Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum

I love Christmas. Ornaments for the tree? I have enough to fill my tree, my neighbor’s tree, your tree, and the National Tree in DC. Who cares if my tree is only 4 feet tall? Do I buy more every year? You bet. Christmas cards? Yup. I have enough to send out to people I don’t even know for the rest of my life. Do I buy more every year? You bet. Lights, snow globes, bells, wreaths, glitter … I’ve got it all. In spades. What’s even more fun is coming up with a gift list. Oh, not for myself, but everyone else. I truly enjoy gift-giving.

Well, ever since Halloween, I’ve been humming “The Little Drummer Boy” to myself and it made me wonder – is it ever too early to be thinking about Christmas? Some of you are rolling your eyes and harrumphing: “Of course, there is a too early for this crap Christmas time-frame!” I couldn’t agree with you more. We all know this. But humming to oneself like a nutcase and throwing up a tree and full-blown decorations are two entirely different things.

I’ve seen and heard so many people get straight up grumpy about Christmas making an early appearance – I’m one of those people, actually, as I gripe about Santa and decorations showing up in stores before Thanksgiving has even reared its fine-feathered head, and yet every year it keeps happening. Earlier and earlier we see the commercial side of this supposedly altruistic holiday.

Back in the day, it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa who set the timing for the season. Then the stores got the idea to bolster their profits by having Black Friday which, in reality, starts way before Thanksgiving when you think about all of the advertising, early-bird deals, etc. Now, the stores are like: “Is it almost Halloween!? Dust off last year’s Christmas paraphernalia and throw that out there with the turkey napkin holders, pumpkins, ghosts, and skeletons … let’s get this Hallowthanksmas conglomeration started!”

Consider all the money that goes into Christmas. According to the American Research Group, the average American plans to spend roughly $835 on gifts this year. That doesn’t include holiday travel (pandemic be damned, apparently), decorations, or food, which I’m sure is some astronomical number of dollars. Given the huge investment that the Christmas season is for many people – not to mention, the profit margin for the businesses who have honed their capitalistic holiday campaign, it’s no surprise that they want to get their money’s worth. After all, if I was spending over $800, I’d want to have warm seasonal fuzzies for far longer than a month. “Hey, I bought that singing, blow-up snowman for my yard and I’ll be damned if I don’t get to annoy my neighbors with it for as long as possible!” Okay, fine, so annoying the neighbors is an “all year” treat that I do take advantage of, but that’s just me.

Decorating a house, depending on your commitment level (I’m looking at you Paul), can take some serious time, with the tree alone taking a few hours. Lugging boxes from the garage and carefully putting hooks on every individual ornament isn’t something to take lightly. Getting that just-right Griswold effect on the house is also a feat that is nothing if not time-consuming. I mean, I can totally understand that if people go to all of that effort, they want it to start as early as possible and last until they’re good and ready to take it all down. Even if that means those decorations stay up until Spring.  A friend of mine used to leave her Christmas tree up long enough that it became a Mardi Gras tree around mid-March, just for the sheer fact that it was too pretty and too much work to take it down.

As much as I love Christmas, and I do love Christmas, my tree is up barely in time for the day itself and comes down the day after. Love the holiday, hate the clutter. I always dream of a decorated home worthy of a Home and Gardens cover, or at least, a photo spread on the inside pages … but alas, my anxiety won’t let me. Or rather, it does, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Now Christmas songs seem to be a different animal entirely. Songs don’t take much effort (for the listener, that is), but like any song, there can be too much of a good thing after a while. So, should we be listening to Christmas songs as early as we are decorating? Radio stations certainly think so. Literally the day after Halloween there are round the clock Christmas music broadcasts. Maybe that’s why I’ve had vintage pa rum pum pum pums rattling around in my head. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. Bonus, my not quite under my breath singing annoys my coworkers, so there’s that. In all fairness though, by the time Christmas is over I’m so sick of hearing “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” that I want to die. I think the secret to success with Christmas music is creating your own playlists. And earplugs when traipsing through the department stores with piped-in music. No-one wants those songs in their head all day.

When it comes right down to it, the Christmas season is whatever you want it to be. Do I hate retailers who put out their inventory before that Thanksgiving turkey even hatches? You better believe it. Am I going to be rifling through that very same inventory as excitedly as a child at um… Christmas? You better believe it.

Till Death (or ridiculously bratty behavior) Do You Part

It’s not exactly the season for weddings, but what the hell. Bridezillas. Amirite? Can’t live with them, can’t leave them on the side of the road, um, I mean altar. Many relationships are thrown to the wayside because of the horrible behavior of certain brides-to-be. Some people will say it’s the stress of wanting everything to be perfect on that perfect day as guests gather to celebrate that perfect couple on that, you know, perfect day. I’m not so sure. I think it’s more likely that these bridezillas were always a little full of themselves and they’re simply showing their true selves at a time when those in their social circle are less likely to balk at their increasingly narcissistic demands due to the traditional mindset of “this is the bride’s day.”

