Posted in Life, Random

Conquering New Year’s Eve

When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was spent at home hanging out with my family, playing games or watching TV. At midnight, we’d go out in the backyard, and my dad would set off the cannon. It was a real cannon, but was only about the size of a desktop tape dispenser. He’d pack it with a small amount of gun powder and light the fuse, and we’d all stand back and cringe in anticipation. Some years it wasn’t much more than a loud pop. Other years, depending on how much powder he used, there’d be quite a little explosion, and the next day the paving stone where it sat would be scorched black. If I remember correctly, once the blast sent the cannon flying several feet and it took us a couple of minutes to find it.

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This year, the long-retired cannon has been passed down to me, but my father refused to give me any gunpowder and forbade me from actually using it. I will honor his wishes. For now.

This might be one of those “only in Texas” stories. I don’t know because I’m from Texas and have always lived in Texas and people sometimes roll their eyes and say “only in Texas” about things that seem completely normal to me. Then again, it could also be one of those “only in my family” things as well, like the stocking tree or calling the things you use to cut up small limbs “jaloppers” instead of “loppers.” (You haven’t been embarrassed until you’ve been corrected by a Home Depot employee half your age on the pronunciation of a garden tool. Thanks, Dad.) Perhaps I should collect some data on the subject. If you or anyone you know ever had a tradition of setting off a small but mighty cannon in the backyard on New Year’s Eve, please weigh in with a comment. Thanks.

Anyway, that was how we did things.

When I was in junior high and high school, our house was the place to hang out, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. If you’re picturing a wild party and a keg, you’re way off. If you’re picturing a six pack of beer and a football game, you’re still way off. If you’re picturing Dr. Peppers and non-alcoholic sparkling cider and loud games of dominoes and cards, then you’re welcome at our kitchen table any time. Even in college, I spent most of my New Year’s Eves at home with my family, so it wasn’t until I was an adult (a real one with an apartment and a job) that I realized New Year’s Eve was a THING, and there was a certain way you were supposed to celebrate it, and it didn’t involve miniature cannons and Dr. Pepper. Thus began my complicated, often disappointing relationship with the holiday.

I don’t know if there’s any other holiday with more pressure placed upon it than New Year’s Eve. (Ok, maybe Valentine’s Day, but I don’t celebrate that one, therefore it causes me no stress.) Society tells you that in order to have a successful December 31st, you must do at least 6 of the 7 following things:

  • Go to a fun party with more than 12 people.
  • Look great no matter the weather.
  • Drink a lot but not enough to embarrass yourself.
  • Kiss someone at midnight.
  • Set inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
  • Leave the party at just the right time (neither too early or too late).
  • Wake up on New Year’s Day either A) Really hungover with a great story to tell or B) Refreshed and energetic and ready to tackle all your inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.

That’s a pretty tall order.

I did okay for a couple of years. The year of Y2K, my boyfriend and I went to a party at a friend’s house and had a good time. A few years later, I rang in the new year with some friends at the Carousel Lounge, where the seventy-five-year-old legendary “dancing waitress” Stella Boes, a longtime fixture at the Carousel, served us drinks with a smile. That was a good year.

But there were plenty of years where plans fell flat or parties petered out or the party itself was fine, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. There were years when I had someone to kiss and years when I didn’t and years when I told myself I didn’t want to go out only to change my mind at the last minute and not be able to find anywhere to go. I think those were the most disappointing because I wasn’t being true to myself, wasn’t able to accept that what I wanted was different than what other people wanted and that was ok.

Marrying my homebody husband in 2010 should have made things simpler, but somehow it didn’t. I had someone to be with, and neither of us really wanted to go out, so the choice to stay in on the 31st was easy, but even when we decided to stay home, I still placed expectations on how the evening should go. We’ll ring in the new year watching a marathon of scary movies. Or… We’ll camp out in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Or… We’ll drink a bunch of wine and play board games all night. Those are not such tall orders, but sometimes they still fell flat. We got bored of the movies before midnight or the weather wasn’t right for camping or we just weren’t in the mood to play games.

Some years, we’d put off the festive activities until later, so as to experience them at the correct hour of celebration. Around 11pm when I was happily writing in my journal and listening to a horror podcast and hubby was happily playing a computer game, I’d suddenly look at the clock and realize we were running late for our planned night of fun, at which point I’d stop us from doing the things that made us happy, and force us to do something that I deemed an “appropriate” homebody NYE activity.

