Music to Christmas by!

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As I’ve already said, I love Christmas music. I love dear old carols and modern favourites. I love it instrumental. I love it a capella. I love it warbled in the shower, hollered by kids,  and belted out by revellers. I love it spoken like poetry. All the same, some Christmas music has lost its lustre. Brenda Lee can stop rockin’ around all trees of any kind, forever. Nobody ever needs to cover “Last Christmas” again; Wham! did it right the first time. We don’t need any more mechanical phone-ins of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” either, complete with icky banter between the two singers at the end (although the old clip I just linked to has its charms). And Bob Geldof really needs to consider some alternative treatment to Band-Aids. The 1984 original is simply unbeatable. That moment when Bono wails “tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you” brings tears to my eyes, every time.

When Remembrance Day is over, Christmas music creeps into the background of my life. Sometimes, it’s our dusty CDs, rescued from the storage room and savoured, one by one, at odd moments. Sometimes, it’s the sweet surprise of hearing a Christmas favourite on the radio for the first time since last Boxing Day. Many times, it’s been the joy of discovering that Majic 100 has gone all Christmas, all the time – after days of checking in because we know it’s coming. In those cases, it comes roaring to the forefront, and I leap into it and roll around like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault. Today, I feel like sharing some of my favourite Christmas songs. These are in no particular order, and they are everything from whimsical to wistful. They are perfect for dashing through the mall, wrapping presents like a pro (even getting the ribbon curls right, because I am told that some people do), making a mess of a gingerbread house, or nibbling on your pen in front of a pile of blank cards. They are a precious part of my Christmas celebration, and I look forward to them every year. I’ve linked each title to the song. Enjoy, if you’ve a moment ….

“Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen

This old treasure, oddly tying together Snoopy and the first world war and that beautiful story of a Christmas truce, has been part of my Christmas for as long as I can remember. Oh, those bells after the baron wishes Snoopy a merry Christmas!

“2,000 Miles” by the Pretenders

I don’t know what it is about this, but it both lifts my heart and squeezes it, all at the same time.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” by Elvis Presley

The moment when the music surges and the drums pound us into the second verse, the high, sweet choir urging us to “sing”! That is a musical moment I look forward to, and cherish, every Christmas. It stops me in my tracks, every time.

“Santa Claus is Back in Town” by Elvis Presley

Elvis gets two songs …. but he’s Elvis, so it’s ok. This sexy little romp is pure festive fun, and I used to blast it at Christmastime when I was a teenager and my parents still had a record player. Now, I have the record, and it is no less loved.

“Spaceman Came Travelling” by Chris de Burgh

Chris de Burgh’s sweet quaver, and the echoing chorus, and the idea of seeing the manger from high above the planet like the spaceman …. and a celestial song kicked off by the first sound of new life, a baby’s cry.

“I Love Christmas” by Ali Milner

This jazzy little confection is just adorable, and you can just picture each scene as she sings about it. Instant mood boost ….

“Christmas is Calling” by Roch Voisine

Not sure who the leggy gal in the video is, and I know it’s rather random – but this is the only video I could find for this beautiful song. The sadness, the longing, the love – and the acknowledgement that Christmas can be many things, and it’s not always unalloyed delight.

“As Long As There’s Christmas” by Aselin Debson

This is just plain sweet …. Her wispy voice, the joy and nostalgia, the imagery – the homecoming. And the truth: there is always a little bit of a little girl in me at Christmastime.

“Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith

Maybe this Christmas there will be an open door …. maybe we will touch or be touched, maybe there will be forgiveness and redemption. Maybe we will not have heaven on earth, but maybe there will be gratitude for the good we do have. This song is less than two minutes long, but it captures the simple message of Christmas: renewal. And maybe that’s enough.

“Another Year Has Gone By” by Celine Dion

Ok, ok, it’s Celine Dion. A Canadian cheeseball. But, but, but …. If you listen to the beautiful lyrics of this song, you will hear the story of a strong love, and the celebration of another brick – another year – being laid on a solid foundation.

