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Heaven can wait

Janice WaldI told God a month before being cleared of breast cancer that Heaven could wait.

In October, I’d received news that I had an abnormal mammogram result. “I am not ready,” I repeatedly whispered, almost like a mantra, to anyone up there who might be available to listen. I chanted it to my late dad, grandpa, former mother-in-law and former uncle-in-law. (I don’t know that many dead people.)

I absolutely did not have time for cancer. I was about to become a world-famous blogger like… Come to think of it, I did not know any world-famous bloggers.

Suddenly, my recent past made sense. No wonder God had given me so many good parking spaces at work recently; he was about to give me the “Big C.” I tossed and turned after getting the dreaded notice that there might be an abnormality and that I had to return for more tests.  In my mind, the form letter was just a formality. I had already received a death sentence.

I decided to make plans one would make when writing their bucket list. First, I’d blow all my money. I saw that in a Queen Latifah movie once. In “Last Holiday” a dying woman decides to blow all her money on one last luxurious vacation. However, thanks to my wonderful husband, I’ve already traveled extensively.  The only item I was in the mood to spend the little nest egg my father left me on was Candy Crush Saga boosters. (I wondered if Mark Zuckerberg would get his share since I was playing on his site. It would actually have been fine with me since I think he’s a good guy.)

I figured dying people would binge eat since they wouldn’t be around to worry about calories. However, the only food I was craving as I fretted in the wee hours of the morning was nonfat Yoplait Yogurt, not exactly a chocolate cheesecake in the calorie department.

I started to wonder what I’d bury myself with if I were one of the ancient Egyptians who decked out the chambers that held their coffins with belongings they’d want in the afterlife. All I could think to take with me to the Great Beyond was my little dog Minnie, and she was still among the living. I heard some ancient Roman buried himself with his horse. (Was it Caligula? He sure loved his horse.)

Would that be fun for Minnie and me to go to the Great Beyond together or unspeakably cruel? Guilt might follow me to the Great Beyond. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

I decided I’d swear my husband to secrecy while at the same time telling everyone I knew in hopes of ascertaining some peace of mind from them.

The next morning my whole world had changed. My two “friends” definitely felt dramatically different from each other. Even decision making felt different. What song to listen to while getting ready for work was problematic. I was in the mood to listen to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but there was a cancer patient in the song’s music video, so that choice was out. Which lotion should I use? I was in the mood for “Forever Sunshine.” Sunshine sounded happy, so that was okay, but Forever implied eternity, which I was definitely not ready for.

In the musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” Conrad Birdie sang that he had “lots of livin’ to do.” I have “lots of livin’ to do” and lots of blogging to do.

I was cleared of any cancer and given a clean bill of health earlier this month.  At the time, I was terrified.  Cancer is no laughing matter. Yet, in hindsight, I hope I will remember the weeks of uncertainty this way, with levity — and not with the panic I felt.

– Janice Wald

By night, Janice Wald is a happy blogger, wife, mother of three daughters and a dog owner. By day, she is a teacher passionate about medieval and ancient world history. She recently completed a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction. An avid writer, she is currently collaborating on a screenplay, loves blogging to the point of obsession and was nominated for the Liebster Award. You can read her blog here.

Easy-to-keep New Year’s resolutions

myron.kuklaI firmly believe I will be able to keep all of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015.

I think I’ll be successful this year because I have decided this time around to go with resolutions that will be easy to keep.

Face it, it’s dumb to make resolutions like, “I resolve to exercise hard everyday for two hours and eat nothing but carrot sticks and healthy salads all year until the fat comes melting off my body.”

I know from experience I’ll never keep a resolution like that. One, I don’t have the discipline to do it, and two, my back usually goes out in the first half hour of exercise and I’m done for a month or two.

This year my resolutions are realistic and attainable, and don’t require me to injure my back.

Here are my top 15 easy resolutions for 2015:

#1.  I will procrastinate all I want during the year and not feel guilty about it. I will call my procrastination,  “Weighing the alternatives.”

#2.  I resolve to stay away from diets, eat anything I want in 2015 without concern for calories, carbs or how much weight I gain.

#3.  I will only buy clothes that are several sizes too big for me and tell people during the year that I have been working out and losing weight.

