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22 Dec

Before I roll into this, some holiday humor, reprinted with permission blah blah blah from my first (and so far only) book. It was written a LONG time ago, about my then-girlfriend…


            Last Christmas my lovely and wonderful girlfriend decided that it would be nice if she and I spent some quality time “bonding.”  I agreed, and immediately suggested covering our bodies with chocolate sauce and sticking ourselves to each other.  She politely corrected me.  “No, you cretin.  Let’s do something creative and wonderful and incredibly time consuming.  Let’s build a gingerbread house.”

            For those of you not familiar with the idea, the basic premise as explained to me by the love of my life is that you spend approximately two lunar months (and about $31.48) constructing this masterpiece of culinery architecture, and then you give it away.  This made no sense to me, and I said as much.  She rewarded my honesty by threatening to drop the mixer down my shorts.  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.

            We proceeded to begin construction.  Step one was to mix the gingerbread dough.  This was done with maximum mess and maximum violence.  First, I got smacked for tasting the dough a few (twelve) times.  Then, when I tried to sneak out to go do something more exciting (and safer), like rearranging my sock drawer, she got a little confused about what (whom) to use the rolling pin on.

            My escape thwarted, and my lack of enthusiasm resolved, (the threat of blunt trauma does wonders for my motivation), we continued upon our endeavor.  We rolled the dough into sheets, which would have been of uniform thickness, except that they weren’t, and applied the provided templates.  These were supposed to provide us with four similar walls, two identical pieces of for the roof, and pieces for the steeple.  They instead provided us with seventeen pieces that were similar only in that they were all made of gingerbread.  It was less and less likely that our gingerbread creation would ever resemble the majestic steepled creation on the box.  In fact, it was less and less likely that our gingerbread creation would ever resemble anything that would be even close to habitable, even by gingerbread people standards.  After I pointed this out, it was, however, more and more likely that I would be sleeping on the couch until July.

            According to the directions, we were supposed to assemble the pieces of our little cottage with “small spoonfuls of confectioner’s sugar.”  Yeah, right.  No real man would use “small spoonfuls” of anything during a construction job (ok, so it’s made of gingerbread, it’s still a house) so I began to load up the caulking gun.  My wonderful, loving girlfriend began loading up her father’s Winchester.  I’m a better shot, but I was slightly outgunned, so in the end, we went with the spoonfuls of sugar.  As I suspected, the sugar was totally inadequate.  It was two steps to the left of useless for joining anything, so I suggested crazy glue.  The princess suggested Bellvue. 

            Eventually, we succeeded in creating something resembling a structure that looked somewhat like a church if you looked at the right way (with your eyes closed).  At this point, I was no longer confused on WHY we would want to give this thing away.

            After we finally got it to stand on its own (IMPORTANT NOTE: cardboard and gingerbread are the same color), it was time to decorate it with candy.  This turned out to be pretty easy, as I kept two very important tenets in mind:

1) the more you sample, the less you actually have to waste on the house.

2) symmetry is unimportant to gingerbread people

            The last step was to create a gingerbread congregation to celebrate in our gingerbread church.  After much deliberation, we made a very professional community consisting of gingerbread lawyers, gingerbread doctors, gingerbread fighter pilots, and even a gingerbread President of the United States.  My girlfriend was very proud of our creation, and asked my opinion on a name.  I politely suggested “First Church of the Amazons,” as by some accident (yeah, right) ALL the members of the congregation (except the gingerbread janitor) were women.  She politely suggested I look into having a relationship by myself. 

            Finally finished, she asked where we should put it until it was time to give it away to the “lucky” recipients.  I suggested anywhere that it could not be reasonably associated with us.

            In the end, she was so pleased with our masterpiece, she ended up keeping it.  She did, however, give me away.


One of the best things about my second career as a teacher is that we get TONS of time off this time of year. I had a whole week off at Thanksgiving, and then worked three weeks before getting two more weeks off for “Winter Holiday,” which of course I celebrate as Christmas. So here I am on my break, sharing some thoughts now that I have caught up on some sleep and recovered from the pain of grading my cadets’ midterms.

