Category Archives: Holidays

Got Christmas Spirit? Don’t Ask.

smileysnowman-768212Christmas spirit is a holiday gift meant to spring up from spontaneous acts of generosity. You don’t ask for it–it happens when you least expect it from a friend or stranger overloaded with holiday goodwill and sugar-laden treats. But somehow due to the heavy rotation of stories like A Christmas Carol and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, people believe it should be shared at all times in December. They even demand it!

Too bad though I don’t want to give anybody anything. By this time of year I’ve given so much to so many people throughout the year that I want to give to myself and no one else. That doesn’t make me a Grinch, it just makes me someone who wants to be left alone. For instance…

CHRISTMAS SING ALONG
Just last week I went to an outdoor public holiday sing-along. I arrived early to get a good seat under a heater with a great sight line for my two-year-old son to watch the band. A woman who arrived later demanded I move over one so she could sit next to her grandson on our row. Forget the fact that there were plenty of empty seats around us or that the seat I had was empty because it was for my son who was with grandma using the potty, her wish for that chair was more important because she wanted to enjoy this holiday event with her grandson. And besides, she informed me, “You can’t hold seats for people. I can get a security guard and have you taken out!”

Then a woman in front of me got into the mix and told me to give the woman my seat. I explained that it was my son’s seat. “Oh like he’s going to watch.” “He will,” I told her proudly, “He goes to concerts.” She rolled her eyes, “It’s Christmas! Can’t you show a little Christmas spirit?!” No I couldn’t and nor did I want to. And neither did that lady in front of me because she never offered her seat to grandma either.

CHRISTMAS MOVIE
A few years back on Christmas day I went to see the opening of a movie with my husband. Once again, I arrived early. I walked in, counted the rows and the chairs to pick out the two most dead center seats. With our spot secure, my husband went to grab some concessions.

During this time the theater started to fill up in the middle but everywhere else there were plenty of seats. Then one guy came up and saw some empty seats on our row and asked that I move down. My brain froze. I didn’t want to move but my well-trained guilty conscience suggested I move over even if it meant denying myself a perfect seat. But knowing that this way of thinking is what causes me to be emotionally drained by the end of the year, I told the man, “No.”

NO?!!!!!

The man’s eyes widened. “It’s just a couple of seats down,” he retorted. I looked around and saw there were still plenty of other seats available. “No,” I said again. The man’s friend showed up and the man moved on, but not before snarking back, “Great Christmas Spirit.” Everyone on my row then looked at me as if I had broken an unwritten rule. I thought I had done something admirable. At last I was thinking of myself before others. Merry Christmas to me! I shrugged my shoulders and looked up to watch the pre-show.

Then a couple came up and asked if I could move over. “No,” I said. Once again I was met with looks of dismay, “Seriously?” “Yes,” I said again. As a favor I pointed to some seats down the way. The couple twisted their faces and puffed, “Merry Christmas!” “Merry Christmas,” I said right back but not as angrily.

My husband finally showed up with popcorn and drinks when another couple (I sh*# you not) came up and asked us to move over. Before I could say no and tell my husband about everyone else who wanted me to move, he moved over. Then him and the couple waited for me to move. I didn’t. When it became clear I had no intention of ever getting up my husband looked at me like I was crazy and asked, “Aren’t you going to move over?” “No,” I said.

My husband was mortified, “Why don’t you just move over?” “Because I want this seat,” I told him. My husband begged me with his eyes to move over. I kept my coat in my seat and told him I would see how the new seat was. I moved over and sure enough it wasn’t perfect. And for a few seconds as I sat there in that less than perfect seat I thought, “I fought hard for my spot. Why do I have to move over just because it’s what my husband wants? That’s not even what he wants, it’s what they want? Why doesn’t he do what I want?” I looked at my husband with much love knowing he’d be hardheaded about thinking I was hardheaded and got up, moved back over to my seat, took my popcorn and said to all three waiting on me, “No.”

