One more brief paws…

I promise we will get back to the books next week.

But today I’m on a different page, a last chapter, and somehow can’t move on until I say goodbye.

He wasn’t our dog. But he was our very dear friend. Oliver, the gentlest of giants, has taken his leave, and that has left us all so very sad.

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From a squinting distance, Oliver could easily be mistaken for a small horse. His personality was as big as he was – I always thought he must have been a knight or a nobleman in a previous life.  He was a big guy with big thoughts. Usually his own thoughts. He didn’t so much do what you told him. He took your commands under advisement. And then did more or less as he pleased. In a very dignified manner.

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Unless it was his mom saying “Leave it!” In which case he snapped to. He knew who was boss.

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Oliver loved his family so.

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And I like to think that he sort of loved ours. He was the precious link in the chain from Chloe and Soho to Lily.

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He was Lily’s first and best buddy. He taught her how to be a dog: “No, you may NOT. EVER. eat out of my bowl.”

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“Ok. Whatever you say, Ollie.”

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Bring Oliver!“, the CE would say whenever their family planned to stop by. Because everything was just better if Oliver was there.

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Oliver liked to lean. Whenever he visited, he would lean and lean against my knee. Not, likely, because he was so enamored of me, but most definitely enamored with the treats I gave him.

Oliver came to visit with us for a morning a few weeks back. We didn’t know it was the last time. The treats were on a high shelf because of Oliver’s penchant for rifling through things to get at them. One bully stick is all I gave him. And now I wish I had showered the whole bag of them upon him.

A dog’s days are so very short, and for that matter, ours as well. We should probably take more walks, eat more treats, romp in the waves at the beach and lean, lean, lean against those we love. Every chance we get.

Farewell, dear Ollie. Thank you for sharing some of your days with us.

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Hacked by a Russian!

Regret to inform you the reading recap has been temporarily interrupted by a Russian invasion:

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It’s been all cat-caphony here since he arrived. His arrival to us, from Seattle to Ontario, CA, to us was quite a caper, but nothing compared to the miles his father, Tiffanikiss Totosha of Rain City Silvers racked up traveling from Russia to the U.S.

Still, this little guy’s journey is one for the books. We learned that breeder Anne-Marie Burrell would be flying to CA from Seattle and was willing to bring him along, but it would be the same day we were flying to San Francisco. Oh no!

Our friend, Tammy, took one look at this guy’s baby photos and decided it had to happen. She called her friend, Hannah, who, with her sister riding shotgun, made the drive from LA to pick up the baby in Ontario and then deliver him to Santa Barbara.

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Our intrepid friend and house sitter, Christi, stepped right up and said she would be only too happy to deal with a coop full of hens, our dog, Lily, brand new rescue cat, The Countess, and the arrival of a baby kitten.

Here’s the crew that made it happen!

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Thanks so much, all!

Christi put in a LONG week while we were away, keeping the cats separate but equal and attending to Lily, who, oh by the way, had gone into heat. Did I mention Christi is a house sitter par excellence? We arrived home just in time to discover that our sweet, teeny tiny kitten had come up with some big ideas. Mostly in regard to open borders vs building the wall. He must be KGB.

The Countess has gone from being um are you kidding me? to horrified, to displaying an ever so mild interest. We are hopeful of detente – who needs another Cold War?

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Lily just desperately wants to play with this little fluff ball:

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So far, it has the makings of one big happy animal family:

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As for the humans, we are (happily) EXHAUSTED. “When does he slow down?”, I asked Anne-Marie about the purring tornado that has taken over our lives. “I guess I should have warned you,” she responded. “This unit does not come with an off button!!”

As a nod to his Russian heritage we’ve been thinking of calling him Mischa, although after the last chaotic 24 hours, we might go with Rasputin, instead.

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And no, there will be no further cat-quisitions. One Countess and a Russian Revolution is quite enough for us, thank you very much!

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2019 Reading Recap: Series-ously; The Aubrey-Maturin novels

Maybe I just have commitment issues. I tend to steer away from series in my reading. They go on and on, they loom over one’s reading like the house guest who never leaves. One and done is more my style.

