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Volume 13, Issue 50 ~ December 15 - December 21, 2005

All We Want for Christmas

Bay Weekly’s Holiday Wish List

What do you want for Christmas?

That’s the $64,000 question this time of year. Squabble as we might over what to call the season — do we say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays — in this multicultural 21st century, agreement on one score rings loud and clear. Christmas is a time for giving, and having and idea of what people are wishing for helps make sure your gifts brighten the face of the receiver like an illuminated Christmas tree star.

For Christmas this year, we’ve asked the staff and contributors of Bay Weekly to tell us their hopes and wishes. Here’s hoping our Christmas wish lists will help you manage your holiday giving to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Home for the Holidays

Kat Bennett, Bay Weekly contributing writer, Hegelian optimist and eternal child for 55 years

When I was nine years old, all I wanted was a gingerbread house, a magical concoction of cookies, candies and frosting, the stuff of mouth-watering dreams and tummy aches. I didn’t get it.

I asked again the next year. Again, no gingerbread.

The third year, my list to you had only one request. Christmas morning there, in all its frosted glory was a real gingerbread house. It had candy canes, gumdrops and peppermint wafers, licorice sticks, lollipops and marshmallows, chocolate squares and wintergreen mints. It was glorious.

I didn’t taste even the tiniest nibble. I wanted to keep it perfect forever. My brother had other ideas. He broke off a huge section of roof and destroyed the front door. A one-boy gingerbread demolition company, he was prying up the gumdrops when I saw the wreckage.

I was shocked, struck dumb, immobilized. That house that had been so beautiful — with its red-hot door handle and cotton-candy chimney smoke — was turned into a pile of candy and broken cookies. There was no way to save it, so I ate some and shared the rest. Life is like that.

I will always have that first moment of unwrapping and smelling that wonderful present. I had my house and ate it, too.

I am a little older now, and I still like sweets at Christmas. Turkish delight, Italian nougats, red-hots and Leonides chocolates. Could you find some of those this year? Some music for sweetsounds, bubbly bath stuff for sweet relaxations and sweet silver bells on earrings.

And dearest, dear Santa, for old times sake, a gingerbread house. I promise I’ll share.

The Whole Cooking Thing

Mark Burns, 29-year-old eligible bachelor; Bay Weekly contributing writer since 1998

What don’t I want? In dreams of gumdrops and sugarplums, I hear the plasticky rattle of a Lego kit for the At-At machine of Empire Strikes Back, and my inner child beams brightly at this rare find. There are the beeps, hums and clicks of an 8.2 megapixel Canon D20 digital SLR camera. Man drool seeps from the corners of my greedy smile at the mere thought of finding one in my stocking. Rustling pages whisper of a 28-pound, three-volume Calvin & Hobbes complete boxed compendium. But, perhaps more appropriate to my visions of dancing confections, the clatter and whir of kitchen gadgetry rises above the din of all else.

Gone are the days when a hinged plastic, omelet-making bachelor’s trifle (it’s … Amazing!) might have passed for respectable kitchenware. Now my culinary wishing runs wild across a range of desire, with the high-end item the outlandish wish of a Viking gas range to replace the apartment’s junk electric.

Where to start?

My apartment kitchen isn’t very spacious, and a 14-inch wall-mounted magnetic knife strip would keep those kitchen blades under control. Speaking of blades, a double mezzaluna would be great for chopping up those veggies and herbs to luscious effect.

My kitchen could become ever more flavorful with a polished stone mortar and pestle, neat alternative to the butt end of a whisk and small glass bowl approach of present. I could go with nifty automatics, such as Peugeot Chateauneuf’s adjustable-grain, hand-wrung pepper mill or any number of electric coffee grinders, but which of these can grind out guacamole? I’ll stick with ancient stone. Yet I am a naïf at spicing dishes, so Jill Norman’s Herbs and Spices: The Cook’s Reference might enlighten. The lush tome is filled with summaries of flavor, history, food matching and a blend of recipes alongside vivid photography.

