Category: holidays

1997: My Peak Valentine’s Day Celebration

I’m a fairly well established public disdainer of Valentine’s Day. But as I was sitting here in the lead up to the big day this year, I was thinking back on the various ways I have celebrated it over the years. When Denisa and I were dating, I made her a card with the picture of a smiling cartoon pig on the front. It said, “This Valentine’s Day, Porky hopes,” and then you opened the card and saw the message “You have a better day than he did.” This was accompanied by a picture of the same pig’s head on a plate, with Xs for eyes. What do you think? Etsy-worthy? But as I traipsed down memory lane, it became clear that the year I did the most for Valentine’s Day had to be 1997. I was 18 in my freshman year at BYU.

At the time, I was living in Deseret Towers, these six story monstrosities that were at the north end of campus. (They’ve since been torn down and replaced with much more aesthetically pleasing buildings. DT had blue lunch trays outside the windows. It’s hard to go anywhere but up when your baseline is “blue lunch trays.”) At the time, I was also dating Kristi Strong who happened to be the roommate of my best friend, Sue Stone. In hindsight, being best friends with your girlfriend’s roommate is not exactly the recipe for a smooth and conflict-free lifestyle, but remember. I was 18.*

Anyway. That Valentines Day, I got both Kristi and Sue a present. For Kristi, I gave her a stuffed teddy bear. Except I tied a noose for it and hung it in her closet. (“Tone deaf” is a very good way to sum up 18-year-old Bryce, I think. He was also a great deal more sheltered than he had any clue.) For Sue, I gave her the Dover thrift edition of Taming of the Shrew. (Both cheap and tacky. I was a treat.) Sue got me what remains my favorite Valentine’s gift ever. She worked at the BYU flower shop, and she hated Valentine’s Day for a much more straightforward reason: it was a day that she was insanely busy as she put together roses and bouquets and corsages for dances, etc. She gave me a dozen dozen red roses. Except they were just the stems, because she’d lopped off the actual roses to make all those corsages. I thought it was perfect.

Not to be outdone, I also wrote a sonnet for Sue. Before any of you accuse me of being even more idiotic than I was (a sonnet for the best friend, and not for the girlfriend? Did I have a death wish?), I’d already written one for Kristi. And yes, it’s horrible, and no, I won’t share it with you, but yes, I still have a copy, because I’m a digital packrat. And actually, I’d already written one for Sue (also terrible, having just re-read it), but she’d challenged me to write a sonnet that was as insulting as possible.

I’m sure some of you are reading that and realizing what a bad idea it was to ask 18-year-old Bryce to write an insulting sonnet. But remember, 18-year-old Bryce didn’t really have brakes on his train.

Challenge accepted.

So without further ado, here’s the end result I came up with:

Dear Sue,
Did you know that you really piss me off
With your incessantly annoying whine?
At one mere sonnet you can only scoff–
Do you think that I worship at your shrine?
For me to waste my time to write just one
For an insipid little pest like you
Is just enough for me to want a gun
To put an end to nauseating Sue.
But here I sit, composing once again,
This time allowing truth to see the light
For now I have good cause to use a pen:
I gave you praise, but you–you gave me slight.
The next time that I see your face I’ll snap:
In my opinion you’re a piece of crap!

There you go, folks. I somehow managed to even tie in another threat to physically harm/kill a woman. Way to go, 18-year-old me! (As a side note, it’s always interesting to see how, while we might think we haven’t changed that much over the years, and that we’ve always been level-headed and practically perfect in every way, when we’re forced to look at who we were, what we said and did, and how we did it, the truth doesn’t always line up with how we remember it . . .)

In any case, that’s about all the time for self deprecation I’ve got today. I don’t still hate Valentine’s Day with quite the same gusto that I once did, but I also still don’t have any pink or red decorations up. There are no candy hearts in my house. And Denisa and I won’t be exchanging gifts or having a candlelit dinner. On the other hand, I’m also not making fun of suicide and using veiled death threats to woo women any more.

Progress?

