Carolyn Hax Live: Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2019 (Dec 13)

Dec 13, 2019

The Holiday Hootenanny chat is one of The Washington Post's most beloved annual traditions — the holiday-themed edition of Carolyn Hax Live. It started way back in 2000, and has been going ever since.

Want more? Sit back and review some of our favorite stories from years past:
Hootenany of Holiday Horrors 2018
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2017
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2016
Hootenanny of Holiday Horrors 2015

Follow Carolyn Hax on Twitter (@CarolynHax) and Facebook.

Want answers now? Search past Carolyn Hax live chats and find answers to your questions even if she is offline by clicking here.

Hi everybody! I've been at the queue for three hours now, + or -, and haven't gotten through all the Hoot material. You all outdid yourselves.

I will start with some regular Q and A then get to the party. I might take a 15 minute intermission before I start to try to read some more, and get the goats in my queue.

What should I get my mother-in-law's affair partner in order to have the best Hoot story for next year?

Your father-in-law?

My 86 year old father has had a two year long email correspondence with his old high school girlfriend. He writes to her at least once a day, sometimes more. He shares information about us kids and his grandkids, which is none of her business, and says things that are a bit more than just friendly chatting. He leaves his email open so I've read a few if them when I've been at their house for holidays. ( I know, I know). The kicker is that he's been happily married to my Mom for more than 60 years. My mom is starting to suffer from slight mental decline, and I think he is lonely. It feels like he is having an emotional affair with this woman. My sisters and I are pretty irritated. We want him to knock off the emailing, or at the very least not talk about us kids. Is there anything we can do?

Yes. You can exercise the compassion to leave him alone. 

I understand all of your hard feelings, I do. I feel for your mom especially, for the obvious reason of her longtime spouse's wandering affections, but mostly since I think we can all agree that's a terrifying prospect, to be at the beginning of a mental decline process and therefore probably lucid enough often enough to understand what's in store. I also understand your bristling at shared information about your family.

But.

The stuff he's telling is stuff you wouldn't object to his telling his, say, fishing buddy as they stood in a stream all day, right? So let it go.

And, he's a bit into what will likely become the toughest and loneliest phase of his life, most likely, all as he fails to get any younger himself. Let him enjoy his person, his outlet, without any added guilt burden of his kids' disapproval.

If you think it's important to, then you can ask him to be more discreet and not leave his email open. 

 

 

For some reason, my loud, raucous, extended family all likes to poke fun at the expense of my sweet, shy, quiet husband. I don't know why he's singled out, but every year he just ends up being the lightning rod for my brothers' dirty jokes and my dad and uncle's drunken nicknames. My husband takes it in stride, but it's beginning to irritate me. It'd be one thing if it were good-natured, but some of the things they say are pretty mean-spirited. I know I can't control my family, but short of downing a ton of eggnog, is there anything I can do to keep myself from going ballistic on them? I already asked them to tone it down and they all just laughed at me.

You can stop going. It sounds cruel to keep asking him to subject him to this.

Unless your husband doesn't want to stop going? He might not be upset at all.  And if so, then it's time to see this as your issue, and therefore yours to face. Holding it in until your filters break isn't the answer. One pass at "ask[ing] them to tone it down" is fine for what it is, but I suspect it was at least somewhat disingenuous. You don't want them to "tone it down," you're to the point of taking personal offense at their using your husband, the person you chose out of all the people, for sport. You see their attacks as attacking you. Rightly.

So, own that. Say it clearly and calmly, attach a consequence you're willing to follow through with, and then follow through as needed.

Do give your husband fair warning before to take this on, since his feelings are likely on the line as well. (Or not, but he deserves a chance to say for himself which is the case.)

 

Another option in the event your husband is truly fine with your family (which seems unlikely, but still possible) is for you to try to see the whole thing through his eyes.

A few years ago, my new year's resolution was to try one new activity (literally anything!) each month. I think this could be a good idea for looking for a hobby to try. They can range from free to cheap to expensive, get you out of the house or you can do some on your couch, some end up taking longer than a month, some are probably lifelong goals. At best you will find a hobby or 3 you are passionate about. After all you'll never know if you love underwater basket weaving until you give it a try, right? At worst, you will learn some new skills, have something interesting to talk about, meet interesting people, and (I love this part) appreciate the skill and dedication that a lot of these things take. For some inspiration, here are a few things I have tried, or are on my list for next year: -Horseback riding (trotting is harder than it looks!) -Learning how to draw in perspective (free video lessons online) -skateboarding ($20 craigslist find, I can only get myself down the street but it's fun!) -Driving a boat (I was terrified and hated it at first, now I absolutely love it) -ice skating (next year!) -learning a new language (ongoing...) -photography class (next year) Or maybe in the end you will find that trying new things is your passion :)

Love this, thank you.

Please help me figure out how to talk to my elderly mother about how long she comes for the holidays.  It sounds absurd, but I just can't figure out what to say without hurting her feelings and/or throwing my family under the bus.  She is very old and old school, and when it comes to a dinner, my family is fine on best behavior, but with longer visits that doesn't work.  She is a quiet, helpful person, who thinks of herself as a very low maintenance guest, which is mostly true.  When it's just the two of us, I enjoy her company (though I do feel relieved when she leaves), but my husband and children chafe at her formal, old fashioned ways.  We are a family who thinks farting is hysterical. She does not. That's kind of it, in a nutshell. When she visits, everyone in my family makes themselves scarce and people are much shorter tempered.  I can deal with that over a weekend most of the time, but not for the 10 days she's planning to come this Christmas. Plus, I want my husband and kids to enjoy the holiday week together, not run for the hills. I do want her to come, but not for as long. I need to tell her some semblance of the truth; telling her we have holiday parties, etc., doesn't work -- she is fine staying home alone for a few evenings, or often thinks she would be welcome too, if she knows the hosts (often true. our friends love her). My husband enjoys having people visit generally, so she knows that we're comfortable having houseguests who stay a while. Suggestions?

