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!”

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)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

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)

What Are You Doing, New Year’s Eve? (#165)

Tonight, as I walked in the rain (with the dog, not Andy, don’t go thinking it was all romantic and shit), I thought about New Year’s Eve. It’s supposed to be a big party, right? Champagne, dancing, party dresses, sparklers, kisses?

That’s what movies say. That’s what TV says. Hell, that’s what my Instagram feed looks like, anyway.

But is it? Continue reading What Are You Doing, New Year’s Eve? (#165)

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)

A Walgreens Christmas (#162)

When Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister settled down with Georgia Boy, I thought they were doomed. Dr. Sis typical of our overachieving white family: type A squared, super competent, goal-oriented, impatient, and INCREDIBLY judgmental. She worked hard for her full scholarship to college, she won her medical school graduation, she kicked ass in her residency, and she destroyed her oncology fellowship at MD Anderson while coping with a difficult pregnancy. (For five months, Dr. Sis operated on patients while wearing a shitload of icepacks to stay conscious.)

Georgia Boy, well, as Dr. Sis put it, “fell into every bit of good luck possible.” Continue reading A Walgreens Christmas (#162)