A quiet New Year’s Eve

I always feel like an “old soul” on New Year’s Eve.

And it doesn’t have a thing to do with my age!

There’s just too much mischief and noise and forced revelry for me. Too many exploding fireworks, too many drunks on the road, too many expectations of serious fun, too many “Year in Review” lists.

It seems as if everybody is looking back, when I’d much prefer looking ahead!

As a kid, I loved staying up late to watch the New Year’s specials on TV and share a toast with the grown-ups. Maybe it was the chance to postpone bedtime; maybe it was the treat of “toasting” with sparkling grape juice or even a soda; maybe it was the joy of listening to “teenaged music” without parental grumbling for a change!

Fast-forward several years. My ex-husband and his family introduced me to their custom of banging pots to celebrate the new year. They’d all march out to the front porch — pans and pots and kitchen utensils in hand — and beat the living daylights out of them. I never knew if it was to frighten the “bad spirits” or “make a joyful noise to the Lord.”

After My Favorite Domer came along, I found myself working many New Year’s Days so I could spend Christmas with him. Consequently, New Year’s Eve was pretty much a non-event and like as not, found me fast asleep when the ball dropped in New York City!

Probably my favorite New Year’s Eve, though, came when I was in college. I spent the weekend with a girlfriend after a bowl game, and the two of us each had two dates in one night! We got bored with the first pair of guys and ditched them early — pleading headaches, or some such excuse! — then promptly went right back out with two new guys and had a blast. The midnight hour found us chomping French fries and guzzling hot chocolate in a 24-hour diner!

Totally out of character, I know, but fun anyway.

Suffice it to say, my “stick-in-the-mud” ways mean I won’t be nursing a hangover tomorrow. I won’t be moaning my lack of sleep or wondering how I got home or what happened to my car.

I won’t have spent more money than I could afford, won’t have eaten or drunk myself into misery, won’t have lost a finger or an eye to a firecracker.

A quiet New Year’s Eve really isn’t so bad, after all.


“Is that all?”

Okay, show of hands.

How many of you got what you really wanted for Christmas this year?

Be honest, now.

Was the style exactly right, or the color, or the size, or the brand?

What about the price? Was it so extravagant that you knew somebody would be paying for it clear into next summer, or was it so cheap that you immediately thought of shoving it in a closet (or re-gifting next year)?

And what about Christmases past? How many of them truly lived up to your expectations?

We all have a tendency to build the holidays up. Happy television people, happy magazine people become our ideals.

In a frenzy, we decorate, bake, shop, wrap, and hide our presents from peeking eyes; we address Christmas cards; we browse online, salivating over untold goodies that we have to have NOW.

And in all the glitter and tinsel and sugar and trimmings, we lose sight of why we’re celebrating this day.

So it’s no wonder we find ourselves feeling let down when the last package is opened.

We’re not alone. Our kids pick up on this, and it’s not pretty.

Most parents know (and dread) “that look” on their kids’ faces.

The one that appears confused.

The darlings look around expectantly and ask, “Is that all?”

They might be sitting on the floor surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper and new treasures, yet there it is.

“Is that all?”

My Favorite Domer did it. My sister did it before him.

My late father, always the voice of reason, told a true story to put things into perspective.

When Dad was a child, money was very tight. It was the time of the Great Depression. Men were jumping out of windows to their deaths after learning their job was gone and so was their money. Women were taking in laundry. Folks were standing in bread lines. Everybody was hungry and tired and sick and scared.

One Christmas, Dad recalled, he wanted toys like the other kids. Something to play with, to enjoy in those wretched times.

But my grandparents could ill afford fancy toys. They did their best to put food on the table and clothes on the kids’ backs.

Still, it was Christmas, so my practical grandmother put together a special toy just for my Dad.

Imagine his surprise — and disappointment! — Christmas Day when he opened a marshmallow man, complete with candy cane arms and legs and a marshmallow head.

That was all.

No toys. Not even one.

Not even another present.

So while you’re squirreling that hideous sweater into the re-gifting closet, while you’re standing in yet another returns line at Wal-Mart, while you’re consoling (for the fifth time) a weeping child disappointed over not getting the latest-and-greatest, think about that.

And remember — it’s not the present, it’s the love behind the present, that truly matters.

Our Dilemma over The Presents

What do other people do about The Presents when they’re going “over the river and through the woods” for the Christmas holidays?