*This was also the year I went on three dates in one evening. Which, again, was not the wisest choice, since I had to come up with reasons to end one date so that I could make my next date in time, and even I was sane enough to know telling your current date you had to go date another girl was just asking for trouble. And while you might be able to get away with that once in one night, you’re really spitting in the face of fate to try it twice. And if that doesn’t sum up who I was at 18, then you’ll be relieved to hear I also broke the leg of not one, but *two* girls. Who were roommates. Apparently I had a thing for roommates and destruction.**

**Because I’m sure you’re going to ask how it is I, a generally non-violent person, ended up breaking the legs of two young women, allow me to elucidate. The first happened on a swing dancing date. It was my first time, and my date (Jessica Franciose) and I were learning various moves. Jess was a much more adventurous dancer than I was, but I liked her a lot, and so I was pretending to be more daring than I had any right. We were working on this one move where I would grab her across her stomach and then flip her in a somersault over my arm. (Clearly I didn’t yet have back issues at age 18.) We had just gotten to the point where we felt like we could do it pretty well, so we decided to show off to her friends. It went off without a hitch . . . until she landed on my foot instead of the floor. My foot was fine, but she fell, badly hurting her leg in the process.*** We found out the next day that she had a hairline fracture in that leg.

***Because Jess was an awesome person (and still is, I’m sure), she insisted I keep dancing without her while she walked off the pain. So I then danced with her roommate, Tiffany Ensign. At this point, I had come to the sound conclusion that perhaps the world wasn’t ready for a Bryce who flipped girls in somersaults over his arm, so we tried out simpler moves. There was this one where you held onto each other’s hands and spun in circle, offsetting each other’s weight in a perfect balance. Whee! That seemed pretty tame, so we tried that. It all went well for the first turn or two, but then I maybe turned a bit too fast. It’s a blur. All I know is that Tiff’s legs kicked out from under her, and instead of us twirling around in a happy little dance move, I was holding onto her hands while she stared at me in wide-eyed terror as I swung her around in a move closer to pro-wrestling than dancing. She was pretty much in the superman pose, horizontal to the floor. I had no idea what to do, so . . . I kept spinning. Unbeknownst to me, there was another couple happily dancing behind me. I used my new dance partner to literally sweep the girl behind me off her feet. She went flying into the air. I was shocked, and in my shock, I let go of Tiff. She went sailing off in the other direction, leaving me staring at the other girl’s date . . . I didn’t go swing dancing very often after that.****

****Keen-eyed readers will note that I didn’t actually break Tiffany’s leg in that story. That’s because it was a different girl whose leg I broke. One of Jess’s other roommates, whose name escapes me at the moment. Tracy, maybe? We’ll go with that. In any case, Tracy came into their apartment one day wearing a T-shirt with cow spots on it. I, in my 18-year-old naïveté, cheerfully blurted out the obvious: “You look like a cow!” Yes, in hindsight, telling a young woman that she looked like a cow was not, perhaps, the wisest move for a lone young man in an apartment full of girls, but I didn’t yet have the same experience with tact that I hope I have today. In any case, I got in no small amount of hot water over that statement, and Tracy didn’t forget it. Days or weeks later, I was sitting on that same couch in that same apartment, minding my own business, when Tracy took a glass of water and dumped it over my head. Vengeance for the cow comment. Anyone who knows me well, though, knows that while I’m generally cheerful and polite, I also come with a few basic instructions. First, never feed me after midnight. Second, limit my exposure to sunlight. But the most important is to never ever get me wet. You know how Bruce Banner hulks out when he gets angry? I get sort of the same look in my eyes when someone purposefully dumps a glass of water over my head. I leapt from the couch and raced after Tracy, who had the good sense to run away from me as fast as she could. This being BYU, there was a hard rule about being over at a girl’s apartment: no men in the bedroom. If Tracy could make it to her bedroom, she would be safe. (Safe from what, I’m still not sure. I have no idea what I was planning to do if I caught her. My mind wasn’t thinking that clearly.) In any case, she darted away from me, but she also discovered that a wet Bryce is a fast Bryce. I caught up to her just as she was turning into her room. To stop her, I grabbed at her t-shirt. What I didn’t know is that she was wearing a sports bra. I didn’t just get her t-shirt with my grab: I got a good hold on the back of her sports bra, too. When she turned, she didn’t compensate for me holding onto her clothes so tightly, and her turn ended up being way faster and tighter than she expected. Instead of making it into her room, she slammed into the doorframe. And broke her leg. Tracy, I’m very very sorry.*****

*****This is all making me look much worse than I hope I actually was in my freshman year of college. I’m proud to say I’ve never broken a woman’s leg since, though I did break my son’s leg when he was two.****** I also stopped dating roommates of my best friends, and I never went on three dates in one evening again.