#4.  I plan to create a very short list of personal improvement objectives that need to be accomplished in 2015 and then follow resolution #1.

#5.  I resolve to keep the television cable remote in my back pocket at all times, flip through the channels aimlessly and sometimes watch two sporting programs and a movie at the same time.

#6. When it is my turn to make dinner at home, I will buy take-out food and pass it off as something I created from watching the Food Channel.

#7.  I’m not sure what I want to put down as a resolution here, so I’m going to have to “weight the alternatives” and get back to you on this one.

#8.  For my wife, I promise to leave the seat up at night.

#9.  I will play as much as golf as I can during the year except on my wife’s birthday and that other day I can never remember.

#10.  I will have more fun during the year.

#11.  I shall finish these resolutions at some future date, once I have weighed all the alternatives.

— Myron J. Kukla

Myron Kukla is a professional journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company WriteStuff.  Kukla is the author of two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He has also just published two ebooks on Amazon.com, Chomp and Something in the Blood.

Christmas gift list takes the worry out of gift giving

myron.kuklaToday is Christmas.  This is the one day of the year when all of us can take a break and relax; for the first time in months we are not either having to get ready for Christmas, cleaning up after Christmas or planning for next Christmas.

We can sit back and enjoy the day.

Christmas is here in all its glory. Months of planning, shopping, selecting presents, wrapping presents, hiding presents, losing presents and buying more presents is finally over. Long and arduous searching for those special gifts for loved ones, friends and family, has at last been reduced to 20 minutes of frenzied paper ripping, box and bag opening and gleeful shouts of joy and expressed heartfelt gratitude.

When I think of all the work that goes into Christmas, I have a hard time when I hear people say, “I wish Christmas would last all year.”  That’s about the time I respond, “If it did, we’d all be dead from exhaustion by July.”

A new sock Christmas

This year for Christmas, I got socks, underwear, gloves and a Santa Claus tie that lights up and plays, “Jingle Bell Rock” when I poke Santa in his plump belly. Don’t think my family got me these gifts because they have bad taste, no imagination or dislike me.

They got me these gifts because I asked for them. So, you see, I am the one with no imagination and bad taste. That’s not true, either. I actually wanted these gifts.

You may wonder why, when there are so many things I could ask for at Christmas, that I would want socks, underwear, gloves and a once-a-year-use tie? It’s simple. They are practical — except for the tie of course — and I needed them. All my socks were wearing thin, my underwear drooping and my hands were cold because I lost my gloves in October and have been waiting for Christmas for someone to buy me new ones.

Christmas tradition 

We have a tradition in our family to avoid getting unwanted gifts.  At Thanksgiving, each person in our family writes out a list of Christmas gifts they would like to receive and posts the list on the refrigerator. As people buy gifts, they cross the purchased items off the various lists. This way, there are seldom any unwanted gifts arriving in our house at Christmas.

In fact, our son Jason takes the idea to the point where he assigns specific gifts to different people so there can be no accidental slip ups in getting duplicate gifts on Christmas morning. It works, and he always acts really surprised when he opens his gifts.

The bad gift pledge

To also ensure a successful gift giving season, we all take a pledge over the Thanksgiving turkey carcass not to buy anything for anyone that is advertised on television as “Not available in stores.”

By doing this, we have saved ourselves over the years from things like the “amazing electronic back scratcher, that doubles as salad tongs, which is only available  through this exclusive television offer, for the unheard of low price of $29.95 plus shipping and handling charges.”

Likewise, we have all escaped receiving wiggling fish, mounted on wall plaques that burst into country and western songs when they sense motion in the room.

We also ban buying each other any gift that is made and advertised by Ronco. I can assure you, you will never see me, or member of my family, standing on a street corner and pulling from our pocket a Popeil Pocket Fisherman to do some angling in the city fountain. Nor do we pack tiny, powerful sewing machines in our suitcases when we travel that can make curtains or sew zippers at the drop of a button.

Nope. You won’t see any of us getting any of that stuff at Christmas. We already have it all sitting in the back basement gathering dust, from those years before we created our oath against “not available in stores” Christmas gifts.

— Myron Kukla

Myron Kukla is a professional journalist, writer and owner of the West Michigan-based marketing company WriteStuff.  Kukla is the author of two books of humor, Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Memories of Things I Haven’t Forgotten Yet and Guide to Surviving Life. He has also just published two ebooks on Amazon.com, Chomp and Something in the Blood.

