The Year Without a Christmas Tree

timthumbLast weekend I drove through my small town, past the festive lot next to the firehouse filled with rows of Christmas trees for sale and families wandering through, circling this one or that in search of just the right one. I stopped at our fancy local market to pick up the week’s supply of turkey and ham – and of course, the fresh mozzarella, because isn’t that what all the 13yos require on their school lunches? – and watched as a line of giant SUVs drove past with their trees bound and gagged and strapped to the top.

And as I drove home with my bag of cold cuts and very expensive cheese thought, “Those poor suckers.”

Then my daughter and I went down to the basement and opened some big boxes and dragged a bunch of branches up the stairs and in about 30 minutes had three Christmas trees up and lit in various rooms throughout the house.

“Man, that was easy,” I said to my daughter, who just kind of stared back at me.

At 5 feet 9 inches, she’s not that much shorter than my former husband and now finds herself handling many of the same tasks that her father used to perform when he lived here. She can reach things off high shelves and open pickle jars and when we assembled our fake Christmas trees she did a lot of the heavy lifting, unfortunately while wearing a t-shirt and running shorts. As such, her limbs were kind of covered in nicks and scrapes from lugging big sections of tree limbs around the house.

“I’m glad this was so easy for you,” she answered, examining her thigh, and I got the feeling she was a little annoyed with me and my alleged obliviousness to her suffering.

I, on the other hand, was thrilled with our faux tree setup.


Historically, the hunting and the buying and the lighting and the decorating and the watering and the vacuuming up of the needles of Christmas trees of long ago has been one giant pain in the neck. In theory, it is a lovely tradition that brings a family closer together, creating lasting memories to warm us in our old age. The reality of the Christmas tree, at least in my experience, has been something different altogether.

When I was married I found going to the lot to buy the tree incredibly stressful. Invariably, we would wait until the last minute to procure our tree and by then, all of you bastards had already scooped up all the good ones. What remained standing sadly in the lot would have that Charlie Brown-like quality, with giant bald spots where branches should have been or needles that would quickly fall to the floor like a too-long cigarette ash whenever you walked too near.

But the biggest issue was the price. Whatever it was, it was way too much, according to my husband and caused him undue aggravation. And of course, me being me, I wanted the bigger one or what I perceived to be the nicer one and he’d relent but then slip into an icy mood. We’d drive home in silence and he’d drag the prize in after sawing off probably one or two too many branches from the bottom. He’d shove it in a stand and curse when it listed to the side and I’d bite my tongue as the results of all that aggressive sawing became clear from the divot that appeared on one side, much like a child who’d taken a scissor to her own bangs.

And then there were the tree lights. Has there ever been one person in the history of the world who really enjoys stringing lights on a Christmas tree?  No one in their right mind could actually enjoy pulling the lights out from their box in the attic and untangling each strand to discover only half the bulbs would light. Who likes playing Christmas light detective and having to pull out each bulb in the strand and replacing with a working bulb to see if it was the bugger causing all the issues? Probably in my, like, over 20 years dealing with Christmas lights maybe five times did I find the culprit.

So if my then husband wasn’t pissed enough about the price of the tree, the broken lights would push him over the edge and the decorating of the tree would be a tense affair. I wanted things to look just-so and he just wanted to get the job done and I don’t really remember it being the Hallmark moment I so wanted it to be. We were way more invested in standing our ground rather than making concessions for the good of the team.

Eventually, I started edging him out of the more stressful jobs surrounding the Christmas tree. I started going to the fancy market in town right after Thanksgiving with my $10 off coupon to pick the tree out myself and had one of the nice workers strap it to the top of my car for the two-minute drive home. I also invested in an amazing tree stand. And finally, because I had very definite ideas about how Christmas tree lights should look on a tree – not merely wrapped around the ends of the branches but up and down each limb so it required many strands and patience and sometimes, electrical skills — I started doing that all myself. But it always pleased me afterwards to come down the stairs each morning and turn on the tree’s lights. I’d stand in the darkened family room and see the colorful bulbs shining deep under all the shiny ornaments and popsicle stick keepsakes the kids had hung from the tree.