“That’s really nice of you,” the couple huffed at me while the theater filled up more and more around them. I replied, “Thank you,” because by now I was enjoying being the sh*%head everyone was making me out to be. Desperate, the couple tried one last tactic: reasoning. “Is it that bad of a seat? Can’t you just move over one place?” Tired of the back and forth and wanting to enjoy the pre-movie show, I chomped on my popcorn and said, “You asked me if I could move down. That means I have a choice in the answer. I gave you my answer.”

Then like an army of reinforcements coming over the hill to save a falling army, a woman behind me yelled out, “Leave that poor woman alone! She said no! Why does everyone keep asking her to move over?! She was here before you were! Get here early if you want this seat!” I turned around and thanked her.

So now when I think of Christmas spirit, I don’t think of sweet strangers handing over free mugs of hot cocoa, I think of anyone courageous enough to defend those of us in great need of being a little greedy at this most needy time of the year.

Pictured: Smilin’ Snowman, ShazzMack, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Commercial-Sharealike 2.0 license

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My Dad Spams

Everybody loves spam–especially my dad during election season. Lucky for me, when politics ramp up, so do the number of emails educating me on what the other side thinks with attention grabbing subject lines such as:

  • Let’s wake u7p people!  The hour is late…
  • FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE SUPPORT MARRIAGE THROUGH BACKING UP CHICK A FILLET
  • CONSERVATISM IS CALLING
  • FW: Wow! Sept 28
  • ChurchMilitant.TV – Catholics are born for combat Sept 18

As much as these headings bring hope for a balanced discussion, they’re missing the Spam World’s #1 clickability factor: sex. According to a 2006 NY Times article, if it’s porn and sex you’re selling you can get a click rate of 5.6%, otherwise the chances are less than .0075%. Unfortunately for me, this year’s candidates are much too faithful to their wives to cause a good old-fashioned sex scandal, so instead I get links that use other attention grabbing methods such as headings in all caps that let me know the end of the world is near. That made me click! And it’s a good thing I did. If it wasn’t for spam, I would never have known that I am causing the coming American apocalypse.

Before my dad’s emails, I thought Republicans and Tea Party people were for smaller government and no taxes, but according to the sites that get forwarded, they’re preparing for CIVIL WAR II—A VENGEFUL STATE against their sworn enemy the menacing Democrats. It’s a wonder that my dad was willing to take the risk he took to disclose how much conservatives know about the liberals’ numerous plots to bring down this country’s freedoms. I guess my dad found it necessary to let me know just how evil I was in case there was still time I could turn myself around. Little does he know that like zombies, once bitten and infected with liberal ideology, YOU CAN’T GO BACK! No wonder the right-wing hate liberals like myself so much. We are destroying America! For years, we have been brainwashed to believe that countries self-destruct because of war, famine, and brutal dictatorships, but little did we know that it’s support for universal healthcare, gay marriage and gun control that makes the cookie crumble. All hail Satan!

Now, I get it.  During election season if you don’t absolutely hate the other side and believe they are conspiring against you, how else can you inspire anyone to vote?  It’s boring to imagine that people choose leaders according to who they think will better serve our country; we all watch enough movies to know decisions are much more exciting when time is running out and everything is a matter of life and death. That’s why it’s not just conservatives that sound like crazy hermits holed up in a mountain awaiting the end of days, democrats are apt to see conspiracies everywhere too [I haven’t supplied examples of the left’s cautionary spam sent to me because the only spammer friend I have is my Dad, and political spammers are always one-sided]. One of the more popular conspiracies both sides share is that the opponent is always trying to win voters over by instilling fear through their campaign messages. And it’s true, both parties are trying to instill fear in the general public, and if you don’t know this is happening within both camps, you have no right to vote. You’re missing out on all the fun of politics, the chess of politics, more importantly, you’re missing out on the best subplot to this live action thriller–everyone believes they know that they are being manipulated because someone is manipulating them to think that they are.

So good for you spam! Without you, this 2012 Election season would not have been half so thrilling for my dad and I. Thanks for adding to our country’s and my family’s divisiveness by sharing with us in your subtle way who’s good and who’s bad. The choice is clear–just check your spam box.

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Happy 4th Of July To Us!

