Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkeys and Christmas Carols

We had Thanksgiving.  It was just one of many stops on the calendar as we become holiday nomads trekking our way through November and December. 

I love Thanksgiving.  It is that nearly-forgotten cross-cultural transition observance inserted between spooks and Santa (the old annual angels and demons conundrum).

So much preparation and planning go into pulling off this one meal, that it is easy to understand why I only cook twice a year, (the other occasion being Christmas Eve.)

We placed bets on how long it would be before a grandkid asked for the one item in the universe which didn’t happen to appear on the table.  This year it was Carter.  After perusing the elaborate banquet laid out in Martha Stewart splendor before everyone’s bedazzled eyes, he demanded sugar gruel and dippy eggs.  3 minutes, 39 seconds.  A new record.

The dinner was a triumph.  There were few left-overs, the most obvious evidence that our family members are apex predators being the hapless turkey carcass residing in the outdoor receptacle.  We stuffed the turkey and the turkey stuffed us.  Symbiosis at its most elemental.

Of course, everyone’s favorite part of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner was the traditional after-dinner “piecing,” in which no preposterous socially mandatory instruments such as spoons or forks are required to continue the feeding frenzy…only fingers.  Rudimentary foraging.  Forget sterile procedure.  We consumed enough densely-packed calories to allow for hibernation in the arctic. The behavior of our family gaggle inspired us to trace our genealogy back to cro-magnon. There was a constant rhythmic percussion of “thup, thup,” as wads of everything from salad to potatoes were compressed between thumb and forefinger and sucked past the epiglottis into the gut.  This continued for hours…perpetual indulgence playing itself out like a culinary mutation of “Groundhog Day.” Eating can be entertaining, if not particularly pretty.

Unfortunately, we have become casualties of our own success, because out of success is born…TRADITION!  Tradition tyrannizes.  Tradition is like a malignant parasite.  Very subtly and almost unnoticed, tradition burrows into one’s holly-filled heart, infests the mistletoe of the mind, and corrupts one’s holiday spirit.  Before one has time to say “HOOAH Fudrucker’s!” one has morphed into a member emeritus of  the comically depraved.

Oh, I start December with the highest ethical standards of merriment. I deck every hall.  I hang each stocking by the chimney with great care.  I roast chestnuts on an open fire.  I hark every herald angel in the choir.  I play my drums whenever I see a nativity, and even toot my own horn.  I actually bought a spinet just to play carols on.  I am the repository of every magnanimous thought, and all the fa la la la la’s emitted from my mouth bring joy to the world.

But somewhere along the way, (usually about December 2nd), something happens.  Things change.  I change. There is a dark side to the holidays. I begin grinning idiotically. Exhaustion, triptophan, and lack of sufficient oxygen to the brain combine to produce a combustible condition that transforms me from Suzy Snowflake to the odious Mrs. Hyde. I LOSE MY FA LA LA LA LA! Dark circles ring my eyes like malignant door wreaths.  The constant swilling of caffeine renders my eyes stark, red, and unable to blink.  Daily affirmation is abandoned.  For 30 consecutive days, I become the unrelenting alter-ego, a mal-lingual, evil speaking embodiment of the anti-uber-celebrant…ashamed, but unrepentant.  

The disintegration from celebration to degeneration develops incrementally.  Ironically, it usually occurs in about twelve steps, rather like a mutation of those required for addiction recovery program, and remarkably similar to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol that triggers the instinct to kill after the third time it is sung in its entirety.  I doubt I’d be convicted by a jury of my peers.  (Just what are “lords a’ leaping” anyway??)  

And so in particular and exquisitely precise order, here is my own peculiar advent calendar of December days as they occur in reality, without the distortion of the nostalgic lenses of Currier and Ives and Thomas Kincaid.  This is the precipitous metamorphosis from rationality to debauchery in a matter of a mere six weeks.  Caution: The following  contains graphic and raw images that may be disturbing to those who have not yet begun their Christmas shopping. It is not for the faint of heart. Viewer discretion is advised.

