Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Thursday, December 30, 2010

More Insight Into Parenting - Aerosmith Song Title Edition

So it's New Year's Eve-eve, and the kids have been home and underfoot for going on two weeks. And while the rational part of your brain knows that you are in the home stretch, there are distinct moments where Winter Break feels like a "Permanent Vacation" that. May. Never. END.

You have tried to keep the small fry busy and out of trouble. You thought that “Walkin’ the Dog” was a good safe activity, but, minutes later, you hear shouts of, “She’s on Fire.” Later the same day, the family cat almost bought "The Farm" after being taken for a ride in the clothes dryer. Poor thing was flopping around like a "Rag Doll" - thump, thump, THUMP.

Good thing that kitties have "Nine Lives."

A change of scenery seemed to be in order, so off to the mall you went, where your "Last Child" loudly announced in the food court line that that "Dude (Looks Like a Lady").

"No More No More," you scream. "Here's Where I 'Draw the Line.'"  You threaten to put all of their “Toys in the Attic,” but those savvy kids are on to you and your empty threats:

"Yeah, yeah, 'Same Old Song and Dance,' Mom."

You fight the urge to respond, "My Fist Your Face." Or bluff, "Janie's Got a Gun." Hey - Child Protective Services workers go to the mall, too. You could be overheard.

So you drive the brood back to the house. You wait until you are safely locked behind the bathroom door before you indulge yourself in some "Cryin'." And then you tell your tear-stained reflection, "'Get a Grip.' This is 'Crazy.' It's just not healthy to be 'Livin' on the Edge' from moment to moment. And this house won't run itself if 'Girl Keeps Coming Apart.'"

You square your shoulders and resolve to do 'What it Takes.'" Back into the car everyone goes, for a drive across town to your brother-in-law's house. Your husband helped him move last month; he owes you a favor. You assure "Uncle Salty" that you will be back to pick up the kids by dinner. Then you drive back home, kick off your shoes, and cruise by the fridge. You pour yourself a glass of wine, cut yourself a ridiculously huge slice of "Cheese Cake," and turn on a chick flick - a little mindless "Sweet Emotion" to improve your bad mood.

You weigh the odds that your bro-in-law will agree to keep the kids overnight - AND the odds that he will actually remember to feed them, put them in the shower and get them to bed at a remotely decent hour.

Yeah, "Dream On."

As you relax, your mind begins to wander, and you find yourself thinking about those perfect mommies in the carpool line, the ones whose children always seem to mind them. The ones with nary a hair out of place, a bead of sweat on their brow or a pulsating vein in their temple. You wonder how they do it.

You decide that it must be "Done With Mirrors."  And you cut yourself another slice of cake.

(Editor's note:  I have Aerosmith on the brain - "Santa" brought Mommy Aerosmith Guitar Hero for Wii.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

C is for Cookie - and Sam?

Friend Sarah's small son Samuel (AKA the philosopher in a little kid suit) likes to rename himself - frequently. Well, "frequently" up to a point - when he hit the name "C" (yes, C is a name - thanks for asking) he seems to have decided to call it good. And C he has remained . . . .

Sarah and I were discussing Sam's birthday a couple of weeks back, specifically her difficulties in getting him to select - and stick with - a theme for his b-day soiree. I remembered seeing an initial birthday party theme in Martha Stewart's magazine and suggested that it might be a good hedge position for both of them. Hey - birthday boy thinks of himself as "C," and what better theme for a boy's birthday party than birthday boy himself?

So here's the idea page from Ms. Martha. You could get a lot of mileage from stencils - sprinkle letters onto cupcake icing, add initials to water bottle labels, etc. It looks like Martha (or, let's be realistic, one of her talented minions) also used stencils of various sizes to create the border on the tablecloth.

From here, you would add in elements starting with the featured letter - and, as it turns out, C is a pretty good letter where parties are concerned (hmm, maybe there was a method to Sam's cute madness?). Cake, candles, cookies . . . and I would add a bucket of plastic forks labeled "cutlery," on the theory that it's never too early to start using the proper two-dollar words for things. Maybe a "cards" bin in which guests could deposit their birthday greetings?

Treat bags would feature C items and could take the form of crackers made from cardboard and crepe . . . okay, clearly it's a good thing that someone didn't get a label maker for Christmas, or I would identify a C name for everything and mark them accordingly. Hey - Christmas starts with C, too.

Sarah - have at it! 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Parenting Advice Through Ramones Song Titles

When “Mama’s Boy” starts shouting “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” you might want to “Beat on the Brat,” or tell him “I Don’t Want You” and drop him off at the nearest fire station. Particularly when you get the call from school that your “Animal Boy” dropped trou in the lunchroom – on the day that he chose to go “Commando.”

Meanwhile, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” since she started “Rock n Roll High School.” “She’s a Sensation” with all of the senior guys, who call the house at all hours pleading, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” – leaving you, the parent, on “Needles and Pins” when she fails to come home by curfew.

In the depths of your parental despair, you may find yourself thumbing through the Yellow Pages, looking for a surgeon to perform a “Teenage Lobotomy.”

But for those times when the kids have you “Howling at the Moon” and you find yourself thinking “I Don’t Want to Live This Life (Anymore),” The Ramones have some suggestions to “Take the Pain Away”:

Better living through chemicals. Speak up. Tell the world, “I Wanna Be Sedated,” or “Somebody Put Something in My Drink.” Your family doctor and/or close friends will listen. Just be careful not to slide down the slope into addiction: if you hear yourself saying, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,” seek help – immediately.

Alternative treatments. Pills and booze weren’t enough to give you the “Strength to Endure” your “Cretin Family”? Or did the doc inform you that “I Can’t Give You Anything?” Then maybe it’s time for some “Psycho Therapy” – a “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” if you will. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to say “Gimme Gimme Shock Therapy.”

A retreat to your “happy place.” Take an “Endless Vacation” – without the kids. I hear that “Rockaway Beach” is lovely this time of year. Or consider a vacation to the “Garden of Serenity” that is your backyard.