Imagine your dearest friend tells you the good news (of course, that phrase is relative) of her engagement. She asks you to participate in the day that “every little girl dreams of” (seriously, are we still so archaically inclined?). You congratulate her with a hug and a smile. Perhaps there’s some smugness there if you’ve managed to avoid the trap of matrimony. Or maybe you’re masking disappointment and resentment because you are still waiting for your “forever” partner. Either way, you congratulate her. You effervesce appropriately about her upcoming nuptials, the most important day of her life (is it though?).  She hands you a slip of paper.

Now on this slip of paper, you imagine there to be beautifully handcrafted calligraphy. This paper, you imagine, proclaims the bride’s affection and the honor of having you by her side as she embarks on this new journey. You consider not reading it in front of her because emotional reactions make you uncomfortable, best friend or not, and you are just about full on the sentimentality for the moment. But it is your best friend after all, and you catch the bright gleam in her eye (which, in hindsight, might’ve been a clue), so you shyly look down. There on the paper, where swirling curves of sincere penmanship and affirmations of undying friendship should lie, rests typed words in the conglomeration of a list.

Hmm, you wonder briefly if it’s a mistake before reading further, and the horror sets in. These are not loving words of gratitude but demanding orders to dictate your new role in your so-called friend’s life. The demands may include anything from the hairstyle you are allowed to wear during the wedding (hair color included) to suggestions on weight loss and tattoo cover-ups to how much you must spend on your dress, bridal and wedding gifts, bouquet, and destination bachelorette party. Sadly, this is not a trope resigned to the film and tv industry but an all-too-real experience for many unfortunate bridesmaids across the country.

One bride forced the bridal party (children included) to pose for pictures in the pouring rain. Of course, the bride and groom were blessed with umbrellas. Some brides ask guests to wear specific colors, way-too-specific clothing styles, the no makeup look, or certain hairstyles. This goes beyond the routine “formal – black tie optional,” “cocktail” or “semi-formal,” and I can only assume it’s a misguided attempt to keep the focus on the bride. What about the bride who specifies the minimum allowed wedding gift purchase? Yeah, okay, my wedding is next month, and all guests must show up with a $500 plus wedding gift while wearing puce pantsuits, bowl-cut hairstyles (no inauthentic hair colors please!), and absolutely no makeup allowed! You laugh. But it happens.

Some brides use their wedding party as free labor. One bridesmaid complained of her friend’s goth wedding and the hand cramps and burned fingers that resulted. Apparently, the wedding party was “asked” to learn calligraphy to write the hundreds of handmade invitations the bride couldn’t trust to professionals. To complete the theme, they were required to seal them with hot wax. 

In true bridezilla fashion, one woman physically assaulted the shuttle driver when there wasn’t enough room for the entire wedding party. That outburst left them all stranded on the side of the road.

I read a story about a bride demanding that a bridesmaid either let her wear the bridesmaid’s necklace or take it off as it “looked nicer” than the bride’s jewelry. The bridesmaid had previously asked if personal jewelry was allowed. On top of that, the necklace was a dainty opal not the Crown Jewels. What the hell, folks?

Far too many brides choose outlandishly expensive dresses and leave the wedding party with the bill or demand the bridesmaids pay for the bouquets and entire bachelorette party at a costly destination event of the bride’s choosing and “day of” gifts for the bride. Perhaps the topper was a bride who, having worn a dress that required the assistance of three other women for bathroom functions, slapped a bridesmaid when she would not wipe her. Needless to say, that was the end of that friendship. Or at least, I sure hope it was.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg and don’t even get me started on brides who willfully demand to exclude their partner’s children or friends and family who may have disabilities for fear of *gasp* marring the perfect photos of the perfect day. One bride-to-be had the gall to seek ways to ban her 3-year-old future stepdaughter from the wedding day (despite the groom’s excitement about having her included … or perhaps because of?), saying: “She’s three. I am marrying him not his crotch goblin. That’s his mistake not mine. I don’t want her there because she’s needy asf and makes everything about her.” All I can say is that I hope the groom discovered her true intentions and reexamined his relationship with this horrible human being.  

Too many relationships across the world have suffered under the demands of brides with ridiculous expectations. So, if you ever find yourself with your best friend from college or third cousin twice removed handing you a slip of paper or bestowing on you the “honor” of being her bridesmaid, perhaps you should think long and hard before answering yes. It just may be the perfect time to plan that year-long sabbatical.

