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.)


The Daring Pilot Monk, and Adventuresome Roo, Too

We two,
we had no children,
Or dogs or cats
upon to lavish
fond affection,

In later years,
were told ’twas natural,
Our love turned
in a fiberfill direction.

No corncob pipe,
or eyes made out of coal,

But soft brown fur,
and polyester soul.


Monk Sledding, With Friend

Who Could Resist Such Cutosity?

That one was Monk;
His friend, his partner, Roo,
Unlike him in most every way, it seems,

Unlike as well,
all other roos,

For he was as to real roos
as daydreams are to dreams.

Made in Pe-roo,
he had four tiny hooves instead of feet;

It’s llamas more than roos
there that they meet.


Rakish Roo Today, With Style Acorn Beret

A Rakish Roo Today, With Stylish Acorn Beret

Before my thirty-year marriage to the perfect man, my longest previous relationship had been a three-year co-living arrangement with an imperfect man who did NOT hate me

(Simple math: child of abuse stays ten times longer with the man who despises her than the one who does not. 🙂 )

We never discussed “where the relationship was going”, or, I think, ever thought about it. We simply lived together, easily and comfortably.

He and I had very little in common, but he had a big, sexy, furry Teddy Bear chest, and he kissed and made love in a comfortable Teddy Bear way, and he listened to me natter on and on as I do just like your favorite Teddy Bear would patiently do.

Teddy Bear Man

Actual Photograph of the Two of Us (I Was Blonde and Hot Then)

What we DID have in common was a joyful, childlike sense of fun. We enjoyed teasing and surprising each other in small ways–a characteristic I believe that very few men possess, and one which I miss terribly.

He once left a Christmas card for me with a drawing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Pig, implying, for some ridiculous reason, that I was a tad over-indulgent when it came to pecan pie. Hmph!

Here is a birthday note I left once for him:

Happy Birthday Oh Mighty Oink

Happy Birthday Oh Mighty Oink

“From a precious piglet who desires only to kiss your trotters and wallow joyously with you in the sacred squishy element.” (For Pournelle/Niven fans, when I later readFootfall“, you can imagine the kick I got : ) )

I don’t remember how or where Monk and Roo entered our lives, but they became the central focus of our play.

Here they are as I found them once upon first walking in the door after an extended business trip:

Monk and Roo Forging Signature

Monk and Roo Forging My Signature on a Check

Here they are, along with some friends, in their ’32 Ford Roadster (constructed by yours truly):

Monk and Roo in 32 Ford Roadster

Monk Lends a Hand to Roo and Friend

Over time, because of the life we gave to the two of them, our Pinocchio pals became almost real, live boys to the the two of us.

Here is Monk, in his daring persona as the Flying Ace Ape:

Daring Pilot Monk

Daring Pilot Monk

Despite Monk’s name and flying skills, though, Roo always seemed to get up to more monkey business. He was more adventuresome–and more accident-prone. Here he is one Christmas after he took a serious spill and injured one of his flocked papier mache ears. Simultaneously, the poor thing was suffering from a dreadful head cold–what a way to celebrate Christmas!

Pitiful Roo At Christmas

Pitiful Roo At Christmas With Flannel Bathrobe and Bandaged Ears

Here he is exploring the seven seas:

Admiral Roo Prepares For Battle

Admiral Roo Prepares For Battle

And here, he does a different sort of exploring, showing his sensitive side:

Roo and The David

Roo and The David (Had YOU Known They Had That Giant Art Deco Lamp in the Accademia Gallery in Florence?)

Monk, with his more conservative bent, plodded along solidly, much as my then-boyfriend, an auditor and aspiring CPA. Monk even subscribed to his own accounting magazine:

Breaking the Primate Barrier

Breaking the Primate Barrier

It had articles of interest only to those fascinated by laundry lists and legume tallies:

Breaking the Primate Barrier Articles

The “Anonymous” Author of “Flying Ace Apes” Later Received a Monk-Sized Check At Our Address

My relationship with the Teddy Bear ended rather suddenly one December day. I was standing on the hood of his Pontiac Firebird, my backside facing its windshield, feet spread, body bent in two, whacking away between my knees at the ice on that windshield with the scraper.

I straightened up, slid off, crunched my way indoors, and announced “I’ve had it. I’m moving to southern California. You may come or you may stay.”

He decided to stay.

