Be Like Christmas

By J. Speer

Have hope like Ralphie,

Be a friend like Snoopy and Woodstock,

Be wild at heart like the Yeti,

And larger than life like the Abominable Snowman,

Be as persistent as the Nutcracker,

Be as perennial as Frosty,

Protect your family like a Polar Bear,

Ring true like Silver Bells,

Be loyal as a St. Bernard mountain rescue dog,

Get your angel wings by helping others like Clarence Odbody,

Never give up like Susan Walker,

Think fast like Kevin McCallister,

Be a blessing like Tiny Tim,

Dance like a Sugar Plum Fairy,

Be a guardian like Jack Frost,

Be mysterious like Kris Kringle,

Dream like Anna,

Sing boldly like Elsa,

Be brave like Olaf,

Be sweet like Cindy Lou Who,

Bake cookies like Mrs. Claus,

Make everyone smile like Cousin Eddy,

Work hard like Buddy the Elf,

Believe like Scrooge,

Forgive like the Grinch,

Shine like the Christmas Star,

Be generous like Santa,

Give what you can like the Little Drummer Boy,

Lead the way like Rudolph,

and love with your whole heart like Jesus.

Snowed In

It’s Sunday here. Our plans were to go check out the local ski resort. There’s downhill skiing there and a large indoor waterpark as well as cross country trails and snowshoe hikes. We didn’t get there though. It snowed another 2 inches overnight so we stayed here.

We played in the snow some, checked deer cams, and made Christmas cookies. Here is a pretty decent new recipe I tried for peanut butter cookies. They are pretty soft and yummy.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 pkg yellow cake mix

1/3 cup water

1 cup creamy peanut butter

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients together. Chill dough 1/2 hour. Drop dough by rounded tbsp onto a cookie sheet parchment paper. Roll dough balls in sugar, then flatten each in crisscross pattern with a fork (or put an unwrapped hershey kiss in the center of the cookie). Bake 10 or 12 minutes. Cool 1 minute and move parchment paper with baked cookies to cooling rack.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Got my Alabama tshirt on for the SEC Champions…
And some cozy winter socks…
Took down the deer stand and cams for the winter…
Found some strange tracks in the snow…
And made some holiday cookies!

Noel a Paris

They decided on the trip together. Usually they always spent Christmas with family but this year they wanted to try something different. Christmas was usually spent listening to Aunt Gabby’s cat stories or watching the family open presents one by one slowly. Mom usually made a big buffet and Dad usually always got a hunting gift. The grandkids would run around the house and someone would setup Christmas music on the TV. There would be hugs and family photos with ugly Christmas sweaters or Grinch pajamas sets. Generally, there would be some games…board games, card games, gingerbread house competitions and such. It was always great fun but also a little awkward at times with the big family reunion. There were lulls in conversation or points where one had to be tactful and polite, particularly in regards to political topics. And, hectic…it could be hectic too as the family packed up all the presents in the car. She’d fuss over everything especially the smashed bows on the presents or whether the tree lights should be left on while they were away. She’d always be the last to the car. The kids would be crowded together and arguing, nit-picking each other. He’d get frustrated and beep the horn.


Christmas with family…..

This year would be different. They talked about this months ago when she had received a great price deal on roundtrip tickets. She had stared at her monitor at her sales cubicle. She studied the advertisement photo of a beautiful lit-up Eiffel Tower on a starry night. Come spend Noel a Paris, the breath-taking City of Lights…that’s what the picture caption read. Usually she skipped these promo ads but this one for some reason had caught her eye.

It had taken some convincing for him. A couple of dinners together at night. She approached the subject each time after their kids had excused themselves from dinner. She talked to him while cleaning up dinner plates and putting food back in the fridge. Eventually, with some reluctance, he was on board too. It was probably the cheap airfare price that did it as he was an accountant by profession and nature, preferring to limit extravagant spending.

The day they left the kids at Grandma’s, it snowed a heck of a lot. The kids wished them a great trip. They hugged each one and told them to be good. He struggled to get the car through the growing snowdrifts and she watched the kids with her parents through her rear view side mirror on the passenger side until they were too far away in the distance.

