A belated but honest holiday post

I think it’s fair to say the U.S. Jewish community (probably the world Jewish community) is reeling in reaction to the incident last night in Monsey, New Jersey. In general the bad news seems to be accelerating lately. I had a hard time bringing myself to light the last Chanukkah candle tonight.

As far as I go with the holiday: on the 24th I was in such a mood of rage that I was almost afraid to write — and decided that any holiday post I wrote that wouldn’t spoil the general mood would be dishonest. (Hence the title of this post.) I did draft a post called “what part of crying do you hate the most” but I’ll save that for some other occasion.

[below I link to password protected material — short reminder that the passwords are in the subject lines of the posts]

Quick summary of events: on the 20th, I finally got HL to agree that he and his family would come over for a Christmas meal (on the 26th). Longer-term readers may remember the non-negotiation of last year. We also negotiated the menu as neither of us really likes to eat poultry on these occasions, as mom was so good at it. And I wasn’t even thinking about Flower, with whom I have not exchanged one word since our screaming match last Christmas.

Perry warned me that she would reappear, but I hadn’t heard from her all year and so I assumed the issue was dead. I prompted dad to get a gift for her, and then when he didn’t have any ideas of what to give her, I purchased a chocolate assortment for her at our local luxury chocolatier that really should have pleased anyone who doesn’t despise chocolate. I mentally checked that box and didn’t think any more about it.

So on the evening of the 23rd, I was frantically trying finish my fall 2019 grades. I had two hours and eight grades left to finish, when dad raised the subject of Flower’s Christmas. Now: time doesn’t really have meaning to him anymore, so although he’d been told several times that that was what I was doing, he wasn’t intentionally trying to mess up my grades. But I’m trying to be on extra good behavior at the moment, and turning in late grades necessitates a signature from the dean and a concession from the registrar and it was just going to be much less stressful to finish on time. I tried to postpone the discussion but dad was not having it.

So you can guess that dad wanted Flower included in our Christmas on the 26th. I stated in no uncertain terms that she was not invited. Dad immediately began pushing the usual buttons (he installed them after all): she was going to be all by herself on Christmas being the main one, but also about charity, good behavior, kindness, what mom would have said about the situation. I stuck with my position: she is mean to me, she has never apologized for how she behaved last year, she is not a member of my family, and she barely knows HL and his family and is a shy person to boot, she has her own son, and if anyone feels guilty about her being alone on Christmas, it should be him and not me. I was already livid when I texted HL about it — he said he didn’t care either way but his reply was “the food will be bad and everyone will be pissed off but at least we’ll be together.” That sent me another few degrees into combustion — as I actually was looking forward to a pleasant time with them. He may have been joking, or not sober, but I guess I’d anticipated his support and didn’t get it.

Anyway, I was angry enough that it was hard to finish my grades, but I did it (and then filled Christine’s DMs with my emotions — the only person I was reasonably sure might be up at the time. Thanks Christine!).

Dad tried again the morning of the 24th but I refused again. I said I would make a restaurant reservation for them (all the same restrictions as last year around availability and accessibility are still in force), or I would make the meal I’d planned for us on the 25th and transport it to Flower’s house. He said, “wouldn’t it be easier for her to just come here?” and I said, “I still don’t think she could make it up the stairs, but you’re welcome to have her here — in which case I will cook the food and leave.” “You’re being such a bitch,” was his response.

The 24th was a senior helper day and as I had errands to run (as in: collecting a lot of the food), I left a few hours earlier as I did not know what to do with that statement. Was it true?

Generally speaking, I have a certain number of negative messages about myself that run through my mind fairly consistently. When things are going well I can discount them, but grading usually amplifies them (“You’re not working hard enough,” “You’re not teaching well enough,” “If you were a better instructor these assignments would be better,” “If you had designed the course better they’d have done better on these essays”). So I had that, and then the tape loop started including the chorus of “You’re a bad person,” “You’re behaving sinfully,” “You’re unkind,” “It’s your responsibility to be the better person,” “You’re hurting your father,” “You’re hurting Flower,” and of course the kicker, “Your mother would disapprove of the way you’re acting right now.”

I had a lot of time to think and try not to cry while I was running errands, and I came to two firm and one provisional conclusions about the situation: the first was that no one was ever going to reward me for telling them “no,” no matter the rational reasons for the boundary I was setting. The second was that dad was probably becoming upset that his frantic button-pushing was not achieving the desired result, and that was the reason for his cruelty. The provisional conclusion was that I still couldn’t believe that Flower actually wanted to leave her house, either to come to a meal at our house or to eat one in a restaurant.