I say “pain,” but in reality grading the midterms was very educational. For example, I did not know that the attack on Pearl Harbor was in 1939, that projectiles spin because of rifling OUTSIDE the barrel, and that Admiral Gilday is actually the reigning WWE champion. However, those were all very popular answers on the multiple choice midterm that I gave. It appears that while most of my cadets learned things, some of them were just producing carbon dioxide. A few of them should be organ donors if they ever want to contribute positively to society.

Reflecting on the upcoming Christmas, I noted how things have changed from when I was young until now. My children’s Christmas memories will not be better or worse than mine, but they will be different. For example, growing up I only got new toys on my birthday or for Christmas. Now, children seem to be more into electronic gadgets and “apps” instead of toys, and due to affluence or just being spoiled they seem to get new stuff year round (of course that might just be my kids). Also different, we waited all year to watch “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” or “Santa Clause was Coming to Town.” These Christmas specials were one of the highlights of the season. But now you can watch them in the middle of July if you want, so to me they seem less special. I guess you contribute both of the above to “instant gratification” which seems to be all the rage, but I miss some of the old ways.

One modern thing that I do appreciate is church services. When I was a kid, we would either go to Christmas Mass on Christmas Eve, which was painful to sit through, or have to pause playing with new toys on Christmas Day to go to a morning mass. I was raised Catholic, so both services had some Christmas carols (which I liked) and some hymns sung by people old enough to have gone to school with some of the original Apostles, which I hated. Contrast that to now, when at the local United Methodist Church that my family attends, I was playing the rock version of “Joy to the World,” alongside two electric guitars and an electric base at 95 beats per minute. THAT will get you into a good mood!

Good or bad, things have changed, but I am looking forward to this break with my children, and I hope you are looking forward to some down time as well, even if you aren’t lucky enough to have two weeks off.

I will close with another one of my most popular writings about this time of year. It recounts some of my favorite Christmas memories.


            My father was the sixth child of seven,  and as such, never went to the bathroom until his older sisters went to college.  That of course has nothing to do with the fact that his father was a retail food merchant, and was very busy around Christmas time.  Because of that, Christmas in his house was always pretty hectic, and there wasn’t always time for decorating or tree trimming or anything like that.  My father vowed that when he had a family, he was going to make up for lost time.  Christmas was going to be the high point of the year, every year, for the rest of his life, and his family was going to have a jolly holiday, dammit, even if it killed us.  And a couple times, decorating our house almost did.

            Things didn’t start off out of control.  My family’s Christmas decorations had a rather humble beginning, actually.  That first year, Dad put a wreath and Mom put up a tree, and things were pretty much low key that season.  Then I was born, and as I grew, so did Dad’s commitment to having the house visible from orbiting spacecraft.

I remember helping my parents decorate the house when I was first growing up.  Dad, with my “help” (I was in charge of drinking the hot chocolate), would put up about seven hundred colored lights around our front door and windows.  As this was the seventies, and things like energy conservation, electrical safety, and good taste hadn’t been invented yet, these were not the cute soft little twinkle lights so popular today.  No sir, these were the gaudy, power guzzling two inch long behemoths of yesteryear.  They came about six to a strand, and when we plugged them in, the rest of the lights in the neighborhood would dim.  After about an hour these things put out enough heat to melt the polar icecaps.  We also wrapped the front door in tin foil, and put a large wreath up on the side of the house, so that everyone knew that we knew it was Christmas.

The inside of the house was Mom’s domain (she did, however, allow Dad to come in from time to time), and for about three weeks prior to Christmas, Mom would unpack decorations and put up little candles and bows and Santas and a whole bunch of other things.  Mom did allow Dad and I (again, I mostly drank hot chocolate) to decorate the trees.  Yes, I said trees.  As long as I can remember, my family has always put up two trees.  The one in the living room was fake, but we always said either “artificial” or “living impaired” so as not to hurt its feelings.  It was decorated in a very formal manner, just green and gold.  No red anywhere in sight, and Mom strictly enforced that.  I tried to hang a red ball on it once, and got spanked with a giant candy cane.  Now that’s the true meaning of Christmas.  Green and gold, no questions, no exceptions.  Santa was watching.