The ride to the airport was blustery and cold. He had to keep the wipers and heat going on high mode. In comparison, the climate in Paris outside the terminal after their excruciatingly long flight was sunny and much less calamitous.

They managed to get to the hotel through the kindness of Parisian pedestrians and a taxi driver that pointed the way in English. Their understanding of the local language was beginner level at best but they did manage “merci” and “bonjour” from time to time.

They stayed at a four story hotel off the Champs Elysee and close to the St. Antoine de Exupery street where she’d read the couture shops were located. They ate French croissants for breakfast and wandered the streets of Paris for a day or two. They visited art museums and strolled past trendy boutiques for fashion. They went up the Eiffel Tower together and took many beautiful pictures of all of gorgeous Paris, the statues, the buildings, the homes, and the people.

It was super fantastic until Christmas eve around five o’clock. Suddenly the bustling streets and walkways of Paris were very quiet and empty. Everything had shut down…the shops, the restaurants, and all the other businesses. They walked together in the growing darkness on the still streets. They passed many brightly lit homes. There were people greeting each other happily on front steps with packages. Inside some cheery and warm homes, they could see people happily gathered in comraderie. They began to feel homesick and that feeling grew as they ate cheeseburgers at Planet Hollywood, the only place in Paris still open. They wandered back thoughtfully to their hotel room. They each got their small gift for one another. They sat on the bed and exchanged them. It was nice but the moment ended quickly and they looked around the room wandering what to do next. They ended up watching TV together and went to bed early. As they changed into pajamas, he looked at her and said, “ I kinda miss Aunt Gabby’s cat stories..”.

She smiled, relieved he felt the same way she did in that moment. She laughed, “Yeah, I miss them all too…especially the kids. I miss them so much tonight. Christmas isn’t the same without them….without family.”

They smiled and sat on the bed together. They called back home to Grandma’s and were happy when one of the cousin’s picked up the line. They spent a good while wishing the bustling and noisy household at Grandma’s a very Merry Christmas.

And that was the last time they skipped out on family time at Christmas.

The Christmas Gift

In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.

The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.

The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??

Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.

A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.

Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.

I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.

I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.

Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.

I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.

It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.

Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.

He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”

He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”

He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”

With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.

Bringing in 2020 with Ice Wine

Oops, we totally missed celebrating Repeal Day on December 5th.  

But where there’s booze involved, we can make another reason to party.


December 15th was Bill of Rights Day

…..and although, the amendment ending the prohibition of liquor wasn’t really in the first 10 articles called the Bill of Rights…..

well, it certainly makes it onto our TOP 5 FAVORITE AMENDMENTS OF ALL TIME list!

And, I’m certain our Founding Fathers would agree.  I mean, wasn’t it Ben Franklin that said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”?

Then, of course, there is Samuel Adams…the namesake for a very fine beer.

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Repeal Day occurred in 1933 during the Great Depression.  It ended 14 dry spell years for the country.

Good grief!  That’s a long wait for a beer!

So…in honor of Repeal Day or Bill of Rights Day or just to bring in the New Year right, we should probably talk about German Eiswein.

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You are probably thinking, “What is that?”

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Eiswein, or Ice wine, is a special product with limited availability due to the nature of creating it.  The grapes are picked on the first frost and processed to enhance the sweet flavor of the wine.  Picking frosted grapes is an arduous task that involves a large on-call work force.  The grapes are cold for the fingers and the harvest must be done in a few hours.

Eiswein usually comes in smaller bottles and is used as a dessert pairing.  It is considered to be greater value than these degrees of German wine:




Ice wine production occurs in the United States as well but primarily in the Great Lakes region.  Michigan is the biggest producer of Ice Wine.

December 12th is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day

Time to drag that Christmas sweater vest out from the back of your closet.  Dust it off and match it to a lovely 1980s style turtleneck, preferably a bright red or kelly green one.  Find yourself a jingle bell necklace to match it and you are set.

