Just a little bobsled we call it old Saint Nick,
But she'll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick,
She's candy-apple red with a ski for a wheel,
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel...
("Little Saint Nick", Brian Wilson & Mike Love)
Okay, so we're getting ready for the holiday season.
And for me the two activities which usually increase during the holiday season are my shopping and knitting. This year is no different. I've definitely been knitting my head off, making Christmas gifts for Blaine's family, and I usually get dragged on shopping expeditions with either Blaine or his sister, Lexie. *
I also look forward to the holidays here in Kansas because holidays are always wild and crazy affairs within Blaine's family.
One reason the holidays are usually so chaotic around here is because of the size of Blaine's family. Here in Overland Park there are three households which band together to celebrate the season---Blaine and I, his sister Lexie, Lexie's Greek husband "Emmy", their 3 kids--- and Blaine's next oldest brother and wife plus their 2 kids.
Blaine's family is a large group of lively New Yorkers, originally from Queens. And Lexie's husband's family is also a closely-knit group of Greek New Yorkers, also from Queens. And so in addition to celebrating the "regular" holidays we also usually celebrate many of the Greek holidays as well. (For example, we always celebrate "Greek Easter" which usually occurs about a week or so before "regular Easter". )
Most of both families remain in New York, but the three households here in Kansas are quite a force to contend with. And lest you think that eleven people isn't too large of a number for gatherings, you've got to know this family. They are raucous and loud, the children usually have multiple friends in tow, they're all very funny and witty---shouting jokes and wisecracks at every occasion---they are all varied and interesting personalities--- and the group as a whole has an endearing habit of harmlessly arguing "for sport".
In fact, special occasions involving large dinners, turkeys, hams, mutton and cranberry sauce most definitely always include long and loud exchanges about every little thing--- like table stettings, hand serving-versus-a buffet arrangement, who gets to do what and when, what movie or football game to watch, where everybody is going to sit--- and whether or not to add feta cheese to something.
But the most notable trait in this family is their habit of what most people call "making scenes". These are simply not the type of individuals who pass through life quietly, without notice. No, no, no, you will always KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have seen any of them when they pass your way, yes indeed. They are honest and forthright, and their constant laughter and hilarity is infectious.
And I'm certainly no shrinking violet. I definitely have a strong enough personality in that I can always hold my own in any of their familial gatherings.
In fact, I'll never forget the time we all flew to New York in order that Lexie and Emmy's newborn daughter get baptized in Emmy's Greek Orthodox church. We were all so incessantly noisy on the airplane, with all the kids bickering over toys and we adults hollering back and forth to each other over seat tops, that an exasperated flight attendant finally got tired of it and unceremoniously told us all to"sit down and shut up".
We ignored her rudeness and simply commenced to texting each other, whereupon all of our cell phones and some of the in-flight phones began ringing madly...
It also happened to be Thanksgiving at the time of that christening, and so the christening ceremony was to be followed a few days later by a huge family dinner whereby Blaine's entire family (Kansas and New York combined) and Emmy's equally huge Greek family were precariously combined into one gigantic conglomeration. In addition to our large brood, the rest of Blaine's parents and New York relatives attended, as well as Emmy's huge Greek group which included each of his four brothers' families as well as an assortment of parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
Aside from the incident on the airplane, everything about that New York trip had so far proceeded without too much more fanfare except that we noticed during the christening ceremony that the priest seemed....well....a little tipsy. He missed his mark when he attempted to sprinkle the water on the baby, sprinkling it on Emmy's sleeve instead....
"Don't worry about it," Emmy whispered later to our stricken queries. "The priest told me he's already been to two other christenings this morning--- and each family kept toasting the babies with wine. So we'll just give the poor guy Coca-Cola at the reception brunch...."
After the christening we wives all began preparing for the humongous affair of the Thanksgiving dinner. I was in my prime as I had proudly brought several of my family recipes for the occasion in order to show the New Yorkers some "old fashioned Southern cooking".
But then an unexpected showdown occurred during the final moments of the gigantic meal's preparation---whereby myself and one of Blaine's sister-in-laws got into an argument over the giblet gravy of all things.
"You will most certainly NOT put giblets in that gravy," she pronounced loudly as we both squared off over a huge pot of gravy, which was innocently percolating on the stove top waiting to be either giblet-ized or de-gibletized. "Giblets are gross---I never put them in our family's gravy."
