The Missing Gift

My time is divided between merry-making, play date booking, and looking for that bag. You know the one… The perfect gift found for a special person. In October. That was three months ago. And eight hiding places ago. The cookies are baked. The tree is up. The Christmas get-togethers are happening. But it’s two days til Christmas. I need to find that bag. It has one of the best gifts in it. It was actually shopped for. Not a rush what-do-you-want-and-I’ll-go-buy-it gift. It is one of those hey-this-is-perfect-for-my-nephew kind of gifts. Wait… how big is the bag? I seem to recall buying more than one thing that day. Or did I? Or… did I decide against that gift at the last minute? Crumbs. Now I’m looking for a bag that I’m not sure even exists.

Heading to the basement, my shoulder swishes against a red bag hanging with the coats. What is that? Oh, glad I found that one! Not the one I’m looking for, but one I will be looking for shortly.

I need to take inventory, pull all those cryptic Christmas lists together, and get some wrapping done to see if I’m missing anything. Holy ka-lu-la! I haven’t gotten Dad’s gift yet! I’m not driving by the Welcome Inn in Elizabeth, Illinois, this year on the way to Iowa, so swinging in and getting four orders of his favorite ribs is out of the question. And, my Amazon prime 2-day shipping is worthless at this point.

Has Dad dropped any hints? “I just want all my kids home for Christmas.” No hint there. “Man, it is cold outside. I got my long-johns on and my john-johns on top of my long-johns on.” I’m not doing long-johns again this Christmas. “Well, these are just fine! There’s nothing wrong with them!!” Dad probably has two pair of bib overalls lying in wait for the old ones to fall to strings. “Where are my half-pants?” There’s no sentimental value in getting him a second pair of Dockers when he rarely needs to wear half-pants.

How can the Christmas tree twinkle so calmly while my mind is whirring? Worrying about that gift. Aha! The cookie table is behind me. “I haven’t had a single cookie this year!” Probably not true, Dad, but thanks for the hint! I’ll start with a cookie tin. Then, if I put my thinking cap on – and mentally don my long johns and bib overalls – I’ll wonder the aisles of Ace Hardware as would a farmer. Slowly looking for that “Well, I’ll be….” kind of gift.

May you find “that” bag and the perfect gift. Soon.

(Did you read about the drone that landed in my hair?  Yes, really.  My writing is based on factual events... really.  Here's Happy Day After Thanksgiving!)

Do you have an elf on your shelf?

Do you have an Elf on the Shelf in your house? In case you haven’t heard of the Elf, he visits from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, sits in your house watching and listening during the day, and then flies to the North Pole every night to report back to Santa. Then, he comes back to your house before the kids wake up the next morning, but he lands in a different spot. No one can touch him; he will lose his magic powers if touched by a human. A week ago at Liam’s parent-teacher conference, I learned that our family was the only family in his class of 23 kids who did not have an elf in their house. I was flabbergasted: How could Santa forget our house when the rest of the town is apparently overrun by an elf population?

Lo and behold, this morning we woke up to a letter written in North Pole red ink. The letter was from an elf. He explained that Santa had sent him to England to find Will and Liam over Thanksgiving, but after days of looking, he reported back to Santa that he couldn’t find the Malcolms. Santa explained that we LIVED near Boston and were only visiting England. (Perhaps the fact that our names weren’t on a permanent title or lease in England added to the confusion.)

In the letter, the elf explained that Santa had directed him to stop in Reykjavik on the way to our house. The elf needed to check on some reindeer for Santa. A couple reindeer from the North Pole went to Iceland in November to visit cousins, and two of the cousins wanted to move to the North Pole. Before Santa would allow them to immigrate, he wanted to see if they were naughty or nice, so he had our elf watch them and report back to Santa. Fortunately, the reindeer made the cut, so our elf helped them move to the North Pole -- which is why he was delayed getting to our house.

After reading the letter, Liam soon spotted the elf tucked on a narrow ledge above the stove.

