Tag Archives: Christmas

This Is Clearly Ridiculous

It’s 11:15 p.m. and I am being ridiculous.

I’m baking a cherry pie. Again. My third annual attempt at some mediocre homage to my dad’s Christmas Eve tradition of making a cherry pie just for Joe’s wife, Beth.

I can’t even say it was Vivi’s idea this year. She did mention it several times, even earlier today, but the day got away from us and she’s already asleep but I’m here waiting for the timer to ding.

2015 attempt


I don’t know how to make pie. The filling is two cans of Comstock and the crust is Pillsbury. I didn’t even attempt to weave the lattice top crust this time. The letter “B” that I carved into the top crust started out looking clever and now looks like a hemorrhage.

Completely ridiculous.

It’s not even like Beth has no other sources of cherry pie. I know that Uncle Mark made Aunt Beth a cherry pie this summer when they came up for a visit. I saw the pictures on Facebook. I heard the reviews from Joe. Mark’s crusts are flaky miracles of French lard and Irish butter and salt from Tibet. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the cherries are hand picked by earnest graduate students in the highly competitive stone fruits program at an Ivy League college. The man knows pie.

I am not the best person for this job. In our family, I’m not even in the top FIVE best people for this job.

So ridiculous.


Why can’t I let it go, this tradition? Brett told me to bring asparagus but I’m going to show up with a cherry pie.

Maybe it’s not even about the pie, or Beth, or me, or Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s because when I reached into the utensil drawer to find a brush to do the egg wash (Pillsbury is FANCY), I had to dig past Richard’s dumpling press, Daddy’s pastry cutter, and Grandmama Eunice’s biscuit round. Every one of them a better cook than me. Every one of them gone now. Every one of them left me a tool I don’t know how to use yet.

And I’m almost 50. And it’s almost midnight. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve.


I even thought that if I started writing this I would find the answer.

Completely ridiculous.

There’s no answer, only the doing. The half-assed, broken-hearted attempts at showing people how much I love them. Learning to show up, even with gifts that aren’t quite what I hoped they would be by now.

Messy, mediocre, and still ridiculously sweet.

Saint Christopher Was Lost

If you follow me on Instagram (baddestmotherever), you already know that I’ve got a precious collection of Christmas ornaments and for the last few weeks, they’re the only thing I seem to be able to write about. This time, every year, when I unwrap and unbox them and hang each on the tree, every one whispers a memory about some other day, some other adventure, some memory sweet enough that I made the choice to commemorate it with a bauble. Decorating the tree is like reading myself a story that I’ve been writing one line at a time for the last 25 years.

This year, I lost a small part of that story and fear of losing it forever paralyzed me for days. Here’s what happened…

I bought this dark green glass St. Christopher medal on the island of Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades:

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

Richard and I had just survived a harrowing taxi cab ride along some 500-foot cliffs. The driver was a fisherman on his off days, and he was telling us about a giant fish he had speared recently. As he leaned across the passenger seat to retrieve a photo of the fish from the glove compartment, the taxi slewed hard to the right. Tires crunched onto the gravel shoulder, RIGHT ABOVE THE DROP of the cliff because there are no guard rails. The driver jerked the wheel back to the left just in time to save us all. And he went on talking about his fish.

The adrenaline hit my guts and limbs at the same moment and while I fought to keep from barfing, I nodded politely to admire the photo of the speared fish that was thrust into the back seat. That’s when I noticed a St. Christopher medal swaying drunkenly from the cab driver’s rear view mirror.

Cab drivers in Greece are a rare breed (maybe because they don’t always live long enough to breed?). They drive modern cars filled with modern tourists on roads that were carved out long before modern times. Most roads can accommodate 1.5 car widths, which makes passing on a cliff a lot like accidentally joining Cirque de Soleil. There is a superstition that if you have seen the image of St. Christopher, you cannot die on that day. While the Greek Orthodox church has not validated this idea, Greek cab drivers are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Every cab has a St. Christopher medal to honor the patron saint of travelers.

