What Are You Planning for New Year's Eve? (Videos)

Dateless New Year's Eve Plans

New Year's schedule for girls without dates. Anyone up for some Extreme Jenga?

New Year's Eve Party with Drunks

There's nothing more amusing than drunk straight guys joking about being gay.

New Year's Eve in a Deli

Looks like the girls are trying to locate a more interesting group to spend their New Year's Eve with.

New Year's Eve in Vegas and Times Square (Videos)

New Years Eve Times Square 2007

A first person view of what it was like on New Years Eve in New York's Times Square, police, security checkpoints, crowd stampedes, cheers, the countdown and chaos.

Las Vegas New Year's Eve

Girls going wild on the Las Vegas Strip on New Year's Eve! They may be easy on the eyes, but they're not so easy on the ears!

The REAL New Year's Eve

What really happens in Times Square on December 31. It's not as glamorous as network television makes it appear. Beware the bodily fluids!

New Year's Eve 2005-2006

This footage was shot around New York, including Times Square, December 31, 2005-January 1, 2006. A strong argument for staying home and watching it instead of actually being there!

Motherhood and the Sense of Touch

When my son was a baby, I knew his body completely. I controlled everything that went into it and saw everything that came out of it. I carried him around until I couldn't lift him any more. I could watch him sleep for hours.

When he was older I sat with him every night singing, until one day he said to me, "Don't sing." At that point I switched to telling stories about my own childhood. As an only child he is fascinated by the concept of sibling rivalry, and that river runs deep for me. I used to rub his back or head as he lay there; now I'm lucky he still wants to hear an occasional story.

I can't say exactly when he started to pull away, when the inevitable barriers to touch went up, but it was years ago. Now, as a teenager, he doesn't want me to hug or kiss him, walk near him, or even brush away a crumb by his mouth. It's been hands off for a long time as we separate out into independent entities, joined not at the hip but at the heart. I still give him a goodnight kiss almost every night, but that's the extent of physical contact, and I accept that.

He and I just returned from a quick New Year's vacation visiting my mom in Puerto Rico. We had two long flights, both of which he spent sleeping soundly. Thanks to some crafty seat selection and early ticket purchasing, we were fortunate enough to have a row of three seats on our redeye from Los Angeles to San Juan. He got to lie down and I got to put my arm on his shoulder. It was my first opportunity in years to spend as much time as I wanted looking at him, and the closest I've been to holding him since he was much younger.

The huge transitions in the mother-son relationship over 14 years parallel enormous physical changes. His chin is fuzzy and his voice deep. His hands started as tiny fists, then became pudgy and are now larger than mine, with long slender fingers. He's trying to be bigger than I am in other ways too, and that's the way it should be. I embrace his changes. It's just rare that I get to embrace him any more.

Originally posted January 5, 2008

The Christmas Letter You Hope Never to Send

Dear Friends and Family,

Highlights of the year 2008 would have to include our trip to Clark, Wyoming to visit our cousins. They are fabulous hosts and have an eighty-acre “ranch” with the Rocky Mountains as a back drop. Our visit included our fourth trip to Yellowstone, a short drive to the west.

After visiting with them, we were able to fit in a long awaited trip to Iowa, fulfilling our goal to “see America first.” We have now visited every state in the union. We’ve also visited six provinces of Canada.

We joined an Elderhostel group at the 33rd Annual Glenn Miller Festival in Clarinda, Iowa and had three days of wall to wall Glenn Miller music played by bands from around the world, including an eighty piece all girl high school band from Japan.

Upon first arriving in Iowa we were surprised to see so many lakes. These lakes turned out ot be flooded farm fields. Do you remember reading abou the Iowa flood last June? We were there. An added bit of excitement was being rousted out of bed to take shelter on the first floor hall of the motel due to a tornado threat. Fortunately no tornado materialized.

In August we spent a very nice week on Mount Desert Island, Maine which includes Bar Harbor. At low tide we even walked the sand bar for which the town was named.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the many exciting hours watching our grandkids play volley ball, flag football, soccer, ice hockey, baseball, swimming, track and cross country. This is especially true when all we had to do is get to the game, watch and then go home. No practices, getting the kids ready, washing uniforms, etc., etc. Having grandkids is a great blessing!

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2009!

The 2008 Ugly Christmas Sweater...Winners? (Videos)

"Best Homemade Sweater"

Nothing mass-produced could match the hellishness of Bear Jesus ascending to heaven - with lights!

"Best Group"

They cared enough to wear the very...best.

"Best Party Invitation"

It's an invitation and a shopping guide all in one!

"Best College Edition"

This isn't the way I remember college parties, thank goodness.

Cringe-Inducing White House Christmas (Videos)

Symbolically, White House Tree Falls

A White House Christmas tree is toppled. Once the tree stood up, the coalition of the willing stood down. Keith Olbermann narrates a surreal scene in front of the White House.

Barney's Dreams of Glory

If only he could serve as the much-needed scape-dog for the previous eight years.

"The perfect theme for this year"? We're holding out for those special ornaments made out of sackcloth and ashes!

Getting to Know You - Over the Holidays

Seasonal advice from LoveHowTo.com.

Starting a new relationship is exciting but stressful regardless of the time of year. "Am I talking too much? Will he call again? Should I call him? Is he for real? How can I lose five pounds by our next date?" Factor in the holidays, though, and it takes the craziness to a whole new level.

Those beginning-of-relationship questions pale next to the seasonal: "Do I buy my new beau a gift? A card? How do I sign a card: 'Love'? 'Best wishes'? 'Here's hoping'? What if he doesn't get me anything? Will he bring up New Year's Eve, and if not should I? What's his take on the Ugly Christmas Sweater controversy?"

Yes, something that starts in December has a whole different feel from a first meeting in spring, summer or fall - or even in January. You're distracted at a time you want to be obsessed (probably a good thing). You're busy with family obligations, with shopping, wrapping, mailing, baking, getting cards out, travel plans...a million and one details that fill your mind as much as a potential new love otherwise might.

All these holiday activities remind you that you're not part of a couple but soon might be. This at a time of year that can make being alone a social stigma.

So don't overthink it. You shouldn't overthink any new relationship, but especially when there are added pressures. This time of year, schedules are out of whack and longstanding obligations overshadow potential plans with a near-stranger - and rightfully so. Relax. Focus on the holidays and your pre-existing relationships, with friends and family.