I know I’ve got mine ready for work on Thursday.

Here are some other great ugly Christmas sweater ideas from Google Images:

Tis the Season

Thanks for stopping by the site today!  I usually post more but unfortunately this week we have been very busy with the Christmas parade and Christmas plays and so forth…plus we finally got the tree up this Sunday and filled the house with red and green decorations.  So my apologies for not writing more.

Seasons greetings to you and God bless you and your family/friends. I’ll be back soon.  In the meantime, here’s a cute reindeer photo of the great Gizmo, one of my dogs.

A friend commented to me that Gizmo didn’t look very happy in that reindeer hat and I guess she’s right.  But I did some research online with Google Images and soon concluded that indeed this is the general expression that most dogs in reindeer hats wear.  See. I’ll show you:

Not happy.

Not Happy.

Not Happy.

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Not Happy.

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Hard to tell…….he’s a pug and pugs all look unhappy.


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Not happy.

Really not happy.

Black Sheep

By J. Speer

(I like to write mythology-type stories. Here is another one I wrote about Hades during the holidays. Often times, he is depicted as a terrible villain. It’s kinda comical and kinda sad at times …just looking at things from his perspective. Enjoy!)

“We’ve got to talk about the holiday this year.”  Zeus looked around the table at Mt. Olympus at the other occupants. 

“I’m thinking Swiss Alps this year….chalets, snow skiing, a glass of wine by the warm fire,” said Athena with a smile looking around at the others.  They all smiled and laughed. 

“Oh no, Athena, I know how you snow ski!”  said Hera amused. 

They were sharing a bottle of meade and exchanging pleasantries.  Another great day at Mt. Olympus. 

Zeus cleared his throat, “Ah well, while that does sound really great….I’m thinking we should spend the holiday with family…..all the family.”  Zeus looked at them meaningfully until it sinks in what he’s saying. 

“Oh no,” said Aphrodite, “I think I know what that means….you can’t be serious?  We haven’t seen him in a while.  I know I shouldn’t say this,” she looks around at the others for agreement.  “I think we all feel the same way, Zeus.” 

Aries cleared his throat.  “Zeus, you can’t be serious?”

“I am.  Look, he’s family whether you like him or not.”  Zeus sighed, “I’d rather go to the Alps too but it has been a while.  We really should go see him.” 

“I don’t want to go there for the holidays.”  Said Athena directly. 

“Me either,” said Aphrodite.

“He can’t come here!  He’s always busy down there.  We’ve got to go to him.” 

Hera and Zeus sat across from each other at the table.  He looked for encouragement about what he was going to say.  She looked sad and then just nodded and looked down.  They had a discussion ahead of this moment.

“Look, it’s just one day.  We make a trip down into the underworld and share the holiday with him.  He’s my brother.  He’s your family.  One day.  We’ll all bring food from here so we don’t have to….don’t have to….”

“Just say it, Zeus.  So we don’t have to eat the disgusting underworld food that he brought to the holiday parties in the past?  He should know by now, no one wants to eat that stuff.  I don’t know why he keeps trying to offer it.”  Athena scoffed. 

“Look, when’s the last time anybody called him or talked with him down there?  He’s gotta be getting lonely I bet and – come on, we’ve all heard the rumors.”

“She’s a trollop.” Said Athena. 

Aries nodded.  “She got drunk at the last holiday party and came on to me too.”  They all look at Aries incredulously.  “It’s true.” 

“To his credit guys,”  Aphrodite said softly, “Hades loves her despite everything.” 

“The Lord of darkness???  Haha, please, Aphrodite, don’t be naïve.  He doesn’t have feelings.”  said Athena sarcastically. 

But Zeus contemplated this….he thought Athena might be wrong about this one for all her amazing brains and intelligence.  Zeus thought about his brother Hades for a moment.  He’d heard about Persephone too with this new guy Adonis.  Poor Hades, he thought to himself and shook his head.  He looked Hera firmly in the eye.  She nodded again.