Denial. It ain’t just a river in Egypt. Repeat to yourself: “I Believe in Miracles.” “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” “We’re a Happy Family.” Say it enough, and you might begin to believe it.

Perspective. Just remember, your kids will be “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow.” Soon, the nest will be empty, and you will find yourself mumbling, “I Just Want to Have Something to Do.”

So “Take It as It Comes.” You’ll be fine. And please do not interpret this post as an endorsement of any form of abuse – child, substance or otherwise. For the record: “I’m Against It.”

(The fact that I am posting this eleven days into the kids' Winter Break - only six more days to go, but who's counting? - is ENTIRELY coincidental.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Every Part of the Home Decorating Buffalo

The day after Christmas goes by several different names around Casa McGlinchey:

1) Boxing Day;
2) Uncle Zan's birthday; and
3) "Every Part of the Buffalo" Day.

Like a modern-day Native American squaw, I went out foraging this morning (to World Market, Target and Pier 1 - to buy wrapping paper and other holiday decor on clearance, as well as board games and other toys to put up for birthday gifts), and then I spent the remainder of the day breaking down The Buffalo. The Buffalo, in this extended metaphor, being the aftermath of Christmas. No, I didn't take down the decorations - but I did: pull everything out of the old pine blanket chest that serves as a coffee table as well as gift wrap central; collapse gift boxes and put them in the bottom of the blanket chest; sort through holiday gift bags, segregating about thirty to put into a future garage sale and putting what was left on top of the boxes; organize newly purchased tubes of gift wrap on top of the gift bags; consolidate small pieces of gift wrap onto one tube; cut empty gift wrap tubes into segments for use in future party cracker projects; sort through ribbon and package ties and determine what can be used next year; cut the rest of the ribbon (stuff with knots that I couldn't untie, and stuff that had been reused to the point that I was just dealing with ribbon fragments) into short lengths for future use in a craft project which I will explain later; and so on and so forth. Very little got thrown away; almost everything got recycled.

I also took the time to wrap the "gift closet" gifts that I purchased for the boys, intent being that I will take them up to work and store them in the aforementioned gift closet, which doubles as a credenza in my office. See, I have three IKEA credenzas in my office. I bought them because, in no particular order: they are the same lovely blonde wood as my desks (I have two, placed in an L shape) and bookcase; the design of them is really cool (cabinet up top with a drop down door that could double as a stand-up desk, three roomy drawers down below); and they add vertical interest and take up wall space in my fairly large office.

The problem is, I don't have a lot to store in them.

I can't store client files in them, other than temporarily, because firm policy is to maintain a central filing system. Reason for this policy is twofold: files should be where everyone can access them, and once upon a time a tornado passed right by our building. We didn't get a direct hit, but others down the street were not so lucky. Any files on the perimeter of the building were picked up and deposited miles away. So, central filing is strategically located "in the middle."

I do have some other work files that still exist in paper format - form documents, seminar papers, etc. - but they already had a home in the form of a low and long file cabinet that moved with me when I switched offices awhile back. Result: three empty (and very roomy) credenzas. In which I store personal papers (my old PTA and Junior Club president notebooks), manila envelopes into which I have "organized" the kids' art (by "organized" I mean "shoved in haphazardly") and kid gifts. Which are now pre-wrapped. I fully intend to make a list of what is wrapped in which box, so at some point in the future I can avoid having to unwrap a box to determine its contents. I fully expect that I shall fail in this endeavor.

While I was out foraging, I applied some Christmas money to table linens (holiday and other) and some great square plates that I have been coveting at Marshall's. They are robin's egg blue, like the walls in my dining room and my mom's everyday dishes. Table linens were on my mind, because one of my gifts from my sweet spouse was a folding banquet table. While I love our very old oak gateleg table (purchased by my mother from a favorite antique store back in Houston, and also lovingly - and quite professionally - refinished by my mother), it is an odd size, given its age, and because of the gatelegs you really can't pull up more than four chairs to it. Now I have a standard 72-x-30 table that I can put up in the dining room when we entertain, and I can move our real dining table (which is entirely portable, given that both sides drop down - the true genius of a gateleg, and an awesome feature in a small house) into the den and set up another seating or serving area in there. The true greatness of a 72-x-30 table is that most rectangular tablecloths will fit it with an equal drop all around - not something I'm used to, given the odd dimensions of the gateleg. Thus, for the first time ever, I could shop for tablecloths with abandon.

I returned with two Christmas tablecloths (one primarily red and one in candy tones) plus a Thanksgiving tablecloth that I got on deep clearance, a really cool reversible table runner, and a brown-and-aqua paisley tablecloth that is almost the same pattern as our dining room rug. Oh, and napkins. Lots of napkins. And napkin rings.

Mid-taking-apart-the-buffalo, I stopped to play with my new table stuff. And discovered that the first of the two holiday tablecloths is amazingly versatile. Here it is with some of my go-to holiday dishware:

Um, you can't actually see the tablecloth in this photo, on account of the reversible table runner (reversed to the lime green side). You can see it better in the next two photos, which feature a tablescape of trees and houses to match the design of the tablecloth:

I used the napkins that go with the red cloth to pick up the color of one of the tablescape houses, but I really like the napkins that go with the multi-toned cloth. They are a bright-colored paisley with no actual Christmas motif, so I can use them year-round.

Third incarnation of the versatile tablecloth:

Matryoshki dishes were a gift from my mom. They are actually the reason I started my foraging at World Market. I wanted to pick up four more. No such luck. But I did pick up the paper plates that coordinate with the earthenware ones, along with paper napkins featuring Japanese kokeshi dolls. I started collecting matryoshki as an adult, and I have a collection of kokeshi that my dad started for me when I was a kid, so that's the doll tie-in. In keeping with this being "Every Part of the Buffalo" Day, I also purchased a package of matryoshki Christmas cards at World Market for four bucks. A chain of little dolls fold out from the inside of the big exterior doll. I removed all of the doll chains, kept half of them intact for use in a future decorating project, put aside the big doll cutouts to assemble into a garland, and separated the remaining little dolls with the intent of converting them into cupcake toppers. But that's for a party to be held next holiday season. Probably - if I can wait that long.