Toilet paper Christmas caper

Stacey GustafsonAll I know is karma’s a bitch. And never cop an attitude with an usher when you’re dragging toilet paper on your shoe.

Last year, my mother braved Midwest blizzards, traffic and the airport to visit my family of four for Christmas in California. Our fun-filled week consisted of spiked eggnog, story telling, old movies and the mandatory trip to San Francisco.

A commercial break during “A Christmas Story” advertised Riverdance, the popular Irish stepdancing group. Redheaded lads and lassies clicked across the stage.

“Forget about seeing the Christmas Carol or the Nutcracker, can we see Riverdance?” asked my mom.

I wanted to make her visit as memorable as possible and sprung for the good seats at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. On Christmas Eve, we bundled up in long woolen coats, lined gloves and scarves and loaded into our van, but before long traffic ground to a snarl.

“Gosh, we’re going to be late.” I said to my husband.

“No worries,” Mike said glancing at the dashboard clock. “We have an hour to park the car and find our seats. Relax.”

We zoomed into the parking garage and hustled across the street to the theater, fifteen minutes to spare. Crowds clogged the lobby like stuffed animals on the shelf at Target. We shouldered to get to the ticket collector at the sold-out event.

“Tickets, please,” said the tall, dark-haired gentleman.

“I’m so excited, “ I said, holding out my ticket.

“Ten minutes ‘til curtain time,” he droned with a sigh. “Better grab your seat lady.”

We raced to the mezzanine level on the second floor. “I’ll meet you inside,” I said to my hubby. “Going to use the restroom.” He gave me my ticket, grabbed the kids’ hands and entered, my mother racing to keep up.

A sign pointed downward for “Mademoiselle.” “You’ve got to be kidding?” I mumbled to myself. The bathroom, located down two flights of stairs in a dreary sub-basement, had a line that coiled around the staircase like a serpent.

“Excuse me,” I asked a buxom gal with dangly earrings. “Is this for the ladies’ room?”

“Yep, only three stalls,” she said with a shake of her head.

Gotta go. Too late to turn back.

The five-minute bell tolled and concerned faces stared back at me. Oh crap, I thought, I’ll never make it now.

The line unexpectedly opened up. I dashed in and out then scooted past the panicky crowd to the second floor.

Outside the mezzanine entrance, I spotted the usher, a pie-faced older woman with limp, mousey hair and beady eyes. Wearing tight khaki pants, a navy blazer and low-heeled pumps, she cut off my entrance with her meaty arm.

“Sorry, doors closed,” she said with a sneer, holding a flashlight. “You’ll have to wait for a break before you can enter.”

“Oh, you don’t understand,” I whined. “It wasn’t my fault. The bathroom line was too long.”

“Rules are rules. You. Must. Wait.”

I peered past her shoulder pads and caught a flash of tartan and black tap shoes.

“Try and stop me,” I warned and pushed her aside with my forearm like an NFL linebacker. Her flashlight clattered down the hallway. The darkness absorbed me as I groped my way to Row B.

“You almost missed the beginning,” said my guy as I plopped down on my seat. He grabbed my clammy hand. “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I said.

If you consider assault and battery no big deal.

After two and half hours of rapid-fire footwork from mini-skirted girls and leather-panted boys, the crowd stood on their feet for the final bravo.

We squeezed out the exit and I spotted a vacant handicapped restroom on the main level. I knew I shouldn’t have ordered a large double cappuccino at intermission. The drive home was over an hour. Hubby took one look at my face and said, “No way. We’re in a hurry. Want to beat the crowd.”

Despite his protests, I lurched inside the tiny bathroom. I finished as fast as an Irish jig, swished my hands under the water, yanked down a paper towel and rushed out the doorway. Standing a few feet from the bathroom exit was Pie Face. With her flash light. She glared at me and then her mouth curled into a smirk.

What’s so funny, Shoulder Pads?

She aimed the heavy duty LED Maglite at my shoes and then my face. Through the light, I could barely make out my family leaning against the wall. My daughter was doubled over in laughter. “Oh. My. God,” she said. “Look down.”