Why don't you say to her instead that your family is an unruly mob and can't maintain their best Grandma-friendly behavior for a full 10 days--so you're offering her a choice, between a shorter visit or a full-on Wild Kingdom experience for at least half of a 10-day hitch?

I have a holiday dilemma. I am the second of six children, all in their 60's. Traditionally, my baby sister has a Christmas day open house. She lives 90 minutes away, and I go every year. Every living relative I have will be there, save one. Our oldest sister is abrasive and self-centered. It is draining to be with her. She will not come this year because she is unwilling to drive at night. I understand this decision. Yesterday, I go an email from her offering to pay me to drive her to the party. Public transportation or ride-sharing is not an option here. She lives 45 minutes from me, so picking her up would add a lot of time to my drive. I do not really want to agree to chauffeur her to and from the party, yet some things must be done "for the day's sake" as Tiny Tim's mother says in "A Christmas Carol". She does have another invitation to Christmas dinner at a friend's, so she won't spend the day alone. My dear sweet husband says, "I'll support whatever you want to do." While this is great, it doesn't really help me. What are your thoughts?

Can't your sister drive to you during daylight hours of party day, and ride with you to the party later, then back to your home to stay overnight, leaving in her own car the following morning?

Adding 90 minutes to an already three-hour (same day, yes?) round trip is significant enough to warrant a Plan B  like this. Or Plan C, car service, which is expensive but tends to be more available than ride shares.

 

Hi Carolyn, I had been warned that when I had a baby, I would cease to be "Nicki" to the people around me and would simply become "[Kid]'s Mom." I knew it was coming, yet I was not prepared when it did! My son is 18 months old and is the only grandkid on both sides. I have tried to remain the multifaceted person I was before motherhood, but as far as our families are concerned I am either the nice lady who takes care of their beloved grandson (on good days) or the evil gatekeeper who keeps them from spoiling him rotten (on bad days). This past Thanksgiving was especially alienating for me -- I wanted to catch up with relatives I hadn't seen in a while, and I had cool career news to share, but I could not get anyone to have a conversation with ME that didn't revolve around the same two or three kid-related topics. I do understand that this will die down eventually, but I might go nuts before then and another holiday is right around the corner. Is there any hope I can successfully insist that they let me be Nicki again?

Did you insist unsuccessfully? I.e., did you ask? "Motherhood is great. I'd just love to talk about something else right now--it's the topic that ate my life."

This won't help you with clueless people or people who are looking for evidence to support their dislike for you, but anyone else will, I hope, appreciate the clear guidance. I expect a lot of people seeing a newish parent for the first time in a while feel obligated to ask you about your child and how parenthood is going. Frame this in your mind as letting them all off the hook.

I have kids age 8 months and 2 years, so when a childless friend told me she had been sleep deprived, I just laughed and told her she doesn't know what sleep deprived is. She didn't say anything about it but then later sent me an email detailing health problems she's had related to insomnia and telling me she thought I was insensitive. I replied, "You're acting like this is personal about you. I'm just telling you, no parent wants to hear a non-parent whine about not sleeping." She didn't reply to that and I had basically forgotten about it, but I saw her yesterday and she was very cold to me. Do you think I should address this with her again? It's not that I'm unsympathetic if she's really having problems sleeping, it's just that it's fairly ridiculous for her to compare what she's going through to what parents of young children go through.

Yes, because parents of young children are the only ones whose experiences are actually valid! Yes!

Are your kids named Holier and Thou? 

Holy headsmack.

Not only were you awful to this friend, but you also took her patient explanation as an opportunity to be awful to her all over again! There is no suffering Olympics, no gold medal to be won, there is only suffering.

And *I'm* just telling *you* (ugh!) that no suffering person wants to hear another person dismiss their suffering as a ludicrous yeah-whatever WHINE. You called a sick friend a *whiner.* And you did this even though you have firsthand knowledge, apparently, that sleep deprivation is a form of torture!

But instead of tapping into that to feel some empathy for your friend, you used it against her. Hard.

Please work on your empathy skills, stat. And "address this" with  your friend "again" only if you're prepared to deliver an abject and heartfelt apology for treating her pain as nothing more than the "ridiculous" pretender to your own. You can tell her you responded so badly because you, too, are sleep-deprived and are clearly not at your best at putting 2 and 2 together.

This is not necessary to my argument, but I will spell it out anyway: You are not sleeping well because you are caring for little people who do not yet sleep all night without needing your care. This is not only a choice you made, but also (in the vast majority of cases) a temporary state of things, after which you will be better able to rest. It is not your body betraying to to the point that it's denying you your ability to do what you desperately need, and not responding to efforts to fix the problem.

Wow.

 

My husband's mother is coming to our town to spend Christmas with us. I just found out she has booked a hotel for her stay, which surprised me because she stayed with us the last time she visited, and she always stays with her other children when she visits their cities. Hotels in our city are not cheap. I asked my husband why she doesn't want to stay with us, and I'm horrified by his answer. He says that the last time she came, I "stressed out" about her visit for days beforehand, and he doesn't want to put me/himself through that again. "Stressed out"???? He's referring to the fact that, wanting it to be nice for my mother-in-law, I put effort into cleaning, planning meals, and preparing the linens. I don't think I gave off the impression that I didn't want her to come, and I would have done the same for any VIP guest. I think he's really just upset because I disrupted HIS week (he of course is more comfortable with her and cares less about things like giving guests a clean towel). So what do I do now? Most of my communication with my MIL is through him, but I feel that I look like an unwelcoming daughter-in-law and I'm sure her feelings are hurt. Also, it may be too late for her to cancel her hotel reservation, but I hate for her to miss out on being with us or to have to pay for her own dinners and things. What is the least awkward way to repair the damage my husband has done?

