Miserable March (#336)

In The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month.

In my world, it’s always March.

Once upon a time, March was the best month.

March was my birthday, back when birthdays were awesome (and even if they weren’t, I got cake). It was my mother’s favorite season, which always put her in a good mood. She’d exclaim over crocuses and forsythia while we flew kites. There was St. Patrick’s Day, on which you were allowed to pinch annoying siblings (biting would have been better, but I made do). Sometimes Easter occurred in March, which meant egg dyeing and chocolate bunny rabbits.

Back then, even the annual horror that is Daylight Saving Time didn’t occur until April.

I looked forward to March.

Until the March when our childhood playmate and close family friend was murdered. One of my baby sisters was born that same day, which meant that forgetting the anniversary of such a tragedy was impossible. (It also meant that there would forever be a pall over her special day. Sorry, kiddo.)

A few years later, my mother went to the ER at the end of February with a terrible headache. Several times. Her pain was dismissed by the male doctors…until she was unconscious and they figured out that it was an aneurysm. She spent March in the ICU; her heart rate went up any time her children visited, but she never regained consciousness. She died on the first day of spring.

Every March afterwards was a struggle. The death anniversary month weighed on my siblings and me, especially with all the happy March memories now tainted. Even emerging crocuses made us cry.

Bright yellow flowers on a shrub growing over a white clapboard house.
Such a cheery harbinger of doom. Photo from Village Soup, credit Lynnette L. Walthier

Don’t get me started on the fucking forsythia. Turns out it’s an invasive shrub that grows next to almost every goddamned road in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. We couldn’t drive ANYWHERE in March without seeing the yellow blooms my mom loved and crying.

Amazingly, none of us crashed and died when sobbing while driving. March was undoubtedly bummed it didn’t get another notch in its belt.

Because March wasn’t content with two tragic anniversaries. March liked to pile on the misery.

Got rejected by a college? Must be March.

Got laid off? March.

Significant Other cheats on you? March.

Pet died? March.

My siblings and stopped referring to the month as “March.” The time between February and April has been “Fuckin’ March” for decades.

It wasn’t until I read the blog of Kate Crimmins that I realized other folks who lost parents young also have a designated “shit month” that they dread.

In some ways, it seems silly. Terrible events occur in other months (September 11th, anyone?).

My mother had A LOT of kids and we have A LOT of pets; they don’t ALL die in March.

Trump was elected in November and took office in January. He did awful things and lied about them DAILY.

These are the things I told myself two years ago, when my Doctor Sister (one year older) and Lawyer Sister (one year younger) convinced me that we should celebrate our big birthdays (ending in 0) with a joint trip around my birthday (because my birthday is in the middle). It was to be an epic trip at an exclusive resort.

In March. 2020.

Sorry, everyone.

Fuckin’ March happened with a vengeance that year.

This year?

Andy working on replacing the garage door opener.

We’re not even halfway through and so far our garage door has broken ($$) and we’ve learned that our old car is beyond repair (no one will even try, they can’t find replacement engine parts). Have you tried shopping for cars recently? Literally no electric or hybrid cars to be found and even used cars are $$$$$$.

I lost my battle with the city; they cut down all seven seventy-year-old trees that surrounded and shaded our house (along with hundreds of other old trees in the neighborhood). Our street looks barren and our house will be ungodly hot this summer.

Putin invaded Ukraine, setting off senseless tragedies and a humanitarian crisis.

And last week, my father told me that his mother had moved to hospice care.

She died last Friday.

My grandparents and I used to correspond regularly. I had the best summer of my life with her and my grandfather. But Granddad died years ago, followed by all their friends and bridge partners. Gram, over 100, outlived all her peers.

She loved books and keeping up on current events, but for the last two years, she could neither see well enough to read nor hear well enough to listen to audio books or TV. She was lucid less and less. When Gram did manage conversations, if anyone mentioned a future event she might enjoy, she’d give them her best you-are-an-idiot stare and snap, “For God’s sake, I hope by then I’m gone!”

Now it’s March and she is gone.

I hate this month.

But sometimes?

March is a mercy.

I Heart Competition (#335)

In BC times (“Before Child”), my Chinese American husband never missed a gift-giving occasion. Flowers were delivered on my birthday, or sometimes, “just because.” There were platinum earrings to match my engagement ring at Christmas. An emerald necklace was mine on Valentine’s Day.

It took me a while to realize part of Andy’s motivation was to overshadow—and in some cases replace outright— all gifts from previous boyfriends.

In AD times (“After Dalton”), Andy’s gift-giving prowess deserted him. One year he completely spaced on stuffing my stocking (a huge family tradition) or giving me any Christmas presents. Since that was the first year we didn’t spend Christmas with my family, that meant I had nothing to open on Christmas morning.

Our son actually stopped stuffing his face with gummy worms, looked over his giant wall of toys/crumpled wrapping paper, and said, “Mommy, you must have done something terrible.”

Andy, behind his own pile of wrapping paper, Kona coffee, See’s Candies, and bourbon bottles, looked everywhere except at me as I said, “Well, Dalton, sometimes people don’t always make good choices. And then they have to live with the consequences.”

I left them to clean up the mess while I took the dogs for a long, long walk and called my girlfriends. Since Andy didn’t grow up with a lot any holiday traditions, the gal pals felt that divorce or murder was a smidge premature. However, they agreed that it was completely reasonable that Andy should sleep outside on the patio, especially since rain was in the forecast.