“We’re going to the underworld for the holiday whether you like it or not.  He’s family.”

Athena cursed.

4 weeks later, Hades sat in his car outside the Air BnB in the underworld that his family rented for the holidays.  He vaped his last few puffs.  Zeus warned him no smoking or vaping allowed at the Air BnB so he just sat there in the car for a moment and finished.  He looked in the rearview mirror at his disheveled black hair and tried to smooth it down some, to make his appearance more appealing.  He grimaced a bit at the reflection.  A few weeks ago, when Zeus surprised him out of the blue calling and saying they were coming to the underworld for the holiday, Hades went out and got a new haircut and even dyed his hair a bit.  To get the grey out, he told himself. 

He drew again on his vape.  His car was parked by the curb outside the building.  To his right he could see the stairwell leading up above to a room that was well lit up with holiday lights and a tree in the window.  From below he could hear the sound of holiday music. 

He took the day off work.  He never took off work.  He hadn’t taken a vacation day in years.  But his family was coming to visit so he took the day off, told his minions to cover down, and he’d be back in a day.  When they asked where he was going, he said, “Just mind your own business.” 

He asked Persephone if she wanted to go.  She said she had plans, wanted to go see her mother Demeter again.  Something about a gift exchange.

Hades finished his vape and stowed it away in the glove compartment.  He looked around the street carefully.  He might be the lord of the underworld but he still didn’t trust these hoodlums around here, even in this part of town.  He reached for the cologne bottle in the glove compartment.  He knew he smelled like smoke and ash all the time but he did the best he could to spray on a few squirts of cologne, the kind of stuff he bought at the local hellmart with Persephone.  He even bought this stupid sweater.  He saw it on the rack and something came over him, and he bought it.

He looked down at it in disgust.  Ridiculous, he said to himself but he wore it anyway.  A bright, garish red.  Not his typical black and with black trenchcoat.  It had a Santa rocking a guitar with his reindeer band and it said, Tis the Season to be Naughty.  And he bought it.  It even lit up with holiday lights.  Geesh. 

He had taken off the day and spent that morning even making some food to take to the party.  It wasn’t like him to show up to a party empty handed even though he knew they didn’t really eat the stuff he brought.  But it wasn’t like him to quit trying at something either.   So this time, he and Persephone had bought box food at hellmart.  Something easy, she said.  So, he got the Jell-o box and that morning, he carefully read the directions and made Jell-o Jigglers for the kids.  Kids like Jell-o Jigglers he told himself and he had picked up the red cherry flavored ones.  He even put them on a special holiday tray and carefully and methodically cut out the jigglers into different types of holiday shapes, trees and stars and stuff.  He wrapped up the tray and it was sitting in the passenger seat of his car outside the building while he sat there.  He exhaled a deep breath.  Then, he opened the car door, and got out.  He opened the backseat door to see the laundry basket full of holiday gifts. 

Last Black Friday, after Zeus had said they were coming, he had gone out and bought each one of them their own special gift.  He’d worked pretty hard on it this year, knowing that they’d probably rather be somewhere else for the holidays than the underworld.  He wanted to make them happy.   Then he brought the gifts home with some new gift wrap he bought and bows and cards.  He wrapped each one individually as best he could but he was not the best gift wrapper.  He should have left this part to one of his many assistants, he thought or Persephone but he did it himself, placing a nice bow and card with each one. 

Hades grabbed the laundry basket out of the backseat and went around and got the Jell-O Jigglers tray and placed it in the laundry basket on top carefully so as not to spill it.  Then he locked the car and took the laundry basket of gifts up the flight of stairs.  When he got to the door to the air bnb, he set the laundry basket down.  He smoothed his hair again and looked at the door.  He looked down at his dumb holiday sweater and pushed the button in the sleeve that activated the lights in it.  It glowed red, yellow and green and he felt thoroughly ridiculous for a moment but he raised his hand to knock on the door anyway.  He cleared his throat and paused….thought to himself What am I doing here?  He lowered his hand and then raised it again to knock firmly on the door. 

