Roll over Rudolph, you’e been upstaged

We recently carted three of the grandchildren to a library Christmas program billed as one of Santa’s elves bringing animals from the North Pole, including a live reindeer.

A skeptic in our group voiced concern it might not be a real reindeer. Her exact harsh words were, “I didn’t buckle an infant and two toddlers in car seats to see a dog wearing antlers.” Such cynicism. At Christmas no less. And only age 29.

It was a real reindeer, a reindeer so real that it made a deposit of chocolate chips shortly after the animal handler, dressed like an elf, led it into the room. The kids were thrilled and the room was fragrant.

The reindeer was a fine creature, but it was too late. The reindeer had been upstaged. What everyone will remember was the parlor roller pigeon.

Pay attention here because, if you haven’t had the (pick one) joy, fright, or shock of witnessing a parlor roller pigeon in motion, your holidays have been incomplete. Unable to fly and bred to roll, a parlor roller pigeon transports itself by curling up like a large softball with wings and propelling forward.

As demonstrated by the elf, you take a parlor roller pigeon in hand, assume a horseshoe toss position, draw back slightly, then let ‘er roll.

The story goes that years ago, before people bonded at large family holiday gatherings by texting, tweeting, checking e-mail, gluing themselves to their cell phones and posting on Facebook, they played parlor games rolling pigeons across the floor.

So the meal is over, the dishes have been done, and Grandma and Grandpa shuffle to the parlor to push large furniture up against the walls. The roller pigeons are about to commence. The winner of the game is the parlor roller pigeon that rolls the longest distance. And to think this family pastime would one day be replaced by video games.

The elf rolled a parlor roller pigeon down the center aisle as kids and adults shrieked and screamed. Kids screamed in delight while others like myself shrieked at the thought that the agents who shut down Michael Vick would be busting through the doors of the library. I pondered the possibility of having to use booking mug shots on our family Christmas card. On the upside, it’s never been done before.

Having a rolling bird with flapping wings hurtle into your path is a different sort of holiday exhilaration that takes you beyond “Fa-la-la-la-la” and into the realm of “AIYEEEEEEEE!”

When the bird stopped rolling, it stood, then took a few staggering steps. If the pigeon had exited a car like that it would have been subjected to a breathalyzer test.

You can certainly see how parlor roller pigeons would take the edge off of the holidays. Can’t listen to Uncle Irv’s stories one more time? Why don’t we race the parlor rollers?

Those kids yelling, running and slamming doors have you wound tight? Hand them a parlor roller pigeon and send them outside.

This year, if anyone asks, “Where did Lori disappear to?” someone should listen for the sound of furniture moving in the family room.

Five home to roost

Life changes on a dime. Take this weekend, for example. We will go from being two empty nesters to a party of seven.

By my calculations our nest was empty for roughly three years, four months, two days and ten seconds. But who’s counting?

I come from a long line of women who do not suffer empty nest syndrome. My mother said if either my brother or I tried to cling to the nest, she would step on our hands. It was an amicable parting. We spread our wings and she cheered to see us fly.

As for me, I grew teary eyed each time I set one less placemat on the table, but I was no fool. I knew they still had house keys.

One day we were down to two placemats on the table and I realized I enjoyed lengthening the leash that had tethered me to the kitchen.

The only women who laugh and act like they’re having a party when they cook are the women on television. I don’t fault them. If someone cleaned up my mess and did all the dirty dishes, I’d be laughing and partying, too.

Now the woman who often has a bowl of cereal for dinner when the husband is working nights, will be cooking again. Five birds are coming home to roost. The situation is temporary and it is coincidental that they are returning at the same time.

The daughter with two-year-old twins and an infant is coming for several weeks while her husband starts a new job out east and they secure housing.

Another daughter will be married in several months and has relinquished the lease on her apartment. Potty training, baby drool and bride-to-be jitters all under one roof.

It will be a cacophony. Loud, but good. It is the unpredictability of life, with all the unexpected detours and bends in the road that make it rich.