Some of my matryoshki are shown below.

The green felt tree was also a day-after-Christmas acquisition. Initially the store had three - the green one and two aqua ones. I purchased the aqua ones. And then felt sorry for the orphaned green one. But not sorry enough to pay full price for it.

It looks cute with my nesting dolls, though:

The brightly colored, Russian-esque ornaments in the vase were a Target after-Christmas score. They were a buck apiece, and they are PLASTIC. Love plastic ornies for vase fillers - lightweight, and you can't kill them.

Last tablescape for today features the red tablecloth, which I loved because of its retro ornament design and because of the colors in it (pale green and aqua, to match my favorite dish sets).

Obviously, I enjoy mixing and matching and seeing how many combinations I can come up with using the same raw materials. What can I say: I was a Garanimals kid growing up. And I still have a Garanimals mentality. When you live in a small house, everything has to be multi-purpose, or you can't justify making space for it.

Although, if my table linen collection gets too out of hand, I probably have some unused credenza space at the office . . . .

A Few of My Favorite Things

Found myself on Christmas Eve taking random photos of things in my holiday environment. Found myself post-Christmas editing those photos in Lightroom as a means of teaching myself how to use the program.

The shoes (boots, actually) that I wore to church on Christmas Eve:

They are red tapestry with animal-print linings and black marabou poufs on the vamps. My husband is scared of them. For the record, I wore them with a very simple black cardigan sweater, dark red draped neck tank and black pants.

The gluhwein (spiced red wine, served warm) that I drank on Christmas Eve while we were waiting for the kids to fall asleep:

Love gluhwein. Also love this photo of my "fristers," AKA "friend sisters":

We actually went to a photography studio and posed for Christmas pictures together. I'll get around to blogging about that when Friend Robyn gives me my copy of the disk with the complete photo shoot on it. So, for now, just the teaser.

My friend Lindsay brought these reindeer to an ornament exchange a few years back. No, they are no ornaments. Do I care? Nope. Because they are awesome, and I managed to go home with them.

And, finally, a quilted star Santa that has my heart - and a featured spot on the mantel:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hog Heaven

The Daddy surprised me.

This is somewhat hard to do.

I knew that the bigger of the small fry had a rather nice piece of computer hardware on his Christmas plate this year (actually, it was a birthday-slash-Christmas gift). We justified providing an eleven year-old with a counterpart of the computer Sheldon Cooper uses on "Big Bang Theory" on the bases that: (1) it was a used model; (2) he basically IS Sheldon Cooper, and as a result has computer needs beyond the typical eleven year-old's; and (3) therefore, a powerful computer is a good investment, as he already blew up my old VAIO laptop, and something with a top-notch graphics card and lots of memory has an actual shot of growing with him.

The fact that the computer came equipped with Photoshop, Lightroom and other programs that Mom has been coveting but that would stop her Dell (with its weak, "subject-of-a-class-action" graphics card) in its tracks - well, that was an added bonus.

It did stick in my craw, though, that the small fry was getting a better machine than Mom (who, thanks to the aforementioned class action, has had most of her Dell's parts replaced, so it's LIKE she has a new computer, but it's a new WEAK computer, but she can't justify walking away from it because its warranty has been extended until sometime in the next century, again because of the class action). I contented myself with the fact that I would at least have squatter's right vis-a-vis the Photoshop and Lightroom stuff.

In no particular order, I thought it odd that:

1) Dad never showed me the laptop when it arrived;
2) The smaller of the small fry received a laptop cooling pad, just like brother's, at Grandma's house last night; and
3) My gift load from the fam was a bit light.

After the kids spent several hours playing with Santa stuff and "under the tree from Mom and Dad" stuff (Connor's haul being extremely light, given that the computer was the bulk of his gift), Connor remembered that he was owed "the other item."

And that's when Dad unveiled . . . the TWO other items.

Identical Sheldon Cooper machines. Well, not identical. Mine is better. Because it has all of the Photoshop and Lightroom stuff on it. And, for the record, it's not 100% mine; basically it's going to be the "everyone other than Connor" computer. Dad wants to play "Call of Duty" on it. Parker and Mom can play I Spy and other games on it, and Parker won't have to ask permission from Big Brother to use it - he'll have to ask my permission, or Dad's, but being released from the bonds of Big Brother Oppression is, in and of itself, a Christmas miracle.

So it's Christmas morning, and Connor's building a Puzz-Ball while his computer runs a scan. (He already assembled everyone else's presents, including the complicated LEGO set that Santa gave him, AND his brother's LEGO set - did I say that he's a future Sheldon Cooper? Shelly's engineer pal Howard Wolowicz is more like it.) The little one is making his electronic dinosaurs talk to each other - and begging Big Brother to help him transform his Transformer for the eleventy billionth time. (Parker James - probably NOT a future Howard Wolowicz.) And Mom? She's playing with textures, using Batman as a guinea pig.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Talladega Nutcracker

Parker went to see the Nutcracker for the first time this year, and he tolerated it much better than big brother.  (We'll go with "tolerated"; "enjoyed" is too strong of a word in the context of boys and ballet.)  He even sat down to watch it on TV with his mother the other night. 

I didn't say that he stayed in the room . . . just that he sat down.  Long enough to have this conversation:

Me:  "Parker, do you remember what the story of the Nutcracker is about?"

Parker:  "Well, it's about a magic man who gives a nutcracker and a jack-in-a-box to this girl.  And the nutcracker turns into a PERSON, and he fights a BATTLE.  Against MICE."

[Notice how the parts about rodents and violence tend to stand out in a little boy's mind?  The cream rises to the top, people.]

Me:  "Do you remember the girl's name?"

Parker:  "Ummmmmmmmmmmm . . . ."

Me:  "Starts with a C?"

Parker:  "Ooh . . . CARLEY!"