Yes, you read that right — The Presents.

You know, the GIFTS.

I’m not talking about the ones you have to take to Uncle Mike, Grandma, or Cousin Harry.

I mean the ones you exchange with your immediate family.

Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, maybe Fido and Fluffy.

In the overall scheme of things, this might not seem to be much of an issue, but it is (and has been) a controversy in our family for as long as I can remember.

It started after my parents married and moved far away from home. Lonely for their families during the holidays, they decided to make an annual pilgrimage south for Christmas. This “tradition” continued when we kids came along — and that’s where things got sticky.

You see, my parents’ siblings, too, had married and were having children. So the family was growing. Money was tight, and we kids often balked at having to travel several hundred miles to visit kith and kin, when we could be enjoying a break from school with our friends.

And then there was the dilemma over the presents.

Basically, there were two options — neither of which was appealing:

a) Leave the presents at home, or
b) Take the presents with us

Sounds simple, right? Wrong.

Let’s look closer at these choices.

If we left the presents at home, we’d have to celebrate Christmas morning with nothing to unwrap (unless our parents went out and replenished the stash, which, as I said before, was cost-prohibitive).

And just try telling little kids (or teenagers!) that they have to wait until they get back home to open their presents!

Not gonna fly, I’m telling you.

By the time we got back home, school was starting up again, meaning we never really got to enjoy those presents. And it’s anti-climactic to open presents after the holidays!

Option B isn’t ideal either.

Sure, you have something to open on Christmas Day, but at what cost? Packing presents in the trunk of a car means boxes get crushed and bows unraveled. Packing them inside left little wiggle room for us.

And there are some things (bicycles, for instance) that take up too much space to pack. Who wants to leave behind an extra suitcase or two when you really don’t know what the weather might bring or what you’ll need when you arrive?

Many times, we compromised. We’d open the big stuff early and take the smaller presents with us.

I imagine our relatives must have thought we’d been extremely naughty since our “loot” pile looked so small!

So I’m looking for advice. If you’ve been in this kind of situation, how did you handle it? What works?

Another farewell

About two weeks before Christmas, one of my mom’s sisters suddenly collapsed on her kitchen floor after suffering  a massive stroke.
She was dead less than 36 hours later.
Once again, my family is experiencing grief and coping with the loss of a loved one during the holidays (my dad passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2008).
Once again, our focus shifts from happiness and gift-giving and tinsel on Christmas trees to sorrow and funeral arrangements and tears.
The child in me screams, “Enough already! Turn Death off! He’s too cruel at this time of year.”
But nobody asked for my opinion.
Auntie M. was one-of-a-kind. Clean as a pin, she always had a dishrag in her hands, mopping up someone’s messes, toweling off her already-spotless counters.
Her kitchen was one of my favorite places. The smells wafting around there were enough to melt the cockles of the meanest heart — warm butter (a stick at a time), chocolate chip cookies (mine, without nuts), snow-white divinity, rich and creamy fudge, fig cake cookies (made from an old family recipe).
And you couldn’t get out of her house without at least one colorful round tin filled to the brim with some of those treats!
As if anybody would turn down goodies, fattening or not!
In her younger days, Auntie M. was quite a hoot. We kids would listen enthralled as she and her husband, my parents, and the other siblings and their spouses would gather with their mother (my grandma) around the kitchen table for a rousing game of penny poker.
Oh, the laughter! Oh, the chiding! Oh, sound of coins and cards hitting the table and ice cubes clinking in glasses!
Auntie M. also was quite the fisherwoman. She and her husband had a cabin of sorts along a lake (in addition to their family home), and they loved spending time reeling in fish, which she promptly battered and fried (more yummy smells!)
One of Auntie M.’s favorite expressions was “cotton pickin’.” Only years later did I realize it was her way of protecting us kids from some of the not-so-nice words flying from the mouths of my other relatives!
My mom talked to Auntie M. the evening before her collapse. She said she’d had a wonderful day visiting with her kids and their kids, and she was looking forward to getting together wih my mom over Christmas, to share a few laughs, catch up on old times, and do sisterly things.
It wasn’t to be.
While we mourn for the woman who left us, we rejoice that she’s no longer in pain, that she’s reunited with her beloved husband and parents, and that one day, we’ll see her again.
This is the hope of Christmas, that the Baby lying in the manger came to free us from death and draw us to Himself forever.
Merry Christmas 2010 to all my family and friends!