The Tradition Continues

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Time for me to share my favorite movie scene, one that embodies the Thanksgiving Day spirit… or at least the spirit that dwells in my house.

So while I wish you all a truly blessed and happy Thanksgiving, without further adieu, may I introduce Ms. Wednesday Addams… at her best.

Happy Thanksgiving from me to you — Addams Family style.

Living the Wrong Life

I’m a reasonably confident person. I mean, I’ve made it this far in life and am still alive and mostly well. That has to count for something, right? Right!? Oh, sure, I’m awkward and filled with anxiety, and social situations are not exactly my thing. I still can’t make homemade seitan, but I didn’t think I was doing something wrong at EVERY turn. Now, thanks to the internet and yahoos with too much time on their hands, I’m not so sure.

Unfortunately, we are probably all pretty familiar with the articles and videos telling us how we’ve been doing such and such all wrong. They’re everywhere you look, so you end up viewing them whether you want to or not. These helpful how-to PSAs break down even the most basic tasks and rub in our faces how we have totally misunderstood items and their functions, things obviously so simple.

Peeling a banana. Apparently, monkeys know how to do this right way; it’s most humans that don’t. Peel it from the bottom to avoid squishing it. Perhaps this says even less about me, but upon application I learned that I can squish this fine yellow (and I would say inherently squishy) fruit no matter which end I peel it from.

I guess the same goes for slicing French bread. Flip that baby over and slice from the bottom, so it doesn’t get mushed. Based on my performance with the banana, I’m guessing that won’t be the case for me. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’d rather not look too deeply into that one.

Hold a wine glass by the stem to avoid any unwanted warming from body heat. Okay, that one I knew. I do like my wine. But I still don’t follow this advice. Did I mention I’m awkward?  And clumsy?  And uncoordinated?  Yeah, it’s not a good idea for me to gracefully hold a wine glass by its stem… not if I want to maintain a steady grip on the delicate glassware, that is.  Because I have no grace. I think I’ve made that clear. And what tends to happen is the glass, much like myself when walking up steps, gets top heavy and tips over. Sometimes it happens slowly, which is pretty funny whether it’s me on the steps or the glass of wine on a white carpet, and then other times, it just happens with a sudden plop. Either way, it’s a mess. So, warm wine it is.

This one completely baffles me for a variety of reasons. Take the drawer under the oven, you know, the one where you store the pans and lids? Apparently, that is a warming drawer for keeping that green bean casserole warm while waiting for the main dish to finish baking. Now, I don’t know about your drawer, but mine seems to attract crumbs and dust, and other unsavory particles from the cooking, um, environment. How does a person keep those tidbits out of the drawer? I’d also rather not store any food I’m about to eat on the same level as my feet and dust bunnies, thank you very much. Also, perhaps a more relevant question, where in the hell do you keep all those pans and lids if not in that bottom drawer? Who has that kind of cabinet space?

Chinese take-out boxes are meant to be unfolded and used as a plate. I’ve seen countless actors and actresses on screen dig their forks and chopsticks into those boxes. Never once have I seen them unfold it and eat their dinner like a civilized person. I’m going to blame Hollywood for my ignorance there.

Speaking of messy foods, this next one is perhaps my favorite. I would argue there is no wrong way to eat a cupcake, but there is a way to avoid the icing mustache. This technique also lets you avoid the disappointment of being left with the not-as-exciting-and-delicious layer of un-frosted cake. Peel the paper, slice the cupcake halfway up from the bottom, take that bottom layer, flip it over on top of the icing, and press down. Voila, a cupcake sandwich!

You can go down your own rabbit hole of videos and articles on how wrong you’ve been doing things all your life. Of course, there are the classics like which way to set up the toilet paper roll and how to properly hang a shirt (apparently that little loop of fabric on the back is there for a reason), but I recently learned that I haven’t even been eating potato chips correctly! And with as much practice as I get, this revelation came as a surprise.

I try not to put too much stock into being told how wrong I am all the time by folks I don’t even know. I mean, hell, I get that enough from people I do know.  Seriously though, who needs the stress? I like to think I’ve lived a reasonably successful life. I mean, I get up in the morning and manage to make it through each day relatively well and sane despite eating squished bananas and drinking warm wine.

But, I do love the idea of cupcake sandwiches.

It’s Boo-Time, People

Well, it’s Halloween weekend; if you haven’t picked your costume out yet, chances are you are in trouble. Not that it matters if you are a woman, though; if you don’t want to be a “sexy kitten” you were out of luck to begin with.

Why do men get all the fun stuff?  They can be super heroes, bloody monsters, awesome villains, the Halloween world is at their feet.  What do all of their costumes have in common?  They are all warm and cozy.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at female costumes.  “Sexy” firefighter.  “Sexy” vampire.  “Sexy” witch.  Hey, newsflash, costume makers; we don’t want to be sexy, we want to be warm!  Why do we need to have our legs bare (or covered in thin leggings) and half our chest hanging out on a chilly fall night?   These costumes just aren’t as sexy with a parka, are they?

