SNOW AND THE HOLIDAYS – Marilyn Armstrong

Today and tomorrow are doctor visit days for Garry. His three-month surgical checkup for his ear and a stress test for his heart … so I’m writing ahead because I’m just not going to be around. Hope you don’t mind.

This is turning out to be a crazy busy month. I feel like Alice, running as fast as she can just to stay in the same place!

The holidays haven’t officially “hit” because of a calendar thing. It’s not because Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Nope, it’s that all of a sudden, it’s winter. We’ve got snow.

Snow falls and suddenly, everyone thinks Christmas, including those of us who aren’t Christian. Much of the snow that fell while we were away has melted. Not all of it, but more than half, anyway.

More is expected today and tomorrow. I suppose we might as well get on with holidays since, with the ground snowy, icy, and muddy, there isn’t much else to do.

The last time we got significant snow before or on Thanksgiving was 2014, a year during which we got 120 inches of snow out here in the country. That is, no matter how you look at it, a lot of snow. It’s the amount they normally get in northern Maine. It’s downright Siberian.

Christmas is so minimal in this house, there’s really isn’t much for us to do. I don’t put up wreaths any more.  We have so few visitors and live far off the main road that no one sees them.

Also, the nursery where I used to buy them closed and somehow, buying them at the grocery store may be cheaper, but it doesn’t have that “feeling” it had, picking the perfect one at the nursery.

We don’t give gifts because we don’t have money and anything we can afford is no more than a kindly thought. We give small things. Holiday reminders, maybe. Remembrance of days gone by when we ran up our credit cards because we got into some kind of bizarre Christmas frenzy.

These days, the tree gets plugged in. Our blue Christmas lights live in the living room drapes all year round, so when the holiday arrives, I just plug them in.

It doesn’t get simpler than that. We had fun with Tom and Ellin and that’s always a treat.

The weather isn’t as bad as it is going to be in a few days. Hopefully, we’ll have time to get some of the many errands, doctor appointments, vet appointments, and other stuff done.

And I have my fingers crossed that we’ll find someone to plow the driveway!

Boston’s big holiday tree

This is an El Niño year which can be bad. But, you never know. Sometimes winter starts out bad but eases up. Meanwhile, I’m keeping a close eye on weather maps and trying not to worry.


RDP Wednesday – Not the Holidays again!

“Oh no,” I cried. “Not again!”

Bad enough that summer was nothing but a giant rainstorm … but it’s November and you know what that means! Holidays. I am even more unready for holidays as I am for finding someone to clear the millions of leaves off our property, much less having them mix with tons of snow. Arghh!

It will be a Christmas tree. At Christmas.

My son decided to not do Thanksgiving this year. It’s the first time we’ve ever lived near each other and not “done” Thanksgiving and he was a bit apologetic.

“Not to worry,” I said. He got an invitation to go to the Cape and enjoy someone else’s cooking. I congratulated him. I pointed out he might learn to enjoy not making a giant feast. We’ll do a get-together Christmas Eve and open our mini-gifts, which is what we give.

I have a tabletop fake (but it looks real) tree with decorations already on it.  It has lights, too. It lives in the guest room in a big black bag. Every year, I remove the bag, carry the tree to the living room, and plug it in.

Voila! Christmas.

I cook something on Christmas Eve for whoever is coming by. No one except Owen bothers to tell me they are coming. I think my granddaughter is hoping for a better offer.

We don’t buy “real” gifts. No big packages greatly reduce Christmas visits. I give better gifts for birthdays. One gift to one person — I can get something they may actually want. Garry and I give each other stuff all the time anyway. As for me, we’ve already got far too much stuff.

Christmas Day, Garry and I watch boring old movies during which they sing “White Christmas” and Garry always points out that it’s racist. Then we eat something, which this year, might be frozen pizza.

When I was a mere lass, the Thanksgiving through Christmas holiday season was a big deal. Mostly that grew out of being raised “atheistically Jewish.” That meant no celebration. No decorations. I always felt left out. When I married “out,” I was delighted to finally get a piece of the holiday.

