Monthly Archives: January 2015

~ Goggy And Papa Are Leaving ~

My Captain’s parents, lovingly known as Goggy and Papa, are moving away to North Carolina.  They’ve lived here on Peach Tree Road for over forty years, just four doors down from The Little Cottage.   My Captain grew up in the house that they are selling.  In  a couple of months, he will have to pass his childhood home nearly every day, and know that their comforting presence is not there.  He insists that he is fine; and I’m sure he is, being a big boy and all.

Still, if we could have swung buying that house, we would have.  But for now at least, The Little Cottage is our home.   And to be honest, even though Critter and Varmint often lament how tightly we are packed here, they would not leave this little Sears Craftsman house for all the tea in China.

My Captain, feeling more than a little bit sentimental, took Critter out for a lap around Goggy and Papa’s acres last week.   It was a cold and snowy day, and Papa’s little red Gator had to traverse some nasty ice.

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Of course, it was beautiful, as it always has been.  My Captain never takes it for granted, even though he has been here since he was so little.

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Critter could not fathom what it is like for My Captain, who has always been so close to his parents, to suddenly not have them just four houses away.  It’s hard for Critter to imagine not having his parents at his beck and call.

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“It’s a little different,” explained My Captain.  “I’ve had nearly fifty years with them.  I’m ready to strike out on my own,” he chuckled.

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“How would you know?” challenged a boy far wiser than his 12 years.

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It bothered him.  Critter didn’t like to think about such a time ever happening in his own life.  A time when his ‘safety net’ was not immediately under him.

And he seriously doubted if My Captain had any real understanding of what was about to happen.

“I’ll be okay,” My Captain reassured him, and winked.  “I’ll still have your mom, Varmint, and you with me.”

“Won’t be the same.” Critter shook his head.

“No.  And that’s okay,” My Captain reached over and corrected Critter’s steering wheel. “You don’t always want me holding on to your steering wheel, do you?”

“I guess we’ll know the answer to that if we get stuck in the snow,” mumbled my little pessimist.

What Critter has yet to understand is that Goggy and Papa leaving is in some ways a good thing….because they will be entering a new and exciting time in their lives, because change is healthy for all of us….


…and because you can’t learn how to steer on your own without getting stuck in the snow every now and again.

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~ It’s A Little Bit Weird, I Know ~

Yes, we are a family who swims deep into the Campy, the Corny, and the Cliché.  But, like any other family, we have our traditions that are completely unique to our little circle of love.  I’ll admit, from the outside, they might actually seem to run past ‘unique,’ and land somewhere in the realm of WEIRD.  I’ll grant you that.  But anything you want to call singularly your OWN must be different from the rest of the herd, right?

Christmas Eve.  Most people are doing their Christmas Eve-y things.  Roasting Chestnuts.  Watching The Polar Express.  Singing Christmas Carols.  Icing Christmas Cookies and putting them out for Santa. Going to church. Having large family dinners that include that one weird Uncle who always wears the Hawaiian Shirt, and spills gravy on one of the Grass-skirted hula dancers’ boobs…you know, the usual.  These are all perfectly wonderful American Christmas traditions and I love each and every one of them.

But Critter, Varmint, and My Captain have another, less socially accepted Christmas Eve tradition.

The Smackdown.

It goes like this:

Critter begs for the Smackdown.  He cajoles his sister into joining the begging.  My Captain says ‘no’ about a dozen times, knowing full well that the evening WILL end in a total family wrestling match.  A wrestling match that won’t stop until someone starts crying, or a cat goes flying.

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Most of the time it is the kids vs. My Captain, but sometimes I get in the fray, just to mix it up.  I did it more often before the kids had gotten so rough.  Now I’m content to watch, take pictures, and move any family heirlooms out of the way.

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For Critter and Varmint, the goal of each match is to get to My Captain’s head, in order to put a full fledged raspberry on it, slobber and all.  The goal for My Captain is to not only prevent this from happening, but also to tickle Critter’s sides until he looks like he might puke, and to tickle Varmint’s ultra-sensitive tootsies until she nearly pees herself.

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Critter and Varmint, in all of these years, have NEVER won one of these matches.

You have to wonder WHY they keep coming back for it!

But they will again.  Time after time, after time.

