I’m a flittery, fluttery, ADD elf.

Merry W. Va. Fur and Root

Yesterday, I started pulling stuff out of one of the closets-I’m-afraid-of with the intention of putting up, out, in or on every single Christmas-type decoration I owned.

Ahem. My ambition is admirable.

Today, I finished denuding the closet, trashed the kitchen, living-dining room, two halls, the staircase and the bay window in the process. I hauled out 4 contractor-sized garbage bags of Stuff-I’m-Never-In-A-Thousand-Years-Gonna-Use.

More of The Boy's Christmas Stuff

In doing all that, I ran across treasures I’d forgotten about – chiefly, the nativity set I “painted” for my son to put under his tree as well as the stuffed animals that lived in his tree’s branches.

[The story of “his” tree will have to be another post.]

The house was trashed and rather than attend to matters at hand, I ended up hanging forgotten dangly lights from the kitchen windows which means tomorrow I have to go in search of ribbon or fabric or something to give it a “finished” look as well as something for extension cord management. While looking for the extension cords, I ended up sort-of cleaning the laundry room and cleaning out the gift-wrap storage box. [You’ll note in the photo that I haven’t, actually, managed to put the decorations on the kitchen counter tree.]

As my dad would say, "Where's the stick?"

While all that was going on, the “big tree” was horizontal in the living room and I continued to flitter and flutter my ADD self about the house doing everything but attending to the mess in that room – a mess my dad would have commented on by saying, “Where’s the stick?” If I hadn’t heard that question several times a year since the year I was born, I might have responded with “What stick, Daddy?”

The stick you used to stir this mess up with.

I have gotten the tree vertical and the lights are all working without hours of futzing – a Christmas miracle. So, I’m cooking with gas now. I won’t finish it tonight, but I hadn’t expected to. Even so, the Barn is beginning to look very festive and I’m feeling virtuous with the dejunking I’ve done.

More importantly, I’m feeling very grateful for the life I’ve lived in which I’ve loved and been loved. Much of this stuff is imbued with memories that have kept me teary-eyed either from laughter or the bittersweet contemplation of people and times past. Decorating the “big tree” has always been a good-cry event. I’ve not even begun and the tears are flowing. If I get into the wine while unpacking the boxes littering the big room, I’m really going to be a spectacle.

The “Little Tree” and The Nutcracker Suite

Godfather Drosselmeier

Well. It’s about time.

I’m in full-blown Christmas cleaning/decorating/wrapping mode. There’s not that much to wrap and if UPS can’t figure out how to get up my hill, there may be next to nothing to wrap.

No matter.

I’m putting up the “little tree” and I’ve got The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture on the VHS player. Yes. Video TAPE. I suppose I ought to go about procuring it on DVD.

Tchaikovsky is filling the air and I’m a ballerina en pointe arabesquing about the house in a Martha Stewart Meets Minny Pearl mashup of holiday décor.

[I keep pricetags on some of the “priceless” ornaments as I think it may amuse my great-great-children to see what my treasures cost.]

The Prince and Clara

Back during a different geologic era when I was a youngun, I happened upon The Nutcracker Ballet on television. I’ve always thought it was PBS, but I’m not sure. This version of the ballet has reached legendary status in my mind because I can’t find a copy of it anywhere and I can’t find anyone who even knows what I’m talking about. I do remember watching it once a year from about the age of 9 or so through junior high – 1968 to 1973. Maybe earlier, maybe later.

This version opened with large double doors opening slowly to show the mother lighting the candles on the Christmas tree. That opening scene took the breath of the little girl I once was. So much so that I have worshipped Christmas trees ever since. To the point that I have candles on my Christmas tree – though never lit. And so much so that it’s just not Christmas without watching The Nutcracker.

Sugar Plum Fairy

In my early 20s, I saw the Milwaukee Ballet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform the piece. Cross my heart, it was one of the best versions ever. I particularly remember the eroticism of “the silk scarf” wrapping herself around the gift recipient’s neck. The entire audience gasped.

Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are joined forces with the Pacific Northwest Ballet company and the lot of them produced The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture which was released in 1986. It’s a lush, gorgeous, edgy, hypnotic piece of Christmas tradition. It doesn’t haven’t a silk scarf to get the juices of the audience flowing, but it has other charms.

When I first procured the tape, the Ex and Chef Boy ‘R Mine were less than pleased I was pre-empting football playoffs to watch it. The Ex wandered off, but The Boy and I were glued to it. The next year I had it playing while preparing Christmas dinner. My brother arrived early. The next thing I knew, he and my son were sprawled on the floor, hands propping chins, and so thoroughly engrossed my brother didn’t hear me ask if he wanted a beer. [Possibly the first time my brother didn’t hear the offer of a beer.]