There's plenty of time to get obsessed later.

Parental Without Boundaries

A story contributed by W (no, not that one):

My Hellish Story goes back about 17 years. At the time I was dating a guy I went to high school with (it is long over). I was about 17 at the time, and I was having Christmas Eve dinner with his family, who followed the German tradition of Christmas Eve celebrations.

At the dinner, out of the blue, his mother turned to me and said that when she was my age, she had more assets than I did. She indicated her massive breasts, then her voluminous butt, and pointed out that it didn't look like I had childbearing hips!

My response? "Um... pass the potatoes?" I was horrified, and embarrassed and OMG what a horrible thing to say to a 17 year old.

OK maybe not as big as crime or a massive family fight, but it's awful...and yet funny at the same time!

Moving on Christmas Eve

Barbara Stanton has a wonderful husband these days, but still recalls this hellish Christmas memory. It goes well with some hellish Thanksgiving memories she was kind enough to share.

The first Christmas with my first husband was a huge warning of what was to come with that relationship. Before we were married my husband had been unemployed for a while and he owed lots of back rent. After we got together, I had been paying the rent on time, as well as an agreed-upon amount more to try and catch up with our debt to our landlady.

In November of that year she offered to forgive our debt if we moved out of the apartment because she was planning on renovating.

To make a long story short, we ended up moving on Christmas Eve. I had a three-month-old baby with colic who wouldn't let me put him down. I also had laryngitis with a fever and couldn't speak above a whisper. My mom saved my life that day by showing up before my husband became violent because he was angry at me for being sick and holding the screaming baby. She packed up my kitchen and unpacked it in our new home.

We only had a car to move large furniture and had no idea how we were going to do that until friends stopped by to say "Merry Christmas" in their pickup and we begged them to help.

Needless to say we didn't bother decorating that year because EVERYTHING was in boxes.

Without Reservations

Joseph LaMountain of SparkLight Communications in Alexandria, VA can laugh now about holiday travels, but he wasn't laughing 15 years ago when he took off without reservations. Playing it by ear is not for the squeamish!

Before we were married, my wife and I took our first European vacation over the Christmas holidays. We had little money, and didn't plan very well, but figured that with our names (I'm Joseph and my wife is Mary), could smooth over any potential problems.

On Christmas eve, we departed Geneva, Switzerland we entered Italy's pristine Val D'Aosta region. Absolutely nothing was open. Starving, we pleaded with a local restaurateur to feed us in the late afternoon. He declined even though we could see the place was full of locals enjoying the day. We eventually found a small convenience store that was open and we stocked up on bread, fruit, cheese and water.

Looking for lodging was even more treacherous. We made it to Turin, but nothing was open except a small place near the train station. After a short tour, we realized that it was THE place in town where ladies of ill repute entertained their clients. Other hotels were full and despite our pleading ("Giuseppe et Maria!!"), we had no luck. And then I developed a raging sore throat.

We soldiered on, eventually finding a hotel off the highway in the town of Novara, Italy. I plopped on the bed and consulted my travel guide; Novara's claim to fame is that it is Italy's largest producer of cement. On Christmas Day, through a driving snowstorm in the Appenine Mountains, we made it to the small port town of Portovenere where, the next day, we proceeded to eat a huge meal and drink too much wine.

It was awful at the time, but fifteen years later we can look back on it and laugh.

Hellish and Hard to Find the Humor

Two anonymous contributions (from two different women with excellent memories) perfectly capture the hellishness that can be the holiday season.

1. My Dad was an undertaker in a small town in Northern Minnesota, Hibbing. Whenever someone died, if there was no investigation into the death, they called the mortician to come pick up the body. I think my worst Christmas was one Christmas night, when all 12 in my family were sitting around at my parents' house, and my Dad got a call about a head-on collision on the highway. For some reason, all the guys decided it would be cool to help my Dad go pick up the bodies.

The entire house cleared out except for the girls. They were gone for hours. They came back somber and depressed and the night was ruined. They talked about body parts strewn on the highway for blocks, about picking up parts of people and then those parts disintegrating.

Was there any redeeming quality to the evening? Well, we did get to feel superior to those who couldn't help as they were too busy throwing up on the side of the highway!

2. One Christmas Eve I was newly pregnant and desperately sick (not just morning sickness - it went on all day). My husband and I were invited to my sister-in-law's house for dinner and presents. We got there and they wanted to open gifts first, which dragged on for hours. Finally sometime around 8pm or so, we find out that they didn't cook dinner - that we are going out. To make things worse, there were no plans for a place to go, so we drove around and found a Chinese Food place that was open.

I hadn't eaten in hours so I was already really nauseated. The smell in the Chinese restaurant almost sent me over the edge. The worst part was that no one (except my husband) seemed the slightest bit concerned. Needless to say, that was the last Christmas Eve we spent with them.

Christmas Gets the Boot

Stephen Bell of CSHS in the U.K. submits this hellish story on behalf of his son, Matthieu. It happened a few years back and is adorably British.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...

On Saturday 14th December, the Microsoft Christmas Ball in the Roundhouse, London, was well underway and I was resplendent in my new Dinner Jacket - all very James Bond etc., until my car was clamped outside our hotel and my dinner jacket went mysteriously missing at the Ball along with £100 in cash that I had for taxis, emergencies etc.

Sunday saw my car unclamped after a lengthy discussion with London officials and I spent the next six hours on the motorways of England dropping various friends home in Surrey and Berkshire before heading to Bristol to a dinner party.

On Monday morning, the rear of my car was totalled by a speeding Transit van who decided not to stop at the red light where I was already stopped. This happened at 10:30am and it was not until 4pm that I was actually picked up by a Recovery truck due to the insurance company, the Royal Automobile Club and the garage where the car will be repaired, arguing over who should come and get me.

So I killed time by doing all my Christmas shopping. When I finally arrived back in Reading and picked up the hire car, I could not be bothered to lug several bags of Christmas presents up three flights of stairs after the day I had had, so I locked it all in the boot.

On Tuesday morning I drove to my little village railway station and parked the hire car right under the CCTV camera. I went to a big important customer in London for the day and was invited to their Christmas Party. To cut a long story short, at 4am I was in the spare room of one of their IT Managers somewhere in Pinner.