Yes, I’m weird. I know it. But that’s what I did, year after year, until finally, FINALLY, I got it. There wasn’t a specific moment that changed me. I don’t remember a conversation or event that drove this message home. It just came to me spontaneously in that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear” sort of way, like a lightning strike to my brain. I just got it. And what I got was this:

I can celebrate or not celebrate the new year ANY WAY I WANT. (Cue light bulbs, sparkly music, and one small firework.) So, the big question is… what do I want?

For me, the passing from one year to the next is about reflection and contemplation. It’s about setting up for the new year in whatever way feels right, whether that’s cleaning my house, writing resolutions, or planning a cool lesson for my students. Sometimes it’s about being around friends, but more often than not, it’s about enjoying some relaxation and me time after a week of family visits and traveling. It’s about thinking about who I am and who I want to be, without judgment (if possible).

Ever since this epiphany, I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves doing things like walking the dog and writing in my journal and watching movies and playing games. Yes, a lot of those are the same things that were on my list before, but the difference is the lack of expectation, the forced “meaning” in them. Sometimes I nerd out and spend the whole night making a new planner. Sometimes I do an elaborate tarot card reading for myself. Sometimes I read and nap and do a whole lot of nothing.

Whatever we’re doing, a few minutes before twelve, hubby and I get together and step out onto the back porch with a beverage, and we kiss at midnight while listening to our crazy Texas neighbors set off their crazy Texas fireworks. And then we begin the new year by going to sleep or going back to whatever we were doing before. The transition is a smooth one, marked by very little pomp, and we’re more than ok with that.

So what does this year have in store? It’s 6:37PM and I’m writing this from the hammock in my backyard. A little while ago, I decided it was a nice night for a campfire, so I made one. I’m currently on my second glass of prosecco. The temperature is dropping, and the illegal fireworks are already starting. I have a new game I want to play tonight and some leftover pasta I want to eat. There’s an owl hooting somewhere and a dog barking somewhere else, and about six hours to go until midnight. How will I spend them? Any way I want.

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Happy New Year.

 

Posted in Random

Letters From Santa

I opened my first Christmas card today (Thank you, Julie!) and taped it to my laundry room door– the traditional location for displaying holiday cards in the Juettner home. (I usually leave them up until June.) This year, we sent Halloween cards instead, so I won’t be sitting in front of The Muppet Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, writing notes and addressing envelopes. I did that in October while watching Scream and Happy Death Day. But I still love snail mail– will forever love snail mail– and can’t wait for my laundry room door to fill up with cheerful greetings and friendly faces. And even though I said I wouldn’t, I’ll probably send out a FEW holiday postcards this month. How can I resist?

In honor of Christmas traditions and snail mail, I’m re-sharing this post from five years ago about how my dad used to respond to Santa letters when he worked at the post office. I hope you enjoy re-reading it. I did.

Carie Juettner

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These days kids can email Santa.

That makes sense, I guess. After all, handwritten letters have mostly gone the way of the passenger pigeon. But, while I certainly appreciate the convenience of modern forms of communication, I still really love “snail mail.” That’s one of the reasons why I cherish the holidays. It’s the only time of year when my mailbox is stuffed with more than bills and ads and the occasional postcard.

I know some say it’s a waste of paper and for many people sending a large stack of holiday cards is just too expensive. I also understand how silly it seems these days to send mail to someone who lives ten miles from you, someone who you’ll see at least three times on Facebook and maybe even in real life before the letter arrives. I don’t care. I love mail. I love hand-addressed envelopes and stamps and…

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Posted in Random, Writing

Me and Mags, Episode 3: Chemistry

[If you’re just joining “Me and Mags,” catch up with Episode 1 and Episode 2 first!]

Out the window of the bus, I saw Mags walking to school. She was wearing a brown dress so long it brushed the tops of her combat boots and she was carrying a beaker of liquid carefully in front of her with both hands. I pressed my face to the glass to try to figure out why she might be doing such a thing, but the bus turned at that moment, and I lost sight of her.

When I turned back around, I jumped and let out an embarrassing little squeak. I was no longer alone. The girl with the short blond hair and pink hair clip was occupying the seat next to me. She wore a gray sweatshirt with a cat face on it and jeans that were more holes than fabric. “Sorry,” she said in an accent I couldn’t place. “I didn’t mean to intrude. The guys in the back were being jerks.”

“You’re not intruding,” I said, moving my backpack to give her more space. “I’m Hadley.”

“Olivia.” She held up her hand in a brief, awkward wave. “I think we’re in English together. You’re new?”

I nodded.

“I was new too,” Olivia said. “It’s not great, being new.”

I shrugged. “It could be worse.” Before I could think of anything else to say, the bus lurched over the speed bumps in the drop-off lane and came to a stop.