Later, I had a long talk with Andy about his new sleeping arrangements the importance of men modeling caring and respect for one’s partner. This is especially critical when one has an only son that one does not want to grow up utterly entitled.

Andy was very contrite. He may have been allowed to sleep on the couch. With the snoring, farting dogs.

*****

Perhaps Christmas night with the dogs was an unforgettable consequence for Andy. I may also have dropped a few sharp, pointed comments reminders about modeling good behavior over the next month.

On Valentine’s Day, I found several gifts on my placemat when I got up: a tote bag that looked like an old school library card, a book, and some Vosages chocolate bars.

“Aw! What a cute bag! And a new book!” I exclaimed. “And which of you gave me the expensive chocolate bars?”

“Those are from Dad,” Dalton yelled dismissively, running into the dining room. He excitedly handed me a big red heart filled with at least a pound of See’s Candies. “This is from me.”

I hugged him and said. “Thank you! That’s so nice!”

“Dad took me shopping and I picked it out myself. And they gave me free samples.”

Andy appeared, presenting me with an even bigger red heart. This one was covered in red satin and held two pounds of See’s Chocolate. “And this one is from me. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Wow. That’s huge.”

Dalton glowered at Andy for a minute before launching himself at his father. “You copied me! But you got the bigger one! How dare you!”

Andy laughed and tried to fend off Dalton. As the inevitable wrestling match ensued, Andy yelled, “Well, I couldn’t have my Valentine be outdone by my own son!”

That was NOT the message I wanted my son to learn about gift-giving.

But it was something.

 

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!”

Sweetsgiving (#330)

I love sweets. But as a kid with a ton of siblings and not enough money, sweets only appeared in abundance for special events.

My parents’ weddings had cake. Birthdays began with doughnuts. Halloween had candy. Christmas had cookies.

Thanksgiving? A total letdown. My mom and stepfatherspent hours trying to get their homemade cranberry sauce to come out of a ridiculous antique rose mold. It molded properly exactly once and ALWAYS tasted bitter. And pumpkin pie? Could there BE a blander pie?

My dad made the only decent Thanksgiving dessert—apple pie. So of course our Labrador retriever Toffee got on the counter and ate it. Continue reading Sweetsgiving (#330)

Candy Dispenser (#328)

Halloween candy is tricky. If you buy a bag too early, it’s hard to resist diving into it before doling it out to trick-or-treaters. Next thing you know (or at least the next thing I know, possibly my readers have better self-control) you have to buy another bag. Wait too long to buy your candy and all that’s left is the sweet orange wax (i.e., candy corn).

My Chinese-American husband isn’t a fan of holidays or spending money. We’ve compromised on the Halloween candy: one giant bag of the good (chocolate) candy from Costco. Except that twice Andy waited too long to buy it and Costco ran out. (Costco is like that. You’d better buy that ski parka in August if you really want it.) Andy was forced to buy several smaller and more expensive bags to fill my witch’s cauldron. Since then, Andy’s always gotten the candy at least two weeks before Halloween. Continue reading Candy Dispenser (#328)

Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Holidays were huge in my white family. We wore green, pinched each other anyway, and listened to the Irish Rovers on St. Patrick’s Day (despite being Protestant or atheists). Small gifts appeared on Valentine’s Day morning. There were Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Our birthdays began with presents and towers of doughnuts. Christmas magic (and excesses) went on for days.

Holidays were not big in my Chinese-American husband’s family. Growing up, he got a red envelope with cash, usually from his Popo, on Chinese New Year.

That was it.

Even though some Wong family members were very earnest Christians, there were neither Easter baskets nor Christmas stockings. Continue reading Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

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)

Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

TUESDAY, T-MINUS 2 DAYS

6 AM: Suicidal squirrels dart in front of dog on walk. We go down in a heap on cement, one of us swearing all the way. Badly bruised knee, road rash through pants, banged up hip and wrist. Nothing broken. Unfortunate. Still stuck having to cook up Thanksgiving & Birthday dinner for husband.

12:20 PM: Start on crust for Chocolate Satin pie husband requested. Baby D dismantles Oreos for the chocolate crust while I limp around kitchen.

1:30 PM: Pull pie crust out of oven. Discover sides have slid to the bottom of pie pan. Tell Baby D to quit eating all the Oreo middles while scrambling to find more reputable recipe online. Wonder who the fuck bribed 100+ people to write glowing reviews of crap pie recipe.

2 PM: Settle on Epicurious chocolate cream pie because have all the ingredients. Cook filling and bake pie crust while Baby D sneaks more Oreo middles.

4 PM: Assemble pie and refrigerate. Baby D moans about tummy ache and swears off Oreos forever. Continue reading Turkey Day Birthday (#308)

Turkeys (#307)

Once upon a time, birthdays were a huge deal in my family. Being showered with cake and presents made it the best day of the year.

My Chinese-American husband’s family wasn’t like that. Birthdays were no big deal. In fact, Andy’s grandmother was very superstitious about celebrating, especially as she reached her 90s. “If you have a big celebration that makes a lot of noise,” she said, “you’re just reminding the evil spirits that you’re still alive. They might decide to rectify that situation.” Continue reading Turkeys (#307)