We will have to keep the television down after 8 and schedule use of our own washer and dryer. We won’t have to check the expiration date on the milk anymore and bananas won’t turn brown as they will be eaten as fast as we can buy them.

I’ve cleaned out dresser drawers that gradually have been filled with odds and ends and jammed things in closets. Fortunately, I’ve learned from the daughter who is a teacher that you can always pack more in a fixed space by stacking things higher. If push comes to shove we may have to stack the kids.

I’ve also learned that you don’t ask a lot of questions of adult children. The inquisition years have passed. You don’t need to know what route they plan on taking, who was on the phone or precisely what time they’ll be home.

I imagine I’ll be sending myself to my room a lot, and not just for punishment for slipping and asking too many questions. I work from home and am one of those odd ducks who need quiet. Equipped with cell phone, internet and laptop, my office is portable. If it’s still too loud to work in our bedroom, maybe I can clear more space on a closet shelf.

Bring on the chaos.

You have a problem with Santa?

In case you haven’t heard, Santa is now a non-smoker. He did it without even using a patch. Actually, he didn’t do it; anti-smoking crusader Pamela McColl did it for him. She took it upon herself to edit the beloved 200-year-old poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” removing the line (and accompanying illustration) about Santa drawing on a pipe and smoke encircling his face like a wreath.

McColl, a former smoker, is concerned that children will be encouraged to smoke by visualizing Santa with a pipe.

Who hasn’t read the “Night Before Christmas” to small children, only to watch in horror as they race from the room, grab crayons and begin adding cigarettes, pipes and cigars to their Christmas lists?

The first question about the decision to remove Santa’s pipe is this: Do we know for a fact that he actually inhaled? Secondly, if someone is going to modernize Santa, why stop with the tobacco?

Consider that Santa wraps himself in fur from head to foot. Why not dress Santa in a polyester red leisure suit? Of course, that’s if you can find one to fit. Santa is a man with a broad face and a “round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly.” The man is heavy. Rotund. Dare we say obese?

The narrative refers to Santa as “chubby and plump — a right jolly old elf.” Enough with the stereotypes about fat people being jolly. Let’s quit pretending. The man is depressed. That’s why he eats. He’s isolated and lonely, closes himself off from the rest of the world all but one day a year and stuffs himself with dairy and carbs. It also bears noting that Santa has a nose like a cherry. Can you say drinking problem? Probably throwing a few back before boarding the sleigh, which also means he is quite likely sleighing under the influence.

And let us consider Mrs. Claus. The woman is a virtual prisoner in her own home. How do we know he treats her well? Does she have cable? Cell phone? Reliable internet? Health care? Birth control? Paid vacation?

Furthermore, we cannot overlook the recurring animal abuse. Nine free-range reindeer strapped into harnesses. They work long hours and cross multiple time zones with no down time. Given the highly sensitive times in which we live, it is hard to believe Santa is someone we have encouraged children to invite into our homes.

Meet the new and improved Santa. Small children make him jumpy. He’s a little on the nervous side, but tobacco withdrawal does that to a body.

He’s considerably thinner. That 1200 calorie-a-day diet has paid off. He traded milk and cookies for carrot sticks and humus.

It didn’t hurt that he set the reindeer free in Yellowstone and walks his deliveries now. It takes longer, but if he starts when the store displays go up in September, he can be home by June.

Santa is a new man. A modern man.

Surprisingly, he still has a pipe. But not to worry; he only uses it for medical marijuana.

Thanksgiving is spelled c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r

They are among the first words we teach our children: Thank you.

When the lady behind the bakery counter at the grocery hands your little one a free cookie, you beam with pride when that small voice says, “T’ank you.”

We insist on children writing thank you notes, even if it means they are written under duress. That giant t, crooked h, sloping a, backward n, drooping k and s that runs off the page are a monumental achievement.

One small step for a 6-year-old, one giant leap for mankind.

No matter what your age, it is always nice, not to mention appropriate, to say thank you. Making eye contact when you say it doesn’t hurt either.