“Merry Christmas, Darling” by the Carpenters

“But I can dream, and in my dreams, I’m Christmassing with you” …. This is lovely and sad, made more stirring by the rich, clear voice of Karen Carpenter and the perfect harmonies in the background.

“Momma Mary” by Roger Whittaker

And then there’s this one …. How I love this song! The thrilling lyrics – “it had begun, he was the one”. The powerful story of the woman who said “yes”, and became a vessel for the love of God made flesh, and all that seventies folk rock awesomeness. My favourite Christmas album, in fact, is Roger Whittaker’s.

These are just a few of the many Christmas songs I find deeply moving, and that I love to hear every year, over and over. I hope they make your celebration more beautiful, too. Merry listening!

(I’m sure that as soon as I post this I’ll think of one or two that I left out somehow …. And feel free to share your favourites, too! Maybe I’ll hear something new to add to my collection ….)

Have a holly, jolly Christmas! No, really, you can …. here’s how.

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It’s December. Even the greenest of grinches will agree that it’s ok to talk about Christmas now. So here we go …. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music (even the cheesy stuff) and Christmas decorations (even the tacky stuff) and Christmas traditions. (Except rock-hard, waste-of-rum fruitcake – that stuff can be tossed straight into the dustbin of history, with all the other things no one likes anymore. Marmalade and gerkins, I’m looking at you guys.) For me, Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet it seems that, for many people, it’s anything but. Every day since the beginning of November I’ve seen at least one holiday de-stress guide. They have titles like “how to survive the holidays” and “how to handle Christmas stress” and “avoid your annual Christmas meltdown”. One author bitterly said “no wonder my mother got sick every January”, listed all the things she hates about Christmas, and claimed that this year she is toying with cancelled the holiday in her home. Why all the fuss? How has Christmas become something to panic and rant about, rather than a sweet celebration bringing us all together during the darkest days of the year?

I have a family, and a job (sadly, it’s not writing this blog or testing wine batches). I have a house and car that need regular maintenance and repairs. I have bills to pay. I have problems to work around, and bad days. In other words, I’m as stressed and tired as anyone else. But I refuse to let the trappings of Christmas make me crazy. I love it too much to let that happen. Because I know what’s best for everyone (yes, I do – that’s one of my reasons for blogging), I decided to create a list of ways to help you stay sane, too. Or, what passes for sane. That’s my standard, at least ….

Don’t buy in. One of the complaints I hear multiple times every Christmas is how expensive it is. What few people seem to consider is why. Why do we need expensive decorations? Want a dash of sparkle? Every dollar store currently contains aisle after aisle of trinkets, and enough red bows to brighten an entire city. Want old-fashioned charm? Make paper chains, or strings of popcorn and dried cranberries. Hand your children a stack of paper and a package of markers, and let them create Christmassy scenes for your walls. Why do we need to empty our wallets buying piles of presents? Ask a roomful of people their favourite thing from their childhood Christmases, and few – if any – will say it was the gifts. If you want to give gifts, keep it reasonable. Think of one or two meaningful things for each person on your list, and buy those things. If your budget doesn’t stretch to gifts, how about time? Offer to do something for your loved ones – or, better yet, something with them.

Love what you love (or don’t). Many people’s holiday complaints seem to be about Christmas-themed annoyances (again, trappings). They hate the dopey Christmas songs that seem to be on repeat in every store and restaurant. They hate the obnoxious commercials. They hate the schmaltzy TV specials. They hate the Elf on the Shelf (so do I – that smug little bugger needs to take an “accidental” tumble into the fireplace). But nobody’s forcing anyone to put up with any of this stuff! Christmas music isn’t your thing? Wear ear buds that stream your tunes straight into your head. And a little perspective might be helpful, too – it’s not as if establishments play only your faves all the rest of the year. And commercials are annoying all year long …. It’s not Jesus’ fault that morons in marketing decided to use his birthday to make everyone want fur coats and the latest electronics and Starbucks gift cards. Not a fan of Christmas programming? Just don’t watch it. None of these things are Christmas – they are just people’s response to Christmas. If you don’t like them, craft your own response and enjoy that.