For a minute, I was thinking, "Carly in Connor's class?  Carly on 'I Carly'?"  But then I made the connection.  Confession:  we indulge our kids' love for Will Ferrell through frequent viewings of "Elf" and the cheerleader skits from SNL.  Also through regular viewings of "Talladega Nights."  (We sanitize it - the fast forward button is a wonderful thing.  And we drew the line at "Old School."). 

Magic man . . . Cal Naughton, Jr.  Carley . . . Carley Bobby.

Talladega . . . Nutcracker.

"Glee" may have popularized the concept of mashups, but Parker has perfected the concept.

Recipe for a Last-Minute Holiday Happening

Go with a simple and familiar concept (for my crowd, that's brunch).   Set a whimsical table - found this snowman when I cleaned Connor's room the other day.  He is snow globe-ish - shake him, and glitter sloshes around - but he also has a fiber-optic thing going for him.  Anyway, he spoke to me, particularly given my choice of (retro) tablecloth.  It isn't vintage, but it's a very good copy.  I don't think my mother likes it.  She's not a big fan of 1950's kitsch - probably since she was surrounded by it during the actual 1950's.  It has a novelty for me; her, not so much.

But my friends like my vintage and retro stuff just fine.  I think.  So I pull it out when they come over.

Napkins and way cool napkin rings were a Christmas gift from my friend Janna.  She gave them to me on a Friday, I used them on Sunday.  Perfect timing, Janna!  And perfect napkins for a mostly Mexican brunch.  (I served a tamale casserole, and a ham and cheese thing with green chiles, and homemade cranberry salsa.)

Close-up of funky Frosty.

It occured to me the other day that I have a lot of Mary Engelbreit stuff, so I created a little tableau for the kitchen table (from where food was served, buffet-style).  Continuing the retro theme, I guess.  The stack of books on the dining table which served as a pedestal for my centerpiece were similarly themed - ME Christmas books and a "best of Dick and Jane" tome that belongs to the kids.   That's the cranberry salsa peeking around the corner at the bottom left.  Good stuff.  I will share the recipe in a post to follow.

The beverage station made me happy for several reasons.  Reason #1:  my Christmas tree bottle opener and ice scoop, purchased at Swoozie's, when there was such a store in Dallas (RIP, Swoozie's).  Reason #2:  I floated cranberries in the tea carafe.  Reason #3:  Friend Robyn brought the whimsy when she added the chalk label to the tea carafe.  (Hey, it's a "tea tree"!)  Reason #4:  Friend Ashley mixed mimosas, and I threw together a pitcherful of my version of a drink that I had at The Olive Garden not too long ago (you have to call it The Olive Garden - like The Wal-Mart):  pureed sweetened frozen strawberries, lemonade, citrus vodka, and just a splash each of triple sec and Sprite.

Like any good hostess, I arranged for entertainment.  A little ambient music - live, particularly - is a must for a successful Christmas get-together.  Greenleigh treated us to MULTIPLE renditions of "Smoke on the Water," "Born to be Wild" and "Mississippi Queen" - you know, your holiday classics. 

As you can see, footwear is optional at our house.

Another relaxed and fun frimily brunch to end our (first?) year of themed brunching . . . .

Snippets of Our Holiday Decor

. . . . organized idea board-style:

I guess that my holiday "collection" (or collections) could be best described as equal parts vintage, folk art and sentimental - the sentimental category to include the metric ton of kid-made Christmas ornaments on our tree and the various kid art displayed throughout the house. The last board features a canvas painted by Connor at age 8, holiday art from both boys as displayed on our magnetic "art wall" - and a melamine plate decorated with felt tip marker by my spouse at age 6. Not shown: two carpet samples, each featuring footprint reindeer rendered in fabric paint. The pink one (yes, unfortunately, it is pink - really more mauve) features Connor's feet, the beige one Parker's. Carpet art was made by the boys at their preschool, five years apart. I remember being tickled - well, pink - when PJ came home with his. I dig symmetry, and I also appreciate the reminder of how the circle of life . . . well, circles, I guess. I'm not exactly sure how their preschool teachers intended us to utilize the carpet art, but we display it on the hearth, which is where Santa leaves his gifts. One of these days Santa may leave a boot print on one of the little rugs . . . .

Holiday Inkblot Test

Last week, my mother (belatedly) gave me a bag of Halloween cookie cutters that she picked up for me. Mixed in with the bats and cats was this ghost cookie cutter:

Except when I looked at it, I saw this:

Because, in the bag, the ghost cutter was turned sideways like this:

Want a hippopotamus for Christmas? Grab a ghost-shaped cookie cutter, a jar of molasses and some ginger from the spice rack.

(Yeah, so it's not a perfect hippo shape, and full disclosure - the first few were distinctly tapir-looking. My sweet husband vigorously disagreed, assuring me that they looked EXACTLY like big-mouthed bass. But, after experimenting with icing techniques, I got a couple of them to look hippo-ish. Or hippo-adjacent.  Whatever.  The kids were amused, which is what counts in my book.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

God Bless Us, Everyone

After my initial "issues" with Sears a month or so ago, I attempted to return the incompatible Rock Band drums that I sort-of-accidentally ordered online. I went to the dock, and advised them that I needed to immediately return the item, so I would appreciate it if they would put it in a bag so that I could walk it down to Electronics. Semi-Helpful Dock Worker, after spending eons consulting with someone behind the closed dock door, told me that I would not have to carry the item downstairs and that, in fact, they preferred that the item remain where it was; rather, he would go down to Electronics with me, reference number in hand, the return would be processed there, and then I could go my merry way.

So far, so good.

Issue #1: No one seemed to know how to process this type of transaction.

Issue #2: The manager, who might know, was on a break.

Issue #3: The manager, once found, asked me for my receipt.

HUH? It's with the item, right? I ordered the item online, you sent it ship-to-store (not my choice, by the way - that was how the deal was set up), and wouldn't it come with a bill of lading, just like if you shipped it to my office or home?

Yeah, you'd think.

"You should have gotten an e-mail confirming your purchase."

Yeah, got that.

"Well, that's your receipt."