Smiling slyly, Liam told me that very, very, very rarely elves might make a mess. A buddy of his at school woke up one morning to a sugar spill on the counter. “They make messes?!?” I exclaimed, perhaps over-reacting a bit. “Not very often at all, Mom.” In addition to the normal route of picking up boys’ clothes from the bedroom floor and boys’ towels from the bathroom floor and boys’ breakfast dishes from the counter, will I now have elf mess for the next 13 days?

By the way, behind Liam’s little face – which was lit up in awe as he spotted the elf – I saw through the kitchen window moments of big fluffy snowflakes falling out of this rainy Nor'easter sky. I do believe the elf has brought a little magic to our house.

(P.S.  Did you read about the drone that landed in my hair? Yes, really. My writing is based on factual events... really. Here's Happy Day After Thanksgiving!)

Book Draggin'

Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas,  I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself?  I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one.  I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan.  After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full.  Elation!  That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.

I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city.  What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris.  Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.

The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!”  The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs.  “Merci, Madame!  Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that.  Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.

After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.


Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England.  I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases.  Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best.  He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them.  It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases.  Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.


On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me.  I flinched.  After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat.  I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head.  When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand.  I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor.  Yuck!  “Sir!  Excuse me!  I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.”  In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.”  I tried not to look at the titles.  That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings.  Serious reading.

My generosity sparked conversation.  “What do you do?” he asked.  “I’m a writer.”  “Really?  What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog,”  “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.”  With all those books.  I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”

Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write?  And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board.  It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.

A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."

(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry?  That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read.  Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")

Christmas Eve Past

Several years ago today, when we were only adults – no grandchildren in Mom & Dad’s house yet – we had a surprise visitor. The ho-ho-ho jolly jelly belly man walked into the middle of our gift giving on Christmas Eve. We grown kids all stopped and smiled. Our eyes twinkled. Was this a mistake? Had he brought this bag of goodies to the wrong house? Was he looking for the gaggle of giggling grandchildren at our next-door neighbors? “Has everyone been good this year?” Definitely. We all nodded “yes.” Then Santa opened his bag and worked his way to each of us, shuffling through the piles of wrapping paper on the living room floor.  To each he gave a candy cane and said, “Merry Christmas!” as we peered into that face wondering who this bearded Santa helper was.

The rhythm of candy-cane-giving stopped when Santa got to Bill. Santa gave him a questioning look and said something like, “I’m not so sure that you haven’t been a little naughty.” And from his bag he drew a clear bag with a red ribbon securely tying the top. So the piece of coal wouldn’t fall out.

Bill’s eyes grew wide as he belly-laughed. Our laughs followed Santa closely in amazement. It must be someone we know! As we wondered who had put Santa up to this, he called, “Merry Christmas to All!” and his black boots carried him out the door.

After minutes of denial, Grandma Murphy’s blue eyes sparkled as she threw her head back and laughed until she shook.

…Before taking the receiver off of a phone on the shelf, handing it to a gullible 80-year-old woman in the middle of Walmart, and saying, “It’s for you!”… remember, that she might have connections for outstanding repercussions.

Some ten or more years later, the bag of coal still nestles on an inside branch of our Christmas tree. A reminder that Santa knows who’s naughty and nice – one way or another.

And, a reminder of a woman who had a spirited sense of humor.

Peace, Love and... Joy...


An Early Iowa Christmas

After a good two-week reprieve for Dad, he and I headed back to Iowa by train while Bill and the boys flew. Our plane and train left the airport and station at the same time: noon on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I received a text 2 ½ hours later from Bill: “I see the Sears Tower! I see the Sears Tower!” The train hadn’t yet made it to western Massachusetts. Another text from a gas station, “In Iowa bet you wish you were here!” I received this one while Dad and I were having a bite to eat in the snack car. I mustered up a great reply, “Having a beer! Bet you wish you were here!” An hour and half later, Bill was having a beer. Alas, 31 hours after departure Dad and I rolled onto familiar Iowa roads. Many times on this trip my Iowa culture was juxtaposed with my ever-changing “me” culture. Friday night after Thanksgiving, we went to see the movie “Frozen.” Then, five cousins worked on their own Olaf snowman with the bit of snow left on the 4-wheeler course.