As soon as we were dropped off at the hotel in Oia, and as soon thereafter as my legs stopped shaking, I went into a gift shop and secured this St. Christopher medal because I never wanted to forget that I had survived that cab ride.

This medal is small, so I hang it near the top of the tree. And, because 2016 just can’t let us have anything nice, I dropped it. I dropped a 1-inch dark green ornament made of glass into a 9-foot dark green tree.

There was no THUNK to indicate that it had reached the floor. I climbed down from the ladder and started searching the branches below it–no medal. I couldn’t shake the tree to dislodge the ornament because I might break everything else in the quest for this one lost item. And it’s glass, so shaking didn’t seem like the best plan. I tried to focus on the red of the ribbon but saw nothing. I searched and searched. I looked on the other side of the tree, as if St. Christopher might have bounced off a limb and taken a detour. I turned the lights off for a different perspective. I turned on every light in the room in hopes of making a glint in all that dark green.

I gave up. I reassured myself that I would come back later with fresh eyes.

But what if I forgot to look for St. Christopher? What if I got used to it being lost and forgot to be sad and whatever snag had snagged him held him all the way to the chipper in the New Year? For two days, I kept returning to the tree in search of St. Christopher. I even set a reminder in my calendar to look for the lost green medal.

I was overtaken by a deep sadness. I had lost my patron saint of travelers at the same time I was losing my story-telling voice. Sick for three weeks straight, overwhelmed with holiday tasks, busy at work, aghast at every cabinet pick and tweet.

Christopher of Lycia was a giant who was known for carrying others safely across a raging river. He was a sure-footed and strong ferry. One day, he agreed to carry a small child across the river. Out in the depths, Christopher felt pulled down for the first time, crushed by a weight that didn’t seem to match the size of the child. He feared that they weren’t going to make it. Legend tells it that on the other bank, after Christopher had found a way across, the child revealed that he was the Christ and the weight Christopher felt was the weight of the world that the child carried.

After all the other ornaments had been placed on the tree, I gave it one more shot. Sometimes the best way to look for something is the opposite way. Read an essay backwards to find typos. Look in the freezer for your car keys. Do the opposite of what makes sense. So I lay down on the floor and I slid myself up under the lowest branches of the tree. Instead of looking down in the path that the ornament would have fallen, I looked up.

And that’s when I saw a little flash of red ribbon, tangled around a branch high above my head. I slid back out and with great joy, snaked my hand into the depths of the tree. There lay Saint Christopher, gold side down and ribbon tangled in the branch, utterly invisible from the outside. I hung him right up on a safe branch, on the other side of the river and out of trouble. I gave him a tap so that the medal swung like a pendulum, counting out the even arc of time.

In my own heart, I put down the burden and the weight of the world and I remembered that I can tell stories. I remembered that sometimes there are raging rivers and stories help us cross them. That’s what I can do.

And I will.

An Orange in the Toe of Your Stocking

This morning, when I tied the last few bows around the last few presents for my kids, I remembered a similar feeling from when I was a teenager, many Christmases ago. I loved wrapping presents. Loved it loved it loved it. I wrapped all the gifts my mom had bought. Then I went up the road and wrapped presents for my Aunt Dixie. Then Mom drove me into town and dropped me off at Pop and Grandmama Irene’s house for an afternoon so I could wrap presents for them, too.


Grandmama pulled everything out of the hall closets and made sure each box was labeled on the outside (so I wouldn’t have to peek inside to see what was what). I laid out the tubes of wrapping paper, the scissors and the tape on the braided rug in their bedroom, right in front of the warm gas logs. I worked along steadily in my own happy place. After a while, Grandmama came in to check on me. When she saw that I had it under control and there was nothing she needed to do, she stretched out across the white coverlet on the four-poster bed.

Like so many things in Grandmama’s house, we kids walked carefully around that bed. And woe be unto you if you so much as laid a hand on or god forbid leaned against the spindle that ran between the footposts. That bed was so old that it had been made by slaves owned by Pop’s side of the family. I had seen Grandmama lie down for a nap before, but never across the bed to chat. She stretched out on her side to watch me with one hand propped under her head. Her feet hung off the side of the bed like a teenager at a slumber party, with her shoes clear of the perfect white chenille spread.

