yard sales, jan. 22.

Thing 1:A pile of awesome.

You really can’t judge a sale by its ad or even by a drive-by.  It being the dead of winter, I will go to any sale that is happening.  The first sale on my list was a moving sale that had the benefit of being near my house.  During the month of May, I never would have bothered going to it, because I would be too busy going to huge church sales instead.  And if I had just driven by it, I probably would not have stopped, because the house was in a nice neighborhood full of houses that looked just like it.  The people who live in those kinds of houses don’t usually have the sort of thing that I’m looking for.

But I stopped, because it’s January.  For the most part, my preconceptions were absolutely right.  The sale consisted of a lot of expensive clothes and various decorations from the Pottery Barn of three years ago.  But then I found the pile of vintage Snoopy children’s clothes.  My trained eye caught sight of the top item, and as I kept digging, more vintage cuteness kept appearing.  They were all too freakin’ adorable for words.

In the end, I picked out only two items to send to my sister’s kids.  The lady wanted $1 apiece for them, which seems a bit high for children’s clothes.  I could have offered $5 for the whole pile, but what was I going to do with them?  In this case, “vintage” also meant “stained,” and my sister is not as excited by old things as I am.  I see stains as badges of authenticity, but she’s more likely to see them as spaghetti sauce from twenty years ago.  So I picked out the two cleanest and most normal items.  As I was leaving, I noticed another woman who was enthusiastically pawing through the pile, so hopefully the other little outfits will find a home where they are loved.

Anyway, the point is, even the most cookie-cutter of houses sometimes has a pile of awesome in the corner.

Thing 2:  A risky gamble.

Half of the sales I visited yesterday were estate sales.  One of the nice things about these kinds of sales is that prices are uniformly slashed in half at some point.  I was there at 10:30 and saw something I that I wanted – a cast iron Dutch oven with a handle that you could use to hang the pot over a campfire.  It was $10, which seemed a bit high.  After much deliberation, I decided that I would come back at noon, when everything would be half off.

That’s a risky gamble, of course.  Someone might come in the interim and buy it.  I had paid $8 for a Cousances Dutch oven a couple of years ago, rather than wait for the half-off sale, and I’ve never regretted it.  Then again, I had known at the time that name-brand Dutch ovens like that one ran about $150.  I’d also been looking for one for a while, whereas I had no immediate use for this campfire one.

I guess the fact that I’m not posting a picture here tells the story.  I got back to the sale at noon on the dot, and the pot was gone.  C’est la vie.

Thing 3:  Just looking.

I have always loved shopping, which is one of the few womanly-type things that does come naturally to me.  Other women who love shopping tell me that their love of shopping is different than mine because they go to Kohls or whatever.  I say that it is no different, except that maybe my way is awesomer.  One might argue that a love of shopping is a love of spending, and that is probably true to a certain point (or at the very least, a love of acquiring).  But there is fun to be found in just looking, and that is one way that the awesomeness of my kind of shopping really stands out.

I present to you:

PHONE BOOTH OMG!!! I did not buy this.  Not because I don’t think it was worth $1500, but because I really shouldn’t be spending that much on useless things, even though I probably could have gotten the price down, and I know just the spot in my house for it.  The owners bought it half a century ago from the Sir Walter Raleigh hotel.  Sometimes it’s worth going to the sales just to see what’s hanging out in someone’s garage.


sick day.

I had a sick day yesterday. Aside from my physical problems, I also have guilt associations with sick days. Am I really sick? Or am I just slacking off? We never were allowed to stay home from school unless we were demonstrably sick. The definition of sick is pretty much "throwing up." Anything that merits a trip to the hospital would be acceptable, too. As a result, anything less than throwing up is not sick to me. If I'm not hurling, I can go to work. Otherwise, I'm just playing hooky. That's not really true, and it defies the point of sick days. They're not for you, they're for your coworkers. Keep your germs at home. In general, I don't do that. I bring them in with me, and I thoughtlessly throw them around the office. I'd feel bad, except for the fact that if someone else hadn't already done the same thing, I wouldn't be sick right now.

But yesterday morning, around 6:30 or so, I was the definition of sick. Such are the wonders of technology that I was able to send an email to my boss telling him that I was too busy ralphing to come to work, and I didn't even have to leave my bed to do it. I threw up a little more, then went downstairs to be sick properly: on the couch, watching TV, with a vomit bowl next to me.

Except...there's really no point in having a vomit bowl, because I have to empty it myself. So I used it, then immediately got up and emptied the contents into the toilet. It seems like I could cut out the middleman here. A vomit bowl is only useful if you have a nice mommy to take care of you. I could have had Josh do it for me, but I wasn't that sick. I will let you know if I am ever that sick.

I had a nap on the futon while Ren & Stimpy got up to their usual shenanigans. I have mixed feelings about this show. Josh loves it, but he loves a lot of strange things. According to him, it was Nickelodeon's peak. At that point, they were still unknown enough that the programming could be just a bit subversive. That's a good description of Ren & Stimpy. Artistically, it's quite good. The visual style is interesting, and the use of sound effects and background music, though obviously derivative of Looney Tunes, is excellent. And it's funny, too. But when I watch it, I have this nagging, but firm, feeling that it is not appropriate for children. I can't put my finger on anything that is actually "bad." There is no cursing or sex. There is a fair amount of toilet humor, which you could say was distasteful, but inappropriate? I dunno. I'll let you know if I ever figure that one out, too.