At 11am Wednesday morning, I returned to Pangbourne railway station to find the hire car (only 450 miles on the clock) with no windows or wheels. The glove box was open (there went more cash and my 50 favourite CDs) as was the boot (several hundred pounds worth of Christmas presents). Bugger!

By Wednesday night I was in bed with a horrible throat virus and there I stayed until Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning I headed into town and put my switch card into the ATM - it promptly swallowed it. To cut another long story short, Halifax Bank Head Office had suspended my account (at that time over £10,000 in credit due to my selling my house) because of a £5 non-payment on my Halifax credit card. However, rather than calling me to ask would I like to pay this, they suspend the account THE SATURDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND NOTIFIED ME BY MAIL!

Today, the BMW is just back and Halifax are working to unravel the mess. However, I will have no cash card or cheque book (it was in the car) until the New Year and have no Christmas presents. Oh, and the insurance company have said that I am not covered for any loss of personal goods!

Christmas Lights and Decorations (Videos)

Chipmunks Animated Christmas Lights

Okay, now you can't deny these lights are incredible, but The Chipmunks really are Hellish. Dig those hula hoops, though.

The Pulsing House

I hope they purchased blackout shades for the neighbors across the street.

Wizards In Winter Animated Christmas Lights

Here's someone who went all out on his Christmas lights this year. While I think they're far from Hellish, I'm also glad I don't live next door.

CSnowman Attack Caught on Camera

Don't try this at ANYONE's home: two men have been arrested and charged for assault on a snowman.

Sleigh Ride - Barenaked Ladies Animated

Great tune, funny rendition, incredible lights...what could be Hellish about that? Try living next door!

Ugly Christmas Sweaters: It's Always the Season (Videos)

Tis the season! Check out our Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Guide here.

Ugly Sweater Rap

Like it says, a rap about ugly sweaters. Is nothing sacred?

Drunk and Ugly Christmas Sweater Party

Drunken dance at a theme Christmas party: When the Christmas Sweaters go on, the inhibitions drop away.

S'More Christmas Sweaters

About the video: Marshmallows, Ugly Sweaters, and Karaoke. What more is there to life?

Christmas Sweater Party with Live Music

Hellish Song and Dance at the Holiday Office Party (Videos)

Karaoke at the Office Christmas Party

How much do you have to drink for this to sound good?

Office Christmas Party Dance

You should loosen up at your office party. Just not this loose.

Christmas Office Party Gone Karaoke Krazy

He can't help himself, but we can. Stop now, please!

Silly Dancing at the Office Christmas Party

It's amazing how alien the concept of videotaping is to many people.

Old Fashioned Piano Party

At this Christmas "party" she's "playing the piano" while her friends "sing."

Pets in Christmas Sweaters (Videos)

Sweater Dog

Man, this dog really resents his Christmas sweater.

Kitty Christmas Sweater

No one likes Christmas sweaters. Especially cats. Oh, the humiliation!

Christmas Sweater Pug Tricks

You just know what this dog is thinking.

Leftovers: The Best Part of the Turkey (Videos)

What to Do with the After-Thanksgiving Turkey

Tired of leftover-turkey sandwiches? Not quite ready for turkey soup? Here are some ideas for non-traditional leftovers.

Black Friday Sagas

Do you have any hellish Black Friday stories? If so, we'd love to hear them. This year, though, we recommend staying home and using Amazon.com. Carey Hart of BLASTmedia in Indianapolis tells a hellish – yet typical – Black Friday tale.

A couple years ago, I made the mistake of being a Black Friday shopper, and dragging my boyfriend along with me. Poor guy, it was our first major holiday together and I nearly ruined it!

We live in Indianapolis, and there is a big outlet mall about 40 minutes south of the city. I normally NEVER go shopping on Black Friday, and have no idea what was going through my head that year. Regardless, I had heard that the outlet stores were having amazing sales that day, and they opened at the ungodly hour of 3 am. So we made the trip down the interstate.

We ended up getting stuck in the absolute worst traffic of all-time, in the middle of a winter night. We were stuck on the interstate, with no opportunity to turn around and no exits for at least 3 hours. It was absolutely awful.

When we finally made it to the mall, the parking lot was equally insane and we had to walk really far. I didn't want all our suffering to be for nothing, so I still shopped – and waited in even more lines! The line for the Coach store was out the door and down the sidewalk, but I persisted. The bargains were OK, but not that great. What was I thinking? I still have no idea, and three years later, the thought still makes my boyfriend and me both cringe. It was, by far, the worst shopping trip of our lives!

Turkey Disasters from Wisconsin

Karen Herzog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote about Thanksgiving turkey disasters in a piece worthy of Hellish Holidays. She'd asked readers to write in about Thanksgiving disasters, and received 50 responses. More than half involved turkey: dropping it on the floor, setting it on fire, even turning it blue.

Blue? Well, when it comes to turkey, people are always finding new ways that things can go wrong. Typically these involve first-time turkey-cookers, but I know from personal experience that even veterans can be undone by the big bird.

In the article, Karin Steffen of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin explained how she was excited to be making her first Thanksgiving turkey. She thought she was all prepared, but had forgotten about trussing. She tore the house apart looking for string but finally had to settle on shoelaces. At least they were new. But unfortunately they were also navy blue, a fact which didn't register at the time.

You can see where this one's going: the dye from the laces seeped into the entire body of the turkey. Thirty years later, Steffen says,"I can sort of laugh about this." I'll bet her family doesn't have any trouble laughing, and brings it up every single year. Some Thanksgiving traditions are just too good to let die.


Here's another way things can go wrong:

Good luck in the kitchen!

Examples of Christmas Letters

It's never too early to start groaning at the Christmas letters we receive during the holiday season. Starting around Thanksgiving the pitches and retrospectives start pouring in. I'm not talking about the reminders from charitable organizations about end-of-year tax deductible giving opportunities. I'm referring to the personal letters from friends acquaintances and those of whom we ask, "How did he get my address again?"

Here's a sample. Note the last line, in which the writer ensures that he will receive the full weight of any tax deduction your donation might bring.

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas!