1. Ask your husband if he prefers to have his mother stay off-site. Could be he used you as his excuse. If so, use this as a good opportunity to discuss the marital politics of his throwing you under the bus without checking with you first.

2. If he likes having his mom stay with you, then call your MIL--after notifying your husband you are going to do so--and say you and her son have a very different idea of "stressed out." Say he sees putting out fresh towels as stressful preparation when you see it as a staple of having guests, and you enjoy having her as a guest, so please come. I.e., his turn to take the fall. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn! What phrases do you have for a 40-something woman who wants her in-laws to respect her body autonomy? We'll be spending Christmas with my husband's extended family, a group I am not close to by any means, with the exception my MIL and FIL. But his whole family is touchy-feely and certain people get offended if I don't hug them and make comments like, "Oh, you don't want to hug me, huh?" and pout about it. No, I don't want to hug my husband's uncles, they make me uncomfortable, but I resent how they make it seem like I'm the problem when I say, "no hugs," or, "hi, let's not hug."

Try this:

The problem isn't that his family is offended and pouting, it's that you're upset about their being offended and pouting.

Right? You have every right to say, "Let's not hug." I think it's great you do--not everyone has the presence of mind (or presence of spine) in the moment to be so assertive in the face of potentially awkward consequences.

So please just finish the badassery job and let them pout all they want. 

I.e., channel Amy Poehler in this "Bossypants" excerpt LINK. 

Many of your commenters seem to think your chat column reruns are deliberately edited to obscure important details and thus rouse strong opinions, leading to more clicks on your column and comments section. In other words, that you are deliberately skewing to manipulate the audience. Would you address this? Do you personally select and edit the chats that subsequently run as columns?

I personally select and edit the chats that subsequently run as columns, and so I can personally attest that any edits I make are to clean up the chat copy for publication. Please send my thanks to those thinking the worst of my motives.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I are hosting a small party for New Year’s Eve this year. In past years, we’ve usually gone to parties at either “Zack’s” or “Matt’s” house. Before I started planning, I asked Zack (whom we’re closer to) if he was planning a party yet, and if not, would he mind if I hosted this year? He said he had no plans yet aside from a brief exchange with Matt, and that he would be happy to come over, but that it would be helpful if we also invited Matt, so I did. Now I’m getting pressure from Zack to also include people from each of their usual guest lists. Their parties are usually bigger and louder than what I enjoy, and the whole point of hosting was to have a smaller event of people my husband and I are close to - not to transfer their party to my house. We all have some overlapping friend groups, but now I’m being expected to invite people I don’t even know. Am I in the wrong? Should I have left New Year’s Eve alone?

Maybe. But you didn't, so you have to deal with what you've got. Zack has no business pressuring you, obviously, and you're welcome just to have the party you want to have and let everyone else figure out their own stuff.

However: If you think of this not as one party but as one year in a continuum of friend-group New Year's celebrations, and if you want to keep from feeling like the people who set its unraveling in motion, then you might want to encourage Matt/Zack to have their usual party and you'll just start yours early for people who want to go to both. Would that work?

Here we go again. My husband's family has two nephews to buy Christmas presents for, our two boys. Our older was and is the darling of all my in-laws and has many interests they share. Our younger is simply neither of those. Each year most of them give our older son flashier and more expensive presents, and younger clued into this last year. (He's 13.) From the questions I'm fielding from in-laws about gifts, this year looks to repeat. Think fancy bluetooth speaker vs. bean bag chair, at a $100 difference. Even my MIL gives them different amounts of cash for birthdays, rationalizing the older needs it more. Argh! Admittedly I was raised by parents who saw equal amounts spent as fair. Husband was not, and is loathe to make waves. If younger son was unfazed by repeat unequal gifts, I'd bite my tongue (and slip in some extra cash to make that equal), but he's not. What to do? Thank you!

I see two choices, really: Tell the in-laws about the effects of their unequal giving, as you've perceived them; or tell your kids that you think what the in-laws are doing--showing siblings unequal attention--is terrible, common but terrible, and it breaks your heart. However, before you decide how to deal with it, you'd like to know how they feel about it. Don't ask them what to do, just how they feel. and don't just ask your younger, ask both of your boys, because favoritism hurts both. They may surprise you with an answer that makes more emotional sense than anything you'd assume or undertake on their behalf.

Many years ago, a close friend’s teenaged daughter was hit by a car (driven by a classmate) and killed while attending her town’s nighttime Holiday Street Walk. She and her friends had been in a festive mood before they stepped into traffic and the unthinkable happened. Fast forward to today...my granddaughter is 13 and wants to attend events with her friends. My daughter and I can’t forget what happened to our friend, and feel my granddaughter lacks the experience to be out and about downtown at night with a bunch of kids. How do we keep her safe without being over-protective? You are a master at the “fine-line” so we await your advice. Happy Holidays, Carolyn. Keep up the great work!

Oh my gosh that's awful.

I understand your hesitation.

I don't think, however, that what is essentially a freak accident in the past is a solid guide for future permission.

What is reasonable for the age group is reasonable, that's the guide we use, and then we make exceptions for or against based on our child's particular capabilities (or limitations) relative to the age cohort. 

Also factor in that all kids lack experience at everything new they run across, because that's how things work, and every kid has to have a first time out at a street fair, a first time driving a car on actual roads, a first time being home alone when someone knocks at the door, a first time walking to school or a friend's house. You just have to know the kid, get comfortable with the actual nature of any risk, and make choices accordingly on when to let go.

