The Santa Doll

Memories are funny things. From one side of my brain, a particular date or image can be completely locked away. But by lassoing the stories of certain Christmases past, one memory becomes the tripwire for countless others, exposing a box full of my mother and everything I loved as a child. Things that were there, but just hiding behind a thicker curtain. And where I wasn’t feeling much like celebrating Christmas before I started all of this, now I’m ready to ring the bell at Salvation Army.

So to speak.

As of 2 weeks ago, I knew I had spent one Christmas away from home but could not have told you which one or anything else about it. But last night, as I was laying in bed thinking about Christmas Eve 1988, it came back to me in full color. I remember living it. I remember my mom retelling it. I remember my souvenir from it.

We drove to Lakeland for the holidays on December 23, 1975. I was almost 5. Kicking rocks in the driveway as my parents loaded the car, I remember hearing them discuss the hassle factor. Wrapping gifts beforehand, making room in the trunk for everything you have to take there and then haul back. I didn’t care about any of that. I just wanted some toys.

When we arrived, there was the usual hustle and bustle of holiday baking and food prep. My grandmother, quite the southern cook, had an operation going that would take a flow chart and a staff of 15 for me to pull off. She didn’t need a flow chart. She didn’t have employees. She had skillz. As was her custom, and the only one I personally cared about, a chocolate cake was made and sitting stoically in her rustic yellow and white cake tin. Her signature cake was a square, 3-layer cake better than anything else I’ve ever sampled. One bite of an end piece, superbly slathered in homemade icing, was really all I needed for Christmas. But I kept that quiet, lest they take me up on the offer and buy me nothing.

When you travel at Christmas and you step into someone else’s territory 2 days beforehand, you have to hit the ground running and you have to run their route, at their pace. I was only 4 at the time, so I wasn’t asked to do anything except to stay out of the way. That should have been easy enough for me. The kitchen was about a 6′ x 8′ rectangle and you met yourself coming and going if you turned around good. I tried to stay out of the way and I wasn’t at all interested in cooking or helping. But that kitchen had 3 doors. You could practically straddle three rooms by doing a split right there on the tile. And that was pretty cool for a little kid. One door was an opening with a step down into the den. Another door was an opening flush with the carpet of the main hallway of the house. And the third door…well. The third door was a swinging saloon-type door. And that was about as fun as it got in that house. Or any house. I liked to dart in and out through that door between the dining room and the kitchen. I liked to smack it so it swung with force and saunter in like I owned the place. I liked to duck under it, and spy on anyone in range. The possibilities were rich and vast. But in a kitchen that small, with two adults already dodging each other as they worked, my darting and sauntering and ducking was less than welcome.

I was banished.
But I’d be back. Maybe in the middle of the night.

The hallway off the kitchen led to the only three bedrooms in the house. My grandparents had the biggest, which wasn’t big, at the end of the hall. My parents had a small one with a queen bed and a dresser. And I shared my uncle’s old room with my brother. It had red shag carpet and the bed took up the entire room.

Things had been fairly smooth until Christmas Eve. I had managed to find other entertainment and left the saloon door alone. But I was working on a cold. I have 4 kids, so you don’t have to tell me that a cold in December in the nose of a 4 year old is commonplace. It isn’t anything to send out in the Christmas letter. Kids get snotty. But this cold took a diabolical turn and quickly became something else. It went straight to my ear. Again, it’s just an ear infection. It wasn’t pneumonia. But if you’ve ever had an ear infection–a really angry ear infection–the kind of infection that bulges up in your ear until the drum almost bursts, then you know it can be a painful kerfuffle inside your snotty head.

When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t my typical Santa-stalking self. Christmas Eve was a time to question everything, delay the process with water requests, beg for another story, or sneak off to the tree for one last peek at the bounty. For me that night, it was all about getting to sleep. I was hurting. I went to sleep with a slow, dull burn inside my right ear. Sometime after midnight, I woke up with a raging fire. My brother was asleep like a brick beside me, so I untwisted my nylon red nightie to free up my feet and ran across the hall to find my mother. She snapped awake the moment I reached her bedside.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, groggily trying to help.

“My ear,” I said, starting to cry with my right hand cupping it.

She scooted over in the bed and scooped me up to be with her. I have no idea how my dad didn’t get shoved off completely. There wasn’t enough bed for the 3 of us. My mom tried everything she could to bring me relief. Warm oil. Baby aspirin. Nothing touched the pain. So for the next 5 hours, she held my head in her lap as she sat propped against the wall. I cried all night. She cried some, too. We waited for daylight.

