December 30, 2014


This year, in the Buckingham household, we have begun what I hope will become a tradition.
No, it isn’t considered a “tradition” to avoid burning down the house—that is more of a rule inscribed on the third tablet that Moses dropped and broke by mistake.  Take from that what you will.
At any rate, last year, on January first, Stij and I each put an empty Mason jar on our respective desks.  It was our job, when something terrific happened all during the year, to write it down on a scrap of paper and put it in the jar.  On New Year’s Eve, we will open up the jars and read the contents aloud as a way of expressing our gratitude for the good things life has brought us during the previous year.
We decided to open them a day or two early on this, the inaugural year.  Here’s how it went:
“Okay, who goes first?”
“I will,” Stij said, fishing out a piece of paper. He read, “Had the fire extinguishers recharged.”
“And that’s a terrific thing from last year?”
“Remember the pot roast?”
“Oh…right. Okay, my turn.” I unfolded my paper.  “Made pot roast.”
“Well, I guess that’s a wash.  ‘Bought a new ride-on mower.’”
“You sure pick some odd things to put in your jar. ‘Drove ride-on mower through neighbor’s prize-winning Petunia bed.’” 
“Talk about me!  How is that a great thing?”
“It got you that new ride-on mower you wanted, didn’t it?”
Stij shook his head as if trying to clear water from his ears. “Remodeled living room.”
I opened my slip of paper. “Saved the bric-a-brac by setting fire to a giant homemade loaf of bread that attacked the living room.”
“Remodeled the kitchen.”
“Remind me of why you had to do that."
“Exploding lasagne.”
“Oh…right.  But the salad was good, as I remember.”
“You have the memory of a dead elephant.  The ‘salad,’ as you so laughingly call it had a homemade dressing on it that ate through an anodized aluminum bowl AND the counter top—and it takes a lot to eat through granite in three-and-a-half seconds.  Have you ever considered a career in munitions?”
“Tee hee.  Here’s mine, ‘Created a lasagne that looked exactly like the photograph in the cookbook—before exploding.’”
“Five seconds of pride followed by three seconds of mayhem and two-and-a-half months of work.”
“Okay, smart guy, let’s hear another one of yours, then.”
“Okay. ‘Installed steel counter top on kitchen island.’”
“Didn’t that come under the kitchen remodel?”
“No that was later on when your chocolate chip cookies melted the previous one.”
“Oh…right.  Here’s one of mine: ‘Feeding the birds.’”
“Here’s mine: ‘Shoveling up and disposing of 300 bird carcasses after you ‘kindly’ fed them the bird seed balls you made and hung from the trees.’”
“Oh, come on.”
“’Come on,’ nothing!  To this day, Ziplock has no idea that they actually make body bags.  I still don’t know how you could screw up birdseed balls.”
“Well, the recipe called for suet, which I didn’t have and had no idea where to get, so I got creative and used Gorilla Glue instead.”
“Got creative?  Got homicidal, you mean.  If I hadn’t gotten rid of those bodies pronto, PETA would have burned you in effigy.  It’s as close as I ever want to get to feeling like a mob clean-up man.”
This was not turning out to be the uplifting exercise I had originally envisioned.
“Okay, okay!  I see that you have one left—let’s hear it.”
He unfolded the last slip.  “‘I love being married to my wife because there is never a dull moment.’”
“Funny, my last slip says the same thing about you,” I said.
Just goes to show you that the couple that cooks and rebuilds together stays together.
I have just signed up for cooking lessons.  Stay tuned.

December 22, 2014


        Christmastime, for me, has always been a time of reflection—remembering those who are no longer with us and wishing we could forget those who still are.  I happened to be shuffling through some photos the other day and was reminded of the Christmas I am about to relate to you.  So grab some hot mulled cider and a plain doughnut, and join me on yet another sleigh ride through Yuletide Hell…

         Last year, I decided to do a “themed” holiday.  It was to be “An Old Fashioned Christmas” in the Buckingham Household, right out of Currier & Ives.
         As a survivor of that same Christmas, I’m here to tell you that it was more like something out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Picture Norman Rockwell beating up a small child, and you’ve got the idea.

