It Just Doesn’t Get Any More Perfect Than That

Every single year I head into the holiday season with a false sense of hope. When will I ever learn? Honestly…when?

From the very first moment that I turn off the light on my front porch and close the door to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, I begin watching Hallmark Christmas movies. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember.

Watching the movies filled with gorgeous people, who live in equally beautiful homes, carrying out traditional holiday experiences in such letter perfect ways, always gets me excited for the season of decorating, baking and gift wrapping. Whether I’m watching the movies curled up on my couch with a bowl of popcorn, running on my treadmill losing my will to live, or sitting at the kitchen table correcting papers, the movies never fail to keep me cheery and full of anticipation of the joy and promise of this special season.

533765_4200519417975_856696069_nHaving said that, I have to admit, being such a dedicated fan of Hallmark Christmas movies over the years has sent me into the depths of despair on more than one occasion when it comes to the reality of my own holiday experiences. As it turns out, my life is nothing like what you see in the movies.

I honestly can’t count the amount of times I’ve watched the characters in the films walk out into the middle of snow covered woods, sporting matching sweaters knit in the traditional colors of the holidays, to cut down the world’s most perfectly shaped Christmas tree. Then, when the tree has been chosen with precision and care, and after sharing a group hug (and perhaps a few tears) to celebrate the wonderment of it all, the people on screen join hands and sing a Christmas carol rivaling the talents of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Interestingly enough, as the singing continues, the smiling merry makers sip from frothy, steaming cups of what is sure to be homemade hot chocolate that have appeared magically from out of nowhere. Adding to the glory of the moment, around those mugs are wrapped warm hands tucked into beautifully woven woolen mittens most likely sewn with love by the family matriarch only moments before the festive group headed out on their quest for the most gorgeous tree in existence.

Back at the ranch (and we know for certain it’s a ranch because of the random close up shots of horses lingering in snow covered meadows that are shown often just before or after a commercial), once that tree has been put in place, seemingly without incident, the decorating commences. window-wonderland-christmas-ornament-hallmark Silent Night begins to play from some unseen music source (unless, of course, one of the characters grabs a guitar and plays it in the corner for old times sake) while antique ornaments passed down through the generations are placed with care upon the branches of the tree. While the tree is being transformed, tales of days gone by are recounted in clever ways as the special memories each ornament evokes are shared. With the family dog sitting quietly at their feet, and while the tales of yore are being spun, ropes of popcorn and cranberries are strewn (presumably by invisible fairies) in perfect symmetry around the flawlessly groomed conifer.

Adding to the splendor of the moment, peppermint cheeked boys and girls undoubtedly appear, smiling brightly, and carrying trays from the kitchen loaded up with elaborate sugar cookies; cookies which inexplicably came straight out of the oven already frosted and looking as if they could have been decorated by Martha Stewart herself. Mere moments later, after one last story is wrapped up, the cast of characters disperse to a grand dining room to enjoy a meal at an elegantly set table where they drink wine from crystal glasses, eat a five course meal culminating with a savory roast worthy of high praise from any 5 star restaurant, and toast to their day that was perfectly perfect in every single God forsaken way.

And finally (for the love of God, finally!), the last shot before going to a commercial is a view of that majestic tree, which now, only minutes after having been adorned with decorations, has approximately 3,549 immaculately wrapped gifts arranged so creatively that only someone with an advanced degree in modern architecture could have placed them there.

I mean, not that I’m bitter…because I’m totally not.

It’s just that my holiday decorating experiences are never that…flawless. Or cheery. Or musical. Or oozing in craftiness and domesticity.

Perhaps I’m just a little sensitive because this year’s holiday decorating experience was worse than usual at our house. Why? Well, for starters, instead of traipsing through snow covered woods in search of the perfect tree, my husband and I dug through the back of the garage for the cardboard box our pre-lit tree called home for the last 11 months. The only clothing that even came close to matching were the absolutely stunning grey sweatpants that we both happened to be wearing at the time, and the only real precision involved in getting the tree inside the house took place when we hurled the darn thing (all three pieces of it) into the middle of the living room and hoped for the best.