At 5:30, when my grandmother was stirring to start the Christmas meal, my mother told me to go get dressed. We were going to the E.R. Doctors weren’t open, Hospitals were. So, I was placed in the back seat of our Buick and driven to the hospital feeling like a very sick national celebrity. When we arrived, there was no one else there. No other sick people. None. Not one other patient. It was just me. And because there were no other patients, I was ushered in and treated like the royalty I had begun to believe I was. The nurses wore Santa caps and leaned down to me like I was on tour with the Jackson 5. Would you like my autograph? I can’t really write yet.  

I was put in a temporary room behind a curtain that rolled on 1000 tiny metal balls. It was all quite fascinating. The doctor came in, checked my ear, said I was just on the brink of a ruptured ear drum, and got me a nice little antibiotic to make the whole thing go away.

It occurred to me right about then that it was Christmas. Straight up Christmas. And there I sat in the ER getting fawned over. The fawning was fun, but my stomach was growling for whatever my grandmother had going back at the house (our family never skipped breakfast) and I was more than ready to open some presents.

Before I left my fan club behind to rejoin my family, a nurse walked out with a toy for me. She said I had been such a great patient that I deserved a…weird little Santa doll. It wasn’t a cuddly plush Santa or a Santa with movable parts. It was a doll cut and sewn from 1975 Santa fabric. It was ugly enough to make a 4-year-old kid give up the myth of Santa altogether. And yet, I was immensely proud of that ugly doll. Because it represented the battle I had fought that day. It gave me an inflated sense of self importance. And because it was my first gift that year.

Until recently, I still had that Santa. Somewhere in the move two houses ago, I either tossed it or lost track of it. But you know the good ole internet. Nothing is ever really gone. So here’s a picture of some other kid’s ugly Santa. I’d be surprised if it’s not the same one. This one, with his rashy cheeks and sewn together black stumps, is sadly for sale on Etsy for a whopping $22. Whoever owned this Santa back in the day, I hope he earned it. Something this remarkable shouldn’t be free.

HH (happy holidays),

The White Christmas

I grew up in Florida. Everybody knows it doesn’t snow in Florida. Not even that final northernmost strip of land that lies down in a bed next to Georgia. We didn’t understand the sentiments behind the song, “White Christmas” and I never once hoped for one. Why would I waste my time? The best we could hope for was the temperature dropping below 68 degrees. So we could wear us some Christmas gloves. And not sweat.

In the “winter” of 1989, all of that changed.

I was a freshman at a tiny little private college called Florida College. It was in Tampa, which was even warmer than my hometown of Tallahassee. I didn’t own a car, so when holidays rolled around, I walked around campus scouting out people that might be heading northwest and have an extra seat in their limo. I had nothing to offer them. I didn’t bake or knit or draw crazy cat pictures. I was broke and had an afro. In December of 1989, though, I don’t think I even arranged my own ride. I came up empty and my ride materialized through my brother and his friend, Rick. Rick had an old truck and no family nearby. I had no truck and a family that had invited him for Christmas. It was a match.

I knew Rick already, so it was a comfortable ride in a light blue truck that didn’t seem like it was going to make the round trip without a tow at some point. When we arrived in town, I was greeted briefly by my mother, who immediately handed me the keys to the green Plymouth Horizon in one hand and a slip of an envelope in the other. The paper scrap had an address. Apparently I was babysitting. Like, right then. I didn’t know the family, but that’s how things worked in those days. Without social media, people hired sitters on word of mouth. I went without questioning it, because I was broke and carless and getting babysitting cash over the holidays was the best I could do for myself.

I remember backing out of my driveway that night and shivering in a car that was past its prime the moment we drove it off the lot 9 years before. The door handles didn’t work from the outside and it was the color of algae. The heater took forever to kick on and at this point in my day, I needed heat. I could tell as Rick and I drove north that afternoon that the temperatures were dropping. But I hadn’t seen a forecast and my knowledge was limited to how it felt as I stood in my driveway.

It felt cold.