To start with, I managed to wheedle the entire neighborhood into participating in a carol sing throughout the town.  I secured participants by promising them that I wouldn’t give them any of my Christmas cookies that year.

At any rate, at the appointed hour on December 23, we all assembled.  That crew of singers made the cast of M*A*S*H look positively normal.  I had the route all planned, and so led the way on the half-mile stroll to the first house to be the beneficiary of our jolly vocalizations.

I should mention here that though I have received death threats from most of the great chefs in the country, I actually can sing.  Our first number was “O Little Town of Bethlehem” into which I launched, con brio, expecting everyone else to jump in.

Nobody did.

I got as far as “Oh little town of …” and stopped.

“Well, come on!  Sing!” I cried.

“I can’t sing worth a damn, Carson,” old Corduroy Jenkins said.

This sentiment was echoed by most of the crowd, except for the ones at the back who, by this time, were so gassed on the bottle of bourbon that Alvin had brought along to keep warm that they were ready to sing anything, as long as it was “Little Brown Jug.”

Being the thorough planner that I am, I had forgotten to mention that at least a passing interest in singing would be necessary for our little adventure.

So, after five notes, that bit of Christmas magic was abandoned and everybody went home.  However, even a setback like this left me with the shining visions of Rogers & Hammerstein dancing in my head undimmed.  I trudged home to help decorate the tree.  The “perfect” tree.

After I cleaned up the wood chips, put away the chain saw, and disposed of the now useless tree stand, my children were headed for the basement to get the ornaments and lights when…

“No, no!  No lights.  No ornaments.  This year we’re having real candles on the tree.  We’ll decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries. This is going to be an old fashioned Christmas!” I cried.

My husband, Stij, growled something about an Old Fashioned sounding pretty good to him right about then—but he humored me.

I had purchased a thousand tiny white candles with their accompanying tree fixtures.  The tree, being two and a half feet tall, only accommodated about 75 candles; which was fortunate since, by the time we lit them all, the first ones were still burning…for a minute or two.

We went through the whole thousand in the first 90 minutes, which ended with a hasty call to the fire department.

Luckily, all that happened was that the tree burned to a crisp, the wall was scorched, Stij’s eyebrows were singed off, and I finally got that sunken living room I always wanted.

After the firemen left, following a stern warning to my husband about keeping the matches locked up, my son asked, “Where’s Tango?”

Tango is the cat—a Burmese stray who adopted us five years ago.

“The last time I saw him he was sleeping under the Christmas tree, and …OH NO!”

Resembling and outtake from a Keystone Kops short, we scoured the house in complete panic.  We finally found him hiding under the stairs…or what we thought was him.  I was hard to tell under a two-pound layer of built up candle wax.  He looked more like a miniature, extremely pissed off Jabba the Hutt.

The typical wax removal regimen involves pouring boiling water over the coated object—obviously not an option in this case, unless one finds the prospect of holiday evisceration appealing.

Stij took one look at poor little Tango, then turned to me and said, “Well, dear, we can stick a wick in him and drape him over what’s left of the tree in what’s left of our house, if you want.”

Before I could reply, I got THE LOOK, and kept my mouth shut.  It was the first smart thing I’d done all season.

Upon assessing the damage, I was really surprised he didn’t just skip THE LOOK and go straight for THE REMINGTON.

Instead, he left the room and came back with a pair of hair clippers.

Our family Christmas photo from last year, rather than framed and on the mantle, resides in a dusty album filled with photos of the relatives no one likes.  This is completely understandable.  This piece of Christmas nostalgia depicts two frightened children; a glowering father with no eyebrows; a charred, undecorated Christmas stick; a mother gagged with a book of Christmas carols and bound to a smoldering chair with strings of popcorn, cranberries, and boughs of holly, and a now vicious bald cat sitting on her lap with his teeth sunk to the gums into her right arm.
Joy to the world.

