Archive for December, 2012

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

It was cold for Christmas. We dipped below zero (Fahrenheit) overnight and managed to crawl into the teens by afternoon. Even though I complain to no end about all the teal paint and decorating accents that our big, ol’ house came with, I’m very grateful for all the new windows and doors that were installed in 1996. The teal counter-tops are less irritating when the house is warm.

I managed to get the light teal walls in the living room/dining room painted. I was going to have my mom help me wallpaper over the water-stained ceiling, but a snowstorm tracked further north than the meteorologists predicted. Sixteen inches of heavy, drifting snow spoiled my mom’s travel plans, so the ceiling only got primed. The husband and I did manage to get a new light fixture up in the dining room. We were unable to remove the old metal plate (years of leaking water had rusted it in), so there is a gap, which is fine because I’ll be able to sneak the bulky textured wallpaper under it without any problem.

The husband and I also managed to get up two large paintings on the plaster/lath walls. Toggle bolts are great, but drilling the holes for them is stressful. It takes a rather intimidating drill bit to do the job, and it’s kind of a mystery what will happen, engineering wise, as you’re drilling the hole. Luckily the smaller paintings and do-dads were light enough to use Command Hooks. Thank you 3M. I survived the experience with only minor injuries. Attempts to man-handle the big painting over the couch produced a golf ball-sized bruise on my bicep. It was fodder for mocking at the the dinner table at Christmas.

So this was the first year my husband and I have hosted Christmas ever. I thought it would be easier than getting up super early and trudging out into the cold, laden with gifts and food, to shlep our sorry butts to two different families in two different states, then battling the weather and early drunk drivers to get home. Even in the advanced age that I have become, I’m still learning things. New lesson: NOTHING about Christmas is easy.

First there was the gift debacle. I’m very opinionated in the fact that I don’t like exchanging gifts for Christmas. I really don’t. Some of it stems from unpleasant memories from my childhood, and some of it just stems from being lazy (and probably self-centered). If you love and are loved, that should be shown in small gestures every single day, not some over-compensating gesture once a year. Enough said. Of course, everyone agreed with me in theory on Labor Day. They changed their minds in practice by Thanksgiving. So we compromised with the $5 dollar elephant gift to be passed out/stolen during the dice game between dinner and dessert. I got another huge holiday candle. They come in handy during blackouts in the summer.

Then came the food issues. I was going to get a smoked ham from the handy-dandy butcher literally across the street. The quality of their product pretty much makes up for having to listen to their refrigerator compressor kick in an out all night long. Then my mom says her and Dad have a leftover ham from a meat raffle, and they want to bring it along with the potatoes. OK, fine. I’ll make Bar-B-Qued meatballs, because we have them every Christmas. First, my husband requests we change “Bar-B-Qued” to “Swedish”. Fine. Then, as he watches me work through my three jobs while painting walls and getting everything ready for company, he decides for me that ham is enough.

So I decide to make a cheese and meat plate, two cheese cakes and a fruit salad. Job #2 runs late Christmas Eve, and by the time I get to the grocery store, I have twenty minutes left to shop. Remember that game show in the grocery store with the shopping carts? Yep, that was me on Christmas Eve.

So, I get home. Husband and I clean until about 11:30 pm. I make two cheese cakes at 11:50. We sit on the couch and listen to Christmas music while licking beaters. We’re in bed by 12:30am.

When my sister shows at 12:45 the next day, she has her assigned salad and a fruit salad. I now have an overpriced pineapple and tasteless winter strawberries in my fridge with no place to go. Oh, and along with a ham and hashbrown bake, my mom hauls in yet another crock pot because, “your father said we couldn’t have Christmas without Bar-B-Qued meatballs.”

As a side note, it must be said that not only has my mom previously hosted every Christmas for at least fifteen years, she’s also a die-hard control freak. This is why, after every meal at an occasion that I host, she does my dishes for me and puts them away, even though she doesn’t know where anything goes. “I put the dishes where they should be. I don’t understand how you find anything in this kitchen.” This means that I will spend the next month hunting for all the stuff she so kindly put away.