I am writing to ask for your help. I have been asked to go on a mission trip to Rwanda, Africa by my church. I was scheduled to go earlier, but due to conditions in the mortgage industry we had to postpone our trip. The help I need is two fold:

1. Pray for us as we prepare for and go on our trip

I have been "trying" to go on this trip for over 3 years now. You must go through a 6 month preparation and training course once a week to prepare yourself and your heart for this trip. Once again, it was postponed. Please pray that we go on the trip, that we are safe and that we help the many Rwandans we will meet.

2. Help us financially

We need to raise over $6,000 per person which is a total of over $50,000 for the team. I am asking for you to give a donation to help sponsor the trip in the envelope provided. Even $50 or $100 will be extremely helpful to get us there. I think you in advance for your generous donation. (On your check, please do NOT put anything on the memo line or the check will be returned.)

May you be filled with joy and peace this Christmas.

Thanksgiving Meal Preparations (Videos)

BBQ Bob Gives You the (Thanksgiving) Bird!

Bob's Thanksgiving Day masterpiece. He smoked it ... to perfection! And this time he wasn't drunk when he did it! His family is so proud.

Annoying the Wife in the Thanksgiving Kitchen

Mary prepares the stuffing for a Thanksgiving feast for 20+ people. That's eight loaves of bread for those keeping track at home.

Cornbread Dressing

You know that old expression about too many cooks in the kitchen? Somehow I just have a feeling that dressing came out too salty. And who is that guy expecting to call him on Thanksgiving?

The Traditional Thanksgiving Squid

Thanksgiving Japanese style involves gutting a squid, in great detail.

Washing the Bird

Kim Michele Richardson of theunbreakablechild.com in Louisville, Kentucky started out the way we all did: cowed by a turkey. She learned the hard way how to prepare the "big bird."

It was Thanksgiving 1980, I was 20 years old and I decided to impress my boyfriend and cook Thanksgiving dinner for him and a few friends. There was only one problem. I hadn't quite developed my cooking skills and my only no-fail dishes at the time were a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grilled cheese.

I called my mother the week before Thanksgiving, the woman who always had the perfect Thanksgiving meal and to-kill-for oyster-sage stuffing. She quickly agreed to lend me her recipes and talk me through all the steps of cooking a delicious meal via the telephone on Thanksgiving morning.

I awoke at the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving and placed the phone call to her.

My mother talked me through preparing her famous stuffing. When I’d finished, she congratulated me, then told me to chill the stuffing in the fridge and get "big bird" out.

Felling very confident, smug even, I took the turkey out of the fridge and yes, yes I did remove all the packaging inside. Yippee, I was on a roll! Man-oh-man was my boyfriend going to be impressed!!

"What’s that, you say Mom? Of course, YES, of course, I took out all the inner packages, liver, gizzard etc. Now what?"

"Wash the big bird inside and out," she’d said. "Wash it good!" Then she patiently hung on the phone line and waited.

After a few minutes she asked what was taking me so long.

And I asked her: "How long is it going to take to rinse the turkey clean? It still has bubbles flowing out the cavity!"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I did exactly what you said: I’m cleaning it good! I poured Dawn dishwashing detergent in the cavity and on the body. Do you think I used too much Dawn?”

I can promise you I’m a much better cook today. And no, it doesn’t make me crazy to think about it — it just makes me crazy my family won’t forget about it.

Liquid Thanksgiving

Drinking the Dinner

The new Thanksgiving tradition: chuggin' the Jones Soda. The flavors are turkey and gravy, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, cranberry and pumpkin pie. Hope they brought enough for everyone!

Jones Soda Holiday Taste Test

This guy drinks Turkey & Gravy-flavored soda so you don't have to. The expression on his face says it all. Also on the menu: Sweet Potato Soda, Dinner Roll Soda, Pea Soda, Antacid Flavored Soda - he tried 'em all. "All sodas are completely vegetarian, certified kosher, and contain zero caffeine, calories, and carbs."

Belated Thanksgiving Soda

"Past its prime" doesn't begin to describe the taste of this stuff.

Have Some Bleedin' Turkey

Arlene Winnick of Winnick Public Relations in Los Angeles recalls the bleeding turkey story that is now party of her family's legend.

Two families with different backgrounds decided to have a joint Thanksgiving, teaching our kids about traditions and real home cooking. The day before, I realized I would need to order in and fake it since I just did not have time to cook. So I took the entire order out of the containers and put it into my own. On the big day my friend brought all her Italian family favorites and I heated up all my dishes.

The dinner was going great. We talked about the importance of cooking and holiday traditions and the evil Thanksgiving restaurant-goers. I presented the turkey all dressed and beautiful on a platter to many oohs and ahs.

Then my husband started to carve the bird, and with each slice it literally bled. Seems it was basically raw. (I had been told it was fully cooked and just needed to be reheated.) The children screamed like in a bad horror film and my friends looked at me. The moment of truth: Do I say I forgot to cook it or do I fess up and blame the restaurant?

I came clean. Everyone laughed but my children have never let me forget it.

Thanksgiving Dinner in the Parking Lot

Hellish holiday memories are a gift that keep on giving. Susan L. Milhoan of Retail Alliance in Norfolk, Virginia quotes the ever-seasonal Mary Englebreit who suggests, "Families put the 'fun' in dysfunctional."

My children (now 18 and 20) still refer to the Thanksgiving of 2003 as the high water mark among holidays.

My youngest son needed to travel from Michigan (our home at the time) to Cleveland for a hockey tournament that began on Black Friday. I needed to visit an elderly relative in Pittsburgh. Sounded like a way to combine two trips into one...but nothing ever goes that smoothly.

We arrived in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving Eve much later than planned. The next morning we went to the nursing home to visit my aging aunt who failed to recognize any of us. After a couple hours we were all anxious to leave and grab something to eat before heading to Cleveland. Nothing was open. NOTHING. No fast food places. NOTHING.

After about an hour of driving we found a Giant Eagle grocery store and thought we would buy sandwiches, or at least sandwich fixings. But as we walked in the door, the loudspeaker announced that the store was closing in five minutes. We grabbed what we could, which turned out to be cut carrots, pepperoni, chips and water, before being hustled out the door. We ate in the parking lot.

Arriving in Cleveland, we learned we had missed the opportunity to eat in the hotel restaurant, but we could order food at the bar. All they had was popcorn, nachos and pickles.