“I sure am glad you like to wrap packages because I surely don’t.” She grinned and bounced her foot. I remember feeling that I needed to be careful, to not break this gentle magic. Grandmama was almost always busy and not much of a chatter. Most every action and word in her world had a POINT. I wanted to keep the conversation going, so I asked, “Did you like to wrap packages when you were my age?”

“Oh, we didn’t have any such as that when I was your age.” (I want to type that as “yo age” because that’s how she talks, not a terminal -r to be found) “For Christmas, we might get a piece of candy and an orange but that was it. Daddy always got us an orange.”

Grandmama was born in 1918, so her teenage years were the dark years of the Depression. Aunt Eula, Grandmama’s older sister by a few years, had come to stand in the doorway. “Irene, remember that year we got an apple AND an orange?” They went on to tell me about life on the farm down along the river, how they each had two dresses–one to wear and one to wash–while I sat there wrapping gifts in shiny paper and tying ribbons.


Twenty years later, I told that story to Richard and my dad one morning while we were sitting out on the deck in the sunshine. Daddy was born in 1942, but his brothers were 10 and 13 years older, so they were young in the Depression. Their father made a living cutting lumber for furniture makers in Atlanta and business had just about dried up. Nobody had money for furniture. Daddy told us how things got so bad one winter that his father had to leave a guard with the team of mules in the woods so that no one stole the animals for meat. That winter, my Grandfather Joe didn’t know how he was going to pay his hands, much less have anything left to make a little Christmas for Uncle Kenneth and Uncle Charles. Then just a few days before Christmas, he got an order for lumber, and it was enough to, in Daddy’s memory of hearing the story when he was a boy, “pay the hands, buy a little wooden train for Kenneth and Charles, and surprise the family with a bag of oranges.”

These two stories explain why Santa puts an orange in the toe of my kids’ stockings every year. This year, slogging through my own cold Depression, I keep hearing my grandmother saying “Daddy always got us an orange.” I think about how this might be the saddest Christmas of my life because I won’t hear any stories from my dad. He won’t be baking pies or slicing tenderloin for Christmas Eve dinner. He won’t be wearing a red and green tartan buttondown shirt under his flour-covered apron. He won’t make us a bag of oranges to take home from the box Uncle Kenneth sends up from Florida.

Those oranges in my kids’ stockings remind me that our family has had it worse. We’ve lived through some lean times and mean times. Some years are so bad you gotta worry about hungry folks boiling the mule. And some years you get an apple AND an orange.

I am the product of many generations of people who found a way to hold some sweetness, even in the darkest time of the year.

And that is why there will always be an orange in the toe of your stocking, kids.

For the Sake of Sanity, Can We Spread Some of This Cheer Around?

christmas cat

In the last 24 hours, I have:

  • bought cupcakes for Carlos’ class party
  • talked to my therapist about how to deal with grief at the holidays
  • made two wreaths to donate to a charity auction
  • texted with my mother to arrange Christmas lunch at Grandmama Irene’s house
  • wrapped gifts that my department is donating to a family in need
  • texted with my siblings to talk about how we’re going to get through Christmas Eve
  • explained why the elf didn’t move
  • drawn a red nose on my son for his school sing along then sat with him as he refused to both sing and go along (but we had a good time anyway)
  • made “reindeer food” with his classmates and decorated ice cream cone trees with green frosting and candies
  • performed my day job, which includes helping with the holiday party for 3000+ employees, advertising the carolers who visit the hospital, finding a photo of a surgeon in an ugly sweater, evacuating the building because someone’s kid pulled a fire alarm in midwifery, encouraging Toys for Tots donations, etc etc
  • picked up a plate of sweet treats from my friend Jo’s baking extravaganza
  • sung along to “A Very Soulful Christmas” with songs like “Back Door Santa” and Otis Redding’s “White Christmas”
  • wrapped 21 Little Golden Books for C’s classmates
  • agreed to make two more wreaths for the auction because we don’t have as many as we did last year and WHY NOT??