Saying thank you is a fundamental expression of humanity. It is the way we acknowledge our own indebtedness and another’s kindness. In that brief moment when we say thanks, we hit pause, slow the rapid-fire pace and enjoy the moment, the thoughtfulness, the consideration, the goodness.

And yet this delightful morsel called thankfulness, which imbues the spirit, brings satisfaction to the heart and contentment to the soul, seems to be an occasional occurrence rather than a perpetual frame of mind.

What holds us back from being continually thankful? So many things, really. Bad attitudes, lack of perspective, changing circumstances.

It is a far greater challenge to maintain thankfulness when circumstances press against us than when they align in our favor. Am I thankful only when things are going my way and the road is easy? Or do I have a perspective that allows me to count my blessings when uncertainty and hardship are my new best friends?

The Puritans, despite pummeling by untrue stereotypes, were a most remarkable group of people. The fortitude and resilience they displayed were heroic. They knew hardship both in the old world and in the new. The Pilgrim-Puritan legacy is not really that long wooden table loaded with wild game and playing field games with the Indians. Their true legacy is character. They sustained faithfulness and thankfulness under dire circumstances. Despite what should have been crushing deprivation, they persevered and remained clear-headed visionaries. Puritan John Geree wrote that the Puritan motto was “Vincit qui patitur.” That is Latin for “He who suffers conquers.”

The Puritans embraced all of life as a test of their faithfulness. (Many do the same today, but flip the equation and test God’s faithfulness, not man’s.) The Puritans were thankful for the material gifts of the harvest and shelter, but they also knew that what was in abundant supply one season could be gone the next. More importantly, they were thankful to, and for, the Giver of the gifts.

Thanksgiving is more than the fourth Thursday in November. It is more than the Macy’s Parade and a wonderful meal. Thanksgiving is a habit of the heart. It is an attitude, a benchmark of maturity and a measure of faithfulness.

The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His loving kindness is everlasting.” The Psalmist is right.

Hopefully, we can give thanks more than once a year.

‘Five second rule’ leaves bad taste

We’ve never abided by the “five second rule,” the rule that says if food hasn’t been on the floor longer than five seconds it’s safe to eat. We use a slide rule. We go from five to 10, 15 seconds, or even the day after.

If it’s chocolate, there is no time limit. Pick it up and have a look.

As for a recognizable bit of a cookie, sometimes it’s easier to pop it in your mouth than walk to the trash can. Oh, don’t tell me you’ve never done it. I’m smarter than that. Remember, I use a slide rule.

There is a direct correlation between willingness to eat something that has fallen on the floor and the desirability of the food. I’ve yet to see a kid scream, “Five second rule!” when cauliflower hits the floor. Right now, I could probably assemble an entire vegetable medley with bits and pieces the grandbabies have left under the kitchen table.

Despite the obvious – that food on the floor will pick up germs — researchers at San Diego State University, partnering with Clorox, conducted a study on the “five second rule” and found it to be bogus.

A study always implies government funds somewhere. Such a shame. I wish they would have called. I could have saved them a lot of time and money. Of course “the five second rule” is bogus. But it is a way to build immunity.

The most interesting finding from the study was that the dirtiest surface is not the bare floor or the carpet, but the countertop. That’s really disgusting, especially when you consider how much food we eat off our countertops.

In the interest of saving researchers’ time and preventing other unnecessary studies, let’s examine some other common myths.

“If you cross your eyes, they’ll stick that way.” Not true. Of course, if some research team wants to assemble thousands of 7-year-old children to test it, I’d love to watch.

“Scaring someone will stop the hiccups.” It will not. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to try.

“You can’t make taffy on a humid day.” Actually, that one does have some truth to it, although I’d feel better if a team at Harvard put it to the test.

“It’s OK to double dip in the chip dip.” Maybe at the frat house, but not at this house. You’re welcome to eat a chip off the floor, but don’t double dip with it.

“Throwing salt over your shoulder brings you good luck.” No it doesn’t; it just means you have to sweep the floor.

“The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it against the wall.” Not true. The best way to tell if pasta is done is to throw it on the floor and see if anybody eats it in five seconds.