But I did make that herculean commitment to marriage once upon a time and in the daze of those vows I somehow missed the one about “whither thou readest, I also will read“.

I should have known I was in trouble when the CE’s new imaginary friends began to people our daily conversations. “Jack has fallen on hard times – if they catch him he goes to debtor’s prison.” “Jack who?” I asked. “And is debtor’s prison a thing again?” Ignoring my question he rushed on…”And Stephen has adopted a gibbon. Her name is Cassandra.”

Hmmmm…

And then the dreaded phrase, spoken just a trifle too unctuously, so as to make it impossible to demur: “You really, really need to read these books.”

Boom. The gauntlet had been laid down. An unspoken rule in our marriage is that a few times a year one can hand a book to the other and speak those words. This is how I once opened the CE’s world to Willa Cather and Edith Wharton. It’s only fair, I suppose, that I must then sail the high seas with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, protagonists of Patrick O’Brian’s celebrated nautical novel series.

Never heard of it? Oh yes you have. Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin sailed into film history with this movie in 2003:

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It was captivating, and so are the novels, even if you have absolutely no interest in 1) the nineteenth century, 2) the Napoleonic Wars, 3) the Royal Navy, 4) sea-faring arcana, 5) exotic animals and rare birds or 6) world travel.

I did struggle a bit with the original book, Master and Commander (published 1969, 457 pages). I don’t know a xebec from a felucca and the details of sail rigging are beyond me. But the opening pages set on the island of Minorca, and the unlikely friendship struck between the affable and determined Royal Navy captain Aubrey and Maturin, the ship’s surgeon and naturalist with many secrets, were undeniably intriguing. What with their banter and their spats and the spirited chamber music they played when Jack brought out his violin and Stephen his cello, the erudite author O’Brian reeled me in.

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Book two is Post Captain, (published 1972, 529 pages) which features a love triangle, the aforementioned financial woes and the simian Cassandra, as well as a fiery sea battle. Jack wears a bear suit and Stephen’s shadowy double life becomes evident.

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Third in the series is H.M.S. Surprise (published 1973, 406 pages). I finally got my sea legs with this book, sailing from France to Ibiza to Brazil to India (there is an entire online mapping project of the series for serious aficionados) and encountering hirundines (look it up – and get used to it;  you’ll spend half your reading of these books looking things up!), sloths, fruit bats and tortoises.

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Book four is The Mauritius Command (published 1977, 369 pages). With each book, the writing gets better and better, the plots more intricate, and the character development more sophisticated. Come for Master and Commander, but stay for the rest – you will soon have Jack and Stephen as your own imaginary friends! This voyage sails the Indian Ocean with dramatic naval action on Réunion Island.

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Desolation Island (published 1978, 351 pages) is the fifth book in the series, and features an homage and an echo to Mutiny on the Bounty. And, should you think it’s just more masts and rigging, keep in mind that Stephen has acquired both a laudanum addiction, and a pair of hands from a corpse that he keeps in a jar. Jack faces subversion from the crew as they encounter the doldrums off the coast of West Africa and suffer a typhus epidemic on the ship. Dare I say that this one is a page-turner?

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In all, there are twenty-one books in what has become known as the Aubrey-Maturin series. The CE, of course, has read them all and will badger me until I do, also. Next up is The Fortune of War (published 1979, 355 pages) and I can’t wait to set out on the sea again with my good friends Jack and Stephen.

 

 

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2019 Reading Recap: Let there be lightweights.

Time for the annual backward glance on the reading year…

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I read once, somewhere, that reading anything is good for you. I don’t know if I believe that. I used to draw the line at comic books, cereal boxes and appliance instruction manuals but life has conspired to toss some books my way this past year that actually make the booklet for my infernally complicated coffeemaker look like a candidate for a Pulitzer prize by comparison.

Looking back, I realize some of it is due to my burgeoning appetite for audiobooks. Since I apparently can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, the listened-to books have to come down a notch in seriousness. Driving (and in my case, walking, or, oh let’s just say – even breathing) under the influence of classic literature can be dangerous.

