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What Bugs (#338)

My Chinese American husband doesn’t see dirt. At least, not in our house. He’s got a whole dirt manufacturing thing going on in our yard with multiple compost piles, but can he spot an errant leaf or Lego on the floor and pick it up? Haha, no. Not even after he’s experienced multiple late-night Lego fire walks into our son’s bedroom.

Back when we were dating, Andy would get mad about his roommate leaving crumbs on the kitchen counter.

Now that we’re married? Andy leaves crumbs on the kitchen counter.

He says he wipes down the counter.

I say, “Really? Because that ant right there is running off with a crumb from your sandwich and he’s going to share the joyful news with the rest of the colony and they’re all going to come running.”

Andy: “What ant?”

I squish the ant with a Clorox wipe and hold it in front of his face. “THIS ant. How can you not see this ant?!”

“Our kitchen counter is black! The ant is black!

Our kitchen counter, reflecting the afternoon sunlight.

“The counter is MARBLED black and white. Our cabinets are WHITE. How is it you never see these suckers and I have to kill them all?!”

Andy shrugs.

At least twice a year, usually when it’s hot and dry, the ants send scouts into our house. If we’re lucky, I spot and kill them before they find the honey in the pantry or the cat food on the dryer. If we’re not lucky, I have to clean out the entire pantry and kill ants for days. And if we’re really unlucky? They set up an entire colony under a fallen black sweatshirt in the hall closet (true story).

I don’t know if it’s the drought or the fact that the city cut down our old trees and ground up the roots, but lately the ants have been relentless. They’re attacking on multiple fronts: kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry room, and bathroom. The ones in the living room found an old potato chip in Andy’s recliner. If we were wealthy, I’d’ve burned it and replaced it. As it was, I had to take the chair apart, vacuum it, and wipe it down. Repeatedly.

The kitchen ants are the worst, though. I’ve spent the last few weeks fending them off. I sweep, vacuum, and clean counters, trying to make sure there are no enticing food bits.

Undoubtedly, some readers are wondering why the hell we don’t try poison.

First, I’m not a fan of any poison in any biome. Second, we have pets that can get into every nook and cranny and cabinet in the house as well as under the house. Some of these pets think everything is edible. Others think everything is a toy.

So I remind Andy to look for ants in the morning when he gets up before I do. He says, “Sure.”

It’s Monday at 5 AM.  Andy’s in the bathroom when I turn on the kitchen’s overhead lights. I see ants on the counter next to his half-full coffee mug. I kill the ants, then open drawers and cabinets to see where they are coming from. I discover a line of ants under the kitchen sink. I kill more ants, grumbling to the dog about certain blind persons in the house.

That night, I tell Andy that maybe, just maybe, light would help him see ants when it’s dark. I refrain from telling him I’m convinced he’s deliberately not turning on the lights in order to not see the ants because he doesn’t want to have to deal with ants. I remind myself that even before the recent invasion, Andy preferred to blunder about in the dark and the cold rather than pay any utility company more money.

The next morning, Andy’s up first. He leaves me a cup of coffee on the counter. By the dim nightlight on the stove hood, I see an ant crawling around next to my mug. It’s just one of many I have to kill, including some making a concerted foray into the pantry.

Ant scout in the pantry.

Andy is still in the bathroom when I leave with the dog. Fuming.

I fume all day. I kill straggler and scout ants all day. That night, I update Andy on the ant carnage tally, including the one right next to the cup of coffee he poured for me mere minutes before I entered the kitchen.

He argues, “But I looked! I didn’t see any ants!”

“I don’t know how you could have missed them, unless you weren’t really looking.”

Andy is offended. Then adamant. “I did a good job! I was looking!”

“Did you turn on the lights?!”

“I used a flashlight!”

“You—a flash—I just—” I throw up my hands and leave the room.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Or turn on a light.

The Once-ler Next Door (#337)

As usual, March has not been a great month. Fellow blogger Mark suggested I hunker down at home.

I tried. Things got ugly there, too. Literally.

The city decided to chop down all seven mature trees that form a canopy around our house. These trees are on the city property that border the street; even though homeowners water them, they belong to the city. Homeowners aren’t allowed trim the trees without going through an arduous permitting process, but city didn’t trim the trees for about fifty years. Their massive roots raised and cracked the sidewalks.

Older folks are likely to trip and fall. Folks in wheelchairs have a hard time getting through. The city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The specter of lawsuits loomed.