I hope this has been of service to university research teams everywhere.

Send my honorary degree in care of my email.

Turkeys victims of fowl play

If we took a poll, I think we’d find most people are ambivalent about turkey.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “You know what sounds really good for dinner tonight? A big ol’ slab of turkey!”

When was the last time you ate at a nice restaurant, the server appeared to tell you about the specials, and half of them featured turkey? The server says, “Our chef can prepare that one of three ways: tough, dry or with leftovers.”

If the turkey is such a beloved centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinners, why do we spend so much time and effort disguising it?

We bury it under mashed potatoes, smother it with gravy and plaster it with cranberries. Is that really how you treat a bird you love?

This year the trend is to give the turkey a crustier, crunchier skin. You do this by boiling maple syrup down until it has nearly crystallized (give yourself two weeks) then baste the turkey during the final hour of cooking.

The end product, depending on your perspective, looks tantalizing and appealing, or like a bird with a bad case of psoriasis.

There are times when I wonder if our dedication to the turkey has been a mistake. A big one.

A lot of the turkeys I’ve cooked have been roughly the size of a Smart Car. And they’ve tasted like a Smart Car. Deep fry a Smart Car and it could beat a turkey in a taste off. A deep-fried Smart Car would beat one of those tofu turkeys, too.

It’s not like the early settlers were wild about turkey either. They didn’t visit the local butcher and find themselves torn between fabulous beef tenderloins, marvelous filet mignons or a turkey.

Turkey became the main dish at the first Thanksgiving by default. The pilgrims served turkey because turkeys are lousy runners and easy to catch.

Several years ago, I encountered the most memorable turkey in the history of fowl. One of our 20-something kids hosted a pitch-in Thanksgiving dinner at our house and the fellow who signed up to bring the turkey was French.

He’d never made a turkey before. He called his sister in France and she talked him through it. He entered the house with a large roasting pan covered with foil. It smelled exceptionally fragrant.

He used 100 cloves of garlic. He stuffed the turkey with couscous and more garlic. He hard boiled eggs, peeled them and dyed them neon orange, yellow, green, red and purple. Colored eggs were stuffed in and around the turkey alongside black and green olives, whole carrots, stalks of celery and halved onions.

This was a turkey with personality. If that turkey could have danced, it would have tap danced. If it could have sung, it would have belted out show tunes.

There was nothing subdued or quiet about that bird. It was like a turkey at Mardi Gras. It was what every turkey dreams of being.

I couldn’t help but think that turkeys everywhere would have been pleased.

It was a nice trip, see you next fall

The only thing worse than having toilet paper stuck to your shoe in public is falling down in public.

I once finished speaking to an audience of several hundred women and started to walk away from the podium to a satisfying round of applause, forgetting that I was standing on a small box. I took a step into mid air, dipped, tumbled and grabbed the corner of the podium with one hand.

The robust applause immediately turned to a collective horrified gasp.

Despite what felt like a dislocated shoulder, I pulled myself up, laughed and shouted, “Down, but not out!”

I was laughing alone.

Even for me, it was an ending with a little too much drama.

Grace runs in the family.

When our youngest was interviewing for her first teaching job, she had finished her demonstration lesson, answered questions from a panel of teachers, and was dismissed. The panel sat quietly as she retrieved her belongings from the floor at the front of the room. She caught the heel of her shoe in the strap to her purse and fell flat on her backside in a skirt suit.

The room fell silent. “I’m OK!” she said. Not that anybody asked. She said the worst part was that nobody laughed.

Last week was a big week for falling. Madonna was performing “Like a Prayer,” in a Dallas concert, knelt down to shake hands with some fans and lost her balance. Her leg shot into the air, she fell on her back and somehow turned it into a dance move. The video clip looks like a demo for Fire Safety Week: stop, drop and roll.

Carrie Ann Inaba, one of the judges on “Dancing with the Stars,” was effusively complimenting a good-looking male contestant while waving her arms around and got so excited she fell right out of her chair.

