What Not to Give Your Mother-in-Law for Christmas

“Who is this?”

“Danny’s Demolition. We’re offering a 20% discount this week on tear-downs and we heard there’s an immediate need at your address.”

I pounded END, and added even MORE egg powder to the bowl.

Then I turned back to Hell House.

I was twenty-five years old and had never before tried to bake and assemble a gingerbread house, but how hard could it be?  I was a decent cook, and a pretty good baker.

I did have a habit of not following recipes exactly, but I thought that, in this case, I’d better.  This house was to be the very first Christmas gift for my future mother-in-law. I was going to impress her. 🙄

The house would have cobblestones–halved hazelnuts–coating the chimney and the low walls surrounding its snowy yard.   The windows would be glowing stained glass, formed the way lollipops are made, by melting, coloring, and candying sugar syrup.

At no point did my fiance Joe let me know that his mother had worked for years as a professional baker, decorating cakes–including gingerbread cottages. 😡

I slid my first-ever gingerbread roof and wall pieces from the oven. Perfect! After they cooled, I began the assembly process with the stiff, dry Royal Icing, made per the instructions, using toothpicks and books to pin and prop pieces in place until the icing dried and held.

Except it never did. I may as well have been constructing a house of cards in a breezy causeway. As soon as the icing dried, and I removed pins and props, it was Jericho all over again.

Cheesy Walls of Jericho

Does This Pre-Fallen Model of Jericho’s Walls Look a Little Cheesy to You?

Again and again I re-propped and re-glued, and again and again roof and walls came crashing down. Soon, each crash was accompanied by a soft, swishing sound, like slush falling:
followed by a sharper rapping sound, like when sleet hits:


Those sounds kept repeating, growing rapidly in volume as the “Shhh–it” storm increased in its fury.  Then, the sleet apparently turned to rain, for drops suddenly began falling down upon the hellish house, causing the Royal Icing to develop Royal Dripsicles.

I sat down and finished bawling. Then I sat back and took an objective look at Hell House as it stood thus far:

After multiple crashes into the snowy interior, the swayback roof now sagged dangerously, and the two halves had a noticeable gap between.  One corner of the house failed to meet its neighboring corner by almost a half-inch.  And there wasn’t a prayer of the stained glass windows fitting their openings.

Gingerbread Boy Vampires

I Envisioned the Home’s Only Future Occupants

What to do?! ❓

Hmmm… There WAS a bit of ginger-y dough remaining… 💡

…A sleigh and Santa could close the open roof…
…A cypress tree could mask the gaping corner…
…Some simple window sashes could disguise the too-short lollipanes! 🙂

As for that Royal Pain-in-the-Icing, if more cream of tartar didn’t do the trick, I’d get the caulk gun, dammit.

At last.  Finished. Ho-ho-hope future Mom liked it, because by now, she was the only one who would.

All that remained was to pack the house inside a giant box and carry it on a plane.

Eight hours later, I was in future mom’s kitchen, performing Royal Splicing on Santa and his sleigh. Reattaching a roof. Performing Christmas miracles with a broken cypress tree–or was it a cedar of Lebanon?

All of this effort accompanied by more slushy, sleety sound effects–in the spirit of the season.

On the blessed day, upon opening the box, Santa and his sleigh were found to be sliding dangerously backward down a ridgeline into an ice-skating pond of Royal Goo, congealed in the deepest depression of the roof’s swayback.

Future mom wisely did not comment upon this, recognizing the situation for the slippery slope it was. 😉

After the story of its unique local weather conditions was told by Joe, The Gingerbread House from Hell was rechristened forever The Sh*t House. I was so traumatized by the experience that it was almost ten years until I made another gingerbread house.

* * *

It didn’t come out any better!

Dinosaur Eating Gingerbread House

“Call for the Royal Caulk!”

Christmastime Bus Ride in Ohio, Years Ago

Man standing, back to me, knit hat on, light clothes, medium build. Mason’s trowel in right hand,

Masons Trowel

arm back, trowel pointed at other standing man. Yelling at other man.

Other man stocky, darker skin and clothes, yelling back at first man. Waving arms.

All else has gone quiet. Bus is still rolling along. Everybody watching. Everybody sitting back into their seats.

Trowel man makes some jabbing moves at dark man. Woman near dark man jumps from her seat, rushes into next open one for protection. New seat only two feet from old seat. What protection?

Driver been ignoring this. Bus been making stops.

Trowel-man’s stop comes. He gets off, still yelling. Something bout “gun” and “knife”–who knows what crazy people yell in their crazy times? Who remembers anything but their own fear?

I watch him walk away, looking around all angry and suspicious.