December 16, 2014


        I don’t know about all of you, but living in my house is a real experience, especially at Christmas time.
To start with, I lapse into temporary insanity, which exhibits itself in the Yuletide delusion that I suddenly have the culinary ability that I so obviously lack during the rest of the year, as you all well know by now.
Oh, yes.  It’s “time to bake the cookies.”
It would be sweet if it wasn’t so pathetic.  Every year, I bake hundreds of cookies, which I tie up in red or green cellophane with a beautiful bow, and present to friends and relatives . . . who, if they’re smart, eat the red or green cellophane and the bow and throw away the cookies.
And I don’t bake just one kind of cookie, either.  My usual Christmas selection includes:
Peanut Butter Stuffed Dates:  My adventure in taxidermy.
Sugar Plums:  Which may not dance in your head, but certainly do a production number in your colon.
Russian Tea Cakes:  Which resemble and taste like eastern European ammunition.
Caramel Bars:  The operative word here is “bars.”
Chocolate Bark:  With real bark!
Divinity:  A cruel joke.
Meringues:  Who needs throwing knives?
Black and White Brownies:  My contribution to the complete destruction of interracial harmony within the fairy realm.
Hermits:  What you will become whenever you hear that I’ve been baking cookies again.
The friends I have left like to refer to this farrago as “The Annual Waste of Ingredients.”
Naturally, my husband, Stij, plays a big part in the festivities of the season, as well.  He goes with me to get the Christmas tree.  Our children, Leo and Alexandrea, are left at home, suffering from some exotic, as yet unnamed malady resulting from careless Christmas cookie consumption.
The first step, upon our arrival at the tree lot, is for Stij to say, in a soft voice that will cause horses to spook two towns away, “Criminey!  These things are EXPENSIVE!  Let’s go over to K-Mart and get a fake one!”
This behavior stops after I threaten to shove a Tea Cake down his throat.
The lot we go to every year always has a great selection – easily a hundred trees or more, much to Stij’s chagrin, because I have the patience of the Venus Di Milo, and will carefully inspect every single tree before making a choice.  Stij, you understand, has no part in this decision whatsoever.  He’s just along to shut up, pay for the tree, and tie it to the roof of the car.  Until he is needed, he wanders off to the sales shack to have a drink with the other men who are waiting for their wives to pick out trees.  Oh, that’s another thing.  It’s an unwritten law that all men must BYOB to the Christmas tree lot.  And they’re happy to do it, believe me.
Okay.  Three hours later, the tree is on the roof of the car and everybody’s happy – I because I got the “perfect” tree, and Stij because he got Alvin drunk enough on the good scotch he bought to knock an extra $5 off the price.  The simple economics of the fact that he had to pay $40 for the scotch that bought him a $5 discount are lost on him.
By the time we get home, our children, being the resilient little creatures that they are, have recovered from the cookie poisoning that would have killed anyone else and are ready to help put up the tree.
The first argument is where to put it.  Leo always thinks it would be best to put it in his room.
“You can’t have it in your room, Leo,” Alexandrea exclaims.  “There’s no chimney!”
“That’s OK,” Leo assures her.  “There’s one in the living room.  He can just come down in there and walk into my room.  He needs to lose a little weight, anyhow.”
It’s at this point that Stij gives them THE LOOK.  “It’s going in the living room,” he intones in a voice from beyond the grave.
They don't ever argue with him.  Legend had it that after THE LOOK comes THE REMINGTON.  They’d never pushed their luck past THE LOOK.
Location decided, I fetch the tree stand . . . the bane of male existence everywhere.  That metal nightmare with the three trunk screws has been known to fill lunatic asylums the world over during the month of December.
“It won’t matter which side shows,” I chirp.  “The whole tree is perfect, just perfect.”
After twenty minutes of wrestling, Stij gets it screwed into the stand and steps back.
The tree is listing about forty-five degrees to starboard.
“$#@#%%$%%!” he mutters, crawling back under, unscrewing it, realigning the trunk, then re-screwing it back in place again.
He crawls out and steps back.
Forty-five degrees to port, now.
After two hours of this, he makes a discovery.  About halfway up the tree, the trunk is crooked.  And not just mildly crooked, either.  The S-bend of the plumbing under the sink is straighter.
Stij slowly emerges from beneath the lower branches.  His eyes are red-rimmed.  His hair has gone completely white.  His teeth are now elongated and pointed.  He looks like Dracula’s Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
One look at this apparition and self-preservation kicks in.  We all run and hide.
When the cursing and the sounds of heavy equipment die down, and after first holding a hat on the end of a stick out the door, we venture forth to survey the wreckage.
There is a chain saw smoking in the corner and greenery and wood chips festooned about the room.  The tree stand has been reduced to a mass of twisted metal, after which it was summarily lobbed into the cat’s litter box.
The tree is now two-and-a-half feet tall and nailed directly to the floor.
I gaze upon it lovingly and smile.  “You see?  I told you it was perfect