******Okay. I can’t just leave that there, because now I sound abusive. I broke Tomas’s leg when the two of us went down a spiral slide on a playground. His leg got caught under 230 pounds of Bryce. And that’s how I learned that you’re never supposed to go down a spiral slide with a toddler. You think you’re being more careful by going with them. You’re actually just increasing the odds that they break something.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Favorite Holiday Recipes?

I’m about ready to get into some holiday baking. There comes a point where you decide to throw diets and avoiding sugar to the wind and just revel in as much chocolate, peppermint, and egg nog as you can, until you wake up in a random gutter on New Year’s morning, groggy and not quite sure why you’ve got maraschino cherry stains all over your shirt. (Don’t tell me that’s only just happened to me!)

So as I get ready for this round of baking, I was wondering what recipes you consider your “must bake” each year. What foods make it so that the holidays are the holidays?

For me, I absolutely must make chocolate fudge. It’s not an elaborate recipe: just the one found on the Marshmallow Fluff container. I think it’s something very similar to this one. Boil butter, evaporated milk, and sugar, add chocolate and fluff, then let it cool. Simple and delicious.

I’ve made peppermint bark the last few years as well, though again, I just melt chocolate, add some peppermint extract, and then put it in a mold and sprinkle crushed peppermints on top of it. Caramels are another favorite I try to make every year, though they’re trickier. I can never seem to get them to just the right level of hard but still a bit gooey. (Probably because I’m lazy and never use a candy thermometer . . .)

Denisa bakes a ton of cookies, which are always delicious. And I typically make some orange rolls, but I make those throughout the year, and they’re not necessarily “Christmas” food.

What do you make, however? What are your go-to recipes that the holidays just wouldn’t be complete without? I’d love to get some ideas for other things to try this year. Because present-me always assumes that future-me will have way more time than past-me.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Bryce’s Top Ten Halloween Candies

In my interweb surfing this morning, I came across FiveThirtyEight’s new analysis of the best Halloween candy. It’s quite exhaustive, and it goes over just about every candy bar you can think of. (Though there are some holes. No Heath Bar ranking, for example. Not that I like them, but they’re definitely a thing, and so they deserve to be on there.) It got me thinking, though. (More than “How many different ways can Reese’s be on a single list?”) What are my favorite candy selections? What items would I want to see the most in my trick or treat bucket?

I don’t eat much candy anymore, but I still go through the candy my kids haul in each year, and we always start off by sorting them out into piles. Keep. Don’t care. Maybe. (I’m a librarian. We categorize things.) It’s always intriguing to me to see how some kids value different candy differently. MC is always a fan of lollipops. I would rather eat broccoli than a lollipop. (Though I like broccoli, so I guess that’s not saying that much.)

When I was growing up, Halloween candy was always sacrosanct. Whatever you got trick or treating was yours and yours alone. And you had to nurse that supply for as far as it would go. That meant that you held on to every piece, even the stupid flavored wax lips. And you tried it all, getting as much enjoyment out of that supply as possible. Every gram counted. But when you spread it all out to evaluate your haul, there were definitely candies you wanted to see more than others.

What would be my top, if I were trick or treating today? To limit things, I’m going to use only the candy that’s on the list I linked to. A few notes, going into it. First, candy corn. I love me some candy corn, but candy corn as a trick or treating candy is just a big no no. I like to know where my candy corn’s been before I put it in my mouth. Eating stray candy corn from a stranger is like eating jello that fell to the floor. The five second rule doesn’t apply.

Second, Milk Duds and Rolos are really the same thing. (Same as M&M Peanut Butter and Reese’s Pieces.) And Milk Duds are good for movie viewing, but not for your casual candy munching experience. (I like them for movies because they have good endurance. You don’t just want to throw a whole handful of Milk Duds in your mouth at once. Not if you value your jaw.)