Ohhhhhkay . . . but I didn't need that receipt to pick up the item. I just swiped the credit card that I used to make the purchase into a little machine in a kiosk, and a link to my order popped up.

"It doesn't work that way with returns. We have to have the receipt."


"We can give you a 1-800 number, and you can call in, WITH YOUR RECEIPT, and cancel the order online."


"We're sorry, ma'am. The process would have been simpler if you had used your Sears card."


So, since my experience walking in the shoes of an Interpol-most-wanted criminal, I've been reminding myself to plod through the (completely ridiculous) steps necessary to cancel the transaction, but some combination of passive aggression and "I'm just too busy"-itis has kept me from sealing the deal. So today a lovely woman from the delivery dock called to remind me that my item was (still) at my local Sears store, and I confessed to her that I have just not gotten around to calling the 1-800 number and going through the steps that were outlined for me. To which she responded:

"Um, do you want me to do that for you?"

Do what for me?

"Cancel your order."

You can do that?


From your present location at the dock?


Um, do your coworkers know that this is a physical possibility?

"They should - and I apologize if they didn't tell you that it was an option. Hold, please, and I'll process that for you."

Thirty seconds later, she was back:

"Okay, so the transaction was cancelled, and $X was credited to your Master Card account ending in XXXX. Would you like me to mail you a receipt for this transaction?"

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He lives in the heart of every person who is competent and who prides himself or herself on being helpful to others - even in the midst of a holiday season, the stresses of which tend to make you want to care less, rather than more, about your fellow man.

Thank you, Awesome Sears Dock Worker Lady, for restoring my faith in your company and in people in general. I'll be singing your praises to your employer via online customer survey, for sure. God bless you and yours . . . .

File Under "Ideas for Next Year"

Love this idea for a Christmas card holder, courtesy of A Diamond in the Stuff 's blog. I have seen a stripped-down version of this, employing an unpainted wire tomato cage and binder clips, which would be a nice alternative if you are going for a modern, industrial-y look, but this one has an added cuteness factor that caught my attention.

Four or five years ago, I decided that I could not live with the idea of photos of my friends' kids languishing in a box (or worse), so I started creating scrapbooks of them. The first few years' worth of photos are organized by family, as I was working off of historical cards and pictures. Since then, I have simply added stuff to the books as they arrive in the mail. Although looking at photos of their friends year-to-year and side-by-side is a fun exercise for my kids, I think that they enjoy the jumbled-up scrapbooks better, because then looking for Cousin Such-and-So becomes sort of a "Where's Waldo?" affair.

But, maybe, just maybe, next year we could find room amidst the holiday clutter at Casa McGlinchey for a Tomato Cage Christmas Card Tree, to serve as a temporary home for photos before they make the final journey to The Book . . . .


Wow . . . just wow. Clearly, I'm in the wrong business. For the record: if any of you out there in Blogger Land think that a membership in the Peanut Butter & Jelly of the Month Club sounds like the best thing since sliced bread (sorry, couldn't resist), I can make you a competitive offer.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

For Your Consideration

Prince William: Congrats on the engagement. The two of you seem very happy, and I really hate to rock the boat - but I'd like to throw my name in for consideration. The transition wouldn't be that difficult for you, I think; she's Catherine Elizabeth, I'm Kathryn Elizabeth, so you wouldn't even have to learn a new name.

It's not what you think. I mean, you're reasonably cute, but really not my type, and you're awfully young. And I have never been a Cinderella girl, you know? Not interested in the carriages, or the tiaras, or the ladies in waiting - the whole thing seems incredibly isolating, actually.

But your grandma does have a couple of things that I'm coveting. So we should talk.

I'm obsessed with "Battle of the Nutcrackers Dance-Off" on the Ovation Channel. Five international ballet companies performing their variations of the ballet, and the viewers get to vote on their favorite. Of course I would be obsessed with this show, because, while I have never been a Cinderella girl, I used to be a ballerina girl. And a jazz and modern and tap dancing girl. And then a dance and drill team girl. My sainted parents wasted a significant portion of their middle ages driving me to and from classes, rehearsals, recitals and purveyors of Danskin leotards, toe and character shoes. They also sprung for really good seats at "Cats," which, if memory serves, I insisted on attending, notwithstanding the fact that I was highly limited in my mobility due to a dancing injury. Ankle? Knee? They sort of blur together at this point. I do remember thinking that at least people would be able to TELL that I was a dedicated artiste, as the extent of my suffering for my art was evident in the form of two aluminum crutches shoved under my armpits. Surprise, surprise - there were no less than four other patrons of my approximate age and body build, clutching their playbills while crutching it down the aisle.

Yeah, I was a cliche. . . to the extent that, as a tween and young teen, I actually hosted an ANNUAL SLUMBER PARTY centering on the local PBS channel's broadcast of the Nutcracker. If you were a dance-obsessed child of the seventies, you may remember that holiday classic - American Ballet Theater, circa 1977, Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, and Mikhail Baryshnikov as the Nutcracker Prince.

SIIIIIIIIIIIGH. We all thought that Mikhail was so hot. And that Gelsey was so milquetoast. (For the record, she totally was; it wasn't just a matter of us resenting her for having a personal romantic relationship with Mikhail. I mean, we DID resent her - but that was only one of our objections to her performance.)

The ABT Nutcracker was the gold standard for me for a lot of years. And, I have to say, if I were to put the ABT version up against a couple of the modern-age performances featured on Ovation, I would go with ABT, hands down. I completely agree with another blogger who posted on the Ovation site that the Berlin State Orchestra lost it with their Arabian dance and truly heinous set design. But I'd go a step further - their technique was awful, and more often than not they were not in unison. I kept thinking that, maybe, they had taped the dress rehearsal and accidentally submitted that tape in lieu of the actual performance.

The same blogger posited that you really can't compete with the Bolshoi. Um, actually, I think that you can. The post Cold War era has not been kind to the Bolshoi. The overall quality of the dancing was, I thought, pretty poor. No doubt, funding probably isn't what it once was - but I also can't help but think of the comment that my mother was heard to repeat OVER AND OVER during the Olympics, prior to the fall of Communism:

"Ooh, the Soviet skater fell. She's probably terrified that they will shoot her when she exits the ice. They tend to do that, you know."

