Another Holiday Tradition? This Will Never Come to Fruition

I have somehow managed to make it almost two decades into parenthood without facing one of the most difficult questions of our time: Mommy, why don’t we have an Elf on the Shelf?

If you’re not familiar with this recent cult phenomenon, a growing number of people play this game of placing a stuffed troll out in a Santa hat around the house for the purpose of gauging a child’s Naughty or Niceness and reporting back to the Big Man. Each morning the Elf must be put into a new, clever pose or you have failed at life and destroyed a childhood. The oldest of our four children was well past the age of NSA Elfness when this was invented in 2005, so this little yuletide poltergeist has not been incorporated into our holiday traditions. I am reluctant to say the least to introduce him now. We’ve been doing just fine with Santa himself knowing if we’ve been sleeping, knowing when we’re awake. He’s the first to know if we’ve been bad—or good—so we are good for goodness sake! I don’t know if we need an elfin tattletale middleman to achieve this.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as big of a holiday mascot cheerleader as you’ll find. I’ve fallen for the Shoe Trick of St. Nick. We get visits by the Easter Rabbit with So Much Candy I want to Stabbit. Fireworks Bam from Uncle Sam and much against my Will, there’s Punxsutawney Phil and I’m that Sap Who Sets Leprechaun Traps on St. Patrick’s Day. And despite being Stupid, I buy Candy from Cupid. I’m the Queen of Halloween and if I have any change to Spare-y, multiple times a year we will see the Tooth Fairy. And of course, I am a Santa Claus with Many Flaws.

That’s a lot for a mother to keep up with.

I just don’t think it’s fair to add one more holiday responsibility EVERY DAY FROM THANKSGIVING TO CHRISTMAS EVE of someone who drinks Wine from a Stein and Gin from a Bin. I’m the mother that turns in school Permission Slips After the Trips with so much Junk in the Trunk that the Cookies for the Troop Have Turned to Soup. I frequently commit Birthday Party Tardies and Lack A Soccer Snack. They Tire of the Uniform Still in the Dryer, so by the time Elf relocation time arrived every day I’m sure my Head would Still be in Bed Full of Dread.

So please, I beg No more Holiday Lore in a Drawer.

Please Forgive all the Bluster and with all of the Holiday Cheer I Can Muster (and I’ll probably be Sorry I Cussed Her): Elf on the Shelf, go &@^%^ yourself.

©2014 Tracey Henry

A holiday with a Twist

This is a post from way back in 2006 on what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

My sister called me early last Saturday morning.

“What’s up, Sister Diva?” I asked.

She heaved a sigh before answering.

“It’s German Twist Day.”

We both genuflected.

I spoke quickly, knowing we didn’t have much time.

“Do you have all of your supplies? Your equipment, ingredients, Thermos of coffee and Red Bull? Did you get a sitter arranged? What about bodily function needs? I.V.’s? Catheters? Have you cross-checked your astrological charts? Tea leaves? Is the humidity level okay up there for baking? Barometric pressure? Have all the planets aligned? Are you sure this is German Twist Day??”

She assured me of her adequate preparations; we wept together, I wished her Godspeed, and then she hung up to continue the marathon day of baking. I haven’t heard from her since.

“German Twists” are my family’s culinary legacy. Not just a Christmas cookie, but an epicurean DNA test. You must successfully bake these yuletide morsels in order for our last name to be included on your birth certificate.

The German Twist is no ordinary drop cookie. It is made with yeast; so it is a living, breathing organism, and one does not “bake” it; one gives birth to it. Or at least that’s what it feels like after 14 hours of laborious work it takes to create a batch. And the dough is quite colic-y–it must be coddled, tended and loved incessantly. It must be gently rocked to sleep after its bottom has been powdered with flour.

The other challenge to the German Twist is not only must you be an executive pastry chef to execute it, but you must also be a mind reader and a translator fluent in little old lady because this is the recipe from my great-grandmother that you have to work from:

Not exactly copy written by Bon Appetit. It’s like listing instructions for open heart surgery as: 1 patient, 1 scalpel, a needle and thread; Anesthetize and pray for the best.

I almost decided not to bake the cookies this year. I justified it by telling myself I was pregnant and supposed to be taking it easy, so maybe a 4 day vigil in front of the oven with a Petri dish of chemicals and lead gloves wasn’t prudent. Slice and bakes would have to be on the dessert menu this Christmas.

But then I got a call from my 90 year old Grandfather. For the first time in 20 years, we will be spending Christmas Day together, something that we did every single one of my childhood. He and my grandmother, my Aunt and Uncle, my sister and parents would gather for Christmas Day and after opening too many presents, we would sit down to a feast. My Mom would have made a roast beef–something she was particularly good at–and my Gram and Aunt would have brought their obligatory dishes so that every course was filled with meaning and tradition. We even made some new ones along the way. But no matter what, a plate of German Twists would be there, as well as a colorful commentary on how this year’s batch turned out. Gram would laugh that we all still poured over that yellowing index card like the Rosetta Stone trying to decipher her mother’s handwriting, and we’d laugh that hers looked exactly like it. Over the years, we tried to perfect our technique, but after decades of rising, kneading, and rising again, we determined that the German Twist–like life–is not a science but an art and recipes are merely guidelines, not insurance for what comes out of the oven. The secret is always in the spices.

