovingly picked out for my every year of my life until she was too sick to do so, things my children have made, ornaments from dear friends, and ornaments that Jeff and I have collected together over the years. Jeff, quite possibly, may be more sentimental about our tree than I am, and that’s saying something, folks. So…while I do appreciate the designer trees, I prefer to go all Charlie Brown and love the tree that our history made.

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5. Wrapping Presents Perfectly. My husband Jeff is a touch OCD, and I think he dies a little inside when he sees me wrap Christmas presents. Many years ago, I read a Dave Barry article that had me crying I was laughing so hard about…wrapping Christmas presents. It basically covered the idea that men do not understand the concept of wrapping paper. Well, Jeff skipped that lesson growing up, and he wraps presents like any OCD person would…perfectly. Dave Barry, on the other hand, understands my wrapping perspective like we were separated at birth. Below are pictures of a present I wrapped last night. To his credit, Jeff only winced a little, but I have a bet going with myself that, sometime before Christmas, he will tire of walking past the poorly wrapped offering, and re-wrap it himself. I myself do not see the point. Regardless of its perfection, the paper will end up in the recycle bin. I feel the same way about cake decorating (it will still taste good), making individual appetizers (seriously, who has time for that? I’m a chips and dip girl), and parade floats (one-hour-wonder).

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Here are, briefly, a few things I will hold dear at Christmas.

  1. Collecting meaningful ornaments
  2. Perpetuating the magic of Santa as long as possible…like, ’til they’re 30
  3. Getting pet presents, a fishing rod toy for our cat and a big bone for our dog
  4. Buying toys and clothes for kids in need…angel tree shopping is way better than shopping for people who already have it all
  5. The beautiful hand-knitted stockings made by my Grandkeyes

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And now, I’ll close. I would love to hear the traditions that you keep and let go! And I have to clean up what happened while I was writing this. See why I’m lazy about the elf? Car nativity scene, by Tate.

Carrie On the Holidays: In Every Single Thing

Years ago at church, our pastor showed a video during his sermon that a simple 8-note scale contained the best news in the world. That image has stuck with me, a piano-dropout myself from years ago. The narrator ignores his mother’s gentle attempt to bring him into the world of piano, and like every piano dropout in the world, he lives to regret that choice and wishes he had listened to his mother. (Don’t we all?) Her message comes through loud and clear at the end of the short, three minute video. You can view the video, called “The Christmas Scale,” here.

This year, my daughter and I are breaking new theatrical ground as we have joined our church’s production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a hysterical play with an opportunity for the audience to see the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of an unruly bunch of children who have never heard the Christmas story from the Bible. I will play the role of Grace, a mother who has been tasked with directing the Christmas pageant, which should have been an easy job except that the Herdmans, a family of six wild, crazy kids, show up and take the main roles of the pageant… Predictably, chaos and hilarity ensue.

My 7 year old daughter Sarah, an angel in her own right, is one of the baby angels in the play. She will be herded on and off the stage by bigger kids and her little choir will sing the first verse of several familiar Christmas hymns at the play-within-the-play. We were practicing in the car the other day, and she has decided she doesn’t want any help with the words. And then came “Joy to the World.”

She sang clearly and beautifully in the back seat of my SUV:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come. In every… single… thing!

Embarrassingly for me, my first reaction was to correct her. “Baby, it’s ‘Let earth receive her King.'” But the more I thought about it, the more I loved Sarah’s version, made all the better by her blue-eyed, blonde-headed innocence. I think Sarah is right. Baby Jesus is in every… single… thing.