I am one of those who have questioned how chats are edited. They have been better lately but I have noticed in the past some things are edited out that really do change the letter (maybe not in your opinion) in a way that reads it was written to be as incendiary as possible, especially when the topic of the letter is guaranteed to bring out the crazies: weddings, in-law problems, religion, etc. and drive up clicks/ comments.

No, not in my opinion, or at least not with any intent. Unless you're reading them somewhere other than The Post, where I don't have any say in the editing.

Now that I've had time to sit with it, I actually find the idea of my windy exegeses on host gifts and hug permission as "click bait" kind of hilarious. 

By the way, we're mid-debate (me, producer, producer's team mates) on whether to publish some of these stories. How do you feel if animals are actually harmed in the process? 

For the specific concern about being hit by a car, your daughter is most likely safer with a large group of friends than alone or with just one or two friends or even with just her parents. A large group of people is far more visible and conspicuous than one or two people, and drivers are more likely to notice them and stop in time, and to drive more cautiously when there are large groups of people acting festively near the road. Also, when your daughter is out and about in a context where she lacks experience, it's better for her to be in a large group, and it's better for her to be in an area like downtown where there are plenty of eyes on the street, plenty of businesses a person can duck into if they need help, etc.

Sounds right, thanks.

I was the younger sibling growing up who got the less valuable presents because I didn't share family interests. I received two left boots, as my only Christmas present, for multiple years while my brother got expensive gaming systems. Carolyn's advice is spot on: kids remember who values them, and showing you care how this affects them now will mean a great deal in the long run.

I would buy your granddaughter and her friends some of those fun, light-up colored bulb necklaces you can get at the dollar store. They would have a blast stringing each other with multiple necklaces, maybe even light up mittens and headbands. It would be festive and your ulterior motive of making them more visible to drivers would be pretty subtle.

Great idea.

Thanks for taking my question! You’re right - Zack was thinking of it as a continuum and I wasn’t because I live over 30 miles away from both Zack and Matt, and so I (falsely) thought that this would imply a different group of people.

Yeah, sounds like Zack and Matt should co-throw their own party still.

Where do I even start?

Here!

 

Pops's Night Before Christmas

2019

 

Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the House,

Not a creature was stirring,

In the Senate?  Not even a mouse.

 

The stockings were hung,

By the chimney with care.

Held on with scotch tape,

So the nylon won’t tear.

 

The children were nestled,

All snug in one bed.

Tommy, Mildred, Bobby, Susan,

and on top Fred.

 

Ma wore a kerchief,

I wore a cap.

Before settling in,

We each took a look at the kids.

 

When out on the lawn,

There arose such a clatter.

With difficulty I,

Kept control of my bladder

 

Away to the potty,

I managed to scamper,

Being careful. Of course.

Not to step on a Pamper.

 

The moon shone brightly

On the new fallen snow.

Same rhyming crisis this year,

As last, as you know.

 

But what to my wondering

eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh

And eight tiny reindeer.

 

With a little old driver

So lively and quick

I thought for a moment,

Can it be St. Nick?

 

More rapid than eagles

Hill staffers they ran

Leaving the hearings,

As fast as they can.

 

In front was the cabinet

All riding on deer.

And that’s Devin Nunes,

Bringing up the rear

 

To the top of the porch,

To the top of the wall

Gotta keep on running,

right past the mall!

 

As dry leaves before

The wild hurricane fly,

Another tough rhyme

I won’t even try.

 

Approaching the housetop,

The deer started to flare

Oh good lord!

Is that orange hair!!

 

And then, in a twinkle,

I heard a big thump.

What could it be?

No! Not Donald Trump!

 

As I drew in my head,

And was raiding the pantry.

Thank God! It was Santa!

making his entry.

 

Down the chimney?

Let’s think about that.

Flue’s kind of skinny,

And Santa, he’s fat. 

 

His clothes were all sooty,

His booties were too.

No chimney sweep this year,

Supersized Santa just cleaned the flue.     

 

A bundle of toys,

He’d flung on his back. 

“Watch out, Santa!!

Your sacroiliac!!!”

 

His eyes, how they twinkled,

His dimples, how dimply.      

His cheeks were like roses,

Besides being pimply.

 

His droll little mouth,

Was drawn up like a bow.   

His nose, from fibbing,

had continued to grow

 

The stump of his pipe,

He clamped tight in his teeth  

Top teeth on top,

Bottom ones beneath.

 

He had a broad face,

It was far from trim.             

After tonight,

It’s off to the gym.

 

He was chubby and plump,

A right jolly old dude.

He used to fart loudly,

How terribly crude!

 

He turned his head,

And twisted his neck.

From spinal stenosis.

He’s a bit of a wreck.

 

He said not a word

But went straight to his task

In between loads,

A sip from his flask.

 

He then lay a finger,

aside of his nose

he always does that,

whenever he blows.

 

He sprang to his sleigh,

At his age, he’s springing?

Believe that, and you’ll think,

Maybe opera he’s singing?

 

But I heard him exclaim,

As he squirmed in his pants,

“Next year’s election?

Do we have a chance?”

 

A Hallmark Christmas RomCom Sometimes, as our beloved relatives age, the filter between their brain and their mouths gets a lot more porous. Years ago, my grandfather, who had served in WWII had reached that point and he sat in the living room at Christmas and told stories. One of those stories was “how I came to marry your grandmother.” You see, after the war, my good looking grandfather was apparently in high demand among the young women he knew, and his eye fell on my grandmother. He asked her out, and for their first date, took her to a motel. Where he could not get it up. Being a religious boy, this was a sign from God and he was meant to marry this one. And he did. Yep. My grandmother was the type of girl you took to a motel for a first date, and the only reason my grandparents got married was because my grandfather had some performance problems. Just the feel good family Christmas sharing everyone wants at the holidays. Not surprisingly, his family never really warmed to her. -Nostalgic

Five years ago my ex-husband and I were spending our first Christmas together. We had moved for his job and couldn't afford to travel back home so it was just the two of us. Money was tight but I had managed to scrimp and save $350 and I suggested we spend $100 on decorations and food, and split the rest and buy each other one or two nice gifts. He readily agreed. By watching sales and nabbing a groupon I was able to get him three nice gifts, including a video game he'd coveted for months. He only got me one gift but the box was big and I was excited to see what he'd gotten me. It turned out to be a power tool that he said was for me because he'd use it to build the shelving unit I'd been wanting. He never did. So glad he's my ex.

