Haul out the holly

When I was a sophomore in high school, I appeared in the classic musical Mame, and in a high school which cranked out a musical every spring, it was a show-stopper. I will never know, objectively, just how high the level of talent and how rich the level of entertainment this production provided, but now, more than 30 years hence, I can say unequivocally that it was the best thing staged at Carroll County High School in April 1979.

Do you know the story? A young boy is orphaned in the 1920s and sent to live with his only living relative, a “spinster” in New York. What he finds in Auntie Mame is a bohemian free spirit. The show contains a number of barn-burner numbers including, of course, the venerable title song “Mame” itself, along with “Open a New Window” and “That’s How Young I Feel.” We sang and we danced our little hearts out.

As the 1920s draw to a close and the stock market inevitably crashes, Mame’s lifestyle is brought to a screeching halt. Penniless, but not friendless, she implores everyone to buck up. And though the calendar reads early fall, the chorus launches into a song that you’re bound to recognize, “We Need a Little Christmas.”

Haul out the holly;
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking,
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute,
Candles in the window,
Carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas
Right this very minute.
It hasn’t snowed a single flurry,
But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry!

OK see, it’s not Christmas, but she needs a little bit of holly to pull her out of the doldrums. Tinsel and light, singing happy songs. Everyone’s poor but hey! you can still have the Christmas spirit!

It is NOT a Christmas carol.

This rant falls upon deaf ears. Well, mostly the ears are non-existent, since the fuming generally occurs in my own head as I’m driving along in the car, or held captive in some office or store where holiday tunes are pouring forth into the atmosphere a mile a minute. “Damn it, that’s a show tune from Mame and I sang it when I was 15 years old on stage! Oh, sure, I was in the chorus, but I SANG and I DANCED and it was incredible and …”

All right, I might get a little carried away in daydreams of my show-business non-start, but the fact remains that this song has no business being played on the radio during Christmas as though it were some sort of legitimate Christmas song on the order of “Silent Night,” “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” or “O Come All Ye Faithful,” just to mention a few of my own personal favorites.

So climb down the chimney;
Put up the brightest string of lights I’ve ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake;
It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For I’ve grown a little leaner,
Grown a little colder,
Grown a little sadder,
Grown a little older,
And I need a little angel
Sitting on my shoulder,
Need a little Christmas now.

See? Not Christmas. It is evoking the Christmas spirit during the non-holiday time of the year.

Whew.  I feel better.

That said, these past couple of weeks we’ve been hauling out the holly and trying to hang some tinsel on that evergreen bough, but funnily enough, life gets in the way a little too often. Light-stringer extraordinaire Claire, though augmented by BFF Aren several weeks ago, was felled by an early season bug of some sort, and our 12-foot tree remained sadly half-lit for more than a week. A few false starts at decorating left the tree somewhat bottom heavy as Trassie laid on the homemade decorations within his level of reach.

But wonderfully it all came to a conclusion this weekend when not one but two trees were assembled, decorated and lit, and candles were indeed placed in the windows, though, lacking a spinet, our carols were sung to the accompaniment of whatever was playing on satellite radio at any given moment.

But lo! how a rose e’re blooming! The Nativity scene is in place and we here at Chez Soileau are ready to welcome the celebration of the birth of Christ with all the solemnity and dignity you might expect from an outfit such as ours, where we

… need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.

OK, maybe it qualifies a little bit as a Christmas song, of sorts. I long ago admitted it into my heart, where show tunes dwell for all eternity, heavy on the George M. Cohan and edelweiss. There are a few things I upon which I insist on precision, and the properly turned out Christmas carol is one of them. So sing “We Need a Little Christmas” at Christmas, if you must, when the world is perfectly lousy with it — but remember, if you can, the message of the song, which I prefer to believe is that with a little imagination, you can evoke the season all year long.

A giant plate of awesome

What’s that I saw outside my window pane this morning? Why, could it be SNOW? In December? In Kentucky? An event this momentous could only signal one of two things — either the coming apocalypse, or I should just put up my Christmas tree, for pete’s sake.

I guess I’ll go with #2 — but I intend to be prepared for #1 just in case.

