Holly (and other) Days


My brother, Skipper (now answering to his true name, Tim) and me.  I’m a little older than Kate is right now in this picture.  Billerica, Massachusetts.

This must be the moment that my parents explained that my brother, being the boy, would be financially supported through college and that I was expected to marry well right out of high school.


Skip and I with our first big wheels.  I rode mine until all the stickers fell off or faded to white and there were holes in the wheels.  The big wheel Skip is on is different than the Hot Wheels tricycle he rode onto the 4-lane high way in the middle of rush hour traffic while my Dad was painting the house.

That’s my grandfather’s German train set under our tree.  Paul and I have that garland (Filene’s basement special — my Mom worked nights at Filene’s).  My Dad gave the trains to my Uncle, who sold them (d’oh!)  This Christmas, my Dad and brother put together parts of the same train, bought used over the past few months on ebay.


Still in Billerica!  I was a Strawberry Shortcake girl.  I’ve seen that Strawberry and her buds are back… but taller, thinner, shapelier, and with makeup.  Ugh.


We’d moved to Summerville, SC, by now — but spent this holiday away from home.  This is at my Grandma Betty’s house in Woodstock, VA.  That’s my cousin Becky in Grandma’s lap.

That’s my cousin Stephen.  The same guy who took Will fishing last September.  Remember the necklace?  That’s an Annie locket.  My hair is actually growing out from an Annie perm.  OH YES, a Little Orphan Annie Perm.

That was all I could find in the attic.

Here are some old photos I had backed up my parents’ computer.


Mobile, Alabama.


Mobile, Alabama.


Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, LA.


Mobile, Alabama.

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Silent Night (’cause we’re on our way out the door)

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Happy Holidays

… from our house, to yours.

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Twas the night before Christmas, one that almost didn’t happen.

2 was more difficult than 1.  3 was more difficult than 2.  4 was difficult, but a lot like 3, so we got used to handling it.  5?  5 may be the worst yet.

Will was really really rough today.  REALLY ROUGH.

He called me a bad name and had some time to think in his room.  Paul explained that he needed to write an apology letter to me and Santa.  He stared one, cried tears of remorse, and turned into the perfect lovey guy… even going with Paul to The Bead Shop to make me a present with his jewelry buddy, Ms. Georgia.

Then something happened and all the magic was gone.  He was back in his room.

This time, he got right to work on his apologies.  He finished the first (above) and moved on to a second and then a third.  Maybe he needed the time to work through some stuff.

We were beginning to think that everything was going to be okay.

Then Paul discovered that some of his thank you landed on his bed.  We were dumbfounded.

When I asked Will why he wrote on the bed, huge alligator tears began to roll down his cheeks.  “I don’t know,” he said, and I knew he was telling the truth.  He had no idea why he did it, why the irrestible urge came over him, and what made him carry through with it.  Maybe it’s similar to why I cannot resist singing along to the song “Word Up” whenever I hear it, irregardless of the situation (but really, who can resist that?) and Paul’s inability to resist making terrible puns in the most serious of conversations (“what should our wedding song be?” “how about What’ll You Do for Money, Honey?”)  Some things just can’t be refused.

I didn’t know whether to laugh, be angry, or just give him a hug.  I sort of felt like doing all three.

So we settled for him eating dinner.  When he was done, he sassed Paul and we were back to square one.  Again.  Then, after bathtime and a good cry, he was back to being extra sweet.  He brought me his third and final apology letter and read it over with me.  He promised that he was going to work “on a good attitude.”

So he went to bed.  He fell asleep in a second, which makes me think he was tired and worry that maybe that his ear isn’t healing so well?

Kate, on the other hand, was perfectly adorable all day.  Running around the house calling out “Santa is coming!  Santa is coming!”  Then, at bed time, was so worked up that when we explained that she had to go to sleep or Santa couldn’t visit, she gave us her classic pout and declared that she “didn’t want Santa at my house.”  The ying and yang of parenting: one child must always be driving the parent crazy.

Still, Santa decided to show.  With some big surprises.  This year, Santa was more than just Mom, too, but we’ll talk about that after the big reveal in the morning…


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Cajun Christmas in the Oaks

It was in the mid 60s last night and very humid, chilly and a bit damp, but otherwise a perfect night for a walk in City Park.  I’m embarrassed to admit that this was our first ever visit to Celebration in the Oaks.