So when my ex husband moved out right before Christmas that one, terrible year, I already had a pretty good handle on the tree situation. All I really had to figure out was how to get the tree off the top of the car and into a bucket of water in my garage. And eventually, I’d have a kid or two help me haul it into the house and hoist it up and into the stand. We actually got quite good at it.


But this year I said good-bye to all that. I decided I no longer wanted to be a slave to some $100 dead tree. Dragging it. Lighting it. Watering it. Cleaning up after it.

At the end of last year I bought a pre-lit tree off that had been already vetted by my youngest sister who is like a walking Consumer Reports. She bought it and liked it and thought it was a good price so I did the same.

And then I was at Costco a few weeks ago and another faux tree caught my eye and after quick texting with my sister – who gave it the thumbs up after quickly Googling it to discover it was cheaper than the Home Depot version and came with more lights – bought that one for another room in the house. I mean, it has a remote control people and the lights switch from white to colored (the other tree does the same and even blinks if that’s your thing).

My sister and mom have been hot for fake trees for a couple of years but it took me a while to relent. Honestly, I’m wired to like a lot of the same things they do but sometimes my mother’s enthusiasm – nay, pushiness – about certain things make me want to run in the other direction.

But, just like the time she suggested I pack a raincoat to go camping with the Girl Scouts but I knew better and spent the weekend wet and miserable, my mother happened to be right about the trees. Phony is better.

Our final fake tree is a skinny number I bought a couple of years ago from Balsam Hill that’s perfect in a corner of my kitchen. It smells kinda weird but I don’t have to sit too close to it when I eat so it still works and brings that Christmas sparkle into the room where I probably spend the most time.

None of the trees are decorated yet but I love seeing the lights glowing through the window when I pull into the driveway. And I still like to turn all the trees’ lights on while my coffee is brewing in the morning. It makes everything seem a little more magical and I like to think that my children have grown up feeling the same.


My favorite Christmas tree was the one my new husband and I bought the day after we got home from our honeymoon. We were married 10 days before Christmas in 1990 and my bridesmaids wore green velvet dresses and while we were honeymooning in the Caribbean we drank sweet pina coladas and listened to a man on the steel drums play “Frosty the Snowman.” We returned home tanned and young and happy to our second-floor walkup in Hoboken on the 23rd and went out in search of a tree the next day.

There weren’t many trees left by Christmas Eve, but it didn’t matter. I even want to say they were half price, even better. We dragged it down the sidewalk home and up the two flights of stairs and shoved the fat thing through the door and screwed it into the metal stand. Somewhere we’d acquired a strand or two of lights and a package of pre-made red felt bows that I attached to the ends of some branches. Underneath we spread all our gifts, trinkets we’d brought home from our trip, wrapped in shiny green and red wrapping paper.

That night I made my new husband our first meal together as a married couple and tried to replicate a butternut squash soup we’d had on our honeymoon. But I must not have cooked the squash enough and then tried to pulverize it in our new blender and watched the cubes swirl round and round. Eventually I tried to push the squash down into the moving blades with a wooden spoon but only succeeded in adding wooden splinters from the spoon to the soup.

We sat in our darkened dining room and tried to eat the soup but eventually laughed and gave up and tried feeding it to the dog instead. But even that crazy mutt was smart enough to pass on the dish.

But even though it wasn’t perfect, the tree or the meal, I was happy. All I wanted was to be married to my husband and that was enough. It was better than perfect.

So that’s why I’m all about fake trees. They are not perfect but I have decided perfect is way overrated. They are, instead, enough.

Here’s a roundup of fake trees if, like me, you’re over watering and needles and ready to go faux.

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2b7be76c0edd4051bcfaed75a8929a7aIn the mental photo album I keep tucked deep within the cracks and crevices of my ever-failing memory, lay the snapshots of certain key moments of my life. They’re the ones I pull out to study in the middle of the night or while driving alone in my car. The ones that I can’t forget.