“Nice to meet you,” Olivia said, then scampered off the bus.

*

“Do you know Olivia?” I asked Mags during lunch. She sat in her usual spot, and I sat in mine. The chair she’d told me was taken on my first day remained empty, as usual. A few days before, a freshman had asked if he could borrow it, and Mags looked at him like he was crazy until he apologized and slowly backed away.

“The Pisces with the shellfish allergy?” Mags asked.

“Um… the girl with short blond hair who dresses kind of retro?”

Mags stared at me. I stared back.

“Medium-length fingernails and smells a bit like cardamom?”

I narrowed my eyes. “Ok, I’m fairly sure we’re talking about the same person, although I’ve never smelled her. So you know her?”

“A little,” Mags said. “She’s in my art class. She transferred here at the start of the year from a private school. Why?”

I shrugged. “We rode the bus together today. She seems nice. I never see her in the cafeteria. I don’t know where she eats, but I thought, maybe, we could ask her to join us for lunch sometime.” I held my breath, wondering if I’d overstepped. It was only my second week, after all. Was I allowed to invite people to the table? “Unless that chair is still reserved for someone else,” I added.

Mags scratched her head vigorously, and I spotted a small round Band-Aid on her neck, just below her ear. “We could always pull up another chair,” she said, then opened her journal.

I let my breath out.

“This morning on the bus, I saw you—”

“How many gallons of water do you think it would take to fill up this school?” Mags asked.

“Um… I have no idea.”

“Hmph. Ms. Granberry was right.”

“Ms. Who?”

“My seventh grade math teacher. She always told us math would come in handy when we least expected it. I never believed her. But now it’s vital that I be able to calculate the cubic volume of a two-story 120,000-square-foot building.” She shook her head. “I should call her and apologize.”

“And why, may I ask, do you need to know how much water it would take to fill up our school?”

Mags glanced at the pocket watch hanging around her neck, closed her journal, and slipped it into her satchel. “We’ll discuss it in Chemistry,” she said.

“I’m not taking Chemistry.”

“Yes, you are. 8th period.”

“That’s Biology.”

Mags flitted her hands in the air as if shooing imaginary flies. “Oh, potatoes tomatoes. Any science class is a Chemistry class if you bring the right materials. Any class at all, come to think of it. Besides, if I’m not mistaken, you seem to have your heat sensors set on a certain male mammal in that class. Ah-ah-ah,” she said as I started to protest. “Don’t deny it. I’ve seen you staring at Vik. Don’t worry, you’ve no competition from me. He’s not my blood type. In fact, I’ll be glad to help. I’m working on a love potion.”

“I don’t need a love potion,” I said, mortified by this entire conversation.

“You don’t want Vik to fall in love with you? Would you rather fall out of love with him? Because that potion is almost ready.”

“You have a potion to make a person fall out of love with someone?”

“Sort of.” Mags scratched her head. “Actually, it makes them not like anyone very much, including themselves.”

I wrinkled my nose. “What’s in it?”

“Oh, various things. Mostly tequila. And a little licorice.”

“Okaaaay,” I said, standing up. “Well, I don’t need a love potion or an out-of-love potion or any tequila. I just think Vik is nice, that’s all.”

The bell rang.

“Suit yourself,” Mags said. “See you in Chemistry.”

“It’s not—” I sighed. “Fine. Yes, see you in Chemistry.”

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In 8th period, the room was set up for a lab. Mags waved me over to her table. “You can be my lab partner.”

“You don’t already have one?”

“Sort of. Not really. On the first day of school, Ms. Archer partnered us up, but there was an odd number, so I was left out. Naturally.” She rolled up her sleeves and pulled safety goggles out of her satchel. “I didn’t want to be part of an imp’s threesome, so I told her Ferdinand was my partner, but he was absent.”

I held up my finger. “An imp’s… you know what, never mind. So Ferdinand never came back?”

“Oh, he did.” Mags put the goggles on, tied her hair into a knot, and started pulling on rubber gloves. “He’s been here all along, actually. But he’s a terrible lab partner.”

I looked around. “Wha… where…?”

“Ok, class, let’s get started,” Ms. Archer said. “Magdalena, I’m glad to see you’re taking safety precautions. Although you might be a bit over-prepared for measuring heart rate.”

While Mags held two fingers firmly to my wrist (she’d removed the gloves but was still wearing the goggles) I scanned the room, noting all the other lab partners awkwardly taking each others’ pulse. Vik’s long, dark fingers were pressed against the skin of a short, red-haired girl. “What made you think I had a crush on Vik?” I asked Mags.