At that moment, if my life had been a movie, we would have grinned from ear to ear, warmly embraced, and a full band and orchestra hidden in some other part of the house would have begun to play as we burst forth into song. But as this was real life, instead of hugging me and singly joyfully, my husband looked quizzically at the three chunks of tree in the middle of the living room, then looked back at me very matter of factly and stated, “It looks to me like mice might have chewed on the lights, I don’t think it’s going to be safe to plug this thing in.” Then, after giving the biggest chunk (the bottom of the tree, if you will) a slight kick, he took a few over exaggerated whiffs of air, dramatically waved his hand in front of his face, and added, “So, if you’re going to head out to buy some more lights, I’d definitely get some Febreeze or something because this thing totally reeks.”

How’s that for a cherished holiday memory? Fa la la la la…la la la…la.

Feeling ridiculously sorry for myself, but not wanting to prolong what was already turning into a stressful day, I thought it best to head to the store to make the purchases we needed to keep our tradition of holiday decorating from deteriorating any further. As I drove (in the pouring rain) I tried to remind myself that while it was true, heading to the store to get deodorant for a fake Christmas tree wasn’t exactly something I’d ever seen play itself out in a Hallmark movie, it could have been worse. Not much worse, of course. But worse nonetheless.

An hour or so later, back at the ranch, my split-level ranch that is (and we know for certain it’s a split-level ranch because you can either go upstairs or downstairs when you walk through the front door), I was somewhat surprised to discover that my husband had taken matters into his own hands. B2When I walked into my house, it was not the wafting fragrance of a lovely pine tree that greeted me, not the mouth watering smells of pastries baking in the oven, and it most certainly wasn’t the air smelling deliciously of popcorn ready to be strung. Oh, no. The scent that welcomed me home was that of a men’s locker room. For it seems my husband was unable to wait for my triumphant return with the Febreeze, and deciding it was in our best interest, he doused the darn tree with an aerosol can of Sure Deodorant Spray.

So, you know, that was festive. Nothing but class at our house during the holidays, of that you can be sure…literally.

With the exception of the fact that I pretty much lost my marbles when I slipped on a huge pile of Pokemon cards (the very stack I’d asked my son to move out of the dead center of the living room approximately two trillion times that day), and the fact that I had to stop and smell the laundry that was sitting in a basket at the top of the stairs to remember if it was clean or dirty, the hours that followed were somewhat uneventful. And although the play by play of the day didn’t look, sound, taste, feel or smell (no… definitely didn’t smell) like the events that unfold in a typical Hallmark movie, they were still enjoyable.

In the movies, the ornaments are antique. In our house the ornaments are those that we’ve collected over the last 9 years because the ones from our childhoods were accidentally taken to the dump on the day we moved into our house.

In the movies, the family dog sits and watches the characters share their favorite holiday memories as they decorate the tree. In our house we don’t have a pet (and never will), so instead, after my son B1got bored with decorating (and by that I mean after he hung a grand total of 3 ornaments), he actually said, “Since we don’t have a doghouse to decorate with lights like some of my friends, I think I’ll make Bob (our Elf on the Shelf) a little house so I can decorate that.” God love him. It was one of the cutest, saddest, and quite frankly, one of the creepiest statements he’d ever made. So, just to be clear…in the movies, the family dog joins the characters in their festive decorating, and in our house, Bob the Elf watches closely from his homemade housebox.

Did I find that just the least bit unsettling? You bet I did.

In the movies, the cookies that are enjoyed during these good times are made from scratch and could win awards for both taste and appearance on any cooking show in the world. On top of that, the hot cocoa that gets sipped is made of rich, creamy chocolate melted on the stove and mixed with milk straight from the cow that is always standing in wait right outside the kitchen door. In our house, the cookies that get devoured come in a tube that says Pillsbury on the side, and more often than not, come out of the oven looking like a marshmallow that exploded after catching on fire at a cookout. What’s worse, rather than looking like a delectable treat that could be found on the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the hot chocolate at our house more closely resembles something that was scooped out of a mud puddle after a heavy rainstorm. It would seem that those powdered clumps of chocolate never entirely get dissolved during the 45 seconds the mug holding the water and packet of Swiss Miss spins around in the microwave.