Unlike the stacks of albums and shoeboxes I have brimming with over 20 years of memories – little ones holding up Easter baskets filled with colorful plastic eggs or smiling in front of Cinderella’s castle – my mental snapshots are a mix of more authentic occurrences. They are the moments that weren’t staged to document our happiness. They’re the real deal.

There’s me, sitting in Newark Airport early in the morning after my 1990 wedding — long after the official wedding photographer had gone home — with a big smile on my face each time I remembered I was finally married to the guy I had chased and loved for so long. There I am again, weeping with relief a dozen years later when an ultrasound revealed the sex of my fourth child—a boy – which I knew would help soften the blow of that pregnancy for my husband. And another instant, this time me standing next to my soon-to-be-ex in a drab county courtroom reciting the names and birth dates of our four children before a judge and thinking how it ended much as it had begun: the two of us standing side-by-side and saying a bunch of words.

There are more happy moments: Lying next to my husband and listening to raindrops softly falling on our tent in the middle of the woods and thinking there was no place on Earth I’d rather be at that moment than lying atop that air mattress. Sitting beside my oldest son on a chairlift making its slow ascent to the top of the mountain and hearing nothing but the silence of the icy trees and snowflakes swirling around us and the sound of his teenaged voice really talking to me without the distractions of Twitter and YouTube. Or rocking in a glider at 2 a.m. with an infant curled like a kitten on my chest, his tiny head tucked under my chin while his tiny back rose and fell beneath my hand as he slept.

There’s a song that comes towards the end of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” (which is now a new movie that I saw the other day) that cleverly observes how life is the slow, steady grind of work and husbands and wives and family and children and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. But every so often there is a flash, an instant that stands out from all the other instants and a moment we file away to be remembered later.

Oh. If life were made of moments,

Even now and then a bad one!

But if life were only moments,

Then you’d never know you had one.

Sung by the Baker’s Wife in “Moments in the Woods”

My therapist is hot for this idea, too. She likes to tell me — after I’ve sat on her loveseat and complained about yucky things in my life — that the bad stuff lets us see how good the good can be. And as much as I wouldn’t mind a life filled with rainbows and unicorns 24/7, I kind of get her point.

A few years ago I was driving home from a dinner out with my four children to celebrate my oldest girl’s high school graduation when she plugged her iPhone into the car stereo and the song “Landslide” began to play. It was the Glee version of the Fleetwood Mac song, and as Gwyneth Paltrow began to sing all four of my children started to sign with her. Like, even my oldest son who is neither a joiner nor a singer. I began to sing as well and as we sailed through the dark towards home, we sang about time making you bolder and children getting older.

“And I’m getting older, too,” we sang, and I couldn’t help feeling that for a second, everything — our whole lives — had been working towards that moment in the car and singing that song. Like we were in a movie or something. “Landslide” is a song about making changes and you could feel the energy in our car and how – despite the divorce and our struggles trying to stabilize in its aftermath – we were all connected. It was pretty epic.

And since then, we’ve kind of considered “Landslide” our unofficial family song. I even wasted tons of space on my iPhone recently recording Stevie Nicks twirling onstage and singing it when I saw Fleetwood Mac in concert in October.

So on Christmas, after all their own loot had been unwrapped, the kids took turns giving me their presents. I got legit moonshine — procured from one of my oldest son’s southern fraternity brothers — replete with what I initially feared might be testicles floating within that I was later assured were in fact peaches; and a t-shirt from my oldest daughter that read, “Trust me, I’m a writer” (which is funny because nobody about whom I write trusts my writing in the least). And my little guy gave me hat and gloves I had bought for myself at the JCrew outlet that I gave to him to give me, which I kind of thought was better than anything he was going to find for me when he shopped at the Five Below on Christmas Eve. Like, I do not need a “Fault in Our Stars” poster.

But the gift that made me cry – and apparently the children go into Christmas morning with the goal of making their mom weep – was from my youngest daughter who used the lyrics from “Landslide” to create a paper tree from which she had dangled five hearts bearing all of our names.




She explained the framed picture was something she had come across on Pinterest and I don’t know if she’s actually finished writing her college essays or even sent in all of her applications for next year yet, but man, if she put this much time into those endeavors she’d be going to Harvard. I’m just saying.