I woke up from my nap feeling a lot better. Not like a million bucks, but probably at least ten. Well enough to try and drink some Sprite. If that went well, maybe I could try for some chicken soup. Not that I had any chicken soup in the house. I could send Josh to the store for the condensed stuff, but the thought of eating it sort of turned my already tender tummy. What I needed was a huge supply of individually-frozen portions of homemade soup. I'll just go back and time and do that, I guess.

Feeling better made me feel worse, at least as far as my sick day guilt. I had to keep reminding myself that I had been legitimately sick that morning. Really, I had been, and I have the vomit bowl to prove it. I decided that no matter how much better I was feeling that night, I would not leave the house. Legitimately sick people do not leave the house.

At 3 o'clock on the dot, the band van pulled into our driveway. At 3:04, it left again, with Josh inside. I guess in terms of sick days, this one was at least well-timed. It gave me a few more hours with him. A couple of them had been napping, and a couple more had been throwing up or wondering whether I was about to throw up. I wouldn't exactly call it quality time, but it was at least time, and that's more than I'll have with him for weeks.

This morning, I woke up feeling better, but somehow also worse.



The freezer inventory said I had too much chicken. I had so much chicken that when it went on sale on Harris Teeter, I did not buy any. How much chicken did I have? More than twenty pounds of boneless skinless breasts. Also a couple of individual packs and a whole fryer. Chicken chicken chicken.

So I went to the internet to look at chicken section and pick out something I could make with chicken and the other things on my inventory. I settled on Sweet and Sour Chicken, seeing it as a good opportunity to expand my Chinese food repetoire. I prepped all the ingredients so it would all be ready to cook up when Josh got home. He was at the recording studio.

I also had a pot of mulled cider on the stove. Or I guess I had a pot of cider mulling, so that later it would be mulled. I suppose that makes me a muller. Ever since the wassail at Christmas, hot spiced beverages have been my new Saturday night thing. This one didn't even have any booze in it.

My sweet musician got home a little after nine, and I asked him to help with the chicken. Per the recipe, we heated a pan on the stove until it was VERY HOT. And then we added a tablespoon or so of sesame oil. Suddenly, there was a fire leaping a foot out of the pan. We both stared at it dumbstruck for a second. Fire? What? That was not in the instructions.

Josh picked up the pan by the handle, which seemed like a good idea, considering the kind of height the flames were getting. Except now he had a pan full of fire in his hand. He headed toward the sink, and my brain finally decided to help by pulling information from somewhere deep inside. "No! You don't put water on grease fires." He nodded and backed away. The fire burned on, not caring at all about us.

Well, it was great that my brain decided to remember that you're not supposed to put water on a grease fire. Just in the nick of time, too! But then I couldn't quite recall what it was you were supposed to do. Josh kneeled down on the floor, bringing the burning pan down low. "Don't put it on the floor!" was my next suggestion. I had a roommate in college who couldn't remember what you were supposed to do with a grease fire, and her solution was to put the burning pan down on the floor. We had a big black ring on the linoleum as a result. I'm not sure that he was actually considering putting the pan on the floor or if he was just trying to keep the flames from touching the ceiling. All I knew was that I did not want a big black ring on my hardwoods.

Smother! That's what you're supposed to do. I grabbed a thick kitchen rug off the floor and threw it over the pan. Something hot splashed onto my foot and I saw a puddle of clear liquid on the floor. Now that I think about it, the rug could have been a really stupid plan. Kitchen rugs are generally pretty flammable. It would have been better to have used the lid that went with the pan, but we've already established that my brain was being a little slow. This particular rug had a really tight weave, and I guess that saved us. The fire went out, and then the smoke alarm went off. Josh took the rug-covered pan outside while I fanned the smoke alarm with a cutting board.

It all happened in the course of maybe thirty seconds, but geez. It was the most action-packed half minute I had experienced in a long time.

Josh came back inside, leaving the door open to allow the smoke to disappate. I continued to fan, thinking that having a little kitchen fire every week or so would allow me to build up some nice arm muscles. I have a love/hate relationships with smoke alarms. My only experience with them has been to be annoyed by them, either because they want more batteries in the middle of the night or they are alerting me to a problem I already know about. I was glad it hadn't gone off during the actual fire. That would have been just one more thing to distract my brain from finding the right information.

I was a little concerned about my foot. I knew that hot grease was a bad, bad thing to have touch your skin. My foot didn't really hurt, though. It felt a little warm, but mostly just wet. I know the grease had been really freaking hot, but maybe I had some kind of super foot that was resilient to burns.

The smoke alarm finally finished telling us what we had already known. We closed the back door and reconvened at the scene of the action. I carefully touched the puddle on the floor that had formed at the same time that my super foot had gotten wet. It was too watery to be cooking oil. What the heck was it?

The answer: it was cider. The cider pot had been sitting on the counter when I had thrown the rug over the fire. I guess I had hit it. On top of everything, it was sort of a perfect comic disaster. We had a grease fire and we dumped mulled apple cider on the floor.

The events all caught up with Josh and he suddenly enveloped me in a tight hug. Josh is good in a crisis. He can hold a pan full of fire and not panic. Then once the crisis is over, it all catches up with him and he seems to realize all that was at stake. I learned this about him after he changed my tire on the shoulder of I-40. He'd never changed a tire before, but he did it perfectly, with eighteen-wheelers whizzing by only a few feet away. Then we drove to the nearest gas station to check everything out at a safer location, and he smoked cigarettes with shaky hands.