Don’t exhaust yourself. You don’t have to decorate like Martha, even if you’re hosting. Uncle Pullmyfinger is going to be just as happy in his turkey-coma on your old couch as he would be on a new one. Nobody is going inspect your place with white gloves – in fact, wait til after the holidays to clean up. January is a long and boring month. I love writing and posting Christmas cards. I do dozens of them every year. They’re beautiful. I treasure the ones I receive. Many people don’t enjoy doing cards. If you’re one of them, don’t do them. Think about who might really appreciate a card, and then give that person a call instead. Great Aunt Grouchy would probably rather pour out her complaints to you in person anyway, instead of dashing off a line in her card about how she never sees you anymore. You don’t like baking? Buy cookies. You can’t cook? Buy boxes of wings and breaded shrimp and sausage rolls. Or order several pizzas. Or hire a caterer. This is not a culinary competition – it’s supposed to be fun. Too many social events crowding your calendar? Say no. I love parties. But if I didn’t, I wouldn’t drag myself from festivity to festivity like Eeyore searching for my tail. I’d stay home, throw on my flannel pyjamas, and curl up with a cup of peppermint tea and a good book – and I wouldn’t feel the tiniest sliver of guilt about it. If I thought my presence would be badly missed, I’d put in about thirty minutes of face-time, and then explain that I need a quiet evening to myself. People who really care about you will understand. People who don’t understand aren’t worth your free time anyway.

Downsize. You don’t have to do all the things, every year. Make a list of the things you consider Christmas obligations, and play with it. Put a star next to the ones you love. Then, look at what’s left, and put a star next to anything that is precious to your nearest and dearest. Your good friends enjoy a Christmassy trip to the mall? Your husband loves your homemade shortbread cookies? Your son’s Christmas is not complete without singing a few carols next to the fire? Do those things. Everything else, cross off. The things that are left will become more precious, and you won’t miss the things you were doing only because you felt like you had to.

Come together. The more, the merrier – especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas. I like to make chocolates at Christmas – vast quantities of them. This wasn’t much fun when I did it all by myself. So I taught some girlfriends how to do it, too. Now it’s a yearly event, with laughter and great food and wine. At the end of the evening, we divvy up the chocolates, and start talking about improvements for next year’s session. Shop with your sister. Decorate your home and wrap presents with your significant other. Recruit your kids to bake goodies with you, or arrange a cookie exchange. Encourage your co-workers to take on a charity with you. Christmas is a time to reach out to those around you, and give of yourself – and receive what is offered by others. Simple togetherness can be a lovely Christmas gift.

Disclaimer: This list is meant to help people who like Christmas but find it frustrating and stressful at times. If you don’t like Christmas, full stop, this post isn’t for you – try Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, or (if you’ve no time to read a novel) rum garnished with a cinnamon stick.

Black Friday is great if having stuff is what makes you happy.

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Any two countries that share a border will inevitably share other things. Good things like resources, talent, ideas, solutions, recipes. And bad things, like criminals, nuisance species of plants, bugs and animals, outbreaks – and, in our case, Black Friday. It was never a thing in Canada until recent years. I remember the first few tentative ads and sales, and the odd company publishing a flyer devoted to Black Friday deals. It started small. But It didn’t take long to find firm footing here ….

For the past week, a solid third of the radio commercials I’ve heard are for Black Friday events. Every second page of the newspaper features a Black Friday ad. You’re going to be blown away by these rock-bottom prices! You’ve never seen deals like these, and you might never see them again! Black Friday is not just Friday – these sales start Thursday and last all weekend long! They end just in time for Cyber Monday. Which is a handy little contingency for anyone who didn’t manage to buy enough over the weekend. Kind of like Boxing Day, a back-up plan for those who didn’t get enough for Christmas.