And finally, in the movies, it takes 30 seconds for the 25 foot tree to be extravagantly decorated before the characters all head off to the dining room to eat dinner, the presentation of which would not be out of place at Buckingham Palace. In our house it takes a good 4 hours to get three chunks of fake tree thoroughly covered, and even then, it looks like we might have done the decorating in the dark. Nonetheless, it’s not just the people in the movies who get hungry after a day of tree garnishing, so we, too, sit down to a family dinner at the end of the day. A family dinner that, this year, included beets, potatoes, bread and…well…meatloaf. Because nothing creates the feeling of Christmas for both body and soul quite like a loaf of meat.

It’s true…everyone says so.

In the end, I’d love to be able to say that as we ate, all of the presents that I’d yet to purchase magically wrapped themselves and appeared under our tree, but that would not be the case. In fact, don’t even get me started on what kind of ordeal wrapping presents is going to be. You want to know why? I’ll tell you why. That question can be answered in two very disturbing, yet alarmingly accurate words.

Man hands.

Yes. Man hands. As in…the hands of a man.

The kind of hands a man would have.

Somehow it wasn’t in the stars for me to be blessed with my mother’s dainty little fingers that look like those of a fine china doll. Nope. Instead, I was blessed with fingers that look more like those of a fine sausage link.

UnknownReplace the unfortunate lobster in this photo with an equally unlucky roll of wrapping paper, and you’ve got yourself a match. Any wrapping paper that makes its way into my hands has about as much of a chance of survival as that poor lobster. In fact, I’d venture to say that a lobster dismantled with the likes of those man hands will still likely be more attractive than the holiday packages I’m able to produce.

It’s a fact that I have family and friends who can wrap gifts in award winning fashion. The lines of the folds are always perfectly straight and wrinkle free, and the paper is, without exception, folded into perfect looking triangles on each end of the sparkling package. The tape that’s been used lies flat against the paper and is always invisible to the eye.

My packages, on the other hand, more often than not look like they’ve been put together by a 4 year old using safety scissors (oily fingerprints and all) in the middle of a tornado. In all my years, I’ve never, not even once, managed to wrap a gift that doesn’t make people second guess my mental health. I’ve spent many a holiday party mortified that guests will accidentally mistake the wrapping on my packages for holiday themed bubble wrap.

Holiday bubble wrap aside, as I sit here (incidentally watching a Hallmark Christmas movie), having had two full weeks to recover from that less than perfect decorating debacle, I’m looking around and enjoying the fruits of our labor. I’m looking at the tree, and while it’s not decorated with antique or expensive looking ornaments, it’s mine and I love it. And even though I’m sitting in a home that’s not so big that it could house a small nation, or one that has enough land for 2,000 horses to run wild (and thanks be to God for that), I’m sitting in a house that I love. I’m also sitting here making the open admission that I will never even come close to being a person that will win first place in any kind of cooking, crafting, or decorating contest, but also knowing that there are other things in my life that I do well, so I’m okay with that.

But do you know what else I’m doing? I’m sitting here looking forward to the next few weeks and the time that I’ll be celebrating the holidays with family and friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m counting my blessings for those people; for their happiness, for their health, for their safety, and for the joy and laughter that they bring into my life. 564000_4200520978014_2043620534_n But most importantly, I’m thanking God for an absolutely amazing nine year old little boy who doesn’t really care that some of the ornaments on our tree were purchased at the dollar store or that the cookies he sometimes eats are made from prepackaged dough. The same little boy who, even though he’s100% aware that his mother is not capable of wrapping an attractive present to save her life, still asks her to tuck him into bed every single night before reminding her how much he loves her. And I don’t know about you, but in my world, it just doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

 

 

 

 

If Crafting is Right, I’m Always Going to be Wrong

I once saw a bumper sticker that proudly proclaimed If Crafting is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right! Let’s just say…it made me chuckle.