November through a sunny window

But then, everyone, including my granddaughter, grew up. I realized we didn’t need a huge tree taking up half the living room nor did I need to go into five years of credit debt to buy stuff no one seemed to care about.

These years, the Holidays are stripped to the minimum. Enough so my little tree looks pretty — and takes less than 10 minutes to set up. Garry and I buy each other something small. This year, I think I’ll get him a Red Sox sweatshirt. He will buy me flowers because he figures if I wanted it, I’ve probably already bought it.

What a relief!


We gave them three brand new Kong toys … the only ones worth buying because they are the only ones that last longer than a couple of minutes. Of the three, the one that looked like a little Teddy Bear disappeared entirely within minutes of Bonnie adopting it, but has reappeared several times. I saw it as recently as this morning, but when we came back from the hospital, I saw it on the far side of the front yard near the other gate.

We gave the strange birdlike stuffed creature to The Duke and eventually when Gibbs appeared, gave the Dodo to him.

Sometimes missing toys reappear. Others vanish and are never seen again.

Of the original three, one still looks almost newish. It’s identical to its original, the strangely birdlike creature that all the dogs dearly love. So there are two of them — the old one and the new one.

Then, there’s the blue Dodo. It was brand new. Gibbs grabbed it and took it outside. Later, he brought it back. Covered in ice and snow and mud, it was one of the most disgusting items ever brought in from outside. I washed it with soap and hot water and Garry threw it in the dryer. It sat in lonely isolation on the end table until Duke, frustrated by seeing it but not having it, went rogue and got it on his own. It is out in the snow in the front yard now. Maybe it will come home later.

You certainly couldn’t accuse our dogs of not appreciating their new toys. I wish they wouldn’t drag them out into the mud and ice so fast, but they don’t lack enthusiasm. They sure do love the toys. Looking around, one of the two strange birdlike creatures has gone missing. Again.


Tis the season to be jolly — which is getting really, really difficult these days. The Grinch is watching the news and going “Damn, these guys are serious dicks.”

If there ever was a time for Christmas spirit and a few Christmas miracles, now’s the time. Ellin and I were watching the live performance of “A Christmas Story” on FOX a few days ago and it got me to thinking about the true meaning of Christmas.

Ellin wrote a blog about being Jewish at Christmas. She’s always been an outsider at this time of year and she keeps saying she doesn’t really understand the holiday. I’ve always felt bad about that. She feels she can’t celebrate Christmas because she’s Jewish.

But here’s the thing. She can. Anybody can. Why? Well, what I’m about to say is probably going to upset some people, but I don’t care.

The truth is, Christmas is not a religious holiday — but it is a special day designed for everyone to be kind to each other.

I can hear pastors and ministers and priests heads exploding  around the world. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Christmas can be religious. Millions of people go to church on Christmas Eve, but most of us don’t. The ones who go spend most of the service looking at their watches because they’ve got to get home and wrap a zillion presents.

Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ, but historians have pretty much concluded if Christ existed, he was born sometime around October.

So why do we celebrate it on December 25th?

The answer goes back to Roman times when Christianity was new.  Christians were routinely persecuted when the Romans found out they were Christians.

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice at this time of year, so there were parties and celebrations everywhere. Christians celebrated the birth of their Savior at the same time because they could hide their celebrations claiming they were merely having a “Solstice Party”.Have some Solstice punchicus!

They borrowed the holiday. Christmas has since borrowed most of its other traditions. A Christmas tree didn’t start out as a Christian thing. It came from old Druid traditions. So did Mistletoe. The list goes on, but I’m too lazy to Google all of it right now.

If you want to understand how most of us grew up understanding what Christmas is really all about, simply watch “A Christmas Story”.

TBS runs it continuously every Christmas day for 24 straight hours. They’ve been doing it for years. And it’s great. I watch at least part or all of it every year. It’s a Christmas tradition.The movie came from the stories of Jean Shepard. He was a great story-teller. A genius story-teller. He did a radio show on WOR in New York City, five nights a week, for decades.

