The Perfect Christmas

Ahhh…the perfect Christmas.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, my friends.

What some consider “perfect” is completely different than what I consider perfect. Perfect family gatherings like we see in Hallmark movies? I’ll pass…they rarely measure up to the “perfection” they are meant to be. I’d rather gather with my family, friends, and neighbors over games and laughter, in comfortable clothing, with fifteen different conversations going on at the same time. I’m sure most of America disagrees with me, but apparently, I’m not like most of America.

My husband thinks I’m crazy every year at the holidays, but he goes along with me. I’m not into the “perfect” Christmas. I’m into the fun Christmas. Fun stuff to do. I’m not the person who has perfect bows hung on perfect chandeliers, perfect garland on the banister, mistletoe hung in the perfect spot, or fresh poinsettias perfectly placed all over my home. I’m not the person who prepares the perfect meal. I just don’t have the time or energy for that.

Today, we were watching football and talking, and my husband asked me why I like to do the fun/funny Christmas.

I had to think about that for a moment. And then, I answered, “I don’t do the perfect Christmas, because generally speaking, I don’t do perfect well. My strength is fun, not perfection. I do fun really well.” He looked at me, and then he laughed and said, “Well, you’re right about that!”

That tends to ring true with almost everything in my life. I don’t want to be the perfect mother…way too much pressure in that. I want to be a fun mom. That doesn’t mean I’m a pushover who lets my child run wild and unsupervised. That doesn’t mean I’m not checking up on her regularly. Our daughter is generally well-supervised, and we have a great relationship. We talk…and we talk…and we talk. But I remember fifteen, and I know fun is a lot more…well, fun. Do I strive for perfection as a mother? No. Perfection? That’s just not my strength.

Our vacations are fun. Are they perfect? Well, if they’re fun, they’re perfect for us! Do we visit every perfect museum tourists are supposed to visit when they go somewhere? Nah…we might visit one or two, but my teenager just isn’t impressed by museums. She’s impressed by fun places. She is her mother’s daughter. It doesn’t make us shallow. It’s just a different approach. I try to make sure we get a little culture on vacation, but we always want to have fun. Visit the hometown of John Mellencamp and try to find Jack and Diane’s Tastee Freeze when we’re passing through Indiana? Yep. Plan our dinners in LA and New York based on where we are likely to see a celebrity or two? Sure! Have lunch at places with gigantic mojitos and milkshakes? You bet! Struggle through a rock scramble and finish it by climbing straight up 60 feet and pulling myself out of a rocky crevice? Done that! Jump into a bioluminescent bay at night, not having any idea what the water around me looks like? Yes, I did. Climb a waterfall, including wading through murky chest-deep water? Check! Drive halfway across the country in 10 days with a friend and four kids? Yes…and we slept in a wigwam along the way! Volunteer to eat fire with the entertainment on stage? Pick me, please!

And so, I guess that’s why I go the fun route on Christmas. Maybe my love of the fun Christmas started when I was a little girl and my grandparents had aluminum Christmas trees with color wheels! I absolutely loved them…I was fascinated by them! Sure, I could be all serious now, but that’s just not who I am. I simply don’t take myself or life too seriously. My parents taught me many years ago that life is short. I remember Mother and Daddy telling me, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Enjoy it.” And that’s exactly what I try to do…enjoy life.

If I’m leading a meeting of volunteers, there will be prizes at the end. Passing through a city with a great rollercoaster at a great amusement park? I’m in! Silly photo op somewhere? Get your camera!

So, if you want to drive past the perfect Christmas house, don’t drive past ours. If you want to see the perfect Christmas tree, chances are you won’t like ours. If you want to eat the perfect holiday meal, our house is not where you want to be.

