Every month Josie presents a new or vintage essay that coincides with what's going on in the world's timeline...
The Monthly Showcase:
     I started kindergarten in the same suburb where my father grew up. Because my paternal grandparents had 
      The following confession is going to send those that know me primarily through my books into a screaming, “OMG! We Really Don’t Know Her!” Twitter frenzy. 
     
    Despite my sarcastic attitude and hard edges, I am one of those people that loves Christmas. I truly love all of it. I even start watching Christmas Movies in July when the cable channels present their Christmas in July line-ups. This is also about the time that I start buying Christmas presents. Disappointed in me yet? Just wait...
     
      I really start planning for the Christmas season in the spring when the Hallmark stores release their Hallmark Keepsakes Ornament Book. Selecting all of our Christmas ornaments for the year is my family’s traditional, after Easter Brunch activity.
     
     After I got married, I spent the next twenty-four years inviting all of our stray friends, family members and neighbors to our home so that they could experience any or all of my famous Christmas celebration extravaganzas.
     
     For sentimental reasons, it was always very important to me that I use my mother’s vintage serving dishes, my grandmother’s silverware and the dinner plates that Greg and I had purchased at Crate and Barrel for our first Christmas Eve. My holiday tables were always stunning. You could have photographed any one of them for a magazine cover.
     
       I decorated our house from top to bottom and made sure that each and every guest knew that I valued them and appreciated their presence in my home. In other words, out of respect for my guests and the traditions of my relatives that had passed, I paid attention to every detail...
     
      Celebration One would begin on Christmas Eve with a traditional Polish, twelve course, meatless meal called Wigilia. This meal is rich with Polish Catholic culture and history and is the most important meal of the year for our family.
     
    Afterward, “Santa” would visit our house and every person and pet would receive a beautifully wrapped specially chosen gift from him. We always ended the night with hot chocolate and homemade cookies.
     
    Celebration Two began on Christmas Morning with coffee, chocolate milk and a Christmas Tree centerpiece made out of cinnamon rolls that were frosted green and decorated with candy lights and ornaments.
     
     This celebration was usually attended by Grandparents and childless family members and friends that wanted to be around the chaos of a Christmas Morning with children.
     
     After all the gifts were opened, I’d serve an elaborate Christmas Brunch with twenty-five dishes to celebrate the morning of December 25th.
     
     Celebration Three began on Christmas evening and was always a formal Christmas Dinner with drinks, shrimp cocktail, soup, salad, bread and butter, asparagus shaped into a wreath, baked potatoes and then, steak and lobster.
     
     For dessert, we’d serve coffee, cherry cheesecake and key lime pie. We always had the best time, but I did pay a bit of a price for this.
     
     By ten o’clock on Christmas night, after hosting three large events in my home in a little over twenty-four hours, I found that simply walking was painful, I had a pounding headache and every bone in my body was screaming for me to die already.
     
     Christmas was always perfect for my family and the tradition of it all was something that I took great pride in and hoped to pass down to my children and grandchildren.
     
   Can you just imagine your grandchildren eating the same Cherry Cheesecake that your great-grandmother once served you? Just to be sure that this came to pass, I pasted copies of her cheesecake recipe into my children’s baby books. Today, my youngest son Elliott can make this cheesecake perfectly, and he does it from memory.
     
     By our first Christmas A.D. all of the grandparents and great-grandparents had passed on, Greg’s family was no longer in the picture and the kids and I were living in an apartment far away from our old friends and neighbors.
     
     To make things worse, we learned that Greg had gone on a holiday cruise to the Bahamas with another divorced guy that he knew from church. He didn’t plan on seeing his children at all.
     
    Despite all of this change, the kids and I went ahead and hosted all of our regular Christmas celebrations, and although the guest lists were much smaller, we were still sticking to all of our family traditions and as a result, we had a very peaceful and familiar holiday.
     
       All in all, our first Christmas A.D. went well. Different, yet the same. I was happy with it and so were the kids, and in the end, that was all that mattered.
     