So now there’s a new moment in that mental shoebox crammed with 48 years-worth of memories stashed away in my crickety brain. Somewhere lodged beneath the snapshots of the babies and the terrible fights and the ride when all five of our voices sang out in our car on a warm spring night is me, unwrapping a gift that reminded me that not even a landslide could bring us down.

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How to Market Your Family

This is an updated version of something I wrote last year cursing this annual insanity.

1-1It started the day after Thanksgiving last year, the annual marketing campaign going on in homes across the country that gives new meaning to the term Black Friday.

Inside my mailbox on that day, along with 20 pounds of Pottery Barn catalogs and Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, sat the first holiday card of the season.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

I think the special delivery vexed me for two reasons. First, it was a reminder that I needed to get my act together to accomplish a great many things in the ensuing weeks before Christmas, which included dealing with all the Christmas tchotchkes crammed into about a dozen boxes in my basement and the stupid Elf on a Shelf.

Secondly, that card signaled that I needed to plan how I would be marketing my own family this holiday season because that, let’s be honest, is what it’s all about.


I want you, along with my college roommate and cousin in Connecticut, to see just how attractive, smart, accomplished and well-traveled we are, via a 4 X 6 card.

It’s like the paper-version of Facebook.

But don’t get me wrong: I drank the Christmas card Kool-Aid years ago and have spent a lot of time, money and patience creating the annual “aren’t-we-something” campaign. I am the ultimate Mad Mom.

Parents nowadays have no idea what it was like producing a card back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and before digital cameras were de rigeur. When I, and every mom within a 10-mile radius, had to bring my roll of film (actual film) to the CVS to be developed, and then wait a few days in hopes that at least one of the 24 shots would be a winner. I prayed for that one frame where all eyes would be open, looking straight at the camera and not rolled up in small heads in disgust.

Then I had to get 100 copies made of that one tolerable photo and then stuff said photos into cards, that needed to be signed and maybe a bow needed to be tied, and then stuffed into envelopes, licked and addressed, stamped and mailed.

I’m not saying you young moms have it easy, but seriously, you have it so freaking easy.

Nowadays, you just scroll through a photo gallery and upload a variety of images to an adorable card that’s personalized and ready to be mailed when the shipment arrives on your doorstep.

It’s fucking magic.

I thought I could make a clean break from sending holiday cards when my husband moved out in December 2008. It was such a terrible time and I figured I’d have to be some kind of marketing genius to generate a card that said, “Look how happy we are.”

So I just kind of knocked it off my mental check-list of holiday tasks for that year until one of the kids asked about it.

“I’m thinking we’re not gonna send one this year,” I told my oldest daughter.

“Wait, what? You’re not doing a card?” she asked. “It’s our tradition.”

The other kids sitting in the kitchen nodded in agreement and I realized that the stupid card had become about more than how others see our family. It had become about how we see ourselves, too.

And sending out a card that year signaled to the kids that life would still go on, even after their dad moved out. There would still be cards, wrapping paper and Christmas for them all.

Just like everyone else.

I decided to bang my cards out earlier than usual last year to take advantage of all the Cyber Monday sales. I checked a couple of sites for the best deals and instructed the older kids to send me photos of themselves to use since we didn’t have any great shots of all of us together.

I struggled, as I have these last few years, with how to personalize the card since the kids and I have different last names. Hyphenating the two seemed weird and just using the kids’ name, the one I had used for 20 years, didn’t seem right either.

So I finally settled on sending love to all our friends and family last Christmas from “4 Walsacks and a Byrnes.” Awkward, perhaps, but it just felt more right than the other options.

I think the end-result, while far from perfect, said, “We’re doing okay.”

I tried to get out of doing cards again this year. I’m not really feeling like a millionaire and thought that that $200 could be better spent on, like, one of the many new iPhone 6s Santa is expected to bring down our chimney this year.

So I casually floated the idea at dinner one night last week while ladling some soup into bowls but my 17yo daughter was having none of it.