This was like that, only I guess he'd had enough smoke, so he decided he needed a hug instead. It was sweet, though I don't think that I had been in actual danger. There was potential for real disaster here. We could have burned down the neighborhood. But me? I have legs, capable of getting me away from the fire. The house does not have legs. I was freaked out about my beautiful house.

It was scary, but we handled it. That seems to be a good description of my experience with adulthood so far.

The next night, I went to Lowes and bought two household fire extinguishers. Josh said we needed one for his library, too. We are suddenly very concerned about fire safety.



A long, long time ago, I used to make a list on New Year's as a way of determining whether the previous year had been a good year or a bad year. I would make a list of all the major events that had happened in my life, and then I would rate them with a smiley face, a frowny face, or a tilda, which meant that the event had been neutral. Then at the end, I would tally it all up, and if I had more smileys than frownies, it had been a good year.

There are all sorts of problems with this system, of course, the main one being the assumption that each thing has the same weight. But to be honest, I had a pretty good childhood, so the bad events weren't ever all that bad. Let's just bag up the years from 1982 to 2001 and stamp a smiley on them. 2002? Big ole frowny.

For whatever reason, I stopped making that list sometime in my teens. Maybe I realized that it wasn't a particularly accurate or useful way to take stock of a year. Or maybe I had a bad year and I didn't want to think about it. I wouldn't even know how to make a list like that anymore. I'd feel obligated to try and weigh everything, like this thing was two frownies and this other thing, which was great, was seventeen smileys. It's possible that twenty-eight is too old to be thinking about a whole year's worth of living in terms of smileys and frownies.

I did take inventory on New Year's, though. Of my freezer.

My CraigsList freezer was starting to show signs of its age. Now that I've had a freezer for two years, there is no going back. So I bought a brand new one. Maybe this is surprising to you, because you think I never pay more than a buck-fifty for anything. I decided to buy new for a couple of reasons. Freezers last a long, long time, so the cost spread out over the years is not that much. There is something to be said for reliability. Also, new freezers are much more energy efficient than the old ones, so I'm saving money that way, too. I don't have to justify my appliance purchases to you anyway.

When moving stuff from the old freezer to the new, I found a lot of food that I did not realize that I had. Some of it was thrown right out. I generally consider expiration dates to be recommendations rather than hard and fast rules, but there was stuff in there that was capital-E Expired. I was still holding on to a free pork tenderloin I'd been given when the restaurant where I worked closed down. You know, when I was in college. Five years ago. And there were lots of other things like that. While it does not bother me to take something to Goodwill, I hate throwing away food. I know people who are wasteful with food, and I want to give them a good shaking whilst lecturing about all those starving children. It was a hard hit to my ego to see my trash brimming full of food that was perfectly good a couple of years ago.

See, I think of myself as a smart shopper. I was trained from a very young age to stock up on a product when it's on sale. That's why I have a freezer in the first place. Seeing those trash bags full of food showed me that I'm not quite as smart as I'd like to think. Maybe I spent only one dollar instead of two for something, but if I never use it, then it's still a dollar wasted. It's not just about finding the best price and stocking up. It's knowing how much you can actually use and then making sure that you use it. Otherwise, in your effort to save money, you've thrown it away.

It was hard for me to clean out my freezer so ruthlessly, but I had some inspiration. About a month ago, Josh and I watched an episode of Hoarders on Netflix instant viewing. I'd been wanting to see this show for a couple reasons. One, because I've definitely been to yard sales of people who were hoarders. Two, I have some of my own magpie tendencies. Three, I just like looking at other people's stuff, okay? I really had no idea what we were in for. The episode we watched dealt with two cases - a small family with a stuff problem and an old lady with a food problem. The stuff problem was that the wife was a compulsive shopper and the husband couldn't bear to part with anything, even if it was broken or otherwise no longer useful to them. The food problem was that the old woman bought things when they were on sale and then could not eat all of it. That lady had rotten pumpkins in her living room.

We watched the show because we were interested, but it changed our whole outlook with one episode. When we were going through the house to purge before Christmas, it lit a fire under me. And then when I was going through the old freezer (and the fridge and the pantry), I was pretty unforgiving when it came to expiration dates, because all I could think about was the lady with the rotten pumpkin in her living room. Some of that stuff was probably still good, even though the dates indicated they were best by sometime in 2009. But you have to draw the line somewhere, so I did. I felt terrible doing it. But the solution is not to push the boundaries of expiration dates. The solution is to manage my stock better so that it gets used before I have to worry about the date at all.

What was not thrown out (and there was plenty that was still perfectly fine, too) went into the new freezer. I also made a long list of every single thing I had. Then I reorganized this list into subcategories and made a little spreadsheet for myself. I printed out several blank spreadsheets and wrote down everything I had. Those sheets now stick to the new freezer, where I can see at a glance what I have and how old it is. It has been enormously helpful already. Two weeks ago, there was Italian sausage at a good price. I cook with sausage frequently, so I wrote it down on my shopping list for the week. But then I looked at my inventory and realized that I had four and a half pounds of the stuff already. What I needed to be doing was using it up, not buying more. So I made a lasagna, being sure to mark off the sausage that went into it.

