Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Spent $100 So My Kid Would Believe in Santa Claus

This past week, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in lines, and have been pleasantly surprised by my fellow humans' chipper attitude this Christmas season.  People have looked at me and said, "Oh honey, you only have one thing.  You go before me!"  What trickery is this?  I thought.  No trickery!  People were just being merry and bright.

At one store, I went through the relatively short line to discover I had forgotten to purchase batteries.  So I bravely went back in, fetched the AAs, and got back into the same line.  As I was checking out, the cashier asked me,

"Would you like to donate to Foodlink today?"

"Oh, I was just in line.  Remember?  I already donated."

She stared at me blankly.

"So, no then?" she said.  I sighed.

"Yes.  Yes.  I'll donate."

This is why we're ridiculously over Christmas budget this year.  That, and the Hot Wheels Car Maker.

The Hot Wheels Car Maker is the bane of my existence.  It is a machine that allows a child to create his or her own hot wheels vehicles.  It looks like this:

The Hot Wheels Car Maker is exclusive to Toys R Us.  Which was just a low, low move on Hot Wheels' part.

Daniel's Christmas list went as follows:

1. Hot Wheels Car Maker
2. Nintendo DS
3. Legos
4. Hot Wheels Car Maker
5.  I really want a Hot Wheels Car Maker

He wrote to Santa about it and everything.  That was before he made this proclamation:

"I don't believe in Santa!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, all of the presents I asked Santa for said they came from you.  And also, Santa's wrapping paper is the same as YOUR wrapping paper."

This is because while I enjoy my children believing in the magic of St. Nick, I also want to take most of the credit for the gifts.  It's also because I'm lazy.

Then, Daniel announced that he DID believe, and that Santa would definitely bring him the Hot Wheels Car Maker.  Noah from his class told him so.

Unfortunately, I'd already made several trips to Toys R Us only to be laughed out of the store, because apparently, they ran out of the thing weeks ago.  Did you know there are actually cruel people in this world who go to stores, buy up hot Christmas items, and then sell them for a premium online?  Probably people like Noah from Daniel's classroom. I thought that kind of thing only happened on television shows.

The Hot Wheels Car Maker retails for 34.99 when purchased at Toys R. Us.

Yesterday, I paid 99.99 for it from a seller on Amazon.  When I told the husband, he had a minor stroke and contemplated selling my hair for money.  I said, not until you sell your fancy watch, buster.  And he said, I'm not the one who paid 99.99 for a toy that will probably break within the first twenty four hours.

So now I'm bald.

But the Car Maker is in transit right now.  Santa's reindeer will bring it on Christmas Eve.

And Daniel will believe one year more.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Night John Outed me as an Oxfordian

The Oxfordian Theory

I'm not a conspiracy theorist.

I believe we landed on the moon.  I believe that the attacks on 9/11 were committed by al Qaeda terrorists, and that the towers went down because airplanes crashed into them.  I vaccinate my children. I don't believe that adding flouride to the water supply is actually a way for the government to control our minds.  I believe that Elvis is dead, Paul McCartney is alive, President Barack Obama was born in the United States, and Paul from the Wonder Years is not, in fact, Marilyn Manson.

So I have this one thing.  Just one thing.

I kind of sort of think that maybe William Shakespeare never wrote all those plays.  And sonnets.  Shocking, I know, but as a skeptic, I am in good company.  Liberal Supreme Court Justice Stevens and conservative Supreme Court Justice Scalia agree on one thing: that the man from Stratford probably didn't write Shakespeare. Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Malcolm X,  Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, and Keanu Reeves were or are dubious about the true authorship of the Bard.

Keanu Reeves, people.  I don't know about you, but when I'm faced with a tough decision, I ask myself what Keanu Reeves would do.

I believe Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is the probable author of the plays. I am an Oxfordian. There.  It's out.  However, it's not something I often bring up in conversation.  Stratfordians (those who believe Shakespeare to be the true author) are incredibly sensitive about the issue, and write scathing articles with titles like "Only Foolish Snobs Don't Believe in William Shakespeare."  It's pretty hurtful.