“Now we’re going to seem even less together,” she said in only that way a teenage daughter can say to remind you of what a failure you’ve turned out to be as a mother. Like, a constant disappointment.

But it also reminded me that no matter how long your parents have been divorced, you really need to feel like you’re just like everybody else. You want people to know that it wasn’t the end of the world. That you’re doing okay.

So I dutifully combed through the last 12 months in my iPhoto to find some decent shots and then scrolled through TinyPrints to find a card that had the smallest number of photo boxes and a saying that didn’t seem too bullshitty. No “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Love and Joy” for us. I’d actually like a job at a greeting card company so I could help come up with content for those of us who hate pretending. What about a “We’re Doing the Best We Can” card or one that says “Hope and Pray”?

Now, those are sentiments I can get behind.

I settled on “Merry Christmas” in the end and the box of all 100 of them is already sitting on my kitchen island, waiting for me to get off Facebook and mail them to everyone on our list.

But the box also sends a signal to my kids that everything really is okay. We might have different last names now and a dad who lives in the next town, but we’re still a family.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend $200.

Give yourself the gift of Amy. Don’t worry, I’m not jumping out of a box Christmas morning. But you can sign up to get all my posts sent directly to your inbox. Just plug your email into the “receive new post in your inbox.” Oh, p.s., it’s free.

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My Top 5 Days of the Year

They’re the days that I look forward to. The ones that make slogging through the other 360 kind of worth it. And today was one of them.

  1. My Birthday: Even though I am now closer to 50 than 45 and some people I know are shocked by my alleged ability to reproduce, I still totally love my birthday. I love the attention, that my kids are generally on their best behavior and that presents are involved. I am all about the swag.
  2. Christmas Day: I grumble throughout the season, complaining about the decorating, the holiday cards, the cost of the whole shebang. But on Christmas morning I wake up as excited as I did when I was a kid although now I love watching the kids open all the gifts I spent so much time shopping for and picking out and wrapping. I don’t even care any more about what I get, which is good because I think last year or the year before I got garbage pails. Legit. Two new garbage pails with bows. But I needed them and they were bought with an incredible amount of love and I think of that every time I drop a big bag of cat poop into one.
  3. December 26: It’s the one day of the year I don’t feel guilty about sitting in my pajamas all day and doing nothing. I am also all about doing nothing. Okay, maybe I eat a lot of stuff like this.
  4. Thanksgiving: I am obsessed with the parade and get goosebumps every time Al Roker cuts the ribbon at the start. Cheesy, I know. But the best part of the day is working for hours with my daughters as we peel the potatoes, slice the apples and wrestle the giant turkey into the pan. We are an amazing team. The second best part? Leftovers.
  5. The Day My Pool is Closed for the Season: Really, the reason for this whole post. It happened this morning, when a pool guy named Steve showed up with a handful of ninjas and had the sucker shut down and covered in about an hour. I love looking out the window every chance I get and seeing the big green cover stretched across the gaping money hole called a pool. “Didn’t you enjoy it this year?” asked The Girl Whisperer as I was celebrating the closing between push ups and I did have to pause and remember some of the good times we had in the thing this summer. The times we all sat in the hot tub and sipped wine and a certain night not too long ago when the girls and I stripped off our clothes and jumped into the deep end and screamed at how cold the water felt on our bare skin. And then how the girls screamed when I got out to jump in again. The horror.
  6. photo 2-3
    ‘Tis a beautiful site.

A Very Gosling Christmas

IMG_0005Even though my days of getting fancy gifts are on hold right now – there were no diamond studs under the tree this year – I still got some pretty amazing presents for Christmas.

And because, according to my therapist, I am to view all challenges, hardships and difficult people in my life as gifts – here to help me learn about myself and grow – receiving less-expensive items has taught me a lot.

First, the people in my life know me really well and give me amazing presents. And second, great gifts don’t need to cost a lot of money (first witnessed last year with the amazing deck of cards my daughter made me).

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t say “No” to a Cartier watch. But for now, I’m happy to settle for opening amazingly-thoughtful things.