Defenders of Black Friday often say that it helps them save money on Christmas presents. This is true for many shoppers, but – from what I’ve seen of the event – there’s nothing even remotely Christmassy about it. People start lining up in the middle of the night, staking their spot in the hopes of being the first to plunge their greedy paws into piles of electronics, toys, clothes and household goods and grab as much as they can carry. They trample each other – people have been crushed to death in pursuit of cut-price merchandise. They come to blows over the last of the $10 food processors, $7 cardigans and $5 Monster High dolls. It takes a special level of obtuseness to link Black Friday madness with God becoming man in his humblest form – a baby born in poverty, to a low-class family, in occupied territory, who would one day be buried in a donated grave.

Tomorrow, news sources will report either massive retail success, or disappointment if the expected crowds didn’t show up. Next week, there will probably be an appeal from local food banks because the winter is coming and the shelves are bare. A week before Christmas, the Salvation Army will report that it has not received enough donations to help all the needy families on its list. The Mission will serve Christmas dinner to as many as they can, but some will be turned away when they run out of food. Perhaps these charities would be more successful if we bought less for ourselves and more for others. But, hey – it’s Black Friday, a great new Canadian tradition! Look how happy it makes everyone!

Excuse me – I spilled some sarcasm on my keyboard. Seriously, try to find a smile in any of these pictures. No matter how much stuff we manage to gather around us, we’re still the same on the inside: rich in stuff and poor in spirit.

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Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be assholes!

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Needless to say (but I will say it, because I have to say all the things), anyone who’s lived among other humans has encountered, is dealing with or will meet at least one asshole. Because they’re everywhere …. Tailgating, then angrily revving up to pass you whether it’s safe or not, then squeezing in front of you. Just so they can get wherever they’re going a minute faster. Cutting in line at the grocery store, then feigning innocence when you say “excuse me, I was in line already”. They know damn well what they did – they were just hoping you wouldn’t have the cojones to call them on it. Pitching a fit at the DMV because they don’t have the required paperwork with them, while the people in line behind them roll their eyes and sigh. Five minutes on the website would have told them everything they needed to know, but they’d rather spend fifteen minutes berating some poor schmuck who has no control over the rules and cannot escape the asshole’s rage because this is her job. Monopolizing the teacher well past their allotted ten minutes, knowing that the teacher has twenty other sets of parents waiting to talk to him. Because, of course, there’s only one child who matters: theirs. Stealing from the office kitchen. They make the same salary as everyone else, but they somehow feel entitled to a free coffee, or even someone else’s sandwich. Neighbours who clear their driveway by dumping the snow onto yours. People who don’t flush. I. Can’t. Even. with the people who don’t flush.

I always knew of the existence of assholes. What I didn’t know is how early they take their first steps down the path to full-blown assholery …. until I became a mother. Fiona was all of one year old when a kid at least three years older than her snatched her pail and shovel at the playground, declaring that he needed it and she wasn’t old enough to use it anyway. At about the same age, two years later, Bridget was discovered by a sadistic little girl who – though older, taller and heavier – insisted on riding her, horsey-style, while she wailed. No matter how many times I pulled that brat off her, it was inevitable that I would have to do it again before the playgroup session ended. I can’t count how many times both girls have watched longingly while some kid hogged the swings, pretending oblivion to the fact that other kids wanted a turn. Nearly every time we’ve visited a McDonald’s, I’ve cringed while watching small ones jostled and toppled by kids who are old enough to know that they should be more careful – and, in some cases, too old to be using the play area anyway.