Then there was the video circling the Internet of a Tennessee reporter holding up a 12-pound fish, commenting on its size, when the fish unexpectedly came back to life. The reporter screamed, threw down the fish and jumped up on a seat in the boat. She lost her balance and fell backward onto the man standing behind her. They both toppled, with the reporter in a short dress displaying all her goods. It may be a superfluous detail, but the reporter was blonde.

Humiliating? Sure. But at least the camera crew and the guys in the boat were laughing.

Falling in public is the only time you don’t care that people aren’t laughing with you and hope they will laugh at you. There’s something about laughter that diminishes the embarrassment — and the dislocated shoulder, the hurting, the bruising and the gaping wounds. Even if you are facing surgery due to your dislocated elbow with the help of shoulder surgeons laughing can help you to get through it. A friend of mine found this helpful when she had to go through shoulder replacement (using somewhere like http://www.shouldermd.com/shoulder-replacement-protocol/), she found that laughing helped her through the tough times.

I believe in being prepared for the unexpected. If I take a tumble in public again, I’m going to jump up, thrust my arms in the air like a gymnast at the close of a floor routine and yell out my score. I’ll rate myself low. Maybe that will get a laugh.

Heads of state are part trick, part treat

Every year we grumble about how there are more Halloween costumes for adults than kids and that adults have taken over the holiday. And then I wonder if we’re adding fuel to the fire.

We have an interesting collection of masks. They are extremely life-like face masks with two tiny holes for your eyes — masks of the presidents. We have presidents 39 through 44 with the exception of 41. What’s that, you say? You don’t have any?

I am married to the only man in America who has found a way to weave history with Halloween.

The first year we were married the husband bought a Halloween mask of then President Jimmy Carter. His exact words were, “We’ll never get a chance to get one of these again.” It was like he was looking at the last Veg-O-Matic to ever air on late-night television. He said it as though this mask was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I could only hope.

Carter eventually took up residence in a cabinet where we kept bandages, Tylenol, prescription meds and the humidifier. Carter became like our family care physician, we only saw him when one of us didn’t feel well.

After Carter, much to the husband’s amazing, unbelievable good fortune, he found a Ronald Reagan mask. He subsequently missed out on Bush 41, but did acquire a Clinton mask, a Bush 43 mask and an Obama mask.

If you’ve ever seen these presidential masks, you have probably wondered who buys them. Now you know. We do.

The husband wears the presidential masks when handing out Halloween candy to the kids, but it is often the parents who have more of a response. Once in awhile a kid may recognize the face on a mask and comment that the president looks shorter in person or ask why he’s not in Washington. More often, a parent is likely to scream at the child, “Don’t take candy from a Democrat!” Or Republican. It depends on who is in office and which mask the husband is wearing.

We have enough presidential masks to host our own summit, or at least phone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and tell him one of the Presidents will see him. Of course, it would take time to round up one of them.

For years Reagan was in the kids’ dress-up box along with an old Cub Scout uniform, a fireman’s hat, assorted hats and heels and my mother’s old wedding gown.

We see President Obama on a regular basis, as he is in the hall closet on a shelf between mailing supplies and vacuum bags.

Bush 43 is in the linen closet. He’s behind a stack of towels. I know he’s there, but I always forget that I know he’s there. Consequently, every time the stack of towels dwindles, I yank out the last one, am startled and shriek, “Who put Bush in the linen closet?”

I worry that there are only so many times you can scream something like that before the Secret Service pays you a visit.

My birthday was last week. Care to guess what my gift was? Welcome to the line-up, Gov. Romney.

Do these scales make me look thin?

I stepped on the scale and saw the unexplained weight loss nearly every woman dreams of. I weighed 57 pounds. I knew that couldn’t possibly be right, so I stepped on it again.

Sure enough, 57 had been a bad read. The scale said I actually weighed 58.

Technically, I should be traveling in a car seat. That’s me, the one in the driver’s seat of an SUV strapped in a pink Cosco juvenile car seat with tilt recline and the side beverage cup holder.

