Arkie Mama: A Christmas gift for my in-laws

Several years ago, my mother-in-law gave everyone a binder full of her most-loved recipes for Christmas. I don’t know about everyone else, but mine has been used a lot. And it’s showing the wear and tear.

My mother-in-law passed away last February. This will be a difficult Christmas for her large family.

So I decided to get creative and put together a sturdier cookbook filled with photos from past and present. I’m planning to give them to my father-in-law, Hubs, two brothers-in-law, my stepdaughter and one of her cousins.

Take a look at it and tell me what you think. I’m this close to putting in my order.

Go here. Then scroll to the bottom until you get to My Photobooks.

Here are a few of my favorite photos in it.

Mammaw shopping with her mother

Mammaw shopping with her mother

Newly married

Newly married



Arkie Mama: For Thanksgiving, I made two casseroles, one dessert and broke a toe

Remember my post about my brother-in-law’s wife, Perfect Linda and how this was going to be my big year?

I had everything planned: my contributions to the dinner, my outfit and my children’s outfits. I imagined sweeping into Perfect Linda’s house, attired in my new sweater dress, carrying my food offerings and wearing a serene smile.

Instead, Hubs had to carry the food while I limped and hobbled along behind him.

So much for my moment of glory.

That afternoon, after whipping up a very pretty banana pudding, I somehow managed to stub the two last toes on my left foot. Trying to preserve at least a shred of dignity, I pulled myself up and hobbled into my father-in-law’s guest bedroom, where Hubs found me cussing a blue streak.

Putting on my tights and boots? AGONY. But I hadn’t brought anything else to wear to dinner.

By the time we drove the 3 1/2 hours home, my toes sported shades of blue and purple.

I’m quite certain the next-to-last toe is broken. Being a klutz, I’m no stranger to broken toes, sadly.

But while my grand entrance was marred, I did manage to get a few raves about my dishes.

My husband’s collage-age niece dashed into Perfect Linda’s kitchen, telling everyone how she couldn’t wait to load up on my banana pudding. And my brother-in-law praised my corn casserole.

So I’m declaring a victory this year, even though I had to cripple myself to pull it off!

Arkie Mama: Joy at a gas explosion

Today, I met an elderly couple whose home exploded this morning. I left the scene feeling warmed and glowing. This man and his wife, married 70 years, just radiated joy in the face of something so awful.

They still had each other, they explained. That was all that mattered.

I told my editor I had dearly wanted to tuck them into my car and bring them back to the newsroom so that we could all bask in their cheeriness and optimism.

My story runs tomorrow. Read it and you’ll see what I mean. What a sweet and adoring couple.

Arkie Mama: Nooooooo! Not the Santa Shop!

In an effort to forever establish myself as the Grinch of Elementary School, I am going to publicly moan over the whole concept of the Santa Shop.

For those of you who don’t have kids in grade school — don’t quit reading this post because you think it doesn’t apply to you. One day, you too will have to fork over money so that your child can buy cheap, crappy dood-dads in the name of giving. (Or, more accurately, fund-raising.)

Egad, spare me.

Imagine Happy Meal-quality toys, the dregs of Hobby Lobby’s inventory and a rock collector’s rejects laid out on rows of tables in the cafeteria or gym. That’s your Santa Shop merchandise. Prices range from $1 to $7, sometimes as much as $12.

Now imagine handing your wee one some cash and a list, and then trusting said child to pick out appropriate “gifts” for family members. Or to truly grasp the meaning and spirit of giving.

Last year, Tootie bought a fake, plastic rose for her sister, some sort of plastic doo-hickey-thingy for her little brother and a rock for her older brother. Then she used the rest of the money to buy herself a bunch of crappy little knick-knacks. A quartz inside a used jewelry box, for example.

The Santa Shop is a PTA fund raiser and I will probably be bombarded with hate email for this post, but — SERIOUSLY? Who dreamed up this thing?

I’m all about encouraging kids to feel the warm glow of giving, but in my world, giving means you put some thought into what you buy.

Or, even better, make.

Or bake.

People who’ve had a year like ours — no raise, paycuts, etc… — don’t have the money to spend on junk.

Which is why I will be giving Tootie only a couple of dollars, and that’s only so won’t be the only one sitting in a classroom.

And I will tell her this:  For Christmas, Mommy and Daddy want one of your beautiful drawings or a painting. You and the E-man and I will make a photo book for Daddy. We’ll make something special and personalized for your sister and two brothers. For the family on Daddy’s side, we’ll put together a special book of Mammaw’s recipes. For Mommy’s side, we’ll make a calendar out of your and the E-man’s artwork.

Because these are gifts that will mean something to those who receive them. They’re from your heart and hands.

Not the Santa Shop.