Did you keep the power tool in the divorce ... from the power tool? (This could get confusing.) 

No, I have no naked people in this story, or drunk argumentative relatives...just a daughter trying to demonstrate how to make gravy. My mother never made gravy. Truthfully, neither did her mother, so she never learned. Always those packages of gravy mix, or even canned. No one ever complained(okay, maybe half of them were already filled with Irish Canadian holiday cheer). The only one who shook her head every year was my Scottish great aunt. She worked “in service” as a cook. She probably could have made it herself, but the cardinal rule in our house was her job was cooking. No need to get her to do it on a holiday. Anyways, I had been living away from home several years, and had learned to make gravy from a Good Housekeeping cookbook. I told my mother I would make the gravy. For some reason this really got my mother on edge...she just was so nervous about it. Anyways, I start to make the roux with the turkey drippings, and add in the broth. As is the case with gravy, it started out a little lumpy, but I knew I could deal with this with a little whisking and more broth. Not my mother. Hovering over me, she said “no way am I serving lumpy gravy to Auntie May”. I told her I had it under control, but she snatched the pot from the stove to put it through a wire drainer... I remember screaming...NOooooooo...as she drained all the gravy down the kitchen drain and was left with only the lumps... She looked at me, looked at the lumps, and opened the pantry and took out the gravy packages... “I knew we would need these...” We never told the story when my great aunt was in the room, but it was brought up every Christmas.

It's true every year... All I want to hear at Christmas is goats singing beloved Christmas Carols. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1K_2u71AILJf0Trba9HZgchij2YDKIsu

My Christmas is pretty much down to this now, and I'm okay with that.

Please share the third clue Susan acted out. PLEASE.

If the reader who submitted the story about "Naked Susan" during last year's Hoot is reading this, then I think I speak for most readers when I ask: what on earth was the clue???

A few years ago it was my turn to host Christmas and I went all out on the dinner: I made a huge spread including both a ham and a turkey. My father in law asked how I prepared the turkey and I told him I brined it. He somehow heard that as "burned it" and proceeded to warn everyone not to eat it. No matter how many times my husband and I explained it to him, he stubbornly stuck to his belief that I had burnt the turkey. Whenever anyone praised the turkey he would stage whisper about how kind they were to say that and spare my feelings. It's my turn to host again this year and I'm serving lasagna and beef tenderloin. When my father in law heard that, he told me, "That's so expensive, try not to burn it." He then suggested I let my husband, who regularly burns toast, cook it. 

He sounds lovely.

Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m reminded of an exciting start to the holiday season from three years ago. It was the start of the annual Great Cookie Baking Extravaganza, which consisted of multiple batches of yummy treats that were sent out to all our friends and family, and finished up with a made-from-scratch gingerbread house. To handle the volume of expected treats, I had bought a fresh, and very large, container of cinnamon. On the very first batch, I mishandled the container, and in a disastrous move knocked it off the counter. In an even more disastrous move, I tried to catch it before it hit the floor. But alas, in my dive to save it, I succeeded only in hitting it at juuuuuust the right angle to send it flying—end over end—across the kitchen. But in the most disastrous move of all, it sailed at the perfect arc to clip the overhead ceiling fan, which of course was on. The net result was that in less than a second, the *entire* kitchen was suffused in a choking, near-impenetrable fog of cinnamon. It was *everywhere*, and my wife and I spent the entire evening vacuuming up the mess. I will note that three years later, our Dyson Cordless still smells like cinnamon every time we use it… we’ve been known to run it as a quickie air freshener every now and again. I called my mom to vent, and she immediately trumped me with a horror story of her own. Days before, she was set to welcome out of town company… some old friends were back in town for the weekend, and were planning to stop by for coffee and dessert. My mom set out to make almond-vanilla bean pound cake with a bright, festive raspberry sauce. Sadly, she was running late, and was making the raspberry sauce at the last possible moment. In her haste to finish up, she didn’t fully seal the top on the blender, and when she started it up… KAPLOWIE! By the time she finally got the machine off, bright, festive raspberry sauce was everywhere—the countertops, the cupboards, the ceiling, the white dog… *everywhere.* It looked like a massacre. Worse, at that moment the doorbell rang, and she was forced to greet these longtime friends looking like she was (and I quote) “right out of the movie ‘Carrie.’”

Finally, some family harmony.

My favorite holiday memory is when me, my mom, my grandmother, and my great grandmother were all in the kitchen together getting dinner ready. My great grandmother told her daughter, "you're not doing it right, here let me show you." My grandmother turned to her daughter moments later and said, "you're not doing it right, here let me show you." My mother had spent all day telling me "you're not doing it right, here let me show you." Each time the criticism was met with a fresh round of "I know what I'm doing just back off and leave me alone!" It's the circle of criticism and it moves us all. One day I hope to have someone to tell "You're not doing it right, here let me show you" and get a "shove it" in response.

At which point the matriarchy will tell you you're not raising her right, and you will, kindly, write to us to share that.