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I suppose there will come a day when they are too great for My Captain, and he will end up getting his pate good and slobbery.   And I suspect he won’t want to wrestle anymore after that.  Maybe the brats know this.  Maybe they could have won years ago, but they don’t, because they never want this to end.

I wouldn’t put it past them.

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Is that a foot on My Captain’s butt?  Technically, it looks like this year Varmint Kicked My Captain’s …………

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~ Shift Gift Exchange ~

I know it isn’t rare for people who work together to have a Christmas Party, or Holiday Party in general.  My Captain’s shift has been doing it since before he was the shift’s Captain, and that has been for well over a decade!

Every year in December, the whole crew of firefighters and paramedics get together off-shift, and socialize in REAL clothing, as opposed to in stiff cotton/polyester blends of permanently creased, navy blue, utilitarian county uniforms.  It can be jarring.  I mean, standing in a room full of real-life heroes in their own normal clothing makes them shockingly HUMAN.

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And it turns out that they are every bit as goofy and sincere and warm-hearted in their normal underwear as in their County Underarmour!

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And it turns out their spouses are every bit as goofy, too.

And I will tell you right now that those gorgeous wives are every bit as beautiful in person as their husbands tell me they are, when they are at the station, missing them.

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I don’t know why I look drunk in this picture.  I promise you I wasn’t!  At least, not at this point, …..

So they’ll get together every December, and enjoy cocktails, and a meal that wasn’t scorched on the station stovetop,

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and after that, the REAL fun begins.  Because every December they have a gift exchange.

This is just some of the shift.  There was another table of the guys behind them, but My Captain’s phone camera does not have a wide-angle lens.  What the heck?!

The guy on the far right you may recognize as last year’s rookie, Connor.   Connor is finishing up his rookie year, and is about to leave the shift…and they are NOT happy about that.  He’s a hard worker, and has been a really good sport about all the ribbing he’s had to endure.  I think they’ve given him more than any other rookie, because they like him so very much.  At least, that’s how My Captain explains the weird world of fire department right-of-passage.  In fact, when I ask how Connor is doing, any one of the shift will respond along the lines of, ‘He’ll hold his own when he needs to.”

In the fire department, there is no greater compliment.

ANYWAYS…back to the gift exchange.  It’s an awesome rendition of one, because it is, well,….

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NOT your normal, run-of-the-mill Secret Santa kind of gift exchange.  This is one of those silly exchanges, where everyone tries to out-do each other with weird, often inappropriate gifts. Over the years, we’ve seen beer dispensers shaped like fire hydrants, edible underwear for men, Tonka toy ambulances, and hilarious t-shirts.  This one, a couple of years ago, was for My Captain.  He had just been in the hospital, suffering from diverticulitis (all that ding-dang fire station popcorn!).  His shift, 31-C, decided to do a little something extra for his gift:

163285_1708552484484_3742247_nEMBROIDERED, no less.  This group is a sensitive bunch, I tell ya.

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Anyways, this year was no different than the previous years of inanity and hilarity.  Every gift was either a tool, or expensive whiskey, or something that looked like it came out of Spencer’s Gift stores.   I’ve come to enjoy helping My Captain search out and buy the best gift for the party we could possibly find.  Something rare, something special.  Something truly memorable.  This year was a winner, if I do say so myself.

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It was “The Redneck Plunger,” a shot-gun rendition of a working plunger, which is vastly different than a plunger-rendition of a working shot-gun.  Complete with working pump action and sound effects.

Poor, er, I mean, Lucky firefighter Tom and his wife won this particular gift, and it could not have been bestowed on a more grateful subject!  Tom and Leslie have an awesome sense of humor, and no doubt will make good use of it, as they  have a baby fast approaching toddlerhood, and will soon begin to find various non-toilet items in the toilet, as toddlers love to do.  Fact is, they NEEDED the Redneck Plunger.

I just love this shift.  Many of them I’ve known for about a decade.  Some of them are new friends.  But all of them are quality people, and I feel so blessed to have My Captain surrounded with, and protected by, them.  It’s easy to forget during a party like this, that their normal interaction is in the emergency services setting.  On any given shift, with statistically more likely chance than any other profession, (save the police, or active war-time armed services,) any one of them could be killed.

Or saved by another one of them.

