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.

Overcome.

Overcome.

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?”

Pause.

“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: The Pajama School Run aka Mommy’s Walk of Shame

Confession: There have been several mornings over the past 1 1/2 years when I’ve thrown on a pair of flip-flops, grabbed a sleepy-eyed E-man and raced off to Tootie’s elementary school — in my baggy flannel pajamas.

Sometimes, if we’re running late, I don’t even brush my hair. Or wash away the leftover mascara smudges underneath my eyes.

And then I pray fervently that I won’t get pulled over during my five-minute drive or that I won’t have to get out at the school for some unexpected reason. I cannot imagine the reaction if Tootie’s principal or teachers were to see me in all my jammy glory, complete with bedhead and goth eyes.

I call this slapdash routine the Mommy Walk of Shame.

Only instead of wearing last night’s clubbing clothes, I’m decked out in hubby’s softball shirt and a pair of ragged-but-oh-so-comfy PJs. And instead of calling various girlfriends to ask how badly I embarrassed myself the night before, I’m wondering what the cop will think when he pulls me over for going 5 miles over the speed limit in a school zone. In my haste to get to the school.

Most mornings, I’ve got it together. I dress Tootie for school and Hubs drops her off on his way to work. Then I get myself and the E-man dressed and drop him off at daycare on my way to the newsroom.

When Hubs is gone, however, my tidy little routine gets thrown completely off-track and I end up doing the Mommy Walk of Shame dropoff.

Behold these visions of early-morning loveliness:

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit B

Exhibit C (my jammy shirt says "Snuggle") Heh.

Exhibit C (my jammy shirt says "Snuggle Up") Heh.

Exhibit D

Exhibit D - Now this is THE Jammy Run uniform. Note flip-flops.

Arkie Mama: I touched a dead deer, but only cuz I needed a potty

Over the weekend, I took the kids down to the Buck Fever Festival, which is held in south Arkansas each year to celebrate the opening of gun season. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be dressing my kids in camo and partying in the deer woods, I would have declared them certifiably insane and laughed my ass off.

The only camo I ever purchased in my single-girl days came in the form of a skirt, which I figured would make for a cute clubbing outfit.

One day, I wore that skirt to work (yeah, I know, but women in their 20s have questionable fashion sense) and it immediately caught Hubs’ eye. At that time, we didn’t know one another, other than exchanging random hellos in the newsroom.

Anyway, Hubs saw that skirt and thought he’d finally found himself a gal who liked to hunt.

Heh.

We started dating in September 2000, and when Buck Fever rolled around, Hubs invited me down to Banks, Ark., where his family has lived for generations.

“So you’re the latest girlfriend,” Hubs’ dad said with a laugh.

I determined right then that I would somehow distinguish myself from the other women who’d been dragged down to the deer camp.

And that night, as we sat around a campfire drinking bourbon and Coke, a moment of brilliance struck.

“I’d love to go hunting tomorrow evening with you,” I purred, sidling up to an elated Hubs.

So the next day, Hubs decked me out in hunting garb. All you could see of me were my eyes — which shimmered delightfully thanks to three shades of sparkling, autumnal eyeshadow — and my hands, which boasted 10 fingers tipped with shiny, burgundy nails.

When we got to to Hubs’ favorite spot, I trotted dutifully after him, prepared to prove myself as a sporting sort of girlfriend.

“OK,” he whispered. “Sit here and DO NOT MOVE.”

I plopped down into a position that I figured I would able to hold for the 30 or so minutes I estimated it would take Hubs to get a deer.

An hour passed.

And then another.

By this time, I desperately had to pee, but I knew that Hubs would frown upon A.) moving around and B.) leaving my scent behind after a drop-and-squat. He’d already made me shower with some sort of descenting soap. I figured peeing in an area where deer roam probably wouldn’t go over too well.

Please, oh, please just let him kill a deer, I prayed.

Bear in mind, I really had no idea to see a buck die. But in my haste to prove myself as The New and Improved Girlfriend, I’d neglected to ponder the fact that I would have to witness death in the woods.

Finally, just as my potty situation was becoming truly dire, Hubs silently and speedily pointed his gun.

BAM!

“Yay!!!” I cheered, hugging him. “Now we can find a potty!”

But when Hubs tried to drag his buck out of the woods, it became clear he would need help. This was one big deer.

Crossing my legs, I mulled over my choices.

I could lag behind, maybe cop a squat when Hubs wasn’t looking. Or I could help him haul that damn deer out to the truck.

Believe me people, when I say that only a bathroom emergency would enable me to touch a dead animal.

After we heaved the buck into the truck, I ordered Hubs to take me to Grandma Hattie’s house, where a wall-papered, old-lady bathroom awaited.