The last time I weighed 58, I was probably in the fourth grade. I knew all my states and capitals then. I loved converting fractions, wrote a poem once a week, was a jump rope champion, had legible handwriting and enjoyed recess twice a day. My mother did my laundry and cooked all the meals and I could still overpower my younger brother. It was a good year, one I wouldn’t mind revisiting.

It was nice to weigh 58 again. It made me feel light, inside and out. My clothes fit better. My jeans felt loose. I felt healthier. More energetic. More vibrant. Maybe I’d swim a couple hundred meters. I’ve never been a swimmer, but why should that stop me?

Yes, it did occur to me that the digital scale was on the fritz, but I immediately put that thought out of my mind. Why let practicality ruin a wonderful start to a beautiful day?

We went out to lunch later and I had biscuits. I don’t eat biscuits. I don’t even like biscuits, but when you have unexpected weight loss, you feel entitled to eat biscuits.

Pass the butter.

I had ice cream, too. Not much, but a little. It’s been months since I had ice cream. It’s on my banned food list. But I was eating ice cream now.

As I poured a little chocolate syrup on the ice cream, I wondered if I should call the doctor so he could update my medical records. Maybe my cholesterol numbers had taken a dramatic dive, too.

This was the most excited I’d been about a failed household appliance in ages. I was disgruntled when one of the lights over the stove went out. I was downright surly when the hot water heater turned into Old Faithful. Don’t get me started about the combination digital clock/radio /iPod anchor with the alarm that goes off every day at noon and can’t be shut off. But the digital scale falls apart and I have a new a skip in my step.

Later that night the husband walked to the ‘fridge, opened the door and casually said, “I weighed 75 pounds this morning.”

“Really?” I asked. “I only weighed 58. You should go on a diet.”

We ordered pizza.

Life was good for a few days. We ate what we wanted, pretended we were both grossly underweight, and then it all came to a crashing halt.

We bought a new scale. We’re back to reality. The memory of biscuits lingers. In more ways than one.

This week when nothing happens

The week after Christmas is when nothing happens.

If you’re a teacher, you’re on vacation.

If you’re a student, you’re sleeping in.

If you work for a big corporation, your company may shut down and tell you to take the week off.

If you have a literary agent, she will tell you nothing happens with publishing houses from now until January.

Congress is on holiday.

Even the phone solicitors go quiet. They figure we’re all broke, having overspent on the holidays.

Even if you’re working, there’s a different tempo to the office. It’s a little more laid back, a lot less intense.

The week when nothing happens is one of the most enjoyable weeks of all.

It’s found time, like when friends are coming for dinner, you have everything ready and they’re 15 minutes late. It’s the best 15 minutes of the week. It’s 15 minutes of time you weren’t counting on, 15 minutes to clean out your wallet, organize your desk, answer emails or throw out old newspapers.

Time puts on the brakes in the week before we turn the page to a new year. The pace slows, the shopping frenzy begins to wane, the canned music stops, and here and there you find a few minutes to breathe.

You not only have time to fill the birdfeeder, but to watch the birds. The chickadee is so dainty. The nuthatch is crazy. The albino cardinal has returned. Surely, it can’t be the same one three years running.

There’s no need to sprint to the kitchen in the morning. The crowd is gone. They’ve left behind full trash cans, a smattering of leftovers and echoes of laughter.

You can take time to examine frost on the window if you like. Or enjoy the morning sun spilling in through the window.

You can make a cup of tea. The real kind, with loose leaves in the tea ball and wait for it to steep instead of shaking the pot. You may even have the luxury of waiting for the tiny leaves that escaped from the mesh ball to sink to the bottom.

If this isn’t the good life.

You can linger over the cards you opened at warp speed before Christmas and threw in a basket without so much as a glance.

You might even find time to clean out your sock drawer, match the plastic lids and tubs and straighten up that mess under the sink. Some of us might even use this as an opportunity to get rid of all the waste in our homes. I’d search dumpster rental Lansing MI if you are anticipating this becoming a huge decluttering job.

If it has snowed, you can pause at twilight, watch the sky fade to pink and the snow turn to blue.

Time moving slow, filled with simple pleasures; it’s a wonderful time of the year.