Third, honorable mentions. These are candy that I wouldn’t be sad to see, but they couldn’t crack the top ten. Everything else on that list? Pretty much dead to me. I mean, I’d eat it if I was starving, maybe. But I don’t think I’d waste the calories on them otherwise. Except for Good & Plenty. That stuff is rank. Anyway. Honorable mentions:

  • Pixy Stix–There was a kid in grade school who said he snorted Pixy Stix, and I believed him. (You probably would have too, if you’d met him.) I like Pixy Stix, but they’re candy that’s pretty much given up all pretense of being anything other than sugar. You have to admire the marketers and makers of Pixy Stix, though. “Why spend all this money on a recipe when we can just add a bit of flavoring to sugar and sell it like that?” It just might be the quintessential American candy. (And you can snort it, apparently.)
  • Pop Rocks–If this were just about mouth sensation, Pop Rocks would win easily. So fun. But . . . taste? No. Just . . . no.
  • Dots–Bonus points for squishiness. I know some people dislike Dots, but I’ve always had a soft spot for them. Except they stick to my teeth too much for them to really soar.
  • Gobstoppers–Big on staying power, and I don’t mind the taste, but they’re too much like regular hard candy. Too generic.
  • Whoppers–I like how the melt. And they’re tasty, but . . . not top ten worthy. Sorry.
  • Nerds–These might have made the top 10, depending on the flavor, but they’re such a pain to eat, and there’s a significant chance of them spilling all over the place at any point in time. Candy shouldn’t make you work so hard to eat it. And some of those flavors are just too tart.
  • Baby Ruth–It’s a candy bar, so points for that. But it’s not a great candy bar. E for effort, though.
  • M&Ms–And all their variants. Too basic, but they’re yummy. Especially peanut M&Ms. But . . . there’s no “there” there. It’s a simple concept, and it doesn’t do anything to really take that concept to the next level, unless that next level is “What other flavors can we put in here? Mint? Peanut butter?” It’s trying to be too many things to too many people. Pick something, M&Ms.

With that out of the way, here we are. The definitive top ten list of candy for me:

10–Smarties: You get one single piece of candy, but it’s actually like 20 pieces of candy. Seriously. Each pack of Smarties is like a Biblical miracle in your pocket. The pieces are jam packed with flavor, and you get to brag to people about how smart you are whenever you eat them. That’s a Halloween candy that’s punching way above its weight class.

9–Kit Kat: Also a “two pieces in one” candy selection. (Except some of the producers have caught wise to this and started to sell single barred Kit Kats. What’s up with that? How are you supposed to break anyone a piece of a single bar? What are we. Socialists now?) I like the cookieness of the treat, but that same cookieness brings it down some in the rankings, because this is about the best candy. Not the best cookie. Kit Kats need to decide what they are. I don’t feel like eating something that’s having an identity crisis.

8–Hershey Special Dark: I love dark chocolate. Hershey’s isn’t great dark chocolate, but it is dark chocolate. But in the end, it’s also just a single note on the candy scale. It plays that note just fine, but to really soar at Halloween, you need the full range of keys.

7–3 Musketeers: It’s velvety smoothness is downright admirable. Different layers of chocolate are great, but what’s it got beyond that? Plus, this is one of Denisa’s favorites, so I’ve trained myself to build more of an immunity to their allure over the years. Also, see the note for the next bar.

6–Snickers: If this were a full Snickers bar, we might be cracking the top 5. It’s filling, tasty, and has a compelling mixture of flavors and textures. But these days, the Snickers you get at Halloween are like a fifth of a bite. They call them bite sized, sure. If you put five together, maybe. Candy companies have got to stop being so stingy. Everything else in America is all about bigger portions. When did we start scrimping with candy?

5–Milky Way Midnight (and Milky Way regular, I suppose): Midnight is my favorite Milk Way strain, because dark chocolate, and true, this suffers from the same bite portion restraint as the last two candidates, but come on. Milky Way Midnights are just play awesome. If only these were bigger, they’d be fighting for the top spots.

4–Junior Mints: Give me a full box of Junior Mints, and we’d be cooking with gas. (Well, not really. We’d actually just be eating a full box of awesome. Scratch that. *I* would be eating a full box of awesome. You’d be eating nothing, because you were foolish enough to give me the box. That’s a rookie mistake.) But at Halloween, the Junior Mint boxes have all of 4 or 5 mints in them. It’s a travesty, but one we accept in the 4th position, because Junior Mints are incredible.