      Our second Christmas A.D. was a little more trying. My brother’s fiancé Maura had two adult children that were, in my opinion, ill-mannered and self-centered. We didn’t see them very much as neither one of her kids were family oriented or had any respect for family traditions.
     
     For example, Maura’s daughter came an hour after Ben and Maura told her to and after she rather sullenly ate, she spent the rest of the night in my bedroom, alone, with our newly adopted kitten. She didn’t bother having a conversation with anyone. And at twenty-nine, she was old enough to know common manners.
     
     Maura’s twenty-six-year-old son showed up two hours late to our Christmas Eve dinner. Apparently, he and his friends were playing hockey and were having so much fun, they simply didn’t want to stop. Afterwards, he and the team went out for a few beers. Not only was he late, but this guy arrived at my home, covered in mud, smelly, drunk and ravenous.
     
     Maura asked me to pull out all twelve dishes of leftovers and heat up everything so that her son could pick out what he wanted to eat. I told her that he could just make a plate and then I’d put it in the microwave. I wasn’t being mean, what I suggested would have pretty much been the norm in this situation in any other house.
     
     She insisted that it would be nicer and more appealing to him if we heated up everything and then he could choose what he wanted from hot, delicious food.
     
     As soon as her brother started eating his hot, delicious food, Maura’s daughter came out of my bedroom, put her coat on and ran out of our townhome without a single thank you, Merry Christmas, good-bye or kiss my ass.
   
    This was such peculiar behavior that I was afraid that she had the kitten in her pocket and immediately sent Chris to check on our new fur baby. What the hell was the matter with this young woman?
   
    About an hour later, Ben and Maura went home but left the drunken asshole son behind. He was our last guest and I had no choice but to try to sober him up before allowing him to drive home.
     
    Sobering him up took three hours and included feeding him four more mini meals and then watching him consume an entire one-pound box of Fannie May, Milk Chocolate Cherries, while he tried six times to tell us the plot of the movie he had seen the day before. I was really pissed that Ben and Maura had left this kid behind to ruin our evening.
     
    On our third Christmas A.D. Ben and his “not yet wife” Maura, invited me and the kids over to their house for Christmas Eve Dinner. After last year’s drunken son and weird sister debacle, we were all fine with this and accepted the invitation. My brother is an excellent cook and he knew all the recipes and traditions. What could go wrong?
   
     The drive over was long, and the weather was bad, but I was actually looking forward to being able to relax this year. I thought that after a quarter of a century of hosting Christmas Eve, not hosting Christmas Eve could be a welcome change.
   
    A welcome change until I walked into their house and saw what their version of a Christmas Eve Dinner was.
     
     First of all, there were no decorations, not even a Christmas Tree. We decided to put our presents where their presents had been put, tucked into the various holes and shelves of the hairy, smelly cat tree that took up the entire front window. Their feral cat, Pissy, took a swipe at Elliott when the kid tried to put a present in the lookout tower. Fa-la-la-la-la...la-la-la-la! Fuck me.
     
     There wasn’t even a table set up to eat on. I asked Benny if the boys could help him bring a table up from the basement, but he said that wouldn’t be necessary because we would be eating around the island in the kitchen. What?
     
     The island that had only three stools? The stools that have saddles attached to the top of them? The saddles where you have to grab on to the horn, and swing your leg up and over, just like you were mounting a pony? That island?
     
     Surely this was a fucking joke. I told Ben to knock the shit off and then I turned to Chris and told him to go down to the basement and help Uncle Benny bring one of the tables up.
     
     I called Maura’s daughter down from her sanctuary bedroom and asked her to get me the plates so that I could set the table. When she handed me a stack of red paper plates and a plastic cup of mismatched, previously used plastic knives and forks, I realized that this was not a joke. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there, confused.
     
     A few minutes later, Maura cheerily came into the kitchen and asked me if it was okay if we ate around the island tonight because she had to go to work in the morning and didn’t want to make a big mess.
     