December 8, 2014



I just love this time of year.  Pretty lights, great food, friends, family (well, scratch family—except for Stij.  I want to enjoy my Christmas, not suddenly be under indictment).

Anyhow, this year, I decided to surprise Stij with outdoor Christmas lights.

I waited until he’d left for work, then jumped into my car and headed for the store.  I may have even hummed Christmas carols on the trip.  I was happy and all was right with the world.

This did not last.

I pulled in at everyone’s favorite big-box store (I know, I know…bad start) and hustled inside.

I hadn’t been in one for a while.  Those Supercenters are huge!  I stopped at the customer service desk and picked up a map, some food and water, and a tent, and off I went.  I declined the wilderness guide they offered because he looked way too much like Mel Brooks.

I walked on for a mile or so, and didn’t see any decorations, so I consulted my map to try to find out where, in relation to the Christmas section, I currently found myself. I was right in front of the Pet Department, so I looked for it on the map to get my bearings.

There was no Pet Department on the map.

However, I thought I saw twinkling lights about a half-mile ahead, so I gamely continued my trek.  On my way, I passed shoppers who had already claimed a spot and set up their tents for the night, having dropped, exhausted, where they stood.  They were pale, malnourished-looking and obviously quite weak.

I stopped at one encampment in ladies lingerie.  “Excuse me.  Do you know where the Christmas Department is?  I need some outdoor lights.”

He laughed hollowly.  “That’s what we came here for…three days ago.  We’ve been living on diet Coke and Snickers bars ever since, looking for a way out of this place.”

“Just how big is this store, anyhow?” I asked.

“Look at the scale of miles on the map.”

I did, and discovered that one inch equaled ten miles.  The map, when unfolded completely, measured 24 x 12 inches.

“Would you like to stop here and rest a while?”

“I think I’ll just keep going, but thank you, anyway,” I said.

“I hope your malaria shots are up to date.  They had trouble with the electric in the pet department and the fish tank filters stopped working.  All the fish are decomposing and it’s swarming with mosquitoes in all that standing water.”

“I thought I smelled something odd when I walked by there.”

“It’s no joke—three people are already dead.”

“Jesus!  What did they do with the bodies?”

“I think they have a crematorium on the premises.”


I tried to call Stij to let him know where I was and that I may be late home to dinner, but I couldn’t get a signal.

I walked faster.

I walked past the Men’s Department, the Boys’ Department, the Infants’ Department, the Neonatal Department, and the Conception Department.

Then things really got strange.

Did you know that Supercenters also have adoption agencies?  Presumably to place the poor children who were with parents who keeled over and croaked in the store.  To this end, there is also a Funeral Department.  Evidently, you can be buried in the Garden Center at Rollback prices. I also passed a chicken farm, a toilet paper factory, a recycling station, a re-training facility for the criminally insane, and an operating theatre.

I was no closer to the twinkling lights, however.

I had to move faster.

Walking on a bit farther, I saw the answer.  Bicycles!  I grabbed one, hopped on before anyone could say anything and sped off down the main aisle.

About ten-thirty that evening, I finally made it!  I wept joyful tears on the sales clerk’s shoulder, bought a cartful of lights and decorations, and paid for them.

