Quality Time With the Relatives

(Originally published in Main Line Life on 12/17/08)

You have only yourself to blame. In a moment of weakness – perhaps it was the one-hundredth viewing of White Christmas with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby that did it. Perhaps you had had more than your usual two glasses of red wine. Perhaps it was during the part in the movie where Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen sing Sisters, and inspired by the red wine you called your own sister during the song, turned up the television full blast, and held your phone up to the speaker so she could hear it.
Or maybe one night you were looking for last year’s Christmas card list, when you stumbled upon a forgotten shoebox full of Christmas cards. Peering at the family photos on the cards, you determine that these cards are from about seven years ago. You meant to go through them at some point and organize them into a “save” pile and a “toss” pile (you’ve been meaning to do this with many things in your life), but now here they are. And you realize your children haven’t really gotten to know their cousins from Mudflat, Montana or their Aunt Lillian from Des Moines.

And in a fit of familial good feelings, you call your sister and maybe your aunt and utter those fateful words, words that can never be taken back, “You should visit us for the holidays. We have plenty of room. We’d love to see you!”

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Pray for Peace, Then Pass the Stuffing

(Originally published in Main Line Life on 11/26/08)

Please note: As in any holiday essay, resemblance to current or former family members is purely coincidental and should not be construed as slanderous or mean-spirited in any way whatsoever.

Even in the best of times, putting twenty-two people together in one house, who normally have little to do with one another the rest of the year, and then expecting them to get along and even enjoy one another’s company, is asking an awful lot. Add to that the fact that we still seem to be emerging from a contentious election year, and that we are in a severe economic downturn, and you have the potential for all sorts of interesting dialogue around the dinner table. Just add copious amounts of alcohol, and wait for the fireworks to begin!

When you are young and still living at home, the holidays can be endured fairly easily. Even if weird Uncle John has cornered you once again and is giving you a detailed history of how he sat out the Vietnam War in a cave in the upper provinces of Canada, you can at least slip out at some point in his rambling, marijuana-induced monologue and escape to your room. You don’t know it, but this is the last time you will be able to do this. Once you are an adult, you will actually have to stay and listen. There are no escape routes. (That’s where the alcohol comes in.)

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Searching for Wembley Fraggle

One recent holiday season, my sister in Denver called and left me a message two weeks before Christmas. I recognized the raw panic in her voice.

“Kathy, this is Gail. I know this is a huge favor, but we’ve been trying to get a Wii, and neither Greg nor I have been able to find one. We’ve been to practically every Best Buy and Target in the state of Colorado. Would you be able to try stores in Pennsylvania?”

In the first place, I didn’t even know what a Wii was. She told me it was the latest Nintendo game system, and that the kids had to have it. I almost said something older sister-ish like, “There are kids going without shoes, and you’re spending crazed hours and big bucks on a toy that your kids will not even remember in three weeks?”

Then I remembered my long-ago search for Wembley Fraggle. For those who never saw the quite wonderful kids’ TV program Fraggle Rock, Wembley Fraggle was one of master puppeteer Jim Henson’s Muppet characters in the show. Read more at Main Line Life

Over-decorating for the Holidays

(Originally published in the Chicago Tribune 10/15/96)

There is a serious issue in our community that needs to be addressed: Over-decorating for the holidays.

It used to be that you could put a pumpkin or two on your front porch, along with a couple of strategically placed ears of Indian corn, and that would suffice for the entire fall season. Replace those in December with a big red velvet bow on your front door and you were the Martha Stewart of your street.

That was then, this is now. And now means that unless you have 7-foot-tall dried corn stalks wired to your mailbox, bales of hay tossed about your front yard, ghostly wind socks billowing from your front door, and blinking jack-o-lanterns flashing on the evergreens, you will be the neighborhood pariah.

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