Um, Mom, you're exaggerating. They don't shoot them for falling.

"Well, at the very least she's in danger of being shipped to Siberia."

Again - no. But, I suppose, there was truth in the theory that Soviet athletes tended to be relentlessly perfect because they were afforded no other option. And now that external pressure to succeed has been lifted?

On to Bachelor 3: the Royal Ballet of London. NOW we're cooking with gas. Ovation blogger didn't think they had good technique. I tend to disagree - certainly, it was better than the other two, overall. And there were interesting tweaks made to the otherwise traditional choreography that I thought kept things pretty fresh. However, if I were being 100% honest, the things that set this company apart for me were the gorgeous sets and costumes, all done in shades of creams and beiges, but also done with a lot of depth and luminosity. Simple, yet totally luxurious at the same time. Even the bouquets for the principal dancers screamed "we put a LOT of thought into the visuals" (they were huge, the colors perfectly harmonized with the sets, and amidst all of the roses and blooming flowers were giant heads of ornamental cabbage).

What really got me, though, was the curtains.

The curtains at the Royal Opera House, London, are REALLY RED - and at the bottom of the REALLY RED curtains, someone has embroidered in REALLY, REALLY BIG AND FANCY script, "E II R." Confused? That stands for "Elizabeth II Regina," as in Prince William's aforementioned granny. It i s called her royal cypher. But we all know what it really is. It's a REALLY, REALLY BIG AND FANCY MONOGRAM.

Yup - Elizabeth II Regina has MONOGRAMMED HER BALLET. Or, I guess, technically, she has monogrammed the opera house in which her ballet performs. But, whatever - either way, it's flippin' cool. Really, it's the pinnacle of personalization, and as we all know I am ALL about the personalization. So I am adding to my historical Christmas wish list one rocking royal cypher-style monogram, as well as a ballet on which to put it. (In case you are wondering, other big-ticket wish list items include: (1) an anesthesiologist (I consistently forget to take medicine that, if taken, would help me to recover from common things like respiratory viruses, strained muscles, etc. - I tell myself, "Oh, we have [Sudafed/ibuprofen/whatever]," but I never actually make it to the medicine cabinet to retrieve the bottle); (2) an IV drip (I also consistently forget to adequately hydrate my body during the day, so a saline bag on a rolling pole would be just delightful); and (3) Pips. Yes, Pips - Pips to sing the last few words of what I say as punctuation to my sentences, complete with choreography. I might say, "I'm going to Half-Price Books" and they would end with "Half, Price, BOOOOOO-OOO-OOO-OOOKSSSS [jazz hands].")

I'm registered at Harris Methodist Hospital, Motown Records and, as of this week, Buckingham Palace. Start your holiday shopping for me early!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hot Holiday Opinions

. . . because I KNOW that you want to hear them.

At the risk of alienating a great many people, I find the following holiday concepts largely underwhelming:

Outdoor Christmas light displays. Admittedly, my opinion is colored by the whole "spouse falling off of the roof and breaking an arm and two ribs" debacle of 2008, but truth be told I wasn't that keen on the tradition before then. I enjoy looking at other folks' displays, but I could take or leave the concept of setting up our own. And I only enjoy looking at other people's lights in moderation. Except that we never look at lights in moderation - we're talking two hours of driving around, minimum. Arguing usually is involved, both about the route, the duration of our excursion and my husband's driving. Meh.

Poinsettias. I never knew what to do with these: allegedly, they were poisonous to animals, so keeping them indoors was out, but they are tropical plants and can't survive frost and cold temperatures outdoors. So, ultimately, I crossed them off of my list of holiday decor options. Recently, I learned that they aren't poisonous at all - but this did not motivate me to restore them to the list. If I had a bigger house . . . or wasn't driven crazy by shriveled leaves dropping to the floor . . . .

Yeah - next.

"It's a Wonderful Life". Please don't stone me. I appreciate the idea behind the movie - it's a very nice sentiment - but the movie itself does nothing for me. On the other hand, I could - and do - watch "Christmas Story" on a continuous loop. Also "Scrooged." And "Polar Express." I will even sit through "Die Hard" (it's a Christmas movie, people - just ask my husband and my coworker, Aaron). So, call me a modern classicist, I guess.

The first act of the Nutcracker. The battle with the Mouse King - meh. Bunch of male dancers leaping up and awkwardly jacknifing at the waist. The snowflakes - double meh. Most. Repetitive. Choreography. Ever. And one of the circles ends up bigger than the other circles, which offends both my former dancer and OCD sensibilities. It's usually the circle on the right. Hmm - didn't really pick up on that until now. But it doesn't seem to matter which company is performing - there's just something a little wockyjaw about the dancers on the right.

The first time I took Connor to the Nutcracker, he was five, Parker was five weeks, and I thought that an evening at Bass Hall was just what the doctor might order for both post C-section mom and somewhat-lost-in-the-shuffle big brother. We had great (orchestra) seats, and everything started out gangbusters. Connor found the battle scene mildly amusing. Then - cue the snowflakes.

"Um, Mom? How long are they going to do THAT?"

"For awhile, sweetie."

"Does it get any better?"

"This part? Honestly? Not really. But it gets better in the second act. You'll like the Russian dance."

"Can we go to Barnes & Noble at halftime? For REAL concessions?"

(Connor judges special events by the quality of their concessions. Always has. Thus, he was tremendously disappointed to learn that Bass Hall concessions are, basically, limited to beverages - only a few of them non-alcoholic. Fortunately, there is a Barnes & Noble across the street from Bass Hall. And, yes, he really did call it halftime.)

So halftime arrived, we went to Barnes & Noble, he got a cookie, Mom got a hot chocolate, and then we went upstairs to the kids' section. As we perused the Batman easy readers, he said, almost as an aside, "Mom? You DO know that we aren't going back, right?"

Yeah, I figured.