All this whets my palate, but none stirs my soul like the prospect of a KitchenAid Professional 600 series 10-speed, six-quart stand mixer with whisk, flat beater and dough hook attachments. Mmmm. The 31-pound machine eats up nearly one-and-a-half cubic feet of precious countertop, but no matter. A two-piece plastic pouring shield contains the melee within as the 575-watt motor churns away through a direct-drive, steel gear transmission. If worked too hard, the machine protects itself with auto shut-off. My eager stomach roils in anticipation.

A selfish wish, perhaps, but one that promises delight to gastronomes along my periphery. Food can nourish the soul and bring people together in fellowship and joy, bettering the world in some small part one table at a time. It also seems to impress the ladies.

Besides, Santa, if you deliver the goods I might just turn out an extra batch of scrumptious cookies. I happen to have a good chocolate chip recipe that uses just a nip of coconut rum…

Imagining Jose’s American Christmas

Steve Carr, Bay Weekly columnist

My mother has always been very active in the Christ Child Society, which works with the health department to provide Christmas presents to disadvantaged children. From Deale to Glen Burnie, hundreds of kids are adopted for the holiday by total strangers.

When I owned a truck, my mother roped me into playing Santa each year. I would drive around the county, my truck loaded with gifts like Santa’s sleigh, dropping off bags of goodies at each of the local health departments.

A few years back, I sold my truck. Being a single guy with no kids, I decided to adopt my own child for the holidays. Here’s how it works.

I get a little card from the volunteers at the Christ Child Society in early November. My child this year is Jose; I never get the child’s address. Jose is 11 years old and is a size 14; his family is registered at the Parole Health Center. Annapolis has a growing population of Hispanics who are just now starting to avail themselves of this holiday service.

Last Sunday, I went to Value City and bought Jose a bunch of nice gifts. I started with a heavy winter coat sporting a Ravens logo on the back. Next came jeans with lots of pockets and a flannel shirt with a heavy-duty sweater. I also picked up some winter socks and gloves before heading over to the toy department.

Buying toys for a child you have never seen can trigger all sorts of internal debates. Is it okay to buy toy guns? Or things with batteries?

This year, I picked up a soccer ball, a Radical Roadway race car set, a Bop Bag, a book about a wayside school and some candy.

As I open my presents on Christmas day, I will wonder what my little man Jose thought of his Christmas in America. That will be my favorite gift of the season.

Things that Need No Place

Erin Huebschman, Bay Weekly classified manager and new web mistress; dweller in small space

When you are out shopping trying to get the perfect gift, I plead to you to go easy on us folks who live in small spaces. I am not saying that the candle holder, figurine, decorative plate or other knick-knack is not beautiful — but there is just no place to put it. It has been some years now since I have had any extra flat space but the attic to put anything.

My favorite gifts are eatable. Who ever returned chocolate? No one I know, so there is one sure winner. Some lovely cheese, sausage or a nice bottle of extra virgin olive oil will not last long in my house. Candies, cakes and fruit are also winners. For that festive gift, liquor can’t be beat. Wine, cordials or the hard stuff are the gift that keeps on giving.

Gift certificates don’t take much space, either. A trip to a favorite restaurant or spa is a special treat. Music is another gift that brings endless joy. It is not the easiest gift to pick (stuck? try a gift certificate), but you may open a new musical door. Last year I gave tickets to a show and concerts with rave reviews. A bigger adventure still is the gift of an art or dance class.

All those will work for me.

Gifts I Can Use

J. Alex Knoll, Bay Weekly co-founder and general manager

I had hoped for Christmas this year that the powers that be would give me, you and the Bay Weekly delivery drivers a break and that gasoline prices would dip below $2.00 a gallon. Truth be told, I did pay $1.97 a few weeks ago on a trip to Delaware. Since then, however, two school-closing “blizzards” must have crimped the supply and crippled the distribution of petrol, and the Grinch of the oil companies continues to siphon extra profits from our wallets.

