Christmas Special

While I was home for Christmas – indeed, as Christmas was happening – I was asked more than once what I was going to write about when I wrote about Christmas. My family, I think, really likes when I write about them and was excited by the prospect of my writing down and preserving all of the funny things that happened while we were together. This still surprises me since I was nervous about writing about them at all when I first started this blog. But I’ve discovered that, honestly, I could write really shitty things about them on here and they would (maybe) still think it’s great. Partially because they love me and partially because they’re all as egotistical as I am. Anyway, this is all to say that I’m about to write about spending Christmas with my family.

Christmas for us, as you can imagine, has always been kind of a big production. Now that everyone is older, though, it felt smaller. Or more relaxed or something. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Santa-believer in our family, so it’s not really that I’m missing that part of Christmas. It’s more that the majority of my immediate family is made up of actual adults now and everyone is just way more civilized.

I spent the night before Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Eve Day making cookies. And of course, I did some last minute shopping and wrapping. My family went to 6:30 mass which was kind of painful for several reasons but I don’t want to give God any more reasons to smite me, so I won’t go into that. When we got home, the first thing we did was take our big family picture in front of the Christmas tree, which was also a painful experience. This year I think we let my dad take five photos before calling it quits, for fear that we were going to kill one another. Afterward, at dinner, my brother Jim suggested we all share our highs and lows of the year. My low was having to go to work every week day and my high was feeling like I improved as a writer. Two of my siblings had the same low, which was having mono. My dad’s low was getting hit by a cyclist while crossing Seventh Avenue. My brother John’s high was deciding to attend Notre Dame next year. Those were pretty legit things that happened. I guess this year wasn’t as eventful for me.

We always open our Secret Santa gifts after dinner. This year, I honestly had more fun giving gifts than receiving, which is kind of a lame thing to say but…it’s true. I felt like I did a pretty good job picking out stuff for everyone I had to buy for. (Well, I’m not totally convinced that my brother Aidan liked the bow tie I got him, but I guess he’s keeping it.) After we finished our gift giving, we all played a game, which has become a tradition. Last year, I made the mistake of buying Settlers of Catan for my family and trying to teach them to play, forgetting that none of them are as crazy nerdy as I am. That led to a lot of confusion and complaining so this year we played Apples to Apples, which was a big hit. After a little while, we kicked our parents out of the game and played Cards Against Humanity, which was an even bigger hit. I mean, I usually have a lot of fun playing this game, but having to tell my fourteen year-old how to pronounce “bukake” made it even more ridiculous. (Also great: having to explain how to pronounce “Hutus and Tutsis” to my eighteen year-old brother, who pronounced those words like a spell from Harry Potter.)

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

On Christmas morning, I woke up feeling like I was kind of hungover, which was confusing because I had only had two glasses of wine the night before over the course of like six hours. My entire face hurt and I had a really sharp headache and a little bit of a stomach ache, so I decided that I had a blood clot and was going to die. I worked myself up into a frenzy and spent all morning silently freaking out and then trying to calm myself down. Anyway, I got some nice presents from my parents on Christmas morning. And then I helped my mom make breakfast.

We spend every Christmas with our good family friends, the Hudsons, who conveniently live down the street. We joined them at their house in the afternoon and had a really nice day, eating and chatting and fighting over how many years we’ve been doing Christmas together. (It’s either 20 or 21 years and I guarantee no one will figure it out during the next twelve months and we’ll all bicker about it again over dinner next year). After dinner, a ton of friends and neighbors came over for “dessert”, which is actually just a really, really big party. I’m not going to lie, I might have been…overserved. But when is a better time to be happily hammered than Christmas?