But if you want to take photos with a leg lamp from A Christmas Story, come on over! If you want to see a 10.5′ inflatable Christmas elephant, visit us! If you want to dine on hamburgers, hot dogs, Cuban sandwiches, beer bread, spicy fiesta dip, buttermilk pie, and other fun food during the holidays, we’ll be happy to set a place for you. If you want to drink champagne with breakfast, drink up, baby! If you want to see our “perfect” artificial poinsettias, then we’d love to have you over. If you want to play card games on Christmas Eve or “Who’s Most Likely To…” on Christmas Day, you’re welcome at our house. Just bring a positive attitude and be ready to laugh.

Perfection is not my strength, but fun is!

 

 

 

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Who Told Me Who He Was?!?!

Last week, I posted a picture on my Facebook and Instagram accounts of me and NBA Hall of Famer, Dominique Wilkins. I ran into him at a restaurant in Uptown Charlotte when I was having lunch with a friend. Soon after posting the photo, I received a phone call.

It was my friend, Mary Ann.

  • Me: Hello?
  • Mary Ann: I saw that picture. Who told you who he was?
  • Me: What?!?!?!
  • Mary Ann: Who told you who that basketball player was?

And here’s where you hear that sound like brakes screeching. What?!?!?

Who told me who he was?!?!

Mary Ann should know better, but I guess she had a momentary lapse. She has been with me when I’ve spotted celebrities. She knows I have a keen eye. She knows I’m a crazy sports fan.

       Did she really think someone had to tell me who he was?!?!

My friend and I had just ordered our lunch when I saw a tall gentleman walk into the restaurant. I took one look at his face and said to my friend, “That’s Dominique Wilkins! He just walked in!”

Years ago, when I first got out of college, I was a flight attendant and lived in Atlanta. It was the late 80s/early 90s. Wilkins was a superstar for the Atlanta Hawks; he was a favored celebrity. Also known as The Human Highlight Reel, he was famous for good reason…highest scorer in NBA, slam dunk champ, All-Pro, and lots more…plus, he had played at the University of Georgia, so everyone in Atlanta loved him. He also owned a popular nightclub near my apartment, and folks were always talking about that. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2006.

One morning, on an early flight out of Milwaukee, the Atlanta Hawks walked onto my flight. That team had lots of great players: Wilkins, Spud Webb, Moses Malone, John Koncak… and I got to spend a couple of hours with them! For the record, they were all very gracious…Moses Malone didn’t even flinch when I stepped on his foot, and when I apologized, he smiled and said, “No problem.”

So, of course I would recognize Dominique! Even almost 30 years later, when he was wearing a beanie to shield him from the cold, and glasses because we’re all 30 years older now, I recognized him immediately. I was going to wait a little while to approach him, but my friend pretty quickly asked him if we could get photos, and he very graciously agreed. I told him I had met him before, and I went through the story from almost 30 years ago. I also told him I remembered his nightclub, and he chuckled and said several times, “Now you’re taking me waaaay back!” He was one of the sweetest celebrities I’ve ever met (and I’ve met more than a few), and he even came by our table on his way out to tell us goodbye and wish us a good afternoon. I was so excited…still am!

Who told me who he was?!?! Oh, Mary AnnBahahahahahaha!

Let’s Talk About Santa Claus

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “When is the right time to tell my kids about Santa?” She has two children under ten. Almost every person who responded said not to tell any child EVER that there is no Santa. Unless your child is about to be embarrassed by peers because he/she still believes in Santa, I agree.

What is more magical than waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve and then getting up to see what he left on Christmas Day?

Most kids figure it out before 10 or 11. I figured it out in 1976, at age 9, and though I thought I wanted to know, I really didn’t. Once the magic of Santa is gone, part of childhood is over. I know…Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but kids sure like the gifts.

I remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Spanish Fort Elementary School, talking with friends about Santa. Most of us still believed Santa flew around the world in a magic sleigh with reindeer and went down every child’s chimney in one night. We were a sheltered bunch. Oh, I was a firm believer, but someone must have created some doubt along the way, because, well, just read on…

About a month before Christmas 1976, my mother couldn’t find her car keys. She was searching all over the house, and in desperation, she asked me to go out to the car and see if they were in the glove compartment. When I opened the glove compartment, of course, there were no keys, but I did find an address book and diary that would be perfect gifts for a girl my age. I didn’t take them inside and ask Mother about them. Instead, I left them where I found them…as a test. My thinking? If Mother and Daddy gave them to me for Christmas, then Santa was alive and well. BUT…If Santa brought them on Christmas Day, then I would know he wasn’t real. So, I left them and waited for Christmas.

I have a picture of me from that Christmas morning, sitting on the sofa in our den, wearing my yellow nightgown with the number 12 on the front (Joe Namath’s number) and looking less than thrilled. Oh, I was thrilled with my gifts…a 110 camera with plenty of film and flashcubes (remember those?), a telescope, Yahtzee, some 45 records (KC and the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees singing Disco Duck, The Eagles), some clothes, some books, and yes…the diary and address book. The magic was over. I knew Santa didn’t exist. My heart was broken. But I didn’t tell anyone. I just sucked it up and enjoyed the day, but Christmas morning was never the same.

But that brings us back to the original question: when is the right time to tell  kids about Santa Claus? Most people would say never, and I tend to agree. I never told my own daughter, but she figured it out eventually. When she was 10, she still believed. I remember, because she came down with the flu in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and she was up sick all night. I had the hardest time figuring out when I would play Santa that night. Thank God I had wrapped all the gifts in advance. (She had asked Santa several years before to wrap her gifts instead of just leaving them out in the living room.) But by the next year, when she was  11, my daughter no longer believed in Santa Claus. She now tells me someone at school told her. And Christmas has never been as much fun.

But there is an exception to the “don’t tell” rule: your 13-yr-old child is about to do presentation to his 8th grade class about Santa Claus. You have to save him from himself. You have to tell him.

Finding out the truth about Santa can’t possibly be fun for any child. But there is something that’s more fun than believing in Santa: being Santa. Until I had a child, I had no idea that Christmas morning is a lot more fun as a parent than it ever was as a child. Sure, a lot of work goes into making it “perfect,” but seeing the excitement of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve and the pure joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning were better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Even now, when I know she knows Santa isn’t “real,” it’s fun to see her excitement as she opens her gifts.

I will be playing Santa till I can’t play Santa anymore.

Rudolph Made Me Cry

Last week, I had planned to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my teenage daughter. It didn’t work out. I don’t remember what we did instead…maybe I took her to a high school basketball game? Instead, I recorded it on the DVR, and I had not had the opportunity to watch it till this morning.

I was home alone. My husband had dropped off our daughter at club lacrosse tryouts before going to the gym, so I sat in my warm bed on a rainy morning and watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I even turned off all the lights in my room to create some darkness (it was cloudy outside too!), so I could watch it the way we watched it when we were kids. Back then, in the 1970s, we would lie on the floor in front of the big, console Zenith television…not too close, because well, we had been told we might start to glow in the dark if we sat too close to the TV. Mother and Daddy turned off all the lights in the family den, and we watched Rudolph in our pajamas.

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And for about an hour this morning, I was five years old again. Every character brought back memories…Rudolph, Clarice, Hermey, Burl Ives, the Abominable Snowman…ahhh…the good old days. Remember the days before VCRs and DVRs? We had to watch the Christmas specials when they came on once a year, or we had to wait till the next year. Remember looking forward to all your favorite Christmas specials?

Oh, I had favorites, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being at or near the top of the list. I also loved Frosty the Snowman, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. As a teen, I fell in love with classic movies: Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Holiday Inn, and I would stay up late at night, watching them with my mother, because for some reason, TBS always ran those movies late at night.

As for watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as an adult…I don’t care what they say…for one hour, I was a little girl again…right up till the end, when Santa and the reindeer land on the Island of Misfit Toys.