Of course I’d love to see world peace, with our men and women in uniform home safe with their families this holiday season, leaving behind a stable and productive Iraq and an Afghanistan free of Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

But with less than two weeks until Christmas, I need to limit my wish list if I hope to get more than the disappointment my grandmother used to tell me of growing up in the Depression, when her brother would awaken early Christmas morn to steal her apple, orange and few small toys from her stocking, replacing them with sticks, coal and rocks.

In years past I’ve smiled at the give-away wrapping of a new hammer or the tell-tale heft of a Mag-Light, batteries included. I’m a tinkerer, at work and at home, fixing broken lamps or a broken computer, repairing a cracked dryer duct or replacing a leaky toilet. So I’m embarrassed to admit that I can never find the right screwdriver for the job, having to rely all too often on a wood-handled old Phillips that belonged to my grandmother, now 15 years passed.

I don’t have a workshop, as our Annapolis home has no garage and the basement was dug and paved for the Hobbits who frequented our state capital 100 years ago. So I don’t have room for a wood-working shop. But I am a power tool junky, with several drills, saws, sanders, routers and the like. In a poured-concrete, stucco-sided home, hanging a picture on an outer wall demands boring a hole into the wall with a masonry bit, then setting a grommit into the hole with a mixture of plaster of Paris and finally, hours later after the plaster of Paris has dried, twisting a screw into the grommit with that old wood-handled screwdriver. The new cordless DeWalt nail gun would change that; plus, rather than requiring an air compressor, it uses the same 18-volt batteries as my other cordless tools.

Even the most fulfilling home-improvement project still borders on work, and a wise man once told me that no one ever dies wishing they’d worked more. So I’d also like something for Christmas this year far removed from work. I’m ashamed to admit, especially as a founding partner of a Bay-oriented business like Bay Weekly, but I don’t know how to sail. Now don’t get me wrong. I know the basics of boating and even worked as mate on a crab boat for a couple years. And I’ve been sailing with friends many a time. But if the captain ever fell overboard, leaving me at the helm, you would read about it in Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird. I know it’s a little cold for Santa to take to the water, so I’m happy to wait until spring for any hands-on lessons from the Jolly One, in the meantime warming my toes in front of the fireplace while reading a good book on the fundamentals of sailing.

My Good Book

Bill Lambrecht, Bay Weekly co-founder and editorial analyst; Washington bureau chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; author of two non-fiction books; eternally frustrated fisherman

To me, books are the way out and the way up. The way out because no matter what form of madness creeps in, the self-induced variety or the sort that comes from observing the greed and stupidity of others, a book can heal. The way up because a book more than anything, with the possible exceptions of a day in the Louvre in Paris or on an Alaskan wilderness adventure, can positively change the way you look at the world.

Why? Because reading is a hot medium; it is participatory, unlike television, a cool medium that asks little of your brain or your emotions and thus does nothing to alter how you relate to the world. In front of that tube, you could be a rutabaga.

That said, I must confess to having become estranged from books. It may have something to do with having written a couple of them in recent years. To do so, I had to make myself read too much dull, wonkish stuff for research. And there’s the leftover taste of the book business, with agents and publicists and friendly book stores killed by corporate chains.

So what I want for Christmas is simple: Something to read that is fun and illuminating; a book that restores my faith in the centuries-old practice of binding wisdom and art into pages to hold in our hands and hearts.

To Knit the Raveled Sleave of Care

Valerie Lester, Bay Weekly contributor and writing tutor, eats, shoots and leaves

Links. Not sausage links. Not golf links. But links between people and places. I’ll tell you a story that illustrates what I mean.

Recently, in the face of the enormity of the earthquake that struck Pakistan, Kashmir, and northern India, with all the force of a nuclear explosion, I felt wretchedly impotent. What can a person do in the face of such horror? Send money, of course, and I intended to do that. But I became obsessed with the idea of actually participating in the effort to help.