Suspicious Homeless Man

Now it’s Dark Man’s turn. He sits down, but then jumps up and yells:

“Anybody else want to attack me?!” (Nobody does.) “I didn’t THINK so! Gettin’ tired of people tryin’ to KILL me all the time!”

Sits down. Half-stands up and says loudly,

“The white women weren’t scared. Everbody else was, but YOU–the WHITE women weren’t scared!”

Sits down. Puts on headphones and arms start waving all over, keeping time. Not clear if those headphones are connected to a music source.

Says, loudly, “I gotta’ have my music. I ain’t got a woman, so I gotta have my music. You understand that, my man? (To no one.) I know you do!”

Laughs. Bangs arms around some more. Says,

“My blood pressure went way up. Went up eleven mill– mill– millimeters. It’s coming down now, though. It’s down to about eight millimeters now.”

More waving.

“You understand, I thought he had a knife or gun or something like that. I didn’t know he had no mason’s trowel. I wouldn’t have been scared if I’d known he had no mason’s trowel. You understand what I mean?”

Young woman sitting near me is trying not to laugh. She sets me off so I have to look down, too.

I don’t want to smile. I don’t want anyone to smile. If he sees us, what will he do?

Dark Man jumps up suddenly, mad at something. Throws things at floor and bus seats. Slams his hands hard on the seat back.

The bus comes to the next stop. He gets off.

I start to breathe.

Phew That Was Close


What kind of Christmas story was THAT?! A true one. I copied it almost word-for-word from notes I hurriedly scribbled on the bus right after it happened, because I didn’t want to forget.

If you drive a car, you have another reason to be happy this Christmas. Think about that the next time you’re stuck in traffic.
(But only if you want to.)


Deck the Walls With Ratty Holly

“Don we now, Our gray apparel…”

If you’ve never heard of Rat Fruit… If you’ve never heard The Song of the Rat… This post is for YOU.

So: I’m in Florida one night, relaxing, watching my non-existent TV (don’t ask), when there’s a loud THUMP! on my roof, right over my head. WTF?? Two seconds later, another, louder one: THUMP!!

Now, I’ve been having just a wee, teensy bit of crazy neighbor trouble (as in, she was later hauled away in handcuffs), so I’m thinking “Has Nutso next door taken to flinging coconuts onto my roof?” (Understand, Florida is chock-full of wingnuts.)

I race outside, past my pool and dock, around to my side yard, and see: THUMP! Yet another giant RAT drops down off my neighbor’s palm tree and down onto my roof. Eeeek!!! And this isn’t even Nutso Neighbor’s palm—it’s the palm on the other side.

The rat-fruit continues to drop on following nights.

They WISH They Were This Cute.

The rats LOVE my house. They find no food in it—I’m Aspie OCD+ when it comes to food storage—but they are so happy with the new-blown loose insulation in my attic. It is the coldest winter on record. The ratties have discovered a fluffy Ratty Heaven.

How do I know this? Because there I am one night, sitting in front of that self-same virtual TV, when I hear happy birdsong. Coming from my attic. I, being a wee bit slow, get a big dumb smile on my face. “How pretty!” I think, thinks I. But then: “Wait a minute…birds don’t sing at night.”

Yup: F#cking rats SING when they’re happy. They sound exactly like happy little birds. Happy, happy little birds.
The Song of the Rat
Well, at least SOMEone was happy in that house.

F#cking Florida.

Yeah. What They’d Like You to THINK.

The Ratty, Ratty Truth.

Okay. Fond memories aside, I’m back in Los Angeles now. All is good. I know and accept this city’s weaknesses. After fleeing them, I now embrace them, thanks to three years in F#cking Florida.

Instead of a four-bedroom house next to a lake, a teensy-weensy condo next to a busy street. S’okay—I can deal.

So, two nights ago, there’s a nasty smell coming from the wall under my sink. I grab my handy-dandy razor knife, open up that wall, and…POP! Spilling out from between the studs, rolling across my new black-and-white ceramic floor: WTF?!

Tiny white styrofoam balls, miniature gold metallic ornaments, and plastic acorns and hazelnuts. Huh? And, mingled in among these: Very small, thin…brown…beads?


The f#cking rats have not only followed me, they’ve brought TOYS!! And decorated for Christmas. Before I did! Damned arrogant bastards!!

Well, I showed them. I spent the rest of the night wrapping tiny gifts and placing them inside the wall before sealing it up again. Then went to bed to sleep the sleep of the just.

Merry F#cking Christmas, Ratties. Enjoy your presents.

Nummy, nummy!

Nummy, nummy!