But, lest you think that I am a total Scrooge, I do find a great many things about the holidays utterly delightful:

The second act of the Nutcracker. Like I said - it gets better.

The last fifteen minutes of "Love Actually." Olivia Olson's rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You"! The little boy evading airport security! Colin Firth proposing to his (improbably hot) cleaning lady in God-awful Portuguese! The octopus and lobster ("HEAD lobster!") in the Christmas pageant! And the wise man with the Spider-Man makeup! We can't let the kids see all of the movie, but we do let them see the conclusion. And they ask for it to be played OVER and OVER. Such a feel-good flick.

Buddy the Elf. I would pass through the seven layers of the candy cane forest, through the sea of twirly, swirly gumdrops, and then walk through the Lincoln Tunnel for the opportunity to frolic in a revolving door and indulge in the four elf food groups with Buddy. My youngest child reminds me of him. In Parker's eyes, everything about the holidays is ginormous - and awesome. Just like Buddy.

Linus reciting from the Book of Luke in the Peanuts special. So. Unbelievably. Sweet.

"I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage. I'd feed him there, and wash him there, and give him his massage. Seriously, people: I totally want a hippopotamus for Christmas.

"Silent Night." We end the Christmas Eve services at our church with an unplugged version - no lights, and no organ during the last verse. Just thousands of white candles. It almost makes me want to join the choir - so that I could witness how beautiful the whole thing must be from their choir loft vantage point.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The Pretenders' version tops my list, followed by James Taylor, followed by the original movie version, then followed by all of the other versions. I'm not terribly picky - but The Pretenders, definitely numero uno.

Sugar cookies. The elaborately decorated kind, coated with gobs of royal icing. And sprinkles - for crunch.

Holiday beverages. Starbucks gingerbread latte! Eggnog! Limited edition eggnog flavored creamer! Wassail! And my very own bus punch . . . the recipe for which I will have to dig up, as it occurs to me that it's the 14th of December, and I haven't made it yet.

Wrapping presents. I do not consider this a chore - far from it. I am a wrap-aholic. No six-inch ribbon curls for this girl.

Watching the Pope. I was raised Catholic, converted to Protestantism as an adult, but I still watch the Pope every Christmas Eve. And, growing up, it was a running joke that the other person in the house who participated in this tradition was my Presbyterian father. My Catholic mother was either getting things ready for the next day or was passed out asleep on the couch.

At the end of the day, it's the quirky, family-specific traditions that get to me. Three from my childhood particularly stand out:

1. My dad inserting just the top of the artificial tree into the artificial trunk and declaring, "Tree's up." (Does anyone remember these old-school trees? You had a pole, the pole had wholes in it, you inserted individual branches into the holes, and a little mini-tree went into the pole up top. If memory serves, none of the branches were labeled by the manufacturer- so the first year I got to witness my parents coming unglued as they struggled to figure out which branches went on the bottom row, which ones went above that, etc. Once they got it worked out, my mother got smart and painted the insertion ends of each branch with a distinctive color - purple for the bottom row, and so on - which meant that going forward my job was to sort branches according to color.)

2. Putting out cheese for Santa Mouse. Loved this book growing up, and for awhile I was convinced that he was real. Thus: cookies for Santa, carrots for the reindeer, and a wedge of Swiss or Cheddar for the mouse.

3. My dad waiting until Christmas morning to set up the video camera. Mom's job was to restrain me at the top of the stairs, while Dad cursed as he wrestled with the tripod. I have no idea why he didn't do this the night before. I suspect that a good bit of it was to annoy me.

Like my mom, I typically gift the boys with new pajamas and books on Christmas Eve, and if they find it hard to go to sleep they are allowed to stay up and read. But a few traditions are 100% our own: Santa never wraps his gifts, and he leaves them on the hearth, along with the filled stockings. (The boys' rooms open up on the tree, sooooooooooooo . . . .) And, at the end of the season, we wrap the boys' Christmas books and DVDs - twenty four of them in all - and store them that way until the following December 1st. Starting on 12/1, they get to open a "gift" per day. It was a way to satisfy toddler Connor's impulse to unwrap things, and it made the old books new again. Now, it's just a fun family tradition.

Ooh, speaking of - my spouse just informed me that "Scrooged" is on! "Seven o'clock. Psychos seize Santa's workshop, and only Lee Majors can stop them. 'THE NIGHT THE REINDEER DIED."

Monday, December 13, 2010

What My Holiday Office Gifts Say About Me

I am an office gift schizophrenic. I don't want to be. I desperately want to be the person who gives gifts of the same genre, year in and year out, because I do believe that what you choose to give people says a lot about who you are, and I want my gifts to say "internal cohesion" and "highly developed sense of personal style." Instead, I fear that my gifts scream, "This b**** is crazy."

Here are a few blasts from my office gift-giving past:

1) Apple baskets lined with linen tea towels and containing artisan bread and locally made spreads. This was the year that I committed to keeping things rustic and simple - as in, I was going to procure cookbooks for the neighbors, wrap them with kitchen towels, book cover-style, and tie them with twine as a sustainable "green" alternative to gift wrap. Except I never got around to buying the cookbooks, or the kitchen towels, or the twine, but I did do the apple baskets. I believe that they were accented with sprigs of actual evergreen.

2) Kalanchoe plants presented in straw hats tied with tartan plaid ribbon. There was an ornament somewhere in the mix - tied to the ribbon, I think. Still a hand-assembled gift, but a little less "Martha-Stewart-crafting-at-her-country-estate-where-the-livestock-is-color-coordinated-with-the-exterior-paint-color-of-the-barn" and more - well, purposefully whimsical. In other words, more me. But still somewhat internally cohesive with the bread thing, right? At this point in my gift-giving evolution, I feel like I was hitting my stride - refining my angle, perhaps.