Every day since then, I've been using the inventory to guide my decision as to what to make for dinner. Previously, I would decide what I wanted first and then just get what I needed. Most of the things that I cook rely on pantry staples anyway, so it's not as if I was going to the grocery store every evening to pick up exotic ingredients like kumquats. It's darned convenient living a half mile from the store, but that doesn't mean I should be relying on that.

You could call this a New Year's Resolution, I guess. I am attempting to make a change in the way I live my daily life, and this change did start at the beginning of 2011. I see it more as a part of a constant growth in myself as, for lack of a better word, a homemaker. A household manager. Whatever. When I was bagging up all the food I'd wasted, I was reassessing my own skills. It occurred to me how much harder it would be for me to figure all this out as I go if I had youngins at my feet. I have some time to get really good at this stuff before I have to start feeding more people.

In any case, I have high hopes for my new system. On January 1, 2012, I would like to be able to write down "New Inventory System" and put a couple of smileys next to it.


warm fuzzies.

I know that you are all incredibly sick of Christmas entries right now. I'm a little sick of writing them. If I'd had any sense at all, I would have posted them during the last week of December. Or if I'd been really smart, I would have written them now and then saved them for December of this year, when we're all feeling more Christmasy. But hey, what follows is the last part of the story. I should be able to write about New Years by February.

Back to the story of the Christmas with two trees, already in progress.

Sometime in early December, Josh and I began discussing the possibility that his dad might want to bring his new girlfriend, Carol, to Christmas. We had already met her and liked her, but we felt a little weird about having her over for a family holiday. We were still getting used to the idea of the divorce. But we couldn't say no, because, well, that would be mean. I told Josh that if it came up, he could tell his dad that she was more than welcome, but that he personally had some concerns about his dad's decision-making as of late.

A few days later, his dad asked the very question we'd been discussing, and Josh said sure. There was nothing more to it. I can't tell if that's a guy thing or a Josh and his dad thing. If this had been my family, you can believe there would have been a Conversation. My family lets me know when they are concerned about my decision-making.

In any case, we were expecting three guests for Christmas, four if you count Josh's brother's dog. You might as well, since we bought him a gift. It was a stuffed Mario, just the right size for a rottweiler to rip to pieces. I found it serendipitously at a thrift store for $1.50. I did not tell the nice lady cashier that I was buying just so it could be destroyed.

A far more difficult problem was what to give Carol. I suddenly became very sympathetic to the mothers of the men in my dating history (both of them). Maybe this should have been obvious, but it's hard to buy something for someone you don't know. I take gift-giving pretty seriously, and I like to give unique and personal presents. However, I knew a total of two things about Carol: she was a deer hunter, and she used to raise goats. That's it. I went to every antique store in town to find something suitable and came up empty-handed. Every time I thought I had a winner, I began to wonder if I was just picking out things for myself. Yes, I like this cute silver flying pig bank, but is she the kind of person that would enjoy it? And then it'll just take up room in her house and she'll feel guilty for wanting to get rid of it.

Maybe given enough time, I could have found something really awesome, but in the end, we made a half-hearted attempt. Josh came up with the idea of a journal, and I decided to include some homemade goods - our own lemon liqueur and hot sauce (not together). I felt pathetic. I think I'm some hot-shot gift-giver, and I was pretty much shopping out of my own fridge. Even if she didn't like them, we hoped that the gifts at least seemed personal. It was the best we could do. If it is the thought that counts, then we thought about it a lot. We would have thought even more, and maybe one of them would have been the thought that contained the definitive answer, but all of a sudden they were on our doorstep, ready for Christmas Eve dinner.

Dinner went great. We had crab legs, and everyone liked it. We all ate too much and then had chocolate pie and homemade truffles while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. The truffles were made by Carol, who also brought venison stew and homemade wassail. They were all awesome, but I have to say that I can really put away the wassail, which is probably something you never knew about me. I never even knew it about myself. I was still working on the wassail when the older generation went to bed. Us twenty-somethings stayed up and watched Christmas episodes of South Park.

The next morning, I made two Quiche Lorraines for five people. Why two? I don't know. I remember complaining when Susan used to make too much food and then send it home with us, as if Josh and I could eat our way through a whole cake. But it's better to have too much than too little, and I was able to freeze the extra quiche. I sent the remainder of the first one home with Trevor, because I am a hypocrite (and he asked for it - ha!). We also had biscuits with apple butter that Carol had brought.

And then, presents! That part of it seemed sort of anti-climatic this year, perhaps because I was focusing on stuffing everyone with egg pie. At some point in all the unwrapping, I looked over at Carol. It was obvious that she was really, really touched. Guess what? She keeps journals, and, if you couldn't tell by now, she is a huge fan of homemade goods. She told me that she took up the mantle of making apple butter for her family, since her grandmother had died and no one else seemed interested in doing it. She is frequently discouraged by how few people make things themselves anymore. So, slam dunk on the gifts, basically.

They left around noon to go see her family. They hugged us several times, and Carol got a little choked up. I wonder if she had been dreading it, fearful of how we would receive her. That's probably why she brought so many contributions. She just wanted us to like her. Sometimes I get really mystified by other people's behavior, and I can't figure out where they are coming from at all. A lot of the time, people just want to be liked.

I'd known from the beginning that we were a bit required had to let Carol come. I knew that not welcoming her would be a jerk move, but I didn't even think of the flip side - what a really good thing it would be to open up our home to her. They were both just so happy to be there. All this divorce stuff is really complicated, but it's not our divorce. All we have to do is be nice people. Done.