Even though this 4th of July was on a Wednesday, the worst day for holidays to fall on, did that stop our country from observing our Independence Day? Hells no. Because there is still one thing Americans can all agree on, and that is to celebrate our country’s great accomplishment fought with sweat, blood and brains by drinking cheap beer, eating BBQ and blowing things up! Maybe it’s not highfalutin enough of a commemoration for the people who came up with the fancy battle plans for the revolution, elite catch phrases like “No Taxation Without Representation,” and who dreamt up this smarty tarty new form of government we so reverently uphold today, but our 4th of July parties are more than enough to hail our real heroes: the dumb and dirty willing to carry out the tasks set forth by the elites. These were the people needed to fight against the Brits, to get wasted and put on some Mohawk warrior costumes before getting on a ship to dump some tea into a harbor, and to prove themselves such a sad lot in need of governing that a new form of government was needed to wrangle them together.

There are a lot of liberals out there that worry we no longer choose government officials by their level of intelligence, but by how relatable and similar they are to us. But this is nothing new, it’s something we’ve been gradually learning is the right way to pick our leaders. Since the American Revolution, we’ve come to recognize who gets things done around our country–people like us! Just go to a party. Who is it that gets the pizza late at night when everyone’s drunk and starving while the smart people stay home and prepare for their futures? The dumb drunk person! Who are the ones actively saving our economy by buying non-essential things they can’t afford? We the people! And should there be a need to take up arms, who would you trust with a gun? A dude who’s been shooting guns into the air without thinking of where that bullet might land every 4th of July, or the person who’s never held a gun in his life? That’s right, you’d choose the dangerous dumb guy.

Seems clear to me, we love ourselves and love to celebrate and promote those most like us. Which is why on this day after our national holiday, we should give a toast to us–the people who get things done.

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The Single Life – Why Married Couples Shouldn’t Divorce

I love being married–it’s a blast! You basically get to play house everyday and get some while you’re at it. In theory, you are guaranteed as much lovin’ as you want any day you want, as opposed to when you’re single, you have to go out and hope someone wants you as much as you want them. Why do you think the gay community has been fighting to get legally married for years? Marriage is totally underrated by the straights.  Which is maybe why there’s been a recent slew of married friends of mine wanting to file for divorce. These halves that are complaining about being married have obviously forgotten what it’s like to be single. Here’s a reminder:

Break Up
What Breaking Up Feels Like

As you can see by these photos from my single days, my friends and I look miserable (well except for my roommate in the background who always showed up when we were depressed so he could get a good laugh and my friend on the right who couldn’t help but pose in photos–but trust me, she was sad before the camera came out).  Oh but you ladies must have been having a wild time, free from any burdens, could do whatever you want! Yeah we had all that and as a result we met guys we liked and as you can see, we all got dumped. What people forget and take for granted after they score in the love category is that being single means getting rejected over and over and over again. Not that it can’t happen when you get married, but at least divorces happen less frequently than general dating breakups. Plus, heartaches caused by divorce receive greater sympathy and give you permission to cry for years. Do you really think that Ms. Thing Under a Torn Poster of Madonna there would get that after being dumped by someone she dated for three days? No.

I’m bringing this all up in hopes of changing some minds of friends who have considered going single again. Should you quit your marriage, consider the following:

1. Countless hours you’ll inevitably have to spend coming up with embarrassing adjectives to describe yourself on every matchmaking site out there.

2. You’ve heard it before, but it’s true… The loads of money you’ll spend on meeting people at bars and restaurants.

3. Energy you’ll need to muster when meeting the friends and family of a new love.

Ugh! Having to make nice with a whole new set of people? What’s so sexy and exciting about that? Isn’t that a distraction to the exciting sexy time you could have with the person you already have and are contracted to enjoy?! Yeah but I’ve been with the same person for 20 years, shouldn’t I get to try someone new? See! If you remembered the single life correctly, out of the many people you may or may not date (single does not always equal desired), at least 80% of them are gonna be the same type of person anyway, just with a different name and birth place. I’m sorry to report, our tastes are not that adventurous. Don’t believe me? How many new foods, activities, or places do you try out each week? If you are like anyone else I know, you may want to consider divorcing yourself now too.