Reason, of course, intervened. A 66-year-old woman flying to Islamabad with packets of food and clothes tucked into bags and the interstices of her coat, demanding to be taken to the epicenter, might not exactly be General Musharraf’s idea of aid. But with a harsh winter approaching in the mountains of the region, the idea of contributing something real was persistent.

Eventually, I dug out my bag of yarn and started crocheting a scarf of many colors. Shortly thereafter, I set off on a trip to England and crocheted my way across the Atlantic. (My crochet hook is short and discreet. It’s made of aluminum and doesn’t set off airport security alarms the way knitting needles sometimes do.)

I finished the scarf in Shaftesbury (which is a lovely town in Thomas Hardy’s Dorset countryside). There’s an Oxfam shop on the main street, and I took my scarf there. The shop is staffed by delightful, very elderly ladies, who do a brisk trade in second-hand goods and holiday cards. Taking pride of place in the center of the counter was a collection box whose label announced Earthquake Appeal. Yes! I stuffed some money into it (priming the pump, as it were, for the reception of my somewhat dubious gift), then produced my somewhat raffish scarf, asking the ladies if there was a way to send it to the earthquake victims. They didn’t laugh, bless them.

“Will Afghanistan do?” they asked. “Some volunteers are putting together shoe boxes and shipping them there?”

Afghanistan. It’s cold and miserable in the mountains there too, so even though it wasn’t my first choice, Kashmir, I agreed. Then I looked around the shop and bought several boxes of Christmas cards. On a whim I asked if they had any donations of yarn. They had a crateful. I dug through it and found a dozen balls of excellent navy wool.

There’s a chain here: Someone donated leftover yarn, Oxfam accepted it, I bought it and am now nearly three feet into an enormous scarf.

This time I’m going to make sure it gets to an earthquake victim in Kashmir. Does anyone know how I might? That will forge another link, and that is what I want for Christmas.

Visions of Tidiness Dance in My Head

Sonia Linebaugh, Devotee of silence and words; Bay Weekly contributor since 1993.

Look at the ads for electronic components and small kitchen appliances. There’s not a cord in sight. That’s what I want for Christmas: not a cord in sight.

An electronic invasion by computer hard drive, screen, printer, scanner, mouse, plug-ins, speakers, telephone, CD changer and TV, VCR and DVD players have turned my home into a nest of wires. Sure there are wireless devices. In fact, I have a wireless mouse. Trouble is, when my husband uses his wireless mouse at the same time, the signals get crossed and everything slo-o-o-w-s d-o-o-w-n.

A lot of solutions are advertised: workstations with “decorative molded side panels” that cover computer cables; desks that feature hollow legs and tamper resistant raceways; something called WireTracks that turns “every piece of baseboard molding, chair rail molding and door casing in your house or office into hidden wiring channels.” It’s installed in 17 easy steps requiring safety goggles, protective gloves, dust mask, power saw and new baseboards over the tracks. Uh-huh.

There are surface raceways and wire duct; raised floor cable management systems; cable tray systems promised to be “affordable and attractive”; j-channels; wire guards not unlike the ones mother used, but she attached them to the wall with heavy duty staples; cable ties; clips; wraps; a cord caddy that winds cords around hooks “to neatly organize unsightly loose wires” — it attaches to wall or floor with four adhesive pads; a cable veil that bends to fit over wires behind audio/video components and computers. Sleeves, tubes. Many more.

Oh dear Santa, choose what you know is best. But don’t put your gift under the tree — install it under the computer table and behind the audio/visual center.

California Dreaming

Helena Mann-Melnitchenko, Teacher, linguist, writer and survivor; Bay Weekly regular for over two years

It’s a bit uncanny. My husband, Gene, and I want the same thing under our Christmas tree: tickets to California.

