Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

I refer to the time between the end of November and Christmas as “Baking Season.”

It starts with my husband’s six-hour birthday cake (although sometimes he asks for a giant éclair or a chocolate pie), then segues into Thanksgiving desserts (pumpkin cheesecake and maple pie). After that, I make literally hundreds of cookies for Christmas. There are tins for teachers and heaping piles for my familial horde when we travel.

I also bring cookies to parties, carefully arranged on holiday themed platters. This is actually my favorite part—making my project pretty. I’m the same way about preparing my house for a party or dinner. Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms are a miserable chore. Putting out the gorgeous old tablecloths and fine china? So fun.

My fun became more of a chore once Boss Cat, feline marauder extraordinaire, joined our household. The rescue group made us promise to put the obese Boss Cat on a diet.

Boss Cat after losing a lot of weight.

Boss Cat thought diets were bullshit. Once she lost enough weight to be able to jump onto the dining room table, she was relentless.

If you turned your back for two seconds, she’d snag a strip of bacon from your plate. Or a piece of chicken. Or even TOFU AND RICE.

After Boss Cat was svelte enough to achieve the kitchen counter?

She ran off with the egg yolks from mooncakes. She ate a hole in the middle of my cooling Thanksgiving pie. She pounced on my plate of Mexican wedding cakes for a local cooking contest.

We employed a squirt bottle. Boss was unfazed. She remained on the counter, glaring at me as water dripped down her face.

One had to physically remove her from the counter and either feed her or put her in a room and close the door (whereupon she would throw everything off the desk, dresser, or bedside table, but at least the food would be safe).

Now, mind you, we were not starving the cat. She was merely down to 13 pounds, with 6-8 small feedings daily. She still landed on the floor with a considerable thud.

Though she was damned stealthy when jumping up on counters and tables.

Which was why I arranged my platter of cookies for a Christmas party on the counter between the stove and refrigerator. Boss Cat was smart enough to be wary of a potentially hot stove on my right, while my left flank was protected by the bulk of the refrigerator.

Notice the dark green frosting. Takes a ton of food coloring and it stains.

I finished placing Christmas sugar cookies adorned with dark green frosting, adding just one last sprinkle of sugar crystals. That year I had gotten a Christmas shortbread mold and dipped those finished cookies in chocolate. They looked amazing, nestled among the trees. I stepped back to admire my handiwork.

Less than a second later, a flash of multicolored fur flew in front of my face, descending straight at the cookies.

Unbeknownst to me, Boss Cat had jumped up to the top of the refrigerator, which had open shelves. Who knows how long she lurked up there, unseen, waiting for the perfect time to pounce.

Sadly for Boss, the crystal serving platter was not a stable landing site.

The platter shot out from under the cat. She landed safely on her feet. The platter flipped, flinging cookies, chocolate, sprinkles, and frosting in every direction.

The platter broke. The cookies that weren’t in pieces were stuck, frosting and chocolate side down, on cabinets, the oven, and the floor.

I howled, “CAT!”

She bolted.

I yelled, “Yeah! You’d better run!”

And then I saw the dark green and chocolate paw prints she left behind as she fled the kitchen for rooms with cream carpets.

“No, kitty! Come back!” I pleaded. “Andy, catch her!”

Andy did not catch her. She ran over the office carpet, down the hall, and dove under our bed.

Andy and I surveyed the trail of chocolate and green Boss Cat had left behind.

In a voice of dread, Andy said, “We’re going to have to wash her, aren’t we.”

“We just need to get her paws.”

“We’ll still need Kevlar.”

The good thing about having a cat on a diet? It’s easy to lure them out from under the bed with chicken.

But no cat is easy to bathe. Despite gloves, multiple layers, and multiple towels, we were both bleeding by the time we got all four paws washed and dried. (No, we did not try and wash the rest of her. We are not FOOLS.)

It took ages to clean the kitchen. Some of the linoleum still had a green tinge when we ripped it out during a remodel years later.

And after that remodel?

The top of the refrigerator was covered by a cabinet that closed.

Santa still brought Boss Cat a catnip mouse. Or she stole it from his bag.