"Not putting giblets in giblet-gravy is....well.... UNTHINKABLE!" I sputtered stubbornly, edging my pile of newly-chopped giblets closer to the bubbling gravy pot. "Why, not putting giblets in giblet gravy is...just... well... it's un-Thanksgiving-y!"
(Is 'un-Thanksgiving-y' a word?....)
But, just in the nick of time, Emmy's sensible Greek mother noticed the situation and saved the day, proving that she hadn't successfully raised a huge family of boisterous, argumentative children for naught.
Ignoring the stares of all the amused husbands (who were probably all hoping that somehow this heated exchange between the battling sister-in-laws would somehow end up in a hair-pulling, potholder-throwing catfight, sure to prove fodder for good scandal stories for years) she sternly marched herself firmly over to where myself and this infernal anti-giblet woman were both of us throwing down our aprons and dishrags like gauntlets at a duel-challenge--- and she planted herself solidly between us.
For a minute there I thought she was going to pull our ears or something!
But instead of pulling our respective ears like naughty schoolgirls, she resolutely seized an empty saucepan and, with the wisdom of Solomon and her 50 odd years of kitchen skill, she swiftly dolloped half the un-gibleted gravy from the offending pot into the empty pan--- thereby dividing the gravyneatly into two portions ---and then loudly slammed both pots of gravy down on adjacent stove burners in a manner which told both us bickering idgits that the matter was now solved.
"NOW THEN," Emmy's mother proclaimed, looking each of us in the eyes very seriously, shaming us both, "Make BOTH types of gravies!"
And so we did.
(I don't speak to that particular sister-in-law much these days. But then, she still lives in New York and so I don't have to see her very often.....)
Anyway, Lexie and I inaugurated the holiday season this past weekend with our usual "go to the mall" Saturday, whereby we intended to cruise the stores to get Christmas ideas and start getting into the mood for the Christmas season. It was our last time to hang out together before the upcoming Thanksgiving Thursday, and it proved to be a typical excursion with zany Lexie, who wanted to begin her Christmas shopping.
Lexie and I are the types who can do two things at once---chat and shop. We can carry on entire conversations-- "arguments" and all -- at the same time as we're snatching items off shelves, trying them on in dressing rooms, comparing prices, and discussing details with sales clerks.
We started at one end of the mall, in JC Penneys, and we went up one side and down the other, on two different levels, never stopping our conversation---or our arguing. And, as usual, I was also whistling to myself.
"Oh God, you're whistling again. What is it this time? It sounds like the tune to that stupid movie 'Get Smart'" she complained as we perused JC Penney's appliance department. "What do you think I should get for Blaine this year? He loves popcorn---should I get him a popcorn machine?"
"Just don't get him a coffee machine," I advised. "He already bought a new one the other day and I hate the ugly thing. It's a monster---it chooses how many beans to grind according to the program, grinds the beans, mixes the coffee, wakes you up in the morning, tells time in military time--- and I can't figure out how to use it at all. It took Blaine two hours to read the manual on how to use it and now our simple morning coffee time is a ridiculous production."
I didn't mention that I think the damn thing is looking at me......
"Hold on, my Blackberry is ringing," Lexie said and answered it.
The thing you have to remember about Lexie is that she also conducts all her daily business from her trusty Blackberry--- and she does it all day long, no matter what you're doing. It's distracting at first but you ultimately get used to it.
"No I WON'T buy you any Ugg boots," she told her Blackberry. "I'm going to wait and see how much they cost in the after-Thanksgiving sales."
"Who was that?" I asked.
"My daughter," she replied. "The brat has already loaded her 'Christmas Want List' onto my Blackberry---and it's on the wallpaper so that it's the first thing I see when I glance at the screen. Hey, let's go to Victoria's Secret and see if their lotions are on sale--- it's just down the hall to the left."
And so we shopped. We hit Victoria's Secret, Aeropostale, Express, Bath and Bodyworks, and everything in between, searching out sales and ideas for Christmas. I griped about her Blackberry usage and she griped about my chronic whistling.
"Let's go in here," she announced at a gourmet bar & cocktail supply store, after griping about my new whistling song, which was now to the tune of the 'Final Jeopardy' question.
"Why in the hell do you want to go in a bar shop?" I asked.
"Emmy's new project is turning the basement into a bar room."