I was in the Air Force and stationed overseas. I was very much looking forward to traveling back to the U.S. for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. My in-laws made reservations at a very fancy hotel with a ginormous spread. I was anticipating this feast like the kid in Christmas story was anticipating his Red Ryder bb gun. Dreaming of it. Refusing to eat anything the day prior in anticipation of the upcoming bounty I was to enjoy. Fourteen hour flight with family including young toddler in tow. We arrived just in time for the feast all according to plan. Hotel had overbooked and it was to be a 3-hour wait. My asshat brother-in-law decided to take charge and steer us all to a Sushi restaurant instead because they had "the best Sushi anywhere" and we just had to try it. Oh, I forgot to mention above, our 14 hour flight was from Japan.

The first time I hosted the family holiday celebration, I decided to go big. I thought it would be nice to have a goose instead of the usual turkey. I thought it smelled a bit, well, gamy, but it's game, right? So into the oven it went. After a little while, there was a distinct, um, je ne sais quoi, not just in our apartment. Soon it became obvious that something was very wrong. After just over an hour, I took the goose out of the oven, set it down, and all the meat fell off the bones. It was rotted through. No stores were open except 7-Eleven, and back then they didn't sell much real food. It didn't matter much, though, because we had to open all the doors and windows to air the place out, and it was freezing cold. We drank our dinner since no one wanted hot dogs. I am thankful the police didn't show up looking for a body.

That always makes it into my gratitude journal, too.

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Sorry, no one gets off that easy.

A friend of mine was put in charge of Christmas dinner at the ripe old age of 13 (with several younger sibs along for the ride) because her dad was on call at a hospital and mom was in labor. She had read about popcorn stuffing and thought she'd give it a try. The problem was that she missed the part about putting popped kernels in the cavity. She put two cups of unpopped kernels into the cavity and it took about two hours for the bird to explode. They scraped Christmas dinner off the inside of the stove.

[Do not try this in your in-laws' home.]

Please make this the title of the chat!

I'm already having it stenciled over my kitchen sink.

And tattooed on the small of my back.

The clue was in front of you all along! (It was naked. I did successfully get the point for the team, but the game ended as there was no way we could top that.) I can report that Susan was back in town for a family gathering recently. Sadly, no new naked stories.

Wait wait--but what was the whole thing? Naked City? Naked Gun? "Naked and the Dead" could have gotten ugly, Susan being both literal and uninhibited.

One of my paternal aunts was a bit of a recluse and sent the oddest Christmas gifts for my brother and me when we were little through young adulthood. Used airline socks, opened body care sets, etc. Everything had always clearly been at least a little used. She was not financially insecure, and we didn't have much of a relationship with her as she and my dad (her brother) never really got along, but a package of gifts showed up every year. The first year I brought a boyfriend home to Christmas, my aunt had thoughtfully sent something for him as well. He opened a plain white box to find a personal "massager" inside. There was awkward silence for a moment until my dad burst out, "She got him a vibrator!" Everyone lost it at that point, and my poor boyfriend laughed as well. I did recommend he toss the massager though given my aunt's penchant for giving used gifts.

This is almost as unpublishable but irresistible but unpublishable as the animal story. "Almost" being the operative word,

I don't exactly remember how this came about, but I was encouraged to submit this story to the hoot after mentioning it in the comments on some column or the other. Some years ago, one of us newly adult kids (I think it was me) attempted to host Christmas dinner and just completely botched the meal. You would think the story of this is what makes it hoot-worthy, but no. My parents took it in stride and hustled us out to a restaurant to get fed. THAT meal is the one that devolved when the subject somehow came around to flipping the bird and how to do it effectively. It must be done "with attitude". So there we sat in the middle of a decently nice restaurant over the course of a leisurely meal on Christmas day, with my father declaring that I had the appropriate hand attitude and instructing my younger sisters (~21 and ~14 at the time) in the fine art of how to correctly flip someone off. And evaluating their practice attempts. Repeatedly.

My kind of people.

The scene would have been priceless if each mother in the generational lineup had turned to her daughter and said that, and the youngest one in the lineup had just screamed that the nonsense ends with her.

Which is really just a way of telling them all *they're* doing it wrong, which is why this is freaking genius.

One year my (now ex) in-laws gave us a large, lavish 'cup' coffee maker, because it was too hard to use our little percolator when they visited. My (now ex) sister-in-law apparently knew about the gift, so gave us a large box of little coffee inserts to make a billion cups of coffee. Those were our only gifts from those two sides of the family. Neither of us drinks coffee. But, for a couple of years we had the joy of storing a large coffeemaker and box of coffee 'cups' and dragging them out for every in-law visit. To add joy to this, my parents were horrified we'd be so insensitive to the earth and our pocketbook by having such an expensive, plastic-waste contraption in our house. I had to get - at my expense - those little (plastic!) refillable cup filter gadgets for them to use, along with non-'cup' coffee. So we also stored an extra kind of coffee. Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la, la, la.

Now you just need them all to stop visiting you because they think your coffee sucks.

My mom let me know that for Christmas at her house, I would be sleeping on the floor of her bedroom so my nephew could have a bed. Me (49) thought nephew (5) would be better sleeping on the floor of his parent's room (my brother). I explained I was insulted, as she had designed her custom home so that "there was room for the whole family" (her words), but somehow there was not room for me. I asked what she would do if I were married. She said "I guess we would have built another bedroom." Here are the two solutions she came up with that would allow my nephew to have a bed: 1) I would share a bed with her and my dad would sleep on the sofa; 2) My sister's family (5 people) would go to a hotel. My dad apologized for all of this, but it took my brother's call to get her to knock it off. That worked only for one Christmas. We now have a new tradition of Grandma scheming horrible sleeping arrangements for me until a male relative tells her to can it.

She sounds lovely.