“You’re such East Coast people,” my brother is fond of pontificating. And, of course, we are. But we’ve lived in southern California several times in our lives, and revisiting old familiar places seems like a splendid idea.

We’d fly to Los Angeles, rent a car and drive about 15 minutes to Marina del Rey, where we lived in a condo with a view of the ocean. Well, that is, if you leaned dangerously from the balcony. We would stay in the quaint hotel on the beach, next door to the French restaurant run by two Canadian brothers. Would they remember us? We still remember their fragrant bouillabaisse with pompano and barracuda and other good things from the Pacific Ocean.

After a few days of walking on the beach and watching the sun’s red-fire ball plunge into the Pacific, we would brave the freeway traffic to Laguna Beach. We had a house there with a view of the Saddleback Mountains. In January, they were dusted with snow while the ruby bougainvillea cascaded down over our backyard fence. The house is someone else’s now, but we would swing by to see the roses Gene planted under the palms in the front garden. We’d stay in a small hotel on a high bluff, listening to the ocean at night.

On our way to San Diego and the Victorian Hotel del Coronado — which claims a resident ghost of a murdered young woman — we would stop in San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows return each year on a certain day in March. I would want to see the dark-paneled library where I had spent many hours researching this and that for my writing, then drive to the Mission. Do you remember it? In Alfred Hitchock’s movie Vertigo, Kim Novak plunges to her death from the famous bell tower as Gregory Peck watches, helpless.

Why not get those tickets for each other? Sure beats braving the crowds searching for that perfect gift at the Mall.

But what I would really, reall love is to be transported directly from our house to that quaint hotel in California, avoiding all those crowds at the airports.

Maintaining Only What I Love

Sandra Olivetti Martin, Bay Weekly co-founder, editor and publisher

“Life is maintenance. So we’d better like what we’ve got to maintain,” advised a wise old friend who bears more than a passing resemblance to Santa Claus.

And with a nod of his head and a blink of his eye, the friend, Tom Abercrombie of West River, was off to maintain his memories of life as a National Geographic photojournalist. When he’s not writing that book, he’s maintaining his hold on another decades-long project, building a sailboat.

Amen! I said and dashed off to maintain my husband’s and my own equilibrium by cooking dinner. Then to maintain order in the household there’d be dishes to do, which includes maintaining the bottoms of those fancy pans (the ones I asked for some Christmases past to keep up my kitchen image as much as to cook a good meal) by diligent applications of elbow grease plus thick black scouring soap and pads. Maintaining the stainless steel stove and fridge I had to have (for the same reason) is an all-weekend chore.

As is maintaining home, hearth and the plants that bring the garden indoors these cold winter days. Plus maintaining lots of things I can’t remember why I ever wanted and wish would go away.

So what I want for Christmas is to maintain perspective, remembering that what I’m really maintaining is a good life rich with love, friends, family and memories. And, Santa please, a set of home maintenance tools that all work, including some supercharged, grease-cutting, non-toxic scouring stuff.

A Date … with Myself

Alice Snively, 58-year-old liveaboard sailor and Bay Weekly contributing writer

That’s what I really want for Christmas. This tryst would consist of me alone, self-cloistered in a reasonably good hotel, located just about anywhere, as long as it has room service with good food (’round the clock preferred), a big bathtub and television. Oh, and a phone — for calling room service.

Of course I’ll do my share of gifting this year as always, even making some of the goodies myself, because I really do enjoy giving. Usually I don’t ask for anything in particular for myself. But if family and friends would send me cash this year, I’ll spend it wisely on, well, pampering me for two weeks. No meals to prepare, no phone to answer, no duties to tend. It will take the first week just to learn to relax. That’s why I need two weeks; this is scientifically provable.

When not sleeping, however, I will be multi-tasking. These bundles of activities will be performed in combinations, such as, feasting while soaking in the tub; reading and feasting while soaking in the tub; reading and feasting while lounging in bed; writing and feasting while lounging in bed; watching television and feasting while lounging in bed. I haven’t calculated all the possible combinations but may be able to define them by intensive hands-on research.