If women want to be warm, we might as well make our own costumes.  Goodness knows, we have enough ideas at our fingertips.

    1. Mom at the School Bus Stop: Fuzzy bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, flannel pajamas, tangled hair streaked with traces of pancake mix from an ill-fated attempt to give the kids a “real” breakfast. Accessories: coffee mug – preferably filled, half-eaten pancake in hand, and hair curlers.
    2. Walmart Shopper: Sweatpants, stained sweatshirt, mismatched socks.  Accessories: optional hair curlers, oversized purse, smoldering credit card.
    3. Mom’s Night on the Town: High-waisted jeans, loose fitting sweater.  Accessories:  Boots, always boots.  Cell phone with babysitter on speed dial.  Added touch for authenticity: paper clip holding jeans zipper closed.
    4. Mom’s Dream Night: This is an easy one. Flannel pajamas. Accessories: wine bottle (if it’s empty, don’t judge), favorite blanket, remote control, empty house. No, seriously, go away so that I can enjoy the quiet in an empty house.
    5. Yoga Master: Yoga pants, expensive top.  Accessories: body double to properly wear yoga pants. Squeaky clean white sneakers.  Perky pony tail.  Unused gym membership.
    6. Car Pool Mom: Fleece comfy pants, untucked mismatched flannel shirt, hair mussed, wide-eyed look as if in a constant state of panic. Accessories: Wet wipes, travel mug, oversized sunglasses, massive schedule planner in hand, snacks.
    7. Work at Home Executive: Fleece or sweatpants and comfortable slippers, stylish business jacket and professional blouse for video meetings via webcam. Accessories: Laptop, coffee mug (again, preferably filled), professional hair style and make up.
    8. Small Business Owner, Retail Version: Jeans, sweater, sneakers. Accessories: Mussed hair, cell phone set to nonstop ring, yellow legal pad full of numbers, IV full of coffee.
    9. Small Business Owner, Professional Version: Pants suit, low-heeled shoes. Accessories: Mussed hair, cell phone set to nonstop ring, yellow legal pad full of numbers, IV full of coffee.
    10. New Mom Outfit: Puke stained sweatshirt, sweatpants with holes, mismatched socks, tangled hair, perfectly dressed baby. Accessories: Dark makeup under eyes, trashcan full of coffee, diaper bag stuffed with six weeks’ worth of diapers, stroller bigger than most cars.

I wish I knew why “store-bought” Halloween costumes for women cost so much when there is so damn little fabric included.  Even worse, if you are over the age of forty, no one wants to see us in “sexy” vampire, witch, or maid outfits; that reality is a little too much for most party-goers.

Meanwhile, I see men’s costumes that cost a fraction of what women’s do and are way cooler.  Michael Myers?  Freddie Krueger?  Deadpool, Superman, the Incredible Hulk?  I live for a Halloween when men are “sexy Freddie,” “sexy Michael,” and “sexy Hulk.”  Picture it; low cut costumes and skimpy bottoms…

On second thought, maybe not.

Hellish Construction

I’m just going to come out with a question that has been nagging at me for years. Why do companies and corporate offices insist on team-building exercises? What is the point of this torture? I mean, it’s almost as bad as mandatory group training. Maybe worse. Oh, I understand the intention is to create a stronger bond between employees to increase the quality of work and form relationships that will inspire us to stay on, blah blah blah. But that doesn’t mean those meetings and activities don’t feel like pure hell, especially for us introverts.

Even starting a meeting with detailed introductions is obnoxious and time-consuming. Why do I need to give my biography to these people? I don’t have things going on in my life that they need to care about. There is nothing that should be of interest to them and the work we need to do. Conversely, I don’t need to know about the details of their lives. Oh Cheryl, your daughter just had her 10th child? Congratulations, but what does that have to do with the project overview you were supposed to turn in yesterday? Also, is this an impolite time to mention the wonders of birth control?

I certainly don’t need to muddy the waters by getting to know folks or sharing my life story. I mean, honestly, unless everyone gets real cool about a bunch of stuff really quickly, it’s best I just keep things to myself.

introvert hell

Some of the team-building exercises floating around offices these days could potentially be an HR nightmare. Google corporate team-building exercises and the first option that pops up is Two truths and a Lie. This oddly popular game requires a person to make three statements (two true, one a lie, hence the name, folks), and the rest of the group is supposed to guess the lie. I can see where this would be a hoot with friends while having a drink over pizza. But there are so many things wrong with this game in a corporate setting. You know that saying, you can learn more by what a person doesn’t say than what they do say? I would say that concept applies here. The lie that someone makes up about themselves could say a lot about them. What about the response of the group? I can see trouble there as well. What if a player makes up a wildly outrageous lie, figuring they were safe from any post-game fallout later around the water cooler because surely the team would recognize such an outlandish fabrication… but because their coworkers have such a strange and unflattering opinion of them, they assume it’s one of the two truths? Talk about an awkward situation.