The door swung wide open to show a gregarious looking Zeus holding a wine glass of what looked like to Hades as meade from Mt. Olympus.  Behind grinning Zeus, Hades could see into the festive looking room with young kids running around inside and Hera standing just behind Zeus.  She smiled too at Hades and Hades tried his best to give a sincere smile back. 

“Well look who’s here everybody!  It’s Hades!  Welcome brother, come in, come in!” 

“It’s so good to see you Hades,” said Hera softly smiling. 

Hades smiled as warmly as he could back.  “ Yes, yes, good to see you too!” 

Zeus looked down at the blinking lights on the bright red sweater and laughed, “Ho, well well!  This is a pleasant surprise.  Hades you’ve outdone yourself.  I love the new look.  I get tired of seeing you in that black trenchcoat.” 

Hades smiled and shrugged.  He thought to himself, but it’s my favorite trenchcoatOnce you wear a color so long, it becomes you.  But he just said, “I saw the sweater with Persephone at hellmart.  Couldn’t resist, you know?”

They smiled into each other’s eyes and then there was a silence, neither one knowing what to say next. 

“Well, come in Hades.  Don’t stand there in the hallway!”

Hades turned and picked up the laundry basket and walked inside.  He turned to Hera. 

“Here, I know you said you were preparing the food but I brought a little something for the kids to enjoy.”  Hades handed Hera the tray and noticed how Hera’s smile broke just a little when she looked down and then she looked straight up at him and smiled more.

“Thank you, Hades.  I’ll take that for you and set it with the other foods at the buffet table.”

She took the Jell-o Jigglers tray from him and headed off to the table near the kitchen and full of heaping plates of Mt. Olympus food. 

Zeus interrupted Hades to ask, “Is the weather here in the underworld always this warm even on the holidays?”

“Yes, always.”  Hades politely replied to Zeus.  His eyes were on Zeus but he noticed in the background that Hera had placed his Jell-o Jigglers not on the table with the other foods but on a nearby counter.  He looked down for a second and then put a smile back on his face. 

Zeus patted him on the back and said, “Hey, what would you like to drink?  Come to the kitchen with me and let’s talk about that hellraisers football team.”  Zeus meant the local football league team for the underworld.  Hades was delighted to talk about football and followed Zeus into the kitchen where they had a lengthy discussion on the team, their prospects, and recent games.  They talked about the division, the playoffs, and whether the hellraisers would make it into the Super Bowl. 

“So, how about that drink, Hades?”  said Zeus.  “Should I pour you a tall glass of meade from Mt. Olympus?” 

Hades looked at the meade that Zeus loved so much.  “Ah, naw, Zeus…you know I gotta work tomorrow.  I….better not.”

“Now, come on Hades,” said Zeus encouragingly.  “Live a little, you old man.”

“I may be just a little older than you.”  Said Hades grinning.  “but not by much, Zeus.”

“Haha, Hades.  Alright, you got me there.”  Zeus smiled at him for a moment.  “Man, it’s been a while.  I’ve missed ya.”

Hades felt happy to be there at that moment.  The goofy sweater and the new hair dye and all that stuff seemed actually worth the effort.  “Yeah, I missed you too.”  Hades thought to himself, maybe I should have called more, made more of an effort.  But then Hades, thought about how he hadn’t heard from them in years and the phone works two ways.  I’m always working he thought to himself.  Never enough time.  He thought about that glass of meade that Zeus offered and how work was gonna be hell tomorrow but even worse with a hangover.  But, maybe Zeus was right….live a little.

“Alright, I’ll have that glass of meade I suppose.  Don’t make it too tall though.”  He smirked. 