All he did was tell stories.  Wonderful stories. “A Christmas Story” came from the stories he told on the radio. He totally summed up what Christmas was for Americans in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, and well … to this very day.

That’s a major award!

First, you have to realize that Christmas is for children.  When you were between the ages of say, four to ten, the entire year revolved around Christmas.

Christmas is the one magical day when, for some reason no child understands, they are showered with gifts! IT WAS AWESOME!

Christmas was the true first day of the year, not January 1st.

The day after Christmas was horrible. Only 364 days until Christmas? 364 days? AHHHH!!

The original movie, “A Christmas Story,” was made in 1983, yet it was a totally accurate story of my childhood Christmases in the 1950’s. Everything in that movie happened to me and my younger brother, Todd. And before you ask, yes, he was dressed in so much winter clothing if he fell down, he couldn’t get up without help.

Yup. That was Todd.

And so there came a year when there was one present I absolutely had to have. In Ralphie’s case in “‘A Christmas Story,” it was a Red Ryder BB Gun, with a compass in the stock and a device that told time.

In my case it was … A FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP! What the hell was that you ask? A toy. Not just any toy.  It was THE TOY. It was the FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP.

It had depth charges you could fire. It had a gun turret. It had an airplane you could CATAPULT OFF THE SHIP!!  How did the plane get back on the ship? I don’t know, it had no landing strip. I don’t care! It somehow got back on.  Well, now that I think about it, I put it back on. But that’s not the point.

And it had lights and a siren.

I don’t know why, but getting that ship for Christmas was the most important thing EVER! And just like in “A Christmas Story,” I plotted all year to make sure I got it. To be honest, I didn’t go through all the machinations Ralphie did. Instead, I invoked the “one time only, sacred pledge.”

I told my parents “If you get me this, I WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN!”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know a “triple dog dare” is a big thing that can’t be ignored. But “I WILL NEVER ASK FOR ANYTHING EVER AGAIN” is much, much, MUCH bigger. You only get to do it once.

The other thing the movie gets right is waking up in the middle of the night on Christmas and not being able to go back to sleep. Every Christmas, EVERY DAMN ONE, I would wake up at exactly 2AM. And no matter what I did, I could not go back to sleep.

My parents had a strict rule. We could NOT WAKE THEM UP BEFORE 7 AM! Period! So, I would lie in bed. Waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

Back then, there was no TV after midnight. Even if there was, it didn’t matter. We only had one TV and it was in the living room. WHERE SANTA WAS COMING. If you were awake and Santa saw you, bad shit would happen. He would leave. Without leaving you presents!

So, I would lie there, look at the clock, which was illuminated. Einstein once explained relativity by pointing out that when you’re doing something fun, time goes by quickly. When you’re doing something boring, time creeps by slowly.

On Christmas Eve, time stopped. I would try to make it go faster by not looking at the clock.

ME: OK. Not looking at the clock. Not looking at the clock. Not looking. God, it has to have been at least an hour now. But still, not looking.

After an hour or two of not looking at the clock, I would finally break down and look at the clock.


That’s how it would go until around 5 AM, when I would go into Todd’s room. He always woke up at 5 AM. We would then hide under the covers and talk.

And wait.

And wait

And wait … until we couldn’t take it anymore. At around 6 AM, we would get up and sneak around the house and change all the clocks to 7 AM, then wake up our parents.  I’m pretty sure they knew what we did, but they got up anyway.

We still couldn’t start Christmas until we went upstairs and got our Grandparents to come downstairs. We lived in a two-family house. If my grandparents weren’t up, we couldn’t start Christmas. But here’s the thing. They were always up. They were dressed, and they were finishing their breakfast when we came to get them.

Grandparents are cool.

At 7 AM the orgy of present opening began. And at about 7:15 AM, it was over. (The parallels to my future sex life have not gone unnoticed.)

Here again, the movie got it right. My brother and I would be basking in the post orgasmic rush of present opening and our parents and grandparents would be sitting on the couch drinking wine.