Here are my two truths and a lie:

  1. I hate team-building exercises.
  2. Team building exercises increase my productivity and help me form solid and lasting relationships with my beloved co-workers.
  3. I hate contrived social experiences in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Some companies go with a more physical team-building exercise like camping or paintball (pretty sure I saw that in a horror movie once and it did not go well) or ax throwing. Ax throwing. Ax. Throwing. Oh sure, great idea!  Toss a few disgruntled employees with an ax to grind (I know, I know, I’m hilarious, I’m here all week) together in a small chute while flinging sharp objects as hard as they can… what can go wrong? It just might take that feud between IT and the creative team to a whole new level.

I may be a raging introvert with social anxiety, but believe it or not, I’m great with people (don’t roll your eyes at me), but team building exercises and forced introductions complete with a mini-bio (and fun fact, don’t forget the fun fact!) are more than just a chore for me; they are agony. I despise the pop quizzes from hell they throw at us last minute in staff meetings and being forced to depend on the coworker who couldn’t even meet their simple data analysis deadline last week for getting out of that escape room in 10 minutes? Yeah, no thanks.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be in my office, away from everyone else, and doing something productive… which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week or so, but life has once again gotten in the way of my more enjoyable activities, as it often does… too often, if you ask me.  But hey, I’m back!  And I have a very important topic to discuss.  Lucky you!

Yes, I thought it was high time I addressed something increasingly pervasive throughout our culture. Many have turned a blind eye, allowing the behavior to go unchecked and spread like wildfire over cubicles across America. Perhaps you yourself have participated in this questionable behavior.

Office supply theft, an apparently growing threat to offices in the contiguous 48 states (Hey! Don’t question my stats!). What draws people to this life of crime? What inspires once upstanding citizens to don sticky fingers (probably using glue they stole from the paper room) and swipe those pencils and pads of “while you were out” paper? What is so enticing about having one’s own stapler at home that leads a person to shed dignity and morals?

If you’re still with me, nodding your head emphatically with the warm rush of vindication washing up your cheeks, you’re probably an office manager, owner, or someone in the higher echelon of office politics. You probably have keys to the oft-revered Office Supply Cabinet.

I get it. As a culture, we have decided that stealing is wrong, even if it is just a sharpie for your son’s science fair presentation. Employees will take anything from generic #2 pencils to fancy pink highlighters, staples (for that stapler they already made off with), to paper products like notebooks and steno pads. Employers have struggled to find ways to eradicate this pestilence, this plague of thievery from their buildings.

Many offices have taken to literally locking the supplies away. Close those cabinets. Bar the doors with adamantium. Sleep well at night knowing that the only way the pencils are leaving the safety of those office corridors is stuffed secretly in someone’s bag, one breakable graphite stick at a time. Whatever you do, keep those tape dispensers and sharpies safe!

Some offices have tried giving out pencils one at a time, like little reward nuggets one would give a pet rat. What happens if you’re taking notes in the middle of a very important meeting (assuming you haven’t upgraded to taking notes on your computer, I know a few of you are still out there) and your pencil breaks? Do you then raise your hand to stop the meeting and ask permission to retrieve another pencil from the cabinet?

I once heard of an office where people were required to trade in their old, used items before getting a new one. Workers would have to run that pencil down to the bitter nub, then find the keeper of the office supplies and graciously ask them to accept the offering. What was that moment of silence like just before they received their new item? Was it heavy with the possibility of a refusal? What then?

Some offices like to implement tier distribution, an arbitrary and political division of funds that relates directly to the quality of supplies. (C-suites get the best chairs, mailroom can have the metal stools). Who determines that budget? More important, how do I get on that committee?

These measures can lead to ridiculous situations like trading and bartering between employees (I’ll give you one half-used roll of tape for that box of mini paper clips). Feeling the forced scarcity of resources, other employees tend to hoard things like colored pens (why does everyone want the red pens!) and star-shaped post-it notes. Labels emblazon everything from calculators to staplers to tape dispensers to “the one good pen” as everyone marks their territory lest the item walk, never to be seen again.

Where does that leave us then? Sneaking around each other’s cubicles, trying to catch a glimpse of what someone is hiding behind their daughter’s framed cheerleading picture? Passing private notes back and forth looking for information on who’s got the line on the white-out?