Our guests gone, Josh and I turned the futon into a bed, where we snuggled, ate chocolate pie, and watched Christmas videos. Even aside from that foolproof recipe for contentedness, I was full of the warm fuzzies. We had done a good thing. I was basking in the warm glow of the happiness that I had helped create in others. You know, I like making other people happy so much that I'm considering doing it more often.


christmas china.

Sometime in November, Josh asked me if I wanted a set of Christmas china. His dad and step-mom were splitting up, and neither one wanted their set. I did not even have to think about it, the answer was no. Do I want something that takes up a lot of space and that I can only use once a year? Nope. I don't want any kind of china, much less a set whose pattern limits its use. What marketing genius invented Christmas china? Bah humbug.

Christmas china, and really china in general, lives in that area of domesticity that I just don't get. It lives there with matching silverware and an immaculate house. I wasn't raised by a domestic goddess and I didn't grow up to be one. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it, that and all the other ways in which I seem to fail at being a woman (see Shaving, Legs). I am mostly secure in the knowledge that Josh knows this about me, expects it to be that way forever, and still loves me. However, the prospect of being the hostess of a major family holiday gathering, with everyone's enjoyment of said holiday depending on my woman skills, was causing me some stress. This stress was made worse by the fact that Josh's ex-step-mom, Susan, totally rocks at hostessing. When we went to Christmas at her house, every detail was perfect and amazing. How was I supposed to live up to that kind of precedent?

If I had a low point during this holiday season, it was the tree skirt incident. See, last year I made our own personalized stockings. They turned out beautifully, if a little homemade. Emboldened by my success, my next idea was to make a tree skirt, so we wouldn't have to use an old bedsheet. But then Susan gave me a tree skirt, the most beautiful item of clothing that any evergreen could ever wear. It had appliqué and embroidery and little button embellishments, just a little bit classy and a little bit whimsical. It was made of white wool and blue felt and red cotton. I was honored to own such a lovely thing, yet also sort of depressed. I had been planning on making my own, but there was no way that I could ever make anything as nice as the tree skirt we had been given.

And then, in the process of trying to put up our ridiculous eight-foot tree, the skirt got dirty. I wasn't sure if it was washable, but I figured it was probably okay as long as I didn't put it in the dryer. Guess what? WRONG. Not only did the fabric get all misshapen, the red cotton bled all into the white wool to become that unmistakeable shade of incompetence pink. I had ruined Susan's tree skirt. I sat down in the floor and threw myself a pity party right there in front of my washing machine.

What was wrong with me? Isn't this stuff supposed to come naturally to me? This is why we can't have nice things. One more reason not to take the Christmas china; I would just ruin it.

A couple weeks after I gave an unequivocal no to the offer of free Christmas china, Josh asked again if I wanted it. See, if a member of my family had done that, I would have figured that they had forgotten that they asked in the first place. We're forgetful like that. Luckily for us and any future children we might want to have, Josh and I are not related. So the fact that he asked again indicated that maybe he wanted the china, but he was a man and not supposed to want things like fancy dishes. Perhaps he had been counting on the fact that I am a woman and would of course accept them immediately. Ha! I told him that if he wanted it, then I would be more than happy to make room for it. Okay, I might not have been that gracious about it, but the gist was the same. It was probably more like "If you are attached to those silly useless plates, then I will find some dark cabinet to stash them during the 364 days of the year that we don't use them, BUT ONLY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU. Also, you will have to wash them, not me."

He looked the plates up on the internet to show me. They had a traditional Christmas tree in the middle, and a green border. For Christmas china, they were pretty enough, so I made my peace with them. We met up with Josh's dad in Winston, and he loaded a giant Rubbermaid container full of breakables into the trunk of my car. The next morning, Josh found some space in a kitchen cabinet. He unpacked the first dish from its newspaper wrapping and said, "What is this?"

See, it wasn't the china with the tree and the green border after all. This one had a wreath trim, with rocking horses and trains. I looked at it and thought to myself that this china would be more difficult for me to make peace with. I had to save cabinet space for this?

This is the part of the blog entry where I interrupt my own story to try and make nice with the people that I am about to offend, in this case, people who like the rocking horse china. There are people that I like and care about who liked that Christmas china enough to buy a whole dang set of it. But can we agree as adults that part of the beauty in this world is in its variety? It's a big world, with room for lots of different kinds of Christmas china patterns. Not everyone can like the same thing, of course. Different plates for different mates...or something. So if you happen to really love some china that I myself do not care for, please don't take my opinion personally, even if I write about it at length and post it on the internet.

The point is, I didn't like the plates at all. Neither did Josh. The green border plates that he was thinking of are the ones that his mother has. Maybe we'll inherit those someday. I will still probably say "no" the first time.

I guess I should have been relieved, because now Josh didn't want to keep the dishes either. We decided that we would use them for this Christmas and then get rid of them. Take them to Replacements, Ltd. and exchange them for a pattern that we actually liked. Or just take the money and spend it on another sarcophagus, because we hate having useless objects like fancy dishes taking up space in the house.

Our guests were scheduled to arrive at 4:30 on Christmas Eve. At 4, we were pretty much ready. The house was cleaner than it had been since we moved in. The gifts were wrapped, the stockings were hung on the mantel with yarn, the hostess was dressed in an immaculate cocktail dress t-shirt and jeans. I asked Josh to set the table. As recently as the day before, the kitchen table had been piled high with laundry, but today it was clean and covered in a deep green tablecloth that I had randomly found among my fabric scraps.