"Well you're certainly a very understanding wife," I quipped as we swept into the place, which was currently having a sale on tequila shot glasses. She eyed a huge margarita mixer, various glassware, and some large, lighted Canadian beer signs, but evidentally thought better of her idea.
"I wouldn't mind having one of those Canadian beer signs..." she mused. "But I've changed my mind and won't get anything here. Because if I get him new bar stuff he'll want to spend more money on the basement and start buying a bunch of expensive tools."
She checked her Christmas list on the Blackberry. "Let's go to the video store."
We continued to fight the crowds and made our way to the next store.
"Now what are you whistling?" she demanded.
" 'O Canada'".
"Well that's certainly better than that annoying 'Jeopardy' tune," she retorted.
"Oh for God's sakes, now you went and put stupid 'Jeopardy' back into my head!" I exclaimed, changing my whistling back to the 'Jeopardy' tune.
We had another brief argument in the main hall of the shopping mall because I wanted to ride the merry-go-round.
Okay, I have never been able to pass up a merry-go-round. I love merry-go-rounds. I think that they are, by far, the most fun and romantic "ride" in any amusement park. But for some reason nobody has allowed me to ride one since I was about 8 years old.
I have many unfulfilled dreams that some day somebody will allow me to ride a merry-go-round to my heart's content, going round as many times as I wish, mounted on a beautiful painted pony.
"I am NOT standing here while you go ride the stupid merry-go-round," she declared. "Next you'll want to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what you want for Christmas. And besides, it's going to take us forever to wait in the pretzel line---and I've GOT to have one of those big pretzels!"
Lexie won the argument and I didn't get to ride the merry-go-round. And she was right---I DID want to sit on Santa's lap but that's besides the point. So I contented myself with staring dreamily at the beautiful merry-go-round while she got a pretzel, thinking jealous thoughts of the kids who were happily perched on its guilded horses.
And then I changed my whistling to match the tune of the merry-go-round's pipe organs.
We went to shop after shop, ticking off each item displayed on Lexie's Blackberry list. And then what usually happens finally happened. It was in a clothing store.
Lexie's Visa Card was rejected.
"There seems to be a problem with our credit-card machine or something," the sales clerk apologized.
"Huh!" Lexie and I both laughed as we looked at each other in bemusement. We've been through this drill tons of times before.
If truth be known, both Lexie and I are veteran debit card "rejectees", as neither of us can manage our money or checking accounts worth a hoot. Our debit cards are continually mismanaged, overdrawn, in error---- and routinely rejected.
Hell, I haven't known the exact sum of the total in my checking account since 1997.
"I love how you salespeople are always so polite as to blame it on your credit-card machines," I told the guilty salesclerk. "Don't worry--we know that what you really mean is that her card has been rejected. And it's true---she's probably out of money again."
"Wait a second, I'll transfer some money from another account," Lexie mumbled, unconcerned, punching away madly on her Blackberry's buttons as the hapless sales clerk looked on in astonishment. "There you go---I just transferred $400 from my husband's account into my Visa account. Hopefully he won't notice. Now run the damn card again...."
Right. And so we continued shopping.
"What are you looking for?" she asked me as I eyeballed racks of ladies' sweaters in one particular store.
"I need a sweatshirt or something to wear to your house for Thanksgiving dinner," I told her. "I haven't got a dang thing that's decent and I hate to look raggedy."
"Well there's no Bass Pro Shops in here," she teased, reminding me of the whole "fishing boots affair". "What are you getting everybody for Christmas?"
"Oh, har-dee-har-har," I replied ruefully. "And for your information I'm knitting all my Christmas presents this year. I've knitted jacquard socks for the other sister-in-law, a feather-and-fan scarf for your mother, Harry Potter scarves for the nieces, and I started some fair-isle socks for your step-father."
"God, your fingers must be crippled," she remarked.
We finished our marathon shopping trip in the late afternoon and then returned to the parking lot where, predictably, Lexie couldn't find her vehicle. I should have known that Lexie would forget where we'd parked.
So we were forced to tramp up and down the packed parking lot, lugging Lexie's packages, vainly searching for her silver SUV among a sea of thousands of other silver SUV's.
"Dammit, Lexie!" I huffed sweatily, irritated with myself for my lack of foresight. "I knew I should have written down where we parked. And now I can't remember what type of SUV you have these days---isn't it a Ford?"