I got home with all the stuff, picked dad up from Flower’s house, made dinner (it was potato latke night, but my attention was not great so they got really crispy), didn’t publish the post I wrote, and went to bed.

On the 25th, dad tried yet again to get me to invite Flower for the 26th, and I repeated the options: I could still try to find them an appropriate restaurant reservation for the same day; I would cook them the Christmas meal I had on hand and bring it to her; I would cook them the meal, she could come to our house, and I would leave. Dad finally settled for us bringing the meal to her. So I made it and boxed it: this pork tenderloin; these scalloped potatoes; these brussels sprouts, and a mince pie. It all went to her house steaming warm. I carried it up to her doorstep, helped dad into the house and gave him the box and left.

So then I had this feeling of chagrin — I didn’t eat pork for about twenty five years, but I did want to know how it tasted, and I had tasted the sauce for the potatoes just before baking them and my tastebuds were sort of set on that meal. I also frankly resented that Flower got homemade crust for a two crust pie out of me. However. I was alone! So I went to a Hmong restaurant and had stuffed chicken wings and pad thai. Thank the universe that not everyone in our small town is a Christian. Extra Christmas love on Christmas from me to animists, especially if they operate a restaurant.

And then I went home and cooked and baked — HL’s comment about the likelihood of the food sucking playing in the back of my mind along with “You’re a clumsy baker” and “You’re too extravagant with fats” and “Dad is made at you” and “No one wants to come to this meal anyway.” I made galettes of blueberries and blackberries and mince and homemade dinner rolls. (Uch, yeast. Piecrust is one thing but if I bake something for you with yeast, you know I really love you.) I made horseradish sauce and herbed butter and California dip and dried beef rollups with horseradish cream cheese filling and deviled eggs and cold poached salmon and dill sauce for that and broccoli raisin salad.

I picked dad up and he said not a word either about the meal or about Flower, although he did give me a note from her, which I have not opened. I didn’t ask. I didn’t need any more negative messages.

I had to make space for a short near-heart attack near midnight, when I could not get the dishwasher moving. There’s some issue with the control board — I had to flip the breaker twice so I had to wait till dad was asleep — but I got it to wash. Thankfully as it was crammed full by that point.

So most of the work was done by the 26th. I got up, set the table, reloaded the dishwasher, and started clearing away clutter. I put the drinks on the porch to cool. I peeled the potatoes and put them in the slow cooker (I had never tried it this way before, but I now recommend it), cleaned the asparagus, and then finally put the meat in the oven — a seven-pound standing (beef) rib roast. (Apologies to my vegan readers.) It was my first time and it’s insanely expensive, so I was worried. By now the tape in my mind was proclaiming that the method I chose was not going to work and that I was going to ruin an expensive cut of meat and everyone would hate the meal anyway and also that the table didn’t look sufficiently festive. It didn’t help that the beef roasted a lot faster than I thought it should (possibly because I left it out at room temperature quite a long time).

By the time HL and his family got here, I was fervently hoping for it to be over soon, just so the negative messages in my head would recede.

These are the beef horseradish cream cheese rollups, with deviled eggs lurking on the side. Classic late 70s/early 80s appetizer. Please ignore our early 1970s kitchen decor — it’s honestly museum quality at this point. Also, for some reason this was the ONLY picture we took of the entire meal or event. I’m not sure why.

And then, somehow, everything turned. They weren’t unhappy to be here. The pace of my negative thoughts slowed down. We opened a bottle of Martinelli’s sparkling cider and toasted the day. We had a short discussion about the meat being ahead of schedule and made a plan to respond. We watched a youtube vid about how to carve the meat when it was done. I brought out the appetizers (adding to the list above a sausage plate and an assortment of cheeses we like: an alpine-style gran cru for me, five-year aged cheddar for HL, brie with the rind removed for my SIL, and Limburger for my dad and a jar of marinated artichoke hearts and a bowl with fresh raspberries and watermelon, and some shrimp cocktail for dad). HL was moved by the appetizer choices — there was some memory associated with each of them, on purpose from my side, and he sent the photograph above to our first cousins. I kept my eye on the clock and moved dishes through the oven, stovetop and microwave so all the sides (plus a hastily contrived dish of frozen sweet corn for the nieces, who apparently despise asparagus) came on to the table at the right time.