There’s a reason these things become classics. Experts will tell you this is one Tchaikovsky’s worst pieces of music. Ballet folk insist the ballet is mediocre at best. The two of them twirled together in snow, candy canes and twinkle lights are a gestalt that defies explanation. Having watched the whole thing, twice through while I decorate the tree, the holidays now feel like a joyous, magical time and not the period of obligations they felt like yesterday.

Lord! Is it ever going to be done?

Christmas trees are my favorite part of the holiday and the “little tree” took flippin’ forever to put up, in part, because I kept resting on Memory Lane. This tree is comprised of all the ornaments most likely to please children, big and small. It’s out of control and tomorrow I have to fiddle with it to find room for the ornaments from my childhood that my mother is giving me. At the moment it’s covered in Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek, The Nutcracker, 12 Days of Christmas, bears, cows, pigs, flamingos, Green Bay Packers, dogs, Santas, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, M&Ms, lobsters and Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s ornaments made in school. It’s a treasure.

Tomorrow, I’ll start the the “big tree” – a truly monumental undertaking.  While the “little tree” is all whimsy and chaos, the “big tree” is all elegance and sparkle.  It too will provoke stop-overs on Memory Lane.  Most of the ornaments were chosen with care to provoke remembrance of people, events, places and things.  And it’s dubbed the “big tree” because the amount of stuff on it is testament to my penchant for excess.

O.K. Mostly done!

But, it’s all good. Last year, what with one thing and another, I didn’t decorate at all. This year, it’s all coming out and going up, down, on or in. Most of it will be up for months as I’m using this time of relatively empty closets to paint them, shelf them, and, ahem, organize the hell out of them.  There will be whining.  Right now, however, I’m glorying in my favorite part of the holiday – Christmas trees.

I hope that right now you are doing what it is that you most love about this time of year. And if you’re not, that you will be soon. Now, of course, you and I both realize that the best part of this time of year is spending time with the folks we love. I’ve been doing some of that and will be doing more of it in the days to come, but right now I’m in a decorating frenzy and loving every second of it.

The Beautiful Babette

The Beautiful Babette

The heat and humidity of this summer is fading. It’s been rough on all of us – all of us being me and the three dogs.

What I thought was just heat-induced malaise turned out to be my incorrigible thyroid further torturing me. And if that wasn’t enough, the monthly shots that have kept my pernicious anemia under control for years became insufficient. It’s a double whammy – both disorders provoke exhaustion.

Like most areas of my life, the puppies were neglected while I slept away every nonworking hour. A routine visit to the doctor led to some blood work and – voila! – I was prescribed an increased dose of synthroid and my monthly B12 shots are now weekly.

I’m beginning to feel like myself again. This is a good thing, because the health department was getting ready to condemn my house and the dogs were fixin’ to run away from home. Indeed, two of them did.

The Traveling Toddlers

Chef Boy ‘R Mine called last spring and broached the subject of whether or not Terrific Trudy and Wonderful Willy could go live with him. Hell, yes, I said.

The three dogs have been a huge part of my life, but I’ve been a terrible dog owner for some time. My work schedule (and malaise) meant that walks in the park and cuddling on the couch came to a complete stop. The puppies spent a lot of time alone. I consoled myself with the fact that they do entertain one another, but it was clear they were puzzled and saddened by my neglect.

The Familiar Boy and the New Yard

Labor Day weekend, my mom and I did a shotgun trip to Charlotte to deliver the two youngest dogs to my son who had just moved into a dog-friendly house. Again, I felt guilty – this time because leaving them produced little sorrow, probably because I know my son will adore them and they now have a huge fenced yard to frolic in. Still, I wonder at the ease with which I gave them up.

So, it’s just Babette, the shih tzu, and I these days – two old grand dames enjoying one another’s company. She was a rescue dog and I’m not certain of her age. The vet guesses she’s about 14.

The vet and I are also baffled by her skin disorder. Babette scratches near constantly which provokes hot spots, lesions and whatnot. All sorts of remedies, prescription and otherwise, have been tried. The only one that works is puppy steroids and her kidneys are too ancient for a daily dose.

Checking out the new yard.

My mother, bless her heart, worried about Babette rattling around alone in the house while I’m at work. Babette was often disgusted by the antics of The Toddlers, but she also was accustomed to sleeping with Trudy and Willy, and, some times, playing with them. Mom is now operating Doggy Daycare. Each morning, Babette and I get in the car, drive the few yards down the hill to Mom’s house and drop her off.

Babette loves going to Grandma’s house. After just a few days of the new routine, she dances and prances, eager to get going, as soon as she sees me pour coffee in my car mug.

Pitiful, I tell you. Pitiful!

Mom is an optimist. She is convinced that with proper care, various lotions, etc. etc. Babette will stop scratching. When her care had no effect, Mom got really serious about it. I arrived home one day to find a pitiful little dog. So pitiful that being the terrible Puppy Mama I am, I burst into laughter.

Mom had shaved every square inch of Babette except for her face. The Beautiful Babette looks like some sort of mutant rat. It’s just pitiful.