I phoned a headhunter (recruiter) that same morning, and two hours later had eight interviews lined up in Los Angeles for a two-day slot the following week (I was a computer programmer: easy employment).

Custody would have to be decided for Monk and Roo. I think this picture shows what they meant to both of us:

Monk, Roo, and the BF Share a Moment

The Boys Share a Moment

I was desperate to have Monk. At the same time, I knew that my heart was not hurting. His was. My emotional investment had long departed for reasons I may blog about someday.

I let the Teddy Bear keep Monk.

Roo travelled with me on my interview journey. Here he is enjoying his first Los Angeles Fatburger:

Roo On His First Fatburger

Roo On His First Fatburger

I moved to L.A. thirty-odd years ago, and Roo has shared my various homes ever since–sometimes out, sometimes packed away.

You would think, me being a big girl and all, that I would have long ago put away all memories of Monk. But he was so cute! There was something so friendly about his little, big-eyed face surrounded by its snow-monkey ruff. Plus, I put quite a bit of effort into sewing his little Ohio State letter jacket!

But I guess, what I truly miss is the playfulness and spirit of cameraderie that came from tiny toys, invested with personality by we toy-appreciative giants.

When I look at the old photos now, I do feel partly guilty: That as an ugly American, I spent money on toys for me when children had no toys and in fact, no food.

But I honestly feel more strongly great happiness and gratefulness for the pleasure these little bits of nothing brought me then, and still bring me now when I look at the photos.

How could anyone look at these next two pictures and not feel that they represent the spirit of Christmas joy?:

Monk and Roo At Christmas

Monk and Roo At Christmas

Monk and Roo and Christmas Gifts

“What Did He Bring Us?”

Merry Christmas, Everyone!
Monk and Roo's Train Set

Guess What They Got?

Monk and Roo and Train Silhouette 2

The funniest note the Teddy Bear ever left me that was purportedly from Monk and/or Roo read:

To : Monk
From: Roo

Call me. You know where. Call when you can talk.
It took me a good ten seconds to get it. I laughed at least that long. I still laugh. “Call when you can talk.” Ha ha ha!!

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.

The Best Toy Ever–Troll-La-La-La-La!

This toy was somehow…different, in small but significantly odd ways. The mind that invented it had to be different. And the minds of the children who fell in love with it were definitely different, too.

We are so glad that a toy was made just for us!

One Christmas, I opened a box to find the best toy ever: A Troll Village.  Perhaps you don’t know what a Troll Village is.

To my surprise, I learned that a Troll Village doesn’t have any trolls.  Instead, it has one-inch-tall plastic cave-men with rigid [stiff] little bodies and fuzzy glued-on hair.


Caveman Tunnel Digger With Blue Hard Hat

No, Not This Kind of Caveman. One Hopes His Hair Is Less Fuzzy and Gluey


Most of the cave-men are naked, except for three:  The first two are twin brothers with some kind of painted-on animal skins, each of whom hides a dangerous-looking blue club behind his back.


Primitive Drawing of Caveman With Club

Photo in B&W to Show More Detail. Note Aggressive Stance: Club Is Held Here in Strike Position.


These brothers apparently don’t get along.


Castor and Pollux Twins Constellation

Unlike These Twins with Weapons, Who Get Along Too Well in a Really Creepy Way


The other cave-man with clothes has a very important-looking orange animal-skin suit, and he wears permanently on one shoulder a rare cave-parrot. 

It was clear that this well-dressed and -parroted man must be the most important man in the village.  When I played, I made him the mayor.

Get ready…here is a picture of the amazing Troll Village:

Troll Village By Marx

The Amazing, Wonderful, Stupendous “Troll Village”, by Marx


WAIT! WAIT! You only THINK it’s not amazing.

Please–take a moment to expand the picture in its own window and zoom in so that you can fully immerse yourself in the awesome, breathtakingly-realistic prehistoric world of the Troll Village.

In the zoom, you can see one of the be-weaponed twins in the lower left foreground, behind the animal pen and below the brown pine tree. The tip of his blue club peeks over one shoulder.

Or wait–Here’s a better picture from Tracy’s Toy’s (She’s also crazy about her village–as who wouldn’t be?):

Troll Village Twins

The Troll Village Jail, Featuring One of Its Most Frequent Occupants, and The Guy Everyone Says “Neener Neener” To


For some reason known only to the Marx company, there were no cave-women included.