As soon as Santa and the reindeer, led by Rudolph, landed on the Island of Misfit Toys on Christmas Eve to pick up the misfits, I cried. I will admit it. I cried. I cried, because I remembered exactly how magical it was to watch it when I was five. I remembered how exciting it was to see Rudolph, having been banished from the reindeer games, leading Santa’s sleigh through the fog….landing safely to pick up the Misfit Toys. And then the beautiful take-off! Wow! Rudolph had overcome adversity, and back in the day, every kid in the Eastern and Central time zones cheered him on simultaneously. We were all excited that Rudolph had saved Christmas!

And we were believing that Santa really did visit every household in the whole world in one night. After all, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, an “official government agency,” tracked the sleigh’s whereabouts, reporting to local television and radio stations, who then passed on the information to all the children who were having trouble falling asleep. That was proof that Santa existed!

As kids, we all wondered what Santa’s take-offs and landings looked like, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer showed us how spectacular they were! As I watched this morning, I remembered, and so yes, I cried. As we get older, life loses some of the “magic,” but don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible to feel it again for a little while. Don’t believe me? Sit down in a quiet, dark room, and watch it. You’ll see…

You know Dasher and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Get This Christmas Started!

As I drove home from a friend’s house last night, I realized lots of folks in Charlotte have decorated their homes and lawns for Christmas. I’m behind the curve. I haven’t done a single thing to decorate for Christmas. It’s only December 1, so I’m impressed at how many people are on the ball. But it made me wonder:

When is the perfect time to decorate for Christmas?

I guess that depends on who you ask. I have one friend who was ready to put up her tree as soon as Halloween was over. But I have others who haven’t removed the jack-o-lanterns from their porches yet.

I’m neither of those people. In fact, I don’t even do anything for Halloween. It’s just not my thing, but at least I didn’t have to figure out what to do with a bunch of rotting pumpkins.

I would never decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but the weather hasn’t been particularly cooperative since. I had hoped this would be the weekend I’d get off my duff and get things decorated, but it’s raining, so no outdoor decor yet. The very least I can do is bring down the big fake poinsettia for the table in the foyer and put our leg lamp in the dining room window. We will likely get the tree up before Monday too. One can dream.

We don’t do a lot of outdoor decor, but we will eventually (as soon as the rain stops) do some lights on the trees closest to the house. Lots of people hire someone to do it, but where’s the fun in that?!?! It’s not Christmas decor till you’ve had to re-wrap a tree a few times and get into a “discussion” with family members about the extension cords.

Since our daughter was a little girl, I’ve tortured my husband by putting various lighted Christmas animals on the front porch and occasionally, in the yard. If I can find my Christmas pig, we’ll put it out for good luck. We have an elephant we’ll put out too…for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And two cardinals. In my family, when a cardinal “visits” you, it symbolizes a “visit” from a deceased loved one. My daddy died twelve years ago, and this will be our first Christmas without Mother. She died on December 30 of last year. So, when I was in Target and saw some cardinals that are lawn decor, I scooped up two of them for the front porch steps. Every time I see them over the holidays, I’ll think of Mother and Daddy.

We have other yard decor. I’ll have to decide which pieces to put out. I’m sure the neighborhood frowns on our decor every year. Oh well! We have some inflatables, and we have something from my childhood: remember those plastic Noel candles everyone had in the 70s? Well, we have some just like the ones we had when I was a little girl. I didn’t get them out last year, but I might drag them out this year.

My husband, as sweet as he is, will reluctantly help me whenever I ask. I’ll do as much as possible by myself or with our daughter, but if there’s something I can’t reach, we’ll summon him to help us. He’ll grumble a little. He’ll act like we’ve put the lights on the outdoor trees wrong. He’ll act like he hates the outdoor decor, but he’ll help us.

And every night till Christmas, he’ll plug in all the lights and decorations. He’ll still act like he doesn’t really like them, but he won’t miss one single night of plugging them in.