So stick to what you have. Ignore your need to sleep with someone else and find some new moves or fantasize; don’t ask your other half if you can see other people then get angry and feel he doesn’t love you when he lets you do it; and if you think your love is like a light switch that turned off, well flip it back on. Don’t be the Serena Williams of long-term relationships to friends who are still on the prowl; be grateful for what you have. After all, if you thought this marriage was such a good idea that you asked your friends and family to spend money and vacation time to celebrate it, shouldn’t it be something worth really trying to make fun? Marriage is not like the pledge you make over a toilet seat when you swear you will never drink again or the gym membership you sign when you get entranced by your New Year’s resolutions. You can’t quit it when you no longer feel like doing it, because what’s the alternative? See above.

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Christmas Cooking Challenge – Part II Lost in Translation

Rene and Mom

Rene and Teri battle it out

By December 23, I was so ready for this Christmas Cooking Challenge. Oh sure, my mom had tradition and flan on her side, but after weeks of stressing over what to make, I, the next generation, finally came up with a menu that would be delicious, could be eaten by a vegetarian and a dad with gout, and that paid tribute to some of our heritage while steering clear of Cuban Noche Buena dinners (so I wouldn’t step on anymore toes and find myself having to cook again). While my mom enjoyed her holiday vacation relaxing as I would have, watching Korean Soap Operas with my dad, I cooked for two days to make the following recipes (most from www.epicurious.com):

Delicious Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions and Cabrales (Spanish Blue Cheese)
Parsnip Bisque
Ground “Beef” Collard Green Bundles with Hazelnuts and Golden Raisins
Roasted Beets with Onion Marmalade and Parmesan
Manchego and Membrillo (Quince Paste) Napoleons
Cranberry Brandy Jelly
placed in a can as an homage to my mom
No Knead Bread
And for Dessert: Flan
–which thankfully my mom made after much begging from my nephew, myself and family. Some things are just too precious to give up.

My Mom’s Flan Christmas 2011

End result: all plates licked-clean! That’s right! Different with dietary restrictions was still delicious. I proudly asked my mom what she thought of my multi-course meal. She replied in an unusually delicate high-pitched Cuban accent, “Eeet was good.” She seemed hesitant to say much of anything else so I asked her if she needed me to interview her for the blog to help her sort out her thoughts. Without hesitation she responded in not so high a pitch, “No.” The next day I reminded her that I needed her blog post by Wednesday or Friday at the latest, so if it was easier for her, the interview process would take no time. “No,” she said as she put on her reading glasses and headed to her home office. She told me she wanted to write her thoughts down and assured me she would get it done. I explained that I wanted it before the new year because afterwards people no longer think of Christmas. She shot me a look and then reminded me in great detail, why that way of thinking is wrong since Christmas season continues past December 25. Noticing that she was going off course I immediately veered her back into her home office to write and left to visit my husband’s family for the remainder of the trip.  I couldn’t wait to hear what my mom had to say and on December 30th I received her response to my dinner:

“O.K .So now I get to defend my wonderful cuisine after my sweet daughter spent her time the other day criticizing it, saying horrible things that seemed funny at first, but then, when I realized each one of the words or better said, adjectives she used referred to my cooking or food, it dawned on me!!!!…….how serious an issue this is.

But before I get into the food part, I will remind you that even though it is December 28th, we are still in the Christmas season which started on the night of Dec. 24th and ends on January 9th or the Baptism of the Lord’s day, so please do not let yourself be guided by the materialistic culture which starts throwing away Christmas trees even by yesterday the 27thIn between, there is the wonderful day of Epiphany or the Three Wise Men’s Day that brought you all your Christmas gifts.  Do you remember Rene? That is why the Nativity set with the Holy Family, the little sheep, shepherds, donkey and cow, stay put beside our Christmas tree until the “real” Christmas season ends. I am not getting away from the subject but Rene this is just a reminder…….

I told you.