You may think my request selfish, but consider. This gift from my loved ones could in fact be the best present I give to them, albeit round about. They can endow me with the same cash-for-vacation gift every year and be rid of me for two weeks guilt free.

One Piece of Original Annapolis Art

Carrie Steele, newly engaged Bay Weekly staff writer and calendar editor

Next year, when I move out of my little downtown Annapolis apartment, I’ll greatly miss everything Annapolis — from seeing the State House lit up every evening to taking visitors to see the Naval Academy to strolling downtown for a lattè at City Dock Coffee.

So for Christmas, I hope to take a little piece of downtown Annapolis with me. Long an admirer of local art featuring the State Capitol’s dome, Main Street and familiar water scenes, I’d love to have a piece of Annapolis to place on the wall in my new home.

With paintings costing several hundred to several thousands of dollars, I don’t actually expect to discover real brush strokes under my Christmas tree. But it’s fun to look, dream big and maybe someday…

Browsing downtown, I stopped by Main Street Gallery, which boasts downtown art from Kirk McBride, whose oil paintings Main Street, Twilight I & II (each $2,800) capture the bustle of nightlife in a twilight full of possibility. At McBride’s, I liked the watercolor paintings by Jean Ranney Smith, in particular, some of her five-by-seven-inch work called Town Dock (at a more affordable $205), which illustrates the water in a warm twilight of peaches and blues laced with yellows and greens. Jimmy Reynolds’ cityscapes, including a panorama of Annapolis on pine wood, reside at ArtFX.

There are dozens more local artists and artworks, with more — of both — created all the time. What’s alluring about owning original art is that I’d have a tiny piece of human experience, the way one person saw one scene at one moment.

The catch is the often-hefty price tag. That makes prints — high quality reproductions — look awfully enticing. But on my holiday wish list — or for a lifetime — why not shoot for the moon?

Hand-Written Entries for the Book of Memory

Janice F. Booth, Reader, writer and teacher ever hungry for words; first-year contributor to Bay Weekly

More than kisses, letters mingle souls;

For, thus friends absent speak.

–John Donne, in a letter to Sir Henry Wotton

’Twas the week before Christmas

And all through the house

Not a PC was glowing;

We’d stilled every mouse.

The gifts were all stacked

By the front door with care.

Cards, paper and ribbon

Were strewn everywhere.

We’d finally nestled

All snug in our bed,

While musings on friendships’

Sweet names filled our heads.

No card came from Charlie,

Nor from Aunt Louise.

Our greeting from Herbert

Was too brief, indeed!

Did Sally start college?

Is David a dad?

These questions unanswered

Left us pensive and sad.

Christmas cards have their purpose,

Bringing messages of cheer

And news, big and small, that has happened all year.

So my wish, as I toss and I turn in my bed,

Is that everyone take up their pens and —

Instead of signing “Love, Lilly or Bill, or Aunt Sue”

Each greeting will come with a sentence or two…

Of events in the lives of family and friends.

Kendra’s kitten, Campbell’s illness,

“Michelle’s pregnant again!”

As life grows more complex, and friends more remote,

We can shorten that distance with, simply, a note.

Write, type or dictate

— you’ll be glad that you wrote.

With apologies to Clement Moore and Dr. Seuss

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.9 billion Christmas cards were mailed from the United States in 2004. No statistics on how many of those greetings included newsy notes.

I’ll note you in my book of memory.

–William Shakespeare: King Henry VI

More and Better Bay Stewards

Frank Gouin, The Bay Gardener

My wish for Christmas? To see more people become involved in their community and to grow more aware of the pollution problems that plague the Bay. We are all contributors to the problems of the Bay, and we can all do more to help.

