'Tis the season to be excessive.
Every year, it starts earlier and earlier — which, when it comes to excessive, is, of course, redundant. Groovy ghouls are in place by Labor Day, and Santa chases the zombies right out of the store before a single snowflake falls.
Now believe me, gentle reader, I know from excessive.
See also: Starting life over after 50.
For Christmases past, I've decked the halls, but also the bedrooms. I've decked the bathrooms, although not with crocheted toilet-paper covers. (Even when I had no limits, I had my limits.) In a small town where I once lived, I cajoled the fire department into "zipping by" (I called it "zipping by") with the ladder truck to help me festoon an outdoor evergreen with bulbs so vintage that, I'm sure, they constituted a fire hazard. My record length for the bûche de Noël is 30 inches, give or take a sugar holly leaf. And then there was the strategic three walls of light and sound that my then 15-year-old son and I once set to Mannheim Steamroller (as fa-la-la but not so ooh-la-la as Christmas Lights Gone Wild).
My Christmas house takes up three bookshelves. It consists of 92 separate pieces and 14 snow people, including, yes, one on a skateboard and one who is expecting a baby.
But these days, I'm so darned restrained and elegant you wouldn't know me. For I got wise, like the three men. I learned it was better far to light just one little candle than to blow four fuses every night.
Now, there are wiser things I do than I have ever done: Most of them involve one single, little, four-letter word that begins with L.
Just for groans, let me share a few things I may have done once but which I now would not do for a candy cane dipped in champagne.
1. Go to see Santa. I would not go see Santa with my children or their children at the North Pole. Or even Macy's. Last year, Santa arrived in a Dodge Caravan, eating a ham sandwich. My nephew, age 7, remarked that the Jolly One must have earlier been smoking that fabled pipe whose smoke encircled his head like a wreath, because the jolly old soul smelled like an ashtray.
2. Wear an elf costume. I would not wear an elf costume especially if it involved elf bikini bottoms. I would not wear this especially if I were a guy.
3. Put up with anyone playing that song about Grandma getting run over by a reindeer. Yea, verily, and seemingly contradictorily, I would not apologize for playing 20 straight loops of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas or Bob and Doug McKenzie's rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." And that said, if you want to hear that song about the Christmas shoes, play it in your own car with the windows closed. It is not the same as "Scarlet Ribbons." This is my essay, so I can say that.
4. Make my kids wear sweaters that match. Give my kids sweaters that match mine.
5. Give any child a stuffed animal. The truth of children is that children love one stuffed animal per lifetime. The rest of them prop up the walls at Goodwill.
6. Give the gift of Amish friend bread, fruitcake or those giant boxes with four eight-packs of English muffins the size and thickness of tires on a harvester to anyone I really liked.
7. Insist that I really don't mind at all butchering a pumpkin and making pies from it.
8. Write a Christmas letter that tells only half the truth. We're delighted that Connor's back at Brown, seeing life in a new and dedicated way (the girlfriend from Samoa with the seven children dumped him). And CEO-mom Erika is burning the midnight oil since her promotion (her personal assistant, Thor, is a hunka hunka burning oil himself). Little Tannis just keeps astounding us with the grades she's pulling in AP English (Dad's up late waiting to find out the latest about Mom and Thor, so he might as well get some use from that creative writing degree).
9. Write a Christmas letter at all.
10. Send a Christmas card. Studies have shown that the out-of-envelope life of a Christmas card is less than 11 seconds.
11. Give just a little guidance on how to cut the turkey.
12. Play Twister without wearing a belt.
And one more thing. I'll never stop making the very best holiday cookies on Earth — tutus. They have as many ingredients as a hydrogen bomb, and will have the same impact on your family, who will fall upon them, stuffing their faces, stunned at your prowess, and beg for the recipe. Then you insist that you don't use a recipe … it's all stored right there in your little stocking cap.
And here it is:
5 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup brewed coffee at room temperature
colored sugar or sprinkles for frosting (see recipe below)
In large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa, granulated and brown sugars. Mix well. With hands or pastry blender, cut butter and vegetable shortening into dry mixture as you would for pie crust, until consistency of coarse cornmeal. Stir in nuts.
In another bowl, combine eggs, vanilla and coffee. Add to flour mixture. Mix well. Form balls of dough about 3/4 inch in diameter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
Prepare frosting. Take a few cookies at a time and dip into frosting, turning with hand until cookies are completely covered. Shake off excess frosting over bowl. Place cookies on wire rack to dry 3-6 hours.
Sprinkle colored sugar or sprinkles on immediately after placing on racks.
1/2 cup milk, 1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar (about 6 cups), 1 teaspoon vanilla
In bowl, stir milk into powdered sugar. Add vanilla. Mix until smooth. Stir in more milk if needed to obtain a thin consistency (a little thicker than maple syrup).
Also of interest: 25 things you don't need at 50. >>
Jacquelyn Mitchard, the best-selling author of 21 books, lives near Madison, Wis., with her family. Her latest novel is Second Nature: A Love Story.
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