Paul was a good sport pushing the kids in the Beamer stroller, while I wandered around with my tripod.  Yup, bad-ass me, with my camera and tripod… with the camera set to a high ISO the whole damn time.  So much for bad-ass.

My old 10D rocks, but at 800 ISO, can get a little grainy.  Oh, well, at least I had the tripod.

There was a laser light show (a little lame, but the kids loved the Rudolph song), dancing lights through the landscaped botanical gardens, a lighted telling of A Cajun Twas the Night Before Christmas, live dancers and singers, hot chocolate and hot dogs, and kiddie rides all decked out for the holidays.

Our favorite area was the Train Garden.  Miniature homes and historic buildings of New Orleans, laid out among streetcar and train tracks.  WAY COOL.

Here’s the Vieux Carre, below:

Here’s the train, comin’ by…

Isn’t it cool?  It was WAY cooler in person, too.  Each building was fascinating in detail and expression and the accompanying literature was interesting and insightful.  Little tidbits of local history.

Kate and Paul check out one of the lighted toys.  I can neither confirm nor deny Kate’s attempt to ride the horse while my eye was lost behind the camera.  We went through Storyland… quickly… as things got busy fast.  We came in at opening, but made the mistake of not running a line straight to the train ride and carousel.  We’ll get those later?  Maybe next year?

It’s just not Christmas without this story:

Words, in case you want to follow along:

Cajun Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas an’ all t’ru de house,
Dey don’t a ting pass Not even a mouse.
De chirren been nezzle good snug on de flo’,
An’ Mama pass de pepper t’ru de crack on de do’.

De Mama in de fireplace done roas’ up de ham,
Sit up de gumbo an’ make de bake yam.
Den out on de by-you dey got such a clatter,
Make soun’ like old Boudreau done fall off his ladder.

I run like a rabbit to got to de do’,
Trip over de dorg an’ fall on de flo’.
As I look out de do’in de light o’ de moon,
I t’ink, “Mahn, you crazy or got ol’ too soon.”

Cux dere on de by-you w’en I stretch ma’neck stiff,
Dere’s eight alligator a pullin’ de skiff.
An’ a little fat drover wit’ a long pole-ing stick,
I know r’at away got to be ole St.Nick.

Mo’ fas’er an’ fas’er de’ gator dey came
He whistle an’ holler an’ call dem by name:
“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’!
Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an’Renee’!

To de top o’ de porch to de top o’ de wall,
Make crawl, alligator, an’ be sho’ you don’ fall.”
Like Tante Flo’s cat t’ru de treetop he fly,
W’en de big ole houn’ dorg come a run hisse’s by.

Like dat up de porch dem ole ‘gator clim!
Wit’ de skiff full o’ toy an’ St. Nicklus behin’.
Den on top de porch roof it soun’ like de hail,
W’en all dem big gator, done sot down dey tail.

Den down de chimney I yell wit’ a bam,
An’ St.Nicklus fall an’ sit on de yam.
“Sacre!” he axclaim, “Ma pant got a hole
I done sot ma’se’f on dem red hot coal.”

He got on his foots an’ jump like de cat
Out to de flo’ where he lan’ wit’ a SPLAT!
He was dress in musk-rat from his head to his foot,
An’ his clothes is all dirty wit’ ashes an’ soot.

A sack full o’ playt’ing he t’row on his back,
He look like a burglar an’ dass fo’ a fack.
His eyes how dey shine his dimple, how merry!
Maybe he been drink de wine from de blackberry.

His cheek was like a rose his nose a cherry,
On secon’ t’ought maybe he lap up de sherry.
Wit’ snow-white chin whisker an’ quiverin’ belly,
He shook w’en he laugh like de stromberry jelly!

But a wink in his eye an’ a shook o’ his head,
Make my confi-dence dat I don’t got to be scared.
He don’ do no talkin’ gone strit to hi work,
Put a playt’ing in sock an’ den turn wit’ a jerk.