I woke up the morning of the 26th 100% sure that I was not going to be able to make it to my grandmother’s for our second round of Christmas. It took me a few hours, but I eventually got ready for the day in between bouts of catnapping, as well as drinking and then throwing up water. While my dad, one of my brothers, and my sister were watching my brother John run in a race, my mom drove Aidan and I up to my grandma’s house. Luckily, I did not have to use any of the three plastic bags I’d stuffed in my coat pocket in case I needed to barf. In fact, I felt pretty all right by the time we arrived and was able to go to town on some appetizers, all the while reminding myself that I’m not allowed to eat or drink ever again after this year is over.

Other than feeling zombie-ish until approximately 7 pm, it was a nice day. Nice in that way spending time with your family is nice. It was nice to see all of my cousins and aunts and uncles in one place because I probably won’t get to see everyone all together again until next Christmas. And it was nice to see my grandma (La) so happy that everyone was there.

That evening, we drove another two hours to my other grandma’s house. I was a little terrified during the car ride because my parents kept saying things like “drive slowly” and “black ice!” before we left and it was really dark and kind of snowy and my sister was driving. However, we got to Binghamton all right and found my grandma (Kay) sitting on her couch with CNN turned up so loud that her living room tchotchkes were trembling. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up just in time to get ready for 11 o’clock mass.

I don’t usually go to mass on Fridays – um, or any day actually – but this was a special occasion. My mom’s brother Jim, the third of the ten children in her family, died unexpectedly 10 years ago, on December 29, 2003. My family was skiing in Vermont when we heard the news. I’ll never forget the next day, driving with my mom the six hours from Stowe to our house back in Westchester to pick up our clothes for the funeral and then another three hours to Binghamton, crying and disbelieving that what was happening was happening the whole way. The days weren’t good ones for our family. They don’t feel like they’re so far off; I remember so much of them so clearly. But, when I think about it, ten years worth of events really have happened since then.

The memorial mass was said in the chapel of the high school my mom attended. I’d never been inside before and it was interesting to see the place she’d talked so much about. Most of our family members were there for mass, as well as a good number of my uncles’ friends. Afterward, we had a lunch at the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is I guess the most Irish-Catholic thing you could do in that situation. The Binghamton chapter looks like a bomb shelter from the outside and an Irish bar crossed with a fraternity basement on the inside. I was very tempted to have a Guinness just because but then I remembered that I had wanted to “detox”…so I had a Diet Coke instead.

We went back to my grandma’s house after that. Basically, I spent the next 24 hours sitting in various places in her living room playing Pokemon X on my Nintendo 3DS, which is very cool because I probably did the same thing – obviously, it was Pokemon Red Version on a Gameboy though – on Christmas vacation fifteen years ago. Of course I spent time with my grandma and my great-aunt Honey and my cousins but like, I really did mostly play Pokemon. (I know. Yikes.)

So, that’s kind of it. We drove back home the next day and my sister very kindly drove me back to Brooklyn and now I am on another week of vacation. (Yay!)

To my family: Did I leave anything out, Flannerys? I know there were a lot of jokes and stuff I could have included here but I feel like they’re a little too insidery. Like, whenever I read our group texts to my friends they just kind of chuckle and say “that’s funny” but I know they’re really thinking “Haley, pleeeeease stop talking about your family we get it.” I guess what I’m saying is that I’m really trying to be better about reading the proverbial room. (I don’t think that’s the right use of “proverbial” but I really just want to finish this post and don’t want to look up another word.) Anyway, thank you to all of you who made another Christmas so great, or at least so fine that I really don’t have anything to complain about, which we all know is very rare!

Merry Christmas! I Made These For You.

In theory, Christmas baking is one of my favorite things. In reality, it’s a huge pain in the ass. I wait until the last minute to do anything and never make as many things as I had planned. Everything always takes so much time. (Keep in mind that I’m a person who sat on the couch and watched like 15 movies this weekend.) This year, I had committed to baking for a holiday party, and also for my family’s annual Christmas shindig tomorrow, so I did end up baking quite a few things which I will share with you now.


thumbprint cookies

I made these thumbprint cookies topped with raspberry jam a few weeks ago for a holiday party. I would share the recipe, which my mom got from an old friend, here but I am too lazy.

christmas cupcakes

These chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting were for the same holiday party and I made them only because I couldn’t find ingredients in the grocery store for other cookies that I wanted to make. Also, you can’t tell here, but I used Christmas cupcake liners because I impulse bought some when I was at the Christmas Tree Shoppe with my grandma over Thanksgiving.