Zeus poured him a big glass of meade, much bigger than Hades would have liked but Hades politely accepted it.  They stood there then, for a moment and an awkward silence sort of settled between them.  Zeus was trying to come up with things to discuss and Hades was trying to swallow the meade down without grimacing.  After a few seconds, Zeus said, “Hey, well the others are here too and they’d love to see you.  I think they are in the living room area.”  And with that, Zeus escorted him out the kitchen and into the large living room area where kids were playing and Aphrodite was helping one of her daughters from the sofa.  Aphrodite smiled sweetly at Hades from the sofa, “Hello,” she said and waved.  Athena was lounging in the side chair, a large glass of meade in her hand and was looking purposefully at the holiday tree.  She didn’t bother to look in Hades’ direction when Aphrodite called him over. 

From behind, Hades felt a slight slap on the back and instantly stiffened, instinctively cautious from years of living in the underworld.  When he saw Aries’ masculine physique off to his left though, all dressed up too in holiday garb, Hades softened. 

“Hello Hades!  Long time no see, pal!  Where have you been hiding at lately?”  Aries smiled widely and tried to fist bump Hades who awkwardly tried to fist bump back.  Hades smiled and said, “Aries!”  From over in the chair, Hades noticed Athena scoff at them and then seem to roll her eyes and keep sipping her meade.  Hades looked down a little. 

Athena then looked directly at Hades and pointedly said in a high tone, “Hades, where’s Persephone?”

There was a silence then.  Athena looking directly at Hades with wine glass in hand awaiting an answer.  Hades knew how Athena was and she was needling him.  The others in the room besides the kids just sorta looked away. 

“She’s at a gift exchange at Demeter’s house.  She apologized that she could not make it.”

“Gift exchange, hmmmm…”  said Athena.  “Ok.”  It was clear from her voice she didn’t seem to believe him. 

Athena looked away again out the window but murmured something under her breath about the alps.  “Today would be a good day to go skiing.”

Hades didn’t really understand her comment.  The others did though.  Zeus glared at Athena but she preferred to look out the window.  Hades added, “Yes, skiing is fun.  I used to ski.”

Aries replied, “You did?”  You, Hades?  Ha, well I would pay to see that!”

Zeus interrupted, “Actually Hades was quite good at skiing from what I recall.  Triple diamonds, weren’t you?”

Hades smiled, “Yes, that I was …a long, long time ago.”

“You were quite the daredevil back then, Hades. “  laughed  Zeus.  “Pun intended.” 

Hades smiled and there was another pause in the conversation.  Hera came up to Hades then and touched a lock of his hair.  “Hades, have you colored your hair?  I don’t remember it being this dark.”  She said.  “I like it.”  She added, almost as an afterthought. 

Hades felt a little awkward and fumbled for the right words to say, “Yeah….I uh…..I guess I just wanted to get rid of the grey a bit.”

At that point, Athena looked back from the window and said saucily in Hades’ direction, “Trust me, Hades, you could never get rid of your …grey.”  She put extra emphasis on the word grey. 

Another awkward silence and suddenly Hades had the real strong intuitive feeling that the others were ill at ease here and that Athena, in particular, did not want to be here.  He began to feel pretty bad.  That explained a lot.  Why they rented the air bnb rather than stay with him, why they declined his offers to help prepare and plan or to provide meals or to give a tour of the underworld or to stay a few more days.  He suddenly felt like he wanted to go back home. 

Aries then said, “My, it’s quite hot down here for this season.  How about this weather?” 

Aphrodite went over to the laundry basket by the tree and picked up the presents from Hades and examined one, “Hades, I bet you wrapped these yourself didn’t you?  I’m glad we’re here Hades.”  She called out to the nearby kids, “We’ll be opening presents soon!”

Zeus said, “Ah, but not until after dinner.  Hera, is everything ready?”

“Yes,”  she said.  “Sure is.”

Two of the children off to the side, both Athena’s, had discovered the Jell-o Jigglers tray and began taking the wrapping off it and reaching for the Jigglers.  Athena, startled, suddenly got up from her chair, spilling her drink and lunging quickly towards the kids.  “No!” she mouthed to one child and shook her head.  Then she promptly looked  up to see if Hades had noticed, which he had but was not saying anything.  The other boy made a barfing motion behind her about the food.  Hades grimaced but didn’t say anything.  Hera was also embarrassed by the scene but took the plate and set it on the end of the buffet.