Christmas Cookies (#332)

First book of Cookies, by Natalie Haughton

Years ago, my friend JM bought me a cookie recipe book. I tried the recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies for a Christmas party. They were a hit. Sometimes I brought those cookies into work during the holidays, sometimes I took the recipe home and made them for whichever siblings/ parental units I was visiting on the East Coast.

My family started requesting those cookies—probably because the only other person who made cookies was my brother-in-law, Georgia Boy. His gumdrop cookies were a nostalgic holiday tribute to his grandmother. They were also awful.

But even Big Brother wasn’t tactless enough to say this to Georgia Boy. Instead, he and Doctor Sister would wait for Georgia Boy to go on a bike ride and suggest I make cookies and let their children “help.” It was a win-win for them—I’d be entertaining First Niece, Second Niece, and Second Nephew for hours and the kitchen would be unavailable.

Unfortunately, no one in my family has an off switch when it comes to food. The cookies would be eaten within hours and Georgia Boy would have an excuse to make Grandma’s Gumdrops.

I’ve made many modifications to the oatmeal cookie recipe over the years.

I added another batch of Christmas cookies—chocolate cookies with white chips and coconut. They were devoured. I experimented with different kinds of oatmeal cookies, hoping a heartier cookie might slow down the ravening horde (it did not). Big Brother’s Wife joined the Gumdrop Cookie Blockade one year by making cinnamon sugar rugelach cookies, which were fantastic. I asked for her recipe. She just shrugged and said I could use any rugelach recipe.

I found a rugelach recipe in my cookie recipe book and tried various fillings before settling on maple sugar.

Mint chocolate meringues & Berger cookies.

My friend M turned me onto Baltimore’s Berger Cookies. Making those used up the extra ganache from my husband’s November birthday cake (after I added some corn syrup to bougie down the frosting).

I discovered I could use up broken candy canes, the mini-chocolate chips that did not work in rugelach, and leftover egg whites by making mint chocolate meringues.

Once I had a kid of my own, those cookie-making skills proved useful, especially for Christmas playdates (sugar cookies equal a craft AND a dessert!) and as Christmas gifts for teachers. Word got out at Dalton’s Elementary School; I was dragooned into providing hundreds of cookies for the PTA’s Teacher Appreciation Christmas Luncheon. (All my cookies were on plates labeled “Made by Dalton’s Mom.” Clearly cookie bribery worked because Dalton got the best teacher in each grade for the next several years).

Every year, of course, the biggest tin of cookies went to my friend JM, who gave me that first book of cookie recipes. She never failed to be delighted, either.

Which is why it was a shock to learn she GAVE MY CHRISTMAS COOKIES AWAY.

We were having dinner with a mutual friend one November when JM let it slip that one of her neighbors really liked those cream cheese sugar cookies.

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Wait waitwaitWAIT. You’re giving my cookies away?!”

“Well, yeah. You make better cookies than I do.”

Our other friend took one look at my face, muttered, “Restroom,” and fled.

“Do you give them ALL to your neighbor?!” I hissed.

“Oh, no. The kid’s teacher and occupational therapist like them, too. They both think I’m an amazing baker.”

“You’re telling me you are regifting my cookies and pretending you made them?!”

“I don’t say I made them.”

“You let them assume!”

“Maybe. Everyone I give them to is really touched. I don’t have a lot of time and even when I make cookies, and mine don’t turn out as good as yours. So I give people yours. In a way it should be flattering?” she suggested.

“I do not even know what to do with you,” I groused. But since JM and I had been friends since we discovered we were dating the same guy the same night in college, I wasn’t about to end our decades-old friendship over cookies. Especially since she was the catalyst for all those cookies. I merely grumbled, “You’ll be lucky if you get ANY cookies this Christmas,” and let the subject go.

When I got home to Andy and told him the story, he exclaimed, “Wow!” in all the right places.

Then he said, “Didn’t one of your stepmothers or ex-stepmothers give you that really expensive vase that you regifted that to JM and she loved it so much she painted her bedroom wall the same orange and decorated her entire bedroom to match?”

“…maybe.”

“Did you ever tell her—”

“No! And okay, I get that everyone regifts stuff. And, yes, we should normalize that instead of the rampant consumerism that is destroying the planet,” I conceded. “But I thought she liked my cookies. Maybe they aren’t that good. Or maybe…”

“Maybe she just dislikes them as irrationally as you disliked that vase?”