The only wrinkle in the whole meal was that the beef didn’t produce enough juices to make an au jus — but my SIL looked at the table and said, “we definitely don’t need it.” So I didn’t make any gravy, and we ate. The beef was perfect, the asparagus was al dente, the rolls were warm, the butter was soft, the sauces were well received, we loved the potatoes. Plates were emptied. Repeatedly. As both nieces are picky eaters I felt quite positive about that.

We reminisced extensively about mom (which we haven’t done much of and which would have been hard if Flower had been there, especially given that she told my dad once that he was obsessed with the memory of his dead wife). B loved her Christmas gift from her grandfather, a .30-06 (yes, I know. And I bought it. Urgh). A was even more ecstatic about hers (a Fitbit Versa 2). I was happy and I felt like the people were not in a bad mood and the food had (demonstrably) not sucked.

Of course, in the middle of the afternoon Flower called and dad chose to go over there. I took him and came back and spent a few more hours with HL, SIL and A and B. On the way over, dad did thank me, although it wasn’t clear from what he said if he realized exactly what year it is. And he thanked me again the next day, when I think he was somewhat clearer. HL et al. were also effusive in their thanks for both the meal and the pleasant afternoon.

But I in particular loved that all the negative voices in my head stopped. I was exhausted. Although this is not the most strenuous meal I’ve ever made, or the most putsy, I am getting older and I don’t have the boundless energy I would have had for cooking and baking when I started doing this sort of thing. But I think the emotional relief was the real reason why I wanted to take a nap in the middle of dinner. Thinking about it now, I realize that in addition to my own negative loops, I was playing my father’s and my brother’s narratives about me in my mind for over two days straight. And that’s simply exhausting.

There are more (in the regular parlance of Armitage) mountains to climb in the next few weeks. But all that remains of Christmas is Flower’s note. I think I’m going to get a friend to read it first and decide if I need to see it or not.

~ by Servetus on December 30, 2019.

42 Responses to “A belated but honest holiday post”

  1. So glad you had a good time with your family even though the road to the family dinner was a bit bumpy.

    And for the record: NO, you are not a bitch because you set boundaries for others!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sending you all the positive vibes there are, and wishing you all the best in 2020. :* ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like a lovely meal! Despite all the stress (can definitely relate), hope you had a good holiday, and on to an even better New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sending you many virtual hugs xx. It all sounds exhausting, both emotionally and physically. Caring for the carer is so important – I hope you are able to manage a little respite and time for yourself. Take care – I hear you and empathise. Jx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m slowly getting that lesson drummed into me. I might have some major relief soon — but not without daily punishment from dad, I’m afraid. I appreciate the sympathy and send it right back to you.


  5. Sounds like a lovely meal and day and yay for chasing away those negative thoughts! Also kudos to you for sticking to your guns with Flower. Glad everything worked out well in the end. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was a lovely meal and it made me want to cook more / differently. (I doubt I’ll be able to but it was a glimpse of having that feeling of mastery again.)


  6. You are a really good person and i understand where you are coming from so i mean it! And i empathise. I’d love some of the yummy stuff you made especially the starters! But no energy left. 3h+ making the russian salad and baking the ham as part 1 of ny mirroring similar for Xmas is as much as i can do. Still to cook more meat and getting to the point where i am nearly ready to give up sausages and bacon so i can be full time pescaterian. Women are absolute heroes just to put up with 8h+ jobs+housework + cooking+caring for difficult elderly parents. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise! Hugs! And may the new year bring us some peace 🤗😚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that salad. We could trade. I’d Fedex you some appetizers. And you’re right — it’s probably time enough that we can detach from these meat-rich holidays. I made as much meat in the last week as I’d usually cook in a month to six weeks.

      Hugs to you, too, and hang in there.


  7. Congrats to you – I totally ruined the Hanukkah roast. I still have not figured out how to cook a roast that is not dry. This year I did try a method quite similar to yours (I think my searing time was a bit shorter) but it still ended up being tough and dry. I also mangled the latkes. Better luck next year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What cut of meat are you using? Chag sameach!


      • Usually top round but i’ve Tried chuck as well. Always get the same leathery result. Perhaps my vegetarian roots are rebelling?


        • well, this was a prime rib and it was full of fat, and like I said insanely expensive. I would probably cook chuck in a Dutch oven. I don’t know a lot about beef, though.


