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My #Christmas #Letters – #humor at #orsoitseems

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Snow covered mailbox

Karin writes our family’s annual Christmas letters because I don’t know how.

God knows I’ve tried, but my efforts are unfit for public consumption. Early in our marriage, she took on this job. You’d think I’d do it—I was writing professionally at the time. But the problem was, I couldn’t break out of my crime-beat reporting style.

My efforts would go like this…

“The cute puppy you saw in last year’s letter is no longer with us. ‘Radar’ was taken-away by the ‘Retriever-Rescue-Society’ after he was found guilty of several acts of malicious mischief, including chewing on our antique mahogany table and destroying the back-yard’ sprinkler system—killing an innocent tree in the process.

“Despite leniency and repeated efforts at rehabilitation, Radar bit Robb while playing fetch. The dog—not Robb.”

Or…

“We paid for dance lessons all year, but didn’t go to the recital because XXXX (name redacted) stuck her head through a pane of glass just as we were heading out the door. So she ended up doing pirouettes in the ER and bleeding profusely all over her pink, furry costume while the rest of her class danced the ‘Bunny Hop’ without her.

“Charges are still pending… on our credit card.”

Or…

“XXXX almost failed math, despite getting the top scores on all his exams, because he refused to do a single homework assignment. ‘They’re busywork, and stupid’ XXXX was quoted as saying during one of many parent-teacher meetings conveyed in his honor.”

Or…

“Robb coached soccer for the fourth straight year and set a new league record for having the most parents tell him that he had ‘NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL HE WAS DOING.’ And he almost got a special, non-achievement award when another father threatened to punch Robb in the face after the man’s daughter was injured on the field.”

Or…

“And after four years of waiting to see our child get a prize role in the high school’s Club Cougar production, XXXX was dropped from the show for oversleeping and missing too many Saturday rehearsals.”

Or….

“The highlight of our trip to Bakersfield was when our VW Van sputtered to a stop in Merced, and Robb repaired the fuel pump, lying under the car in a puddle of gasoline. He smelled so bad the rest of the trip that everyone got carsick.”

All these things actually happened, yet they’re not tidbits to put in a Christmas letter. I know this because I read the letters we get from other people, who apparently live on another planet, one where kids do their homework gleefully, don’t suffer bizarre injuries, and who manage coach their kids successfully into state championships, year after year.

These are the same parents whose children’s report cards are coated in platinum and sent to the Smithsonian. Like their children, their pets are born obedience-trained with blue-blooded pedigree-papers. The family’s summers include trips to Fiji to witness a full solar eclipse while dining with Oprah.  Their letters include pictures of sun-roasted gentry, who look like they just stepped out of a Neiman Marcus catalog, and of homes are so stunning that they’re toured by architecture students from around the world.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Perhaps you’ve gotten a letter like this. It’s usually from someone who hasn’t actually spoken to you in a long, long, time, and wouldn’t recognize you from Homer Simpson in your “employee of the month” photo. These are the friends who went to college with you, or lived next door oh-so-long-ago, and who’ve gone on to fame and fortune while you were standing in line at the DMV.

Of course not all letters are like this.

There are those written by your more mundane friends. They intend to call, but it’s always one thing or another just as they pick up the phone. Take last summer, their garage was flooded when the water heater burst while they were out on their big summer vacation—tent-camping in Death Valley. Or the time that the lawn mower threw a sprinkler head through the front-room window. Their letter is a way of saying, sheepishly, that they’re sorry they went missing and didn’t RSVP during your big 4th-of-July BBQ.

These folks don’t sound boastful because they’re not trying to impress anyone. They’re too busy paying off their line-of-credit with the vet they racked up when poor Doofus-the-Dog was rushed into emergency-surgery after eating a Sponge Bob bath towel.

Ah, so that’s why they didn’t go to Disneyland.

Your friends don’t have much to report, other than their kids finished the year with the same number of fingers and toes that they started with, but still managed to outgrow their clothes twice over. The photos—if you’d save them year-to-year and compare them—show a red Elmo sweater getting handed down the line, one kid at a time, from their oldest to their youngest.

I like these letters, because they sound like life over at their place is not-so-different as life here at our home.

Lately, though, I’m not seeing nearly as many of either kind of letter. This year Karin and I have gotten a few cards, and most have only a signature.

No photos. No letter.

I guess Facebook is killing this tradition, and that’s too bad. Despite it all, the Christmas-spin-letter at least depicted how we’d LIKE to see ourselves, for better or for worse. And now that social media is pervasive, we have way more information than we’d ever hope to learn in any letter. It’s scary. If you “friend” your friends’ kids, you’ll know more about what REALLY happens over there than you’d learn from reading their records with the NSA.