This last week of school before the Christmas break is NUTS. I know people are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, solstice, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas (…and the list goes on) for religious or cultural reasons right now, but why have we attached so many other activities to this time? Many of the things that have become associated with the holiday season don’t have to be tied specifically to Christmas.

I say we spread some of the holiday cheer around to other months–for the sake of our sanity and to inject some fun into the more neglected days on the calendar.

January – My friend got “elfed” the other night. It’s a game her neighborhood is playing where you leave a stocking of treats on the doorstep and challenge the recipient to “elf” two houses the next night. It’s a cute idea and all but who has time in December? I suggest we move this to New Year’s Eve. You sneak 100 firecrackers onto your neighbor’s front porch with a long fuse and a note that says, “You’ve Been Banged! Go bang your neighbors!”

February – Instead of Christmas cards, let’s send Valentines to each other. Include a gorgeous picture of your family, wearing all those new clothes they got for Christmas. And we all will have had six weeks to lose a few pounds after Thanksgiving and Christmas!

March – March is the perfect month for neighborhood potlucks and office parties. People need to let off some steam after the long winter. Let’s make office parties like grown up prom!

April – April Fools Day and Earth Day are both woefully under-celebrated. Let’s schedule big family dinners on April Fools Day so we can play pranks and get liquored up and tell funny stories. On Earth Day, how about we go outside and decorate a tree. If you don’t have a tree, plant one!

May – May is for MOTHER’S DAY and nothing else. In fact, let’s look into expanding this one.

June – Canned food drives always happen in November, around Thanksgiving. But food banks need support throughout the year. I say we move food drives to June and while we’re at it, we work in a community garden too!

July – Caroling moves to July. The weather is nice, the days are long so it’s safe to walk from house to house. There are tons of patriotic songs out there. Why not get all the neighborhood kids who do marching band to put on an impromptu show? Sparklers and singing!

August – This is the month to focus on teacher gifts. Instead of drowning our teachers in bath oils, infinity scarves and coffee gift cards in December, let’s treat them at the start of the school year. It will help ease the pain of saying goodbye to summer. If your kids are handfuls like mine, starting the year by greasing the wheel is a pretty wise investment.

September – Now it’s time for baking! Let’s make all those candies, cakes and cookies in September to celebrate the end of swimsuit season!

October – Forget about Elf on the Shelf. Get your family a Ghoul on a Stool. This terrifying stuffed toy (with optional shrieking) sneaks around your house at night to make sure kids stay in their beds. The Ghoul doesn’t tattle to Santa–it handles shit right then and there. Eats your kid’s face right off if they get out of line. By the time Halloween rolls around, your kids will be fighting over who gets to take out the trash. They won’t be sleeping, but they’ll behave.

November – It’s the perfect month for school programs, orchestra concerts, dance recitals, middle school poetry slams. All the events that require parents to sit on narrow chairs in an overheated gymnasium will be moved to November.

December – Now it’s time for Christmas and we’ve actually got time for Christmas because we moved all that other stuff around the year. Breathe in, breathe out. Every one is a gift.


A Little More Light

light and darkness

I’m struggling, y’all.

Not every moment of every day, but enough moments of most days that I feel like I am dragging a bag of wet cement in each shoe.

I’ve written 20,000 words…in my head. I’ve rolled out from under the covers every morning and gotten straight to beating myself up for not being up already. For not exercising. For not writing. For not being happy all the fucking time.

For not speaking up about what is worst in the world right now. For not having gifts wrapped under the tree yet. For not making a casserole ahead of time and just skipping the pot luck. For not even trying to do teacher gifts and greeting cards and a new wreath for the front door and gingerbread people and a birthday party plan for Carlos and a haircut and cleaning out my voicemail box at work. For not. Not not not.

I can never do enough to keep the darkness at bay.