     It was a miracle that I didn’t start cracking heads when Ben put a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a few plastic KFC tubs of coleslaw and mashed potatoes and a box of biscuits on the hitching post-slash-kitchen island.
     
      When Maura carefully stacked six McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers next to the bucket of chicken, I wanted to slap this clueless woman right in the face. And I probably would have if I didn’t notice Elliott hanging on to his sister’s waist like they were the new poster children for the latest production of Les Miserables.
     
      On our fourth Christmas A.D. Maura assumed that we would be coming over to her house again for Christmas.
   
    Despite my father’s favorite fortune cookie advice playing over and over in my head, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” I really did want to give Maura a second chance. I mean, I don’t know if something terrible happened in her life that made her feel it was okay to serve her guests cold fast food for a Christmas Eve Dinner, thereby shattering a hundred-year- old family tradition. Surely my brother would have talked to her by now. Right?
     
     I was positive that this Christmas Eve Dinner would be much better as it most certainly couldn’t have been worse.
   
    But, when Maura called me five days before Christmas and asked me if the kids liked Popeyes Chicken, I came up with a plan.
     
     On December 22nd, I called Maura and said that Abby and Elliott had come down with strep throat and were on antibiotics. I told her that Chris was going in today for his doctor’s appointment and that I didn’t think we should be together for Christmas because the kids were still sick, probably even contagious.
     
     She didn’t seem disappointed, so I felt that we were once again free to have our traditional Christmas Celebrations. At home. Just us.
     
    The kids and I immediately went out and grocery shopped and ordered our catered items and then we grocery shopped again. We even made a rather lengthy road trip to a really old-fashioned Polish bakery to pick up traditional breads and desserts.
     
     Our intention was to not leave our home for three days, so we stocked our apartment with anything and everything that we might want or need. We acted as if we were going to be snowed in for a month.
   
   When we had everything we needed food wise, we rented a bunch of movies and then picked up the catering and for the first time ever, I let the kids make plates for themselves before putting the rest away for Christmas.
     
     The remainder of the afternoon was spent cleaning the house, baking cookies and making the cinnamon rolls that we would need for the cinnamon roll Christmas Tree.
     
     Before we went to bed on the 23rd we set a beautiful table for Christmas Eve breakfast and then made popcorn and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.
     
     We woke up on Christmas Eve to falling snow. It was magical, and we were all looking forward to having the first private, and certainly the most peaceful Christmas that any of us could remember.
     
     We spent the next three days cooking, eating, opening presents, watching movies, and then reading new books and playing new video games.
     
     We called family and talked to friends. We listened to Christmas music and played board games like Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
   
    The most fun was simply having the time to do whatever we wanted, even if it was nothing more than taking a long hot bath or watching our cats go crazy with their new catnip Christmas toys.
     
     Without a doubt, it was the best Christmas of our lives. 
      About five years after my father inherited my grandmother’s house I got a phone call from him. He was drunk and crying. The story that emerged was that he was watching a neighbor’s twelve-ounce kitten for a few days while she was out of town attending a funeral and that morning he “Just wanted to play with the baby cat” and took it out of its crate and now Jasmine the kitten was missing and Bear, his eighty-pound dog, wouldn’t eat his breakfast and he didn’t know what to do.

         Jesus Christ. Where was the dad that was supposed to look after me?

      I packed up my kids and frantically raced to the Cannibal Animal movie set. When I pulled into their driveway I found my dad, my brother and my brother’s friend Jeff, who was now living with them, sitting in lawn chairs in front of the garage swigging beer and squirting lighter fluid on an already flaming Weber Grill that they intended to use for a disgusting, meat-only BBQ feast.

        Jeff had already lost one of his eyebrows and his hairline had been burned back about an inch but since I wasn’t sure if the damage was old or new I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to embarrass him.

      I did notice that Bear was on the grass, asleep in the sun... not at all interested in the assortment of raw sausages on an upside-down bucket two feet from his nose.

        Son of a bitch. I was fairly certain that Jasmine the kitty was dead and in his belly.