1.    Eat.  Pray.  Love.
2.    Eat.  Pray.  Clean.
3.    Eat.  Clean.  Shop.
4.    Shop.  Rush.  Decorate. Clean again.
5.    Eat.  Eat.  Eat.
6.    Eat.  Decorate more to keep up with the neighbors.  Cry.  Curse.
7.    Buy.  Wrap.  Buy more to surpass the neighbors. Collapse.
8.    Overspend.  Break budget on annual gift blizzard.  Go to debt counseling.
9.    Buy yet more.  Take out loan.  Attend weekly sessions of Over-spenders Anonymous.
10.    Eat.  Weigh.  Cry.
11.    Weigh.  Diet.  Curse.  Binge.  Splurge.  Purge.
12.    Look in the mirror.  Become clinically depressed.  Call plastic surgeon.
13.    Destroy all of Bing Crosby’s CD’s for the crime of auditory overload. Blast TV with shotgun after 10th re-run of “It’s A Wonderful Life” while planting explosives in all the underwear of every resident in Whoville, forcing them to yield to the moral superiority of brute force.  Make random threats to no one in particular while muttering incoherently.
14.    Dismember anyone who utters the diabolical duo:  Zhu Zhu.  Neutor Rudolph and single-handedly commit gender reassignment on Santa’s entire herd of reindeer.  Resist the urge to waterboard all the residents of the North Pole.  (Commonly known as blurring ethical lines for a higher cause.)
15.    Curse the names of Normal Rockwell and Irving Berlin.  Start a rumor that every chestnut on every open fire and every sugar plum that dances in every head is contaminated with H1N1.  Begin singing duets with Brian David Mitchell.
16.    Break the drum of every little drummer boy on the planet.  Maniacally proclaim Bristol Palin the World’s greatest dancer ever.  Run naked down the street shouting, “Santa is a fleshy fraud and we’re all going to die!”
17.    Eat.  Cry.  Beg Santa to up my Zoloft.
18.    Swear.  Swear.  Swear – while eating.
19.    Deck more halls. Deck fellow shoppers.  Go home with migraine.
20.    Seek forgiveness.  Join 12-step program for harsh language addiction.  Enter rehab for the criminally profane. 

I can’t wait for January and the return of drab, monotonous rationality, when our only concerns are wars, crime, politics and scandal.  Of course, in the Ashton household, “WikiLeaks” are just failed attempts at toilet training little boys. 

Before I surrender my dignity to the seasonal rant-and-collapse recurring cycle, like an endless video loop, I will try to remember it’s not about the frenzy, it’s about the purpose.  As December 2nd approaches, and I am one ho ho ho away from being institutionalized for felonious merriment, I will send this sage advice along with my Christmas greetings:  Eat.  Pray.  Love.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


posted by Joan Ashton

Last week we went to see Dracula…live (so to speak)…on stage.  Holy Phlebotomy!  Talk about blood drive.  This guy could single-fangedly bankrupt all the blood reserves in the country.  He’s one scary dude!  Our seats are in the third row back…dead center.  I found myself wishing for triage and a spatter shield.

Really, I never understood the public’s current infatuation with vampires.  I tried valiantly and finally triumphed in reading “Twilight,” but was singularly unenamoured. There is a glaring lack of literary sense.  But somehow it has caught the imagination of hopeless romantics, so I suppose that validates the tale in spite of erudite arguments to the contrary. 

Actually, vampires are intriguing. Their history pre-dates even Bram Stoker’s iconic tale.  Folklore from the ancient world among Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and Indians, as well as Greek mythology tell of vampires who drank the blood of those foolish enough to go to sleep when the moon was full. 

I hope I’m not misunderstood.  I don’t want to appear to be racist or ghoulishly profiling “the children of the night,” or suggest that I have a cultural bias against the feeding habits of the undead who haunt graveyards in search of meals as if it were some sort of grisly Chuckarama!

But there is something slightly macabre about the suggestion that one could fall in love with a creature, suave and charming I agree, who looks at you as his next meal.  Of course, a vampire with a conscience is still a vampire, even if he really, REALLY regrets violating your jugular.

So I decided to compile my top ten reasons why I’m not in love with Dracula…we’re just friends.

10.    Dracula seems to have a certain animal magnetism for flatliner women who wander vacant-eyed around some creepy mansion in gauzy gowns and whiny voices.  A fifteen-year-old thread-bare Minnie Mouse nightshirt is singularly unqualified as a garment of seduction.

9.    I’ve never found someone whose gaunt pallor is as pasty as pizza dough a particular turn-on.  A lighter shade of pale is fine as a color on a paint chip, but not as a lover.

8.    It’s hard enough to tell a fellow his fly is open, but there is no socially acceptable way to tell him there’s a blood clot between his teeth.
7.  If I cut myself shaving, it would be like ringing the dinner bell.
6.  I’ve never been attracted by anyone whose fingernails resemble a full set of Ron Popeel’s paring knives.

5.  How alluring is a guy who measures his caloric intake in corpuscles?

4.  You know a man is of questionable character when his alter ego is a corpse.

3.  I was never any good at geology.  Where is Carpathia anyway?  Aren’t Carpathians mostly farmers?  Tillers of the soil?  I could never fall in love with someone whose sanctum sanctorum is a wooden box filled with native dirt…a composite of detritus and yak dung.  Ooooh, think of the dandruff!

2.   For me to be attracted to a guy, he has to have more going for him than a well-developed set of incisors.  People that flash their canines as their eyes are glazing over cannot be considered orthodox persons of interest.

1.  Dracula doesn’t romance.  He forages.

Of course, there is a certain efficiency to dining with a vampire.  No dishes.  But it does put one off one’s appetite to have a quiet dinner with someone who impales his guests after dessert.  Besides, breath that is over 400 years old gives the term, “fetid” a bad name.