Every year since then my kids suggest we take Thanksgiving dinner out to the car and drive to some parking lot to enjoy it.

Political Thanksgiving Blessings

I know I don't always accentuate the positive in this blog. I mean really, with a name spotlighting hellishness, I can't always latch onto the affirmative. But this year, this Thanksgiving, I'm making an exception. I just can't stop smiling, even when I'm tearing up. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude and I'm really feeling it right now.

I fell for Barack Obama early on. It started out as a respect for his eloquence. His speeches - his 2004 Democratic Convention speech, his speech on race and, more recently, his acceptance speech - will be taught in schools and quoted in other speeches for decades to come. That's because behind his well-crafted words is a depth, seriousness of purpose, a vision that have been missing from American politics for way too long. I hardly dared believe we could elect someone who doesn't dodge hard questions, play games or recommend going shopping as a solution to a crisis. I didn't think we Americans were capable any more of doing the right thing over the expedient, of embracing change over business as usual.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I was wrong. I am thankful that my son Greg, who is 15, has a role model who makes it cool to study hard, stay strong, aim high and do good for society, such as through some misguidedly maligned community organizing. Greg was only seven when Bill Clinton left office. Clinton was a smart guy who cared passionately about making the future better than the immediate past. It was tragic to see the improvements achieved during his eight years not just decimated but repudiated over the following eight years. But the fact is, Clinton will always live in the shadow of his lack of discipline. He did not leave office as a role model, for reasons I could only recently explain to my son (and even then it was an awkward conversation).

We all expect a lot of Obama. Around the world there is a faith in this man that brings a lump to the throat, but also fear to the heart. Who could live up to these expectations? Will Americans, and citizens of other nations with whom we are inextricably linked, be patient, supportive and self-sacrificing enough to make the steep climb Obama referred to in his acceptance speech?

I believe so, because I know things have changed. The shared experience on election night was unlike the shared experiences we have had as a country for many years: unlike the Clinton impeachment, unlike the 2000 election results, unlike 9/11, unlike Hurricane Katrina. Finally, it was a celebration we were sharing, not public shame or horror. It was an embrace of the new.

We have seen the damage that can be wrought by a provincial leader without intellectual curiosity or empathy for the poor and middle class. This Thanksgiving I am grateful that we had the collective wisdom to choose the personification of the opposite. I am grateful, as always, to be an American - just more than usual this year.

The Year Without Turkey

Nancy O'Neill of Temecula, California writes that her worst Thanksgiving memory comes from the year she thought I got botulism from the turkey.

I was about 12 or so. My mom had cooked a huge turkey as she always did. After taking it out of the oven, she set the roaster on top of the stove with the cover tilted to vent the steam. Somehow, the cover slipped down and shut tight over the roaster. It stayed like that unnoticed for quite awhile. During the time it was cooling on top of the stove, I sneaked a chunk of turkey, put the cover back on as I had found it, and was tickled that I had gotten away with something.

About 10 minutes before we were ready to eat, my mom noticed the cover on tight and decided it was too risky for any of us to eat it for dinner due to possible botulism. We all begged her to let us eat it, but she insisted that missing one turkey for Thanksgiving was not worth making anyone ill, no matter how remote the possibility. She wouldn't even feed it to the dogs because she didn't want them to get sick.

I asked her what the symptoms of botulism poisoning were. As she listed a few of them including blurred vision, dry mouth, muscle weakness and possibly paralysis, I got more worried but still didn't confess. We ate dinner, full of side dishes but without the turkey.

As the night went on, I was convinced I was experiencing a multitude of symptoms. By the time I went to bed, my legs were getting stiff and after lying awake for what seemed like hours, I couldn't stand it anymore. My only thought was that if I didn't tell Mom and I died in my sleep, they would never know what killed me. Little did I know that people generally don't die from botulism. I finally dragged myself out of bed and told Mom.

Even though she hadn't let any of us, including the dogs, eat the turkey, she was pretty sure it was safe. Once she convinced me that I wasn't going to die, I went back to sleep.

It's Not a Hellish Holiday Unless Someone Pukes

Joyce Wilden of BUZZBizPR.com in Melbourne, Florida contributes her cautionary tale involving the collision of booze and turkey.

With our parents long dead, the Thanksgiving holiday is rotated between each of the six siblings in my family. When it came my turn some years ago, I wondered how to tear the men away from the football games and get my hyper-responsible female relatives to loosen up and have fun. Each year always seemed a repeat of the last, with men watching football and all the Thanksgiving food responsibility falling to the dutiful women.

It started innocently enough with a game of Guesstures, a Charades-like parlor game, and a bottle of wine. The men lost interest and quickly returned to football, while the women (myself, two sisters and two sister-in-laws) continued to drink wine and play. The turkey was safely roasting in the oven and all was well. When we discovered the bottle of wine was empty, we decided to open a second, since everyone was having such a wonderful time.

I am not a very capable cook and I realized with dismay that the older sisters were becoming unable to help me. One sister-in-law yanked open the oven door and pulled out the rack to check the turkey, sloshing the turkey "juice" out of the pan, igniting my oven! Amid the chaos in my small kitchen, someone grabbed a large box of baking soda and threw it onto my flaming turkey. With the fire out, I cleaned up the bird as best I could and set about getting the rest of the dinner ready. Luckily, one sister-in-law was relatively sober and the two of us worked to get dinner on the table while the other ladies watched and giggled.

As we sat down to dinner in my too-small dining room, the men eyed the group with suspicion. It was all right that the males had been drinking beer during the football game, but having the women loopy would not stand. Grumpily, they sat down to eat. Bowls were passed, turkey and mashed potatoes were served up and hot rolls buttered. Outside the French doors of my dining room, the afternoon sun shone on the tall pines in the backyard.

My brother nudged my sister-in-law who had dozed off, chin on her chest. She woke up and continued eating. The other women gabbed and laughed and were uncharacteristically over loud. We all watched in amazement as the same sister-in-law nodded and drifted off again, then fell slowly forward into her mashed potatoes. My brother awakened her sharply, embarrassed and disturbed, while she wiped mashed potatoes off her carefully made-up face.

My oldest sister then suddenly stood up, knocking her chair backward, and started toward my French doors. In the space of 30 seconds, she was through the doors and into the backyard. She hastened to the nearest pine tree, extended an arm for support and threw up in full view of everyone at the dinner table. My turn at hosting Thanksgiving had turned into a full-scale disaster.

