Friday, December 28, 2012

A Little Break


It snowed here on the 26th and it has been gray and dark ever since. I am not the kind of person who gets excited about snow. I enjoy it only briefly (when I see the doodles romp through it) and then I get hit by the winter blues. Someday in the not so distant future, I really hope to be able to move somewhere where there is no snow and the days seem a little longer. Until then, I have some creative coping mechanisms.

Last night had a tropical theme. We made a dinner of flounder, mango and avocado salsa, and coconut rice.

I liked the salsa the best.

We threw on some Hawaiian music records (there are so many of these in thrift stores-why was this such an obsession?).

That's my silly ukulele.

We popped my summer lights on the Christmas "tree" and burned a tropical scented candle.

Time to take this baby down today.

We wanted to watch The Descendants to keep with the theme but could not find it on Netflix or in Redbox. Therefore, we settled for Wet Hot American Summer and giggled over Paul Rudd's hilarious mess hall scene.

I was always a sad excuse for a sorority girl, but I think that liking themed activities stuck with me. Anything to chase away the winter!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Holiday Round Up

hedgehog measuring cups-a present from my sister
a picture of grandma 
Our Christmas was a little nontraditional this year as my dad worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and my sister spent the time with her fiance's family. We did not celebrate the holiday fully until this evening. For those of us left behind, comfort was found in some Christmas movies (Love, Actually, White Christmas, The Family Stone) and finger foods ("Nothing says holidays like a cheese log." ~ Ellen DeGeneres).

One of the benefits of pushing Christmas later is that we actually did get a white one. We are all snowed in tonight up on the hill with about six or seven inches laying outside and few plows in sight. It was a peaceful holiday (Retraction: As I typed this last sentence, my dad started playing loud film clips on his iPad and my sister hollered to my other sister across the house. I spoke too soon. Between the iPad, random bursts of eardrum busting singing, French language practice, and howling dogs, there are no silent nights here). Despite the decibel level, we did some pleasant reminiscing, exchanged lovely gifts, and ate a Christmas goose. 

Christmas Brunch Fruit Salad (before Dad headed to work):
mangoes, blueberries, pomegranate seeds with a squirt of fresh lime juice
It was a nice Christmas. Not a perfect Christmas. The weird timing and one member of the family splitting the holiday for the first year was a little disconcerting. It didn't seem like an ideal Christmas and my discomfort with our Christmas not being absolutely perfect has been...discomforting.

Often, we build up our idea of what we think Christmas "should" be. Lovely photos on Pinterest, inspiring blogs, magazine articles, favorite holiday movies, cheesy made-for-TV movies, even Facebook posts-all of these sources send us the message that Christmas should be a magical, picturesque portrait of a family gathered together in peaceful perfection. This idea sets us up for disaster. 

When we expect a flawless holiday, even a slight deviation from this ideal makes us feel that we have failed (and worse, that everyone else has succeeded at the holiday and we should have been able to too). In reality, bad weather ruins travel plans, people are late, the flu strikes, the same problematic family dynamics persist, the oven won't get over 350 degrees, the dog brings down the Christmas tree, and people get tired, overstimulated, and grumpy. 

Christmas has a ridiculous anticipatory tradition. For at least a month (and even longer in the retail world), we prepare materially and mentally for the big day. That's right, a whole month for just one day. And into that day we pour all our expectations for gift giving and receiving, family behavior, entertaining and meals, and general cheer and joy. We want the full Christmas splendor: the favorite music, the twinkling lights, the perfect meals, and a full house of wonderfully behaved people. 

a holiday decoration that won't come down in January
Christmas lights in a tall blue Mason jar
Whew! I think that is far too much pressure on one day that has so much room for error. Something that is not ideal will occur during a Christmas in your life: a family fight, cancelled travel plans, stomach bugs, fussy children, etc. It's going to happen. Christmas being imperfect is far more statistically probable than Christmas being perfect. It's reality. It's life. 

