Thursday, December 18, 2014

Little White Christmas Lies

When I was about 5, I started to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.

I think it started when I was playing in the front yard, looked up towards the roof and noticed how small the opening of the fireplace on our house was. I'd been a first grader for four months already, and I was starting to get smart. Logically, it just didn't mke sense that Santa's girth could fit into an opening that small. Plus, some kids in my class were spreading a rumor that there was no such thing as Santa Claus.

I didn't believe them. Well, I didn't want to believe them. But doubt started to creep in, so I started dropping little hints here and there at home, and my parents knew that I was questioning the existence of a jolly old rotund man in a red suit who was supposed to drop down the chimney and leave presents under our tree. But at the same time, I was worried that Santa was able to fit down other larger chimneys, but because ours was so small, he might just skip over our house, and not pay us a visit at all. I was also a little bit concerned that he might try to fit down the chimney and get stuck in the fireplace, and we'd be hated the world over for squeezing Santa to death.

So there were were, Christmas Eve, practicing our tradition of opening one present the night before Christmas. Mine was one of the best ever. My two older half sisters in Texas had sent me their well loved but long outgrown Barbie & Ken dolls from the mid 60's, and a box full of outfits.

I'd never had a barbie doll before, and I was in heaven.

Until I realized that my father  had built a great, roaring fire in the fireplace.

That skeptic, the one that was pondering if Santa even existed? She was now positive that he did exist, would see smoke coming from our chimney, and just keep moving on to the next house, not wanting to chance burning his feet. I turned into a crying, blubbering mess, throwing a huge fit that we had a fire burning in our fireplace.

My parents told me all the things a parent has to think up on the fly to console their kids on Christmas Eve. Don't worry, Santa's got experience with this kind of thing. It's not going to stop him from visiting our house. The fire will die out. Stop with the crying. By the time he gets here, it won't be hot. If Santa has to, he'll use the front door. No, we're not leaving it unlocked. Santa knows his way around a locked door. It's okay, go play with your Barbies.

Finally, we settled on a compromise. My father promised not only to make sure the fire was completely out, he'd clean out the fireplace to leave a nice, polished landing zone for Santa. Finally, I could take my barbie doll and go to bed, solid in the knowledge would take care of things.

Cut to Christmas morning.

My little sister and I woke up, then pounced on our parents in their bedroom, and once they were up, we ran into the living room to see what waited for us under the tree. I was immediately distracted by what I saw in the fireplace. Couldn't believe my eyes. It was still full of charred wood and ashes from the newspaper comic strips my dad has used as gift wrapping since time began (and still does). My dad had failed me. He had one job. One job that he promised to do, and he failed.

I immediately started wailing, because my dad had just totally ruined Christmas. I was convinced that either Santa had seen smoke from our chimney and skipped our house altogether, or worse, the glowing embers of the raging fire had melted the rubber on the bottom of his boots and Santa hightailed it back up the chimney, vowing never to come back to that house again.

My dad and mom, who had to be operating on less than 3 hours of sleep as is common for most parents at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, tried to calm me down. My dad apologized, telling me he totally forgot all about it.

And then my dad said, "Well look at that," pointing inside the fireplace.

At a pair of giant boot prints in the ashes.

Then my mom pointed over by the tree. "And look over here, Valerie. I think Santa's been here."

Indeed. There were presents galore. There was a Timey Tell doll (she wore a watch, and told you what time it was when you pulled the string in her back), and a Barbie Airship, and a little nurse's medical kit with a hat, stethoscope and thermometer (let the mile high club and playing doctor jokes commence).

Santa wasn't mad at us after all, and now I had proof in the fireplace that he existed.

The things parents will do to keep the belief alive when their kids are starting to doubt.

Now that I'm a mother (and an aunt, and a great aunt, and a godmother), I've been doing my share to help keep the faith alive over the years with the coolest little tradition that we started when we moved to Redding 13 Christmases ago. We started candy cane farming.

Sophia was 4 when we tried planting candy cane seeds for the first time. We took a handful of candy cane seeds and planted them outside in the yard, sprinkled them with magic elf fertilizing dust, and the next morning they had already grown into candy canes! Forget about all the presents under the tree, Sophia just wanted to run outside and see if her canes grew. In fact she still loves it, and now enjoys passing the tradition on to younger members of the family.