"It's a Ford Explorer," she explained, standing on tip-toes to scan the miles and miles of parked cars. "But it's not ours---it's a rental. My company decided that it's cheaper to pay for a rental than to reimburse me for gas."
I pondered the logic of that issue while I searched vainly for a silver Ford Explorer. But I couldn't find one. I loudly sighed and muttered to myself such grouchy phrases to the effect of "I'll die in this stupid parking lot while looking for a silver Ford Explorer..."and"They'll probably find my skeleton hanging onto the bumper of a RAV4....."
"Now, I KNOW for SURE that we parked out in this general area somewhere," I finally exclaimed, getting more irate by the minute. "We've been up and down these rows five times---surely you see your own SUV?"
But she didn't. And then I suddenly realized that she had a car alarm gadget attached to her key chain.
"Hey, punch the car alarm button!" I told her excitedly. "When the car starts beeping we'll be able to find it for sure!"
And so she did. And sure enough, a silver Ford Escape directly in front of us started blaring its horn and winking its lights.
Relieved, and thinking that Lexie would then unlock its door so we could get in, I waited--- but LEXIE CONTINUED TO KEEP LOOKING FOR HER SUV!
"Lexie?" I questioned increduously, grabbing her arm and forcing her to look at the blaring SUV. "This IS the vehicle, right? It's the ONLY DANG ONE blasting its alarm!"
"Oh yeah," she replied, the realization dawning on her. "I forgot--it's not a Ford Explorer--- it's a Ford Escape!"
Sigh......Lexie is almost as big a birdbrain as I am....
Finally, we made our way to Applebee's where Lexie and I had a snack while she ordered a promised take-out dinner for Emmy, who was waiting back at home and had texted her his menu choices on her Blackberry, listing every detail of what he wanted down to his preference of salad dressing.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," the waiter reported as Lexie consulted her trusty Blackberry. "But we don't have blue cheese dressing. Do you think he'd like ranch instead?"
"Hold on a minute, let me call him," she said--- and to the waiter's irritation she proceeded to call Emmy and get an updated salad dressing request--- even interrupting their discussion of salad dressing to give a cheerful narration as to what she and I had done at the mall all day.
To the waiter's credit he didn't roll his eyes as waiters usually do whenever Lexie makes mid-order calls.
(Yes, she does it often....)
Next, it was on to the beauty supply outlet where Lexie wanted to pick up her favorite shampoo, an industrial-sized bottle of Biolage . "But I have to hide it from my sons," she allowed, giving me the free tote-bag that came with her purchase.
"Thanks, Lexie!" I told her, happily stowing my little red Walmart purse in the new tote bag.
"Maybe this will save Blaine from having to buy you a fishing tackle-bag for your next pocketbook," she remarked slyly.
"Speaking of Blaine, can we stop at World Foods?" I asked. "I want to get him some French chocolate truffles. He loves French chocolate truffles."
"Why are you buying them so early again?" she asked me, remembering an ugly incident on a previous Christmas whereby I had also bought Blaine some French chocolate truffles.
I had excitedly placed the truffles with glee into his Christmas stocking, which was hanging over the fireplace along with my stocking and the cats' stockings, dreaming of his pleasure when he found them.
Unfortunately, I had unthinkingly done that way too soon before Christmas Day---and by the time he dug into his stocking on Christmas morning the lovely French chocolate truffles were melted into one solid ugly lump in the toe of the stocking--- after being melted and re-melted from the heat of countless fires lit in the fireplace during the many cold days before Christmas.
(I told you I was a birdbrain.....)
"They're not for Christmas, silly," I replied in what I hoped was a dignified fashion. "I'm going to give him the truffles now to butter him up. And besides, I've learned to put chocolate stocking-stuffers into the REFRIGERATOR......"
Finally we finished our shopping day and Lexie headed the Escape towards home to drop me off.
"You never did get anything to wear on Thanksgiving Day," she stated. "Are you going to have time to shop before this Thursday?"
"Sure," I told her, smiling to myself. "Blaine and I are going shopping tomorrow---and I'll get something then."
"Are you going to The Bass Pro Shops again? HEH!"
"No, smarty-pants," I replied evenly. "We're going to Carabela's Outfitter because Blaine wants a flannel shirt. And I hear they have a wonderful Duck-Hunting Camouflage Department there....."