I'm not a Grinch and I didn't have a bad Christmas. However, I do place too much importance on Christmas being a "perfect" experience and that often leaves me feeling fretful by the end of the day, like I didn't grasp the moment and transcend all the roadblocks to reach that postcard holiday. I think that if I had just tried harder, I could make myself and the holiday absolutely sublime and magical. 

In the end, this kind of perfection is too tall an order to fit down the chimney. In the end, it isn't that everyone and everything was perfect. In the end, what matters is that we tried. We loved each other enough, we loved this holiday and what it stands for enough to give it our best (best does not equal perfect). It will never be a perfect Christmas (unless you are a freak of nature, get incredibly lucky, or have the producers from The Hills setting up your life); accepting this gives more mental space to just enjoy Christmas for what it is-a nice window of time to get along with others as well as you can, a chance to say, "You are my family and/or friends and that means something to me." And if it doesn't work out, if your Christmas is a total disaster, you still have 364 days to cook, bake, give gifts, travel, celebrate, and interact with friends and family. 

So grab some grog, light up the crackling fire movie on Netflix, and smile a little at the people around you. Perfection isn't attainable, but the middle can be pretty nice too. 

The Christmas Goose

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Top 5 List

It's that time of year again. December is quickly falling into 2013 and people are making their "Best Of" lists for 2012. Of course, since the world is ending in a few days (I'm glad my work Christmas sweater and cookie party is scheduled for the 20th), there is more pressure to make these lists extra thoughtful.

I considered making my own top 10 list for 2012, but then I realized that I can't exactly remember everything that has been engrossing me this year. Maybe I have been having a series of mini-strokes throughout 2012 because I can't draw my mind back through the whole year and analyze my pop culture consumption to figure out which ten things made the most impact.

I'm holding off on the brain scan for now. I am placing my bets on the fundamentals of memory. Memory isn't like a book with pages that you can flip back and forth; it is subjective and largely influenced by context and emotion. Sometimes we can't remember something without the trigger of a scent, feeling, sight, or another internal or external stimulus. I can't immediately pull my favorite things from 2012 from my brain. My gray  matter doesn't work that way.

By the way, I am very qualified to discuss memory (cough). I am an expert on basic psychology having spent four years studying it in no great depth at a liberal arts college. I had a rat that I taught to play soccer using chocolate milk as a reward. I felt sad for Little Albert. I memorized the personality disorders in the DSM-IV-TR, which I don't remember anymore...which doesn't really matter because the new DSM just came out and they changed anyway (only some, I know, calm down). These accomplishments (plus my super awesome B.A. in English) were obviously worth my 60K+ student debt, or as I like to call it- grad school application fee.

Snark aside (can you tell my monthly blood money to Sallie Mae is due?), I would like to add a very non-comprehensive pop culture "best of" list to all those being released in this personal megaphone we call the internet. This will not be a best of list for all of 2012. I can't think like that, or maybe I'm too lazy on this Sunday afternoon to be that reflective. This will not even be a best of list for things that came out in 2012. Oh no, I'm not that culturally relevant. Instead, this list is the top 5 TV shows that have been interesting/enjoyable to me in the past couple weeks/months that came out whenever. I can tell that this list will be a huge internet hit for its breadth, depth, and insight. Without further foot dragging, in no particular order:

1. Bones  

I've mentioned that I love this TV show before. I don't know why I so love this show. It deals with crime mystery and dead bodies-two thinks about which I care very little (ha, take that preposition). I think what draws me to this show is that it is largely character based. The murders aren't the most important part-the lives and the stories of the main characters are. I love Temperance Brennan, the socially awkward, brilliant forensic anthropologist. I adore Dr. Sweets, the psychologist (this actor shows up again in #2 of my list). Hodgins makes me laugh. Angela is cool. I care about their story lines. I know they are hyperbolic personalities, but I still love watching them. This show is available up to season 7 on Netflix (the streaming subscription-does anyone even do the DVDs anymore?).