The kid I was watching was young and went to bed early without resistance or fanfare. The house was only a mile from my own and was lit up with the colors of the season. I liked it. It felt like Christmas inside that house. I was sitting in a recliner, biding my time and enjoying the quiet, when the shrill ring of an 80s telephone sent a life-threatening panic to my heart. I clutched my chest and jumped out of the chair. Where was the phone? Who could be calling? Should I answer it? It’s not my house.

I found the phone in the kitchen and answered it, “Mitchell Residence,” as I had done a time or two. I really only answered it to stop it from ringing.

“Hey, it’s me,” my brother said. He sounded urgent.

“Dude. Why are you calling me here? How did you get this number?” This was odd behavior.

“Mom looked it up. Have you been outside?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t been outside. I’m babysitting. I’m responsible!” I answered.

“Go outside. NOW. Just put the phone down.” This was freaking me out a little, so I set aside my responsibility argument with the phone and ran down the hallway and out the front door. I stood there under the yellow glow of a street light and looked around. There was a hush in the air that only comes with winter. I felt like I had walked into a sacred prayer service inside a stained glass sanctuary. But I wasn’t a violator. I was an invited guest. My breath burst and hung in the frigid air as I took in the scene before me. I raised my arms to the sky. Magic was swirling all around me. And with it–snow.


My algae colored car bumper was white with it. It was gathering in patches on the driveway. Snow.

Oh! My brother.

I raced back in, carelessly letting the door slam shut behind me. A wreath jingled precariously against my bull in a china shop entrance. I grabbed the phone off the counter.

“I saw it!” I heaved.

“Can you believe it? When do you get done there?” he asked. He wanted to play in it.

“No idea,” I answered.

“Come when you can. And drive carefully.”

I hung up the receiver and stood there with the goofiest smile on my face. It was Christmas and it was snowing. In Florida.

Driving home from that babysitting job was like trying to push a cart at IKEA. I was all over the place. But with only a mile to go and not even one other car on the road, I made it back into my driveway safely to find my brother and Rick standing in the snow like bouncers. I couldn’t get the door shut behind me before a wimpy little ice ball hit me in the back of my head.

We scraped together snow balls for an hour before it occurred to us that we were wasting all the snow. We wanted it to last, so we stopped and went inside to let it run its course. I even thought about spraying Scotch Guard on the grass to try to protect this winter wonderland.

By 10 a.m. the following morning, the neighbors down the street had used every last flake in their yard to make a 2″ snow man and accompanying snow dog. Their yard for the next 3 days was green, with 2 little white mascots. We left ours alone, deeming it sacred space. No man’s land. An inch fell that night and the days remained just cold enough to leave a thin fleecy remnant on the lawn, like an overused woobie in a child’s crib. It was patchy. There were flaws. But it was white enough to call it a white Christmas.

It is the only one I’ve ever had.

I’m headed north in a couple of days to New York City to try my hand at another. Al Roker flashed the White Christmas forecast up on the weather screen this morning with all the major cities in the northeast. He says snow is unlikely for Manhattan.

And I say, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

Holiday Road Trip

In December of 1979, my parents planned a trip to Gatlinburg. We would leave 2 days after Christmas and we would be there for my birthday. I was on board with this trip, because I loved Gatlinburg, but they seemed to be selling it to me as if I wasn’t already a buyer. It was advertised as my birthday trip. As a trip for me. I’m smart enough now to know an obvious sales pitch. Back then, I was not. I bought the lines and began to think of the trip as a vacation planned for me and around me.

There’s no way that was true. It wasn’t even a little bit true. Because if it had been, this story wouldn’t be typing itself. There wouldn’t be a story here at all.

We headed north in a 1980 Buick Century that was the color of French Vanilla ice cream with a vinyl top like caramel. It was a 9 hour drive from Tallahassee. Unlike today’s spoiled brats (I’m including my own offspring in this…let’s not judge each other), the greatest technology we had was to twist the knob on the radio until a non-country station tuned in. The two songs I remember hearing over and over AND OVER were Sara by Fleetwood Mac and Longer by Dan Fogelberg. Longer was Number 1 on the charts, because it had just been released on December 8. Fortunately, I loved both of these tunes and was pleased as punch to listen to them 159 times in 5 days. When the radio got old, we made gassy noises with our arm pits. That was a hoot.

We stayed in a Best Western in downtown, located right above a quaint little babbling brook. I thought I was in the best place on earth. And as if it weren’t perfect enough, God sent snow. I woke up on my birthday to the sight of snow outside and a Snoopy ruler on my pillow right next to my head. My standards were fairly low, so I was excited about that ruler. Almost 40 years and 7 houses later, I still have it and it still gets used for homework. As with the Christmas gloves, the ruler was not my main gift. But it is the one I remember.