Is office supply theft truly such a scar on the face of our office culture that supplies need to be held hostage and doled out like runny soup to prisoners (all hail Les Mis)? Or are the measures to protect the supplies really just a power game? Are all offices forced to contend with some variation of a misguided, ridiculously informed, over-committed Dwight Schrute? Should office workers, in retaliation of metered supplies, break those cabinet locks and liberate every stapler and tape dispenser, finding them a new home in a mold of Jell-O? I’m not sure it would be as humorous off-screen, but perhaps it’s worth a try. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be hilarious. Now wait a minute, I know I saw a coupon for Jell-O at the local Piggly Wiggly. Gotta go, I feel a nefarious project coming on!

Brownies Your Pet Octopus Will Love!

Recipe Alert! I’ve struggled with the idea of sharing this recipe, feeling territorial with my famous brownie recipe. It’s hard to let go of family secrets. But this recipe is just so delicious, and you’re all such faithful readers. I’ve decided to lighten up and share this recipe with the world. I can’t wait for you all to try it out!

But first, a story…

As a child, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, mom would strap on her apron, pray to the gods of pastry, and weave a trail of magic through the air.

Even now, when the rich smell of brownies permeates the air (that perfect alchemy of chocolate, sugar, and butter that seduces the taste buds), I am blanketed with feelings of warmth and comfort. Tendrils of nostalgia pluck at my skin, and I am reminded, not only of my late pet octopus but the delicious brownies that were as much a part of my childhood as homework tears and rusted bikes. (You’re going to love this recipe when I share it with you!)

If my mother noticed I was feeling low, she would say, “Come on, dear, let’s bake those blues away.” Instantly any sadness I felt would melt away.

Mom and I would make our way to the kitchen, passing the chocolate river, funny dancing gnomes, and the experimentation lab where novelties like gravy-flavored bubble gum were created. This was back when my mother worked R & D for Willy Wonka … before the factory exploded. A tragedy of epic proportions, and quite the mess for blocks and blocks. I don’t think they ever got the dark baking chocolate completely cleaned up. People will be walking along making a thwack thwack noise as their sneakers stick to the sidewalk and you’ll see them cautiously looking at the bottoms of their shoes to see what they could have stepped in. And us old folks, the only ones who remember, will smile to ourselves with the bittersweet memories. (Bittersweet! Get it?)

Authorities never came out with an official statement, but some blamed it on the Evangelicals. Apparently, they had tried to recruit the Grandfather (on account of his miraculous “golden ticket” recovery after years of illness and an inability to walk or participate in household chores). Unfortunately for the family (and chocolate lovers worldwide), they determined him to be a fraud. The kid was so enraged (whether at the Evangelicals or his Grandfather, I don’t know) he blew up the factory. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and I heard he went to work for a used car dealership up in Ottawa.

After the factory incident, my mother and I met up with a band of traveling entertainers. We quickly learned that I did not know how to play the accordion with a monkey on my head, and Mom just couldn’t get the brownies baked quite right over an open fire. We decided we simply couldn’t live like that anymore. The brownies were just too good to live without. (Seriously, I cannot wait to show you this recipe!)

Eventually, we found an apartment in Muncie catty-corner from a nightclub. Mom got a job working nights doing the hula-hooping/spatula juggling act she had perfected with the traveling entertainers. During the week, I went to the high school just across the highway during the day and babysat the neighbor’s worm farm in the evening. What with all our activities, mom and I didn’t see each other much during the week. But when the weekend came and the Saturday morning opossum races at the Dollar Store parking lot were over, we skipped into the kitchen ready for brownies! (The recipe is so good! You’re going to love it!)

After washing the smell of over-exerted marsupial from our hands, we’d tie on our aprons and gather the ingredients. We kept the windows open so the lovely sounds of the high school band practice could waft through while we baked.

These are my favorite childhood memories; squeezing past each other in the 3×4 foot kitchen, the broken sounds of squeaky tubas and asthmatic trumpets piercing the air, and the comforting anticipation of fresh-baked brownies. Mom measured the ingredients (Wait until you read what they are! You will be amazed!), I poured them into the bowl, then the electric mixer would get to work. Mom always let me lick the beaters when she was done. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly generous, she would even turn them off first. Ahhh… memories. We’d then pour the batter into the baking dish, pop it in the oven, and wait, counting slowly to sixty twenty-five times. (A secret part of the recipe that you’ll LOVE!)

Oh, the giddiness of the wait. The deepening scent of brownie sweetness. The way the machete sliced cleanly into the crispy top layer of warm deliciousness. We never could wait for the brownies to cool, always ate them fresh out of the oven. The doctor said my burned taste buds will never grow back, but you know what, it was all worth it! I wouldn’t trade those afternoons with my mom for anything, not even a tongue free of scar tissue.