So this afternoon my daughter, Claire, like any self-respecting 14- (soon to be 15)-year-old, was, as always, in the presence of one or more of her BFFs. Muhahaha, I say. More free labor for the festivities. So in honor of The First Snowfall of the Winter, I employed these two minions for the production and presentation of some tree-trimming worthy holiday oatmeal cookies.

But oatmeal, much as I love the stuff, by itself is rather tame. I consulted the cabinet. I found chocolate chips, butterscotch morsels and, be still my heart, Heath toffee chips.

I’m also a shade fanatic on the subject of flour, and frequently construct Belgian waffles and yeast breads in my bread machine with oat flour. So, I’ve got the stuff on hand. If you decide to make these, you can omit the oat flour and go solely with all-white wheat flour, but nobody’s gonna tell you that you just made a giant plate of awesome.

OK, so nobody told me that either, but when the first cookie sheet came out of the oven, I had never seen such open hungry mouths this side of a robin’s nest. I had the bad judgment to go start a load of laundry while they were cooling on the rack and came back to exactly no more cookies, apart from those still baking in the oven.

These I guarded with a flamethrower.Back — BACK I SAY! Keep your distance, family and friends, these cookies are for AFTER DINNER.

We rotated Free Help when Claire’s friend Aren left shortly before dinner (with a ziplock baggie with some cookie booty inside) and Christopher’s friend Nathan arrived. After dinner we did indeed consume said cookies and don’t they look luscious?

Shut up. I only ate one. OK, more than one. I didn’t eat three (at one time). I made them for the family. I’m good like that.

Right now, after dinner, there are about four or five of the beauties left. They’ll most likely be devoured sometime in the next couple of hours, while we’re putting up the tree(s) [I have two]. That’s a harrowing tale in itself; the main tree is 12 feet tall and takes around four hours to assemble.

Fortunately, as I said, I have minions, and as I write Christopher and Nathan are lugging the boxes containing the tree, ornaments, lights and other Christmas paraphernalia from the attic downstairs. Ah. I love minions.

Cue up the Christmas music. Put the treadmill on High Alert. I’m ready to start the holiday.

~ ~ ~

Wanna make the cookies? Here’s the recipe.

A Giant Plate of Awesome Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup margarine or butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup oat flour
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup toffee chips
1/4 cup butterscotch morsels

In a mixing bowl beat margarine or butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the all-purpose flour, the brown sugar, sugar, egg, baking powder, vanilla, and baking soda. Beat till thoroughly combined. Beat in oat flour and wheat germ. Stir in oats. Stir in candy pieces.

Drop by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes or till edges are golden. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Makes about 48.

Beating the holiday rush

Now that Thanksgiving’s over, we’ve officially skidded into the most perilous part of that steep slope that began gradually back in October with Halloween.

And that is, the downward spiral of eating, eating, eating — which doesn’t end until you find yourself on January 1, bloated and popping out of all your fat clothes and swearing that, as God is your witness, you will never eat another brownie again.

Of course, it all began innocent enough, really. Some candy. A little snacking out the bowl for the trick or treaters — which rapidly progresses, after a night or two, to full-fledged scarfing out of the kids’ bags. (Not that I did any of these things, you understand.)

OK, maybe a little, but by mid-November I had vowed — VOWED, I tell you — that it’s Not Going to Be Like That This Year and I won’t gain 10 pounds over the holidays … or as I like to call them, the Twelve Days of No Fitness.

This year, I made it through Thanksgiving fairly well. Despite baking two apple pies from scratch, I consumed only one piece when the actual day of eating arrived. There was some ice cream on top, I admit it — but I felt positively virtuous next to my brother Mark, who topped his piece with not a decorous scoop of ice cream, but a veritable SLAB of pecan-toffee goopy-gob Breyer’s Yumfest — or whatever it was that Paul bought — taking up practically his entire plate. For dinner, I had a modest plate of turkey, dressing, broccoli casserole, corn pudding, ya know … and I think I went back for seconds. A small seconds.

But that’s not the point. I was trying to take it easy, and early Friday morning, I was up and ready for a good, healthy vigorous walk. If you call noon early, but hey: I was up.

Christopher and I hoofed it around the track, battling the wind but otherwise enjoying the sunny, though cold, day. Kristoff dropped off after one lap and I — still on my virtuous high — galloped through another lap, iPodless and Christopherless, but hey I can entertain myself for 15 minutes just dreaming up ideas for blog posts.