The city marked the trees with an X of death and left a letter on our doorstep. I called the city and argued, pointing out that some of the smaller trees were not a danger to the sidewalks and had done no damage. I was transferred from department to department. A city engineer came out to our house, nodding and agreeing that some trees weren’t doing any damage.

Two days later the city told me it would all the trees down anyway, because 1) the city had already hired contractors, 2) it was more efficient to take them all down now, and 3) even the small trees would eventually be a problem.

The only nearby tree that remained was in front of Cop Neighbor’s house. This is no small irony; Cop Neighbor hates trees. The man astroturfed his yard years ago. He spent half the memorial service for one of our neighbors haranguing me about the leaves from my trees blowing into his yard.

Cop Neighbor even attempted to illegally cut the city tree in his front yard several years ago. Hilariously, stupidly, he hired the tree removal service on the exact same day that the city tree workers were finally out trimming all the trees touching the power lines in our neighborhood. (Probably Cop Neighbor never noticed all the temporary signs on our block reading, “No Parking, Tree Trimming,” as he’s used to ignoring all traffic/ parking laws.) When Cop Neighbor’s illegal tree trimmers started climbing and sawing, the city tree maintenance crew chief ran over, chewed them out, and then chewed out Cop Neighbor’s girlfriend. There’s a pretty hefty fine for touching city trees; what are the odds Cop Neighbor had to pay–LOL, never mind.

Undoubtedly, Cop Neighbor was thrilled when he saw the tree removal crews on our street. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was the one complaining about the sidewalks in the hopes of getting all the trees cut down. He must have been pissed that his tree was the only one left standing.

Cop Neighbor decided to take matters into his own hands. Sunday morning, when all the city workers were sleeping in, two overloaded pickup trucks pulled up in front of Cop Neighbor’s house. One had a handpainted sign that read, “Tree Trimming.”

The tree trimmers consulted with Cop Neighbor. Cop Neighbor moved his giant SUV from in front of his city tree and went back inside. The tree trimmers laid cones in the street around the city tree.

I stopped gardening. The tree trimmer gave me a friendly wave.

I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, we’re going to top this tree.”

If you aren’t familiar with topping trees, good. It’s a terrible practice, often lethal to trees. Which is no doubt what Cop Neighbor intended.

I have always avoided feuding with neighbors. No one wants their home to feel like a battleground. I especially did not want to feud with the one neighbor who always carries a gun and works in a profession famous for harassing people without consequences.

When Cop Neighbor threw multiple late-night COVID parties, I did not call the cops. I knew it would do no good, and I knew his friends at the police department would tell him who called. Other neighbors, unable to withstand a crowd of drunks shouting the lyrics to “Oh, Sherrie” at midnight, did call the cops. The cops came, shook hands with Cop Neighbor, and left. The party raged on.

When Cop Neighbor’s unwalked, unexercised dogs barked and howled all day, I did not call animal control or the police. Other neighbors did. The dogs still bark and howl.

When Cop Neighbor didn’t put up a fence around his house during his remodel(s), I didn’t report his impromptu junkyard to the city. I never said a word about his old sofa, which sat next to his driveway for weeks.

The most combative thing I have done is fly a Black Lives Matter flag.*

That morning, if I hadn’t just watched the murder of seven trees, I might have continued to remain silent.

Instead, I summoned my inner Karen and said to Mr. Tree Trimmer, “That’s a city tree. Do you have a permit?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I trim city trees all the time.”

I crossed my arms. “It’s illegal without a permit.”

Mr. Tree Trimmer went to consult with Cop Neighbor. Another neighbor came by with his dog. I petted the dog and asked about his grandson until Cop Neighbor charged over.

Now, Cop Neighbor usually presents himself as an amiable person to the neighborhood. Today, he was in full cop mode, spittle flying as he yelled, “What do you care what I do the tree?”

I took a deep breath and said, “It’s a city tree. It’s illegal to touch it without a permit.”

“So?! What are you, the tree police?”

“These guys said they were going to top it, which will kill the tree.”

“So?! I called the city about it and they won’t trim it and it keeps dropping leaves on my car!”

Note: Cop neighbor actually has SIX cars around his house: SUV, sedan, girlfriend’s sedan, his 70’s muscle car, his police car (which he locks the keys inside of on a regular basis), and sedan that maybe belongs to his girlfriend’s wife or sister).

Cop Neighbor continued ranting. “You should mind your own business! No one cares what I do but you!”

I scoffed. “Yes, they do. But no one will say anything about all the illegal stuff you do because you’re a cop!”