Stuck to the bottom of my shoe was a five-foot toilet paper trail, double ply. My family watched in horror and delight as I bent to yank it off. I brushed my skirt smooth and felt the slight crinkle of tissue paper. “For God’s sake. Let me help you,” said my mother. She reached around my body to pluck off a toilet seat cover from the back of my skirt.

I pulled my coat over my head and bolted into the crowd toward the exit doors.

“Come back soon,” said Pie-Face with a wide grin.

— Stacey Gustafson

Stacey Gustafson is an author, humor columnist and blogger who has experienced the horrors of being trapped inside a pair of SPANX. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the SoulNot Your Mother’s Books, Midlife Boulevard, More Magazine, Better After 50, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Lost in Suburbia and on her daughter’s bulletin board. She lives in California with her husband and two teenagers who provide an endless supply of inspiration. Her book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, was released September 2014, available on Amazon. Visit Stacey at StaceyGustafson.com or follow her on Twitter @RUKiddingStacey.

Christmas cookies gave me PTSD

Anne BardsleyEvery year I plan to make tons of Christmas cookies. I gather my favorite recipes together and make a list of things I’ll need: flour, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, choco-chips and raisins. I have even gone so far as to buy a new rolling pin and cookie cutters. I added rum, Irish Cream and red wine to my list, as well. This is purely medicinal, trust me.

Then a memory grips me and makes me shudder! I quickly stuff it all back in the cupboards. I hold the cupboard door tight to be sure it’s all tucked away tightly.

Our five children were between the ages of two and 10. My brilliant husband had the idea that I should make cookies with the kids and enjoy a snowy day indoors. The Philadelphia forecast was for 18 inches of snow. He then left for work. I’d had two cups of coffee, and I envisioned this beautiful scene of a family sharing love and baking cookies. The fireplace was toasty warm, and the yard was covered in snow. This is how Christmas memories are made. Surely Hallmark would want our picture. In my mind, we’d have six dozen beautifully decorated batches by mid-afternoon. I brewed more coffee and got the ingredients together.

My favorite Christmas CD was blaring as I pre-heated the oven. Brenda Lee was “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree.” I sang along as the kids gathered at the table. Within an hour we had a batch of peanut butter cookies, topped with a chocolate kiss finished. Sixty went in the oven and 60 came out. We had 15, on the platter and their mouths were stuffed like chipmunks.

I was tapping my toes to “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter” as we moved onto the sugar cookies. Oh, this was going to be so fun!  A fight ensued about who got which reindeer/ snowman/ gingerbread man/angel cutter. Winston, our English Mastiff, started pacing and drooling. His head was level with the table and his eyes were bulging out at the aroma of fresh-baked cookies.

The 2-year-old was just learning potty training and insisted he needed to poop. I ran him upstairs and left the other little cherubs to roll and cut shapes. All went well on the potty, and we clapped and cheered.  “Little Drummer Boy” was blaring when I returned to the kitchen. It looked like a confectioned sugar factory exploded. I started to heat up from the stress and, without thinking, I turned the ceiling fan on high. Bad move. A level two, sugar tornado swirled around the table. Winston was licking the air, in hopes of catching some sugar. The girls were blinded and screaming.

The two year-old had disappeared back upstairs and was now screaming at the top of the steps. His sweet, 3-year-old sister went to check on him. Her brand-new Mary Janes were dotted in sugar.  “Ho! Ho! Ho! Who Wouldn’t Go…Up On the Rooftop With Good St Nick” blasted in the living room.

“Oh Holy Night” was just starting when the screaming stopped. Then a very, very bad, familiar odor followed the 2-year-old into the kitchen. He was not finished on the potty. I must have been in a rush to get back to the festive cookie party. He had bumpity-bumped down the 12-stair steps and left his mark of poop on each step. I changed the song to “Oh Holy Hell!” In addition, his sister was on a recon mission to find the bad smell and stepped in a wad of poop in her brand-new, sugar-covered, Mary Janes. She toured the upstairs trying to find out what stunk. When she came back down, she reported, “Something stinks.” The music had changed to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as I planned an escape to get the hell out of my Christmas cookie hell.