The park where we walk is at the bottom of the hill outside my neighborhood, which means after exercising, one is faced with the joyless task of dragging butt up the hill to the top, where the house awaits. It had been several weeks since I’d walked so buddy, I was tired. I climbed the rather gentle slope at a dead slog.

All was well until the next day, when, fool that I am, I decided to venture out shopping. It wasn’t Black Friday,  I know, but similarly bad from the shopper’s point of view … sort of a Dark and Moody Saturday. I set my sights on Target for a few errands, then vowed to do my weekly grocery shopping at Meijer. Trassie and I set out.

Things went fine for a good solid 10 minutes or so, and then my left foot began to ache. Then throb. Then, agonizing pain shot through it when I merely lifted the foot from the floor.

The aforementioned errand took me all the way to the back of the store, which is where they conveniently put the toy department. I foolishly thought Trassie could point out some things he was interested in, which Santa could be persuaded to bring him come Christmas Morn. This he translated as I GET A GREAT BIG GIANT TOY RIGHT NOW.

We lapped the toy department several times, me leaning more and more heavily on the shopping cart as we limped, er, strolled along. When the inevitable meltdown occurred, I was in no shape to perform my Sworn Mommy Duty, which would be to snatch the screaming child up and haul ass out of the store. So instead, I caved and permitted the purchase of an overpriced race car. There was peace in the valley once more but, unfortunately for me, this didn’t extend to my metatarsals, which by now were positively howling.

Somehow, I limped to the checkout, paid for my goods and got them and the now-sunny Trassie out to the car. There my doom awaited, for I knew this: a trip to the grocery must be accomplished, if my brood  was to be fed in the coming week.

At this point, I experienced a simultaneous flash of brilliance and flush of embarrassment. Call it what you will — but I called it a plan.


That’s what I’d do — I’d acquire me one of them thar scooters, direct from the Scooter Store for Grocery Stores, and have it tote my gimpy butt around Meijer for the few necessities I had to get.

Honestly, I was mostly prompted by the fact that one of the items on my list was milk. Have you ever been to Meijer’s? It’s approximately the size of the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. And the milk is on the far back aisle.

Believe me,  I didn’t undertake this scooter thing lightly. I am, after all, an active and healthy young (looking) woman, and I can certainly negotiate a few hundred thousand square feet of mega supermarket.

Most of the time.

After double-checking with some employees lounging around that you didn’t need a handicapped parking tag or any other officially sanctioned disability seal of approval — “Hey, take it! That’s what they’re for!” I was told — I timidly sat my behind in the scooter, sat Trassie upon my lap and laid rubber toward the back of the store.

That was just a figure of speech.

The rest of the trip you can probably imagine — my eyes constantly darted around, waiting for the inevitable accusation from some frail old lady, wheelchair-bound amputee or otherwise legitimate gimp along the lines of, “And what do YOU think you’re doing in that scooter, young lady?!” Eyes downcast, I would have to plead my case: “My foot is ouchie. I walked too hard on it yesterday.”

Trassie thought it was all pretty fun, and, sympathetic soul that he is, he finally took in that I had a temporarily bad foot, and tried to make me feel better. I did, a little. And after a while it got to be kind of fun, especially executing 180s mid-aisle and then flooring it toward the produce.

Throughout, I did, of course, arise from my seat and actually take items down from the shelves. I made sure to perform a full limp as I carried cans of beans and bags of apples back to the cart, should any sharp-eyed busybody decide to challenge my status. After a while I was reminded of another holiday, years ago, when I uncharacteristically lost my voice and found myself a disabled holiday shopper. I was looking for a pillbox for a vitamin-popping friend, and no store in the free world, that year, appeared to carry them. “DO YOU HAVE PILL BOXES???!!!” I’d shout in an inaudible whisper to thousands of clerks, who would whisper back, “Any WHAT?” 12 hours later, I found one, and I think my voice finally came back around President’s Day.

Now, several non-exercising days later, my poor foot is still ouchie, and I really don’t know what I did to the blame thing. I feel sure more rest will bring it ’round — and if you’re certain these symptoms are a precursor to the dreaded deterioration metatarsalitis, please refrain from letting me know. The ignominy of my scooter-aided shopping trip is still just a little too fresh.