And Mom? She stills does her hula-hooping act, only now it’s with her in-house mime troupe at Our Lady of the Aardvark Retreat Center (now that’s a story for another day!). She can’t bake the brownies like she used to (having lost three fingers from her right hand in a cocktail umbrella fight down in Cancun), so I’ve picked up the torch.

It’s time this legendary recipe was shared with the world! So now, without further ado, I give you the most delicious brownie recipe EVER! Enjoy!

brownie mix1

Lucky Charms or Magically Malicious?

People will try ridiculous things to get rid of their old junk. Craigslist ads are prime examples of this. Some people employ humor to flag down the attention of potential buyers. Others appeal to our psyche’s darker, inquisitive sides and rely on the macabre factor to garnish views. Sometimes, the difference between the two can be blurry and questionable.

Recently, someone posted a piano for sale, clarifying that it is “Not possessed or haunted in any way.” Well, that’s an eye-catcher. Okay, I’ll bite. What else about this perfectly mundane, non-haunted piano? The lister continues, mentioning that it has only been played by “human” hands roughly six minutes since its last tuning which was 24 months prior. So human hands haven’t overly touched it, but have ghost hands had a go? I assumed this was a joke, playing to people’s love of the mysterious. They end the ad with a simple but slightly enticing plea, “Please take this out of my home.” I couldn’t help but notice some desperation in that request. Whether it was from simply wanting the piano gone for lack of use, aesthetic reasons, or because there really are ghostly hands that dance along the keys in the dark hours of the night, I’ll never know. Sadly, I don’t have room for a piano.

haunted piano main

This ad was not the first Craigslist ad to appeal to the all things creepy-loving side of our desires. Haunted dolls have graced numerous listings. These ads don’t quite have the humor of the “not possessed” piano and seem quite real (at least to the sellers). One lister offered to pay someone to take a doll out of their home, lock it in a chest, and keep it far away. Apparently, the doll talked and laughed and, though they kept trying to throw it away, it always came back. Sounds like a horror movie trope, but I saw the picture. The doll did have some wild demonic-looking eyes. I have enough issues with the “ne-er-do-well” trying to kill me in the dark, I certainly don’t need to give her a like-minded partner in crime.

holly

the ne’er-do-well plotting my demise

Another listing, aptly named “Satan’s Marionette Puppet,” claimed their haunted doll ran around the house while they slept. The doll also winked at people, though apparently no one would believe the receiver of said winks. They tried to add a touch of humor (at least, I hope that was their intention) by claiming it would make an excellent mobile for a baby’s crib. The price they asked for this gem of a nightmare… 10,000 souls.  I barely have one soul, and it’s spoken for already, so I passed on this one too.

So who buys these items off Craigslist? Well, people like my ex-MIL.

I won’t say that she is crazy, but she is unique. She once ordered a brass teapot from Craigslist that supposedly had a fairy trapped in it. The genie motif was strong with this particular haunted object, though it did end up taking a slightly Celtic turn.  I mean, I’ve heard of genies trapped in lanterns. But a fairy in a teapot? I didn’t know that was a thing. My MIL believed it, though, and she bought it.

Now, I’m not going to mock anyone who believes in fairies. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,  Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science],” as Shakespeare once opined. But let’s just say I’m doubtful that this teapot held a fairy. More likely, the seller thought to use humor to catch the attention of a fellow humorist who appreciated a not-so-creative joke. Perhaps they hadn’t expected to be believed. Or maybe they just lied. You know, to appeal to a certain demographic.

For argument’s sake, let’s say it DID contain a fairy. As I said, my ex-MIL certainly believed it did. Let’s just unpack that for a moment. That means my ex-MIL willfully and with forethought bought a sentient being that was trapped against its will with the sole purpose of keeping it on her mantle. She actually expected this bring to bring her luck. Luck. WTF kind of luck can a kidnapped fairy bring you!? I can’t imagine it would be anything good.

From the mythology I’ve read over the years, fairies are fierce (definitely not of the Tinkerbell variety) and become downright enraged when mistreated. You know, like being trapped in a teapot. Oh yeah, pissing off a strong, supernatural being will bring you luck for sure.

So, say you do believe fairies exist in the world (which my MIL did), wouldn’t that be an awful thing to do? I mean, what does it say about her as a person that she would willfully keep one trapped against its will?  In a teapot. On her mantle. To force it to bless her home with luck.

The fact that she has also purchased “haunted” items should not surprise anyone. Fairies trapped in teapots, Satan’s Marionette Puppet, dolls that keep coming back no matter how often you discard them… there just might be a buyer for anything out there, if you know how to advertise successfully.