Some year’s efforts were better than others, but they were always something I looked forward to making with my family and then serving proudly on a poinsettia plate that my Grandmother made in a ceramics class with “1956” scrawled in that same illegible handwriting on the back.

When the alarm went off this morning at 4am and I crawled from beneath the pile of children and dogs that were my blankets this December morning, my husband asked, “SD, what are you doing up? It’s not even close to 11 yet.”

“German Twist Day,” I answered groggily.

“Godspeed,” he said, understanding.

And that’s what makes Christmas–and life–so delicious. Feasting on memories while serving up new ones.

©2006 Tracey Henry

Detailed recipe to follow….

O (No) Christmas Tree

This year we had it in our minds that we would forego the corner Christmas tree lot, and make a trip out to a tree farm where we would make some yuletide family memories with a chainsaw and some rope.

We packed up the kids, headed northwest a couple of hours until we found a tree farm that promised some sort of forestry-approved, reasonably environmentally-responsible trees.

Upon pulling in, we noticed the trees didn’t resemble the ones we typically spent way too much on for being cut sometime around Labor Day and bundled in cold storage until their branches petrified–these were of a softer, gentler needle. Sort of like feather dusters. Or deadly anemones.

We were greeted by the owner of the farm who explained their practices and the way things were done–4 fields of different varieties of trees that would be cut by their staff when we chose one, replaced by more several more when it left. She handed us a color-coded price sheet which my husband and I exchanged looks of shock–the largest tree was literally hundreds less than what we have paid in years past.

This is when things started heading south–much as where we should have gone to the nearest Target for an artificial tree.

Because they were an organic farm, no pesticides were used. (Good!) Instead, they relied on more “natural” methods. (Also good.) She held out a small brown ball that looked like a cross between a pine cone and a hazelnut. It was an egg sack from the praying mantises that lived here and they were all over the trees doing what they do. (Good, I guess.) They would be removed from the tree when we bought it, but in case any were missed we should remove them ourselves. (Wait, what?) And if we all missed any egg sacks, not to worry, they would hatch and die after about two days. (Oh, hell no.) But not to worry still, “they don’t bite.”

The kids were thrilled, we were horrified, but trudged on nonetheless. The trees were of a much different variety than what would be considered “traditional Christmas.” They were of varying sizes–from 6 inches to 600 feet. We tried to find something in the middle that wasn’t already decorated with squirrels, birds’ nests, bee hives and of course, large egg sacks–but those naturally unadorned trees were tough to come by. “I think we have to switch up our standards this year,” I said to my husband after about an hour. “How about just picking the least likely to kill us in our sleep,” he replied as the Lorax ran across our path.

Perhaps it was as simple as when choosing your own lobster from a tank and dinner seems less appetizing once you see it with rubber bands on its claws. Or maybe the tree just objected to being relocated from some sort of burial ground. Or maybe it was a curse from some very pissed off elves who couldn’t bake cookies there anymore; but some metaphysical phenomena happened on the way home with the Christmas tree.

I don’t know if much of the tree blew off the top of the car (along with dozens of bug larvae I hope) or if we bought it that way, but by the time we got it home and up half of the absolutely gigantic tree was gone. Literally 50% of the branches no longer had any needles on them. There was no “wall side” of the tree, there was “Oh God, what closet is big enough to hide that log pile in?” sides. Charlie Brown tree? This was the Buster Brown tree–it looked like someone had walked all over it in bad shoes. Or the Bobbi Brown tree that no amount of make-up could hide its hideousness. And perhaps more identifiable with Leroy Brown–it looked like a jigsaw puzzle with more than a couple of pieces gone.

I tried to polish the tur..ahem, tree, by putting lights on it. A lot more lights. Enough to blind on-lookers so they wouldn’t turn to stone. The good news was that the thing was still ginormous–plenty big enough for Santa to leave lots of presents under, like an industrial drum of sap remover and stronger eyeglass prescriptions. But I fear no amount of decorations are helping to disguise the tree’s physical and maybe even spiritual deficiencies. So far the reactions of the few that have lived to see it have been, “Your tree terrifies me.” And “It makes me sad,” “Bless your heart,” and “Mommy, did the tree just move by itself?” accompanied by tears. What started out as Yuletide fun has quickly deteriorated into a “Yule be sooorrryyy,” from a little ghost girl’s voice from inside the tree.

I pen this not only as a cautionary tale to I don’t know exactly what, but mostly because I’m home alone with the tree right now and want some written record of my existence. It’s already sucked up a few gallons of holy water, but I’m not sure that will prevent the spontaneous combustion that will most likely occur. I ask not for your pity or worry, just a request that if you are so inclined, please pray for me.

As I know the thousands of mantises I hear hatching in my living room are at this very minute.

Merry Chrissssssss…………..knsld’kfh’owefh’owIf……….

©2013 Tracey Henry

I'm surprised it allowed its image to be captured on film.
I’m surprised it allowed its image to be captured on film.