Yes, drinking wine. It was the one time of the year when it was not only legal, but required that you start drinking at 7 AM. The rest of the day was spent playing with our booty while the adults made a huge dinner that we ate at 2 PM. We only did that on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? Who the hell knows.

My point is, that’s what Christmas was when we were kids. For some reason, just like in “A Christmas Story” there was that ‘one special year’. That year when you got that special present.

Just like in the movie, my parents pulled the same trick. We opened all of our presents. The good ones, like toys. And the bad ones, like socks and underwear. But there was no Fighting Lady Battleship. Just as I was coming to grips with the reality I wasn’t going to get my Fighting Lady, just as I was trying to figure out how I would move on with my life, my Dad said:

“Tom, I think you missed something. What’s that package behind the couch?”

With sudden hope rising in my soul, I looked behind the couch. There it was. The big present. The biggest of them all! I ripped the wrapping off and there it was! A FIGHTING LADY BATTLESHIP!!

I’m not sure, but I think I fainted.

And — I never ever asked for any toy ever again.

How special was that stupid toy? Well, I’m 66 years old and I still have that Fighting Lady Battleship. It has lost its gun turret. The depth charges are gone. I have no idea what happened to the damned airplane. But I still have the ship and I will probably pass it to my heirs.

Why? It’s just a dumb toy. I don’t even think it cost much, but it will always remind me of that one, special Christmas.

For many years now, I’ve been quite a Scrooge. I didn’t really celebrate Christmas. I worked on holidays so my co-workers who have kids, could have the day off to be with them. I knew if Christmas didn’t exist, businesses would create one.

Christmas drives our economy. Why is the Friday after Thanksgiving called “Black Friday?” It’s because that’s the day most retail businesses start to turn a profit. Their accounting books go from being in the red, to being in the black. Christmas is capitalism, pure and simple. But watching that live performance brought back my love for the other side of Christmas. I became young Scrooge again. I remembered why I love Christmas.

Maybe it’s because of the world we live in right now. We need some Christmas magic. We need a few Christmas miracles.

My point is, everybody can celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is a mash-up of all sorts of traditions and religions.  How many scenes are there in “A Christmas Story” that take place in Church? How many times does anyone in the movie mention Jesus’s birthday? None. Basically, the universe created a holiday where at least once a year, everybody should be nice to each other. For just one day.

Can’t we all do that? Be decent and nice for one day?

I think we can. Anybody can join in the festivities. To Ellin, and all my Jewish friends, I say this: don’t feel left out. Join in. You, more than anybody, deserve it. Think about it. If it wasn’t for a Jew, there wouldn’t be a Christmas.

Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas!

And to all, have a very good night.


Share Your World – December 25, 2017

This is the last “share” for 2017!

2017? Imagine that!

How did we get into this century? The last thing I clearly remember was worrying about the year 2000 and how all the calendars in the universe were going to stop working and our computers wouldn’t work and the world would end in a dizzying crazy of datelessness! Oh the horrors we anticipated. Instead, we got … well … now.

You see, that’s the problem with worry. Not only doesn’t it work, but we always worry about the wrong stuff. It’s a thing. So for all you worriers out there, focus. You need to worry about the things that you need to worry about. Make lists. Try to find THE most worrisome stuff and concentrate on that.

Worry is bad. Worrying about the wrong stuff is even worse!

What caring thing are you going to do for yourself today?

I’m not even getting out of my warm flannel nightgown and bathrobe. I’m staying cozy and comfortable and doing not one single thing that is required of me today.

List at least five of your favorite spices? (excluding salt and pepper)

Spice – favorites

Garlic, Z’atar, Thyme, Basil, Chili powder, Ginger

What can you always be found with?

I am really not sure what that means. Like … my camera? You may find me without it because I definitely don’t sleep with my camera, but otherwise, I am never far from a camera.

My favorite!

Or more accurately, a lot of cameras. Because you just never know where the next picture will come from!

What inspired you or what did you appreciate this past week?

The town looked very pretty and very New England in the winter. And for a pre-Christmas week, it was pretty quite and rather … peaceful. Overall, not bad at all. I think maybe we have really passed the frenzy and moved to a more comfortable place in our world where holidays come and go without the insanity that used to be part of them.