There are also the book club picks by friends who might actually have lives and don’t wish to spend them entirely on parsing Joyce or Herodotus. The light read is part and parcel of the sociability of a book club and if not particularly satisfying can almost always still be enjoyable.

Almost always. There was one absolutely dreadful read this year and I am here to save you from it. But first: eight worthy lightweights of 2019:

  1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, audiobook, narrated by Hayley Atwell. 656 pages. Published 1987.

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A generational family saga set variously and most agreeably in London, Cornwall, the Cotswolds and Mallorca. Penelope Keeling is the family matriarch and the keeper of a suddenly quite valuable inherited painting, an event that brings out the best and worst in her various adult children. Recommended.

2. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, Kindle, 224 pages. Published 1989.

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This was a re-read for book club and just as much fun the second time around. Of course you know the story; Mayle and his wife decide to move from England to full-time residency at their Provençal vacation home. Hilarity ensues as they encounter remodeling and cultural challenges.

3. The Paris Architect: A Novel by Charles Belfoure, audiobook, narrated by Mark Bramhall. 400 pages. Published 2013.

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The subject is plenty serious – the grim fate of Jews in Paris under the Nazis during WWII and an architect who reluctantly and then passionately takes on the task of designing hiding places for them. Belfoure is himself an architect and has clearly researched the history and subject matter well. But his writing style is not (at least not yet – this is his first novel)  of a caliber that would raise this novel to the level of literature. The characters come off as cardboard cut-outs. I’m lukewarm on this one.

4. Paris by the Book: A Novel by Liam Callanan, audiobook, read by Kim Bubbs. 365 pages. Published 2018.

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Paris again, and what’s not to like? But this family drama that reads like a mystery is just a tad too pat and a tad implausible. As my college writing professor said, a story has to suspend the reader’s sense of disbelief and this one did not. Still, it’s Paris, so there’s that…

5. What She Gave Away (Santa Barbara Suspense #1) by Catharine Riggs. 337 pages. Paperback. Published 2018.

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I love it when people give me books as gifts! A quick and surprisingly compelling read. Not my usual genre – I guess you could say Riggs is poised to become the next Sue Grafton given that this reads like a mystery and is set in Santa Barbara. Not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if it wasn’t for the fun of all the hometown landmarks, but Riggs is a smart writer and keeps things moving. Good character development of an unlikable protagonist and, in fact, there really isn’t anyone to like here, as the characters range from vapid to vicious, but almost everyone gets what they deserve in the end.

6. Grievance by Christine Bell. 284 pages. Audiobook, read by Shannon McManus. Published 2017.

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Another “not my usual genre” book, which I would likely never have read except that we sat next to the very charming author at a local restaurant and struck up a conversation about books, only to find that she was the author of this one. It centers around a young widow in Nashville, Tennessee who is struggling to carry on with parenting her two young sons alone. And since when it rains it pours, she also discovers that she has acquired a murderous stalker. I guess you would call it a psychological thriller, one that is meticulously crafted, although creepily so.

7. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. 190 pages. Paperback. Published 1933.

Well, it’s a classic, right? It seems I’ve somehow always known about detective Nick and Nora Charles and their dog, Asta, but somehow never read the book until it was assigned for a book club. Quick read, kinda smart and definitely smart alec-y, but honestly not all that interesting except for wondering why Nora is so content with Nick, who always has a cocktail in his hand and another woman clinging to his arm. I guess things were different in the ’30’s.

8. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Audiobook narrated by the author. 288 pages. Published 2013.

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And end-of-the-year listen with low expectations, which turned out to be a good thing. The best parts (truly excellent!) are lifted from previous publication in The New Yorker. The second best parts are riffs on Sedaris’ childhood, which isn’t an easy time for anyone, but apparently much more difficult if your father wears his underpants to the dinner table every night and your parents are in general somewhat benignly neglectful. Sedaris has a gift for finding humor, and sometimes poignancy, in the mundane and in the general feeling of alienation from the world that we know as the “human condition”. But it’s as if he ran out of material and gas about three-quarters of the way through and went for the easy laughs – “I know, I’ll spend 75 pages making fun of people for their political and religious views.” Maybe he was on deadline. I’d just like to have my $13 back.