The most bountiful source, by far, of assholes has been school …. There was the girl who slammed Fiona’s head against the school bus window, and ripped the tassel off her toque. The boy who took Fiona’s beloved cowboy hat from her and danced around with it high in the air while she cried. This is the same boy who, horrifyingly, stuck another kid’s finger in the pencil sharpener and shaved off a layer of skin. Cue the theme from “Psycho”. The girl who, when asked if Fiona could join her group, let her eyes slide around, counting the kids already involved, then protested that Fiona was one too many because this was a game for seven. The boy who knocked Bridget down from behind, causing her to skin out both palms and both knees. The gang of sixth-graders who plagued the schoolyard last year, teasing younger kids about everything from the toys they were playing with to their hair colour, until the principle blew his stack in front of all the students and ordered the jerks out of his school (he earned my respect that day, and – presumably – the love of every underdog from junior kindergarten to the top). While we’re talking about sixth-graders, the sixth-grade boys who thought it was funny to ask the little girls on the bus if they’d like to have sex. This was confusing and upsetting for kids who, of course, didn’t even know what sex is. Who does that? The girl who just had to tell Fiona that she shouldn’t be wearing her Mario-and-Luigi shirt for her school picture. (I asked Fiona what this girl was wearing that was so special, and she couldn’t remember. But she has never forgotten how this girl made her feel.) The girl who heard Fiona humming and said “um, no offense, but you can’t sing”. Did she wake up that morning with the goal of trampling somebody else’s joy, or was it a random act of cruelty? (And why is it that, whenever someone says “no offense”, they follow it with something that couldn’t be anything but offensive?)

Then, there is what might just be the worst …. A disabled man – we’ll call him Jack – working as a helper at the after-school program the girls attend has been moved on to a different program. Why? Because the kids made fun of him, lied to him about the program rules, and openly defied him because they knew he was powerless to do anything about it. This upset Fiona, as she is fond of Jack. It confused Bridget. I didn’t know what to say. I tried to put a positive spin on it, saying that maybe Jack would be happier in a program where he is respected, treated well and can contribute properly. Neither of them were buying it. Finally, I just said “you know, I’m going to be honest – some kids are just assholes”. Bridget protested that she never disrespected Jack or teased him, and I said “exactly – because you’re not an asshole, and if I ever find out that either of you has become one, I will make your life very difficult indeed”. This wasn’t news to them; they already know that. So what’s wrong with these other kids? What’s wrong with their parents? Being a jerk shines through just like being sweet – I don’t see how they could be ignorant of their children’s atrocious behaviour. How can there be so many little assholes out there, making other people miserable? I don’t know. I’m frustrated, and sad for both my children and the assholes. Their world is supposed to be better than the one I grew up in, but I’m pretty sure it’s worse.

And now, because I teased you with my title – well, if you’ve got good taste in music, I did – here’s Waylon and Willie. The song is accompanied by charming pictures of cowboys, and children who want to be cowboys, and none of them look like assholes. Maybe it’s time to change the song. Go ahead and let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Don’t know what the economic prospects look like for that particular career choice, but if it makes them happy …. Just don’t let them be assholes. There are more-than-enough of them already.

Update: Just today, at the after-school program, a girl told Fiona that she couldn’t play in the snow fort with her and some other kids because her name is “ugly”. None of the other kids stood up for Fiona, who cried. Presumably none of them wanted to have their names called ugly. How timely. Thank you, little asshole, for illustrating my blog post for me, and giving me another reason to post it. 

Thank you.

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Every November, without fail, I buy a poppy and lose it the same day. Sometimes, this happens more than once. One year, it happened four times. The pin is an unreliable method of keeping the poppy attached to me. This year, a friend told me to try sticking a chunk of an eraser on the end. It worked. After buying and losing the first poppy, the second one I bought has been with me for days. This year, too, a little pin fastener was included with some of the poppies for sale. I bought poppies for Fiona and Bridget, and – thanks to the fastener – they’re still wearing them.

The poppy has always been a powerful symbol for me. Years ago, it seemed to me that everyone wore them. I remember when they were green in the middle. Now, they have a black centre – and there are white poppies, too. I see less of them than I used to, but there are still many. Poppies are simultaneously beautiful and sad and hopeful. The sight of them piled on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Remembrance Day ceremony is deeply moving, and heavy with the collective memories and sacrifice and sorrow of all those whose lives have been affected by war.

When I was a child in rural Newfoundland, Remembrance Day stood out to me because, at 11:00 a.m., for two minutes, everything stopped. This never happened any other time of the year, and those two minutes seemed endless. Sometimes, we were listening to the radio, sometimes we were watching the broadcast from the war memorial in Ottawa. Now I live in Ottawa, and most years I don’t try to jostle my way downtown and back – but I still watch it on TV. The faces of the veterans, struggling for composure in the chilly November wind, broke my heart every year. They still do.