He put bot’ his han’ dere on top o’ his head,
Cas’ an eye on de chimney an’ den he done said:
“Wit’ all o’ dat fire an’ dem burnin’ hot flame,
Me I ain’ goin’ back by de way dat I came.”

So he run out de do’ an, he clim’ to de roof,
He ain’ no fool, him for to make one more goof.
He jump in his skiff an’ crack his big whip,
De’ gator move down, An don’ make one slip.

An’ I hear him shout loud as a splashin’ he go,
“Merry Christmas to all ’til I saw you some mo’!”

And just in case you need some more Cajun inspiration this holiday:

Happy Christmas Eve!

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Egg nog won’t cut it.

Dear Santa,

When you visit us this year, could you bring something to help me gain the patience I need to deal with my kids non-stop for the next two weeks?  I admit I’ve made some dumb moves (agreeing to teach last minute, for one) that have me thinking about all the other things I’m suppose to be doing… which means that I’m frustrated and not focused on being a Mom right now.  With Paul still working his 18 jobs around the clock and the house in complete chaos, I’m just not in a good place, you know?   Could you bring something to chill that out a little bit?

Oh, and I’m totally cool with pharmaceuticals, if that’s the way you want to go.

Just looking for that Christmas high,


This post is a Monday Mission. This week’s Mission is to write a post in the style of a letter to Santa.


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He better not be in your bed.

Kate, the 30-month old talking flow chart, on the topic of Santa Claus.

“Where’s Santa Claus?”

“He’s at the North Pole.”


“It’s where he lives.”

“He’s in his house.”

“Yes, he’s in his house.”

“He’s not in my house.”

“No, he’s not in our house.”

“He’s not in my bed.” *

“No, he’s not in your bed.”

“He’s not in my closet.” **

“No, he’s not in your closet.”

“He’s at his house.”

“Yes, at his house, at the North Pole.”

“At the North Pole.”

* I wonder if us singing “You Better Watch Out” and the whole thing about ‘he sees you when you’re sleeping’ helped develop this line of possibility?

** This also has been brought up in our household before.  When we first told Will about Santa, he used to cry out at night because Santa was in his closet.

Here is more from Kate on the subject of Santa, speaking during dinner (Shepherd’s Pie and Tomato & Edamame Salad*) last night.

Kate discusses Santa Claus from Cold Spaghetti on Vimeo.

* It feels important to say this only to explain the colorful mass of mush sitting on the plate in front of her.


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Part of the Main

Despite my instinct to hurl whenever I start to feel sappy, I was and am very Thankful for many things today.

I am thankful that my children are asleep without hunger or fear, that we have good health, love for each other, and a community that fills us with friends and opportunities to enrich our lives. What more could we ask?

In a world filled with unspeakable horrors and inhuman poverty, we are beyond blessed: we are among the most privileged on earth. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are too. The Global Rich List is a quick way to check.

If we, then, are the world’s wealthiest people, do we have any social responsibility to those less fortunate? Any moral directive?

I’ve blogged about my own beliefs on these things before; John Donne still says it better than I ever could.

It’s been floating around for awhile that those in the lowest income brackets tend to give more in terms of total assets than those earning significantly more. The percentage of giving falls dramatically at the household earning level of $100,000 per year and does not rise again until you reach the ultra rich categories ( >$10 million/year).

Here’s another thought. Is giving something that one should do because it makes the giver feel better about them self? Or should one give because it’s something we all have a responsibility to do? Is caring for and about each other a goal to be met, or an aspect of what makes us human?

So as I am thankful for the peace within my household tonight, I think of those who do not have rest. This global recession will impact the most vulnerable the hardest. Even as we tighten our belts and hunker down for an uncertain future, shouldn’t we also be talking about what we can do to take care of others? Next year, I want to be thankful for peace in households outside of my own, in places in the world I’ve never been, with people I’ve never met.


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Turkey with Fungi

We don’t dress up for holiday dinners anymore, so there is no more of the tradition of ruining an outfit playing outside. It was just straight up, regular play.

Kate may have inherited my athletic prowess. Just check out how she throws the football…

(What is that football doing behind her in that picture below? Oops.)