"Hey, let's not use the Christmas china," Josh said suddenly.


"Let's not use it."

"What are we going to use?"

"Our regular dishes. The mismatched Corelle dishes."

"But I thought we were going to use the china once and then get rid of it."

"Nah. Unless you want to."

"I guess I don't care."

"The Christmas china is a symbol of a broken marriage, and we don't even like it. Why would we use it?"

When he's right, he's right. That china was both literal and figurative baggage, and we don't have to have it on our table.

I had been focussed on making Christmas awesome for everybody. Somehow I had come to believe that "awesome" meant "just like Susan did it." What I needed to realize (or what I needed to be told) was that there is no one way to do Christmas. The reason that I don't worry about my failures in domesticity most of the time is because I don't think that stuff matters. And the reason that Josh is okay with these limitations of mine is because he feels that way, too. Christmas is not about dishes or tree skirts.

So that's what we did. He set the table with my hodgepodge, dishwasher-safe, dishes. We have matching silverware, but he didn't use it. He was going out of his way to be weird, as a way of celebrating the way we actually are without even trying. He was saying "This is us and this is what Christmas is like at our house. Feel free to notice how happy and loving it is." In the midst of my hosting-induced stress, I kinda needed that. I needed to be told that throwing a wonderful Christmas was not in conflict with my haphazard domestic practices, so relax and be yourself, you silly woman. He's a very remarkable and lovable man. Kind of a weirdo, though.

We had dinner, it was yummy, no one said anything at all about the dishes. Frankly, I can't help but think that there were others who were perfectly okay with not being served crab legs on a piece of figurative baggage.


christmas feelings.

I may be well on my way to being a crazy tree person, but there is a reason behind it. I admit that I wanted a giant, impressive tree because I had people to impress. We hosted Christmas this year. In the month leading up to the holiday, several people asked what I was doing for the holidays, and that is what I told them: We are hosting Christmas. They would say, oh, that's nice, and then talk about themselves, which always disappointed me. I was bursting to talk about it, because it was pretty much all I thought about for a month or so. But then again, even if someone had given me room to talk about myself and my Christmas feelings, I would have changed the subject or made a joke. And that's why I have a blog.

So the story didn't start with Drag Bingo at all, but back in October, when Josh had a really crappy weekend. It was crappy because we had planned a trip to Washington, D.C. to see Cinematic Titanic. We had reservations in a super nice downtown hotel and we were also going to see a Romanian puppet show. But then he couldn't get off work and I scrambled to find a girlfriend who could go at the last minute. Oh yeah, and while he was sitting at home alone, missing our trip, he also found out that his dad was getting divorced.

Our holiday schedule has been to visit his dad for Christmas Eve and then his mom for Christmas morning. It is this way because a long, long time ago, that was the agreement that Josh's parents came to when they themselves divorced. His dad could have Christmas Eve, and his mom had Christmas day. That schedule was threatened, since we weren't even sure where his dad would be living come the holidays.

Well, heck. We have a house. It's got high ceilings.

It seemed like a holiday emergency. We didn't, and still don't, know anything about the divorce. But we do know that years of not seeing his sons on Christmas day has made Josh's dad very sentimental about the holidays. I imagine him doing his best to throw the most memorable Christmas Eve possible for his boys, and then watching Christmas movies alone the whole next day. So Josh and I decided that this year, we would miss Christmas breakfast at his mom's for the sake of being family for his dad.

This is my first experience with hosting a family holiday get-together. It's also my very first experience with divorce. The first one is kinda fun; the second pretty much sucks.

Honestly, I feel bad for having any feelings about it at all. They're not my parents, and it's not bringing up any painful childhood memories for me. In fact, it's highlighting what a carefree childhood I had. But I was having feelings. I was having so many feelings that they threatened to spill out all over the place anytime some poor unsuspecting soul asked what I was doing for the holidays. You have to be careful about feelings, you know. They're quite messy.

But it's safe here, so let me tell you about my feelings: I miss Susan, Josh's (ex?) step-mom, and I am confused about what my relationship is to her anymore. I want her to still be in our lives, but I don't know how that works. Obviously, we will continue to have a relationship with his dad, but will that conflict with having contact with Susan? Do we have to pick, because that's not fair. We didn't break up with Susan. Also, Josh's dad has a new girlfriend. I'm not sure if that's a wise idea, not that it's any of my business at all. I've hung out with her a few times, and I really like her. She's smart and interesting. She raises goats! Yet every time I think about how much I like her, I feel like I'm betraying Susan. And then I think that I'm much too old for these tired stereotypical child-of-divorce feelings. These are not even my parents.

I simply cannot imagine going through this when I was six. I would have had the same feelings without the ability to process them. It makes me want to go back in time and give little boy Joshua a hug, which would have been inappropriate and weird and not really a very good use of a time machine.

We made our offer to host Christmas, and it was gratefully accepted. I can't speak for Josh's dad, but I imagine that he was pretty proud of his son. I was, anyway. That's one way to measure your success as a parent - when the time comes, can your kids step up and take care of you? Hosting a holiday gathering is a pretty minor thing in terms of the many things that adult children have to do for their parents. Compared to sponge baths and picking out coffins, it's downright fun. But it is something to say, hey, Dad, you've got a lot on your plate right now, let me do this one thing for you. That's what family is for.