Given this though, Christmas letters might still have a roll to fill. They could be a sort of “for the record” correction to the daily torrent of Tweets.

Maybe we could do something like this:

“Contrary to what is widely believed, we do not sit around in our underwear until noon on Saturdays eating Screaming Yellow Zonkers.”

Or…

“And there’s a perfectly logical explanation for our home was under police surveillance.”

Or…

“The photos that were uploaded last month had been digitally altered and in no way reflect the amount of actual dirt on our countertops or unwashed laundry scattered about our house.”

Or… you get the picture.

We’ll have to wait and see if this idea catches on. But until then, I still hope to see Christmas letters in my mailbox because at their best, they’re not about one-upmanship. They’re a chance to reflect on the last 12 months and no matter what’s happened, hope that next year somehow will be better—sweeter and kinder.

I do appreciate those intrepid folks who take the time to handwrite a personal note, and I respect the effort Karin puts into keeping in touch with our friends, especially those we seldom see. She lets them know that we still feel bonds of affection and hope they’ll prosper in the year to come.

So even if you don’t get a personal letter from me this year, know that’s what I’m hoping for you all.

I’d write, but I’m just so busy waxing my Ferrari.

Lightfoot Christmas card

 

#Christmas in #September – #humor #orsoitseems

@robblightfoot

Photo of electric yard ornaments

In case you missed it, Christmas began last month.

I was caught off guard. It was still over 100 degrees outside when I dove into Costco and saw a wall of fake trees and highly electrified ornaments.

By my calculations, there were still 115 shopping-days until Christmas.

Really?

My mother, if she were still here, would have plenty to say about this. She bristled that stores promoted Christmas before Thanksgiving. She knew that when the decorations went up, the fussing began.

“Can you believe it?” she’d shake her head. “It’s not even December and they’ve already frosted their windows!” She didn’t hesitate to voice her dissatisfaction to management, but year after year the Christmas kickoff inched up another day or so.

I expect my grandchildren will see it begin on the 4th of July.

But Mom fought back against creeping commercialism. She established a tradition—we made new decorations each year. This kept us out of department stores.

And it worked… for a while. Crafting ornaments was fun in our grade-school years. I remember making Play-Dough Christmas bells, an aluminum-foil star, and popsicle-stick reindeers.

All good. But this quaint custom bogged down when we reached middle-school, the age of awkwardness. Mom had a hard time selling her hand-made Christmas. Our ornament tradition devolved into a game of “catch-me-if-you-can.”

It worked like this.

Mom would gather all the project’s supplies, spread them out, and hope we’d get into the spirit… or at least take a hint.

But the stuff just would just sit there in the front room, next to the naked tree.

So she’d break out her holiday albums and crank up the old Magnavox. She believed that the ghost of Bing Crosby crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” or Dean Martin belting out “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” would tempt us to sit down and be her little elves.

It didn’t.

Next, she tried baking double-chocolate-chip cookies as bait, putting them next to the decorations-in-waiting. But we’d just grab the goodies as we scooted past the table.

And did how many ornaments did her three children make?

Zip, Zero, and Zilch.

So Mom’s dreams of an “old-fashioned, handmade Christmas” hit some heavy sledding with her aging, lazy-Mazy children. But she took a long time to give up, and I clearly remember the last assembly line she organized before finally throwing in the towel.

It was during the waning moments of 12 days of Christmas. I think Santa had already left the North Pole, but as far as ornament-making… not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Rather than dangle sugar-plums over our heads, though, Mom took the direct approach. Humming “You’d Better Not Cry; You’d Better Not Pout,” she dropped all subtly, rounded us up, and practically lashed us into our chairs. She covered the table with newspaper, and plunked down a passel of paste pots.

Next she ripped opened the untouched packages of Styrofoam balls—scores of them—in all sizes.

Finally she unfolded bolts of festive, holiday-themed fabric.

The idea was simple, and her instructions clear: Cut out the cute designs, glue them artfully to the balls, and hang these one-of-a-kind treasures on our tree.

My sister, the youngest, dutifully sat down and began. Hers were works of wonder. She’d trim each piece so it fit perfectly against the piece next to it. Sis even glued rick-rack on the seams. She approached her work with the dedication of a monk cloistered in an ancient monastery, but instead of copying the Bible by hand, she was producing family heirlooms.

It was a tough act to follow.

My brother looked at me, at the piles of supplies, and shook his head. His lower lip hung out.