The ratties had accessed my otherwise-entirely-isolated between-stud space by crawling up a water-pipe from the downstairs unit. But blame my very-clean neighbor not: There is a lovely-but-untrimmed Italian cypress some fool planted right next to our building—a favored home to So. Cal’s endemic roof rats. As long it remains tall and untrimmed and the ratties can leap unhindered across it, we residents will have to remain on High Ratty Alert.

And: Before sealing up that wall, I poked some spikey-sharp metal stabby stuff down around that pipe and sealed it, for the ratties, and poured a whole mess’o boric acid on all cross-pieces, for any potential future buggies. Take THAT, Mother Nature! (You b#tch.)

Last: Am NOT filthy pig who lives in hovels! Am scrupulously clean person who some have called neat freak, living in a complex considered moderately upscale by the rest of Los Angeles (“crap” by snooty Westside standards, but eff them).


Thank you to the News Bureau of Illinois (my home state : ) for its article on elderly singing rats, from where I obtained the audio clip, and to Professor Aaron Johnson and his team at the University of Illinois, who are doing the research re: them. Link:
Singing Rat Research May Help Voice Problems in Elderly Humans

2014-02-24–Restored ratty gift pic, which had dispppeared for unknown reason.
Added intro line and excerpt, audio clip, and “neat freak” comment. Was tired of assumptions.

Precious, Precious…and Odd…Christmas Music

Hey, I’m in the Christmas spirit and wanted to have a post to celebrate. Here are three of my favorite Youtube Christmas videos. Enjoy!

First, the oddest one, I think, but so charming. From the other land down under, New Zealand, where, just like the Aussies, they’re walking around like flies on the ceiling (but what an easy time they have putting the star on the treetop), comes this strange vid that looks like someone cobbled it together after a few too many brews. I really like it. Hope you do, too!

Next, we turn to a current under-viewed vid: Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks perform their version of Carol of the Bells. It’s a twisted delight to the ears and eyes. (Well, I actually think the visuals are a bit much–but I laugh anyhow.) If you’ve never heard of Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks, they’ve been around forever, and there’s a reason for that. Check out their other Youtubes some time.

Last, a classic, and my all-time favorite. Bless Zach Braff and Donald Faison for giving us their marvelously sung (and kinkily performed) version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. A million of you have seen it, but in case you haven’t, or even if you have…it’s good enough to view a couple of times every Christmas.

2013/12/07–decided of original 5 vids, 1st 2 were boring; blew ’em away.


Michelle Kwon is Smart. It's Always a Good Idea to Write Your Name on Your Skates

Even though I hurt so much in the winter, I still liked to play in the snow, like all kids, and I still liked to ice-skate. 

There is no feeling quite like a new pair of skates.  First, your dad grinds off that stupid extra-low tooth on the bottom of the blade that always catches.  (I wonder why Michelle’s dad didn’t grind it off of hers?)  Then, you lace them up good and tight, so that your ankles are supported when you skate around.

I loved skating backward.  It’s easier than skating forward, because all you have to do is lean from side to side to race along.  I also loved Crack the Whip.  Do kids still play that? 

Everyone joins hands, with the fastest skaters at the front.  When the leader changes direction, in a tight turn, the kids at the end get whipped around really fast.  Sometimes you can’t hold on, and go flying off on your own.  It’s a little scary, and a lot of fun.  

The video below shows a really short whip of four skaters, and only two “cracks”, but it was the only vid I could find to illustrate how very quickly speed accumulates, and what can happen.  Even with only four, the skater on the end can really fly.

I’d only skate for a little while before my feet hurt too much to walk.  Then, I’d hang out at the oil drum, which always had a fire burning inside it to warm our hands.  I wished I could lift my feet up to the top!

A Party for My Cold Hands and Feet!

When we played at home, in the snow in our front yard, I could always run indoors and put my hands in hot water to thaw them.  Then, there’d be a pair of dry mittens waiting, and out I’d go again.   My feet hurt but they stayed dry, because inside our boots we wore plastic bread bags held up with rubber bands.  All the kids did.

There was one outdoor place in the winter where I was comfortable.  After the snowplow came around, it would leave big snow mounds several feet high on the sides of the road, which meant the sides of our property.  We would tunnel into one of the biggest mounds and make a cave. 

This was my favorite winter spot.  I’d take a book in and read (a lot of light leaks into these caves), or just curl up and think.  The inside of a snow cave feels warm and cozy.  Did you ever go in one?

In the winter, after you’re done playing outside comes the best part.  When you come inside, and the warm air touches you, your face burns.  Then, your mom sits you down at the table and gives you a bowl of hot, hot chicken soup. 

There is nothing like the taste of that hot soup.  The hotness spreads from your inside out, and you feel happy, happy, happy.

Almost As Good As Mom's (Since Mom's Came Out of the Campbell's Can)

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