Before Thanksgiving dinner for our family of ~20, Uncle Mike put Shark Tales on the tube to entertain the kids. Once dinner was ready, Uncle Bill turned off the TV and asked everyone to gather around the table for dinner. After being seated, a few of the kids were still upset about the TV being turned off, so as a distraction tactic, Aunt Sandy started asking around the table, "What do you want Santa to bring you?" When she got to three-year-old "Tank" (so known for his size), he responded, "I hope Santa brings me a gun so I can shoot Uncle Bill."

Since I am perfect in every way, I offer my apologies for everyone else. Carry on.

That was just the right thing to say, thank you.

My husband decided to study for conversation to Judaism after we'd been married for more than ten years. I'm Jewish and didn't grow up celebrating Christmas; we'd done Christmas for him since we were married, and that year we decided we were done with that. Except....that was also the year our nieces were born (one from each of his siblings) and my in-laws ended their marriage after nearly 40 years. In October, my brother-in-law called to announce that the entire family was gathering at our house for Christmas because "you're centrally located" and because I always work Christmas, so this way "everyone can be there." (I'm a doc). My husband didn't want to say no, so we ended up with his parents, who couldn't be civil to each other, one six-month-old who woke up every two hours and whose parents couldn't agree on how to handle than, and one nine-month-old born to a single mom who resented the hell out of her sibling who had a co-parent. Also four dogs (two of ours, two visitors). They all arrived December 22nd. My grandfather died on December 23rd. I couldn't get off work to go the funeral, which was a plane flight away. On December 24th, I ended up taking my brother-in-law to the ER after he cut his finger badly enough to need stitches. The whole thing was so awful I told my husband I would NEVER spend Christmas with his family again. Fast-forward ten years. We now have a child who loves Christmas at Grammy's and I now have a Jewish partner at work so I don't have to work every Christmas. Against my better judgment, I agree to go to my mother-in-law's for the holiday - and end up riding in an ambulance to the ER with her after everyone got food poisoning from something they'd eaten before we arrived. NEVER AGAIN.

That's what you always say.

"By the way, we're mid-debate (me, producer, producer's team mates) on whether to publish some of these stories. How do you feel if animals are actually harmed in the process?" Wow, you guys get into some serious debates: are you throwing rodents at each other?

Whatever we have handy.

Many years ago I was planning my first wedding on Dec. 26 because my fiance and I had been living in another state, and we were planning to be back for the holidays and have our wedding. It was at my mother's house, and she was making all the food, including baking the cake—actually TWO cakes because she was from the South: a bride's cake and a groom's cake. (Incidentally, her birthday was Christmas Eve. She did not get much attention that year.) We had an order of groceries in at a kind of specialty grocery store for Christmas dinner, and also wedding food, as it all had to be picked up Christmas Eve. After cleaning most of the day, she went to pick it all up on Christmas Eve before their early closing time. Only half the groceries were in the order, and it was too late to get the rest. Here's what happened: my soon to be m-i-l had called the store to find out what was in the order. She decided that "we didn't need that much food" and canceled half of it. So the wedding menu had to be completely re-thought ( a mix of what had been planned for both days) and we had spaghetti for Christmas. My mother made the wedding food work. But it became more hard work at the last minute after all the planning she'd done. BTW, it was not a good marriage. I have a MUCH better m-i-l now.

She sounds lovely, though.

My MIL has a habit of trying new recipes for the very first time at major holidays/family events. One Thanksgiving, my SIL and I were both pregnant (cousins born 5 days apart - yay!) and both VERY sensitive to new/different/well-known-but-we-now-hate-them smells. With no prior experience, of any sort, with cooking outside her ethnicity, MIL attempts an Indian-spiced cranberry chutney. She clearly misread some instructions and poured vinegar into massive amounts of spices at very high heat which instantly vaporized creating a chili/turmeric/cardamom/garlic mustard gas situation in her open plan home which sent my SIL and me to refuge in the garage in 30 degree weather for over an hour while the house cleared. MIL huffily said our gagging and eye watering was "dramatic" and complained about the heat loss from open windows, but, everyone survived. The following year I happened across 'Cranberry Chutney' scented candles and bought her a few for her Christmas stocking as a let's-laugh-about-a-crazy -moment offering. No. Not amused. Not even a little. Threw them away in front of me. 'Cranberry chutney' is now a password amongst the siblings for not messing with MIL's holiday/family plans. As in "oh yeah, she's going to cranberry chutney that" or "this is cranberry chutney important to her."

Yes. Amused.

When I graduated college, I was unable to find a place to live that would allow dogs. So, I temporarily moved in with my parents along with Peanut, a Beagle mix I’d rescued. They were well aware of her spunk and personality, but perhaps not as much as they thought. To their defense, the only “bad” thing she ever did was if left alone with a newspaper, might tear it apart into little pieces; which when found we’d laugh and say, “looks like Peanut was reading the paper.” Mom and Dad had completed all the preparations for a large family holiday dinner, table set with fine china and silver, side dishes in the fridge, bakery spread out across the counters in covered dishes. The turkey came out of the oven, and they put it on the counter next to the sink to cool. With all in readiness, they had time to bring a tray of cookies over to a neighbor’s house. Peanut was a little dog, thus the name, maybe 20 pounds, about a foot tall. My folks knew how athletic she was, how she’d launch herself across the room and into my arms whenever I came home, but the thought of this sweet dog getting into real trouble (well, it never happened before). Mom came back from the neighbor’s and walked into the kitchen to find one side of the turkey cleaned to the bone. What to do? Of course, as the child of a depression mother, Mom carefully washed the turkey, and carved around the dog eaten area. “I saved the turkey” my Mom proudly stated when she later told me this. Dinner saved, my parents began to carry dishes into the dining room. There, on the dining room table where they’d placed the newspaper so Peanut wouldn’t “read it” was a dog poop! Apparently, so stuffed from the turkey (pun intended), Peanut needed to eliminate, and having been paper-trained as a puppy, the only newspaper in the house was on the dining room table where she’d jumped up to do her business (good dog, lol).