Have a Glass of Wine with Your Whine

Motherhood is hard. I don’t think anyone would argue that fact. It is a demanding, multi-faceted, over-worked, and under-appreciated, sometimes soul-crushing job. Of course, I know it also brings with it the most profound joy, connection, and love – blah blah blah – so save your comments. I’ll repeat it for those in the back, motherhood is hard.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Apparently, this was an unexpected consequence for one woman who decided to write a post for the blog called “Love What Matters.”  It’s not a long read, so please, hop on over and give it a gander. It will also help the below make a lot more sense.

Now, I have a few issues with what Ashley has shared with us, not least of which is the fact that she wrote this under her own name, using photos of herself and her child, so clearly no anonymity was intended. She’s just putting it all out there for the subject of her diatribe, her “very good friend,” to see. But let’s start with the classic debate between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Why do we still argue over who is more deserving of sainthood? Here’s a hint. It’s none of us.

She insults working mothers by claiming, “My job literally never ends. It is 24/7. No hopping in the car, driving to work, clocking in, doing my 8 hours, clocking out.” Oh yeah, cause that’s the fantasy we’re all chasing. She continues with her vision of a working mom, “…driving home to my kids and being with them for 2 to 3 hours for the night routine and then putting them to bed.” As if bedtime is ever that easy. Please.

Does she think a working mom’s job does end? *insert maniacal laughter here* For those who may be wondering, no. No, it doesn’t. And frankly, it’s disheartening to see a mother using this tripe to belittle other mothers. I’ve been both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom at various times in my life, and they are equally fucking hard. Let’s end that tireless debate and put it to rest. Something we all wish our kids would do at a decent hour every evening.  

Then there is the focus of her essay, her “very good friend” going to a bachelorette party. I mean, how dare she!?  I understand the feelings of jealousy, especially coming off such a tough week.  “…near the end of what seemed to be one of the hardest, most tiring weeks of my life as a mother and wife.”  I also get the feelings of hurt that this friend didn’t make it to the writer’s wedding. Although I feel like we are missing a lot of context with that one.

First off, if you choose to have a destination wedding, you don’t have the right to get mad at anyone for not coming. It’s a big commitment, a big ask. People have to take time off work, use their vacation days, spend untold amounts of money to come to a celebration centered around you. Not everyone has that luxury. Maybe this friend wanted to be at her wedding but couldn’t afford the price tag or the time off work. Perhaps now she is in a better financial position to take time off, and it just happened to be for another friend’s bachelorette party (arguably way more fun than a wedding) that was closer to home.

The writer says her friend deserved this trip. Then be happy for her. Don’t write a blog post complaining about how selfish she is to share her deserved adventure with a good friend. It sounds to me as though her friend thought she’d be interested in the photos and what was going on, not lording it over her. Obviously, the writer did not appreciate it.

Ashley questions her friend’s loyalty and commitment to their friendship, but that sure seems like a stretch. On the other hand, Ashley seems almost hateful when talking about her “very good friend,” telling all and sundry “Don’t be that friend. Don’t be rude, don’t be selfish and only think about you.” The lack of self-awareness is strong here, don’t you think?

I get it. The writer had a rough week with her kids. I get it, I do. Unfortunately, that happens in parenting. A lot.

One of the valuable lessons I have learned in life is that if you need something, you have to ask for it (or demand it in some cases). Few people are going to step in and offer help where they don’t think it is needed. People aren’t mind readers. If you need a break from your kids, don’t wait for a friend to offer. Ask directly, plead your case of needing a night away, offer to order them all pizza, and give up your Netflix password for the night. In that case, you’d probably find a willing friend.

Instead of proudly proclaiming that your kids never stay with Grandma, thereby solidifying your martyrdom, ask Grandma if she’s up for some time with the kids. Assuming Grandma isn’t a freak or otherwise unable to care for children, both kids and Grandma might just have a blast enjoying each other’s company. 

Tell your husband that you are on the verge of committing yourself, and it’s time for him to step up and keep the kids for a night. They’re his kids too, after all.  Grab a box of wine and crash on a friend’s couch.

Hire a babysitter for a two-hour dinner with your husband. Or work out a babysitting swap with a friend so you can get some couple time on a regular basis. As a mother, I can attest to the healing power of something as simple as a meal without young children. Even if the dinner is at Denny’s or someplace designed for a smaller budget, it can do wonders for the soul.

Lastly, why the hell is this in a blog called “Love What Matters”? This post is not about love. It is about resentment and blaming others for one’s own lot in life. It is a complaint about the life choices this writer made. She is transferring her frustration and contempt for these choices onto her friend, who was probably just trying to share the joy of her own life. I’d be willing to bet the writer has sent numerous happy pictures of her family to this friend. Hopefully, the friend received those photos with more grace than hers were met with.