“Oh, Jesus, it’s going to take me ten more hours to get back to my car,” I muttered.

“Oh, no it won’t, ma’am.  You can exit right out this door and into the parking lot.”

“You mean I could have come in this door, too?”

“Sure.  It’s right on the map—see?”

I left shortly after that.

Ten minutes later, I arrived home.

“I was just about to call the cops!  Why didn’t you call me?  I’ve been worried sick!”

“I couldn’t get a signal.”

“Where were you, anyway?”

“I went to the Supercenter to surprise you with outdoor Christmas lights.”

“Oh.  Where are they?”

“I found it necessary, at the last minute, to strangle a sales clerk with most of them, and hang her up over a crematory door in a light display that was both colorful and grotesque simultaneously.”

“Do I want to know about this?”


“Well, did you bring home any lights at all after all that?”

“Yep.  They’re all plugged in outside—take a look.”

He came back ten seconds later.  “I would hardly call a wadded up ball of blinking colored lights lobbed into the middle of the driveway terribly festive.”

“Well, there’s a Santa Claus and a reindeer in there somewhere, too, I think.”

“They don’t help. Right now, I’m going to pour you a large bourbon, then I’m going back outside to dispose of those lights before they short circuit and burn down the truck.”

Fa la la la la, la la la la.


December 2, 2014


        Did you ever do a Black Friday camp-out?
I did.
Stij decided that our four-foot flat screen TV just wasn’t quite big enough.  He absolutely had to have one of the brand new eight-foot TVs, I suppose because he’s planning a trip to the moon in the near future, and wants to be able to see re-runs of The Honeymooners from the Sea of Tranquility without dragging the set along.
Okay.  It’s the only thing he’s asked for this year—well, no, that’s not quite true.  He also asked that I not cook Christmas dinner, but that kind of goes without saying.
One of the big box stores was having a Black Friday special on these contraptions at an 80% discount.  And, of course, there were only four available at that price.
I resolved to be first in line, so Wednesday morning, I packed up my tent, sleeping bag, lantern, sandwiches, and a couple of books, and headed over to the store.
Evidently, I wasn’t the only forward-thinking person in town.
As a matter of fact, it looked like the whole town was already there.
There were tents everywhere.  I had no hope of being the first one in the door.  I’d be lucky if I were the 200th person in the door.
But I couldn’t let Stij down!
I set up my tent on the horizon line, and brooded.  There wasn’t much point in doing this for the next two days if I couldn’t get what I came for. 
So what to do?
My writer’s brain kicked into overdrive.
What could get me to the front of the line?
I stared glumly at the store I was camped out in front of, and it came to me!  I dashed inside, purchased what I needed, then packed up my tent, dashed to my car and went home.
“That was quick,” Stij said.  “I thought you were having a Black Friday camping adventure.”
“Nope.  I’m going to drive over about an hour before they open the doors on Friday morning.”
He sighed.
“Oh, ye of little faith,” I said.  “You’ll see.  I’ve got a plan.”
“Does it involve cooking?”
“Well, thank God for that, anyway.”
I arose Friday at 4:00AM, spent about two hours in the bathroom, the quietly left the house.  At the store, I parked my car, and made my way forward.
People toward the front of the line were a little stroppy about my attempt to get past them, and they turned to tell me so.
The words died on their lips.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.  “But I’m terribly ill.”
Horror suffused their features.  “What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s a rare form of leprosy…contagious, I think, if I sneeze…ah…ah…ah…ahchhhhh......”
I cleared out those campers faster than Clint Eastwood singing opera.
The store I’d stopped into was a party shop, you see.  I'd bought some theatrical make-up and liquid latex, and the rest is history.
The problem was that, before I could wipe it off, store security called an ambulance, and I was hustled off to the Emergency Room before I could make my purchase.
So, poor Stij isn’t getting his eight-foot flat-screen this year; however, he will still be able to watch me on our old TV.
I got offered a part in Walking Dead—The Movie.