     After I threw a world-class shit fit about squirting lighter fluid onto open flames, raw sausages in the sun and drinking before noon, I left Jeff and Bear outside to tend to the fire and I forced my dad and brother into the house to look for the kitten.

     In the house the first thing I noticed was the dining room table. It had four shoeboxes filled with carefully stacked and sorted scratch-off lottery tickets. Thumbing through them I saw that they were all used, meaning they were all losing tickets. They had spent thousands of dollars on these tickets and were probably keeping them so that when they hit the “big one” they could use the losing tickets as a tax write off.

       My heart sank looking at what the life savings of my grandparents had ultimately bought.

      I organized an in-house search party and while the two drunks stumbled about the rooms upstairs, I started looking for Jasmine’s remains in the lower level of the house. Holding Abby in my arms and ordering Chris to keep his eyes closed and not let go of my pants, I hobbled about the laundry room and noticed that on the white and gray linoleum floor tiles someone had taken a Sharpie pen and written a number in the upper right-hand corner of each square.

      I was distracted from this peculiar discovery when I thought I heard a faint meow coming from above my head. I grabbed Chris in my free arm and charged upstairs. Pausing in the hallway I heard the sound again. Chris excitedly announced that the kitten was in the stove.

     I dropped both kids on the ground and ran to the stove and opened the door to the oven. Thankfully, Jasmine was not in the oven, but she was underneath it... behind the pull-out drawer that was supposed to hold baking sheets.

     She came to me immediately and we settled her in a towel on Chris’s lap. I opened a can of cat food and Chris let her lick the “gravy” off his fingers while my dad and brother stood in the kitchen holding hands and drunkenly weeping while they praised God for the safe return of little Jasmine.

    I watched the two of them for a few minutes before asking, “What’s the deal with the numbers written on the floor tiles in the laundry room?”

     They immediately perked up and talking over one another they explained that the Illinois State Lottery could go “fuck themselves” because they finally realized that scratch offs were a scam.

     My dad, my brother and Jeff apparently had created a new way to make some extra cash and since it was only the three of them playing, the household never really lost any money so according to them...

      “Fuck the state!”

      I listened very carefully as they went on to explain that every night before bed, each one of them put five dollars in my grandmother’s antique glass bowl that she got as a wedding gift from her parents, along with a scrap of paper that had a number anywhere from one, all the way up to fifty-two written on it.

      In the morning, they would scramble down the stairs to the laundry room to see if the dog had shit in their chosen square. If so, they got the money, if not, it rolled over to the next day. It was a win-win situation for everyone and best of all, the State of Illinois wouldn’t be getting any more of “their fucking money.”

      I stared at them for a few moments while letting this sink in. For these three particular assholes, it actually was a brilliant idea. It fed their gambling addictions and the “house” never did lose any money.

      Since I had no further questions, I stood up, gathered my things and told my dad and brother that I was taking Jasmine home with me until her owner came back. They started to protest but I threatened to turn them all in to the state lottery officials if they tried to stop me. They kind of froze, each one wondering if their “Dog Shit Lotto” game could get them ten to fifteen years in the state penitentiary. I took this moron moment to grab Jasmine’s crate and the kids and I headed to the car.

                                                        __________________

      A few months later, Jeff overstayed his welcome and was asked to leave when my dad got up to pee early one morning and caught Jeff using one of my grandmother’s silver serving spoons to move one of Bear’s turds to the tile he had chosen as the winning “number” the night before.

      When my dad told me why Jeff had moved out, he was most upset that Jeff used a spoon from my grandmother’s eighty-year-old Marshall Field’s Sterling Silver Flatware Set that grandma had inherited from her mother.

      My dad was blubbering on and on about the desecration and the disrespect of Jeff’s choice of turd moving utensils when he looked at me and mustering up some true integrity said, “Benny and I could have told him that Bear’s shit moves best when you use two plastic forks put together like a claw. You know Josie... like the crane game at the carnivals? And afterwards, you can just throw them away...”

      There may be honor among thieves but apparently none amongst Illinois Dog Shit Lottery Officials.