This will be a tough year for my family on both sides. These are the first holidays we will have without my precious father-in-law Charlie, whom we lost in June to cancer. Our son, Charlie Tate, is named for him, and I have always been proud that Charlie seemed to take so much joy in Tate’s antics, and to share the mischief of his namesake. We also lost my grandmother Keyes, age 95, in January of this year. She was a writer, a philanthropist, a devoted wife and mother. I see her everywhere…in me, Sarah, my mom, my cousin Randle, my aunts…

And I’m happy for Keyes. And I’m happy for Charlie. And I’m terribly sad for those of us they’ve left behind. We miss them every day, we wish we could pick up the phone, we wish for one more…of anything. But…I’m deciding to choose joy… in every… single… thing.

When the holidays feel like a little too much, when I’m stressed out about everything we’ve taken on this Christmas, when my kids argue, when they make messes (constantly!), when I’m feeling sorry for myself, even though I have absolutely nothing to complain about, I remember Sarah’s song: in every… single… thing. And I will think back to “The Christmas Scale,” where the best news in the world can be found in an 8-note scale.

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Carrie On the Holidays: Pardoning a Few Turkeys, Y’all

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! It’s that time again…to give thanks for all that we have, watch a lot of football, enjoy our families (of course, until 6pm on Thursday when all the pre-Black Friday mania begins…ugh), and eat some turkey. I’m hosting our little family plus two grandparents this year, so I will be cooking my first turkey ever. This ought to be interesting.

Arkansas favorite President Bill Clinton pardons a turkey during his term in office
Arkansas favorite President Bill Clinton pardons a turkey during his term in office

There will, however, be a couple of very lucky turkeys in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday who will receive an official Presidential Pardon from Mr. Obama, entitling them to not be Thanksgiving dinner for the First Family or any other regular old American family. Each year, the Commander in Chief pardons a “main” turkey and a “backup” turkey, who often have adorable couple-y names: Biscuits and Gravy, Stars and Stripes, Cobbler and Gobbler, and my personal favorite Apple and Cider. The pardoned turkeys are sent to petting zoos (one is called Frying Pan Park…which I think is a sick-sounding place to send the pardoned birds) or to be the Grand Marshal(s) of the Thanksgiving Day parade at Disney World. Either way, these turkeys get a second chance at life…to be adored and petted or adored and hollered for by sugared up kids at Disney…both preferable to ending up in the roasting pan.

My dad called my brother and me “turkeys” when we were growing up, and he has continued this cute nickname with my three children. He used “turkeys” in place of “goofballs” or some other silly titles parents give their children…a term of endearment. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and my dad’s goofy nicknaming prospect, I will be taking this opportunity to pardon some turkeys in my life, Presidential-style.

A traffic circle near one of the colleges in our town. Amazing...
A traffic circle near one of the colleges in our town. Amazing…

People Who Can’t Drive in Traffic Circles: Our town has created, in a super-genius move, about 10-12 traffic circles instead of the usual 4-way intersections or worse, red lights. I love traffic circles. They make intersections bearable. However, there are a few cars around town who haven’t quite mastered the art of the two-lane traffic circle, mainly the idea that one must get into the outside lane in order to safely exit the traffic circle. Some cars around town exit these things like they’re holding onto the center of a merry-go-round and are being haphazardly flung out wherever they may land, which is terrifying to drive near. Today, I pardon them. On January 1, I’m restoring my traffic circle rage.

 

The Taterbug (or his super-hero name, Captain Destructo)
The Taterbug (or his super-hero name, Senor Destructo)

Tate, for Breaking Stuff in My Car: Dude, this kid breaks everything. Most of the time when I find random bits of his toy cars or one thing tied to another irreparably, I just remind him that Mommy throws broken things away and we never get to play with them again. This lesson has not sunk in at all. I have drawn the line, however, at my car. I love my car, a GMC Acadia, which is just old enough not to have Bluetooth capability installed. Instead it had a port where I could plug a cheapo two-male plug and connect my car’s stereo system to my phone to listen to books and music. Sadly, Tate crawled into the front seat one morning and broke one end of the cheap plug off in the port. It has stayed there, taunting me day after day. Though I’m not describing it well, what I can say is that it’s officially broken, never to work again without majorly expensive car surgery. Many of us have tried to remove what’s left in there to no avail. Grrr…pardoned.