My favorite Christmas decorations, courtesy of Tootie.

My favorite Christmas decorations, courtesy of Tootie.

Arkie Mama: Thanksgiving terror

My extended family is far-flung.

My mom grew up in Kentucky; my dad in Tennessee. They moved to Texas right before I was born.

During my early childhood years, we spent the Christmas holidays in either Kentucky or Tennessee. Or both. But my parents longed to celebrate the season in their own home, creating their own traditions. So over the next few years, more and more of our visits to my parents’ home states took place during the summer.

That meant our Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were pretty quiet and intimate. And oh, how I loved the simplicity of it all. On Christmas Eve, either I or one of my two sisters would read the Christmas story aloud from the family Bible. Then we would open gifts one at a time so that everyone could take the time to express immediate thanks for each present.

Then I married into Hubs very large East Texas family and was thereby initiated into the world of Giant Family Holidays. I found it petrifying.

I still remember those first few Thanksgivings. Lord almighty, I had never seen such a crowd trying to cram into one modest three-bedroom house.

So many people. So much noise. Too many cooks in the kitchen but not enough seating at dinner.The table allowed for only eight, so everyone else sprawled on couches or found a chair outside on the deck.

And then there was Christmas. The present-opening was the biggest assault to my already overwhelmed senses. Everyone just started ripping paper and flinging bows around the living room. I had no idea who had gotten what from whom. It was confusing. Loud. Disorienting.

Except for last year. Christmas 2008 was a subdued affair. My mother-in-law was dying, and we all knew it would be her last Christmas.

My husband caught this image with his camera. See how my father-in-law is looking at his wife of five decades? It breaks your heart.



This Christmas will likely be subdued as well. Someone else will put up the tree and decorate the house with Mammaw’s many knicks and knacks. My father-in-law will miss the homey smell of dayslong baking. And I know that at some point, I’ll miss the rambunctious nature of Christmases past.

Arkie Mama: There’s not room for a rodent in my bedroom

“Did you move this box?” Hubs asked me Friday morning, gesturing toward a large cardboard box a few feet away from our bedroom door. (Said door leads to the deck.)

“No,” replied, not paying much attention. “I think the kids did it when they were playing in here.”

“Well, I moved it there before I left to go hunting,” Hubs said indignantly. “There’s a hole at the bottom of the door from all the rain. I didn’t want any wildlife to get in.”

Niiiiiiice, I thought. I love the way he didn’t bother to mention a critter-attracting hole BEFORE he left town. For a week.

Hubs continued puttering around the room and I left for work. He had the day off. So unfair.

Around 3 p.m., he called me.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but — ” He paused.

“What?” I asked distractedly.

“Well, this morning, when I was moving some things around in our bedroom, and this little furry thing went racing across the floor, so I chased it around the room, and then it ran back toward the door, where the hole is, only I’d put the box back in front of it, and then he disappeared, but I think he managed to squeeze behind the box and through the hole.”

“Furry?” I asked. “Like a mouse?”


“Noooooooo,” Hubs said reluctantly. “I think maybe it was a small rat.”

Now I don’t know why, but whereas I can kind of convince myself that a mouse possesses a sort of whiskery cuteness, the thought of a rat brings up images of the beady, yellow-eyed rodent — with glistening fangs — in Lady and the Tramp. You know, the rodent that’s out to make a snack of the new baby.

“WHAT?!” I screeched. “Are you telling me that I’ve sharing my bedroom with a RAT while you were off hunting all week?!”

“Er, yes,” Hubs replied.

“Well, are you sure it’s gone?”

“Oh, yes,” my spouse assured me. “I’m positive.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what the rat had been up to each night. Had it perched on my nightstand, watching me sleep? I thought of the glistening fangs, of the long, creepy, stringy tail. Thank God it hadn’t made its presence known while Hubs was gone. The kids and I would have been squealing down the driveway on our way to a hotel if I’d caught even a glimpse of the littl varmint.

Hubs told he he’d patched up the hole, and by that evening, I’d put the sighting out of my mind. Until, that is, I heard a yelp in our bedroom.

“Cathy!” Hubs yelled. “Get in here, quick!”

I tossed the remote and ran for the bedroom. Hubs was crawling on all fours and looking underneath our bed.

“What is it?!” I shrieked, even though I already knew.

“It’s still here,” Hubs gasped, still circling the bed. “I chased it across the room and opened the door, but then it swerved and went under our bed. I need you to stand there and watch for it. Make sure it actually goes out the door this time.

Does the man really think I’m going to just stand here, waiting for a rat to emerge? Is he out of his mind?

I shut the door and returned to the living room.

Fifteen minutes later, Hubs emerged from the bedroom, panting yet victorious.

“I’m sure he’s gone this time,” Hubs said.