Crafting is not one of my gifts, but as the director of the annual school play for the last 15 years at the middle school where I teach, I often find myself needing to go to craft stores. I assure you that these places are no less foreign to me now than they were when I first starting visiting them over a decade and a half ago. You see…I have very little patience or stamina when it comes to having to cut, fold, glue, paint, sprinkle, peel, bunch, trace, measure, wrap, or God forbid…sew. If I’m being honest, I’m also not a huge fan of cooking since it involves many of the same skills, but that’s not technically a craft. Or is it? Honestly, I have no idea.

Either way, that fact, combined with my general lack of awareness 99.9% of the time, has more than once proven to be a recipe for disaster. At one particular craft store, try as I might, I simply cannot win over one of the clerks who, God bless her soul, has had to put up with me and my ridiculous (albeit unintentional) antics for years. This woman senses my fear. She makes me sweat. My knees have actually buckled in her presence on occasion, and I’m not going to lie, there have even been times that I’ve felt light headed around her. There’s no doubt in my mind that if she knew my name, she would greet me as Seinfeld always greeted Newman. “Hello, Karyn.”

It might have been the time I claimed to have desperately searched every single inch of the store for cow print fabric before having to resort to bothering her, only to find that as I was asking her for help, I was, quite literally, standing in front of a giant display of cow print fabric large enough to be seen from space. Her response was a very dramatic roll of her eyes, a sharp point in the direction of the fabric which truly was only inches from my face, and a frustrated blurt… “If it was a dog, it woulda bit ya!” Though I thought about it, I decided it best not point out that if she were the kind of person who could see the glass as half full, then she just might have given me credit for at least being in the right aisle.

Of course, it might also have been the time that I accidentally bought 20 yards of fabric when I only needed 2 and then tried to return it the next day. (Incidentally, if anyone ever needs 18 yards of fabric with the world’s strangest neon pink and green turtles floating every which way, I can totally hook you up.)

Finally, it could have been the time she caught me looking perplexed at a rack of Lindt chocolate rabbits that looked exactly like dinosaurs from just the right angle, and asked me if I was okay, only to be baffled by hearing me say, “Yes, but I could have sworn those rabbits were dinosaurs just two seconds ago.” images

Yup. Any or all of those experiences could have turned her against me, but in the end, one thing is clear…the woman thinks I’m a lunatic, and frankly, I don’t blame her.

There’s only been one occasion when I’ve had a visit to the store go somewhat smoothly, and when all was said and done, even that didn’t end well. I’d found myself in the position of having to make a quick trip into the store, and for some reason that night I just felt confident. I could feel it in my bones that things were going to go my way. I walked in and went straight to the aisle where the mini wooden clothespins appeared to be waiting just for me to purchase them. Feeling slightly giddy from that accomplishment, I set my sights on the checkout line so I could make a quick escape. That’s when I heard the melodious voice of my nemesis, who perhaps not shockingly, appeared to be in the middle of a heated discussion as she explained to another customer the precise reasons why the navy blue fleece was 50% off but the light blue fleece was, in fact, full price. I waited patiently, feeling only slightly guilty that I was comforted by the fact that perhaps it’s not just me who is so often the victim of this woman’s scorn.

While the battle with the irrationally angry customer drew to a close, I prepared myself to approach the register. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that The Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld wasn’t far from my thoughts. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the counter, bade my most sincere hello, made a little joke about the fact that I found what I needed all by myself which actually made her chuckle, and then began the process of paying. As has so often happened in the past because of the terror she instills in me, not once did she need to wait for me to find my debit card. Not once did she need to bark a reminder to enter my pin number. And not once did I drop all the change out of the open zipper of my wallet causing her to huff and puff at me in disgust while I scurried around on the floor collecting my coins like a dog chasing its tail. I don’t want to brag, but I was on fire. My newfound confidence paid off and the transaction was flawless.