  8. From the way your Holiday season started it didn’t sound like it was going to turn out well. For your family I am glad it did. We have not spent years with my husbands whole family. 2016 was the last year with his mom and oldest brother and now she is gone we don’t get remembered. For me it don’t matter as an only child who’s parents are both gone now. I do feel bad for my husband and son’s that his siblings don’t care. Things have gotten real bad with his mom gone but yet she did start the problem. With that said we did have a nice Christmas Eve and Christmas with our three sons even if my husband had to work (he was able to take break and come home with his radio on). All to soon on Christmas(late afternoon) the two oldest had to leave to go back each to there own apartments for work the next day. The oldest is one hour away and the middle two hours away.

    I don’t know why but this year I wanted to go to bed at 10:00 am Christmas day. Ok I know cooking for the third day nonstop might have been it but I have done it before many times and been fine. Cooking like that just seems to take a lot out of a person. I feel that pain. The leftovers are worth it and no cooking for a few days are nice.

    I hope 2020 you can find more peace within your family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you had a nice day, although plagued by work responsibilities. Seems like the working world gives us less time off every year.

      You put your finger on something really important, which is that a lot of times problems we experience at holidays are things with long histories — my SiL’s issues with my dad, for instance, which make her reluctant to spend time with him, are not a matter of a year or a few years.

      And what’s with the fatigue? I am totally with you. Where did the energy go? But like you I thought: I won’t have to make any new meal for four days!

      Best wishes to you and the boys for 2020.


  9. You are truly admirable and much underappreciated by your family. I’m so glad it all turned out well. I couldn’t bring myself to cook a dinner for my family, I’m afraid I’m much to resentful at the moment and I have no energy. I caught my sisters ranting about me on the 24th, I know I’m lazy in their view, but the situation keeps getting worse, my father is no longer even able to brush his teeth alone, and I’m completely overwhelmed by it all. I feel prisoned here and my sister keeps complaining about me not performing as I should.
    I’m sorry, I hope I haven’t spoiled your mood, I feel so much like a bad person, but I just can’t 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • Believe me, I totally understand that. I never know what to say, either, when someone hints that they think I’m being lazy. The answer is like yours: I am never alone, I am responsible for everything, I have no time off and I am slowing down, losing energy.

      I don’t know what to do either but I am sending you some hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The recent violence in New Jersey makes me despair – even more- and I see this morning that new antisemitic graffiti has appeared in London.
    Re the negative voices in your head, I think that, generally, unfair comments such as these hurt most to those who are kind and care and to whom the opposite of that negativty is true. If you were really like that I doubt it would bother you so much, unless you were deluded. I read your post with a growing sense of dread. It was such a relief that your dinner turned out so well. I am so pleased. And California dip? That’s a blast from the past. I’ve a craving for it now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We always used to have it at our family parties. I’ve actually been buying a deli onion dip off and on because, you know, they make it by caramelizing onions and it tastes really good, but when I tried to get some for this party the deli was out and I thought, huh. California dip. Tasted pretty good, actually.

      You described my problem really well. I try really hard to do the right thing so when accusations come my way it’s much worse on some level. I got blamed for something I didn’t do today and it really stung — even if I know dad isn’t really rational anymore.


      • I’m sorry to hear about the accusation. Brushing of hurtful comments is easier said than done and I suppose if comments hurt then you are still feeling, which is better in some ways than becoming hardened – albeit more resilient. Not had much luck finding onion soup here but am now on a crusade!


  11. I read this with so much interest, not just because I am massively fond of you and so wanted a “happy ending,” but because I empathize with your “negative loops” — especially when it comes to the meal. I have never felt like I am a good cook, because my family needed to make my sister the good homemaker and me the “career woman.” These stupid slots we were put in (by my mother, I should add) did neither of us no favours, I can tell you. I totally get how much work it is to put on a dinner like that, because we alternate every big holiday and I worry every time that I will ruin the roast (I’ve made a standing rib roast several times now and realized that they are actually hard to ruin. I recommend Ina Garten’s recipe. It has never failed me). You meal sounds splendid and I think you handled the Flower Side Show with firmness and kindness. At the end of your post I thought to myself: no matter what, your family loves you and you love them! And you all miss your Mom, and will miss her most on holidays like Christmas. For what it’s worth, if you were to ask for my advice, I would toss Flower’s note into the garbage without reading it. You did your part. You are not obligated to read whatever she wrote, and it might upset you. Why start the New Year off with that on your mind?
    Happy New Year to you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I wanted to do that 500 degree starting sear but I was afraid our exhaust fan might not hold up to it. Next time. And you’re right that I think it would be hard to mess it up — except possibly by overcooking.

      We do love each other and I hope we can start talking about her instead of avoiding the subject.