There is a definite science to candy cane farming, but I'm here to help you successfully grow candy canes of all shapes and flavors year after year. Here is Candy Cane Farming 101, in just a few easy steps.

Candy cane seeds are easy to come by. You've probably been ignoring them for years when they've been handed to you, most likely at a dining establishment, served on a tray along with the bill. They're usually round, red & white striped, featuring the aroma of peppermint. A bit more rare is the green & brown candy cane seed (it smells a bit chocolately), and every once in awhile you'll come across a mutant seed with purple or blue stripes. This can throw an inexperienced candy cane seed farmer for a loop, especially if you're dealing with a child who pockets mutant seeds without your knowledge, saving several different colors to bring out unexpectedly around bedtime on Christmas Eve.

Magic Elf Fertilizing Sprinkles
This amazing substance is sprinkled over the candy cane seeds as they're planted, allowing them to grow from seeds to full grown candy canes over night. But this secret sauce, probably made from the dandruff of Santa's redheaded helpers, only fertilizes candy cane seeds on one night a year, and is absolutely useless on any other night. It's easy to find though, and can be secured in the baking aisle of grocery stores. It should be red (or green if you're in a pinch), in little granules, and if you touch the little sprinkles to your tongue, they'll taste sweet. Like sugar. Like the sparkly sugar sprinkles you might dust across the top of sugar cookies.

Planting them is easy. You can do it anywhere. Outside or inside. In the grass, in potted plants, in gravel. Candy cane seeds are hearty, drought resistant and reindeer tolerant. The first year, Sophia asked me if we were supposed to take the plastic off of the seeds before planting them. I didn't know, I'd never done it before. So we tried an experiment and planted half with plastic, half without.
I'd recommend keeping the plastic on, because if you do, the candy canes that grow overnight have plastic on them the next morning. The others that didn't were more than just sticky, they were pretty slimy. They may be drought tolerant, but they're not very dew tolerant. And if you've got a snail problem in the back yard, well, they're even more slimy.

We've actually done quite a bit of experimenting over the years. It turns that if you plant a small candy cane instead of a seed, that a bigger candy cane grows overnight. And if you plant a bigger candy cane, but mom accidentally breaks it while sticking it in the ground? You get a giant candy cane stick the next day! And those random, mutant candy cane seeds? Turns out mom was paying attention when Sophia started saving the weird ones, and turns out they grow into wildly colored candy canes kind of similar to some variety packagea of Jelly Belly and Lifesavers Candy Canes I might have come across at the drug store.

We've collected a few little ceramic holiday containers over the years and keep a stash of candy cane seeds and magic elf fertilizing sprinkles in them to give to friends with kids who are enthralled by the idea of growing candy cane seeds. It wouldn't bother me at all if you started to do the same.

Just keepin' the faith alive, my friends.

I hope you're surrounded by friends and family over the holiday, and enjoy a time that is filled with joy and light, humor and wonder, and a little bit of faith and magic.

Below you'll find a playlist for every holiday mood, click on the one that suits you and enjoy!

Feeling Jazzy? Check out the Jazzy Little Christmas playlist:
Jazzy Little Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Wanting to impress the grandparents with something more refined? Try the Classical Christmas playlist instead:
Classical Christmas by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

And finally, here's a playlist with a bit of kick! I call this one Smells Like Christmas Spirit:
Smells Like Christmas Spirit by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's My Party, I Can DJ If I Wanna

It's not easy being a Sagittarius, lemme tell ya.

Being born anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas can pretty much guarantee that you get one gift that covers both holidays. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "Happybirthdaymerrychristmas!" I'd probably have enough saved up to get new double pane windows for my house.

Which reminds me. Another downfall of being a December baby? This might not be such a big issue when you're a kid, but as an adult I have a hard enough time thinking of items to put on my Christmas wish list (at least things that cost under eight thousand dollars, but having to come up with more ideas for my birthday list too? It sends me over the edge every year, although lately people who really know and love me just bring me a bottle of cheap champagne or expensive vodka.

Another problem I've been complaining about for years is the fact that going out to eat dinner with friends on my birthday has become next to impossible because either all the good establishments are booked for parties on my birthday, or all my friends are booked with their own holiday office parties.

My efforts to get Christmas to step aside and move to another month have been fruitless. Christ just won't budge his mass for little ol' me.