So, while lots of folks believe Christmas decor goes up the day after Thanksgiving (and some before that!), our tradition is this: we put up the Christmas decor when we get ready to do it. We don’t have a designated day. And really, I don’t like it all up too early, because frankly, I don’t want to get tired of looking at it before Christmas.

I’m on my way to the storage room now…

 

 

 

 

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I Want Candy…My Favorites

I love candy. I love chocolate candy and sour candy. I love all kinds of candy…always have. In fact, when I was a kid, I loved candy so much that I actually tried to get the answer to the commercial question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

When I was a kid living in Brewton, Alabama, Daddy took us to the “candy store,” which was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s, every Saturday. He would give us our allowance, and we would go blow it on candy and Icees. I always got a Coke Icee at Murphy’s. We got $5 allowance. Back then, $5 would buy a lot of candy, but I never actually spent my whole allowance. I usually put back a dollar or two, but I could still buy lots of candy and save too. I also stashed candy in hiding places in my room, but my brother usually found it and secretly ate it bit by bit.

Later, after moving to Spanish Fort, we would walk to the TG&Y in the local shopping center to buy candy. Instead of Icees there, we got bottled soda…in real glass bottles. My personal favorites were RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola in the little bottle, what we called a “baby Coke.”

I have favorites. As a child, I would always pick some favorites: Tootsie PopsSpree, Pixie Stix, Zotz, Bottle Caps, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Fun Dip, SkyBar, M&Ms, Blow Pops,  and sometimes, a Hershey Bar…without almonds. I also loved Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddy, Necco Wafers and Marathon Bars. (They don’t make Marathon Bars anymore, but Cadbury makes a similar bar of braided caramel covered in chocolate called the Curly Wurly.) Good times. In addition to candy, I would top off my purchase with some Hostess Chocolate Cream-filled Cupcakes. *Necco Wafers and SkyBar were made by New England Confectionery Company, which went bankrupt and is now owned by Spangler Candy Company. The future of some products is unknown. I’m stocking up on SkyBar now.*

Obviously, our candy intake was never restricted. My parents thought candy was one of the small joys in life, and I feel the same way. Before my daughter was born, a neighbor told me the kids she knew who couldn’t have candy at home went crazy eating it at her house, so we always have it, and our daughter doesn’t go crazy over it. We have a designated candy drawer in the kitchen. Need a little pick me up? Grab something from the drawer.

My daughter’s candy intake has never been limited. When we visit different cities, we love to visit any candy store we hear about. Dylan’s Candy Bar is a favorite in various cities. The last two times we’ve gone to LA, we visited Candytopia, a candy museum. It was a temporary popup, but now it’s in New York and San Francisco. As we entered each room, we got different kinds of candy: Pixie Stix, Tootsie Pops, candy necklaces, and more! Plus, there were sculptures and portraits made entirely of candy! My favorite part: a giant marshmallow pit! Great photo ops!

I still love candy.  I now love Snickers bars in addition to all my old favorites. I can’t resist purchasing some of the more rare ones when I see them.

I’m placing an order for some Curly Wurly Bars from Amazon now. All the candies I’ve listed above are available from Amazon.com. I want candy!

***If you were a teen in the 1980s, you probably remember a song called I Want Candy by the group, Bow Wow Wow. It was a remake of a 60s song by The Strangeloves. Bow Wow Wow trivia: Boy George was an early member of the group before forming Culture Club. You can see the Bow Wow Wow video here.***

Learning to Drive

As our daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, so does the excitement about the driver’s learner permit. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking at the same time.

It’s a lot more difficult to get a driver’s license now than it was when I was a teenager. Our daughter doesn’t even have her permit yet, and we’ve already had to jump through some hoops.