That's really what we wanted the holiday season to be about. It would have been easy to focus on the divorce, but we decided to make it about being family. In the years to come, we don't want to refer to it as the Christmas after Dad and Susan split. We want to call it the first Christmas in Raleigh or the Christmas that it snowed four inches. Remember 2010? It was the Christmas with two trees.


crazy tree person.

Christmas miracle or not, I was a little dissatisfied with my Drag Bingo tree. I mean, it was a very nice tree. Real fir, grown in the North Carolina mountains, full and thick. And it came ready-made with a terrific backstory. Why, yes, this is my Drag Bingo tree. But it wasn't even six feet tall. I'm sure that was the point. Not knowing who would end up with it, they wanted to give away a tree that someone in limited living space could still use. They didn't know that the person who would win it had very nice, high ceilings indeed.

My house is one-and-a-half stories tall. That means that there is a second floor, but it only covers half of the first floor. So the ceiling of my living room slopes up with the roof, going all the way up to a open balcony hallway upstairs. We have a lot of headroom for an awesome Christmas tree. Is it shallow of me to want one? It's okay. You can say yes.

We had planned to get a tree the day after Drag Bingo. So we did anyway. It was a terrible day for it - cold and a bit rainy. We were on our way back from the grocery store and we just decided to swing by the tree lot at the Citgo. There are multiple tree lots between my house and the grocery store, but this was the one we liked. It was held by a family farm up in Ashe County. The people were incredibly nice. I mean, I'm used to southern hospitality, but these guys were taking niceness to new levels. They offered to bring a parade of trees in under the tent so we wouldn't have to be in the weather, and then when we insisted on walking around ourselves, they offered us rain slickers.

I had been looking forward to this, I admit it. Last year, Josh did it himself. I just came home from work one day and there was a tree in my living room. I'm still not altogether used to the real tree concept. I mean, there's a tree. In the house! It looks like it's growing out of the floor, like dandelions that pop up in sidewalk cracks, except rather than spray it with poison, we put ornaments on it. It's really no wonder that it took me so long to appreciate Christmas - it's freaking weird. This year, eager to soak up as much Christmas as possible, I asked if I could go pick out a tree with him.

I picked out a tree that was the height that I wanted. It didn't look so tall, maybe like seven feet. Once I'd settled on a height that I wanted, I asked Josh to pick the right tree. He did. I confess, it's not the one I would have picked, but I'm really new at this Christmas stuff.

Once the tree had been picked, the nice people trimmed off the bottom limbs and tied it up for transport. We talked to the tree lady while the tree men were at work. Josh told her that we actually already had a tree that I had won the night before at bingo. I didn't tell her what kind of bingo, in case she disapproved. Or in case she wondered whether I was actually a man in disguise. We told her that we were going to try and give away the little tree to someone who lived in an apartment. She said that the only thing better than one Christmas tree was two. I dismissed this as the talk of a crazy tree person. We might have a sarcophagus in our hallway, but two Christmas trees? That's just silly.

Since we lived so close, they delivered the tree for us. Luckily, we had two tree bases. There is an unsung advantage in having magpie tendencies - you frequently already have what you need. Last year, we had bought a new plastic one from Lowes. Then Josh had found one of those old red and green metal ones at the thrift store, which we preferred. We'd been scowling at the plastic one all year long, since it represented wasted money at the retail store. However, it turned out to be a good thing we had it - the metal one did not fit on our big tree. I guess people back then had more sense then to buy eight-and-a-half foot Christmas trees.

Because that's what it was. They look so much smaller on the lot, out in the open air, but when you get a tree into your one-and-a-half story home, you realize how big it really is. We bit off more than we could chew with this one. The funny thing is that Josh knew how big it was. If he had his doubts, he ignored them, figuring that I knew what I was doing. That'll learn him. I'm a little worried that this massive tree will set a precedent for us. After all, in picking out an approximate tree height, I was only trying to match what we had last year. Now that we've had one oversized tree, we may find that we like them that way.

We set it up and dug the box of ornaments out of the closet. After years of ignoring Christmas decorations at yard sales, I've spent the last year paying special attention to them. Between the ones his dad gave us last year and what I managed to accumulate this year, we had a respectable showing. We also had some "filler" ornaments, ones that I'd bought retail last year when I realized we didn't have any. As we were decorating, I could tell which ones we liked best, because we put them on first. We wanted to make sure they had good visibility. It's true that there the decorations are a little widely-spaced, but that's because some doofus picked out an eight foot tree. We spent two late nights threading popcorn garlands to fill in the blanks.

I got the garland idea from my sister. A while back, when I wrote about my Christmas history, she left a comment about the kind of Christmases they had before I was born or old enough to remember. They cut their own tree down and decorated it with homemade ornaments, because they didn't have the money to spend on frivolity. I suggested making garlands to Josh, who took to it immediately with an enthusiasm that surprised me. We like it because we're being true to our roots - between my parents and his grandparents, we know a lot of dollar-stretching tricks. Yet, it felt a little weird, as if we were glorifying poverty. Plus, we were wrapping these garlands around a tree that we had spent $70 on, even after we already had a perfectly serviceable, if small, drag bingo tree. But hey, screw it, it's Christmas.