I have this little white ceramic Christmas tree that Daddy passed along to me years ago when our Aunt Mary Fuller died. She and Uncle Curtis lived in Avondale Estates for most of their lives, so they were city folk. They couldn’t walk out into the pasture and cut a cedar tree from the fence line. They had this little ceramic tree that lit up from the inside. I remember visiting them once in Atlanta. I fell in love with this tree and the tiny gold foil star that Aunt Mary Fuller had taped to the top.

Now it’s mine.

Like any inheritance, it’s past is so precious to me that I feel like I have to protect it from the present in order to save it for the future. Namely, I don’t want my kids to smash it. When Vivi was a baby, I put this tree on top of the bookcase in her nursery. Once she started toddling about, the tree stayed in its cardboard box for a couple of years, until I could trust her to not bring it crashing down. It lit up the dark nights in the nursery for Carlos’ first few Christmases, then back in the attic.

This year, I brought it down with all the other boxes of decorations. Each kid has a tree of their own now. There’s one in the living room and another in the den. Now that I could put Mary Fuller’s tree out, did we have room for it anymore?

I decided to keep it for myself, to enjoy it in the midst of my dark nights. This weekend, I set it out on a little table right by my bed, in the same spot that the bassinet stood. Vivi and Carlos placed the tiny plastic “bulbs” in the holes on the tips of the branches (and I didn’t even rearrange them to even out the balance of green and red–they were going for a lava flow effect and I think it’s pretty cool). We flipped the switch and sat in the Saturday morning glow of the 1970s. I told them how important this tree is to me and asked them to be very careful around it. I’m trying trust. We’ll see.

At night, I leave the little tree glowing after I set the alarm, write my gratitude in the journal, and turn out the light. Some nights, I cry. Some nights, I don’t.

It’s less dark. And that’s the reminder I need–a gentle push from the past. A reminder that we can only appreciate the stars when it’s dark. We have to trust our fragile hearts to a world that’s likely to break them.


Farewell to Our Loving Family

Victoria brought the Loving Family dollhouse into our family then passed it along to Vivi. One Christmas, Santa brought rooms of new furniture and a dappled gray horse for the family that lived there. The next year, he brought a silver minivan, a baby brother, a Nana and a Cousin Jake. By the next Christmas, Cousin Jake had been renamed to Carlos.


It’s windy where Nana is standing.

I moved Grandmama Eunice’s drop-leaf table out from under the living room window to make room for the Loving Family as they grew. The house lived right there, in plain view of the dining room table, and many nights Vivi would play there while G and I finished dinner or tended to Carlos.

I never had a dollhouse like that. Every few days, grown up Ashley indulged Little Ashley by spending a few minutes tidying it up. I fetched all the scattered pieces from the floor then arranged the dining room chairs and the tiny dessert buffet next to the grandfather clock. The little girl’s room had a pink canopy bed like I had always wanted. I put the pillow on her bed and pushed the blue tufted stool under the vanity table. I placed the bassinet and the changing table in the nursery then put the teensy baby monitor on the side table in the living room, right next to the Walkman with headphones. The kitchen counter folded out–the perfect spot to set the grocery bag. In the barn next to the house, I set up the white rail fence and hitched the horse to it. Playing with the dollhouse brought me peace. Where else could I set everything to rights in a couple of minutes?

As Carlos grew, he played with it too. Mostly he would toddle over to it and wipe all the furniture to the floor while we yelled, “Godzilla! Godzilla!”

Two years ago, I moved it to the basement play room and no one seemed to notice. We’ve been walking around it for a while so I decided this weekend to make the big leap and big farewell. Actually, it was a pretty quick decision because G had the girls out for the afternoon and my friend Susan had just told me about how easy it is to clean the house of old toys with a few black garbage bags and a couple of hours to oneself.

