The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

Cheeks like roses, nose like a cherry, drunk as a skunk

Special to The Times

If you're anything like me — and let's hope you're not because your dental bills will automatically double — your Christmas wish last year was something as pitiful as this: Time to organize the great sock drawer of your mind.

Time to do away with those strange objects that lurk in the corners of your house. The top to the pen you never owned, half a marble, a headless Dorothy of Oz magnet that won't stick to the fridge but hasn't made it to the trash.

Add to this gallery of the absurd what I call "binky art," a dozen pacifiers abandoned on the stove, now morphed into one stinking rubber blob. The blob drifts from cupboard to drawer and back in search of a place for everything and everything in its place because my 8-year-old daughter, Georgia, thinks this "art" will one day be priceless.

The binky art nestles in the kitchen drawer alongside dog-eared swatches of gift wrap. These pieces, stored by my frugal husband, Chris, are too small to wrap a quark in, so I blithely ordered giant rolls of gift wrap from a neighborhood Girl Scout.

But wait. Where is the Scout we overpaid for the gift wrap? We "oohed" and "ahhhhed" about her entrepreneurial skills while she fleeced us for $50. Now, at the eleventh hour, I am wrapping my children's gifts in newspaper while said little girl vacations in Cabo San Lucas.

No matter. We also know how to have fun. We will escape to Green Valley to a cozy log cabin with a wood-burning fire.

And we will have the worst vacation of our lives.

Although the cabin sleeps eight, Blair, who's 6, Georgia, Chris and I share one queen-size bed, in the loft, in fear of ghosties.

The 20 steep stairs to the loft seem insurmountable. None of us has even heard of altitude sickness; we just think we're getting very old very quickly.

We wheeze around the unheated cabin like lost people in a nursing home. Too tired to actually ski, we fall over our ski boots at any opportunity while experiencing dizzy spells.

When dinner explodes Regardless of our ailments, my stoic husband fulfills his promise of cooking Christmas dinner. He cunningly improvises where cookware is lacking and causes three Pyrex dishes to explode on the hob, decorating the kitchen with peas, carrots, potatoes and squash. Let's face it, it's the stuff that kids hate to eat anyway. But we still have the turkey.

We neglect to notice that at an altitude of 7,000 feet things cook differently. The Yorkshire pudding, which came in a box from England, yellows but never rises. It slops about like custard. It never makes it to the table.

Still, who needs peas, carrots, potatoes, squash and Yorkshire pudding when we have turkey and stuffing from a box and brilliant sunlight streaming through the windows? My husband urges us to go outside and take scenic pictures while he reassembles dinner. He removes the carpet fluff, rinses and reheats dinner while we wheeze in the snow, breathing like deep-sea divers who have severed the air hose.

We cannot summon the energy to build a snowman so my children smile weakly for the camera. As I try to find the autofocus, I witness a red-faced man, waving his arms about like a windmill. Georgia instantly takes a shine to him. She is too innocent to notice that his breath could strip paint off the walls and thinks only that he uses a very strong mouthwash.

She laughs uncontrollably at his "knock, knock" jokes, which he tells to make her smile now that he has snatched my camera from my hand and is rattling off frame after frame with the dexterity of a sports photographer.

He urges me to join my daughters in the picture, and I smile like a dental hygienist, trying to combine politeness with a kind of psychic Morse code in hopes of alerting my husband, whose back I can see through the window.

I worry that this man will leg it into the forest and trade my camera for a bottle of brandy.

"Let me get my husband before the film runs out!" I say a little too eagerly. But neither of the children will come with me. Clumsily, I stuff a $20 bill in the man's cheery red anorak and mutter thanks. "I'm sorry, but we have to go," I say. "Here's something for your effort."

"But Mommy, it's Christmas, and he's all alone. Can't we have him to dinner please?" Georgia asks. Frozen with confusion, I am saved by the man declining the offer gracefully and winking at me over my daughter's head.

We scuttle into the house, starving hungry. We close the curtains, blocking out the view because I'm feeling guilty about eating in front of someone who probably needs a friend more than a twenty. I open the curtains a crack and see him dancing in circles, waving the bill around like a lottery winner.

For now the stress of Christmas is over. Our Christmas dinner, ruined. We can relax as our children tear open their presents, wrapped in newspaper, unceremoniously placed around the unlighted fire. Then we will all sit down to something safe: four people on a recliner watching "The Sound of Music."

Back in our cluttered home, the binky art is joined by drunken art. Snapshots of our "vacation" litter the drawers: half of my daughter's smile, out of focus, someone's shoe, a swatch of green. The only clear picture is of a grinning rogue. None of us knows how his picture was taken because none of us took it. His red jacket is as vibrant as his face, and behind his head you can see a silver shopping cart loaded with something shiny. Blair says it's Santa, and who am I to disagree? Georgia thinks it is priceless.

And so do I.

Amanda Peppe is writing a book of essays titled "Tales of a Phat Hollywood Housewife." Clearly, she hates to travel.

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