There were definitely some themes to the gifts I was given: Of course, it was a Very Gosling Christmas this year and I got not only the probably-soon-to-be-best-selling book 100 Reasons to Love Ryan Gosling (I am partial to #29: He can do the Dirty Dancing body lift and #99: It is biologically impossible not to love Ryan Gosling) from my daughter, but a pair of earrings from my BFF featuring the young actor’s scruffy face and giving new meaning to the term “stud earrings.”


Only on Etsy can you find such treasures.

Who thinks to make these things?

I got lots of stuff with my name or ‘A’s on them, like notecards and pillows, a makeup bag and not one but two cool bracelets.

And speaking of makeup bags, this one from my gal pal was pretty funny:


My kids totally nailed their gifts to me.

I got the Walking Dead version of Monopoly from my older daughter that I’ve already played twice and a sticker of the cover illustration from The Giving Tree to put on the back of my laptop and makes it look like the boy is plucking the apple from the tree.

My oldest son gave me a stuffed zombie that you can pull apart and see its guts. Sweet.

My little guy gave me a pair of silver heart earrings, which I was told he hand-selected and I am tempted to make a joke about what a stud he is, but think that might come off as really creepy.

And my younger daughter gave me a fleece cheetah-print onesie so that I could now work from home without the annoyance of pesky yoga pants waistbands digging into my muffintop. I spent about 36 hours wearing it after Christmas and can attest to its comfort but am concerned that it seemed to raise my body temperature 10 degrees, leaving in a bit of a perpetual sweat during its wearing.

I liked pairing the outfit with a scrunchie atop my head and am concerned that if I started eating Cheez-Its in bed with the suit on and drinking wine, I just might be single forever.

So for now, it’s hanging on the back on my bathroom door. (I thought about posting a picture of me wearing the suit, but decided that no one, especially potential love-interests, need to see that selfie).

But I loved how thoughtful my gifts were and how much the people I love really “got” me.

And that is really the greatest gift of all (besides the Cartier watch). Right?

When I wasn’t opening presents or running around in my onesie this week, I was busy blogging about my fondness for dudes and that sometimes the Elf on the Shelf inspires kids to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Check it out ..



I ♥ Dudes

Dear Men of the World,

I learned an interesting thing about how it seems I am perceived by you fellas – as a divorced lady – when I hosted a party the other night. (READ MORE … )



photo(86)Sometimes, Elves are Okay

I went to my annual cookie exchange the other night and as we sat around the hostess’s kitchen island eating the salad she prepared to balance out the fondue and Trader Joe’s wontons we’d been feasting on earlier, someone pointed to the elf perched high atop the cabinets.

“That’s Steve,” out hostess said brightly and picked up her iPad. “Wait, you’ve got to see this.” (READ MORE … )






Sometimes, Elves are Okay

photo(86)I went to my annual cookie exchange the other night and as we sat around the hostess’s kitchen island eating the salad she prepared to balance out the fondue and Trader Joe’s wontons we’d been feasting on earlier, someone pointed to the elf perched high atop the cabinets.

“That’s Steve,” out hostess said brightly and picked up her iPad. “Wait, you’ve got to see this.”

She had taken a picture of the note her 10-year-old son had written to Steve earlier in the season and as she read the note aloud — that wondered whether elves had specific tasks up in the North Pole and wished Steve a happy Christmas with his friends and family — her eyes filled with tears.

“He’s really the one that deserves all the presents,” she said at the end, wiping her tears away.

And the pureness of his letter — it’s innocence and sweetness — made me misty too.

So, my gift to all of you this Christmas is this little sparkle of a note that reminded me that sometimes kids really do want more than PS4s or Skylanders.

Sometimes the very best things don’t come from Amazon or Zappos.

It’s hiding right there in their hearts.

Ho, ho, ho.


Amy’s Week in Review: Dec. 16-23 (YIKES!)

522591_379600385471432_307731171_nHere is the secret to staying calm around Christmas: plan a cocktail party five days before and invite 75 of your nearest and dearest. By the time it’s over — provided you have not had a heart attack at the prospect of all of those people standing in your usually messy kitchen — everything else will seem like a piece of cake.