In hindsight, I know I got off easy. Our respective families are very undramatic lots. We go through way more coffee than alcohol at get-togethers. We’re all so passive-aggressive, there’s almost no bickering. The cops are never called on us by neighbors. Nobody needs bail money for Christmas. Yet, as the husband and I plopped down on the couch at 6:30 Christmas night and split the bottle of beer left behind, we both felt like we had just finished a decathlon.

So now, winter has officially set in. Three long months of hibernation stretch blissfully ahead of us with its consistently white monotony. Time to snuggle in and enjoy the comfort of each others company. Have a Happy New Year (and Go Pack Go!).

Who are we really?

As a writer drawn to the motives of murder, you would think I have an analytical bent on the atrocity that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. I don’t.  I’ve let my mind wander into some pretty sinister crevices in my own brain to create the murderers in my books, but I’ve never found this particular monster.

And unfortunately, Adam Lanza chose to leave the world as a monster. He most likely didn’t start out that way. It’s actually quite difficult to look at the emaciated geek in the fuzzy black and white snapshot and picture him hurting anyone. I think that’s a good thing.

When writers dramatize murders, whether it be in a play, book, movie, or TV series, we make it a point to hide who that murderer is, but once that person is revealed, the motive is clear and reasonable at least to the murderer. An audience needs the motive for closure. Somehow, it needs to make sense.

But how do you make sense of an anonymous killing spree? What’s the motive?

Take your pick; Columbine, Virginia Tech, Arora, Portland, Newtown; these horrible acts of mass murder were committed by marginalized young men who no longer valued the sanctity of human life, including their own. If I had to sit down and come up with a reason, the only one I can think of is pretty damn sick: a need for attention.

However petty it may seem, we all want to matter to the rest of the world in our own small way. If you’ve been marginalized by the community that you were born into, that need can start to mutate into something off center, sometimes culminating into a positive force, sometimes negative. The catalyst that shoves your own personal pendulum one way or the other can come from just about anything or anyone.

We can all sit on our high horses and say, “I would never do that.” Yet, we all want a motive. We all want it to make sense and be easy, so we can feel safe again about the world around us. The problem is, though, we only want our understanding to be shallow. We don’t want to look inside ourselves and search out the monster within us.

So I ask, who are you? Are you the marginalized or the marginalizer? I honestly believe that if we as a society can’t or won’t answer that question, we will only perpetuate what is becoming a painfully glaring problem.

A Sense of Calm

I blame it on the snowstorm. There’s nothing like sixteen inches of thick white snow falling in the space of twenty-four hours to make everyone and everything slow down.

There’s suddenly an insulating factor involved in every action. Walking, driving, shoveling, there’s this compressed “hmph” that absorbs and replaces the normal sounds. And, of course, the scenery is just prettier.

Maybe that’s why I started to intentionally listen to Christmas music on the radio and start singing it as I work around the house. Normally, I have to be drug into the holiday season kicking and screaming (sometimes literally). But I put up the tree last night. I dug out a few ornaments. I began working in my head where everything is going to be laid out when the family comes over for Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. My calendar is full, very full. Just looking at it can be overwhelming. I still have three jobs. There’s still painting to do and stuff to clean up and sort and put away. I have no idea what I’m cooking for people to eat. It was decided we were going to do the $5 elephant gifts this year, and I haven’t done any shopping, period.

Oh yeah, and then there’s that whole book thing…you know, the reason this blog even exists. I have a reading in Webster on Saturday. I’m also trying to get a Facebook fan page up and running with interesting content to drive people to it. I’m compiling lists of mystery book clubs in and out of the area to contact. All the while, book 4 travels in and out of my consciousness with possible plot twists and emotional conundrums for the characters to overcome.

Yet, here I sit, not nearly as frazzled as usual. I’m somehow content to work through my exhaustive schedule one task at a time. I’m feeling a capacity to forgive myself for not having everything perfectly planned and timed.

Maybe that’s my present this year, not to make mountains out of molehills. Even if this feeling only lasts for the day, I’ll take it. I’ll actually notice the scenery out my truck window as I drive between errands. I’ll appreciate the way it looks like Bedford Falls puked all over everything.

Merry Christmas.