Which all brings me to this one point.  Brodi has written a book in which the main character is human.  His name is Jack.  He has no interest in desiccating his fellow classmates.  He is not reduced to dust particles upon solar exposure.  He’s just had braces, so no inordinate pointed teeth protrude for puncturing, ripping and tearing apart one’s friends and acquaintances.  His menu is varied enough to allow for fruits and vegetables.  He can guzzle anything from energy drinks to soda pop without triggering the gag reflex.  He travels by car, bike or foot.  No need to metamorphose into a disgusting night creature that flies around the gargoyles of haunted mansions.  And he never arrives or exits in the midst of mist.  I guess it’s a by-product of growing up along the Wasatch Front, but I have a terrible aversion to inversions. 

Bottom line:  Drac sucks.  Jack doesn’t! 

So look out Edward, et al.  Chick Alert!  Jack will be arriving in January, 2012.  And he has charisma without halitosis.  Boo Ya! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Turkey Season

It’s November.  We emerged from October bloodied, but not bowed.  All the kids’ costumes are back in storage, and the ghosts and phantoms of Halloweens past have been laid to rest – for now. 

Choosing just the right costume is not easy.  These things must be done delicately.  Brodi’s husband, Sam, claimed to be a metrosexual. However unclear I am on THAT concept, nevertheless, diplomacy above all - as Mother-in-Law Superior, I decided not to ask, and not to tell. 

I have discovered that I suffer from that rare and medically unsubstantiated condition known as “ghoulrophobia,” a fear of cadaverous and scary things.  That’s a fact. So I simply donned my fake fat butt and went around making snarky comments.  Being snarky is an acquired skill, requiring practice and a propensity for self abasement. Well, the stress eventually caused me to break out in shiny vitreous crystals and shed flaky biotate mica.  I worried about eroding away to nothingness, leaving only a thin layer of scar tissue and body fat encased in a Depends in a greasy puddle on the floor. I finally decided to drop the snarky, and just keep the fake fat butt. Sadly, nobody seemed to notice I was in costume.

This is the time of year when I become lost in small thoughts – random acts of mindless - so I won’t be swallowed by large thoughts.  On October 1st, we had our Christmas lights installed.  This made me a little cross, but the installers offer a discount for early hanging, and I just wanted that task off my mind. (An early-season snowstorm had frosted my tundra, which only served to up my irritability quotient.) However, there’s something hard-core unnatural about cross-decorating.  It’s irksome. I felt like my whole house was in drag with orange pumpkins, black cats and white ghosts on the porch and red and green lights on the roof.  “Scary” and “merry” are a bizarre cocktail…a little like multiple personalities occupying the same psyche.  This is SO wrong!  But it’s the season for the criminally confused. 

October was also the month for Dennis to have his blood tested.  There are so many important statistics that must be monitored.  But the most crucial of vital signs, is the CA 19-9, a tumor marker whose rising value can signal a trend that could indicate recurrence.  We approach that blood draw with reticent respect for the power of conscienceless numbers. 

We were disappointed to learn that Dennis’ numbers were elevated just out of the range of normal.  It’s hard not to be paranoid. But Dr. Jones scheduled a re-draw three weeks later.  We spent 21 agonizing days in strident and often erratic distraction.  Not obsessing about something consumes a massive amount of energy.  Useless activity burns a lot of calories.  After the allotted time, we returned to the blood lab…a little mangled and unhinged.  And then we began the wait for the results, and the highly anticipated and equally dreaded phone call that would determine our future.

There is a computer in China, the Tianhe-1 machine, that is capable of sustained computing of 2.507 petaflops, the equivalent of 2,507 TRILLION calculations, per second.  Sadly, the lab at the Huntsman does not have access to technology of such velocity.  So we had to pace out the next 24 hours desperately searching for comic relief.  Thankfully, we have grandkids!

After an agonizing, interminable time, the results came back.  While the CA 19-9 is still slightly elevated, it has dropped six points, from 48 to 42.  Most important, the trend is down, not up.

Needless to say, we are all euphoric and raised our voices in ebullient shouts of “BOOYEAH!”  In an effort to find a unique way to celebrate, Erin, Brodi and I took the grandkids to Dennis’ office for flu inoculations.  (We’re nothing if not innovative.)  Some got the mist, and two got the shot.  Those who got the mist were flinging snot like the rankest bulls in the PBR.  Those who got the shot screamed louder than Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween.”  We didn’t care….shot or snot.  We simply mopped up all the viscous projectiles and apologized to the other patients and noise enforcement Nazis.  As we were leaving the waiting room, Carter shrieked in his finest demonic voice, “SHOTS KILL KIDS!”  Celebration is in the eye of the beholder.

There is a protocol in soccer that is observed when a player is down or injured on the field.  Both teams go down on one knee until that player recovers.  It is a gesture of sportsmanship and support.  Throughout the month of October, there have been a multitude of friends and loved ones on one knee.  Our family is now on both knees in gratitude – most appropriate for the month of November. 

However, I am already planning my costume for October of 2011.  Next year for Halloween, I’m dressing up as a PETAFLOP!