I'm not a expert in Shakespearean literature by any means, but I'm not completely ignorant about the subject, either.  I've taken several courses on the guy, and I've written several long and boring papers with titles like "A Winter's Tale and the Pastoral," and "'O sleep!'  The Somnabulent Shakespeare."  I own Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human," which I've actually flipped through on an occasion or two. I've read at least eight Shakespeare biographies.  More like five, actually.  Okay, two.  I've read two.

The fact is, all the information we have about William Shakespeare can be neatly contained in a single paragraph.  There are many pages of information about  de Vere, however, and the evidence that suggests he wrote the plays is pretty compelling.  (A good de Vere primer can be found here.)

Which bring me to the events of last evening at John's annual firm Christmas party.  My husband is afflicted with a condition called extreme extroversion while I suffer from whatever the opposite of that is, so, as you can imagine, I find social events stressful. Not only that, but my only pair of black shoes are slightly too large for my feet, which makes mingling physically uncomfortable.  I was sitting at a table, lamenting my poor choice in footwear, when John introduced me to his attorney friend and his friend's wife, an English professor.  Who went to Harvard.  But whatever.  (Please note that she was not a Shakespeare specialist.)

After a brief introduction, John, trying to form a connection between me and the professor, chose that inopportune moment to bring up my interest in the Shakespeare authorship question. He thinks it's a topic of common interest among literature buffs (it's not) and that he would make me sound erudite by bringing it up. (It didn't.)   The subject is controversial, and coming out as an Oxfordian is a decision an Oxfordian has to make for him or herself.  The husband should never out his wife as an Oxfordian, especially to an academic snob.

The not so smooth transition from introductions to Shakespeare went exactly like this:

John:  This is my wife, Holly.  Holly, this is the professor of English!  Holly believes the Earl of Oxford is really William Shakespeare!"

He might as well have said:  This is my wife, Holly, and she hates impoverished children! And she kicks puppies for fun!  Have at her!

English professors hate Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theorists.  This particular one raised her eyebrows and said, and I quote, "Oh, you're one of those crackpots, huh?"

This is the very first time I have ever been called a crackpot.  It wasn't pleasant.

I forced a grin.

"I am," I said.

"I think I did a little paper about the authorship issue in high school.  I made it pretty clear that Shakespeare was Shakespeare."

"A lot of compelling evidence has come forth in the last few years regarding de Vere," I said.

"Oh really?  Since 1997?"  she said.  I ignored her sarcasm.

"Yes," I said.

She didn't regard me for the rest of the evening, and I had good stuff to say about all of the Harry Pottery imagery in the latest Donna Tartt novel, not crackpot stuff at all.

We stayed at the party for a long time; my extreme extrovert likes to talk.  A lot.  I finally got him to head in the direction of the coat room.

"The crackpot is leaving the building!" I announced.  Then I tripped over my too-large shoes, which really cemented my crackpot image.  Then we went home.

So, now it's out there: that evening, the entire table heard my exchange with the professor and I'm sure the news is spreading.  I wanted to address it before you heard it from someone else.  I am an Oxfordian. I'm not ashamed.  Someday I may even get the courage to walk in the Oxfordian Pride parade.

(I am not a crackpot!)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Forcing Christmas Cheer on your Children: A Holiday Tradition

Those days before Christmas felt like an eternity when I was a kid.  But I didn't mind.  One of the best parts about the Christmas holiday was that cozy feeling I got sitting on the couch, by the tree, reading stories and poems from old Christmas treasuries.

This is a Christmas treasury with bunnies.  The Christmas treasuries we had did not have bunnies on the cover.  

In December, my mom brought out these oversized hardcover books which contained stories like, "A Gift for the Magi,"  poems from John Donne, and classic Christmas carols like "Silent Night."  ("I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" was not in any of the Christmas treasuries I beheld, which would have been a great disappointment to my daughter, Ella, who thinks this is the greatest song ever written in the history of the world.) They included some Dickens, the Christmas story from the book of Luke, and maybe a recipe or two of some kind of complicated Christmas cookie that looks pretty but probably tastes gross.  The treasuries generally hearkened back to Victorian Christmases, when people actually put lit candles in their Christmas trees.  On a related note, there were a lot of house fires in the 1800s during the holiday season.

Naturally, I didn't feel like my children's Christmases would be quite right without Christmas treasuries to leaf through during December. Christmas treasuries, I believe, should be an integral part of the season.