The village was similar to a Shaker community in that it had a severely limited future. [Shakers didn’t have sex.]  I corrected this by importing three equally-rigid plastic women troll dolls gotten out of a gumball machine.   Probably not out of this one:


Girl As Gumball Machine

A Beaming Lucca Clifton As a Gumball Machine–Impressive Costume by Impressive Mom, Sara


(You can get full directions for this costume at inchmark journal.)

The three troll women were very popular with the cave-men, who, being cave-guys, hadn’t considered that actual trolls could reside in their Troll Village. 

I let the ladies have the only residence [building to live in], a small grey cave-dome, so that they could enjoy a little privacy.  The other building with bars on its door was clearly the jail intended for those cantankerous [argumentative] twins.

Besides the non-troll citizens, the animals of the Troll Village were another surprise to me.  These were not the ones usually thought of in association with cave-men:

The mayor’s prehistoric parrot, plus camels, giraffes, donkeys, and one bipedal [walking on two feet] elephant.  I don’t remember hearing about one of THOSE in prehistoric times.

Since the elephant stood so comfortably erect, I made him a full-fledged village member.  He always looked happy about this.   The expressions on the faces of the giraffes and camels looked a little sad, as if they wished they were bipedal, too.


Old and Odd Camel Drawings

Talk About Your Sad Camels–Get a Load of THESE!


The more astute [observant] (or less bored) among you may have noticed that the village in the picture has two elephants. Mine had only one. What can I say?

If the fabulous Marx company erred, I don’t fault them for it. Encountering even one prehistoric permanently-perpendicular pachyderm [elephant who always stands up] in a lifetime is more joy than one little girl has any right to expect.

The Marx people were no slackers. Arboreal [tree-like] offerings ran the gamut from bushes to trees, from pines to palms–even a sprinkling of stumps.

The little boys of the village, who were molded in a seated position, I would seat on the stumps to go fishing in the painted pond.

The Marx people had thoughtfully left air bubbles trapped between their knees during the molding process so that the boys could hold toothpick fishing poles in the holes left behind.

Of All the Toothpick Fishing Pole Ideas, This One Is the Cutest!


(See more cute food prep ideas at LinseyDavis.com)

The village even had tiny barrels. It is impressive to think that cave-era barrels could be achieved by the industrious application of flint tools to the wood of those early trees. Perhaps the hoops were of plant material.

(One must reject entirely, for lack of any hard evidence–just one speck of red paint indicating rust, for example–Fotheringale’s ridiculous notion that the Iron Age had arrived early in the Troll Village.)

I would pretend that the mayor opened the barrels using his parrot’s beak, and then all the villagers would get drunk.  (Caution:  The upcoming video features professional drinkers–Do not try at home.)



The best part of the toy, besides the cute animals, was the set of rock walls that loomed hugely behind the village.

One of them had a large arch at its top, with a floor upon which you could stand the cave-people.  The other had a shallow cave at the top where you could also stand them. 

Or, if you were my little sister embarrassing me, you could immediately push the walls together to make an deep cavern, like the Marx people intended.

These rock walls (or cavern, if you must be a little five-year-old smart#ss!) had little scattered ledges just large enough to stand a cave-man, a troll woman, or a bipedal elephant. 

The little gray elephant against the immense gray-brown rock was almost invisible. He liked to stand there, discreetly keeping an eye on his cave-community.

Exactly the Way Another Wise Bipedal Elephant Kept An Eye On His Community


The Christmas that I got my village, I played with it for hours. It remained my favorite toy forever afterward, even years later when I no longer played with it. 

Sadly–heartbreakingly–my mom gave my Troll Village away the day I left for college (along with everything else of mine I left at home–but that’s a story for another post!).

Until a couple of years ago, I still had the tiny elephant and one of the camels, both of whom had come with me to college.  Somehow though, a few years ago the elephant departed—probably to join a special prehistoric bipedal quadruped community.  I miss him and his cute little face.

I do still have the one sad little camel, although after all the years he retains only three of his legs. I suspect that, in secret, he is practicing walking on only two of those, and that someday, he, too, will be gone.  

One likes to imagine that the camel and the elephant will become the best of bipedal friends, and that, someday, the camel will no longer be sad.


Happy Beer-Hat Camel

One Happy Camel


(From Know Your Bears.com)

Good grief, this was a long post! For the two of you who stuck with me this far: Have the merriest of Christmases!


Papier Mache Nativity Scene

Here's a Wonderful Creche from Provence With a Happy Donkey to Match Our Theme!


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