“That vase was ORANGE. Orange is ugly!”

*****

I thought about how JM had said she didn’t have time to bake. It was true. Her son was neurodivergent and homeschooled half the week. Her mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s. JM spent a lot of time at hospitals, nursing facilities, and various therapies.

And surely she didn’t hate my baking. I’d made cakes for her engagement party, her son’s christening cake, and her husband’s birthday cake. Of course, maybe she asked me to make those because I was a cheap (i.e., free) option.

Or maybe she was just trying to give gifts that would garner her mother-in-law and her son a little extra TLC.

Kind of like a mom who labeled her cookies at the school’s Christmas luncheon.

*****

Two weeks later, JM’s oven (circa 1960) broke. There was no way she could get a replacement or fix it before the holidays.

Two days after that, I showed up at her door with shopping bags and said, “Merry Christmas!”

“Uh, what?”

I handed her a bag, explaining, “This one has Tupperware containers with four different kinds of cookies.” Then I handed her the other bag. “This one has a bunch of cute cookie tins and waxed paper. To make it easy for you to give the cookies to teachers and anyone else on your list.”

JM is even less of a hugger than I am. But she beamed and said, “This is great! Thank you!”

I drove home with a warm holiday glow, imagining how much easier I’d made a friend’s Christmas gift-giving.

That good elf glow lasted until New Year’s, when JM’s son told me, “It’s really sweet that you thought any of those cookies would make it out of our house.

We ate them all!”

Holiday Lights (#331)

I’m an atheist, but I love all the pagan trimmings of Christmas. Holiday food and caroling are some of my best childhood memories.

In college, my roommate and I went all out decorating our dorm room.

When I met the love of my life, I introduced him to the joys of Christmas. As a Chinese American growing up on tropical Hawaii, Andy had never put up lights, had a stocking, or gone caroling.

Andy enjoyed the novelty for a few years. But after we moved to a smaller house with hardly any storage space, he began grumbling over my six boxes of holiday decorations. The cost of our first Noble Fir sent him into sticker shock.

And when I pointed out how all the pepper trees around our house would be perfect for a white light display like this?White holiday lights wrapped around a tree and dripping down from the branches

Andy responded with, “Are you kidding me? It would take hours to put those up! Think of our electricity bill!”

He had a point. I settled for putting the Christmas tree in our big front window. It wasn’t exactly the festive arboreal display I had in mind, but I set the timer so the tree lit up just as the school kids arrived on my front steps and were awaiting pick up. (Some of them would cheer.)

There were years when I didn’t put up a tree at all, though. If we were traveling back to the East Coast, I worried that the untended tree would either burn up or the dogs would knock it down. And after Baby D was born? No one wanted to spend weeks guarding the tree from the terrifying toddler.

Andy liked those tree-less years.

Baby D, however, did not.

A snowman lying on its side seductively.
Seductive Snowman

Baby D, like most kids, loved light displays. We were within walking distance of a “Christmas Lights” neighborhood that went all out every year (this is where I got my idea for white lights in the trees). There were houses with Santa’s workshops, houses with illuminated Ferris wheels, houses with enormous inflatables (sometimes in questionable poses).

“Why don’t we have lights like that?” five-year-old Dalton asked me. “We don’t even have a Christmas tree!”

“But there’s a Christmas tree at Nana and Granddad’s and that’s where we will be this Christmas,” I pointed out. “They actually have TWO trees, remember? One in the living room and one in the basement.”

“But my cousins all have Christmas trees when we go to their houses at Christmas.”

“Well, that’s because they are hosting us and home for Christmas.”

“Not true!” Dalton countered. “Auntie Lawyer’s house had one last year and then she drove with us to Auntie Doctor’s house!”

“Yes, but she was only gone a few days and we’re gone for at least a week.”

Dalton set his jaw and said, “I want a Christmas tree.”

“Me, too, buddy.”

“Then why don’t we have one?!”

I looked pointedly at Andy. Dalton followed my gaze. I could practically see the Christmas lightbulb go off over his head.

“You!” Dalton howled at his dad. “You’re the one who doesn’t want a tree! What is wrong with you?!”

Andy tried to defend himself; first by explaining the coast and hassle of getting a tree, and then physically when Dalton launched himself at his father.