Our second tree was a real tree, downstairs in the basement.  In keeping with Dad’s theme of putting lights on everything within reach, this tree was covered with colored lights.  These were the indoor version of the ones outside, slightly smaller and less kilowatt consuming (still, my family’s holiday energy use contributed heavily to this country’s  race to perfect nuclear power) and produced slightly less (about two degrees) heat, but were every bit as gaudy.  In addition, we put lots of brightly colored glass balls on the tree, in order to cover the tackiness of the lights with an even greater tackiness.  Still, this was the seventies, and tacky was in, so we were happy.

Downstairs across from the tree is where we set up the manger scene.  A manger scene, for you pagans,  is a depiction of the birth scene of the baby Jesus.  A typical manger scene has the Holy Family, an angel, two shepherds, three kings, and animals commonly found in the Middle Eastern region, such as sheep (to keep an eye on the shepherds) and donkeys and oxen.  Our manger scene, which took up most of the basement, had the extended Holy Family, including aunts and uncles, four shepherds, an entire flock of sheep, six oxen, two donkeys, about a battalion of angels (not cute little cherubs, either), the three kings with their queens and concubines and bodyguards and camels, and a whitetail deer.  Yes, one whitetail deer.  Not being very smart, I never realized that whitetail deer do not normally inhabit the middle eastern regions.  Apparently, Dad’s little sister gave it to him, and made him in a moment of weakness promise to make it a part of our manger scene, and zoological propriety be damned.  Mom has often since been grateful that Dad did not have a younger brother who gave my father a model car, or else the  manger scene might contain Joseph and Mary in a ’57 Chevy (though I always thought that would look really cool).

As I got older, our decorative scheme became rote.  We went to extremes every year, but it was the same extreme, so we were comfortable, and a little bored.  Then one day, my brother was born, (I had asked Santa for a puppy) and we had to move.  My entire twelve years of life were turned upside down, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, here comes Christmas.

Our new home presented some interesting decorating challenges.  It had an entire extra section of roof to decorate, for one thing.  For another, it was a lot longer, and if we were to continue to use the seventies lights (which in the eighties were getting expensive) my parents would have to get another mortgage. Finally, there was an entire new power grid to tamper with.

Our first attempt in the new home was a valiant effort, but extremely inefficient.  In order to get all the lights to go on, we had to throw two switches, plug in six plugs, and fire up an auxiliary generator.  Everything looked great though, and with a little bit of burn salve, we healed quickly.

As the years progressed, we learned from our mistakes, and every year we made improvements in the system.  Our triumph came the Christmas of my senior year in college.  On that blessed occasion, after studying electrical diagrams for three weeks prior, and spending $312 on extension cords and those little things you screw into light sockets so you can plug said extension cords into them, we were able to get all of our holiday decorations to light up from only two switches.  We celebrated.  Then we sang.  Then we blew two fuses in our house, and one across the street.  We have several times since tried to get everything to run off  just one switch, but sadly the goal still eludes us.  One year, after a particularly bad start, we actually regressed to three.  Dad took that pretty hard, but he’s ok now.

Coming from a large Italian family (meaning that it is a family of very large Italians) no discussion of the holiday season would be complete without discussing food.  Christmas eve dinner is perhaps the most joyous meal in my family, and every year we prepare for it with the same zeal that the Allies prepared for Normandy (it’s about that noisy, too.).  Each year we alternate between our brightly decorated house and my Dad’s cousin’s house.  Their house is about the same as ours, except, according to them, more “tastefully” decorated (which is the polite way of saying they put up a hell of a lot less lights).  We invite all the relatives in the local area (who aren’t doing time) in for the feast.

AND WHAT A FEAST IT IS!  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner includes seven different kinds of fish.  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner in my family also includes six different kinds of pasta, five different types of pastries, four bottles of wine (per person), three types of scotch, two turtle doves, and a Frank Sinatra Christmas album.

As we gather around the table stuffing ourselves, the older members of the family engage in the timeless family tradition of getting hammered, coupled with the other timeless family tradition of getting really LOUD.  As they do this, Mom always picks this time to break out the video camera to record the event.  As Mom has often had a few drinks herself, her ability to hold the camera steady is somewhat disrupted.  The end result every year is a ten minute long movie of a bunch of older drunk people yelling loudly at the sober grand children during what appears to be an earthquake. 

And I wouldn’t trade any of it.


May your best of ’19 be your worst of ’20. Peace and love to all for a wonderful Christmas season and a blessed new year.

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