2. Freaks and Geeks

This show is old and only has one season. Many people have criticized that this show only got one season so I won't add too much to that. Know this: I protest. It deserved more seasons. The cast-oh my god, the cast-is so blockbuster. This show was the equivalent to what the Mickey Mouse Club was for millennium pop stars. I have not watched the entire season because I want to savor it. Every other line is this fantastic nugget of gold. I can't even explain how much I love Sam (John Francis Daley now plays Dr. Sweets on Bones). I am sure that most of you are not so far behind the times and have witnessed the wonder that is this show. If you haven't, go. Now. It's on Netflix.

3. Escape to River Cottage

This was a British show about  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who apparently was a celebrity chef (not to me, but I guess to people across the pond), that came out in 1999. The reality show (which brings some respectability to the moniker "reality" show) follows Hugh as he leaves to big city for Dorset, which I am convinced is basically Eden. His goal is to create a self-sufficient farm and life in this rural area. His adventures are largely based on food (growing, catching, bartering, cooking, enjoying with friends). It is a freaking gem. You don't have to be a back to the lander to enjoy it (it might turn you into one though). He raises pigs,  makes prosciutto (from said pigs), helps manage overpopulation of deer and pigeons for his own gastronomic gain, consults with vegan spiritualists about a mice problem, etc. You can find it on You Tube starting here: There were subsequent seasons, so you can Hugh it up for many episodes.

4. Parks and Recreation

Well, duh. A lot of people love this show. Every actor is so on their game. There is a character for everyone. My dad might not get the John Ralpheo (Ralfeo?) jokes, but he loved Ron Swanson. I am a big April fan myself. Check it out on Netflix. I would actually start with Season 2, not Season 1. This show took a little time to get in its groove.

5. Downton Abbey

I met someone this summer who did the most spot-on impression of Lady Mary. It involved an exaggerated eye roll and a deep sigh of "Oh, Momma." I have since stolen this impression and done it (poorly) everytime someone mentions this show. Sometimes, I will bring this show up in conversation just so I can do this impression. I love this period drama set at the turn of the century England. The class drama! The romance! The soapiness! The costumes! Dame Maggie Smith! Ahhh! I'm obsessed. You can catch it if you have an Amazon Prime membership streaming free. Can you believe that PBS rolled this out? Can you?

So these are my TV obsessions of 2012ish. It isn't well organized, but what are ya gonna do? I am still hoping to jump on the Homeland bandwagon if someone can show me how to watch this for free. I also really want to catch Girls just so I can see what everyone was talking about (damn you, preposition!).

What have you been watching in 2012...ish?

Post Note: My cute Christmas tree did not make it until the 25th. The poor little thing dried out. I wanted to keep it until Christmas, but there were needles everywhere and it was just depressing me. I gave it water, but it wouldn't take it. Hunger strike, I guess. I pitched them and the tree. All was not lost, however. I decorated my advent tree (which has been super-duper fun), which I might actually like better. I know it is grinchy of me to prefer this to a real tree, but it takes up so much less space. #tinyapartmentproblems.

Success! (out of failure)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rage Run

It was one of those days. The kind in which you can feel your blood pressure rising with each passing half hour. Even your scalp gets itchy with agitation. You know you have to do something or you might explode, or implode if you are feeling polite and don't want to offend others.

There are a lot of ways to relieve the beach ball of pressure lodged against your frontal lobe. Some are better than others. Hitting the bottle (of jugo), going to Target and clearing out the makeup clearance section, driving fast (75!) on the highway, listening to Kelly Clarkson on repeat, shouting at strangers in your car where they can't hear you, faced away from them so they don't read your lips-these all are far too destructive. 

Instead, I like to rage run. Rage running is throwing your running clothes on when you get home from work and sprinting like the wind when you hit the pavement-and by wind I mean a puffy breeze that thinks it's bad ass. You clomp down the sidewalk listening to Lady Gaga until the anger floats away on your huffing breath, or you feel like throwing up. Also, don't attempt this with one of those built-in bra running shirts that you also wear with a sports bra. I tried this once in college and almost passed out in a snow bank. I didn't realize that I was actually smothering myself. 