The sugar cookies were burning. I bet you won’t find that scent in the Yankee Candle store — burnt sugar cookie/ poop — candles for the holiday mood. I was sweating profusely as I delegated the decorating to the older boys. This caused a crying fit because the two younger girls had already broken into the sprinkles and jimmies. I gave each kid a few cookies and some sprinkles and went to find the carpet extractor and change little stinky a**. Rudolph serenaded me as I improvised “Rudolph The Pain in the Ass Reindeer.”

By two o’clock, we had five batches of cookies made. There should have been more than 300 beautifully decorated cookies. We had 42 in our cookie tin. Winston had eaten balls of dough that the boys threw at each other. He was walking very slowly, his belly hanging, and moaning. The boys were covered in chunks of dough and had sprinkles in their hair. They had stacks of mini dough snow balls for the next fight. The girls were still happily decorating the sugar cookies. The angel cookies had a psychedelic look with all of the mismatched colors. And there goes Brenda Lee “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” AGAIN!!! Seriously???

My husband, with the great idea to make these flipping cookies, arrived as I finished scraping dough off the walls. “Wasn’t this a great idea?” he asked as he chomped cookie number 42. “Joy To The World” blasted as he went for another cookie. We now had 41 cookies. Six hours, kitchen destroyed, dog sick, carpets pooped upon, and he is eating our inventory! Our precious inventory!!

One day I will make Christmas cookies again. Maybe next year when  Hallmark calls and wants to visit my cozy home. If I can learn to stop shuddering at the sight of Snickerdoodles, I think I can do it. Yes, I will make Christmas cookies next year if and only if there is a prediction for 18 inches of snow — on a blustery, cold December day in sunny Florida.

— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley, of St. Petersburg, Fla., is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles, a collection of humorous and sentimental stories about marriage, motherhood and menopause. She lives in a menopausal world with a husband who gives her wrinkles. When people ask her age, she sometimes tells them her bra size. “36-C,” she says, “was a wonderful age.”

The not-so-merry Christmas

Bob NilesTake a look at a popular doll 50 years from now.

“Yes, it’s in the original box, and some 40 years ago, it may have been valuable. But so many of the Frozen dolls were sold and unopened that they have, unfortunately for you, flooded the market. It’s probably not worth what you paid for it. But thank you for coming to the Antiques Road Show today.”

I can see it all now! Doll after doll, action figure after action figure, all still hermetically sealed in the boxes they came in, will flood 85 percent of the antique market in the future. And why is that? Because adults could never could get them out of the dang blasted box!

You can’t even call it a box. It’s an environment. Little Elsa is frozen in time and space. All entombed by a blister pack and then tied, taped and suspended into a winter wonderland. Each arm and leg, neck and torso are painstakingly tied from the back of the plasticized cardboard scene. And each tie is then taped as if to make sure she can’t get away. Then the cardboard environment is placed in an equally attractive windowed box that is sealed with far too many pieces of invisible tape.

It would be easier to get a guy out of Guantanamo Bay prison than this doll from that box. A box that has become the prison she’s attached to. A box so incased in plastic that it would seem that this toy’s country of origin (China) is ridding itself of non-recycleable plastic by plasticizing everything it exports to a ridiculous degree. 
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It all starts with the windowed box. And every one of them is different. You push, then pull on spots where you think would be an entry point, but you’re wrong. Flaps are discovered for access where only an Ikea designer would think to look.

More pushing, pulling and then discovering the flaps are covered in invisible tape. You pick away the tape from the three flaps, then discover there are four flaps. It’s after you attack the fourth flap with barred nails and flashing teeth that you’re made painfully aware that they’ve taped all the edges, too. It looks as though they were trying to rid the factory of all invisible tape.

Success! Windowed box breached. Consider yourself proud for having achieved this level in entering its plastic domain on the same day and without swearing.

But describing it as a plastic domain isn’t entirely correct. It must be a carbon fiber/plastic domain. Because you can’t rip it, or bite your way through it like you could do if it were plastic. You need German steel found only in your wife’s expensive kitchen knives. These have to be sharpened to an operating room’s edge to gain entry into this gilded prison. Plus you have to back up your blade with wire snips and scissors as your tools of the trade to unlock toys on Christmas Day.