“This ties up with our Christmas meal tradition.  Ja Ja [Spanish for Ha Ha]….yes, when I read your comments about it, at first I laughed but as I finished reading it …….it dawned on me!!!  Hey, she is criticizing not only me, but “my” wonderful Cuban culture smelling food!!!!

First, you have to be grateful for the most wonderful Cuban mom the world has ever known. Second, be grateful that I fed and pumped B vitamins into you to prepare you for any future hard times that might come your way (not all moms do that), or in case you would marry a vegetarian thin guy with no understanding of roasted-pig-loving Cubans (which you did).  Third I was such a perfect mother, that I was very aware not to let you or your siblings have too many sweets, saving your future husband hundreds of dollars in dentist’s fees. 

And you did not get fat on account of my cooking, you had milk, eggs or meat, bread, etc. everyday as the pyramid of food suggests.  What more perfection do you expect from a mom?

Stop saying that my food smelled too much……and if it did, it was because it was the “real” thing, not the fake meat you eat now.  No wonder it does not have any kind of smell at all!!!!  Mine had that great smell depending on how I felt that day: if I was happy I would use more garlic, if not I would use maybe more onions, if I was angry I would overlook taking out the bag of giblets in the “American turkey,” but that was what made my cuisine “unique”.

Dear daughter, that is what tradition is all about, the same smell, the same ingredients, the same cook, the same food …..the Yuca, the roasted pig (better with an apple in his mouth), the ripe sweet plantains, and the black beans CUBAN STYLE (only Cubans do them right, and I do them better right from the can, but I know how to dress them up the right way so they come out YUMMY).  Then the salad could not be left out. Even though your grandfather thought that was horse’s food, that along with the yams had to be part of our Cuban Noche Buena as a way to acknowledge the place of you and your siblings’ birth place…the U.S.A. 

The only thing missing in our Noche Buena most of the time, was not being in Miami with the rest of the family and having the same old good, loud, energetic and democratic conversation where everyone has the same right to talk over the other person’s loud voice.”

I beg to differ. Though the clan in Houston is small, it is just as loud and proudly opinionated.

“One thing I can say about you cooking the whole meal this year as my punishment for all your criticism…….is that it did not smell one bit, and that my dear daughter, does not help to make memories, where your family one day can blame you for all their “natural”  imperfections or for that matter start a TRADITION.  One last thing I will say in favor of my smelly, same old same old food for Christmas, is that you will always remember it no matter where you are on Christmas Eve.   Chao Chao.”

Where did she get the idea that I thought her food smelled bad? I reread my blog and found the sentence she took to mean that I thought her food stunk:

“What I especially find interesting about the family TDay meal is that it somehow always reeks a little of the same dishes mom used to make almost every day of the week.”

Although my mother and I speak the same languages, some things don’t translate well–especially the word “reeks.” I felt horrible. Already I felt kinda bad when I heard that my Thanksgiving blog offended my mom, but I felt bad the same way you feel in an embarrassing moment, like forgetting to lock a bathroom door and getting caught with your pants down–it’s awful but in the end it’s kinda funny. That’s what I thought the plane of emotions were for this whole Christmas Cooking Challenge, until I read her retort. Do you know how insulting that is? A cook can be told something tastes bad, fair enough, but smells bad? When food tastes bad you think of other foods that taste bad, but when food smells bad you don’t even think of food, you think of every disgusting odor in the world that has nothing to do with it: Port-O-Potty’s, litter boxes, dirty laundry, that dude on the bus. In her mind I might as well have kicked her in the gut and posted a photo of the kicking in action on the internet. She was so upset she didn’t even get to writing about my food. Man, oh man. Needless to say I spent the rest of 2011 hugging her, kissing up to her and trying to explain the different uses of the word “reeks.” After awhile she finally started to sort of believe me and has been calling me ever since to get the recipes I used for Noche Buena, one by one.

So what did I learn from all this? 1. Talking sh** causes wars. 2. Remember when you were fifteen and irritated and you told your parents that they didn’t understand you? Guess what? You were right, so it’s best not to mess with them.

Happy New Year everyone!

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