R.I.P., Lizzy

My sister sent me a link via e-mail this morning asking, What’s up with this story?

After reading through the story and talking to My Favorite Domer, I feel compelled to respond.

The gist is this: a 19-year-old St. Mary’s College freshman named Lizzy Seeberg and her girlfriend went with two Notre Dame men to the men’s dorm on Aug. 31. The fellow Lizzy was with was an ND football player. After a couple of beers, the foursome went to the football player’s room for a “dance party.” The other couple left, then something happened. Lizzy reportedly was fondled and bullied against her will until the football player’s cell phone interrupted and he “threw her off.” Afterward, Lizzy reported the incident to police. The football player’s story was similar, except he said what happened was consensual. Ten days later, Lizzy was dead after allegedly ingesting an overdose of the anti-depressant Effexor.

This week, the University announced there would be no prosecution, effectively putting the case to an end. Attorneys said the only person who could give Lizzy’s side of the story was Lizzy, yet she’s dead and cannot testify.

So an ugly incident is resolved to nobody’s satisfaction.

In a perfect world, parents wouldn’t have to bury their children. Young women wouldn’t feel so enamored of athletes that they put themselves in compromising situations. Young men wouldn’t take advantage of vulnerable women. Young people wouldn’t resort to suicide to solve temporary problems. And they wouldn’t engage in underage drinking — ever.

Yet we don’t live in a perfect world. Lizzy Seeberg, by her parents’ admission, was “naive” and loved to party. She also battled an anxiety disorder, depression, and panic attacks for years. And the football player reportedly had demons of his own, dealing with issues of aggression and bullying since middle school.

Some have complained that he faced no disciplinary action in the wake of this incident, that he continued playing football for the University even. But if no crime was committed, why punish him? And if a crime was committed and covered up, everybody involved shares in the blame.

While gossiping and finger-pointing might make us feel better, only Lizzy and the unnamed football player really know what happened that night, and they’re not talking.

One no longer can. And that’s sad, very sad.

And so I Write

Ever since I can remember, it’s been one of my most persistent dreams to write a novel.

As a kid, I started a book (in pencil, by hand!) every summer. Mostly, it was a loose collection of semi-autobiographical tales that happened to a make-believe person.

When summer ended, so did the book. It wasn’t finished, but I put it on a shelf in my closet and started a new one the following summer.

And so it went — for years.

My first career was as a newspaper journalist.

I wrote every day — nonfiction. Real things that happened to real people in real time.

My colleagues and I often talked about writing “the Great American Novel.” Most of them weren’t serious; I was, but dared not admit it for fear of being ridiculed and discouraged.

One day, the “itch” became so insistent that I had to scratch it. I started a novel.

Not on company time, mind you. By then, I was on a new career in Web Design. Running my own business meant I could write around projects.

I wrote while watching my son’s soccer games, or waiting for him to get out of school, or during one of his many lessons.

And I actually finished this novel. Keyed in (on computer) “The End.” Finally, I was a writer!

The book was awful, unless you count spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (thank you, grade school nuns!). If you like tension, conflict, characterization, and such, forget it.

So it joined the unfinished others on the shelf, while I devoured Writer’s Digest magazines, poured money into writing how-to books, attended workshops and tried to learn what I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Several years ago I faced another dreaded lull in my business.

Time on my hands. Fear of going to the poorhouse.

I started a second novel and finished it, too.

This one was better. With age comes courage (if we’re lucky), and I sent out query letters, hoping to snag a literary agent.

No takers.

I studied some more. Did more reading. Attended a conference or two.

And started my third novel.

I typed “The End” several months ago and have since polished and revised and polished some more. Once again, I’m shopping for an agent. Once again, I’m looking for publication.

Because everybody knows being a writer is different from being an author — right?

Well, sort of.

I’d like to think I don’t need publication to validate what I’m doing. That, even if I can’t go into a bookstore and pick up a book with my name on the cover and my words inside, I’m still a writer.

But why write if you can’t share your words with the world??

So I’ll continue chasing my dream. And I’ll continue to write because that’s what writers do.

As Admiral Farragut once said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Here, Kitty!

My Favorite Domer says I must be part cat. He even calls me “Kitty” on occasion.

I think he’s onto something.

You see, I’ve never been very fond of being wet, be it rain-soaked or swimming-pool immersed.