I began browsing local used book stores for Christmas collections.  I started at the bookstore in my own town of Spencerport, which is a magical place that kind of looks like an episode from Hoarders. Organization at the aptly named Book Centre is secondary to massive book accumulation, so one has to commit a certain amount of time for searching through and restacking piles of books that will inevitably tumble.  It's a whole long process.

I did not find a Victorian Christmas Treasury, but I did find a fascinating little book entitled "The Curious World of Christmas."  Did you know that both the debonair Humphrey Bogart and the delightful Annie Lennox were born on Christmas?  Or that February 2 officially marks the end of Christmas according to the Christian Calendar? (The period between Christmas and February 2 is known as "Candlemas" and it commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, evolved from an ancient Jewish belief that women were unclean after the birth of a child.  They were unclean for 40 days after giving birth to a boy, and for 60 days after giving birth to a girl.  I don't know what happened to women who gave birth to boy/girl twins.)

The book also included a recipe for "Stir-Fried Spicy Red Cabbage with Apples" which I will not be making, and "Drunk Christmas Cake" which I might.  The recipe is as follows, and it really bears reading out loud:

1 pint water
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups dried fruit
1 tsp salt
1 cup demerara sugar
3 cups nuts
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 orange rind
1 very large bottle of whiskey


Try the whiskey to check for good quality.  Find a large bowl.  Check the whisky again to make sure it hasn't gone bad in the meantime.  Just to be extra sure, pour a proper glass and drink.  Repeat until absolutely certain.  Turn on the food processor, and beat up the butter in the large bowl.  Add sugar and beat the buffer again.  Check the whisky is still room temperature.  Turn up the volume of the processor.  Lob the five beggs into the board and chuck in the fup of cried druit.  Mix on the whizzy turner thing.  If the fired druit gets stuck in the professor's blades, lisdodge the gunk.  Sample the whiskey to check no one has sneaked in and diluted it.  Next, the salt,.  Or whatever.  Make sure whisky is still smooth to the tongue.  Now shit the lemon juice and strain your nuts.  Add one table of lemon.  Do the sugar or something.  Whatever's to hand.  Wash down the oven.  Turn the cake tin to 450 degrees.  Burn off the food professor.  Drop the bowl on the floor, go to bed taking care to bring whisky bottle with you in case it falls into wrong hands.  Lie down and enjoy a warm glow of satisfaction at a job well done.

I purchased the book specifically for that recipe.

I soon took my search for a more traditional, child-appropriate Christmas anthology to the internet, and ended up purchasing an treasury that was not oversized but had the requisite stories, poems, carols, and recipes included within.  I put the book in a prominent location and waited for the my kids to casually pick it up and become absorbed in its magical renderings of Christmases past.

This didn't happen.

I suggested to Caleb one evening that he look through the book.

"Maybe later," he said, disinterestedly.

And then I learned that forcing your children to sit down on the couch and read from Christmas anthologies does not evoke in them the same warm and cozy feeling I had as a child.  It actually evokes resentment. And sighing and eye rolling and maybe even the words, "this is stupid."

Subsequently, I threw a tantrum and said something along the lines of "FINE!  I will sit here and drink cocoa and read from this book ALL BY MYSELF!" and "Trollope had good things to say about Christmas!" and "I AM NOT BEING MEAN!" And that's how it came to pass that one cold and dreary evening, I sat on the couch, miserable, reading the classic "The Bird's Christmas Carol," which is not a good story to read when one is miserable.  Because it's about a dying child at Christmas.

There is a lesson to be learned here!  You can't force holiday cheer.  It has to come in unexpected moments, like when you find that your daughter has drawn a beautiful Christmas tree with your lipstick on your bathroom door.  Or when, at your kids' Christmas piano recital, you realize that your son has no intention of ever finishing a spirited rendition of "Must Be Santa," and that after the third time through, you must start clapping or else everyone is going to be there all night.  Or when you take your boys to see "A Christmas Carol," and your eight-year old turns to you, confused and slightly devastated to see a future where Tiny Tim has died.

Fortunately for my kids, I hate "life lessons," and tonight they will be listening to a lively performance of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Christmas at Sea" given by yours truly.

It's in the Christmas treasury.