“Ok, everyone.  Time for dinner!  Grab a plate.  Children first.”  She motioned to the others.  The dinner food was excellent but very rich for Hades’ taste as he was used to underworld food.  Still all the same, he told the others they were marvelous cooks.  Everyone ate their fill, went back for seconds or even thirds, and got dessert too.  And, of course, the meade flowed.  Hades even helped himself to a second glass at the prompting of Zeus.  Over the course of the dinner, they talked about hobbies, music, art, etc.  Hades was careful to avoid discussion on politics.  He tried to put the others at ease and tried to be as engaging as possible but at times it was difficult, particularly with Athena just begrudgingly providing responses and halfheartedly listening.  Hades, as the dinner wore on, began to feel a little worn out by trying to maintain social graces and pleasantries. 

They opened gifts.  The kids went first.  Everyone said they loved the gifts Hades bought them but he kinda wondered.  Still, he had tried his best.  He even gave a personally framed old family photograph to Zeus and Hera which got Zeus a little misty-eyed.

“Thank you”  Zeus said. 

Hades just smiled and nodded. 

They went on to play family games that night with more meade and more stories and jokes exchanged and pleasantries.  They played dominoes and Hera won for she had always been quite clever.  At poker though, it came down to Zeus, Aries, and Hades.  When Zeus lost, it was Hades who shortly after threw a good hand away just to make sure Aries would win; just so he could make them feel good for making the trip down to the underworld.  Aries proceeded to gloat a little over his big win.  

“Ah, that was fun.”  Zeus said clapping Hades on the back.  At that point, Hades felt it best to probably end the night on a high point and told the others it was probably time for him to return back home for the night. 

“It’s been a real pleasure everybody.  Thank you  for coming down to see me.  I’ve got the demon dogs waiting at home for me tonight and I better get home to let them out.  I don’t want them to tear up any furniture or make a mess.”  He said awkwardly. 

“Yes,” Zeus said. “Well thank you for having us here as your guests in the underworld.”

Hera and Aphrodite and Aries agreed.  Athena just shrugged and halfheartedly smiled and said, “Thanks.”

Hades again noticed Zeus’s side glare at Athena. 

Hades grabbed his laundry basket and gave out awkward hugs and headed towards the door.  He left the untouched holiday plate of Jell-o Jigglers on the end of the buffet table. 

“Good night everyone.”  He said.  “I’ll be sure to give Persephone your regards.  Thank you and happy holidays!”  And out the door he went.  Zeus closed the door slowly behind him and turned towards the room.  The others sorta looked at him.

“I think that went well.”  He said firmly.

Athena just scoffed.  “I would have rather been in the Alps.”

Zeus looked at her coldly.  “So much for family during the holidays, Athena.  You acted badly tonight.”

The others were quiet. 

“Oh come on?  Really?  I acted badly to the lord of darkness?  We’re talking about Hades here!  He’s not exactly got the reputation for being the nicest guy on the planet!  And come on, he’s so damned depressing and dark all the time.  During dinner, all he talked about was work or the underworld, work or the underworld, work or the underworld.  He’s so damn boring and so miserable and so creepy.  Why is he family anyway?” 

She looked at the others.  “Admit it, I’m just saying what you all feel anyway but don’t have the courage to say.  He’s a dark, depressing old guy.   He doesn’t even seem to have any feelings or emotions!   I would have rather been anywhere else than here in this forsaken place.  The underworld??!  Really??  For the holidays??”

“He’s family.”  Zeus said quietly.  “And he wasn’t always this way.  He’s changed a lot since moving down here….and since Persephone too.” 

“Persephone, yeah, and where was she tonight???  Huh?  Not with him!  We’re stuck with him cause he’s family but Persephone is off with Demeter or probably cavorting around with that Adonis guy that people have been talking about.”

Zeus just looked at Athena.  “Are you finished?”