Dalton fought valiantly, but the battle ended with him rolled up in a blanket, pinned under Andy’s superior mass.

Despite being muffled by fabric, Dalton’s voice was triumphant as he crowed, “Mom and me both want a tree! That’s two against one! We’re getting a tree!”

We did indeed get a tree that year. But that was just the first step in Dalton’s master plan.

Andy’s birthday is the last week in November. The following year, when I asked Dalton what present we should get Andy, his response was immediate: “Outdoor lights for the big Christmas tree.” (Our first Christmas in our little house, Andy and I got a live Monterrey pine tree and planted it in the backyard after the holiday. It grew over thirty feet tall. Dalton loved climbing it.)

Andy’s face fell when he opened his gifts that year: three giant rolls of big, bright, outdoor holiday lights.

Dalton laughed so hard he fell on the floor. As he rolled over to his father’s feet, he gasped, “Don’t…worry…Dad…I’ll…help…you…hang…them!”

Andy looked at me and said, “Did you put him up to this?”

“C’mon. I’d have gotten white lights, not those garish things. Do you see the size of those bulbs?!”

But I didn’t care. Not really. Not when I finally had an ally for holiday decorating.

No matter how questionable his taste.

A man and a boy 15 feet up a large outdoor pine tree.
Andy and Dalton prepping the outdoor tree.

Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

Shopping for anyone from a different culture is tricky.

Shopping for your in-laws is tough.

Shopping for your Chinese-American in-laws?

You’re fucked worse than The Martian. Continue reading Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)

As children, my younger sister and I used to lie under our Christmas trees. We had minimal Christmas decorations, and no outdoor lights, but we loved our small trees. Not only were those colored strings of light magical on their own, they were also a visible reminder that parties, presents, and the North Polar Bear were coming.

When I got my first apartment, I got a tree. It went…poorly. Not only did my roommate JM have allergies (sorry, JM!), but we had cats. 5 pound Bat Cat raced delightedly up and down the tree, ornaments flying in her wake. At 25 pounds, Shamu Cat was incapable or climbing any tree. Instead, he pulled branches down and sat on them, almost as if telling Bat Cat, “See? I am also in the tree!” Continue reading A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)

The Joys of Downhill Skiing (#271)

Wondering where I’ve been?

Working on maple sugar rugelach.

Well, first I was in the kitchen, covered in flour, making Christmas cookies. Tons of cookies, because we were meeting up with the familial horde in Utah.

Then we were on the road, and then we hit the slopes. Continue reading The Joys of Downhill Skiing (#271)

The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times

My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.

Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.

Continue reading The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

Christmas Morsels

You know what Christmas means to me? Cold weather. Snow, if you’re really lucky. Sledding. Getting three Chapsticks in your stocking and being thrilled because your lips really were about to fall off.

Christmas won’t be Christmas if I’m stuck in Los Angeles.

This year’s hunt for a Christmas tree versus last year’s. Who wouldn’t be bummed?

But I am stuck in Los Angeles. My injured husband can’t travel. As he’s not a holiday person, he’s thrilled to have a relaxing holiday at home.

The weather is clear and sunny. The palm trees are swaying. My orange tree is filled with fruit.

Blech.

Memory lane is more enticing than oranges today. So below is a recap of all the fabulous Christmases I spent in cold — and sometimes even snowy — places, having proper Christmases. May they fill you with holiday cheer!

First, a post about Andy’s first Christmas in New Hampshire.

For all the kids of divorce, I’ve got the story of how my mother — and J.R.R. Tolkien — brought magic back to a broken family.

Are you a last-minute shopper? Enjoy A Walgreens Christmas. (Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister swears up and down that it was actually a CVS Christmas, but you get the idea.)

And here’s one about clueless WASPS and Christmas stockings.

Finally, I hope all those traveling enjoy fewer storms and better weather than we did last year.

Merry Christmas!

Stocking Savior (#164)

My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).

I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer. Continue reading Stocking Savior (#164)

Storm Runners (#163)

Like many couples, Andy and I had to sort out the holidays when we got married. I expected a pitched battle.

I opted for the soft opening. “Since your birthday is around Thanksgiving, why don’t you pick where we go and what we do for that holiday and I’ll decide what we do for Christmas.”

Andy countered with, “Sure.” Continue reading Storm Runners (#163)