When I was a kid, I was jealous that my little sister, a Leo, always had fun August outdoor birthday parties with lawn games and slip 'n slides, while all of mine were indoors and very happybirthdaymerrychristmassy. In addition, half of my friends were missing because they were sick with whatever runny nose-cough-sore throat-vomit malady was going around.  Let's call it the Bahum Bug.

Finally, when I was about 10 and a big snowstorm shut down my birthday party (I'm making this up, I have no idea what finally triggered this), I threw a tantrum over it. My parents sat me down and said, "Christmas is basically a big birthday party for Jesus. But everyone knows he wasn't actually born in December. And you don't have to celebrate your birthday in December either. Why don't you have your birthday party in April or May, when it's warm outside and everyone can play in the backyard?"

I know. My parents are brilliant.

So I did that, for a couple of years. And it felt like I actually had two birthdays instead of one.
But to be honest, I love being born on 12-12. In fact I was born on 12-12-66, and 6+6=12. For awhile there I was even under the impression that I was born at 12 o'clock (totally not true). So when I turned 12 on 12-12, I went back to celebrating myself on the 12th of the 12th month. A few years ago when my birthday fell on 12-12-12, it was a pretty big deal, although I also had myself convinced that I was 12+12+12 that year, a whole decade younger than I really was.

The other thing I've learned as I've started to embrace 12-12, is to just invite friends over to my house instead of trying to venture out into the big office party-filled world. And I've got to say that some of the best times I've had on my birthday have been those where I just stayed home, and for the most part stayed out of the room with the Christmas Tree. I hold court in my kitchen, open a few presents, over indulge in good food and bubbly, and don't even have to drive anywhere afterwards. It's glorious. Almost like…Christmas!

A few days ago my friend Monica asked me who was going to DJ my cozy birthday gathering this year. You already know who, dontcha? The Mistress of the Mix, that's who. And so, even if you've already got office party plans on my birthday, you can still tune in to the 12-12 birthday party playlist, pour yourself a glass of cheap champagne, and party with the Mistress. And you're always welcome to drop off gifts ahead of time at the office!

Here it is, the birthday girl's party playlist. 48 songs for 12-12-2014.
48 by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. Jim The Jinn - DePhazz
  2. Mambo Craze - DePhazz
  3. Uptown Funk - Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson
  4. Don't Stop Til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson
  5. Got To Get You Into My Life - Earth Wind & Fire
  6. Good Feeling - Flo-Rida
  7. Bang Bang Bang - Mark Ronson
  8. Birthday - Selena Gomez
  9. Let Me Be Him - Hot Chip
  10. Call Me The Breeze - John Mayer
  11. Hayloft - Nickel Creek
  12. Rabid Animal - Lake Street Dive
  13. Funky Vodka - TJF
  14. The Whip - Locksley
  15. Uh - Fujiya & Miyagi
  16. Brick House - The Commodores
  17. You Sexy Thing - Hot Chocolate
  18. Good Times - Chic
  19. Short Skirt/Long Jacket - Cake
  20. Once In A Lifetime - Talking Heads
  21. Ride On/Right On - Phosphorescent
  22. Sexomatic Venus Freak - Macy Gray
  23. Planet Claire - B-52s
  24. You Don't Know Me - Bend Fold & Regina Spektor
  25. L'Amour - Rouge Rouge
  26. Toujour L'Amore
  27. Waters of March - Sergio Mendes
  28. Arrastao - Ursula 1000
  29. The Golden Age - Asteroids Galaxy Tour
  30. Yo, Deejay - Jah Sound
  31. Over & Over - Hot Chip
  32. I Know You Want Me - Pitbull
  33. Back in Time - Pitbull
  34. Come Get It Bae - Pharrell
  35. Valerie - Amy Winehouse & Mark Ronson
  36. Dangerous - Big Data
  37. It's My Birthday -
  38. Sexy Back - Justin Timberlake
  39. Get Lucky - Daft Punk feat. Pharrell
  40. In These Shoes - Kirsty MacColl
  41. Secrets - Mary Lambert
  42. Happy Birthday - Altered Images
  43. Happy Birthday Valerie - Birthday Song Crew
  44. Satisfy My Soul - Bob Marley
  45. So Nice - Bebel Gilberto
  46. Close Your Eyes - Bebel Gilberto
  47. Tudo Bem - Trio Mocoto
  48. Latazz - Funky Lowlives