And we shared a moment of brotherly telepathy….

This could take all day, he thought.

No-way Jose’, I thought back at him.

We nodded at one another in unison.

So we tore into the project, as Dad would say, like we were killing snakes. What we lacked in quality we were going to make up for in quantity.

Our goal was to make those balls disappear.

I began slapping gobs of glue on the Styrofoam, and rolling it into random fabric scraps left behind by my sister. This created an ornament that looked like tiny hat suitable for Carmen Miranda.

Weird? You bet. But, hey, it met my Mom’s specifications.

The problem is that this method worked for one or two ornaments, and then the fabric began sticking to everything BUT the ball. It clung to my hands and arms. When I tried to flick it off my body, the scraps then affixed themselves to my shirt and pants. Still I pressed on, accumulating a small pile of ornament-like objects.

Then I then noticed that they had glued themselves to the newspaper. I peeled them loose, but shredded bits of the Metro section, complete with car crashes and obituaries, adored my ornaments.

I looked around, to see how my brother was faring.

But he was gone. All that remained of him was a single, half-completed ball. He’d excused himself to go the bathroom, and then fled for the hills. I sized up the situation, and prepared to make my escape, too.

But Mom had positioned herself between the table and the only exit.

“Going somewhere,” she asked. Her mouth was formed into a smile, but her arms were crossed in what we called the no-nonsense position.

I was trapped. So I pondered my options.

“How many do you want?” I asked, pointing at pile of untouched orbs.

She looked at me and narrowed her eyes.

“They’re this year’s ornaments,” she said, “unless you want me to bring down the old one.”

Ouch.

This was a serious threat. If I balked, it would mean all our dorky doodads, including fossilized baby-handprints in plaster-of-Paris would be exhumed and hung on the tree.

This was blackmail, and she knew it. I couldn’t invite my friends over—until the tree went down on January 1. There was no way I’d let them see THAT EMBARRASSING STUFF. I pondered this dilemma and wondered if there was a way out.

And then I had an idea.

I sat back down and smiled.

“Sure, Mom. But can I use the art supplies?” I asked. “This fabric is sticky.”

Mom frowned.

“Your sister is doing just fine, and…” she held up my brother’s half-finished ornament, “your brother’s off to a good start.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but I can’t.”

“Really?” Mom asked.

I held up a half-dozen misshapen, shaggy spheres. “See?”

She chewed on her lip, and looked back at my sister’s pristine creations. I could see her resolve fading.

“It’s boring to have them all look the same.”

“I don’t know.”

“Pleeeaaaseeee?” I begged. “Mine will look cool.”

Finally, Mom shook her head and sighed. “OK. But you’ll have to work in the garage. I don’t want that all stuff in here.”

I was up and out the door faster than you could say “Santa Claus.”

Photo of Santa decoration

“And sweep up your mess,” she called after me.

The garage held our art-stuff, a huge box crammed to overflowing with construction paper, crayons, stencils, yarn, and more. It had the cast-off remains of string, spangles and spray-glue.

But best of all… it had glitter.

My plan was to glue glitter and spangles on the little spheres and call it good. My ornaments would look like psychedelic snowballs

But then I looked across the garage and saw Dad’s collection of spray paint—dozens and dozens of cans just begging to be used.

Wow, I thought. Wouldn’t COLORED ornaments be great? Why use plain glue when glitter will stick to the paint? BRILLIANT!

So I separated the balls into several piles, and then I began dousing them with paint. Gold, red, green, orange and blue, an acrylic rainbow took shape on the floor.

Next I filled a big paper bag with glitter and dumped in all the still-wet balls. Finally, I jumped, gyrated and jiggled that sack like a shake-and-bake chicken.

PRESTO… instant decorations. The whole thing done in less than 10 minutes.

I’m a genius. I thought.

Full of pride, I went back inside to tell Mom.

“Problem?” she asked.

“Nope. I’m done.”

Really?” Her jaw dropped. “What did you do?”

“Come look,” I said. “It’s a surprise.”

So she did.

And we both got a surprise.

The Styrofoam had melted and fused into a huge, blob-like mass.

“This is it?” Mom asked.

“Uh…” I looked at them in horror. “They were OK a minute ago.”

Just then, Mom got a whiff of all the fumes.

“Whew,” she said. Then she turned and took my arm.

“Inside. Now.”

She hit the garage door opener.

“You’ll clean this up later.”

She marched me inside, and I waited until she deemed it safe to clean up my mess. We tossed all those stinky, sticky, Styrofoam balls.

Then she made me fetch our old ornaments and put them on the tree.