And on every shift,when they aren’t directly training or responding to a  911 call or Collapse Rescue Team rescue, they relate by teasing, or pranking, or giving each other a hard time in general.  It builds the bonds that they will need to rely on later, when the you-know-what hits the fan.

It’s definitely the Work Hard, Play Hard mentality. With a little SURVIVE thrown in between.

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Of course, Master Firefighter Craig, (remember him from ~What Kids Really Need~ ?) makes this look easy.

I can’t wait until next December’s party!!!  I wonder if there is such thing as a Redneck Fire Helmet?

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~ IMPORTANT Traditions ~

I had no idea how much people missed corny stuff in this day and age.  The amount of feedback the last blog generated was incredible! It was gratifying to see that we are not the only ones in this world affected by the great world of Corny!

Today’s post will continue describing our family traditions…Corny, Corny, Corndog, Corn.  It’s all about the Sap here at The Little Cottage.

Every year we go to Hershey Park to visit the ‘Sweet Lights’ decorations for the holidays, to sit on Santa’s Lap, regardless of what anyone’s persuasion on the jolly old elf may be, and to fight over chocolate in a friendly game of poker.

Don’t think we’re different than any other family with pre-teens and teens.  Critter and Varmint bitched, and moaned, and rolled their eyes adequately enough to save their hormone-ridden teenage pride, as I strong-armed and browbeat them into trudging through the motions of family traditions.  Even My Captain had the bad idea of wondering aloud if the kids weren’t too old for this stuff.

He’s healing just fine, thanks.

But I ask you, friends, to examine the evidence below, and tell me whether or not you think I was right to insist we carry on our holiday habits.

Exhibit A:

(Sorry it’s so blurry. I need to cut back on the caffeine, sugar, and ADD meds.)

Note the patient look of Varmint and Critter as I asked them to stop for the yearly picture by the Hershey Lodge Sleigh.  Dammit, kids, can you put your arms around each other, or touch, or something?  At least look like you have a LITTLE affection for one another?

2014-12-14 12.34.05Thanks. That’s helpful.

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Let’s move on, shall we? Let’s get nice and toasty before we head out into the sub-zero weather of the Sweet Lights in Hershey Park. How’s about a cuddle by the fire, and a friendly game of poker?

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I said CUDDLE, not SMACKDOWN.  This is why we can’t go in public, you clowns.

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Can we just focus on divvying up the poker chips?  Milk Chocolate Mint is worth 10, and Dark Chocolate Raspberry is worth 5, as always.

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Kids, I said divvy them up, as in equally.

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We’re having fun, remember?   Tis the season to be ‘Jolly’, not the season to ‘glare stink-eye challenges across the table’.  Santa is watching, but more importantly, I’m capturing all of this on film, and am not afraid to throw you under the blog-bus.   Bank on it.

2014-12-14 13.16.36That’s better.  Now get your cotton-pickin’ hands away from my pile ‘O chips. You may be of my womb, but this is Poker, and I WILL cut you.

Let’s finish up and head on out to the park.  Bundle up.

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No, no one is going to notice that we all look like Nanook of the North.  And no, the down coat does NOT make us look like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man…..2014-12-14 14.21.26…because, DUH, he isn’t GREEN or BLUE.

2014-12-14 14.22.28That’s better.   But no, I will not admit that that muffled sound under my coat was a fart.

First stop in the park….SANTA!  It was at this point we have to break from the narrative for a side story.  Critter may look like he is being very specific, and demanding about what he wants for Christmas, but he actually was lecturing Santa on the importance of exercise.  Because, he insisted, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.

2014-12-14 14.48.13Santa focused on the warning, nonplussed at the ol’ switcheroo that was happening on his lap.  HE was getting advice, for a change!  Varmint wisely held her tongue.  She knows not to mess up a good thing.

2014-12-14 14.48.15But Santa wasn’t offended.  He simply educated Critter on the restorative, healthful properties of Christmas Magic Dust.

2014-12-14 14.48.19And then they all had a good laugh when Critter asked where he could get some of that stuff for his chubby Mama.

2014-12-14 14.48.24Ha.

Let’s move on.

Time for the annual Hershey Christmas Cookie Decorating.  I notice no one is groaning and rolling their eyes NOW. Go figure.

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Serious Business.

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And after all that icing, we were in such a state of hyperglycemia that all we were good for, was sitting in a basket up on the Sky-Line ride, and passively enjoying all of the lights.