So even though, as of this writing Sunday morning, I still have numerous gifts to wrap, eight dozen cookies to bake (that is literally the truth) and still no gift for a very important person on my list, I’m feeling pretty freaking calm.

Naturally, I’m concerned.

But I am trying to apply the same philosophy to Christmas that I used for Friday night’s party — courtesy of Jennifer the Therapist who throws so many valuable nuggets my way that I figure I might as well apply some of them since I am paying for them anyway — that things just don’t have to be perfect.

And that’s pretty new concept for me because in my previous life as a wife, I needed everything to look just so. And on the outside, it was all shiny and perfect.

But the inside, not so good.

So on Friday, as I stood amidst all the people who have lifted me up over the last five years, I didn’t focus on the coating of dust on the lights in my kitchen or the way one of the kids arranged crackers all crazy on a tray. I opened wine bottles, poured drinks, passed crab cakes and smiled a lot at seeing all of the people I really like standing in my kitchen at the same time.

In a few days, I’m hoping to apply the same strategy. On Christmas, some gifts will be hits while others will fall flat. Inevitably, one of the kids will feel shortchanged. But that’s okay, because I’ll know that I did the best that I could and that, really, it’s just one day.

And there’s always next year.

Take a break from your wrapping, baking and online shopping and check out some of the stuff I was thinking about last week when I wasn’t making lists or sitting in holiday traffic:


1454767_10151775256011868_1775585094_n 100 Down: Celebrating a Year of Blogging

For many years while my children were going through our local elementary school, the highlight of the long winter months would be the celebration of the 100th day of school.

To commemorate that special day, inevitably the kids would need to bring in 100 of an item to be counted or added or divided or something math-related. Over time, I got pretty good at hot gluing things like pennies and buttons onto old baseball caps or poster board without burning my fingers or dripping globs of the sticky stuff onto the kitchen table. (READ MORE … )


photo(84)Twas 6 Days Before Christmas: An Ode to Stress

Twas six days before Christmas and all through my house,

I’ve got so much shit to do I almost wished I had a spouse.

The stockings are stuffed in my mudroom without care

In hopes that come Christmas Eve they get pulled out of there. (READ MORE … )


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Amy’s Week in Review: Dec. 9-15


Last year’s finished product. Tasteful, jewel-toned lights included.

Does anyone hate Christmas tree lights as much as I hate Christmas tree lights?

They are the bane of my existence. Even when I was married, they were my problem but more because I had a lot of opinions about  them than anything else. I don’t know why I have to be so bossy about things.

They are torturous to get on – wrapping them up and down branches and around and around the tree – and highly unpredictable. You never know when half a strand will just poop out the next day.

I made the sad discovery yesterday, after of hours of driving around and loading up at big box stores for gifts and groceries before a snowstorm hit, that the six strands waiting to be strung on the tree that afternoon had decided they weren’t up to the task this year. I even went down the line of unlit bulbs on one strand trying to replace each bulb with a working bulb to see if that would improve the situation.


I got into my car during the height of Saturday’s snowstorm and drove north along the main highway around here in search of replacement lights.

However, I am particular. It can’t be any old type of lights. They need to be colored lights for my tree. That is my tradition.

And it can’t be these gross new LED lights with super-bright colors like purple. I can’t have purple on my tree.

My old, trusty lights I used for years were jewel-toned and had a globe-shaped bulb. They were really just lovely, glowing their tasteful reds and greens on my tree.

So I drove about 20 minutes north to a Kmart that said it had the type I wanted in stock but when I got there, there was like, a sad box of colored icicle lights left of the shelf.

And that was it.

“Oh, the website is usually a day or two behind what we have in stock,” said the very nice stockboy whom I barked at when I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

It’s the Internet, for fuck’s sake. Get it together, Kmart.

I found the same solitary box of random lights on the shelves of the nearby Lowes and Target and when I wondered aloud if someone was eating goddamn Christmas tree lights or something, one women in a similar dilemma next to me said, “A lot of people around here lost all their stuff during the hurricane.”

Curses to you, Sandy.