I had sort of forgotten how nice it is to have a Christmas tree around. It was the first thing that we turned on when we got home, as if it were a lamp. If I left the house for a short trip to the grocery store, I even left it on, just so I could see it in the window when I got back. I felt a sort of childish delight with it and caught myself gazing at it, seeking out my favorite ornaments. Like I said, it's not the one I would have picked at the lot, but once it was taking up half my living room, I was in love with it. Josh clearly knows what he's doing in the tree-picking department.

The giant tree wiped us out in terms of decorations, which is sort of sad, because we still had the other tree. We offered the little one to a couple of friends, but they either already had trees or didn't want one. So we had two Christmas trees. It was the Christmas of two trees. Maybe I should be worried about the kind of precedent we're setting there. Maybe that is only the first step in becoming a crazy tree person.


christmas bingo.

I suppose it all started with Drag Bingo.

There is a charity based in Durham that provides services and assistance to those living with HIV and AIDs. To raise money, they periodically hold Drag Bingo, which is pretty much what it sounds like, but I'll explain it anyway. It's bingo with drag queens. See? Pretty much what it sounds like. We all went to the Durham Armory, which had been set up with long tables. The tables had those ink stamper bottles set up at each seat. I learned that those are called "bingo daubers." You could buy hot dogs or veggie burger meals, which came with chips, a drink, and a homemade baked good.

We played bingo. The game was run by a guy in a Santa suit and another guy in a Mrs. Santa suit, who referred to herself as Mary Claus. The game was a little hard to follow, as Mr. and Mrs. Claus bantered back and forth in between calling out numbers. It led one to suspect that maybe the evening was not about bingo. I found this frustrating. You may not know this about me, but I really like bingo. And my favorite bingo of all is Christmas bingo.

When I was a kid, the local fire department used to hold a bingo Christmas party. We went because my dad was on the fire department board or maybe it was because he was just an upstanding citizen in the community. In any case, we all would meet down at the middle school. There was food, and lots of it. And then we played bingo for a couple of hours, until all the prizes, which were donated by local businesses, were gone. Seems like I won something once in a kid's only round. It was only a plastic jumbo candy cane filled with M&Ms, but winning anything was thrilling. I looked forward to that party every year. I haven't gone to that fire department party in years, and I don't even know if they still have it. The last time I went was in college. They had it at the fire department itself rather than at the middle school. It must have been just after 9/11, because they gave everyone patriotic travel coffee mugs.

So as far as I was concerned, Drag Bingo was going to be just like Small Town Fire Department Bingo. And to be honest, Mary Claus looked to be about the same size and shape of the fire chief back in my home town. After the first game, which I did not win, Mary Claus announced that our first performer was Janette. And I guess that is where drag bingo really started earning its name and differentiating itself from Fire Department Bingo. Janette, whose real name is probably something like Larry, came out and lip-synched "Santa Baby."

And that's how the evening went. We played bingo and then a man dressed as a woman came out and lip-synched. As the night went on, the performances got better and better. One of them, a HUGE person, did "Hava Nagila," so it was an interfaith celebration. The final performer did a medley of songs and managed to do a couple of jumps landing in splits. And the crowd went wild!

My more conservative readers are probably looking on all of this with more than a little disapproval. I don't pretend to understand drag. It's fun, but is it just fun? After all, this is something a little more than the football team donning short skirts during the Powderpuff game. This seems to be a lifestyle. These men like to dress up as women and dance. They're not pretending to be women, so I don't know if they want to actually be women or if they just think it's unfair that us girls get to wear all the sparkly stuff. I'm not even sure if they are all even necessarily gay. Maybe they have wives at home. Very understanding wives.

It's all very confusing. Adding to my confusion was the fact that one of the drag queens was a woman, a seventy-one-year-old woman to be precise. She just liked dressing up, too, and she didn't think the fact that she was a woman should stop her. Considering how it hadn't stopped the men, it was hard to argue with her.

But there is a lot to like about Drag Bingo. What I like most about it is how it's this elaborate game of dress-up. No one actually believes that the queens are anything more than men. Sure, they wear dresses and wigs and makeup. But they don't shave their chest hair. They don't disguise their voices. They wear four-inch heels to highlight their manly heights. And they are shaped like men, beer guts and all. It's all a little weird if you're not used to it, but you can't help but notice that they are all just having a great time. They look ridiculous, and they don't care. There, that's what I like about it. I like it when people feel free to be ridiculous because it makes them happy.

There were several more rounds of bingo where I did not win anything. About midway through, there was a raffle. We'd all filled out the back of our tickets to get in and handed them to one of the drag queens that wandered around all evening between costume changes (one of them wore four different outfits throughout the course of the evening). The raffle was for a real, live Christmas tree, donated by one of the sponsors of the evening.

It was pretty weird when they called my name. My girlfriends at the table with me went nuts.

Santa, who had taken off his wig and beard by then, carried my tree out to me. He asked where I wanted it, and I told him to put it on the table. There it sat, bundled up in netting while we played out the rest of the night's rounds of bingo. You can trust me, because I have been there: a tree is a weird thing to win. A girl asked if I needed a tree, and I told her that we had been planning to go out and get one the next day. She proclaimed it to be a Christmas miracle.

After the last performance, the one with the jumps landing in splits, we bundled ourselves up and headed out. One of the girls offered to carry my tree. I think she liked the attention. It was only about five and a half feet tall, so it fit easily in the hatchback. Driving home, I could see where they got the idea for those little tree-shaped car air fresheners.