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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)

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)

That Woman (#327)

When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.

“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”

A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”

My Chinese American husband shrugged off my concerns. “Some of those kids were out of control in kindergarten. They need some discipline. And,” he said wistfully, “it would be nice if Dalton did exactly what I told him.” Continue reading That Woman (#327)

Feline Fatigue (#326)

Dogs everywhere rejoiced during pandemic lockdowns.

Unlike me, our dog was super excited to have the boy child home ALL THE TIME. Instead of leaving on the weekends for soccer games, boy and dog played soccer in the backyard (the grass may never recover).

At first, Boss Cat seemed to like having everyone at home. What’s not to like about two extra people to harass until they opened a new can of cat food? Continue reading Feline Fatigue (#326)

Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking contest the Sunday before Labor Day.

The stakes? Bragging rights and cheese knives.

The contestants? Everyone on the block.

The outcome? My Chinese American husband dominated for years. Then I started entering chocolate baked goods and crushed him. The hostess finally created two categories, one for “Savory” and one for “Sweet.” Andy vengefully jumped categories and destroyed me with caramel pear ice-cream.

Two years ago, we tied. Last year, the contest was canceled because of COVID.

Two weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

Continue reading Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

I know parents who can’t wait for summer vacation.

“No more making lunches!” a mom of three rejoiced on the last day of school a few years ago.

“We’re totally sleeping in,” said the mom with twins.

Another mom chimed in with, “No nagging about homework for 2 whole months!”

There were moms who had vacations planned, or had already purchased season passes to Disneyland. They were as giddy as their kids about the end of school.

I was never one of those moms. I dreaded summer vacations. My only child NEVER slept past 6 AM. Baby D was a restless bundle of energy (and if you let it build up it would explode as destructively as possible). Continue reading Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)