So now that the rage has dissipated (didn't throw up, just spit a lot!), I am trying to make a list of good things to bring me back up to a happy level, or more likely a nice, normal mid-line. 

1. My order of fancy David's Tea came in and I like the Movie Night one. It takes like apples and popcorn. It's different and yummy. I forgot to get a tea ball so I have a makeshift drainer out of my hotpot filter, but it's still good.

2. My advent tree has been a really fun activity. Our treat yesterday was hedgehog candles. Oh, woodland creatures! It is illegal to have a hedgehog as a pet in Pennsylvania. I already checked. Let me know if this changes. I wants.

3. I watched Sarah Silverman's standup Jesus is Magic on Netflix. I have never seen her before and it was a real treat. She reminds me that it is okay, as a female, to not always be super polite. I won't act like her because it would be crude not funny coming from me, but I like that someone is really far down on the spectrum of semi-acceptable behavior and that makes me feel more normal. 

4. Season 7 of Bones came out on Netflix. Hmm, I might need to step away from the Netflix. 

On the flip side-the bad side-the dark side, I found out that the Hobbit is going to be a trilogy, not just one movie. Peter Jackson, why? My bf and I just watched the 3 Lord of the Rings movies and it took us 7 days to get through them. I can't do that again. I just can't. 

Rage run time again. Just kidding. I'm on the couch now, so I won't be moving until it's time to go to bed. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twinkies and L.L. Bean

Successful thrift shoppers keep an open mind while sweeping the racks. Thrift shopping isn't like going to the mall. You won't be able to pop in and grab that one thing you need. It doesn't work that way. Looking for a specific item will only bring disappointment.

Even though you can't get too particular, you can still keep a running wish list of things you hope to find. Keeping some focus to the flexibility makes for thrifting victories. Here are some items that are currently on my list:

1. Leather bomber jacket (wishful thinking)

2. Fitted denim jacket that I can cut the arms off and make a vest

3. The Dude's sweater (vintage Pendleton Cowichan Cardigan)

4. Red plaid thermos

5. 1950s Pyrex, especially a blue snowflake print

6. High-quality champagne bowls

7. Egg cups

8. Vintage rotary phone, preferably in robin egg blue

9. Cashmere sweaters (even slightly ugly ones are fine-I like them to bum around in)

10. Vintage children's books about sloths

11. Retro L.L. Bean apparel (men or women's)

So...this list is a little weird. If our items reflect something about ourselves, our inner psyche, I think my items show that I am...weird. Big surprise. 

Well, this weekend, I found something on my wishlist: A vintage (I think) L.L. Bean goose down vest. 

I'm going to pair this with skinny jeans or a skirt.

I always keep an eye out for L.L. Bean things because (1) I like the timeless preppy aesthetic and (2) their stuff really holds its own in quality. Some brands are like yogurt-not a long shelf life. Other makes are like Twinkies (R.I.P. Hostess); they keep forever. 

I want to go hang out in Freeport (in July).

L.L. Bean is like a Twinkie in that you can trust that it will be just as good 15 years down the line. I don't know if the friendly folks at the Bean would appreciate the Twinkie analogy. They would probably prefer something more crunchy granola, but granola gets funky after a couple months and I can't think of any politically correct food that works with this comparison. Besides, the L.L. Bean people and their golden retrievers are all the way up in Maine and are probably too busy snowshoeing through the forest and cozying up in mountain lodges with big plaid blankets right now to concern themselves. I'm not too worried about retribution. 

Hopefully, my luck will transfer to any of you readers who likes to hit up the local Salvation Army (go on Wednesdays for the 50% off apparel deal) and you will find something on your own wishlist. Happy hunting. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

DIY Christmas Countdown

I am often inspired by one of my favorite blogs, A Beautiful Mess. The blogsphere and Pinterest have so many good ideas...too many. I have a fantastic variety of Pinterest boards, but you simply can't do every great project and recipe you gather on your pinboards (sorry, quinoa salad with butternut squash, dried cranberries & pepitas and Martha Stewart's felted basket from old sweaters, but I don't see me taking you on anytime soon).