Cop Neighbor threw up the hand at me and stormed back to his house, still yelling that I should mind my own business. The tree trimmers yelled at me as they drove away as well, telling me I was “everything that was wrong with this country.”

I yelled back, “Oh, yeah, the cop doesn’t care about laws, but I’M what’s wrong with this country!”

Sadly, most police departments produce people just like my neighbor.

When what we need is a Lorax.

*Cop Neighbor’s girlfriend responded to my BLM flag by flying a “Police Lives Matter” flag. People were constantly walking by, doing a doubletake over the dueling flags, and taking pictures. (Their flag came down around January 6, 2021.)

 

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.

 

Cold Wars (#334)

My Chinese American husband grew up in tropical Hawaii. When he moved to Los Angeles, his mom sent him with an electric blanket.

Years later, I laughed over that blanket before donating it to charity. I grew up on the East Coast, spending many holidays in New Hampshire. “Southern California is not cold,” I told Andy.  “Twenty below on a chairlift is cold.”

The disparity in our experiences was highlighted during vacations. I ignored Andy’s advice and ran up a sand dune barefoot on the island of Kauai, yelling, “How hot can it be?”

Answer: “Hot enough that you wind up whimpering with ice packs on your burning feet.”

On one trip to New Hampshire, our son woke up at the crack of dawn, yelling. We bolted out of bed and found him in the kitchen—unharmed, but convinced he’d seen a strange cat. Andy disappeared while I got Baby D back to sleep. It was only October, but the temperature had plummeted overnight. I found the very old school thermostat and turned the dial up before hunting through the house for my husband.

He was back in bed, shivering.

I patted his arm and said, “Don’t worry, honey. I turned on the heat.”

“Good,” moaned Andy, who is an engineer. “I couldn’t figure out how.”

The undecipherable thermostat had a dial like this.

The one time we went whale watching? Andy spent 30 minutes in the hotel shower afterwards. He drank hot coffee while standing under hot water, convinced he was hypothermic.

Before any readers start in on how cold it is watching the whales in Alaska or Cape Cod, please know that our ship barely made it out of the bay in SAN DIEGO.

So you’d think that my husband would be the first person to bump up our SoCal thermostat (which he finds easy to adjust because it is not “an archaic New England instrument powered by witchcraft”) to higher temperatures.

Wrong. Heat costs money. My husband, like many Chinese Americans, is very frugal.

Our tiny house, which was built for hot summers (e.g., no basement, just a crawlspace with vents allowing cool breezes to circulate under the house) can easily drop to 55°F overnight during California winters.

Boss Cat sneaks under the covers. We cover up our short-haired dog with a blanket.

In the mornings, Andy will throw on a robe, slippers, and sometimes a beanie or wool leg warmers from Bolivia.

But he will not turn on the heat. Not even at 55°F.

Mark, a fellow blogger in South Dakota, wrote a whole post about how tough it was to get up when his household temp dropped to 59°F (though he immediately built a roaring fire).

Using oil for heating is prevalent in New England and expensive as fuck. Yet my ExStepmother in New Hampshire sets her winter thermostat to 64°F at night and 67°F during the day. So does one of my sisters in upstate New York.

And still Andy will not touch the thermostat, insisting, “It will warm up during the day.”

Which is often true. It might be in the forties in Southern California at 5 AM, but once the sun comes out at 7 AM, the temperature soars. Last Sunday we swung from 49°F degrees at dawn to 75°F degrees at noon.

Besides, most days Andy only has to last an hour before leaving for his warm office at work (in a car with heated seats).

Meanwhile, I type with fingerless gloves. Wearing a jacket, my own ski cap, fleece pants, a wool sweater, and a turtleneck. And wrapped up in a blanket crocheted by my friend JM.

But I’m not turning on the heat, either. Even though I have a history of sneakily turning up thermostats.

Because I’ve been on New Hampshire chairlifts in -20°F and no fucking way am I caving with the heat before someone who grew up in Hawaii.

Sometimes, though?

I regret not keeping that stupid electric blanket.

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.

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)

Looking for Daylight (#329)

There is only one reason I would ever run for President.

My platform would literally have a single plank in it.

This is my whole speech:

“My fellow Americans, I swear to abolish the worst practice the United States has adopted during the modern era—the one responsible for at least a 6% increase in traffic accidents and workplace accidents, an 8% increase in strokes, and a 24% increase in heart attacks. The practice that annually and negatively impacts the mental health of all our students and their test scores.

If elected, I promise to end Daylight Saving Time immediately!”

Yeah. I hate Daylight Saving Time that much. Continue reading Looking for Daylight (#329)