With the snow still falling and now gathering on a cold, hard earth, we began a chant for sledding that didn’t stop until we got a yes, followed by a solid plan. The plan involved a time of departure, which was 1:30, a destination, which was a hillside to be decided as we drove, and a sled of some sort. It was that last part where there was some discrepancy in the plan. We needed something on which to slide down a mountain. And it was my birthday, so I was thinking we could walk to any of 130 tourist traps on the main downtown street and buy a $5 snow disc.

My parents had another option in mind. They convinced us that there was a much better way to experience a snowy mountain.

A free way.

A cardboard box way.

So on my birthday, on a cold winter’s day with fresh, clean snow falling, we found ourselves in a forbidden corner of the hotel parking lot, pulling discarded cardboard boxes out of the dumpster to make our own sleds. My brother and I were too dumb to know all the reasons why this was a scientific disaster. We were too inexperienced to successfully argue for anything else. And we were too broke to step in and buy our own snow disc. We had no choice but to accept Plan B.

We drove around the outskirts of Gatlinburg looking for a hill that was clear enough for sledding but that wouldn’t empty out onto a road. There are a lot of spots that would be nothing shy of an Instant Death by Sledding. We didn’t want that. Even parents who put their children on cardboard sleds don’t want that. When we found the perfect hill, we parked our car, pulled our Dumpster Boards out of the trunk and began a long trek up a steep, snowy hill.

The farther from the road we got, the quieter it became. The trees and snow formed a silent blanket around us as we climbed. Our shoes and voices clamored against this hush that somehow it seemed we were violating.

Finally, we were at what we declared to be the top.

This was it.

We were going to sled to the bottom from here. Standing at the top, peering down on our path to glory, was my 9-year-old self, my brother, and my dad. My mother was waiting at the bottom. For what, I didn’t know.

Because it was my birthday, I was allowed to go first. At the time, it seemed like a winning lottery ticket. Now I believe it was a setup. This whole system was getting tried out on the little gal.

I placed my Dumpster Board about 10 feet from where I planned to begin and then I climbed back up to the starting block. I had it pictured in my head as something akin to backwoods luging. The Olympics we were not, but it would not be for a lack of speed and prowess.

I flashed a confident grin at my dad and brother. They smiled back at me and gave me the thumbs-up. Did they know? And then I took a running start. I whizzed toward that cardboard like a prize awaited. And at just the right moment, I leapt–sailing past birch trees, maple trees, maybe a couple of chestnuts–to land on the Dumpster Board.

My angle and velocity were stellar.

My aim was flawless.

I had decided at the last possible second to go for a head-first position, so I could maneuver through the trees on my belly, directing the cardboard with my outstretched arms.

I had just the right everything to stick the landing and I landed there on my belly. The impact of the ground and the cardboard knocked the air and the birthday arrogance out of me as I continued on my way, sledless, and careened down that hill on my belly. Because wet cardboard doesn’t slide. And I’m pretty sure we were the only people in the southeast that day who didn’t know this.

I went all the way down that mountain on my stomach gathering snow in my pants and wrath in my heart. When I arrived at the bottom, my mother greeted me by clapping with joy. She was all smiles. She didn’t read the expression on my face. This wasn’t a lack of fiber in my diet. I was mad. And I stood up and threw the rowdiest temper tantrum I could possibly muster with the energy I had left. Completely soaked, I had so much snow in my pants I looked like I was waiting in line for gastric bypass surgery. It was borderline grotesque.

I don’t remember anything else about that day except that fateful trip down SnowPants Mountain. I don’t remember if my dad and brother braved their way down, too, or if I ever went back up. I do remember crying. A lot. Over cardboard. And my wet, snowy underpants.

There’s a reason they don’t make snow discs out of paper products.

And I remember we went pretty much straight to a store to spend $5 on a bright orange plastic snow disc that slid just fine.

That holiday trip ended with a full day of successful sliding on the same hillside. At the end of it all, standing in the crunch of pure December snow, with my hands tucked into the warmth of my armpits, I remember thinking to myself, “If only I had a good pair of gloves.”

Oh well. Maybe next year.