I made these snickerdoodles on Sunday using this Smitten Kitchen recipe. They turned out well, according to my brother, who said they’re the best snickerdoodles he’s ever had.

sugar cookie cut outs

I have been making these sugar cookies every year for the past few years. I use this Martha Stewart recipe.

We’re down to about 3 cookie cutters at my parents’ house. Every year I say that I’m going to buy a few more and, shockingly, I never do. (We threw the shamrock in for my brother Dayton, who is currently a student at Notre Dame, and my brother Johnny, who will be headed there next year.) Anyway, I was up until about midnight finishing baking these last night.

frosted sugar cookies

And today…we frosted! I usually just wing it when I make royal icing. Confectioners sugar, egg whites and a little water. This Joy of Baking recipe (the one with egg whites) is basically what I do.

Thank you to Tori and Johnny for helping frost and decorate these guys. Frosting – without eating the cookies – is really hard work.

And Merry Christmas to all!

All I Want For Christmas Is Everything

This year, I only asked for a few things for Christmas. Practical things. New boots (I’ve worn out a few pairs in the last year), new sheets, a new hat/gloves combo, new sneakers. I think that’s it. You know, things I NEED. I mean, I definitely want all of them. But only because I need them, I think. I really wish I could have asked for things I just plain want, but with the crushing guilt complex that I acquired somewhere in between nine years of Catholic school and growing up as the oldest in a large family, that was impossible. Also, my mom – the primary Christmas shopper in our family – never really bought me anything that I wanted unless I could get her on board with it. (Like, if I asked for most of the shit below she would say “Um, okay” but would silently be thinking “WHAT?” and then would pretend I never asked her for any of it.)  Anyway, here is a list of ten seven things I would ask for if I had no shame and I thought people would buy them for me.

Please note: I grew up extremely privileged and really have no right to complain about anything and feel so weird and guilty even writing this but I honestly couldn’t think of what else to write today.

Christmas Gift

1. A subscription to the NYRB Classics Book Club

Those of you who read my book reviews may have noticed that I read a lot of NYRB Classics. Not only are their jacket designs amazing, but very few of their books that I’ve picked up have been less than amazing.

2. Berlin Alexanderplatz (The Criterion Collection)

I still have never seen this and I often think about buying it for myself but, for some reason, have never broken down and done it.

3. Everything from Madewell

I was going to link to just the sweaters but then I realized that although I want all of the sweaters, what I really want is all of the everything. (I really, really want this metallic t-shirt dress, though.)

4. The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

I’m a big Wes Anderson fan. But this seems like a silly thing to ask for. Also, I would like all of Wes Anderson’s Criterion Collection films.

5. An actual nice stereo system

And someone – an audiophile – to help me identify the things I would need to make that happen and then set it up for me.

6. A sizable trust fund

7. All of the weird crafting stuff I could buy at Paper Source

And here is where my ideas run out. I mean, I want like a TON of super fancy clothes but I would have to do a lot of thinking on what my top items would be. And makeup, too. (But honestly, with makeup at least, I would go out and buy an item I really wanted. The clothes, not so much.) But do I really want it? Probably not. If I did, wouldn’t I buy it for myself? Maybe there is a reason I didn’t ask for the stuff above (minus the trust fund). All of it is more stuff that I have to have in my life AND in my relatively small apartment. What’s the value of stuff, really, when it just ends up sitting around unused for most of your lifetime?

Just writing that last sentence gave me a small panic attack as I considered the worth of my book collection, which is my most prized and underused possession. Going to look at all of the items I posted above online, consider buying them to the point I put them in the shopping cart and then chicken out for the eight billionth time.