Before I put away the pack of gum that I’d also purchased, I asked her if she wanted a piece and was gifted with yet another smile. Oh yes, I could taste the triumph. As I walked to the door feeling like a goddess of victory, mentally congratulating myself for having finally won the woman over, I heard her commanding voice bellow, “Hey Darlin!” This, I was convinced, was the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life. I was absolutely sure she was going to say something like, “Welcome back,” or “It was great to see you!” as this was the way it had played out so many times in my dreams. Instead, when I turned around and said, “Yes?” I instantly panicked because I noticed she’d put her game face back on. She squinted her beady eyes at me and declared, “You were a whole lot better lookin’ when you had some meat on your bones.”

WHAT?

Having recently lost a significant amount of weight, I could only figure that it was her way of complimenting me, and deciding to choose my battles, I simply smiled, nodded my head, and said, “Noted,” before I disappeared through the door and out into the parking lot.

That was around Halloween, and though my next encounter with her wasn’t in her store, it was still memorable. The next time I saw her I was doing some grocery shopping for a Christmas party that I was hosting when I spotted her in the frozen foods aisle.

I’ll say it again. It was Christmas time. I came across her in the frozen food section of the grocery store.

The similarities to “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogleberg, one of my all time favorite songs, were almost more than I could bear. As I continued my shopping I found myself rewriting the lyrics of the song in my head…

“Met my craft store nemesis in the grocery store

Though it wasn’t quite Christmas Eve

I first noticed her in the frozen foods

But I dared not touch her on the sleeve

She didn’t recognize the face at first

But then her eyes flew open wide

She didn’t hug me and I prayed she wouldn’t curse”

Before I could go any further with my remake, a curious thing happened. I saw her standing in the checkout line right next to me (as the song goes). You can’t imagine my horror when she spotted me, and after a great deal of effort, stood up on her tip toes to look over the barrier between the two aisles. Looking like a bobblehead hovering over a row of Mentos and TicTacs, she asked if I was the one who’d posted something about her on ‘that Facebook.’ Before I could answer, her head disappeared, I heard a minor crash, and then she came puffing around the corner rubbing her knee. Once she was standing directly in front of me she explained (between breaths) that in the past couple of months she’d had two different people try to take her picture with their telephones. Though I desperately wanted to ask her if they were rotary or hand cranked telephones, I kept my wits together, and because I had, in fact, posted about my encounters with her on Facebook, I began apologizing profusely. Just when I thought she might start talking lawsuits she said, “Why are you apologizing? I got a huge kick out of it, but I’ll tell you this…nobody’s gettin’ my pick-cha!” I’ve never been so relieved in all my life. The best part of the whole experience was that right before she left the store, she turned around, winked at me, and said, “Merry Christmas Darlin’!”

It was truly a Christmas miracle.

It’s been over a year since that night, and I’m proud to say that I’ve not only kept “the meat off my bones”, but up until recently, I’ve kept a low profile in her store. My visits have pretty much been incident free.

However, as we all know, all good things must come to an end, and my spree of good luck came to an abrupt halt a few weeks ago when I walked into her store to purchase some zebra print fabric. I went immediately to the fleece fabric by mistake, but then, ever so cautiously, made my way to the regular fabric section. By the time I found myself standing in front of the black and white prints, I was feeling a real sense of accomplishment for 1. having been greeted by my tormentor who, smiling brightly, said, “Must be play time!” as she passed me in one of the aisles, and 2. finding my way to the zebra print fabric without needing to be directed…I found it all on my own. All that was left to do was to take it to the cutting area, ask for the 2 yards that I needed, and then get the heck out of Dodge.

