Christmas Caroling

carolers-tifEach year on Christmas Eve, we would load up the car with baskets of homemade jellies and head out to make deliveries. Crisscrossing the city, we got to see the light displays on homes, frantic last-minute shoppers, and the very rare sprinkling of snow flakes. And the entire time we sang carols. Oh Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, Silent Night, and my personal favorite, Good King Wenceslas – all the verses! It felt like a combination of being Santa in his sleigh, and being in a movie where people broke out in song.

Although I’m a soprano and accustomed to singing the melody, I would sometimes sing harmony to make our small chorus sound more complex. By the time we got to the first house, we must have been feeling pretty confident, because we started singing on the front porch as we rang the bell. And since no one wants to stand in their open door for long on a cold December night, we were ushered in quickly.

Door-step caroling became our tradition, and we found that singing our signature carol, Joy to the World, was anticipated. Sometimes, we’d just start singing on the front porch without ringing the bell, and wait for the door to be thrown open by smiling family. I recall a few times when our cousins would open the door, express mock disgust (at least I hope it was mock), and then close the door again. I think they just wanted to see how long we could go on singing.

After a long night out, we’d finally head home to get to sleep so Santa would come. Tucked into bed, humming carols, with visions of sugar plums.

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Furry Christmas

img_1861Our daughter has brought her roommate home with her for the holidays. Beatrix is beautiful. A lovely, quiet guest who doesn’t eat much and only occasionally jumps through the shelf under our coffee table. When we let her roam from her cage that is. We’ve been warned to keep cardboard, paper, and electrical cords away from her because Beatrix is a lop-eared bunny.

I haven’t lived with a pet in the house since I was back at home after college. We had a cat. We dangled string, or gave catnip; he’d join us on the couch and allow us to pet him. If I was stretched out on the floor reading the paper, the cat would inevitably saunter over to me and plop down on the article I was looking at. When the cat went out, we’d never see him other than skulking through the bushes. As evidence of his hunting prowess, he laid trophies at the door – mice, voles, birds, and once, a rabbit.

When we had young kids, they sometimes asked for a dog. My husband grew up with dogs, and would have welcomed one, but we concluded that with both of us working, it would be too cruel to leave an animal crated the majority of the week. Instead, we had an aquarium. Contained! Clean! Educational! But sort of boring. You can’t pet, chase or play with fish, so kids lose interest, and the parents are the ones cleaning the tank. For a while we had a pair of dwarf hamsters. Very cute with big eyes and fat cheeks, they’d stand on their hind legs and scurry about. You could hold them, but I was usually worried that they’d escape, so back into the cage they’d go, left to the entertainment of their squeaky wheel.

Pets are a good learning experience. It takes a lot of responsibility to care for another being who is dependent on you. Consistency in feeding times. Fresh food and a clean water bowl. A comfy dry sleeping area, and room for exercise. It also requires a new perspective on your surroundings. “Pet-proofing”, much like child-proofing, means looking at everything in the animal’s reach to determine how incredibly attractive it might be to an exploring nibbler.

When we’re in the room, Beatrix is allowed to come out of her cage to explore. So far, she is treating our carpet as a sort of life raft in the sea of hard wood flooring. She’ll hop all around the carpet, ducking under the couches, or through the aforementioned coffee table. But she will not step off of the carpet. This seeming barrier is keeping her away from our computer cords, a stack of magazines, and the Christmas tree. But I cannot become complacent. She’s got powerful back legs, and I’ll bet she could tackle the ornaments dangling from branches four feet above her head – not a sight I want to see on Christmas morning.

Winter Storm

img_1833The grocery parking lot is full. With the very last cart I’m winding my way through the packed aisles. Though Christmas songs fill the air, the mood is tense because it’s not a normal weekend. A snow storm is coming and people are in an apocalyptic frame of mind. It’s as if everyone has visions of being trapped in their homes for days on end, so they’re stocking up on essentials. One man’s cart is overflowing with frozen desserts. That family has stuffed a large Star Wars figure between their produce and canned goods. A lady fills her bag with a dozen yogurt cups.

In Chicago, I’m surprised by this pre-storm behavior. When it snows, we hardly miss a beat. Salt trucks have already mobilized so that our roads will stay clear. Sure, some merchants never shovel the sidewalk, but for the most part, we keep going all winter. Schools rarely close, we go to work, stores stay open. But, having grown up in a slightly milder climate, I admit, my first thought when a storm is coming is to check my fridge for milk, bread, and eggs. Sort of a winter survival kit (French toast for dinner!); that, and the ingredients to make a pot of soup.

I grew up in a neighborhood set on a hill. The roads leading in and out were steep, so slippery conditions were serious impediments. I fervently wished for snow each winter, but it was rarely more than a dusting. On the few occasions there was enough to actually cover the grass, we dashed out to make snowmen and go sledding. I remember making snow cream from some impossibly deep snow that drifted against our front porch to block the screen door. But I don’t remember any coordinated snow removal for the neighborhood streets, so we’d be homebound until it warmed up and the hills weren’t icy. We may have walked to the grocery, wrapped in scarves and hats (but with thoroughly inadequate boots), but there was no chance of taking out the car.

Parents might have called it cabin fever, but it seemed like a fun long weekend to the kids. Popcorn and TV, hot chocolate with marshmallows, listening to records and playing board games. We were warm and dry, and snow made the night seem bright.

The eight bags of groceries I brought home today belie our almost empty-nester status. With enough supplies to feed us for two weeks, I feel confident we’ll make it through the weekend. Unless the internet goes out.

Read the Fine Print

img_1817Check the return policy. Proofread your writing. Read the instructions. Ask about asbestos. We know we should do these things, but we’re in a hurry. We’ve done this before, we know how things work. The world shouldn’t be a constantly surprising us, should it? All things I have had to learn from the experience of screwing up.

Accepting the newest upgrade for my phone or computer, I’m presented with a long list of terms and conditions, but I admit, I rarely even scroll through the text before I click accept. I haven’t just donated my kidneys to orphans half-way around the world, but now I’m wondering why so many of the applications look different.

Biting into the round milk chocolate candy I’ve selected from the box, I realize this is the flavor I don’t like. The lid has a map of the contents showing all the flavors and fillings, but I blithely ignored it in my haste.

Pulling out of the rental lot at 9pm, I’m thinking about what road to take to the hotel. Once on the highway, I notice I can’t see the dashboard very well, so I fumble around for the lights to adjust the display level, turning on the windshield wipers instead. Driving past street lights, I understand why other cars are honking at me – my lights aren’t even on.

Preparing a crabmeat casserole, I’ve managed a decent white sauce, picked carefully through the crabmeat, and layered the ingredients into the pan. Next step in the recipe: “refrigerate for 8 hours before baking.” I guess we’re having something else for dinner tonight.

Our first home was small, built in the 30’s, and had a garage – we were thrilled. During the pre-purchase inspection, every system and appliance was described as having “reached its design life”, but we didn’t fully appreciate it until winter. One morning we woke to a cold house. When the technician arrived, he took one look at our furnace and said he couldn’t touch it because it was encased in asbestos. Imagine my surprise! I guess I thought that it was normal for an oil-fueled furnace to look like a squat white refrigerator. The asbestos-removal project that followed seemed to go on forever, while we dashed between one room warmed with a space heater, and the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen.

The most vivid learning experiences I’ve had are when something went wrong – while being inconvenient, expensive, dangerous or embarrassing. In that emotional moment I’m mad, frustrated, and feel a fool. Vowing to never make that mistake again – and usually I don’t. New mistakes crop up, and I find them every time.