Cleverly concealed in this week's junk mail and holiday catalogs was "Tips to Ease Holiday Stress" from one of my son's service agencies. This woman shops for holiday dinners in October, gifts in July, and sits back in November and relaxes. Must be nice. My version is different. I am a mother with one severely disabled adult son, a Labrador with puppy brains, and a small but mean cat. Divorced, working 7/24, and paid through InHome Support Service (IHSS), and it's not easy either. There is no overtime, no benefits (well, now, they give us health insurance for $72 a month), and there's no retirement or disability or unemployment. I get through the holidays by ignoring them. It works for me.

For the holiday dinners, well, let me tell you about last year. Right after the Guejito/Witch fire the stove sprung a leak, propane, and every day when we returned home, my son would sit down and then throw up. I had headaches every day that I attributed to the ash and smoke, and my sense of smell had gone with the winds. Finally I got around to lying on the floor and looking at the pilot light in the oven. It was out, and wouldn't stay lit, so there was a constant leak of propane. The stove might well have been older than I am. The good news is that we didn't blow the house up.

The landlord replaced the stove two or three times, and did the propane conversion himself. That produced flames in the oven about 12-15 inches tall, up both sides. Quite the light show, and there's nothing like flame-broiled apple pie. He asked if I really needed an oven. About the time we were on the fourth stove, the landlord left on a cruise. He left the stove in the middle of the house, unhooked, for Sears to pick up or repair. I had a hissy-fit with Sears and told them if they didn't come and pick up their )!!* stove, I would personally bring it down to the store, one piece at a time. They came and picked up their stove, in the rain, that night. So that's the upside of anger. You have to express yourself, and if the product doesn't work in the first place, it's probably never going to be right, so return it, ASAP.

I borrowed money from a friend in San Diego, went to Hope Depot, bought the cheapest gas stove they had, rented the truck, and bought a case of beer for the lads at the bottom of the hill to help me move it off the truck. The next day the propane company sent two guys who did the conversion in about 15 minutes. It had taken the landlord four hours per stove, times two or three, plus a lunch break. He was not worth the money. The propane guys only charged $45. This was after Thanksgiving. Somewhere during the week, perhaps it was between stove number three or four, I tossed the turkey into the freezer, where it stayed until August. My friend took us out to dinner for Thanksgiving. God bless her. It's good to have friends.

So in August, during the dog days, I thought I might be thankful enough to put a decent meal on the table. That turkey was well on its way to becoming an albatross. Everytime I opened the freezer, there it was, getting freezer burn. We had turkey, there was potatoes, salad, wine for the cook, and a Julian apple pie. What more could you want in August, when it was 90 degrees? Iced tea? I decided I didn't like turkey that much, at least in August. The cat and the Labrador would argue the point. We also bought 50 pounds of oatmeal that August, to get us through the winter. That was a good buy.

It saves a great deal of money if you simply give up shopping for gifts. I did buy my cousin a cookbook in September. It will suffice for her birthday gift and Christmas. We are of an age, and there aren't that many relatives left, that a gift isn't needed, but is nice. So there won't be any standing in the holiday lines or post Thanksgiving sale madness. I no longer care. There is no budget in this family. You can see how well budgets have worked for the state of California. I might spend that economic stimulus check paying the filing fees for bankruptcy. The federal government gives, and the federal government takes away. Ask the Native Americans if you don't believe me.

We're spending November waiting to see Gov. Arnold drop the ax on IHSS. We might take a 22% drop in family income, what with the proposed cuts in SSI and IHSS. So I guess I ought to be grateful for having a job at all. But I'm not grateful enough to cook a turkey. Well, there will be a quart of eggnog, with a bit of rum in it. My son's dental coverage will likely be lost because of Medi-Cal cuts, so if he has teeth to chew with in four or five years, hey, we'll try this Thanksgiving thing again. Also on Arnold's table are cuts to hearing, speech, eye exams, glasses, and podiatrist. Arnold sets such a fine table.

December is my son's birthday month. We try and have a celebration for that, and then there's the matter of the Christmas tree. He called it a "tree tree" as opposed to a simple tree, when he used to talk, before he went to school and quit talking. That was twenty years ago. Last year there was no Christmas, and no tree. When you are surrounded by blackened forests, it's hard to justify cutting down a tree. Wouldn't have mattered much, because it isn't a Christmas tree without a train going around it. That's his true passion, trains. Because he's not particularly cognizant of dates, at least that I can tell, I tried to fake out Christmas. We house-sat my dog's girlfriend, a golden retriever, the week between Christmas and New Years. We "borrowed" their tree -- but there was no train, and the presents were gone, and they weren't for my son, so I didn't really call this a successful fake out. He knew. You just knew that he knew. And that he probably wondered if his mother had finally lost it. Yeah, this last Christmas was right up there with the year I bought a satsuma tangerine tree instead of a Christmas tree. He was not impressed then, either. Some years are going to be better than others.

So this year, I hope your Thanksgiving and Christmas or holidays or Solstice is happy. And that you have gratitude and peace in your heart. It doesn't really matter how you celebrate it, but try for a sense of humor. Don't let the relatives get you down, and try not to blow the kitchen up. If you do, make it a big enough bang to light up the sky on New Year's Eve. We'll be watching.

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ShawnMichel Nov. 18, 2008 @ 12:04 a.m.

My best to you. It sounds as if you've had a tough go of it. My very best to your son as well.

God willing, the fires v3.0 up in LA are on their way out. What a nightmare. I'm looking forward to a quiet, wet, peaceful Christmas.



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