 

The I-40 Road Construction Company Between Little Rock and

I-40 somewhere between Memphis and Little Rock. Ugh.
I-40 somewhere between Memphis and Little Rock. Ugh.

Memphis: We have lived in Arkansas almost a year and a half, and every time we drive to Tennessee to see our families, it is a crap shoot on whether or not we sit in this mess, go down to one lane, cross over into the other side of the interstate in one lane, blah, blah, blah. Mr. Arkansas Road Czar, I have three small children who, in the car, have a limited tolerance for long road trips before they fight, scream, cry, beg for food, the bathroom, etc. Naturally, we would like to get as far down the road before this inevitable blow up occurs. I would not like to spend the blow up sitting still on the interstate in the Arkansas delta. Today, road people, y’all are pardoned. But we are going to Tennessee for Christmas, so don’t make me find your cell phone number and turn on the speakerphone during the meltdown if I’m sitting still anywhere near Forrest City.

 

 

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Romeo, Max, and Their Owner: When I tell you that Romeo and Max made early life in Arkansas less than stellar, please believe me. Romeo is a bull dog. Max is a weiner dog. Their owner, our neighbor who shares the backyard fence with us, for the first several months that we lived in our new home…wasn’t home (he had somebody coming in to feed them, animal activists, so don’t call PETA). Jeff and I love to unwind after we put the kids by having a nice, quiet drink on our back porch. Well, for the first 8 months that we tried this, Romeo (slobbery, deep bark), and Max (yippy bark, then howl) made civil conversation nearly impossible. Bark-bark-slobber…yip-yip-howl. Constantly. They never tired of barking at us. Jeff came up with creative ways to “join them” when we couldn’t “beat ’em,” These tactics included spraying our garden hose at them through a knot hole in the fence, buying an ultrasonic bird house that looked over the neighbor’s yard and emitted some high-pitched dog whistle sound when they barked, yelling obscenities at them, and contemplating ways to let them out of their back yard without the owner knowing it was us. Lucky for us, we have become friendly with the neighbor and the dogs have calmed down. But for those first 8 months, Romeo and Max (and your owner), you are pardoned.

conwaypoliceMy Local Police Department: Okay, so my friends smile and nod when this subject comes up, “Here goes Carrie on the crazy train again…” But it’s true! And I hope I never have to say, “I told you so” to the guys who are not properly patrolling the school zone at my daughter’s elementary school. I sincerely hope that they will never have to scrape some unsuspecting family off the pavement while they are crossing the street after school in what is supposed to be a 20 MPH zone while the signs are blinking. However, the yahoos in this town feel that speeding through the school zone and possibly endangering children’s lives in the process are entirely justified. Some even speed through while texting. I kid you not. And the worst part? They do this in front of a police officer. He does nothing. I have called, and called, and called, and given license plate numbers to the dispatcher, and called businesses whose marked vehicles have sped through the school zone, and stopped to talk to the traffic patrolman who is sitting in his squad car across the street from where people are speeding and looking at his phone and computer and not paying any attention to the kid who was nearly mowed down by an SUV the other day. Yep. I’ve done all that until I’m blue in the face, but the local police do not seem to take me seriously. I have stopped calling…I may stage my own coup in which I hang out with a hair dryer on the side of the road and pick off unsuspecting motorists with my fake radar gun. The pardon is on for now, CPD. But I’m coming for you again, make no mistake.

So, this Thanksgiving week, please feel free to take a chapter out of my book and pardon (or gain a temporary truce with) those people or animals in your lives who may be a few drumsticks short of a turkey. Everyone deserves a reprieve every once in a while, and the holidays are a good time to bury those hatchets, smoke those peace pipes, and Presidentially pardon those turkeys. Even if their names are Romeo and Max.