We all need to become better managers of the land surrounding the Bay, taking care to prevent siltation and nutrient run-off. We need to concentrate more on recycling. We need to teach children to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and to conserve natural resources. We need not be afraid to expose pollution violators, illegal dumps, abandoned vehicles. We should seize every opportunity to help.

Places to Put Things

Betsy Kehne, production manager with Bay Weekly since 1994

My father was an old-stuff-aholic. Mom cringed every time dealer-friends called with “special invitations” to estate sales … every time my dad emptied the Dodge station wagon on his way to an auction … every time a beat-up pickup truck pulled into the driveway with a furniture-shaped bump in the bed camouflaged underneath a ratty blanket. I know the cringe well because I learned it from the best. Every nook and cranny of our home held an old this, or an antique that or something just too interesting — or too odd — to let go.

For 35 years I avoided my genetic predisposition for packrathood. Yes, I attended auctions, but never before had I signed up to get my bidding paddle — until last spring.

That’s when I discovered the excitement that my dad must have enjoyed. The excitement in finding something really cool, or really old. Railroad lanterns, German beer steins, old stoneware and bottles. Sure, buying something shiny and new is nice, but discovering something that has a long history is an entirely different feeling. I like that I’m giving it a new home, and that someday it will find another home when I’m gone. The more I know about its history the better, and I always write it down.

Almost any town has at least one shop filled with old stuff, so it’s easy to spend a day poking around for old books, furniture, quilts, clocks or china. Antique malls like Featherstone in Annapolis, Chesapeake Market Place in St. Leonard and Southern Maryland Antique Center in Huntingtown can keep me enthralled for hours. Smaller shops and boutiques like those in North Beach, Galesville, Bowie and on West Street and Maryland Avenue in Annapolis always bristle with great finds.

What do I really want for Christmas? Well, the question should be what do I really need for Christmas. The answer? Bookcases and cabinets — all with some sort of history — to packrat away all the other stuff.

A Gift for a Lifetime

Lisa Edler Knoll, Bay Weekly director of marketing and promotions

Christmas is for children, and having two little ones has changed my perspective on the holiday. In my house, my husband and I take great delight in enjoying the Christmas magic through our children’s eyes. Kitschy decorations, musical snow globes, candy canes and Santa brunches: the more the merrier.

It’s the kids that matter. So I think about what can I do or buy that will bring my children happiness. Sure, a puppy for my daughter and a train for my son will bring joy on Christmas morning, but what my kids need is bigger and less tangible. My Christmas wish is for my kids to have a quality education — in public school.

It may not seem so unrealistic, until you look at the test scores in the Annapolis city public schools. Dare I risk my children’s well being by sending them to a school where only 30 percent of third-grade students pass proficiency tests? Do I ride the wave of private school enrollment, spending upward of $300,000 — just in time to send them to college?

No. I want Santa to bring me better options. It won’t fit under any Christmas tree, but I want a public school where my babies, and perhaps yours, will receive a quality education in a safe and nurturing environment, a gift that will keep on giving.

Signless Vistas

C. Blair Lee, Native Mississipian, come-lately Marylander, Bay Weekly’s Southern Anne Arundel advertising representative

My Christmas wish is that times weren’t so tough that businesses have to resort to environmental spam. For I want to see less clutter; fewer signs for Christmas — and the rest of the year, for that matter.

Anymore the song “Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs” is true not just about laws and limitations, but also about plain-out marketing graffiti.

I remember when advertising appeared in print only on set, newspapers, magazines and newsletters. You might spot an occasional yard sale advertisement or a community notice on a telephone pole. Nowadays, many a business owner stresses and strains for instant sales on the side of the road.

I want to free my mind of the everyday worries and concerns while driving. Focusing my listening to a song that I haven’t heard in a while is a daily pleasure; I don’t need illegal signs flaunting the location where I can purchase this music. I enjoy sipping on a flat cola more than shopping through road signs advertising the best deal on a 12-pack. It gets so bad, I don’t want to shop at the businesses that litter the roads.