Iowa Olaf faced east and stared at acres and acres of cornstalk-stubbled, snowy farmland.  In Massachusetts, we can go to movies and make snowmen, but not with cousins.  And Olaf’s horizon wouldn’t be so wide.  And an Olaf built in our backyard in Massachusetts wouldn’t meet his demise by a 9-year-old driving a 4-wheeler.

Yes, I said “4-wheeler."  Quads.  Grandpa, uncles, and cousins tied the six-foot long toboggan to the big 4-wheeler and whizzed around with three kids on the back.  Occasionally, one cousin (Liam) was dumped off without the driver (Grandpa) realizing it until he circled back and, seeing the lump of kid on the ground 20 feet in front of him called out with a laugh, “Liam!?!?”  On the smaller quad, Will’s hands were welded to the handles.  In complete, independent control of this machine, Will zipped around looking for snow bumps to jump.  This must be the same exhilaration he gets when skiing down mountains and making giant circles on the high bar.  He thrives on speed and control.

On the calmer, more nostalgic side, a highlight of my trip (and not so climatic for the Malcolm boys) was when we helped Mom put up the Christmas tree.  I want the story of every ornament.  When and how did it come to be?  And this year, this little niche at the back of the tree spoke to the irony of my ever-changing culture:

I too have sets of the crocheted red and gold 6-foot string of beads my great aunt made years ago. Just like Mom’s sets, they circle my tree and remind me of my grandma and her sisters, and the stories surrounding this now-gone generation. And at the root of those stories are the similarities and differences among the five sisters I remember, with the funniest stories coming from their differences.

As for the Santa ornament in this shot... No, I don't see myself ever having a shot-gun shell Santa on my Christmas tree.

(From Christmas in Iowa, I went back to Massachusetts --  to my life as a Rat on a Wheel.)

My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa, You have been Santa for much longer than I have been Mom, and I need some advice.

Two years ago, Will and Liam wanted the LEGOS Death Star for Christmas.  This chatter started in early November.  They knew that was a bit much for us to spend, so they decided to ask you for this elaborate LEGOS kit.  I don’t know if your elves churn out LEGOS at Christmas or if you contract with LEGOS, but either way I was uneasy with them asking you for a $400 LEGOS set.    I waited until late-November, hoping the Death Star conversation would quiet down.  But it just got bigger and bigger.  Plans were in the making for where they would build it.  The LEGOS catalog was ragged like the toy section in the old Sears catalog that my sister, my brothers and I would wish from every year.

During one of these wishful conversations, I had to hit the brakes for your sake.  “Boys, I have been thinking a lot about this; I just don’t feel right about it.  I need to tell you what I’m thinking.  That’s a very big gift to ask for.  I don’t think you’ve ever gotten anything that big from Santa.  Have you?”


“Some kids just ask for food or clothes.  So asking for this seems a little over the top.”


“Think about what Santa has given you in the past.  Maybe you could put LEGOS gift cards on your wish list to Santa.  It’s a little strange to ask for a gift card, but you could explain what you want and why you have a gift card on your wish list.  You could let family know you want gift cards too.  Maybe you could use some of the money you’ve saved throughout the year toward buying it.  Just something to think about…”

And with that, the Death Star idea dwindled over a few days and was eventually snuffed out.

This year, Liam wants an XBOX360.  I’m balking a bit, so he’s determined to ask you for it.  And he has threatened me with an out-of-the-corner-of-his-eyes look and the sneaky words, “If Santa doesn’t bring it, I’ll know he’s not real.”  Will flinched.

Santa, here I draw the line.  You don’t threaten Mom.  You don’t threaten Santa.  It’s just not cool.  So, you may get a letter requesting an XBOX360.  If you do, let’s talk before you load the sleigh.



Happy Holi-daze!

Tis the season for decking the halls!

My snowmen are so darn cute framed in the little window by the fireplace…

But so darn naughty from the outside.

Pulling into the driveway yesterday morning, I gasped and momentarily wondered how a big white bum got pressed up against that little window…

Blue moon, harvest moon... and now the snowman moon.

Happy Holidaze!