Monday, December 26, 2011


Family can be a word to extricate you. I have to get home to my family. Conversely it can also be a word to imply a knot to bind you. I am in the family way. I have a family obligation.

When I married Jim I gained five brothers-in-law and five sisters-in-law. (In-law is an awkward term. My brother-in-law Gus and I call our selves the outlaws because the word outlaws sounds way more badass.)

My husband’s brother Dan was the first to be married. I can't hear the song Born to Run without thinking of Dan and Lisa's wedding in 1987. They stood on a table and gave high fives as everybody ran down the dance floor. My husband was not yet my husband. We were teenagers sitting at the corner table waiting for our chance to sneak off and make out. Dan and Lisa had everything figured out. I looked up to them. They were cool and fun and above all, kind.

My wedding was five years later. Looking back I can recall my husband’s family’s kindnesses like knots on a nineteen-year long string. They are too many to name but for a sampling:

They arranged with our hotel to pay for dinner every night of our honeymoon. When Jim had just started grad school, they pre paid our motel room so we could afford to go along on the annual tree trip.

Jim's sister Anne looked after my youngest daughter when she was a baby and I had to go back to work. Anne was one of my baby's first words. Just last month Anne took my oldest on a road trip to explore college campuses.

My daughter’s aunts and uncles and cousins take them to the city, to the park, to restaurants, to ice-skating, to the beach. The cousins tell inside jokes together and appear in family photos together and share a history that began with their first memories and will stretch out into their old ages. My girls were born into an enormous web of support and love. Our family has been their greatest birthright.

After Thanksgiving this past year, Greg and Elaine gave us their gently used oven for free instead of selling it on Craigslist. It works like new. Our old stove had one working burner. Every time I make dinner now I want to weep in gratitude.

Ed and Kristine have the loveliest children you've ever met. Ed and Kristine were brave enough to have six and they are gentle and beautiful and intelligent and so kind to each other that you just want to watch them be together because it makes you feel better about the world.

Any time I've needed advice Tom has made time to talk with me despite his busy schedule. Tom and Kirsten hosted Christmas Eve and ordered cracked crab for everybody and compiled a photo slideshow of twenty years of tree trips and summer vacations and times together. Kirsten is so good at taking pictures.

Last night Dan and Lisa hosted Christmas dinner. They are still cool and fun and kind. They still love Bruce Springsteen and have a signed Born to Run poster hanging up in their TV room.

At dinner Anne’s husband Gus sat next to me and said he knows that I will make it as a writer. He said it is just a matter of time. I felt like weeping in gratitude.

We snapped Christmas poppers and donned paper crowns. We wedged in at long tables, some of our children older than I was at Dan and Lisa’s wedding. They are strapping, self-confident, good people with the integrity and self-sufficiency of their fathers and mothers. We said our Grace together before eating and I said my own private prayer too.

Because lately I have been feeling at loose ends in my life. Because last night I was reminded that when I married the best person I’ve ever met the day after Christmas nineteen years ago, I also tethered myself to the good and loving people he came from.

Our family.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let Them Know It's Christmas Time

Some things about Christmas time I like:

Live Aid Singing Feed The World
Every one is so hopeful and beautiful and pleased with themselves. I was fourteen when that song came out and it made my heart as big as a cathedral. Who is that beautiful Marilyn guy with the pissed off girl way of walking and the long coat? I love that guy. You see and hear how earnest and nervous Bono is? That's how I feel ninety percent of the time. It's not an easy way to go through life. At least he found a way to make money off it. I could listen to this song nine million times in a row and not get tired of it.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby Singing Little Drummer Boy

David Bowie freaks me out. I dream about him now and then and we are always old friends. He's always glad to see me. Bing Crosby seems like an evil person what with beating the crap out of his sons and all. But even Bing turns good for the length of a song in the presence of magic David Bowie. This video is maybe the weirdest two and half minutes in the history of videos. This video makes me want to bite somebody.

Scrooge (1951)

Jacob Marley forces Scrooge to look out the window at all the ghosts in chains floating around the poor lady sitting in the snow. That is my favorite scene in the whole movie. Scares me so. Ghosts are awesome. Christmas is so haunted and I knew it all along. Charles Dickens knew it and this film footage proves it.

Going on the Tree Trip Every year the Wankets descend on Mt. Shasta like a giant 40 person J. Crew catalog gang come to life only way smarter and even better looking. God forbid a Wanket get a tree the simple way in the Save Mart parking lot. Nay, a Wanket gets a permit and drives three hundred miles from home to a remote mountain road only then to park and then walk a mile or more to find the perfect tree and then cut it down with a hacksaw.

Jim does all the driving and all the work and I eat snacks and sit around the fire in the middle of the woods and talk with my sisters and brothers-in-law and my nieces and nephews. We laugh like crazy and tell jokes so inappropriate that we had to go out into the middle of the woods to say them out loud. I laugh so hard that it feels like I did sit ups after. Then we go back to the hotel and soak in the hot tub and swim. Then we cram ourselves into one suite and eat potluck chili dinners and ask one another questions from Trivial Pursuit cards while the kids play hide and seek.

The Tree Trip is awesome. The Tree Trip is the meaning of life.

Chewy Brach's Peppermint Candies With The Christmas Tree In The Middle

Those are awesome and also the meaning of life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

I had a bit of a rough day at work. High school teaching is no joke. Well it's kind of a joke, but not a funny one when you are the brunt of it.

But then I came home and made dinner and watched my shows and now my troubles melt like lemon drops. Because as hard as it is at Christmas time to impart the urgency of learning how to read and write properly to teenagers, at least I don't. . . . .

. . .have the CIA, a major drug cartel and two Oakland gangs after me. Neither is the love of my life an arms dealer. The love of my life drove our second grader and two of her friends to Bouncetown this afternoon with the Girl Scout troop. He's pretty much the best dad ever. In other words, my life in no way resembles a Shakespearean tragedy. I like that about my life. Also, my parents weren't criminal gangsters. Have I thanked them for that recently?

. . .need to watch out for undead cannibals.
On foggy days as I stand at my classroom door, I see my students coming towards me out of the mist. The worst they ever act is grumpy. They may drag their feet some, especially in the morning, but they never eat my dog or gut my horse or chew on my arm. And God bless them for it.

. . .work in a basement.
When I asked politely for a room with windows, my administration arranged for me to have it. Overhead lighting causes me to have soul shattering headaches. I don't get those often anymore now that I am in a room with windows. If I had to work one more year in a room with no windows, I would wish for someone to chew on my arm and just put me out of my misery already. Boy am I glad I can see the sky whenever I want to.

I forgot to feel grateful for the absence of murder, mayhem and florescent lighting today. Almost forgot, that is. Thanks, television. I feel better already.