I feel a little bit like an alien (as from space-type-alien) visitor, watching earth creatures and seeing them scurry around, trying to do whatever they do … while I take notes!


By Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.


And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.


Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.


More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”


As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.


His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.


He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


This is the time of year we usually share memories of Christmases past as we deal with this holiday season. We have already watched a few of our favorite “r/x” movies. “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol” (the 1951  Alistair Sim version). It was fun, in the moment, viewing those classics, but the feel-good vibes didn’t linger.

This, I suspect, is the winter of discontent for many of us. I think of my fellow retirees, those deep into double-digit years of retirement. The “golden years” myth disappeared long ago. The celebratory wine now is cheap hooch as we absorb the first year of the White House tenant and his minions. How would Charles Dickens begin chapter one of this historical piece?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It was the worst of times….

We’re bombarded with holiday TV specials, new age Carols I don’t recall, sung by smiley faces I don’t recognize.  The nightly network news/24 hour cable news are relentless with “Dr. Strangelove” breaking news tweets, apocalyptic natural disasters involving every country on the planet, and daily offerings of mass shootings.  The news outlets usually give us a “kicker” story with a Hollywood happy ending. I don’t find myself smiling.

As I write, I find myself in a Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey moment wondering how it went so sour.  I know I’ve made my share of mistakes on the home front but they hardly seem deserving to be one of the usual suspects in this turgid real life melodrama.

Our furry kids —  Bonnie, Gibbs, and Duke seem oblivious to the scenario. They’re waiting for Santa Claus, sure their dreams of mammoth offerings of biscuits and other treats will be waiting for them when the Big Guy drops by our house.

The dogs are our comedy central. They make us smile and laugh in the middle of our anger and, yes, self-pity. I can feel the “woe is me” heavy on my shoulders as I write. I’d like to think I’m not alone in my whining.

When our world was young, I never took time to see or hear what my parents were doing during this time of year. I didn’t see my Mother grimace as she pored over the bills, the annoying phone calls from the bad bank people and others asking for past due payments. I didn’t really pay attention to my Dad’s exasperation over where the hard-earned pay from his two jobs went.  I didn’t see the anger on his face or frustration in his voice because I was too busy pestering them about the stuff I wanted from Santa Claus. After all, what I wanted was really the most important issue. That much was clear to me.

One December evening, I recall my Mom biting her lip, reaching for patience and calmly telling me, “Garry, one day when you’re a man, you’ll understand why your Father and I seem so short with you. You’ll see. I just hope I’m around to see how you handle things.”

I thought Mom was kidding with me, putting me off about my toys list. Adult stuff which didn’t make sense to me. Mom and Dad were always quietly — or so they thought — arguing about how they could pay for essentials and take care of me (and later, my two younger brothers) and my not-so-secret Santa list.

I’d usually shrug them off. It was just boring parent stuff, I reasoned, then sneaked off to listen to my radio shows. Off with my heroes of yesteryear,  The Lone Ranger,  Sgt. Preston, Superman, The Shadow, others, I was oblivious to the real world problems of my parents.

All was calm, all was right.

Mom isn’t here to see how I deal with things now. Neither is Dad. They’d probably grin at all my soul-searching and “why me?” queries.

I’ll never know how many bleak Christmases Mom and Dad endured while making sure everything was good for me and my brothers. Kids never know. If they’re lucky, as we were,  it’s a Walt Disney world with no grumbling about the state of our nation. No awareness about how bad hombres are in charge of our ship of state.

Marilyn and me, in a much lesser role, will try to make Christmas 2017 a happy time for our family. Marilyn is already busy with tonight’s dinner.  Tomorrow’s festive dinner is in progress. She feels much the way I do about this Christmas but carries the major load in keeping us afloat, including taking of me. That’s her year round gift to me.

Marilyn isn’t Clarence but she’s long overdue for wings.  Wait! Don’t I hear a distant bell?

Attagirl, Marilyn!

Photo: Garry Armstrong