I don’t have anything new to say about poppies, or Remembrance Day, or war. I just want to take this moment to honour our soldiers. Those who have fallen, those who are still standing, and those who are still fighting. You traded your security and peace for ours. Thank you.

In praise of great girlfriends ….

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I discovered the joy of girlfriends relatively late in the game, compared to many women I know. I was a tomboy for most of my childhood, and I still am in some ways. I liked some of the same things other girls liked, and I was as much a victim of eighties eyeshadow and big bangs as any of my female peers – but I couldn’t play their games. The preteen you’re-my-friend-now-you’re-not-and-she-is misery. The evaluation of a girl based on the brand of jeans she wore, and how many pairs she owned. I knew more than one girl whose hoard of jeans topped their age. This confused me, as there are only seven days in a week. Being included in groups when they needed an extra girl, and being dropped if there was one girl too many. Watching intelligent girls act stupid so guys would lean over their math textbook or chemistry notes to explain something, and catch a whiff of their perfume. As much as I wanted a boyfriend, I couldn’t bring myself to hide my brain. And the gossip …. I was fortunate to have learned early my Dad’s philosophy on gossip: if people have nothing better to do than talk about me, imagine how boring their own lives are. I had one or two really good girlfriends until I went to college. There, I found two or three more. Now, at 34, I have several. Why? I don’t think I’ve changed that much. I still like alot of the same things, though I’ve picked up a few new interests along the way. I’ve learned to delay judgement when meeting people, and maybe that gives a few more women a chance to become my friends. However, I suspect that the biggest factor in the upswing of girls in my life is that the games aren’t as popular. While some bitches are bitches-for-life, most of us eventually mellow and mature. Life has a way of knocking you around and forcing you to dig through the bullshit you’ve manufactured to find the essence of yourself – the strength of character you need to keep your head above water.

Just last week, I went out with Kathy, Cara and Blue, three solid girlfriends. We talked our way through several bottles of wine, did some not-too-shabby amateur painting, and laughed. Oh, how we laugh when we get together! What elicits a chuckle when I’m alone turns into a teary-eyed, open-mouthed, gasping-for-breath roar when we’re together. I am grateful for their friendship, and that of a handful of other lovely ladies. I’m even grateful the next morning, when I’m questioning the wisdom of having friends whose …. er …. lust for life equals mine. Also, friends who know that the real food groups are wine, chocolate, and poutine …. I recently found myself wondering what makes a great girlfriend, and I came up with a list (as my esteemed readers know by now, I loves me some lists).

Great girlfriends know your life. They know the names of the players in every drama. They know who to dislike, and who to cheer for, and why. They know where the bodies are buried, and how they came to be that way. You don’t have to set the scene for them, you can just get right to the point.

And even if they’ve heard it before, they’ll listen again. Every disappointing stand-off with your kid starts and ends the same way. Every argument with your sister features a few standard button-pushing lines. You’ve had the same beefs with your job and your co-workers for years. Your pet peeves are familiar territory, too. Every bad day has more-or-less the same list of flaws and fumbles. But a great girlfriend will let you rant, rationalize, forgive and step back from the ledge as if you’ve never done it before. At no point in the conversation will a bored or impatient heard-this-before expression cross her face.

They hear what you don’t say. If someone asks me how I’m doing, and the answer is “shit-tacular” but I don’t feel like getting into it, I’ll say I’m fine. Most people won’t even wait til the word “fine” has fluttered out of my mouth before moving on. I can’t get away with that if the askers are my girlfriends. They will stop what they’re doing, raise their eyebrows and give me the “really” look. They wait patiently for the façade to crumble and fall away, then gaze without judgement on what I’ve been trying to hide – and offer a hug that makes all my problems a little smaller. When I tell them what’s not fine, I don’t have to try to explain why – they can hear that, too, because (like I said) they know my life.