While the older sister was helped back inside, the sleepy sister-in-law had was dispatched to a bedroom to nap. Moments later, my brother-in-law called out my sister's name and announced, “We’re leaving.” The exodus began and all the siblings, spouses and assorted relatives gathered up their belongings. "I’ll drive," quipped the older sister, her equilibrium restored. Despite this attempt at levity the mood did not lighten.

When we closed the door on the last of them, my husband and I turned to each other and tried to make sense of what had just happened. To this day, I consider it an amazing social experiment. Holidays are days of tradition, of routine, of expected foods and expected behavior. We turned the holiday on its head. And when the guardians of the holiday tradition are removed from the equation, things fall apart.

Setting (And Bolting) the Thanksgiving Table

Libbe HaLevy of LibbeHaLevy.com tells a classic Thanksgiving tale from way back in 1965 and the West Rogers Park area of Chicago. It just goes to show how timeless those painful memories can be!

As part of a Jewish family, I grew up with all the holiday season anguish most people associate with Christmas squeezed into Thanksgiving. My mother insisted on hosting the dinner, even though she hated and resented it and would carp on certain relatives before and after the event. One could set the clock by her yelling at the rest of us to get ready, which would always start 90 minutes before guests arrived. We could even be showered and dressed, and she'd yell. It was the stress she'd taken on and her sense of martyrdom.

This particular year, our dining room table had a wobble. It was a solid mahogany table with two pedestal legs, each of which had three smaller legs coming out of it. One of those smaller legs was loose, which created the wobble. We'd lived with it like that for almost a year - it had shown up after the previous year's Thanksgiving - and with the judicious addition of a book or two to shore up the leg, it would have been fine.

For whatever reason, two hours to lift-off, my mother decided that the leg had to be fixed - and her way of doing it was to yank the small leg off! Just like that, the table dipped to one side and stayed there, torquing the frame that held the extension boards and jamming them in place. If one of us had done it, it would have been "off with their heads!" But she had, and we couldn't comment...or even give each other eye contact or we would break out laughing. Nothing she did could prop it up -- putting a chair under it, a pile of books, sticking the little leg back on -- nothing... and the clock was ticking. We couldn't even set the table because there was no table!

Mom had no one to blame except herself, so we stayed out of her way while she realized what a mess she'd made. Finally she called our neighbor, a real Mr. Fix-It, and asked him to glue the leg back on. He came over, examined the problem and gave her the bad news: there was no time to use glue. The only way to temporarily fix the table was by drilling through the solid mahogany leg.

She had no choice. So he drilled between the small leg and the pedestal and fit pieces of plywood around them with wing nuts to brace the whole thing. This was truly ugly and demolished the wood of this 1930's furniture. But at least it held. As we raced to set the table, Mom left to shower and dress, but not before she admonished us not to say a word about it to anyone. We didn't, but we continued to suppress smiles, especially whenever anyone said, "The table looks so lovely!"

Footnote: I don't know when she had it done, but the next time I examined the table leg it looked perfect, with not even a sign where the drilled holes had been. I suspect an entirely new mahogany replacement leg had been carved to match and attached. The incident was never discussed again in my family until my mother's funeral, during which we gathered for a meal around that very table.

Thanksgiving: Add Liquor and Stir

Mary Agnes Antonopoulos of RockawayWriter.com remembers her family traditions, which always seem to begin with everyone getting drunk...:

Age 7: Under a big covered silver chafing dish, to be funny, my uncle has hidden a LIVE baby turkey (they are massively ugly, btw). But it does not cooperate and remain quiet for the joke. It squawks and jumps, and the cover flies up and beans my grandmother, giving her a concussion. The baby turkey screams and runs over everyone's dishes on the table. My younger uncle Jerry finally catches it and in his TERROR (they're from Brooklyn, he said he thought it was a rat), he threw it OUT THE WINDOW (four stories up). I think we ate at McDonalds that year.

Age 8: The dog runs by everyone at the table with the fully cooked turkey in his mouth hanging from one side. My dad chases the dog with the carving knife yelling, "I'll kill you, you son of a bitch." (This happened long before that "Christmas Story" movie with the lamp-leg.)

Age 9: Someone had told mom that the turkey cooked better in a paper bag. So everyone's at the table...and something smells weird. The turkey is ON FIRE in the oven. They somehow get it out and VACUUM the turkey. We all eat it anyway.

Age 10: Two uncles, half drunk, have a mock duel with drumsticks and get pissed off. They start smashing each other over the heads with the drumsticks and one gets a torn cornea. As warned about in "A Christmas Story," it's all fun and games until someone puts an eye out!

Fast Forward to Age 35: By now I, myself, have been sober for ten years. My dad bumps into a wall, the John Wayne portrait (I'm not kidding) falls off the wall and somehow slices THROUGH his shoe and THROUGH his foot. It requires 27 stiches. The Duke Rules.

You Always Remember Your First Time

Jenny Thompson submits the following Hellish Thanksgiving tale, which took place in Laurel, Maryland in the 1980s. In the true Hellish Holidays tradition, it ends in tears.

My now ex-husband and I had just moved into a two-bedroom apartment together. It was the first Thanksgiving I was ever hosting and we were using it as an opportunity for our families to meet. To add to the pressure, while the apartment was a nice size for two people, it was pretty tight for a dinner for 14.

My anxiety level was off the charts. Not only was I making my first turkey ever and hosting my first "dinner party" but my ex is black, I'm Jewish and my father's wife at the time was South African…so quite a melting pot of people coming together.

The day started off badly when I dropped the turkey - twice. I called my mother in a panic. She told me to wash off the cat hair and use it anyway.

From there, things were going okay. The turkey got cooked and everyone got along fine. All was good - until I cleared the table.

I loaded the dishwasher, started to run the first load while we were having dessert, and the garbage disposal exploded all over the kitchen, spewing turkey, dressing, cranberries and everything else you can imagine all over the counters and the floor. Then water started pouring out from the dishwasher and the kitchen was officially flooded and it was heading into the dining room.

I called maintenance, again in a panic. They said it wasn't an emergency so they wouldn't come until the next day or Monday. I asked my husband to tell everyone to leave so we could figure out what to do. Then I went into the bedroom and cried.