Athena looked a little contrite then.  “Alright, yes.  I’m just saying, uggh, I didn’t want to come here but I’m here ok.  I just wish he’d actually stop being so awkward and gloomy all the time.   I bet he never even laughs.”

As soon as the door to the air bnb closed, Hades started to relax again and pushed the button on his holiday sweater lights to turn them off.  He couldn’t wait to get this thing off him but he thought they might have sorta liked it.  He tried at least to be pleasant and kind and gracious.  It wasn’t easy.   He knew he had a reputation for being quite a hot head with a fiery temper but he told himself he could be civilized and socially courteous when needed.  He had a good night with them, even Athena, and it had been a long while since he’d done anything other than work.  The underworld can’t manage itself he always told himself.  They need me here.  I got a responsibility to do.  And, he always did.  He wouldn’t mind going to the Swiss Alps too sometime.  But no, this was his place and this is where he would remain despite Persephone’s incessant nagging to move away.  Persephone he thought to himself.  He wished she was there with him tonight to make things run smoother, less socially awkward.  Persephone was always so extroverted and fun loving.  That’s what he admired most about her.   

He walked down the hallway and stairs and out to his car.  He put the laundry basket in the back seat and opened the car, got inside and locked it back up promptly.  No telling what could happen here out late at night in the underworld.  First thing he reached for was the glove box to pull out his vape he’d been wanting to smoke about two hours ago.  He pushed the concealed glock aside to get to his vape.  He puffed on his vape, started the car, took one last look at the lights above in the building and wondered what the occupants were doing.  Then, he drove home while smoking and listening to some music.  He shut off the holiday music on the radio station and switched to an old tune.  Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters started playing.  An old favorite. 

He passed a black unmarked vehicle down a few blocks from the air bnb.  He slowed as he passed it and then casually nodded to the occupants.  The driver barely nodded back.  Hades had put some of his private security team on the air bnb a few days ago and he was glad to see them working tonight to keep his relatives safe in this part of town.  Zeus and the others probably had no idea Hades had his guys looking out for them

Hades had two tall glasses of meade that night and he knew he would regret it tomorrow at work but it was worth it.  He thought about how Zeus smiled and he smiled himself.  But he was tired too.  Social stuff exhausted him.  He got back home, pulled into the garage, and went into the house to be greeted by his hellhounds.  They were happy to see him and he pet them.  The house was quiet.  Persephone was gone, at her mother’s.  It didn’t matter he told himself.  Lately, she’d always been on the phone ignoring him and texting friends or her mother or whomever from work and she’d been working a lot of late-night hours at work.  That damn Adonis guy. Whatever.  He forgave Persephone.  He always forgave her and he didn’t even know why anymore.  He was just tired.  Really tired.  The silence was a welcome feeling to him.  Peaceful.

He went to the bedroom and got a pair of black silk pajamas to change into.  He threw the ridiculous holiday sweater in the trash.  Ridiculous.  He then grabbed his vape and cell phone.  He and the hellhounds stepped out onto the terrace.  He sat at the table under the underworld night sky and just relaxed for a moment.  A long day but a good day.  He hadn’t smiled that much in quite a while and he felt less stressed than usual.  He scrolled through his phone looking at memes or videos and smiled quite a bit while he vaped.  And he thought about everything that night.  He thought about the way Zeus smiled at him.  Zeus had a constant twinkle in his eye.  Everybody loved Zeus.  He was such a likeable fellow.  It was hard not to love him.  Hades wished he could be more like Zeus but that twinkle had disappeared from his eyes long long ago here in the underworld.  Hades smiled thinking of his family and he thought even of that moment when Athena got all panicky and crazy over her kids touching his Jell-0 Jigglers.  He thought about how that kid made a barfing motion behind her and how Hera got embarrassed.  And Hades suddenly face palmed at that image.  He nodded his head slowly at his family members and something welled up inside him, an honest to goodness, sincere, bellowing laughter.  And he laughed and laughed …like he hadn’t in a long time.  And, then he felt a wetness on his hand, turned it over and realized that it was a tear. 

A single solitary tear and he blinked.