To the Great Power of the Universe: please, oh please, reveal unto your people the answer to the question that has plagued them for weeks: what was the charades clue that led Cousin Susan to strip naked? Amen.

More cowbell!!!

I work for lawyers who all receive at year end a multitude of gifts from vendors and outside counsel. As the bounty overflows, it is considered customary for them to put out the loot to share. I, not an attorney, put out a tin of cookies I brought from home. I put the cookies in a plastic bin at the end of the day and took the tin home with me to use for my own baking. I came in the next day to a colleague saying that the lead attorney had become irate and demanded to know who had taken the cookies because she had been waiting all day to have them and those are from a law firm to everyone how dare anyone take them! After an inquisition and office wide hunt for the cookies, leaving everyone nervous about possibly finding the culprit, one attorney finally find them in the plastic tub and our admin arrived to let them know that the cookies were in fact mine and not a gift. Alas, it was too late for they had turned on each other. Another attorney pointed out the one demanding cookies had boxes of chocolate on her desk that she was failing to share. In response, a paralegal yelled out that he was not sharing his Omaha steaks if that was indeed "how things are going to be." A third attorney now insists they draft a formal sharing policy since the services and vendors are being compensated by Company funds and not the individuals receiving the gifts.

This is like a Monty Python Batley Townswomen's Guild's re-enactment of American politics right now.

I'm sorry the answer is so anticlimactic. It really was just "naked." Which is why she had so much confidence that she had the perfect plan and we would get it immediately. I was telling my aunt (Susan's cousin) that I posted this to the Hoot and she wanted to know if I had properly told everyone how prudish her in-laws were. I'm not sure I did, so for the record, my grandparents were very much Not On Board with Public Nudity, but were lovely people who wouldn't hold a grudge. Susan never did see what the fuss was all about.

Nothing can tarnish the legend of Susan. Thank you, from all of us.

Several years ago I went to a friend's annual holiday party, during which there is a game played that has various names, "Dirty Santa" or "Yankee Gift Swap." It's the one where you get a number, pick a gift, and then someone with a higher number can "steal" your gift. There are rules about how many times a gift can be stolen before it's "locked," and becomes the property of the person who ends up with it. Anyway, I got what was considered a good number and once the game started going, I had my eye on a wine and cheese board. I have no idea why I got so attached to this thing, but it worked out such that I was able to steal it and it was locked. It was mine! But then someone took it, sheepishly saying his wife really wanted it. Apparently, half way through the game there had been a clarification around rules and how many times a gift can be stolen. I lost it. Hadn't heard the rule change and also yelled that rules can't change halfway through a game anyway. (did I mention I was few glasses of wine in at this point?) I started yelling at the guy, started yelling at the person MC-ing the game. I yelled, "this is BS!!" and stormed away. 10 minutes later I was super embarrassed by my behavior, apologized to the people I yelled at and the host (who thought it was hilarious, thank goodness), and slinked out of the party. This game takes place every year and I've voluntarily banned myself from it ever since. Not giving up the wine, though! Just keep me away from that game.

Last year I bought this gorgeous gold brocade and velvet tree skirt. It was too expensive but I just loved it and justified the expense by telling myself it would last for years. My cats had other ideas. It didn't look particularity comfortable but they would not stay off of it. I tried everything to keep them away - sprays, barriers, and I even bought a small fence to put completely around the tree but they climbed it. They would sleep on it day and night, play on it, knead and claw it, and by the end of the season it was a total mess that got thrown in the trash. I bought a cheap replacement this year and the cats are totally uninterested in it. Of course.

This is just a classical story of hubris. (See, a history and literature degree can be put to good use.)

Last year my husband's grandmother moved into a retirement community in Florida but she wanted to spend Christmas with the family here in NJ. With my brother-in-law and sister-in-law coming home for Christmas too, my in-laws didn't have room for her so my husband and I offered to put her up. That was the start of a steady stream of criticism: Our toddler wakes up too early and is too loud, it's terrible that we have an artificial tree which is ugly and too big, we had too many gifts, also using bags to wrap them is lazy, our outside light display was tacky, the bells on our dog (who is also too big for our "small house") were stupid and annoying, our scented candles were overpowering, our toaster oven didn't make toast "properly", our coffee was too strong, my husband takes the "wrong route" to get to his parents' house (he uses the highway), and so on. We gritted out teeth and powered through it all. As she was leaving she thanked us for our hospitality and said she had a wonderful time staying with us! Our jaws literally dropped. We're still very grateful that my in-laws are hosting her this year.

Kind of them to give her fresh things to complain about.

I'm just going to lie on the floor underneath the tree to remind my family what a g*dd*mn gift I am.

Let's see them try to cranberry chutney that.

That is deceptively hard to use in a sentence.

I've been trying to the whole time. Because that's just what we're all about here on Hoot day.

Aaaaaand ... that's all I've got. Yu the Producer has a day job to get to as well. So, thank you, thank you, everyone, and may the circle of criticism envelop us all in its embrace. Type to you here next week.

The person yelling "This is BS!" reminds me of a similar family Yankee Gift Swap we did one year. My mom knew I wanted a crockpot and she got one for the swap, which I opened. Turns out my cousin wanted one too! She stole it from me, and then when someone stole my replacement, I stole the crockpot back again from my cousin which locked it and now that cousin doesn't speak to me anymore. Also crockpot meals are kind of sh*t so I regret it BUT NOT ENOUGH TO GIVE IT TO HER ALL THESE YEARS LATER.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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