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So there you have it.  What do you think?  Was I right?  Was it worth it to cajole them, and coerce them, and coral them into repeating the old family holiday habits, as campy, and corny, and jeuvenile as they may be?

Or am I only seeing what I want to see?

Because what I see in these pictures is humor, and joy, and love.  I see childhoods worth looking back on.

And if I am worth one thing at all as a mother….if I have one purpose…it would be to give them that.  To give them the building blocks for a joyful, love-filled, meaningful existence in this often tragic world. Life can be really, REALLY hard.  I can help them in person now, but one day, when I am gone, these memories will be what remains of me to help see them through the hard times.

If I were big enough to give joyful childhood memories to every kid on this planet, you can bet your ass I would.

But as it stands, I have only enough in me for these two miscreants.  And I do give them my all.  All of my effort.  All of my energy.  All of my humor and passion.  All of my heart.

And sometimes these things come in the form of forcing corny, but important, traditions.

I have a feeling that decades from now, tucked away in a corner of the home of some distant descendant, there will hang a photo of two kids behind a sappy Christmas tree cut-out.

And I’ll be satisfied.

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~ Where Do I Start? ~

Forgive me, friends.  I know I’ve been A.W.O.L. since Thanksgiving.  But part of me really wanted to FOCUS on December, while the kids are on the cusp of growing up.  My Varmint is, sadly, barely still open to the magic, but My Critter is hanging on by his ripped, dirty fingernails, stubbornly clinging to his childhood dreams of Christmas.

Recognizing this, I didn’t want to miss a thing, and rarely sat down to write.  So here we are a month later, and I’ve much to catch you up on!  Get your coffee, snuggle in, and I’ll bring you up to date! (Or, if you read me from your phone on the toilet, as many do, go ahead and turn the fan on.)

I don’t know if you remember, but one of our family traditions during Thanksgiving and Christmas is making Advent Chains.  On the evening of Thanksgiving, we write affirmations of our love and affection for eachother, link by link.  25 links get written for each of us.  Then on December 1st, they get hung up and every morning thereafter until Christmas, we each get to open a link.

These can really start your day right.  SOMETIMES, though, it will throw you for a loop, and you’ll find it takes all of that 24 hours to find your goofy center again.  Behold:

The day had just begun.  The kids were at their father’s house, and My Captain and I were off to deliver Baklava and Rumballs to dear ones.  But wait!  We need to open our links!

Gleefully, I plopped myself down on the creaky, old stairs of the Little Cottage, and gently pulled open one excessively over-taped link.  These can be difficult to pry open without ripping.

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Chuckling at my success of opening the treasure without tearing it, I could see this one was written by my beloved Varmint.  Her nearly-illegible scrawl is so like my own.  She could be a Doctor with that handwriting, I laughed.

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And then I began to read….and stopped laughing.

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Oh my sweet beloved daughter.  If only you knew how such simple and innocent words will fly straight into the deepest parts of a divorced Mama’s heart….cutting cleanly through regret and the fear of maternal inadequacy… right to the part where love lives.  What mother doesn’t need to hear she is getting something right?

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“Well, you’re day is shot,” My Captain accurately and condescendingly snickered, as my whole face contorted with “Awwwwwww!”

I had to blink back tears and get ahold of myself before I realized My Captain was opening his daily link, and grabbed the camera.

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He’s fast, that guy!  Sorry for the blur!  And he may be fast, but he’s not as nimble at prying open fifteen layers of scotch tape as Mama is.  It didn’t take long for him to fall back on the Special Ops / Montana Mountain Man mentality: Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome.

2014-12-07 11.53.36He’s one to work smarter, not harder, and with the flash of his wrist….

2014-12-07 11.53.39he whipped out his pocket knife, but only because his Bowie knife was in the dishwasher.

2014-12-07 11.53.48And then the manly-man who was just snickering at my emotional upheaval got effectively served by the same Varmint who had so masterfully upended her Mama.

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And that was the last picture he let me take.  A man’s got to keep his pride, after all!

Now, I ask you, how could I be expected to blog with all of this emotion swirling around our hearth and home?  I’d have to be superhuman to be able to calmly sit down at my laptop during that raging, month-long storm of sentimentality.

I knew you’d understand!  Besides, we’ll catch up, I promise!


Mama B.


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