“Shh. 32… 33… 34…” She peered at her pocket watch as she counted. After a few seconds, she said, “Done!” and scribbled a number onto our worksheet. “Your resting heart rate is 74 beats per minute.”

“Your turn,” I said.

“No, I have to do it again to see if I get the same result.”

I sighed and held out my arm again. “Fine.”

Mags picked up her pocket watch. “1… 2… 3…”

“Can I borrow a pencil?”

I jumped, almost pulling my wrist out of Mags’ grasp. Vik hovered over my shoulder. “Oh, um… sure,” I said.

I tried to pull my arm away from Mags so I could reach into my purse for an extra pencil, but she held on tight. “14… 15… 16…” Her eyebrows reached to the ceiling and there was smirk in her lips as she counted.

“Here, take this one.” I handed Vik the pencil I’d been using.

“Thanks,” he said and went back to his table.

Mags released my arm. “86 beats per minute,” she said. “Hmm.”

“Hmm,” I said. We stared at each other.

Mags smiled as she erased the 86 and wrote 76.

“What are you doing?”

“With those results, Ms. Archer will think I don’t know how to take someone’s pulse. Unless…” she looked at me, “you’d like me to make a note in the margin explaining what happened during the second reading?”

“Just change it to 76.”

“I told you,” Mags said. “Chemistry.”

While we finished writing up the results of our findings, I asked Mags about the water she was carrying before school and the worrisome math she was doing at lunch, but she was less than forthcoming with her answers. “Just a little experiment,” she said about the water. And, “The less you know at this stage, the better,” was her only response when I asked if all of this was in relation to her turn-the-school-into-a-fish-tank idea.

“That was just a joke, right? The fish tank thing?” I asked.

Mags stared intently at her lab sheet and said, “A joke is just the truth wearing a fake mustache.”

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There was a chill in the air as we walked home. I’d missed the bus accidentally-on-purpose so I could walk with Mags in the brisk breeze. I stuck my hands in the pocket of my hoodie and hunched against the falling temperatures, but Mags stood upright, looking cool as a cucumber, just as her 50-beats-per-minute heart rate suggested.

“So, who is Ferdinand?” I asked.

“Oh,” Mags said, turning her large eyes to the sky, “no one you need to be concerned about.”

I stopped walking. “No.”

Mags turned around. “No, what?”

“No, I’m not doing this. You can’t be cryptic about everything I ask. If we’re going to be friends, you have to be honest with me about at least some things.” Her eyes bore into me, and I resisted the urge to look away.

“Hadley…” she said, and I steeled myself for her rebuttal, wondering what I’d say next, knowing I didn’t actually have it in me to stop being friends with her if she refused to open up. “You’re right,” Mags finished. Her gaze dropped to the sidewalk, and I felt my shoulders loosen in relief.

Mags sighed, then lifted her hair, revealing the Band-Aid beneath her ear. “This,” she said, peeling the small round bandage from her skin, “is Ferdinand.” She squeezed her eyes shut and waited.

“Mags, there’s nothing there.”

Her eyes flew open. “What?!”

“There’s nothing there.”

Mags put her hand to the smooth skin of her neck. “Sweet Jezebelle! He’s gone again!” She dropped her satchel and started patting her face and neck and arms.

“Who’s gone?” I asked, exasperated. “Is this another joke?”

Mags let out a sound between a growl and a sob. She looked at one elbow and then the other. “If it’s a joke, it’s not one I find funny.” She felt along the tips of both ears, then lifted her dress and gave a hard look at her knees. “Ferdinand,” she said at last, “is my mole.”

“Your what?”

“My MOLE.” She dropped the hem of her dress and began feeling along her scalp.

“And… you can’t find him?”

“He travels,” Mags said. She tugged at the neck of her shirt and peered inside. “He used to be right here.” She pointed to a spot on her left cheek. “Kids teased me about him and back then I cared about crap like that. So I did a little… procedure… to get rid of him. It only half worked.” She rubbed the spot on her cheek. “Less than half, really. Ferdinand left this spot and never came back, but now he’s got a mind of his own, wandering wherever the Hades he pleases. He even grows hair if he’s in a mood.” She blushed. I had a hunch that ‘cool-as-a-cucumber’ Mags would have a very different heart rate if I checked her pulse now.

Well,” I said, searching for the right words, “that sucks. No one needs a willful, traveling mole popping up wherever it wants to. Life is tough enough already.”

Mags visibly relaxed. “I know, right? Damn mole. If you ever see him, will you tell me?”

“I will indeed.”

“Thanks.”

I shrugged. “What are friends for?”

*

TO BE CONTINUED…