A Hellish St. Patrick's Day

I'll always have a warm place in my heart for March 17th. Not because I'm one-quarter Irish. Not because my son's due date was March 17th (he came early). Certainly not because I crave corned beef and cabbage or look good in green. No, it's because St. Patrick's Day is the one time in my life that I ever threw up from drinking too much. The warm feeling comes from the very important lesson I learned that night!

I still remember it like it was yesterday, even though I was 22 and I'm way past that now. I worked for a small publishing company with a lot of other people in their 20s, most of us freshly out of dorms and none of us ready to grow up. I used to hang out after work every night with the other writers, editors and designers (and the occasional slumming ad sales rep). We'd drink and play video games and the jukebox and figure out who was going home together. The pay was so bad where we worked that turnover was high, so there was always fresh meat. It never got old, at least for the two years I worked there.

We always went to the same place, a saloon on the Upper East Side. But for some reason--probably a special St. Patrick's Day promotion--we chose a different spot that night. The new place was loud and crowded, two things I seek to avoid now but avidly enjoyed back then. I was seeing one of my co-workers, George, so we were hanging out together. George was older, pushing 30, and a Scotch drinker. I tended toward the sickly sweet myself, and liked to mix it up. I always paid my own way, so I was limited by my limited funds. But that night somehow the booze flowed more freely, or at least more cheaply. I scarfed down a Tequila Sunrise, a 7&7 and (shudder) a Black Russian.

I don't remember too many specifics about the time in the bar, but I vividly recall leaving with George, who had to support me as I staggered out the door. Even more vivid is my memory of puking at the base of a tree--you know, the kind with those little fences to keep the dogs away. The cabdriver who pulled over to our curb was kind enough to wait until I finished rather than pealing off in disgust. I guess he was figuring the potential for a big tip would outweigh the inevitable stink of a St. Patrick's Day lightweight.

George held my head in his lap during the drive to his Hell's Kitchen walkup. I slept the whole way and somehow dragged my sorry ass up the stairs to his studio, then up the ladder to his loft bed. Yes, we lived like royalty! I could touch the ceiling from that bed, and almost all four walls as well. It came in handy that night as the room spun wildly to be able to reach up and steady myself on the ceiling.

The lesson I carry with me from that night has made an enormous difference in my ongoing happiness: never mix liquors (and especially liqueurs). I switched to vodka after that experience, and except for a brief veering off to gin in the late '90s, have remained true to my commitment. Mostly I drink wine now, and it would take a lot of wine to make me puke. Let's just say I'm not looking to figure out how much.

Time Warner Must Die

I haven't wanted to say anything because I'm really not the type to complain, as you can tell from the positive message of my blog/website. But Time Warner ruined my holidays and continues to haunt me. The company does not deserve to be a phone company (you probably didn't even know they WERE a phone company) and I just have to spread the word.

I'll give you the whole sad history. What the hell, if you're not interested you can click away. But don't. It's cathartic to write about it, but it will be even more cathartic if I can actually succeed in raising awareness about how much Time Warner sucks. If I can prevent even one formerly uninformed consumer from making the switch to TW for phone service, then this blog will not be in vain. If I convince them to forgo TW internet service and cable too, well, that's just a bonus.

I know that USUALLY there's nothing more boring than hearing other people's issues with their utility companies ("I had to stay home from work to let in the cable guy because they would only commit to coming between 9:00 and 5:00, and then he came at 4:55.") The only thing worse is the blow by blow on how bad the traffic was when they were late to pick you up after your surgery/coach-class flight/piercing.

We've all suffered mistreatment at the hands of those we depend on to keep our houses functioning. But what I have gone through with Time Warner for the past four months is a whole new level of hell.

Here's what happened. A few years back I responded to an offer from Comcast, our ISP, to switch to their new phone service. It was cheaper than whatever our branch of AT&T was calling itself back then, and I like to be on the cutting edge of technology (that's why I had the same Nextel phone for five years). I made the switch. And I loved it. Except for the one time when a squirrel ate through the cable, it was flawless.

Then TW bought my Comcast service area. They screwed up the transition of our internet service so spectacularly in October 2006 that I'm convinced it actually moved up my husband's and my date of separation by at least a month. The level of incompetence was beyond anything described on an anti-TW chat forum. (Based on my conversations with other TW customers, I'm sure there must be such things; if not I might have to start one.)

For some reason, the phone service didn't morph at the same time as the internet service. Everything was fine, until one day I received a postcard from TW telling me to schedule an appointment to swap out a box, which sounded misleadingly innocuous. It had to be done by a certain date, or I would be without phone service.

By this time, my husband had moved out and I was reevaluating the extremely high costs of every utility. Did we really need so many phone lines? TV channels? Chargers plugged in? I spoke to a TW representative who convinced me to dump DirecTV, which I must point out was the most wonderful and dependable TV service I have ever known. But I would save so much by combining phone, cable and internet under TW that I couldn't resist. The combination was called, suspiciously enough, the "All the Best" plan. Don't you wish someone "all the best" when they are going into the hospital?

To summarize, the plan would give me all three services for $160 a month. Heck, that's what I had been paying for DirecTV alone! (That fabulous service doesn't come without a hefty price tag.) I signed up. I wish life came with an "Undo" button.

I won't get into how much TW Cable sucks. Suffice it to say that it's on every level. But this is about their phone service and I am determined to stay focused.

As soon as they swapped out the phone box, everything started to go wrong. I had two and three guys here for six and eight hours at a time, multiple times a week, week after week. Every new guy who came told me that every previous guy had been a moron. But I wasn't to worry--this new guy assured me he had the answers. Except that things just got worse and worse. I had no intercom, which meant I had no doorbell and also couldn't buzz my son in his room to tell him to stop playing Rock Band. I had no fax machine. Lines 1 and 2 were consistently reversed. I was down to three working extensions out of 11, and they were all upstairs. And then I had no service at all.

Keep in mind that this took place from October through January. Right around Christmas, I was living the Amish life. In addition to the endless phone problems, my refrigerator died, my pool thermostat went out, and five light bulbs burned out in a single week. There is a serious feng shui shift going on since my husband moved out. I think the house is adjusting to the sudden absence of 10 tons of crap that had been here for 15 years. Ultimately the house will realize it can relax into its new status as a calm and clutter-free haven, but right now it seems to be working hard to re-create the chaos that I thought had moved on in October.