And now, the biggest favor I can do for you is to warn you about the worst of the worst, the very worst book I read all year or possibly any year:

9. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Bali Kaur Jaswal. 314 pages. Kindle. Published 2017.

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I think someone in a book club thought this would be a fun “summer read”. And then I suspect even she regretted it. The title is terrible and it just gets worse from there. It’s set in Southall, London, where second-generation Punjabis Nikki and Mindy navigate bi-cultural challenges with a murder thrown in for good measure. The thing is, the author is actually a pretty good writer, but the book is so, so dreadfully terrible. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe you will love it, but it was most definitely not my cup of chai.

 

 

 

 

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Family Album: it was very, very, VERY merry.

Not a creature is stirring, because they’ve all gone home, but we had a houseful, and the best Christmas ever.

Auntie Gail arrived first, and then Taylor.

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Ron joined Gail this year and we were all – especially Lily – happy to see him.

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Then Daniel arrived, who, like everyone else, was instantly smitten with The Countess. (Ummm…still no permanent name; currently trying out “Trinket” but not sure how well it rolls off the tongue…)

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And oh, we think Taylor likes her, too!

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Granny joined the crew for a pre-holiday dinner…

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And then the group grew, and soon included Moo. Let’s just say that these two were just too too…I don’t know how Angie ever got this shot of them standing still.

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By Christmas Eve, the gang was all here. We went to afternoon church at the beach and then dinner.

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There was a surprise Christmas Eve visit from our long-lost friend Liz…

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And then Angie read to the little ones. Our copy of The Night Before Christmas book could not be found, but fortunately How the Grinch Stole Christmas made an excellent last-minute substitute.

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At long last, everyone trundled off to bed and once again, magically, Santa came.

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He left some most interesting presents under that tree. This Christmas will be remembered ever so fondly as the Year of the Chin-Ja. Thanks a lot, Ang. (And people wonder how it is that he is still single…)

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It was also the year of the shirt. Each one perfectly tailored to the weirdness level of its recipient.

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Granny was a busy gift-giver and getter…

And Randy joined us for the first time this year. He wasted no time getting into our quirky Christmas spirit.

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Tina, John and family in a rare moment of repose…

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And don’t worry – the little girls made sure the critters were not neglected.

Daniel and Angie pulled off another three-layer jello mold success. Those Midwestern throwback genes run deep…

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Oh, and our 31-lb. turkey will go down in family history as the best bird ever:

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To cap it all off, Uncle Taylor led Evie, Viv and Caleigh on a Christmas present scavenger hunt complete with night-vision goggles:

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There was a Loop walk;

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And a beach walk;

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And then suddenly, it was over. Everyone gone. The house has gone from very, very merry to very, very quiet.

Shhh…we’re resting up for next year.

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Cat’s out of the bag.

Ah, Christmas came early this year.

You know what would be at the top of the list of “Things We Need Like A Hole In The Head Two Weeks Before Christmas”? Yes, exactly. A cat.

The CE made a detour from all that holiday shopping he does (insert smirk emoji here…) and dropped by a local cat shelter. Came home all a-flutter. “You’ve got to come see this cat!” he insisted. Yeah, yeah, right. I’d been checking out the kitten situation recently and, while all kittens are adorable, I hadn’t yet seen our purr-fect companion.

“No. I mean it. Not a kitten, a cat. You’ve got to see her.”

No, I said, waving him off. I want a kitten. And was always have male cats. And what I’ve really got to do is get ready for Christmas.

Well, if you know me, you know I married the original Immovable Object. So off we went to the shelter. With Lily in tow. In her Christmas best.

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Lily was required to have an “evaluation” before these thorough folks at ASAP were going to entrust a cat to our care.

Lily performed, um, dismally. She was led up to a sort of cat aviary, where a dozen or so felines perched haughtily on various chairs and shelves. “Tell her not to look at them”, was the command from the cat shelter honcho.

