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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.

The haircut

My child has inherited, through genetic lottery, my hair.Leslie Kendall Dye

When she was born, the first thing my husband exclaimed was ‘”She has your hair!” She was wet and red and childbirth is, of course, quite startling, but somehow the texture of her hair managed to penetrate his dizziness — so astonishingly like that of the woman he loves that it offered proof in a way that my swollen belly and expulsion of a fetus could not — that she was, indeed, our daughter.

My hair is a problem. It is curly. Sort of. It is curly every other Tuesday or when it rains or if it is cut by a talented stylist or if I hang upside down while drying it and apply some sort of thickening wax. Otherwise, it is fairly limp, refusing to be straight but lacking the robustness of more determinedly curly tresses. I wrestle with hair that will never be a halo of Keri Russell fairy curls and will never fall in cascades like silky Angelina Jolie locks either.

Now that my child has this hair, I have forgiven it. If my child has it, it must be beautiful. She makes everything work.

Except.

Through the subtleties of physics and barometric pressure, my toddler’s hair has gone from silky coils to an unmanageable poof as the weather has turned from humid to dry. It requires much brushing and manipulating and the use of many bobby pins to tame it. Compulsive as I am, I happily brush her hair while she watches “Madeline” each morning and eats cinnamon raisin toast.

There’s such sensual pleasure in grooming our babies.

The oxytocin flows.

But we keep running out of bobby pins. Just as one strand is secured, another slips past the grip of a ponytail holder.

Last night, my husband, who is no hair expert, asked me what had happened. He confided that he was unable to manage pigtails anymore.

“Why does her hair keep slipping out?” he asked me, helpless and confused. “Where are her curls?”

I didn’t have time to explain that his beloved child’s hair suffers from multiple personality disorder. I went to get the scissors.

My daughter is nearly three. She loves watching the scene in Dirty Dancing where Frances leans her head into the water and it cascades, wet and clinging, down her back.

She has told me that she doesn’t want a hair trim because “Frances’s hair reaches the water.”

I am no match for this logic, so eloquent and accurate in its emotional urgency.

I grappled with boundaries last night. Who cares if her hair is a mess when we wander out to jump in puddles?

On the other hand, it needs a trim. Her hair has been looking sad and sloppy.

Knowing from experience what lopping off an inch can do for this hair of ours I felt I owed it to her to — what?

Go against her wishes?

Neck deep in bath bubbles and making potions with glassware, my daughter didn’t notice I was trimming her hair.

Then she looked up at me.

“Mommy, are you cutting my hair?”

“Yes,” I said.

My heart sank. My stomach lurched. I waited for screaming and tears.

She went back to singing “I am Sixteen, You are Seventeen” from The Sound of Music.

Wow. I didn’t dare exhale. Surely it was coming. The reaction was coming.

After the bath, I spread out a towel and we proceeded with our nightly ritual. We put on The Aristocats and I rubbed her feet. I finished her hair cut. I combed each baby lock and snipped with precision. We listened to Maurice Chevalier sing the title song — “which pets’ address is the finest in Paris? Which pets possess the longest pedigree?” The hand-drawn cats with the pencil marks left in to convey the look of early 20th-century Paris danced across the screen.

I watched her curls spring back to life.

I quickly disposed of the paper towel on which I’d placed each lost lock and then asked my cherub if she wanted to see. She assessed her Shirley Temple bob in the mirror above my vanity.

“I like it!” she screamed. She jumped on the bed, flattening our already worn quilt.

My heart soared. Could I possibly be the best mother in the world? Just for tonight?

No, I could not.

She vacillated. She mused. She studied her hair. She thought.

Her baby doll, she told me an hour later, hated her hair cut. I told her that the doll was envious because she had no hair of her own. I told her that her new hair was like Madeline’s. It was a bob. It was Parisian.

She looked at me.

“I don’t think so, Mommy. Maybe you shouldn’t have cut it.”

Guilt is like a rash: it itches the more you scratch it. I scratched all night.

This morning I put barrettes in her hair. Her waves bounced on each side of her delicate head. She put on her play clothes and as we were walking out the door, she shouted, “Mommy! Lift me up!”

