What I learnt at Christmas

How was your Christmas? We spent two days driving (under the threat of stormy skies), two days shopping for last minute but absolutely critical (don’t ask) things, and two days cooking. We survived although arrived home … exhausted.

I learnt the best time to drive across LA on the 405 is 10 o’clock in the morning!

This year I tried to make linzer (jam-filled) cookies. They were okay but I learnt not to use mint jelly as a center. The cookies looked Christmassy but tasted like mouthwash.

I learnt about seals and sea lions with the other Junior Rangers. There are many differences between the two but the important one (the one I remember) is: sea lions bark and seals grunt.

Would you believe I’m the one in pink? Probably not.

I learnt that when newborn whales breach for the first time their puffs are heart-shaped. For some reason, that warmed my poor old heart.

Baby whales breaching

I learnt to enjoy being on the coast.

Looking south toward La Jolla
Lastly I learnt that a brand new, blue basketball is always a great Christmas gift. (Leave it to Granny to get a little goofy with Photoshop after a bit of the bubbly – well, perhaps a bit more than a bit!)

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I don’t have many pictures of Christmas mornings when my kids were small because let’s face it – who wants to have their picture taken after you’ve stayed up until 5 am putting together a bicycle using instructions written by someone of dubious technical skills and then been woken at 6:30 AM by children anxious to see what Santa brought?  img_2429


The above picture was taken the year my Aunt Gloria knitted us all brightly colored beanies.  Didn’t help – I still look like a bloodless vampire.


This picture was taken after I’d opened a  box of fortune cookies from my “Secret Santa.”  Look at how excited and happy I was. Thanks Cousin Penny; exactly what I wanted!  Of course that was the year my sister and I drank a bottle (or two) of wine while making our contribution to dinner: scalloped potatoes. Dinner time came, everything was ready to go but whoops! We’d forgotten to turn on the oven. My step mother was not amused.

Eventually your kids become teens and it becomes impossible to wake them before noon, even on Christmas morn. When you finally get them out of bed, they look like this all day long.


At least Boo was attempting a smile.

At one time I was so good at the Christmas thing that my children got into fights at school with non-believers. Now Christmas Eve my daughter and I have been spotted enjoying Happy Hour at the local vegan, gluten-free beach shack as the sun sinks into the Pacific.  Shhhh, don’t tell Santa.img_2422

Can you see my daughter Boo in the above picture? I’d gotten her up early and started taking pictures before her shower and beauty regimen so she refused to have her picture taken. What do you think Cam was excited about getting?


Happy Christmas from Boo, Cam, and their buddy Bobart (a nickname). 

I’ll be away for Christmas – here are a few posts from past Christmases in case you miss me:

And my favorite Christmas song.

War won’t be over; fear won’t be a thing of the past but all is not lost.  Down at Henri’s Beach Shack wine will be five dollars a glass until 7 PM.  There might even be a jazz band.

Dem Dam Hippies’ Christmas in Have-You-Been-Saved Misery

The year the Hong Kong flu swept across America killing scores of people and leaving others begging for death, I was a “Christmas Helper” assigned to the home goods department of a Macy’s in downtown Kansas City Missouri.  If you’ve ever taken a seasonal job selling products you know nothing about then you’ll understand why I spent most of my time in the stock room. No one ever found anything in the stock room and I could sit in there forever wondering why anyone would want a tangerine colored crockpot. th

The store was located not far from the abandoned stockyards in an area where few businesses still survived but I was just a teenager with few lines on my resume. And so I’d quickly and without thinking taken a minimum wage job an hour by bus from Greenwood Missouri where I “crashed” with a friend (Joellen) a few years old and much wiser than me.

Joellen’s husband had made the unfortunate decision to sign up for the National Guard in 1966. First, he was shipped from Reno Nevada to Missouri and then to Japan. She’d followed him to Missouri (they were newlyweds) and, thinking they’d be there for awhile,  enrolled in graduate school. Now she was stuck in Greenwood, a town south of KC with a welcome sign that included the phrase  Have You Been Saved?

After high school, my first attempt to voyage out into the world had ended  in a Mennonite cornfield with one friend hospitalized, the other pregnant, and me with a fork stuck in my leg, “Come live with me,” she’d written,”and get your shit together.” She had more faith in me than I did.



We were known in Greenwood as “dem dam hippies” who lived in a three room shack with little insulation, leaky windows and a wall heater that barely kept the place warm. The car was stored in an attached lean-to but in order to keep the engine block from freezing, we had to run an extension cord out to a lamp underneath the hood. It didn’t always work.  Every morning I drove with Jo to the campus of the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) then took a bus down to Macys.

Five days before Christmas my body began to ache. The bars, barbecue joints, and Victorian boarding houses along the route back to the campus were decorated for the season with blinking lights and Santa Clauses but in my worsening condition, santathey were as sinister as ghouls in a carnival funhouse. I remember seeing my reflection in the window on that dark, cold night.  Instead of eighteen I looked eighty (or as my mother would say “death warmed over”).


I cried as I waited for Jo outside her class. All around were murals Thomas Hart Benton had painted in his lean and feverish years, scenes of farm life that felt so cold and lifeless I decided he must have hated his subjects. I tried to convince myself that a good night’s sleep was all I needed but deep down I knew it was the Hong Kong flu.

The next morning I was barely able to lift my head from the pillow. I managed to call Macys only to be fired but didn’t care.  I was about to die so what did it matter. Some time during the next three days Jo stopped checking on me which meant she’d also been stricken. The phone rang and rang and rang until whoever was on the other end gave up.  Finally  I was able to stand for longer than a few minutes without swooning but, as so often happens when you think the worse has come and gone, you find out it was only a teaser for the main event.

Click here to read the conclusion The Ice Storm Cometh.