And Mom did this when the temps started dropping and nighttime in this house is downright cold. For the first time in her life, Babette shivers. For years, she has refused to get under the dog blankets preferring to sleep on top of them. Both of us now cocoon deep in the down comforter – something else Babette adores about her new life, sleeping with Mom.

Shaving Babette has had no effect on the scratching, but we’re both adapting quite well to life without The Toddlers. Her fur grows fast and I’m afeared that after re-growth, she’ll quit burrowing deep into the covers with me.

We’re both glad to see this long, hot summer come to an end. It’s been a trial, but things are looking up. I can stay awake and Babette is getting lots of attention. It’s all good.

Eat, Pray, Love – Book and Movie Review

For a couple of years, I had to push Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, out of my way. At the bookstore, a copy was invariably obscuring the book I wanted. I pushed it aside and carried on. The Amazon site, using their crazy little matrix, determined sometime ago that based on my purchases I had to be interested in the book. I didn’t click. At a friend’s house, normally freakishly neat, I had to move it off the chair seat to sit down. At the grocery store, a copy was sitting on top of the bag of spinach I was trying to buy. These instances played out against the merciless promotion of the book for the past year or so as the movie version starring Julia Roberts was filmed, edited, and just as unmercifully promoted.

I think it was the Spinach Event that provoked surrender. Soon thereafter, I was at the bookstore, the memoir was on sale and I bought it. If one wants to get all New Age-y (and at times I do), it can be said the Universe wanted me to read this book.

I settled into the coffee shop with a large mocha and began reading.

I had resisted the book after reading its description. My take was that some 30-something narcissistic chickie with a life most of us envy was wallowing in the pain of an existential hangnail. I didn’t want to read Liz Gilbert, I wanted to smack her. And, generally speaking, I’m opposed to violence.

I also do not read nonfiction for the most part. No matter how much a novel mirrors real life, my emotions are sufficiently kept in check by that fiction label.

I’m real emotional these days.

While pregnant, I was a bundle of hormonal, hair-trigger emotions. In the space of 30 seconds or so, I could go from despair and rage to sprawling on the floor, howling with laughter while banging my fists. I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was mad, because my hormones were rocketing throughout my body. There was the very memorable Spilled Coke event in which I happened upon a spilled fountain drink in a parking lot. There was a puddle of Coke. A popped lid. A mangled straw. I sobbed. Some child, I’m sure, used an entire week’s allowance to buy that Coke, stumbled and lost it all. I sobbed for nearly an hour.

The menopause hormonal imbalance is a lot like that of pregnancy. Funny is hysterical, sad is total despair, and heart-warming just annihilates me.

Nobody told me Eat, Pray Love was laugh-out-loud-in-public-until-you-snort-whipped-cream funny. People with perfectly intact hormone systems tell me it’s not just me. The book is funny. And it’s sad. And it’s heart-warming.

I read it twice. I never read anything twice.

And, yes, it’s about a near-40-something chickie with a life most of us would envy plunged into despair over an existential hangnail. Gilbert’s hangnail was a painful divorce and a painful mid-divorce love affair – a divorce she initiated for reasons she chooses not to detail.

I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her to get some perspective. But (1) I was too busy laughing because (2) she realizes how out-of-proportion her misery is and makes so much fun of herself I didn’t need to. It’s the depth of her misery that spurs her plan to travel Italy, India and Bali for a year – not the life events. And I had to hand it to her. After my life events of the past few years, if I could pull off running away from home for a year to get a grip, I’d be at the post office renewing my passport this second.

I loved the book. I want to hang out with Liz Gilbert and eat a fine meal somewhere.

I stated emphatically that I wouldn’t see the movie.

The movie arrived here on Thursday and at 6 p.m. on Friday my mother, who hadn’t read the book, and I were sitting mid-theater watching previews. Upon walking into the theater, I asked two women exiting if the movie was any good. One said it was and the other said, “It was okay.”

I neither like nor dislike Julia Roberts. I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, but don’t regard any of them as works of art. Since Hollywood doesn’t produce art that often, I don’t expect art from a movie. I go to be entertained. In the case of this movie, the reviewers were all over the place – it’s good, it’s bad, it’s okay – but all agreed the scenery was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery.

I loved the movie. I laughed through much of it. I cried through much of it. (I’m just a spectacle these days.)

The movie departs from the book in some key areas, but does so in the spirit of the book. I hadn’t been interested in the movie because I thought there’s no way to tell Liz’s story visually without losing the spirit of the book. Well. I was wrong.

Mom, who hadn’t read the book, thought the movie was wonderful.

For the past month or so, I’ve been compulsively reading reviews of the book and the movie trying to get a handle on why I liked the book so much. My best guess is because it’s funny – I’m a sucker for humor. Now, I’m going to have to puzzle the movie out. The movie provokes some laughter, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about love, but it’s not a love story.

I’ll probably see the movie a second time. I never watch a movie twice.