The Christmas Gloves

Growing up, Christmas Eve was a magical time. I’m not sure how much of that magic came from the anticipation of Santa and the morning to come and how much of it came from the fact that by 3 p.m. Christmas day, the ornaments were back in their crypt and the tree was at the curb like the dead shrub that it was. We had to soak up the magic quick before our mother got hold of it with her efficient little fingers. We knew this. We responded accordingly, all of us. We had to hurry up and rejoice already.

My mom was all about getting the season started the first appropriate minute. Back in the 70s, Christmas didn’t start at Halloween. It started the day after Thanksgiving. And since the world offered that as the beginning of beginnings, it was our beginning, too. My Christmas started in Lakeland almost every year. I don’t remember when it didn’t. We spent Thanksgivings at my grandparents’ concrete block house on Belvedere Street. Black Friday was a term I had never heard, but shopping the ENTIRE day after Thanksgiving was an activity I was quite familiar with. We drove back roads to Tampa and spent hours going between East Lake Mall (may it rest in peace) and University Mall (may it become something useful again someday). University Mall was alive with the sights and sounds and bargains of the season and bustling with Santa and shoppers and things that didn’t look like the inside of a county jail.  I remember loving the escalators inside department stores and the row of Christmas trees that separated the mattresses from the cookware.

But I wasn’t a shopper. I didn’t get the gene. So when it was all just too much for my dad and me, we would walk to the outside entrance of whatever parking lot held our car and plop down in the grass to wait.
And wait.

I have a sketchy memory, confirmed by family members, that one year I chose to play a small, dime-store harmonica outside Maas Brothers to be heard by everyone entering or exiting the store. I knew Old Susanna and It’s a Grand Ole Flag. People made comments like, “Hey, where’s your hat?” as they waved money at me. It was a pity play. It’s embarrassing. I was like 14. I knew better.

At any rate, I took a dark road there. That was 1984. I’m backing up to 1980.

When we returned from Lakeland every year, the tree was immediately bought. Always live. There is no other kind. And the boxes came out with decorations. I have no idea where my mother stored them. And we decked our Christmas-smelling evergreen with things like cheap tinsel and ornaments we had been collecting in the family for decades.

That’s when the real magic started. The gifts began to appear daily under the tree and we would make a pass at those gifts once or twice each day, usually around dinnertime. I wasn’t interested in guessing every gift or comparing box shapes to handwritten lists or even necessarily in counting my stash. I was interested in only one thing: picking the perfect Christmas Eve gift. Because our tradition from birth had been to pick out one gift—ANY gift—to open the night of Christmas Eve. I took the selection process seriously. I separated all my gifts into one quadrant of the floor and went to work. Shaking. Weighing with both hands. Weighing with the left hand and then the right. Shimmying. Were there moving parts?  Was it breakable?  Was it to be played with? Was it clothing? Even in 1980, I knew a tie box from a shirt box from a toy.

I know there had to have been some home runs over the years. As seriously as I took this job from year to year, I had to have picked right and picked smart on at least a couple of occasions. I do not remember a single one of those. What I do remember is my epic strike-out.

On December 24, 1980, we spent the better part of the day begging for a time. Set a time, people. When are we opening our gift?  When we were finally told that we could open our choice before dinner, we rushed into the front room and plopped down in front of the tree. It was still daylight. There would still be time to play with whatever it was. I picked up my package, winked at my audience. gave it one last shake, shimmy, and weigh and ripped into it. Oh man. Oh. Man. This was going to be fantastic. I lifted the lid of that box, pulled away the mask of white tissue paper, and beheld them.


 Not just gloves, but 1980 fake-leather-and-polyester combo navy blue padded gloves. I put them on and tried hard to get my eyes to sparkle with delight. My hands immediately began to sweat as I stretched them out in front of me. My parents were smiling across the room. My brother was opening something. Something more exciting than gloves. My eyes shifted from my gloved hands to the patches of sunlight on the lawn outside the front window. It was 80 degrees outside. There was no white Christmas. Unless we were referring to the white hot intensity of 1000 suns. With the gloves on my hands, I walked outside to make the best of a bad decision. 

I spun around the yard in my short sleeves, my arms twirling with gloves at the end of them. Navy blue, padded gloves that made a muffled p sound when I clapped them together. Christmas magic wilted at my feet, drop by sweaty drop, as I considered what tomorrow might have in store for me. I had a list. I knew I would get something from my list. I thought about all the present testing I had done in preparation for these gloves. An ape playing the stock market could have done better.