But I digress. Damn, I was really trying to stay on topic. I bought a replacement phone system on eBay since one or more of the TW technicians literally killed my previously functioning system. I hired a former phone company employee, Leon, who now works as a consultant undoing the messes that TW (and, to be fair, others) are making. It took him about 12 hours over the course of a couple of weeks to repair the TW-inflicted damage. The eBay system didn't work and had to be returned, which meant an unwanted trip to the post office and a loss of shipping costs in two directions. Leon took the old system home and rewired it. Methodically and impressively, he resurrected a dead system and brought my house alive again. By the way, if you're in Southern California and suffering as I have been, give him a call at 800-834-8748. He charged me a very reasonable $600 and if it takes me the rest of my life I will get TW to reimburse me.

I can see this is too far gone to make a long story short, but I will try to cut to the chase. I got my first TW bill. It was more than $400. Not only had they charged me $125 for installation (!), but that $160 monthly fee turned out to be more than $250 before taxes due to two pages of previously unmentioned add-on charges. Not only am I not saving money, I am paying more for worse service AND supporting an evil empire.

As if I didn't have enough to do, I now need to make the switch to AT&T for phone and internet and DirecTV for satellite and DVR service. All this will entail more appointments and probably a lot of grief. But I won't complain a bit. I will be TW-free and another step closer to that haven my house and I so crave.

Just say no to Time Warner. Spread the word.

The New Year's Day Parties

For 20 years I hated the coming of the New Year. I had married a man whose only real tradition was a New Year's Day omelette party he had given since 1974. He'd lived in Boston then, and for some reason that was never fully explained to me, the event was called the Duck Pond. Or maybe his house was called the Duck Pond, I really don't know. I'm sure it says something about me that I never bothered to get it straight despite our two decades together. But it says something about the event, too.

The entire time we were together, my holidays were overwhelmed by preparations for NYD. The month before, we argued about what had happened to the most recent guest and shopping lists. There was the pressure to come up with a clever invitation, typically based on a movie (e.g., "A Few Good Eggs" the year of "A Few Good Men," "Eggz" the year of "Antz" and last year's takeoff of "Borat," "Omlat.") We could never go out on New Year's Eve because we were cleaning the house and prepping food. There was general anxiety and pressure about entertaining the hordes. And that was before the event itself, which completely ground me to dust. I'm a good sport and an enthusiastic hostess, but this was one party I just couldn't get behind.

The first year his NYD impacted me was 1988. After knowing each other through business for several years and dating for six months, we had gotten engaged. He'd told me he didn't speak to his mother, which worked for me, but then invited her to NYD. I can still see her gliding up the front walkway like a pink battleship in her St. John suit. She brought us a box of See's candy that was infested with ants. The two of them acted like they had spoken a week earlier even though it had been years and she hadn't even RSVPed. The whole thing freaked me out, but what could I do? She was in my life and there she remained, on and off, until her death a few years ago.

From the beginning NYD was difficult for me. While I always had some input on the guest list, the day was overrun with his business associates and acquaintances. He would invite a salesclerk who waited on him during his Christmas shopping, or a friendly waiter. He invited people he described as friends, but whom we never saw the other 364 days of the year. I can think of many who showed up every year for two decades yet never once invited us out to dinner, much less to a party at their house.

Every year the party grew. We had about 50 people in 1988 and 200 last year. Many were the times I would ask my husband who someone was, only to have him tell me, "I thought you invited him." We had friends of friends. Heck, we had friends of acquaintances and probably even acquaintances of acquaintances. We had some people who told their friends to stop by, then never showed up themselves. One year, the party made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was completely out of control.

In time I came to see NYD as a dysfunctional networking event. People showed up to see who else was there, not to visit with us. I caught them looking at the bottom of the china in my china cabinet and I'm sure they were rifling through our medicine cabinets. A couple of years ago I roped off the stairs to keep people on the first floor and watched as guest after guest stepped over the rope.

One year we had our kitchen remodeled and due to the inevitable delays, the work was finished on New Year's Eve. We spent the night bringing dishes back in from the garage, washing everything and putting it away before we could start grating cheese and chopping mushrooms. I vividly remember taking a break to hose down the back patio in the dark, sobbing with exhaustion.

One year we were building a pool in the backyard and put up a sign asking people not to go back there. It had rained the day before and the construction site was muddy. People opened the gate with the sign on it and walked right through. A couple of years ago it rained on New Year's Day in Los Angeles for the first time in 50 years. Our invitation clearly said the party would be cancelled in the event of rain. Almost 100 people showed up anyway, saying they thought the rain would end soon. (It didn't.)

One year, I actually convinced my husband to forgo the party. It was a few months before we planned to start our kitchen renovation, and I was able to convince him to take a year off. We made plans to go to the movies and were walking out the door when guests showed up. This was back before we switched to email, and three separate groups said they figured their invitations had been lost in the mail. We had virtually no food in the house, but sure enough he ran to the store for eggs and served them. No movie after all.

But my favorite story (in a horrible, can-you-believe-it way) came from a few years ago. I was in the kitchen frantically refilling platters when two women entered, looking around. "Do you know what they paid for this house?" one asked the other. "It depends whether they bought it at the bottom of the market or the top," was the response. I looked over at these strangers and said, "I know what they paid for the house." Disdainfully one asked, "How would YOU know?" "Because it's my house," I said. "Oh, and it's beautiful!" the other answered, without missing a beat.

After that, I told my husband I was done. He could hire caterers and a party planner and a cleanup crew, but I would not be spending my holidays preparing to entertain 200 strangers who wanted only to make business connections and peer more closely into our personal life.

This year, for the first time since 1988, New Year's Day was issue-free for me. In honor of our separation, I did suggest "Atonement" as a movie he might consider for his invitation spoof. Instead, he went with "No Reservations." He said he scaled it back this year, which I had begged him to do since the early '90s. But he couldn't end his tradition. He had the party at his new place, with his new girlfriend, and I dropped off our son to spend the day.

I started a new tradition of my own: reading by the fire and a long hike with a dear friend. Now that's a good start to a year.

Originally published January 1, 2008