The physical properties of the carbon fiber/plastic prison change when stabbed. At first, you push and push with the blade, careful not to bend it too much as to break its point off. You know the tip will break because you’ve done it to three knives already. Then, once through the plastic, it’s like a hot knife through butter. And now the stabbing blade is coming directly at the place where you plan on digesting a pound and a half of turkey later that day. But wait, you’re  saved! Saved  from a self appendectomy by the carbon fiber/plastic cardboard that’s prisoning Elsa. It’s now that the once-hot-knife-through-butter scenario changes. Using the knife to free little Elsa from her plastic cell is like trying to cut tough leather with a dull hammer. Why?

You now try birthing the toy by pulling it through the hole you’ve made with the pointless knife. You yank on her blond hair, head and arms with the two fingers you can fit in the hole. No luck! Elsa is still a prisoner and you’re cut up from the carbon fiber/plastic edges, bleeding all over Christmas. It’s then you discover little Charlotte’s toy is wired and tied half a dozen times to the cardboard.

At this point you want to swear. You should swear. You’ve sworn at less. But you’re surrounded by children and elderly relatives and dear old mom. So you bite your tongue and smile. And it’s through that smile you note that each knot and twist are then blessed with more of the almost invisible tape. To which you then remember Jesus at Christmas by audibly but unknowingly asking him for help.

And so it is with bared teeth, nails and divine help that more dang blasted tape is removed.

With the attention of one disarming a bomb, you note the wire or twine. If she’s just tied with twine, you can use scissors to free her from her six anchoring points.

Please note: Scissors, not a knife, are to be used here. Some years ago I used a knife and wound up looking like Jack Nicholson in the movie “Chinatown.”

If plasticized wire is assessed, you could try twisting it counter clockwise. And if that doesn’t work, clockwise. Then repeat. And repeat. Then you swear. You don’t care who’s in the room at this point.

Help is now required to gain entry into poor little Elsa’s toy prison. You ask some relative’s kid named Bobby to go to the garage and get the wire snips from your toolbox. Then after four unsuccessful trips (“Are you kidding me?), you pull yourself up with the help of the Christmas tree, which goes quickly from vertical to horizontal, to retrieve them yourself.

Snips acquired and tree righted, you cut the six anchoring points and the left hand off the once treasured Elsa doll.

Now the blond curly-haired, seemingly angelic, patiently waiting for her doll, Charlotte, swears. This brings the total to four people with potty mouths today. Myself, the wife when I pulled the tree over, the not-so-angelic Charlotte and Mr. “Are you kidding me?” when I yelled at him for not being able to find the snips.

Right-handed Elsa is now free. But by this time the family has found someone else to carve your turkey, and everyone has abandoned you. The whole bunch of turkey-eating unbelievers who thought I couldn’t free Elsa before dinner had started eating without me.

Well, I  showed them. At least one toy is freed. Four more to go.

“Hey! You turkey-eating unbelievers, do I recycle this carbon fiber/plastic cardboard or just throw it away? Someone? Anyone? No, really, where does it go?

Are you kidding me? That was really rude.”

— Bob Niles

Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names), honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs here.

Noah, not that gift!

Cindi LabadieNineteen years ago the Christmas season was upon us, and two of the hooligans were attending their first school Christmas party. Earlier in the week the children had drawn a name of a classmate and were to purchase a gift with that person in mind.

I think we all know the potential for disaster in said situation.

Quite a few parents had shown up to help ride herd on the little darlings.  Activity and noise abounded as the effect of sugar highs became apparent all around the room.

The kids were loud, too. Soon it was time for the gifts to be opened.

The giver went to the tree, chose the gift he or she had brought and delivered it to the correct person. All was going along quite well until my third-grade boy hooligan opened his gift.  It was actually quite a lovely gift all things considered.

We had tried to teach our kids to be thankful from the time they were little.

This gift pushed the limit.

To this day he is very expressive and his brown eyes truly are windows to his soul. In this case they became wet little windows as his eyes filled with tears of disappointment and bewilderment. I’m sure the kid who gave him the present wasn’t too thrilled, either. The other kids had received toy cars or army guys or typical small toys that may not make it to the new year.

No judgment on my part. I’m sure the mom had a lot going on and realized the morning of the party that her three kids needed gifts for their parties. I’m sure she did the best she could.