Great girlfriends are not afraid to argue with you. They won’t let you make excuses for assholes, even if the assholes are people you love. They’ll tell you if your mother should mind her own business, or if your boyfriend should be treating you better. They won’t let you martyr yourself – they are not afraid to confront what’s unfair in your life, and make you recognise it, too. A great girlfriend will tell you that you shouldn’t be the only one who attempts to empty the trash cans in your house, and to stop doing laundry for your college-aged kids. If your boss is being a jerk, they won’t just shrug and say “whatcha gonna do”. They’ll remind you you’re worth more than that, and help you come up with ideas to improve your work situation. They don’t shy away from telling you how they would handle your issues. If you’re doing something that won’t help, or not doing something that will, they care about you enough to nudge you in the right direction. They won’t just smile and nod as you grapple with the tough stuff, they shout encouragement and pointers from the front row of the bleachers. The only sacred cow for great girlfriends is your feelings. They treat your heart like it’s made of glass. (Love that song? Me, too – you’re welcome.)

They know you’re juggling lots of balls (or swords or torches, depending on how you feel). They are not demanding or jealous. Sometimes, life takes everything you’ve got, and you can’t be everything to everyone. If you’ve just scored a promotion, landed a man, bought a house or had a baby, you’re going to be preoccupied and busier. Your true girlfriends are not going to whine about you not calling as often, or not being able to come out and play. They know you need time to let the chips fall and the dust settle, and they’ll wait until you come back around. When you do, they’ll buy you a drink to celebrate your return.

Great girlfriends build you up. They know your cake mix and your hair dye came in a box, but they’ll praise your goodies and your ‘do anyway. After you’ve dropped the ball, they’ll tell you they admire how you carried it until the drop and the way you scooped it back up. They don’t dredge up the moments you wish you could bury, they hand you a shovel and then get to work with the one they brought for themselves. They don’t pour scepticism on your big plans, even if they know that these plans coming to life and a snowball in hell share the same chance. You will not walk away from a chat with a great girlfriend feeling worse than you did before.

I guess I took the long way around to the following statement: I have been blessed with great girlfriends, and I am so thankful for them. You know who you are …. This one’s for you.

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And now I give you the seven Lame Spirits of Halloween Present ….

I’ve never been head-over-heels for Halloween. As a child, dressing up and scrambling around town for candy was fun, of course, but it was nowhere near the big deal that Christmas was. Or Easter. Or, come to think of it, St. Paddy’s Day and Valentine’s Day. I would put, at most, three days’ thought into my costume – which was usually cobbled together from bits and pieces I found around our house. I can only remember one store-bought costume, this truly scary (and clammy) plastic ensemble:

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Even now, nearly thirty years later, I remember the smell of that mask …. After choosing a costume, there was a class party in the afternoon, a quick dinner, and trick-or-treating. I’d bring home a bag of tooth-rotting goodness, on which I would nibble steadily until it magically disappeared around the middle of November (coincidentally, this was always about the same time my parents got tired of looking at the bag hanging on my doorknob). Some years, I’d draw a few jack-o-lanterns and stars to tape to our windows, some years I wouldn’t bother. Sometimes, we had a jack-o-lantern. I also dimly remember some store-bought cardboard decorations that came out every October until they fell apart. One year, after watching a horrible documentary about Satanists, my mother put a sign on our door declaring that our family wouldn’t be celebrating Halloween. I got razzed at school for that one, but I didn’t really miss Halloween that year. And razzing at school was nearly non-stop anyway because my father was a teacher there, I was short, I wore the most enormous red-framed glasses (we’re talking half my face behind glass), I got good grades and used big words …. This was just something new for my classmates to talk about, and they probably forgot it after I got a really bad perm that took years to grow out. Ah, highschool ….

As far as I know, the way my family did Halloween is the way everyone did Halloween back then. During the years between leaving home and having children of my own, I more-or-less ignored it. This was easy, because my friends weren’t really into it either, and neither was Ryan. When Fiona and Bridget were very little, we didn’t bother. Fiona went trick-or-treating for the first time when she was three, and her clown wig was the most exciting part for her. She didn’t notice that I tossed out about three-quarters of her candy. Over the past few years, Halloween’s made an impressive come-back in my life. I carve a jack-o-lantern every year, and happily light it on Halloween night. I eagerly help Fiona and Bridget with their costumes. Ryan takes the girls trick-or-treating, and I answer the door – and when they come home, I dole out treats to them, too. Just this morning, I did something I never thought I’d do: I enjoyed listening to “Monster Mash”. Some things, though, really rain on my feeble, low-key Halloween parade.