The good news is that the fact she can’t keep pants on (note picture above) may be a sign that she somehow missed the voluptuous gene which has been passed down in my family from Mother to Daughter since time immortal.

Will got into the action, too. He even kicked the ball to me a few times.

There was plenty Daddy-tackling.

At some point, I proposed a walk to find pine cones. I figured we could find something crafty to do with them… somewhere in my head are memories of pine cone turkeys, pine cone people, pine cone bird feeders, pine cone holiday decorations, and more. All that thinking of crafty pine cone projects made me start to think all artsy, and I started to play around with the camera. Note Will, my unwilling muse, holding the pine cone… normal picture:

Then the ZOOOOM into the pinecone! I’m all about playing around with the shutter these days.

I also tried the technique with a Japanese maple in my parents’ front yard. The breeze meant that I needed help keeping the branch steady — so I didn’t get to play for all that long, but here’s a sample:

My contribution to my Mother’s usual spread of veggies, turkey breast, and stuffing was Mushroom Gravy. Randy made this for us one Thanksgiving in Blacksburg. The same Thanksgiving my future in-laws came to visit and I decided to make squash soup ahead of time… only to discover that my allergy to pumpkin innerds extended to squash. It was a brilliant plan, really, since everyone was very willing to help out to make the meal — no one wanted the woman with huge, swollen, hive-covered hands touching the food.

Randy’s gravy became the stuff of legend. The recipe, in nearly direct quotation from Randy, goes like this: “Put a LOT of onions, a LOT of mushrooms, and a LOT of oil into a pot. Add some liquid. Let it cook. Add something to thicken it.”

Which is pretty much what I did this year. It was really good, even if this picture makes it look a little funky?

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Hit-or-Miss Holidays

Strange things are afoot in our household. Sure, everyone has been trading viruses for a month (there’s the 8-hour vomit one, the lingering fever one, the sore throat one, and the head cold one), but still, things seem… unseasonably calm. The last two weeks have been difficult with Paul working around the clock (literally) to get the outbuilding weather-proof before it rained, added into the whole Will’s-party thing, a week’s visit from Paul’s Mom, ongoing illness, school stuff, and job deadlines… but still, it’s been okay. I’ve even been getting work done and met a deadline today with relative ease and no late nights. Then I realized.

I said “no” to teaching this fall.

I must remember how good it feels to say no to things every once in awhile.

Except caffeine. I’ve lived life without and ooooh my, it feels good to be back on the wagon.

Tonight I started to inventory all the things I’ve collected this year and am very close to being completely done with the holidays. (Except for Paul, who is most likely getting a yet undetermined bacon-related something for spoiling the Wii surprise.) Last year, we sent out Mardi Gras cards because we were that behind. Today, our holiday cards arrived (I’m not happy with the color Shutterfly added to them, but hey, the price was right). I feel like I’m mellowing into a ‘this is what the season is suppose to be about’ place and it feels all starched and ironed, way too Norman Rockwell to fit my one-step-away-from-nervous-breakdown mode of operation. The question is, then, what in the world am I forgetting?

Don’t be surprised if our house burns down tomorrow.

Here is a holiday that we sort of missed, though. Halloween. That was when I kicked off our family’s month of illness by ruining Halloween. No carved pumpkins this year! But a few weeks before, I tried to be crafty… and even have proof.

Aren’t they cute? My favorite part is Franken-pumpkin’s bolts sticking out of his head. Please ignore the trash behind him that I obviously didn’t see when I took the picture. And the fact that the flowers are… ahem… not blooming. When I finally got around to taking this picture, they’d been out a month. (That’s why the bat’s eyes are falling off.)

Actually, they were suppose to be even cuter. Will and I spent an entire Saturday peeling oranges and limes, which we cut into nose and eye shapes and dried in the oven for 3 hours. Will took some pictures of me cutting. (Will did the peeling.)

I think this one has a cool artsy quality. One that comes from expertly putting the camera on the counter top and randomly pressing the shutter because “the camera is too heavy” to hold.

Here are the eyes and noses. I help him aim a bit before he pressed the shutter for this photograph.

Will painted pumpkins to make the bat. Initially, we were going to make three and hang them on the porch.

I don’t think he cared a bit that we only managed to get wings and eyes on one.

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