My son did his best to express thanks, but his heart just wasn’t in it. I was standing near him when he opened the present, so I encouraged him to thank his friend and reminded him there would be other gifts come Christmas Eve. He did pretty well. When we got home later in the day, I took a little sharpie pen and wrote the following:

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It says, “Justin got this from Zack Hayward in 3rd grade. December/1995. Very sad because other kids got toys but he’s still got this. :-)”

Year after year this ornament comes out, the story is recounted and I find it necessary to read aloud to any and all what they have now heard for 19 Christmases.

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It’s a glass Christmas ornament. As you can see, poor Noah has lost part of his head as well as the head of his staff. Things got tight in that ark, you know.

IMG_3708-e1419043155651Never fear. Noah can be gorilla glued. It’s only fitting that the glue would have an animal as part of its name. And if you don’t get that pun, it is back to the Bible for you.

I hope your holidays are filled with joy, peace and gratefulness!

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

Six Christmas decorating styles to avoid

Dan Van OssOne of the unspoken rules of home ownership (such as “never shovel your snow into your neighbor’s open car window”) is that you must decorate your yard every holiday season. For most of us, this consists of tastefully hanging a string of icicle lights over the garage door while sacrificing a few extremities to the sub-zero weather. However, some of you may be tempted to take it to the next level this year, so I’m providing a helpful guide to six types of decoration styles you may want to avoid in order to keep your neighbors and save your marriage.

Tossers

These decorators just throw up a bunch of random multi-colored LED lights they just got on sale at Target on the nearest pine tree, then stick their traditional rotating mechanical Laughing Santa in the yard and call it good. There ARE bowl games to watch, after all.

However, to mangle Sir Alfred Lloyd Tennyson, “‘Tis better to not have brought down the property values of your neighborhood than ever to have decorated at all.” Do not emulate them.

Meticulous Decoration Extroverts

These people spend all fall poring through Christmas design catalogs looking for just the right shade of blue twinkling stars to match the hand-made Austrian icicle lights they got last year. Each wreath and bow are meticulously placed to accent the overall theme of “See? I Should Have Been An Interior Decorator Instead Of A Bank Teller.” They are usually women paired with slump-shouldered husbands with depleted credit cards and a little too much attention to the liquor cabinet.

Historically Inaccurate Junk Lovers

Most of their decorations have been collected from yard sales in July which are then stuffed into the garage attic. They consist of singing beavers with candy canes, 18th-century carolers with colors so faded they look like anemic ghosts, animated Santas from the ’70s so broken down they look like they’re frantically beating their reindeer, placed next to puzzling Flintstones-themed manger scenes with half the bulbs missing and Bam-Bam as baby Jesus.

Vomitous Eye-Abusing All-Out Holiday Extravaganza

These are the rare neighbors who have made a career out of annoying everyone else on the block by going all out. Their main goal is to get on the local news and say, with a tear in their eye, how special it is to them that people enjoy all of their hard work because their daddy, who was an electrician and started all of this, couldn’t help this year because a 400-pound plaster Abominable Snow Monster fell off the truck onto his bad leg he hurt the year before when he fell off the roof inflating the Dancing Hula Santa.

Tradition or Die!

Forget these garish “LED” light monstrosities. Give us the old days when Christmas bulbs were the size of kumquats and your resulting electric bill made you eat bologna sandwiches all January. These folks will either be your kindly old grandparent neighbors who have been lovingly replacing the same 30 bulbs for 50 years, or the hipster couple who just moved in and like to blare their vintage vinyl “Andy Williams Christmas Album” while decorating their Earth-Mother Holiday Topiary with free-range tinsel and beeswax candles.

The Inflators

These citizens have decided to utilize the latest advances in inflatable decorations to turn their front yards into a discombobulated, puffed-up holiday horror for four weeks. Watch as Rudolph does vain battle against a snowman having a seizure. Marvel, as you never knew Yoda was one of the Wise Men. Expect to get little sleep as their yard will sound like two scared jumbo jets fighting with their tails tied together.

If you happen to fall into one of these categories, I apologize. Just be ready for my exciting life-size inflatable Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria on Columbus Day.

— Dan Van Oss

Dan Van Oss is the curator of the Dubious Knowledge Institute, and divides his creative time between writing, music recording and performance, painting and photography. He lives in the Iowa City, Iowa, area with his wife Nancy, three beautiful step-daughters and a Golden Retriever named Jack.

Reflections of Erma