And thus, my introduction and initiation to deer hunting was complete.

I married Hubs the following spring and I have never set foot near a deer stand again.

Instead, I take the kids to the Buck Fever parade, the Buck Fever catfish lunch, the Buck Fever Talent Show and the Buck Fever Beauty Pageant.

I find these activities both fun and totally surreal. And when I hear the occasional boom of gunfire, I thank my lucky stars that I got that ring on my finger before my second hunting season with Hubs.

And these days, my camo isn’t deer-woods friendly. It’s pink. And meant for sleeping.

The mighty deer hunter

The mighty deer hunter

******************************

psst … Make sure you go here for a chance to win a pair of sparkly earrings!

Arkie Mama: Wordless Wednesday

Thanksgiving, two years ago —

Cece, Tootie, me and the E-man

Cece, Tootie, me and the E-man

This is why my gorgeous stepdaughter is no longer allowed to stand next to me in family photos. She makes me look short and stumpy!

Want to participate in Wordless Wednesdays? Post a photo on your blog with a link back to me. Then I’ll list the links to all Wordless posts here.

For more Wordless Wednesday, go here:

In the Family Way

Baby & the Beasts

Mom on a Wire

Moody Mom, part one

Moody Mom, part two

She’s Crafty

Hugs & Kisses

Wheels on the Bus

Whirligiggles

Arkie Mama: I keep mothering adults

Several years ago, I sat beside my editor as he read my story. He offered a few suggestions, then asked what I thought.

I hadn’t uttered more than two sentences when he started laughing.

“You’re talking to me like you do your toddler, aren’t you?”

I froze. He was absolutely right. I was even using the Mom Voice, which made things even more embarrassing.

You’d think that by now I would have stopped lapsing into that tone, but no. These days, I have an even more annoying habit of treating my friends like my offspring. I use an arm as a barrier if we’re about to cross a street too soon. I inquire about their health in waaaaay too much detail. And as poor Moody Mom now knows, I can be a bit of a pest.

Sunday, I took her with me to the gym. I was going to my Zumba class, and Moody Mom was going to try doing her knee exercises in the pool. (She dislocated her left knee several weeks ago.) It occurred to me on the way that she might have some trouble getting in and out of the pool.

So after checking the kids into the playroom, I walked with Moody Mom to the indoor pool to check out the stair/ladder situation.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to get out?” I inquired doubtfully.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she replied, gesturing toward a set of stairs.

“Well. OK,” I said. Then I went back to the locker room.

Moments later I was in the pool area again. Moody Mom was perched on the edge, doing exercises.

“Just making sure you’re OK,” I said.

“I’m fine,” Moody Mom said with a laugh.

Moments later, I was back a third time, on the pretext of giving Moody Mom a key to our locker.

“So you’re sure you’ll be able to get out?” I asked again.

Yes,” she said. “Now go to your class.”

I spent much of Zumba imagining Moody Mom thrashing around helplessly in the pool

Can you tread water with only one working leg? What if she re-injures her knee trying to climb those steps? What if she accidentally wanders into the deep end? OMG, what if she DROWNS?!

As it turns out, Moody Mom was perfectly fine. She’d even enjoyed a leisurely soak in the whirlpool.

Still, when she accompanies me again, it will take much self-restraint to keep from ordering her to wear a pair of water wings.

Arkie Mama: Perfect Linda

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OK, so you see the guy, dead center, wearing the blue shirt? I’m to the right. And to the left is Perfect Linda, my brother-in-law’s wife.

Perfect Linda is always perfectly slender, perfectly dressed, perfectly accessorized, perfectly manicured and pedicured and just freaking perfectly perfect all the way around.

Every Easter, she cooks a massive dinner and smiles modestly when people rave about her prowess in the kitchen.

And before my mother-in-law passed away, Linda always arrived for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with a half-dozen perfectly lovely side items and perfectly decadent desserts. If, that is, she wasn’t hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas at her own house. In that case, there would also be a perfectly roasted turkey and/or a perfectly succulent ham.

This year will mark our first Thanksgiving without Hubs’ mom. Which means Perfect Linda and I will be the primary dinner contributors.

Which means I stand to lose face.

For the past five years, I have attended family dinners and huddled in the mighty shadow of Perfect Linda. Oh sure, I get compliments for my dishes. But not raves.

This year, I am declaring war. I will earn raves. I WILL!! Perfect Linda’s kitchen reign must end. No, not “reign.”

TYRANNY! That’s what this is. She must be defeated. And I want to be the one to tarnish that crown. Or at least ding it up a little.

But I need your help. (Just realized I’m now quoting Dora. Sorry.) I need easy recipes that taste deceptively complicated. I need dishes that are simple to make yet are dazzling to the eye.

help {whimper}