That was the last time she tried to force anyone to make ornaments. Now that I think back on it, it’s kind of sad. Still, while neither of us got quite what we’d bargained for, we did both receive a valuable “object lesson.”

I learned to live with our goofy, baby-stuff on the tree, and Mom found she shouldn’t wait until the last moment to get new Christmas decorations.

Start your Christmas in September? Maybe Costco has the right idea after all.

***

To buy Robb’s books in either print or eBook format, visit Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Sony Store,  or any other major retail outlet.

Piles of Procrastination – Confessions from the Clutter Capitol of the Free World – @robblightfoot

First a reminder – #Free #Kindle download this Friday and Saturday, May 3-4 over at #Amazon. Click here to see it – The Doggone Christmas List.

This week’s column

Karin may have crammed the garage with furniture, but I own the mess that is our office. Half of the stuff in there are piles of notes to myself that I don’t remember writing.

What does it all MEAN?

Click here to read on.

Note to self on a yellow pad - but why did I write it?

Doggone Christmas List

 
Our dog, Lucy, and her big brown eyes

Lucy's Look

 
Doggone Christmas List
By Robb Lightfoot
 

I’m working on “The Christmas List,” and I can see Lucy, my wife’s dog, watching me.

Now, Lucy’s a pretty smart pooch. She knows that when I put her on the leash, it’s time to go to the vet. Usually, on Lucy’s morning walks, my wife does the honors. But when it’s just me, Lucy dutifully plods straight to the car rather than barreling down the driveway. She knows what’s up.

So it’s entirely possible that she sees “The List” and grasps its significance in just the same way that she understands the sound of food rattling into her bowl or the sight of my wife pulling on running shoes before a walk.

I ponder, and Lucy comes over. Big brown eyes look deeply into mine, and she puts her Anatolian-Shepherd head on my knee. Maybe she’s been reading my mind. It’s been a tough year, and I’m wondering just how generous I can afford to be. Most of the kids are out of the house, so the fussing volume has subsided. I can stop and reflect on the economics of gift-giving. Maybe I can dial it back a bit, but then there’s this dog and its sustained stare.

I try to remember what the dogs got last Christmas. They have their own stockings, of course, and I seem to recall that they had a better year, stocking-wise, than I did. Not that I’m jealous or anything. I don’t know that I really wanted jerky, a leather chew bone, or the studded collar. Well, not the chew bone anyway….

But the budget? Maybe I could kill a tradition, and hide the animals’ stockings in the ornament box, buried under that hideous blue-and-green wreath. The wreath is another tradition, an heirloom given to us by a fashion-impaired relative. We never use it. I dare not give it away, and so it sits in the bottom of the box, year after year. This is, I think, the perfect hiding place. But, then, I’d have to explain to the wife why I neglected the critters. Nope. Not a pretty picture.

I in my defense, I was in the pet store the other day. I got stuffer shock. Even the cheap stuff seemed to be at least $5 a throw, or more. Then I did the math. You have to get each animal at least two–I think that’s in the US Constitution somewhere. And it’s not just the dogs, even the naughtiest cats get them. It all adds up.

Up and more up, that’s the way things tend to happen around here. With four kids, pets for each of them, and a wife who never met a dog she didn’t like, we’re pushing double digits. The funny thing is that when the kids moved away, the animals remained. I’m not just talking about the ones buried in the backyard, I’m talking about the ones that are still walking around here, chewing up the upholstery and eating the houseplants.

A small voice in my head says, “Can’t we start being practical?” Would the furry ones really miss being crossed off “The List?” I can definitely cut the cats. What would they care? Every day must seem like Christmas. Turn your back, and they’re up on the counter feasting away. And doesn’t it set a bad example to have them all jacked up on cat nip while we gather around the tree?

This is beginning to sound almost convincing, and then Lucy leans against me and sighs. She sounds, well, disappointed, and my inner Scrooge misses a step. I absently stroke her fur, coarse and fuzzy at the same time, and I wonder…. What DO we owe our pets? I look at Lucy, and I reflect on what she means to my wife, and, well, to all of us. It has been a tough year, and more than once, hugging that silly dog was the high point of someone’s day, even mine.

This explains why Lucy will stay on “The List.” After all, she is almost-well-behaved, better than me, really. Besides, I don’t think I could face those eyes on Christmas day and have Lucy wonder why Santa forgot her. I pencil in her name. Just then, she licks me, wags her tail, and saunters away. I hear her toenails clicking down the hallway, and the room is still.

So much for the budget. Maybe she’ll share the jerky.