It was an epic fail in early gift opening. But it was a victory in Christmas memories. And I learned a little something in the process.

  • I learned how to look my sweet grandmother in the eyes and say, “Thank you for the gloves.” To be grateful for what you don’t want (or even need when it’s beach weather outside) is a skill the world needs badly.
  • I learned my parents were not going to save me from the gloves. They knew what I’d be opening and they never shot me the “you sure you wanna do that?” look. Somehow I did not learn how not to save my children from the gloves. I coddle them too much.
  • I learned that, with me, there’s no difference in 5 minutes with a mysterious gift box and 5 days. I just straight up stink at deduction. I never poured that much effort into picking a gift again. And I never cared that much again.
  • I learned how to manufacture Christmas spirit when it’s 80 degrees and my palms were sweating like I was holding two sticks of butter in August. I’ve always lived in Florida. I’ve had to do this many times. Not the butter holding, but the fake Christmas spirit.
  • And I learned that it’s actually not about the gloves. It’s not the size of the box or what’s under the tissue of the box. It’s the twinkle in the eyes of the sweet old lady who gave it to you. Or the friend or the parent or the sibling. That twinkle is still there even when your palms are sweaty and the weather’s all wrong. They bought that thing FOR YOU.

So get over yourself, stop shaking the presents, wipe your clammy hands on your jeans and go give someone a hug.

Gather. Thank. Sparkle.

Merry Christmas. 

Pushing the Reset Button

As I sit here typing, the dog is stretched out on the couch like an ad for a taxidermy company and rain is falling softly like Christmas confetti as it moves the lazy river water downstream. It looks like winter, but it’s not cold today. It does feel like Christmas. Finally.

I haven’t written much this year. It just hasn’t felt writable, most of it. And truthfully, much of it still isn’t. I struggle to dance along the line of what’s my story and what isn’t. When it isn’t my story, then it isn’t my story to tell. And writing my reactions to someone else’s story is crossing a line. So I follow the advice of my mother quoting Thumper and sometimes I just say nothing. 

It’s a challenge. Cuz I’m a talker. 

But here I am with a lazy rain and dog, thinking about the next two weeks.  I’m grateful that finals are upon us and almost over. The kids are not nearly as stressed as I am, which I’m well aware is messed up.  I’m grateful that we have an opportunity as a family of 6 to create a little holiday magic when we felt like we were lacking it. 

To look at us, you wouldn’t know we were lacking in spirit. We went to Home Depot the Sunday after Thanksgiving and picked a tree. We usually like to walk through the choices and really consider our options. This year, we picked the very first one our eyes landed on. The first one. We named him Bert. We walked out within 2 minutes of walking in. That’s a record. Bert is doing his job. He has some gifts under the tree. He has kids gathered around him every afternoon as they recount the boxes with their names on them. There’s one particular kid who has been slightly naughtier than the others. I actually considered returning a gift last night. 

But, of course, I’m not gonna. Because that’s so mean.  And I might be having an off year, but I’m not mean. 

And though I’m not usually accused of meanness, I have been grumpy for the last couple of weeks.  Grumpy about homework. Grumpy about carpools. Grumpy about stale snacks. Grumpy messy rooms. Grumpy about stains on white shirts that I am tasked with getting out. Grumpy about my too short pajama pants. Grumpy about stuff. 

I think I just had some hurdles to trip over. I don’t think my race has been graceful or particularly impressive, but I have continued to trip along. And there’s something to be said for not quitting. I am past some stress. I am past all of the “firsts” after my mom died. I am not past my kids’ finals, but we’ve already decided it’s disturbed behavior to fret about someone else’s test schedule. 

So here–now–on this rainy, lazy-dog, swollen-knee kind of day, I declare CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. I declare gratitude and joy and peacefulness. I declare contentment.  I look around and see only blessings. I have to step out of my own head. I don’t know who will read this. Maybe nobody. But if you’re reading and you are having an off year too, find a way to get back on. Crank up the Ella Fitzgerald music.  Pay something forward. Say Merry Christmas to the dude walking into Hibachi Express.  Eat Mexican food. Take pride in the stains you get out of shirts. Keep people on your nice list even if they don’t deserve it.

And Happy Holidays. From me. (And Bert.)

Come on, 2019. It’s game on. 

Bert, guarding his bounty.