I held her up to the mirror.

“This Friday is my birthday and I have a new hairdo!”

At nap time, she told her Madeline doll that her red yarn hair was getting too long.

“Don’t you want a bob?” She asked her. “You’ll look just like me.”

Oh, kid. You got my hair, but your daddy’s élan.

Or maybe it’s her stylist. I’ve got to get her name; she works wonders.

— Leslie Kendall Dye

Leslie Kendall Dye is an actress and dancer in Manhattan. She was a nanny for years before having her own child. Her work has been featured on Mamalode, The Huffington Post, Nanny Magazine, Tipsy Lit, Mamapedia, Project Underblog, Off The Shelf and others. You can find her typing her weird little essays into hungrylittleanimal.blogspot.com when she is not trying to get her toddler to bed before 11 p.m.

Tips for taking great holiday photos

hm christmas columnReprinted with permission from Record Publishing Co. This piece first appeared in the Aurora Advocate on Dec. 17, 2014.

After years of dread-filled, awful, mismatched, unhappy holiday card-taking sessions, I thought perhaps a few simple tips would help others avoid my numerous mistakes.

Tip 1: Hire a professional photographer.

Each December, I think the tripod and a timer are the answer to my picture-taking prayers. Except for the fact that the tripod usually sinks into the wet grass, mud and/or snow.

And once that happens, everyone in the frame is tilted to the side like the photographer has had a few too many holiday-enhanced eggnogs. Not to mention that every time I run to the camera, set the timer and run back, the dog follows me.

By the time the shutter clicks, I am wrestling the dog back into position while everyone else’s mouths are wide open yelling at him and me, and no one is looking straight ahead, or smiling. Except the dog, who I swear is laughing at us.

Tip 2: Hire professional actors as stand-ins.

This step would not only save time, but also sanity.

For example, if we hired actors, fake Stephanie would not be grinding her teeth with an unnatural smile plastered across her face while muttering under her breath about Santa skipping the house and donating all the gifts to charity. (That threat doesn’t work so well these days.)

Heck, the actors don’t even need to come to Aurora for the picture. I’m perfectly fine pretending the “Fellensteins” took a trip to Los Angeles or New York City or even Paris.

Tip 3: Never include the dog, cats, turtle, goats, chickens or partridge in a pear tree.

I think I’ve explained that in Tip 1. I will only add that the year we featured the goats, they ate the Christmas wreath behind us. Luckily it was all caught on film.

Tip 4: Buy lots of clothes all year in a variety of hues.

I love the cards I get with the families in matching outfits. The kids look adorable, and the parents use complementary colors and jewelry to create a warm, fuzzy tableau.

The first snag is I have a total of two Christmas-card worthy outfits. Seriously. Just ask my co-workers. I wear the same thing every day. The second problem is that my kids refuse to wear matching outfits, or even stand next to each other.

Tip 5: Plan ahead.

This pretty much gets to the heart of the problem. I don’t actually start planning for the Christmas card picture until about 13 minutes before I expect everyone to be gathered around the pine tree outside in matching outfits.

“We are taking the Christmas card picture in 10 minutes,” I yell.

“Seriously?! No one else’s mom does this,” someone says from the living room.

“Who said that? Do you want Santa to start taking back some gifts?! I can still call him,” I yell. “I want everyone in green. Remember how cute Uncle Joe’s picture was last year?”

“Why doesn’t Dad have to do this?” someone else asks.

“What do you mean?! He’d better be outside in something green,” I say. “Someone grab a chicken.”

Clearly I have not learned from previous years’ mistakes.

Even the dog refuses to leave the back porch. As soon as he sees the tripod, some post-traumatic, picture-taking stress seizes him, and he’s rooted to the doormat.

So there you have it. Start planning now. Hire some actors, a photographer and get rid of the chickens. Or you could just mail out that fake picture that comes complimentary in new picture frames.

Of course, there’s always my approach — 13 minutes is plenty of time to pull something together.

Works for me.

— Stephanie Fellenstein

Stephanie Fellenstein is the editor of Hudson Monthly magazine in Hudson, Ohio, and regularly contributes columns to Record Publishing Co. weekly newspapers.

Reflections of Erma