As luck would have it, she was there, working the cutting desk by the time I arrived. As I waited in line, I held the fabric in my hands and mentally rehearsed what I would say (no, I’m not kidding). I would ask for my 2 yards, but since she appeared to be especially chipper, I thought I might begin by joking about not being able to decide if I needed 2 yards or 20. All that changed, however, when I noticed that the line was getting longer behind me and she was all business again. Instead of joking around, I placed my fabric down in front of her and politely asked for 2 yards. That’s when she did something rather unexpected. She asked me how the play was coming along and then followed up by asking what the title of the show was. I told her the title was “Night of the Living Beauty Pageant” about a couple of hucksters trying to make money quickly. I added that the zebra print fabric I was buying was for one of the contestants named Miss Wildlife.

That, my friends, is when the fairy tale came to an end.

After a look of sheer confusion swept across her face, she looked down at the fabric, looked back to me, and then looked back at the fabric several times in succession. It was now my turn to ask her if she was okay. Her response? “Well Darlin’, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that you and I have different ideas about what a zebra is.”

Much to my despair, I looked down and realized that I was holding the wrong fabric.

Yes. I’d found the fabric I desired without needing 7 people to help lead me in the right direction. Yes. I’d remembered to take the fabric to have it 1972448_10201754112081248_137055863_ncut in the cutting area and had not just taken the whole darn roll up to the register as I’d done countless times in the past. But, no. I had not grabbed the right fabric. (In my defense, isn’t a giraffe yellow and brown? ISN’T IT?)

There aren’t enough words in the English Language to describe the horror of that moment, but, being a seasoned scene maker in that store, I forced myself to remain calm. I could feel my face burning up. I could feel my palms beginning to sweat. But somehow, by the grace of God, my mouth, which had gone completely dry, managed to form the words, “Dear God, it looks like I grabbed the wrong roll of fabric.”

That’s when things really fell apart.

She looked deep into my eyes, not a smile or even a semblance of a smirk to be found, and bellowed, “Bolt!”

I felt the first tingles of panic begin to run down my spine. Fearing I might pee my pants, I crossed my legs and then raised my hand, held three fingers in the air (Girl Scout style) and solemnly swore to her that I would leave as quickly as humanly possible the second I went back to the shelf and got the roll of fabric that I really needed.

Having only become more irritated by my plea, which very clearly had fallen on deaf ears, she leaned close enough to me so that I could feel her breath, and eyes bulging, responded as she had just moments before. “Bolt!”

I stood in disbelief while I pondered the fact that after all my years of crafting debacles, this…THIS is what had finally pushed her over the edge.

I was being kicked out of the store.

Unable to mask my humiliation, I scanned the line that was now at least 10 people deep, and asked, “You seriously want me to leave the store?”

That did it. She rolled her eyes, picked up her walkie-talkie, radioed the front counter for help, looked right at me, and veins popping, hollered, “It’s a BOLT of fabric, not a ROLL of fabric!” Turning her attention to the lady in line behind me, who herself was making no attempt to suppress her chuckles, she pointed at me and proclaimed, “This one’s gonna do me in one day, I’m tellin’ ya! She’s gonna be the death of me one a these days!”

I have a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. I have a Master’s Degree in Middle Level Education. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life teaching English to eighth graders. Much of that time is spent working on vocabulary. When we do our vocabulary work in class, we often discuss how words can, and often do, have more than one meaning. And yet…none of that seemed to come into play as I stood there motionless, having just convinced myself that she was having me removed from the store once and for all by telling me to bolt.

The relief that I felt when she rounded the corner of the counter on her way to personally escort me back to the zebra print fabric was rivaled only by the relief I felt by making the realization that she had not been calling security on her walkie-talkie to have me removed from the premises.

Did I get my zebra print fabric? You bet. Did I have to go to the end of the line and wait another 20 minutes to get it cut? Sure I did. Did I make another trip back into that store during the next two weeks before the show went up? Not on your life. Even if it meant I’d have to personally cut, fold, glue, paint, trace, measure, sprinkle, bunch, peel, wrap and/or weave zebra print fabric out of straw at a spinning wheel after meeting deep in the woods with Rumplestiltskin himself…I would not go back anytime soon.

If Crafting is Right, I’m Always Going to be Wrong. ALWAYS. How’s that for a bumper sticker?