For Christmas, I want to see town and county overcome this environmental nuisance and make our landscapes spam-free.

A Good Soak

Vicki Marsh, Lover of knowledge and beginner writer; maybe someday a Grandma Moses of writers

Winter brings on chilling cold days, my achy bones and goose bumps. There’s no better way for me than soaking in a hot bathtub to relieve these problems.

I want Santa to bring me a bathtub with a soft foam neck and soft backrest and with hot and cold knobs located within my reach. I want my present to allow me to rest comfortably in a semi-reclining position, head and shoulders above the water line, with armrests so I can hold my book keeping it dry. I can see myself in my new tub, cushy and comfortable, semi floating in hot water, 30 minutes of serenity and warmth.

I use my foam foot-shaped yellow bath mat as a neck cushion. The angle is neither restful nor comfortable, but it’s the best I’ve got. Keeping the yellow foot mat tucked behind my neck is a struggle as I try to keep the hot water flowing, just enough to keep me warm and cozy.

You know how it is, those of you who have a regular tub like I do. Just as you settle back with book in hand, the water turns lukewarm and needs readjustment. Try as I might, my toes, located at the end of my five-foot length, cannot reach the hot and cold knobs. Tossing my book to the floor, I slide down toward the knobs, the yellow mat floats away and with it goes my serenity.

Once again I regulate the water, fix my neck padding and pick up my book. A few seconds later, I hear the gurgling of hot water flowing out the overflow. My book is wet, my serenity is gone and I’m cold.

Santa help me!

Keeping Santa Claus on the Job

Marnie Morris, Bay Weekly Calvert County advertising manager, about to retire as Mrs. Claus

My seven-year-old second grader has informed me that her older siblings don’t believe there is a Santa Claus. It seems they have dropped the bomb that it really is Mom and Dad doing the deed.

She paused heavy after telling me, and I waited to see where she was going with this. I noticed in this waiting period a look of wonderment and took it upon myself to keep it there.

I came in fairly heavy with the what do you thinks and total affirmation of the belief that he is, he will and he does.

Then I lectured the nay-saying pre-teens and made plans for stockings and sleigh bells.

My wish for this season of holiday cheer is to feel the anticipation of the man in red and to savor the last looks at my youngest child’s glee in a belief whose time will pass in a year.

Wonderwoman’s Vacuum Cleaner

Margaret Tearman, former rootless hip chick, today a rooted big-hipped woman and Bay Weekly contributing writer

My husband and I live in a century-old farmhouse that breathes dust. We share this dustbowl with four dogs that lose most of their fur on a daily basis. And my husband, bless his heart, considers himself a descendant of farmers, which for some unexplained reason allows him the privilege of wearing muddy workboots inside (It’s just a little dirt). Keeping floors clean is pretty much a full-time job, and it’s a task that usually lands on my to-do list.

This brings me ’round to what I’d like to see under our Christmas tree: a user-friendly vacuum cleaner.

We’ve all seen those TV ads for vacuums boasting the newest tornado technology, the dust and dirt swirling madly inside a see-through canister. We got sucked into the promise of great advances in vacuum power and bought the top-end model.

As advertised, dog hair and dust bunnies were swept up with enough suction to make Tim the Tool Man grunt in ecstasy. But somewhere in the design process — proudly advertised as a male achievement — power overtook ease of use.

The vacuum has some fine attachments, but I need the instruction manual — and three hands — to use them. Moving the switch going from bare-floor to carpet mode requires an unreasonable amount of foot strength; a simple button would be, well, too simple. Then there’s the lever opening the trap door at the bottom of that see-through canister holding dust, dirt and dog hair. For some unfathomable reason, it was placed directly below the power switch. I mistake the two with obscene regularity, usually in the middle of the newly vacuumed living room rug.

So Santa, forget the bling. This gal would love a powerful, but sensible, vacuum cleaner. Don’t worry about the fancy wrapping; a simple red bow will do.

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