The years have taken their toll on our Loving Family. I hung the pink doors back on their hinges and reattached the barn to the house. Wiped the crayon swirls off the floor with a Magic Eraser. I even tried to comb Nana’s hair. All the furniture went into a gallon Ziploc bag. I checked to make sure the baby had a stroller and a bottle and a bassinet. I wiped down the dining room chairs and found the tiny pieces of cherry pie on yellow placemats.

I needed to move quickly, to get the deed done before I had time for my nostalgia to catch up. It’s hard to say farewell to the Loving Family. I struggled with saying goodbye to the tiny spaces that had brought all of us some kind of joy over the years.

When I pulled it out of the back of the car at the Project Safe thrift store, the volunteer clapped her hands and squeaked with delight.

I set the dollhouse into the rolling canvas bin that she had brought to the car to receive my things. “I taped all the pieces here…and here. And all the furniture is there. I think the van is in the other bag…”

She patted me on the arm and “This will be someone’s Christmas.”


Some little person will wake up to a Loving Family of their own next month. And Project Safe will have made a few dollars to put towards supporting survivors of domestic abuse.

But I think the gift has already been given–to me. When I think about someone else setting out dinner for Nana and Cousin Jake, or taking the horse for a gallop around the yard, my heart feels tidy, with everything in its place.

Our Loving Family is moving on.

Our Loving Family is moving on.

“There Is No Charm Equal to Tenderness of Heart”

no charm equal


About a year ago, I decided that I would like a charm bracelet. I love clunky bracelets and sparkly things in general, plus I love the idea of collecting objects over time that tell a story about what’s important to me.

G enjoys knowing what to get me….Victoria’s getting into it too…and Aunt Fancy works in a jewelry store…so this was a big Christmas for charms. My bracelet is full and my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and Pandora circulars will follow me all the days of my life.

At the Cool Kids Christmas, Libby surprised me with an owl, for wisdom. On Christmas Eve, Big Gay gave me a red and green Murano glass bead, for the 32 Big Gay Christmases that we’ve spent together. Brett (that’s Aunt Fancy to the kids) added a crystal Christmas tree with NOEL on the back. She had already given me two purple jewels at Thanksgiving. This morning, G added the “Galaxy” charm that he heard me telling Vivi about a few months ago. He also picked out a red Murano glass bead but he couldn’t remember why. I looked it up in the catalog and its name is “Red Effervessence.” When I read out the name, he beamed and said, “That’s IT! The bubbles reminded me of champagne and I remembered that you didn’t have a red one for Wesleyan colors.” I gawped at him and he smirked, “See? I listen.”

After all the craziness had subsided this morning, I got out my bracelet and sat down with Victoria to figure out how to work in the new additions. She does hers chronologically. I like to alternate color and silver, but the charm that goes in the middle has to be specially selected to remind me of what’s central in my life. We laid them all out on a plate that G had painted with the kids.

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“I’ve been wearing the love heart in the middle since my birthday.” It’s a little heart-shaped box that opens up to reveal a sparkly little diamond. I slid that charm to the center of the plate as Victoria nodded. “But what shoud go around it?”

“Oh! I know!” She took her finger and tapped out a message on the charms. “Put the love one in the middle….then the family one here…..and the galaxy on the other side….and it says, “Family Love is Everything.”

And that’s what we ended up doing.


Later that afternoon, after we dined on cheeses and nitrates, honeyed nuts and stuffed olives, vinho verde and yule log, my mom got ready to leave. The kids said their thank yous and gave hugs and we all agreed that this laid back Christmas Day works great for us. Mom left.

Three minutes later, she walked back in the door with a jar of jelly that my aunt had sent but Mom had forgotten to bring in earlier. As soon as she stepped into the kitchen, Carlos looked up from the den and squealed, “Gwamma!!!” He came a’runnin’ and threw himself at her as if they hadn’t seen each other in months and she had finally returned.

We got such a laugh out of his pure delight, his effervessence. I said, “Dude, you just wrote my blog post for me, acting like that!” Victoria stopped sorting the clean forks into the silverware drawer and said, “Hey, you could talk about that thing with the bracelet, too.”

And that’s what I ended up doing. That kid has a knack for spelling things out.