      These roles are really horrible. I notice sometimes that dad is reacting with my role and not me as I am speaking and it infuriates me no end.

      Happy new year and I am putting catching up with you on my resolutions list.


  12. 🙂 Vos propos me touchent au fond du coeur. Je pense que vous trouverez l’année prochaine, les moyens de vous reconstruire du temps libre pour une vie personnelle avec moins de contraintes. Bon courage! Profitez de chaque seconde qui vous sera impartie.
    Two things seem difficult to me now.
    – Find a clear way to express myself when, every day, my work requires only methodical analysis, control, direction and execution (knowing that I cheerfully exceed the 50 hours of effective presence at the pharmacy, that my students occupy the little free time that I have left and I am not talking about the stewardship necessary for everyday life).
    – To come to understand all the ideas that are jostling in my brain, in order to find the main lines of directions, to get out of it a reasoning worthy of being read by a third person.
    Too many subjects for reflection assail me, I must take time to untangle the different balls of multicolored wool.
    Chiharu Shiota weaves infinite stories in her site-specific ..
    Intriguing yarn installations by Chiharu Shiota
    Chiharu Shiota | Butterfly Art News
    So I stay at a distance, because it supports the analysis. Expressing myself just to occupy space and time is futile.
    (U.K. Supreme Court Justice Brenda Hale should retire, I will miss her, but I hope to be retired before I’m 75 years old)


    • There are always too many things to think about, I find that too, in addition to the things that one must concentrate on.


  13. servetus, please do what babette says. Throw that letter away. Have a happy/good year. Stay strong!


  14. Personally. I like my latkes crispy. I’m so happy for you that after all that worry and maneuvering, your family dinner was delicious, and most of all, appreciated by your family. It seems like the day itself was a success.
    BTW, I would love to acquire one of those towers stuck with your beef roll-ups. Yours looks handmade. Happy New Year.


    • You would have liked these, then. [laughs]

      You can’t really see it from this picture, but it’s a seahorse made out of monkeypod wood. Mom brought it (and the lazy susan it usually sits on) back with her from Hawaii in 1969. I’m sure it was handmade but probably not especially unique as to design.

      Happy New Year to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. If only we could turn off those voices in our heads… or at least only run the soundtrack of positive comments that apply. I’m glad that I’m the end you had a good time with your family and that the food went over well. I’m sure your brother’s comment beforehand was meant as a joke … not realizing it would become part of your soundtrack.

    As far as Flower’s note goes, I hope she has come to her senses and realizes how much you go out of your way for your father and, by extension, for her. Wouldn’t it be great if it were a full blown apology? But just in case it is more (undeserved) nastiness, having someone else read it first makes a lot of sense.

    Happy New Year! Wishing you a happy and peaceful year ahead.


    • Today I had to make a car trip with dad and there’s this whole tape about how clueless Susan is about the Wisconsin countryside — dad made a comment and I asked him to be quiet about it but of course it was too late. Frustrating. Maybe I’ll get better at it eventually.

      Happy New Year to you, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I’m sure it’s not even true … probably something that happened once or twice generalized into a fallacious rule. So pointless on his part. And yet so hard to get it out of your head. And in any case, there are so many things that you are so far from clueless on that are way more important to you, if not to him. Try not to let it get to you.


        • I would say he’s not wrong that I have difficulties orienting myself in space outside of cities — the thing is, though, that if I’d spent as much time driving around the back of beyond as he did, I wouldn’t be quiet as challenged as I am. In any case I take steps to protect myself and not get lost — but of course he jeers at those, too.

          A lot of this is that the governor on his brain is just broken. He plays the tape that comes into his mind.

          Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m so glad that we got to hang out for a bit yesterday! I don’t know if it’s 50 or what, but I find myself increasing unwilling to do the holiday dance these days, so I am in awe of efforts to keep these bonds tied in the face of such challenges. I don’t think that you can here enough that you are a really good person who does really good things for those in your orbit who don’t, or can’t always appreciate all that you do. Let’s get together again soon (maybe at said Hmong place?) so I can see your new specs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • me, too. In addition to the place in my little town, there’s also a new place on the west side of the city, opening next week, that we could try.

      I’ve always admired how you deal with your family. I suppose everyone would prefer to have their own problems and not other people’s.

      see you soon!


  17. […] to her. As Flower has her own child living in our neighborhood, Calluna was adamant that (given the history of our past interactions) I not respond to these requests unless Flower was in immediate distress, and that if I were […]


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