3–Almond Joys (and Mounds, if you have to): Coconut. Almond. Chocolate. It’s a powerful combination, and they’ve based entire desserts around them. Really, the only drawback to an Almond Joy is the bits of stray coconut you find wandering around in your mouth a half hour after you ate one. Coconut is great at the time, but half hour old coconut that gets mixed in with your dinner later on? (Because of course you snuck in an extra Almond Joy before dinner.) That’s a no no.

2–Butterfingers: Delish. Bigger sizes than the other chocolate bar treats on the list, as well. Peanut butter and chocolate, but in an aggressive way that says “You gonna eat me? Fine. But you’re gonna have to commit to chomping down on me for the next while. I ain’t going down without a fight.” You have to respect a candy with that sort of resolve. Peanut butter and chocolate are pretty much the perfect combination. (And Butterfinger ice cream is incredible, so you’ve even got a way to use surplus pieces, should it come to that.) Bravo!

1–Reese’s Anything: Was this ever really a contest? Reeses takes up 4 of the top 8 slots on FiveThirtyEight’s list. Which, true, is a bit of a cop out. They’re a one trick pony that’s come up with four different ways to show that trick. (And they’ve even managed to convince us that one of those ways (the cursed bite size again) is something to flaunt as a whole different offering.) Reese’s Pieces are candy goodness, but the true cream of the crop is the full size Reese’s cup. Sometimes you’ll even get lucky and have people who give you the two-fer packages, which is the ultimate Holy Grail of trick or treating. Peanut butter. Chocolate. Large size. Double portion. The stars align, and heaven smiles upon you. Give me that any day of the week.

And that concludes my list. Care to complain? Beg to differ? Please illuminate me in the many ways you’re wrong. (And Happy Halloween!)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

My Favorite Groundhog Tradition

It’s Groundhog Day (of course!). And if you’re wondering, yes, Phil did see his shadow. (Six more weeks of winter!) I’m having a party this evening. There will be groundhog treats and a groundhog yankee swap (white elephant, some call it). Those are always fun, but I’d have to say my favorite groundhog tradition of all time is one that’s developed over time.

A few years ago, I got a groundhog hand puppet one year. Each year, we’ve gotten more and more decorations for the holiday (yes. I’m strange), and the hand puppet was added to the crew. One day, I put it on, snuck up on Tomas, and then surprised him with it, shouting out “It’s Groundhog Day!” over and over. Scared him half to death.

And the tradition was born.

Each year, everyone tries to find ways to scare other people in the family with the groundhog puppet. You’d figure we’d catch on and remember, but you’d be surprised what you can forget over the course of the year. This year, I think I almost gave Tomas a heart attack, jumping out at him as he came out of the bathroom.

A small furry creature flying out at your face out of nowhere can be really intimidating.

So, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate year after year . . . maybe buy a hand puppet. Click on the pic at the top of this post and buy one for next year. 🙂

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $6/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

Quirky Local Celebrations?

This past weekend, the family headed out for the yearly Chester Greenwood Day Parade. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about this in the past, but for those of you not in the know, Chester Greenwood was the inventor of the earmuff, and he’s from Farmington, Maine, right where I live and work. So the first Saturday of December is always Chester Greenwood Day, and there’s always a big parade in town where everybody wears earmuffs. (Even the trucks and buses.)

We’re just cool like that.

But I wondered what other places do for quirky celebrations. I know Payson, Utah does Onion Days every year. (Having attended a few Onion Days parades myself). It celebrates the onion harvest, because . . . I guess onions were really big in Payson? (Clearly I fail at understanding why I’m watching a parade dedicated to an onion year after year.) And the whole state of Utah has Pioneer Day, celebrating the day the pioneers first entered the Salt Lake valley. (See? I did better at that one.)

So my question for you this fine Monday is what quirk celebrations do you know of in your neck of the wood? After all, that seems to be where Groundhog Day really came to life. Quirky local celebration makes the big-time. Who knows. Maybe Chester Greenwood Day will be all the rage years from now. I know the parade this year was pretty darn big. The sky’s the limit! (As long as the sky is wearing earmuffs, that is.)

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