My dad always used to welcome a good rain, especially if it came with a lightning show and lots of thunder. It cleans the earth, he’d point out.

I agree, but washing is supposed to be done at night, not during the day. And that’s when rains should fall, too.

If they did, there’d be no need for rain jackets and hats and boots and umbrellas — shoot, entire industries would dry up.

So to speak.

But rainy days are depressing. They’re gray and drab — and wet.

It’s that part-cat thing, remember.

Long ago, I was coerced into taking swimming lessons.

“You never know,” my parents said. “Being able to swim might save your life some day.”


So I dutifully went to the pool and suffered.

It wasn’t bad enough that I had to wrap my then-skinny body in a swimsuit. Invariably, the temperature here in June hovers somewhere around the 60-degree mark, give or take. Not near warm enough to heat a huge outdoor pool to where it’s comfortable.

Bath water comfortable, I’m talking about.

Combine the embarrassment of appearing (milky-white body, of course) in a swimsuit with the pain of dropping into near-freezing water and you can imagine how I dreaded the ordeal.

To this day, I shun water sports. I don’t water ski. I don’t swim laps for exercise. I don’t do water aerobics. I don’t dive or snorkel.

And I hate driving on bridges and flying over big bodies of water.

Terra firma, that’s where I’m meant to be.

If the Good Lord had wanted me to swim, He’d have given me fins and flippers instead of arms and legs, right?


Notre Dame this ‘n that

Earlier this week, the Fightin’ Irish lady’s soccer team captured the NCAA championship title, beating previously undefeated Stanford 1-0.

You probably didn’t hear much hoopla about it, though, unless you lived in the South Bend area or were actively following the sport.


Well, I think a lot has to do with the fact that sportscasters tend to focus on more “popular” games like football, basketball, or baseball. In addition, I think there’s still a bit of the “old boy’s network” in the sports field, leading announcers to pay more attention to men’s sports then women’s.

A third reason, I suspect, has a hint of the “green-eyed monster” in it — the mentality that anything having to do with something positive coming out of Notre Dame just isn’t news.

It’s aggravating as a Domer Mom to realize everybody isn’t for your kid’s school; in fact, many hate Notre Dame. Their reasons, I imagine, are many and varied, but it’s hard for me to come up with even one!


This year’s Fightin’ Irish football team will play Miami in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve in El Paso, Texas.

Along with the Sugar and the Orange bowls, the Sun Bowl is the second-oldest college bowl game in the country, following the Rose Bowl. Game time is noon MST.

By the way, if you’d hoped to score tickets, you might be able to find some, but I’m told the good seats were snatched up like TV sets at a Black Friday sale.

It’ll probably be easier to watch in the comfort of your own home from one of those TV sets, anyway.

You did manage to grab one on sale, didn’t you?

It’s Snowing!

As I type this, it’s snowing outside.

Now, for some people, that would be a nuisance and an inconvenience. They’re the ones who bask in warm temps year-round, who never have to worry about snow-covered sidewalks and icy roadways. They don’t own winter coats or mittens, and boots are purely a fashion statement.

Part of me envies them their sunshine. I, too, used to live in the south where it’s easy to put up outside decorations at this time of year. But the bigger part of me welcomes winter.

C’mon, how many Christmas cards depict palm trees and beach scenes?? How many carols sing of balmy weather and golf courses? And you can’t roast chestnuts over an open fire when it’s blazing hot outside!

Nope, this is the time of year when it’s supposed to be cold. Trees, grass, and plants are supposed to grow dormant. Squirrels and birds are supposed to become scarce. Daylight is supposed to become shorter.

People, too, are supposed to “hibernate.”

I can remember many winters as a child when we used this time of year to learn new things — how to play chess, for example. Or pinochle or hearts, monopoly or backgammon. Sometimes, entire days would go by when we couldn’t leave the house for the weather.

Talk about cabin fever!

True, shoveling mounds of heavy snow isn’t on top of my Fun-Things-To-Do list. Nor is driving on icy streets, having to wear a heavy coat and boots everywhere, and looking outside on yet another bleak, gray day.

But there’s something to be said for curling up with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate while the wind howls outside!

And, while winter itself sometimes seems to drag forever, it won’t be long before the days lengthen, the warmth returns, and the earth comes alive again.

That’s why I like having four distinct seasons!