“Did you actually see him leave?”

“Well. No. But he isn’t anywhere in our room. I checked.”

“What if he got out before I shut the door?” I asked.

“I’m positive he went outside,” Hubs assured me.

“Yeah, that’s what you told me this morning, remember?”

Still unconvinced, I made Hubs scour the house. When we finally turned in, I made a running leap for the bed.

“What are you doing?” Hubs asked as I landed in an ungraceful heap.

“I’m not giving that thing a chance to sample human flesh,” I said. “It might develop a taste for it.”

Needless to say, I did not sleep well. The next day, Hubs set out a trap in our bedroom. Thus far, it remains untouched and there have been no further sightings.

This does not comfort me.

Because I just know that rat is waiting for Hubs to leave town again before making his presence known.

Hello, my sweet.

Hello, my sweet.

Arkie Mama: Britney’s suggesting a WHAT?!

For me, one of the side effects of aging is an inability to understand song lyrics. Another is the inability to recognize that former teen singers, like, say Britney, are now adults. Singing adult songs. With very adult meanings.

So for the past few weeks, every time her latest single, “3,” came on the radio, I cranked it up. I mean, it’s a great car-dancing song. And the kids like the whole counting thing. I couldn’t really understand the lyrics, but  really — it seemed to be a lot of counting and harmless, meaningless rhyming.

Last night, I pulled up the video. And as I watched the dancing, things suddenly clicked into place.

Whoops, I thought, speedily Googling the lyrics and wondering what on earth my daughter might have been trilling on the school playground lately.

A quick read of the lyrics revealed that the princess of pop was indeed singing about threesomes. As in, two on one. As in, menage a trois.

I don’t know why I was so surprised. I’m the woman who was probably the last on the planet to realize that Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” wasn’t actually about poker. Duh.

I’m not a prude. And both songs will remain on my playlist because — hello!  — they’re great workout and dance songs.

But Tootie — well, let’s just say that she’ll no longer be counting along with Britney.

Arkie Mama: Little white lies

Today, Moody Mom and I are guest-posting on one another’s blogs. Our topic today is little white lies we’ve told our kids. To read my confessional post, head on over to Moody Mom’s blog! And now, without further ado, I present Moody Mom:

How many of you have told your kids little white lies just to get them to shut up? Today I would like to share 2 of the most ingenious white lies I have told Bear.

Little White Lie #1 –
Bear took a liking to McDonald’s at a very young age. Every time we would ask where she wanted to eat, she would say McDonald’s and every time we drove by one of their many locations she would ask if we could go to McDonald’s. I was sick and tired of hearing her ask to go there and then fussing when we said no.

One Sunday after church we were driving by the Mc’s on McCain and sure enough I hear, “Mommy, can we go to Donald’s?’ Without even batting an eye I blurted out, “Not today honey, they are closed.” It worked. She just answered, “OK, Mommy.”

From then on every time we drove by Mc’s Bear would ask if we could eat there and I would answer, “Not today honey, they are closed,” and she would say OK and go back to looking at her books or listening to music.

As she got older, she asked why they were always closed and I would tell her
maybe we needed to call ahead next time.

Don’t judge me. I would take her every 3 weeks or so. I just did not want to go through her fussing when I said no.

This worked like a charm till Bear was about 4 years old. We were driving by the same McDonald’s where I first starting “tricking” her and she asked to go eat at Donald’s. I answered with my standard “Not today honey, they are closed.” Bear got quiet for a moment and then answered, “Then why are all those cars in the parking lot?” I was BUSTED!

I can’t remember if we stopped that day or not, but I do remember Bear asking
me if I had been tricking her. I fessed up and told her that yes, I have. Bear informed me that she was too old to fall for that anymore.

Little White Lie #2 –
Bear loves cats and I am not a cat person, I am more of a dog person. A big
dog person, my favorite breed is Rotties.

About 3 years ago she started bugging me about getting her a kitty. I told her our dog, Shelby, did not like cats. That worked until Shelby died of cancer.

So then I told her cats would scratch little girls. That worked until she told me about the kittens at Mallory’s party who did not scratch her once.

At that point I was sick of hearing about kittens and just blurted out, “Mommy is allergic to kittens.” I felt bad at first because that is in no way true, but it worked. She no longer asked to have a cat.

When we went anywhere there was a cat, Bear would tell me “Don’t get too close, <ommy, you are allergic to cats.” She would also tell the person with the cat to not get too close to mommy, cats make her sick.

To this day Bear has not asked for a kitten since.

Do I feel bad for these white lies? A little, but that does not make me a bad mother. Just a creative one.

See, Mom, a perfectly harmless kitty!

See, Mom, a perfectly harmless kitty!

Please, can I have one?

Please, can I have one?