In North Carolina, there are lots of moving parts to getting a learner’s permit. If no one tells you the different steps, it can be rather confusing. I’ve had to ask multiple people a million questions throughout the process, so hopefully, this will help some of you. This has been our process:

  • Register for Driver’s Education at age 14 1/2, if it isn’t offered in your school. (see bottom of page for contact info for three companies)
  • Send in payment for course.
  • Attend course and pass written driver’s ed test.
  • Go to the DMV for the eye test (if the company doesn’t offer it)
  • Schedule the driving portion of Driver’s Ed.
  • Complete the practice driving (six hours) with instructor.
  • Obtain proof of enrollment form from school.
  • Go to DMV on or after 15th birthday for written test and permit…take birth certificate, form from school, completed Driver’s Ed form, and Social Security card.

If I didn’t have friends who reminded me of things to do throughout the process, my poor daughter probably wouldn’t be on her way to getting her permit in a couple of weeks.

She completed the classroom/written test portion of Driver’s Ed the first week of June, getting it out of the way. She had to be 14 1/2 to enroll in the course. We then had to wait till about a month before her birthday to schedule the driving portion of the course. She had the first of two three-hour sessions this past Saturday, and she said everything went smoothly.

Anyone who has ridden with a new driver knows it can be nerve-wracking, but the only way to learn is through practice.

When the instructor arrived at our house, she told me that she usually stays in the neighborhood for the first two hours, and she never takes anyone on the highway in their first session. I wasn’t worried. I knew our daughter was in good hands, so I was very relaxed while they were gone. Plus, my daughter has practiced driving me around on private roads for months.I knew she would do well driving the instructor in the neighborhood.

When my daughter got home three hours later, she said she thought she had done very well, and she did go on the highway. She said that after they drove around the neighborhood a couple of times, the instructor said she was ready to get out on the open road. First, they practiced some parking skills at a nearby parking lot, and then they got in the interstate! Yikes! I love interstate driving, but some people hate it. I asked my daughter what she thought of it, and she said she liked it. Near the end of the lesson, they drove to pick up the next student driver and came home. She has her next session this weekend.

I’m excited for her, and nervous for us. I remember when I was learning to drive. It was exciting thinking about the freedom that was coming my way! I’m sure she feels the same way, but first, we have to make sure she knows what she’s doing. We have a year to help her practice to get her prepared.

It was a lot easier when I as a teenager. We took Driver’s Ed at school, and then when we turned 15, we could test for our learner’s permit. That was it. I don’t even think we had to show any proof that we had taken Driver’s Ed. But Driver’s Ed at school was fun. We had driving simulators. They were nothing like real driving, but they were fun!

Drivers-Ed-simulator-2

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I remember some of the driving mistakes I made early on when I was learning to drive. My poor Daddy. Our house was at the top of a hill, so if you backed out of our driveway in one direction, you were backing a little downhill on the road. One day, with my daddy in the car, I forgot to put the car into Drive after backing out, and I stepped on the gas pedal, sending us speeding down the hill backward! Somehow, Daddy stayed calm, and I got things under control. He probably never wanted to drive with me again, but he did. Another time, I stepped on the gas instead of the brake as we turned into a street. And somehow, we survived it.

I’m sure when Daddy was teaching my brother to drive, it was much less stressful for him. My parents had caught my brother driving a friend’s car when he was just 14, so there’s no telling how much driving experience he really had when he got his permit. It wasn’t funny at the time, but Daddy laughed about it years later.

Later, after I had my license, he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a Jeep we had…another adventure, but not one my daughter is likely to have, since so few manual transmission cars are made now.

So our adventure in driving is about to begin. It’s difficult to believe. I remember when our daughter first started walking, and we said she didn’t have walking around sense. Will we feel the same way about her driving?

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DRIVING SCHOOLS IN CHARLOTTE (I’m only listing companies my friends have used):

Helms Driving School…Website:   http://www.helmsdrivingschool.com/Services.html

Jordan Driving School…Website:   http://www.jordandrivingschoolcharlotte.com

Faulkner Driving School…Website:   http://faulknersdrivingschool.com/about-us.aspx

 

 

 

 

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