So, it’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m preparing to head south this time in search of lights.

And I’m not as picky as I was a little more than 12 hours ago. Now LCD lights of any sort are starting to look pretty good.

While I’m out foraging for decorations, here are a couple of tidbits I was also mulling over last week.


 702599_10151283017657173_124342937_nWhy My Son Says, ‘Everything is Ruined’

The Elf didn’t start out as a thorn in my side.

At first, he actually helped keep my then-preschooler – and the youngest of my four children – in line.

If my son put up a fuss about going to bed at the appointed hour or carried on in Target about not getting a toy he totally wanted (“PLLLLLLLEASE, MOM.”), I’d have to pull the old Elf card out of my back pocket.

“I’d hate for Alex the Elf to have to tell Santa about this,” I’d say with a smile, looking at him lying on the floor of the toy aisle, and then usually, the tantrum would cease as quickly as it began. (READ MORE … )


IMG_3462One Mom Tries to Make Sense of Guns After Newtown Shooting

I have always enjoyed group activities with large groups of women.

Over the years, I’ve learned to knit, trained for triathlons, talked about a lot of books and drank plenty of wine in the company of women.

And while I’m more than comfortable going cross country skiing or traveling to a desert spa with a group of girls, I was surprised to find myself early one Saturday morning last month at a gun range with eight other women. (READ MORE … )


And finally, I know you’re all racking your brains, trying to come up with the perfect gift for me. Let me help you out.

The greatest thing you could give me is the gift of sharing my blog posts on Facebook with all of your friends. I’d like to become the Clairol Herbal Essence of bloggers, so if you could tell two friends about a post you like, and maybe they end up telling two friends, we can get the whole “and so on” thing going.

Plus, it’s free and doesn’t need to be wrapped, which is almost like a gift right back to you.


Let the Holidays Begin! Sigh.

IMG_3537Over the course of this past weekend, I had to yell at not one but two of my neighbors – both grown men – for causing me undue stress and anxiety.

There they were, with the Thanksgiving dinner a not-so-distant-memory, wrapping lights around anything not moving in front of their houses. There were wreaths and swags and twinkling shrubbery while over at my ranch there’s just a lone pumpkin leftover from Halloween sitting on the front step.


By the time I saw a third male neighbor busily stringing lights on a garland above his garage doors, I didn’t even have the fight left to say anything. I just stood on my lawn and watched. I was outnumbered, it seemed, by holiday cheer.

Of course, as the kids and I pulled out of the driveway late yesterday afternoon and they saw how festive the neighbors’ houses were looking — the lights twinkling in the dusky twilight — they lamented that we had, as usual, nothing.

Now, I could blame it on the fact that we don’t have an official man-of-the-house living here who, though some quirk of genetic coding, would feel compelled to wrap strands of lights around things. It’s like setting fires and shooting stuff for the Y-chromosone.

But in reality, when we did have a guy here who liked to decorate the outside of the house, I really tried to kibosh most of his ideas.

I like things plain and simple. I don’t do icicles, colored lights or haphazard tree lighting. If you are going to light a tree, don’t just wrap two strands around a trunk and half a limb and think it looks good. It doesn’t. I want Disney-style lighting, covering every last branch and twig, and because that’s just too much — I mean, really, who has time for that? — I opt for nothing.

But nowadays, you can’t just hang a wreath and call it a day. There needs to be some lighting element involved, which is challenging when you do not have an electrical source in the front of your house or the inclination to light stuff up.

But it’s important to the kids, like our yearly Christmas card and the candle we buy that makes the inside of our house smell warm and piney. They want some razzle dazzle to come home to and my lone electric candle-in-every-window routine is just not jazzy enough for them.

So today, thanks to the magic of Cyber Monday and LED technology, I ordered a battery-operated pre-lit wreath, which will join my battery-operated strand of lights I bought last year that I will wrap around a garland and drape over the front door. Add the candles in the windows, and it will be downright festive around here.

I have a plan, ladies and gentlemen.

It will not be Rockefeller Center, but it will be something.

And the pumpkin, I can assure you, will be nowhere in sight.