Why do people spend hundreds of dollars on hideous decorations? Halloween is apparently edging out Christmas when it comes to spending on trappings. But when you buy Christmas decorations, you’re buying beautiful items that your family will treasure for years. When you buy Halloween decorations, you’re buying plastic spiders, rubber severed limbs, fake tombstones. If you’re good at decorating, your house will look horrifying. If you’re not, your house will look tacky. Either way, you’ve wasted alot of money on what is, after all, one freakin’ night. Which brings me to ….

People who buy expensive costumes. Again, why? You can buy a costume for hundreds of dollars, or you can spend $20 at Walmart. You can spend even less if you’re willing to put in some time rummaging through Value Village’s vast selection. You can even forage in your storage room and junk drawer. Either way, you’ll have a fun disguise for (as I just said) one night. And, while we’re talking about costumes, let your kid wear her costume before Halloween if she wants. It’s not a wedding dress, it’s a felt tail and a pair of plastic horns.

Teenagers who don’t bother with costumes. I think it’s weird that people with deep voices or impressive cleavage still want to trick-or-treat, but I don’t mind giving them candy if they at least wear a funny hat or cut some eye holes in a sheet.

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Parents who take their baby trick-or-treating. If the kid’s diet still consists mainly of milk, it’s obvious that the candy is really for the parents. Not to mention that the little one won’t get anything out of the experience, and might even nap right through it. If you must put a costume on your baby, take a picture of him and make copies for the grandparents, then let him go back to squeezing bananas through his fists and staring at the ceiling fan. If it’s candy you want, it all goes on sale November 1 – and you can get it all in one location, rather than going door-to-door and mooching it from strangers.

People who paint pumpkins. A jack-o-lantern is a traditional Halloween decoration. A carved pumpkin. Not a painted pumpkin. This isn’t Easter! Halloween is supposed to be messy and ugly. Halloween is not a time to make our front steps look like Martha has been here. I blame Pinterest for this, along with many other annoyances.

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Why do so many people take their children trick-or-treating at the mall? I know we’ve all become ridiculous about safety in recent years, especially when it comes to our kids, but this is over-the-top, even by today’s standards. When trick-or-treaters are at our door, their parents are – at most – ten feet away from them. Kids who are old enough to go without their parents travel in packs. And most people are harmless – and, like me, love to see the trick-or-treaters at the door. Last year, we only had twelve kids – twelve. Because people have decided that they’d rather not risk a bit of mud (or, in parts of Canada, snow) or darkness or interaction with strangers – they’ll do their Halloweening in a well-lit, climate-controlled, tastfully decorated environment, thank you very much.

The Switch Witch. Unless you are dealing with a food allergy, this has got to be one of the biggest buzzkills any holiday has ever had to rise above …. (This title used to belong to the Elf on the Shelf. No longer.) People will actually spend $30 on this ugly little toy and her accompanying “legend”. As I said, if your child has a food allergy, I feel sorry for her – it’s sad not to be able to enjoy your Halloween loot. Go ahead and switch out some of her candy for something safer – and maybe a product like the Switch Witch will help you do that. However, if you just don’t want your kid to eat all that candy, do this rarely-attempted-but-highly-effective thing: say “no”. Simple. Quick. Not to mention that my revolutionary idea just saved you thirty bucks …. You’re welcome.

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I know that this list of lame will not have everyone nodding and exclaiming “I know” – so let’s discuss. What do people do at Halloween that makes your inner monster come shambling out, ready to eat them alive? And if that’s writing bitchy blog posts about your rhinestone-studded turquoise pumpkin and your $150-costume-clad three month old, you can say that, too. I like a good interwebz throw down as much as the next blogger. Happy Halloween!