3) Bottles of wine. Nothing says, "I went to a lot of time and effort in preparing your gift" like bedecking an apple basket with fresh evergreen or hand-picking blooming plants and lovingly nestling them in a hat. And nothing says, "Hey, I did the straw hat thing, and the evergreen sprig thing, so this year I'm entitled to coast" like a bottle of wine. In my defense, it was good wine - a wine that I discovered at a local wine bar and had to special order by the case, because it was a "restaurant wine" and not ordinarily available at liquor stores. So, you know, I didn't just walk into a liquor store and buy the stuff. I walked into a liquor store, had them look up the product on the computer and locate a case for me, and then I had to GO BACK to pick it up. Okay, full disclosure, I sent my husband to pick it up. And then he left it outside overnight, on a night that we happened to have a hard freeze. I guess that was his subtle way of telling me, "Pick up your own damned case of wine next time." The silver lining: after much Internet research, I now know exactly how cold a bottle of red wine can get before it's toast. (Answer: colder than it was that particular December evening. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I went ahead and handed out the wine, offering up prayers that the stuff remained remotely drinkable. Later, I opened a bottle and was relieved to learn that it was, in fact, none the worse for the wear. Why I didn't think of trying the wine BEFORE I gave it away is beyond me. Certainly, I needed the drink after the whole "you left WHAT WHERE overnight?" spousal tiff.)

4) Bottles of some sort of coffee liqueur stuff that you serve over ice cream, accompanied by a dusting of chocolate shavings. If I'm light on the details, it's because my coworker discovered the stuff, asked me if I wanted to go in on the stuff together, and I wrote her a check. At one point, it was going to be my responsibility to buy the little Parmesan cheese-style shakers that we put the fresh chocolate in, but then she happened to run across some - so I wrote another check. I think I did secure the plastic wrap to the tops of the shaved chocolate shakers, and it's likely that I wrote out the cards, since I have the more distinctive handwriting. But that's it. So, points for continuing with the "stuff in a bottle" theme, but points deducted for completely staffing out the gift to a friend.

5) Collapsible market baskets. You probably have seen these - roughly oval in shape, made out of the same ripstop nylon as backpacks and some luggage, aluminum handles, and the whole thing folds flat. I have a couple of these, and I use them tons. You can find them just about anywhere these days, but back when I gifted them they were a bit of a rare find. But that's not why I selected them. Market Basket Year was the year when I started to become disillusioned by the whole gift-giving thing. Not just vis-a-vis office mates, but vis-a-vis people in general: I had come to terms with the fact that I didn't really need anything, that it was an increasing chore to think of gift suggestions when asked for same by others, and quite often finding room for the new stuff was a burden that outweighed the actual social utility of the gift received. And, I figured, if I felt that way, perhaps much of the rest of the world had the same hangups. So the market basket was a compromise - it was useful beyond the holidays, it took up precious little space and was, in fact, designed to be unobtrusive, and YOU COULD USE IT TO CORRAL THE JUNK THAT OTHER PEOPLE GAVE YOU. I even included a poem:

It's an age-old dilemma - what to give that's not junk?
Nothing excited; we were in quite a funk.
then the light bulb went off - a gift to fit all
A (collapsible) basket for your holiday haul!

Kind of cute, right? In a Seussian way? But also Seussian in a preachy sense, a la "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees." My own little snide commentary on consumerism. So, recap: theme 1, simple gifts from the heart. Theme 2, stuff that comes in a bottle. Theme 3, "I'm not anti-holiday because I'm lazy; I'm just taking the moral high ground."

6) Charitable donations. I had run out of ideas, and the moral high ground thing was at its zenith. I simply could not bring myself to throw another dollar at a holiday-scented candle or Christmas tchotchke. So I thought about the interests of my various colleagues, and things that generally might make them smile, and I wrote checks. Then I wrote a letter explaining the donations that I had made in their honor, and why I selected certain charities. This year will live in infamy as "the year that Kathryn bought the office shares in a yak and a llama through Heifer International." Hey, how often do you get to say that you own a share in a yak?

I actually felt good about the charity thing. Discussing charitable gifting options and making gifts as a family is somewhat of a McGlinchey tradition, and one of the traditions that means the most to me, but the problem with non-gifts that are designed to substitute for gifts is that, notwithstanding the noble intentions behind them, you start to feel a little chintzy for not providing something tangible. So you end up getting the holiday-scented candles anyway, and you completely blow your budget. (I liken this to justifying a destination wedding on the basis of not having to pay for a full-blown reception, and then the bride and groom return home, see all of the gifts and decide that they need to throw a full-blown reception as a thank you to all of the well-wishers that missed out on the junket to Maui.)

So, on to this year's idea, which I actually think is a great one. Purchased these holiday calling cards last season from my favorite stationer, Carrye Campbell of The Invitation Monkey:

(Mine don't actually feature the names of Carrye's immediate family members; they have our names on them.) I love calling cards - you can use them in place of a greeting card, and they can be attached to anything - punch a hole in the corner and tie them with a ribbon around the neck of a bottle, or attach them to gift wrap with double sided tape. I have recouped the cost of the boys' cards, and then some, in terms of birthday cards not purchased for friends over the years, and I also have converted them into ID tags for backpacks, sports bags and the like (a couple of bucks at the copy shop will get you a package of five or six precut laminating tags, into which you simply insert the card, remove the backing, press and seal).

I distinctly remember getting a big box of enclosure cards personalized with Parker's name shortly after his birth, and I remember thinking, "Wow, what a GREAT gift." Personalized stationery, I think, falls into the category of things that we enjoy having but justify living without based on a "need versus want" analysis.

Thus, the folks at the office are getting these:

and also some of these:

While I was placing my order, I picked up sets for hostess, teacher, neighbor and friend gifts, tailoring the design to the interests of each recipient. Thus, a good college friend as well as one of Connor's teachers will be getting these:

I think that I may be on to something - next year, instead of the calling cards, I could get folks folding notes, and we could move across the personalized stationery spectrum from there. I like what the calling cards say about me - or, more specifically, about the recipients: "You deserve something with your name on it, something a little indulgent that you don't have to pay for and that you might not buy for yourself." Also like the reminder that sort of big things tend to come in very small packages.

Check out The Invitation Monkey's Web site ( for holiday specials. Carrye is a smart cookie, and if you place a big order with her she will work with you on pricing.