This was a stunning request. Lily can be admittedly a bit casual about commands in general. And this one was absolutely not in her wheelhouse. Not look at the cats? Forget it! She stared longingly at each one in turn. Not because she wanted to eat them, we tried to explain. But because she wants to be their friend. Really!

I thought we would be turned away on the spot since Lily was clearly canine non grata. Fine by me, I had shopping to do. But no, they relented and led us to a “visiting room”. And suddenly, our world changed.

Imagine that you’re sitting in a a random lobby somewhere and, say, Audrey Hepburn or Sophia Loren or maybe Grace Kelly enters the room. And doesn’t just walk in, but arrives in a manner that lets you know clearly you are in the presence of someone very special. You can almost hear the background music swell to a crescendo.

This was our first glimpse of her:

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“This is Olivia”, said the shelter volunteer. “She’s royalty,” he said in a almost reverent tone.

The markings. The crystal blue eyes. The fur! Her fur is like the gossamer wings of a fairy princess. Seriously. One touch and you are smitten. My first thought, when I remembered to breathe again, was what is this cat doing at the shelter? 

According to her paperwork, she is a 5-year-old lynx point Ragdoll, formerly used for breeding, and then somehow embarked upon a downward spiral of unknown circumstances that ultimately led her to be surrendered, full of fleas and mats, to the shelter. She is like a character out of a tragic novel, and if you can think of which one, please let me know, as she needs a new name. We have a human Olivia in our life and thus need a new moniker for this pretty girl.

I started thinking of names before we even completed the paperwork to bring her home. My top choice was Circe, the misunderstood goddess exiled to the remote island of Aeaea. “Pretentious”, harrumphed the CE, who wants to call her “Biscuit”. But I just don’t think that ones rolls off the tongue very well. Maybe Biscotti, if her nickname can be Bisou? Cookie? Or Misu, short for Tiramisu? Or Calla, to go with Lily? Please feel free to weigh in on this!

For the moment, she is being referred to as The Countess, and commenced to reign over us within minutes of arriving home.

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Oh, and that delinquent of ours, Lily? She has willingly assumed the role as unworthy acolyte to the new regent, worshipping her constantly from afar and not so far. And stares at her constantly. Just like the rest of us!

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“Ho, hum, here she comes again…”

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Looking for love in all the wrong places…

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“All right, I will let you kiss my nose.”

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“Dogs are such simpletons…”

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She came to us with a bit of a rap sheet for some inappropriate behavior, but has behaved impeccably since she arrived. Maybe she was just waiting for more devoted subjects than she had in the past. So far, so good. And all The Countess needs for Christmas is a name…

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‘Tis the Season.

The season of sheer panic, that is.

Yes, it is the Season of Giving and it is is giving me (and possibly you) nothing but headaches.

I have Santa envy. I no longer want to play Santa. I want to be Santa. He gets to loll about all year at the North Pole with zero distractions, overseeing an army of elves who do all the work. By the holiday season, all he has to do is make a list and check it twice. That’s do-able! And you know what else? He can wear the same outfit to every single Christmas party and be praised for it. Best of all, he can put a few pounds on every year and get cheered for it.  Nobody even thinks of gifting him a Peloton. (You know the backstory, right?)

About those elves. I know it’s real because one of them came to visit us on Christmas Day last year.Alan elf with all the kids Christmas Day 2018

He handed out candy canes and told everyone that they were on the “Nice List” and you know what? I think they were much more excited about that than how many packages were under the tree. This leads me to think about serious things. Deep philosophical things. Like: Could I convince the CE to wear that Elf costume?

My Christmas journey began, as all grief does, with denial. Then there was stunned shock and now I’ve moved on to the aforementioned panic. In the coming week I suspect there will be bargaining and then, hopefully, acceptance. I am prepared to surrender to whatever happens with that three-layer-jello mold this year. Maybe we’ll have a Christmas miracle.

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In the meantime, though, if Santa could just loan me that list of his, I’d be ever so grateful.

Caleigh and the tall santa 2018

 

 

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