However, there are a couple projects/recipes that I have been inspired to actually do more than pin from A Beautiful Mess, including these popcorn balls, this dairy-free ice cream, these sea salt chocolate chip cookies (I made them gluten free and my future brother-in-law loved them), this green smoothie challenge, this sushi salad, this spicy sweet potato soup, a holiday wreath, a take on this Instagram wall canvas art, and I am currently gathering materials to make this scrapbook. Wow, that was quite a list. I'm a super productive person (lie).

My favorite project from this fancy blog was the DIY Advent Tree. I've been very much in the holiday spirit this year (not having to work for the soulless retail demons from hell in a continuous loop of bad Christmas music helps). I loved the idea of having little treats everyday and a countdown to Christmas. Here was my process:

1. Show the picture of the completed project to my dad.

2. Have him do all the work.

This heavy lifting by my dad is becoming a theme. Next on my to do list: figure out how to use power tools. Can you blame me for taking advantage of another's skillz and well-equipped shop?

Not playin'

We He chopped up a wooden pallet we had in the barn and cut them to decreasing length for the "arms" of the tree.

We sanded them. I was going for rustic, not splintery.

Let's make this a little more tidy.

After sanding the pieces, we attached them to the "trunk" with a power drill (used the original holes) and Ta Da!

So, I didn't make the frame by myself, but the treats were all my idea. Since it is no fun to open an advent calendar all by yourself, I tailored these to open with the bf. Some days have candy (Kit Kats, Reeses, the works), some have little projects (iron on fabric crayons), some have silly items (stick on googly eyes), and many have "coupons" for activities like making salty-sweet popcorn and watching a Christmas episode of the The Office. I put the treats in simple white lunch bags, marked the bags in a countdown to Christmas, and attached them with pink and red tacks (required a hammer).

I'm pleased with the results. It's not as fancy as the one featured on A Beautiful Mess, but I had a great time making it and gathering the little presents. Looking forward to have a fun little gift to open everyday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Very Thrifty Christmas

Ohhhh, Ahhhhh

This is my first Christmas in my own place. Of course, my family lives just up the road so it isn't too different. We get a tree every year (not too fat, flat back to put against the wall) and set it up in the parlor. It's become a tradition for the three sisters to decorate the tree together (I will not do the garland...nor the lights-I am only in it for the glory of the ornaments). I will be back one evening this December to grab the boxes from the attic, fight with my sisters, and hang my favorite ornaments.

But this year, I am not home every night to sit in the parlor by the tree. My sister has a little tinsel one she offered to me for my apartment, but I decided against it. In a rush of post-Pinterest adrenaline this weekend, I decided that I wanted my own, real Christmas tree.

My requirements for a tree were that it had to be small (my apartment is teeny-tiny) and inexpensive. *Shakes fist at Sallie Mae*

Like any adult in her very own place, I did the independent thing I drove right back home and had my dad help me with this project. We live in the country and have some fields and forests in our graaaand domain. I figured we could pick out a pine in the woods.

 Let me tell you, we were very well equipped for this adventure. A lot of blogs have DIY projects with the message that "anyone can do it!" Well, you can't get a tree the exact same way I did without the following items:

1. A golf cart (because tramping in the woods is sooo last year)
2. A crazy cool chain saw thing that looks like a big set of scissors
3. A cordless Honda generator to run said set of jacked up scissors
4. Powertools
5. Rubber washers, a long screw, a tuna can, and a piece of plywood about 10" x 10"
6. A dad to do all the work

We set off and found a good little hemlock tree (don't drink the sap, Socrates), cut it down with aforementioned awesome scissors, trimmed it up, and brought it back to my dad's shop in the golf cart. He took a tuna can and drilled a hole in it. Then, he put a washer on either side of the drilled hole, placed a piece of plywood below, and the tree above. One zip with the power drill up through the plywood, past the tin can, and into the tree trunk and a big screw held the whole thing together. Voila!

I tossed the tree in the car, gave my dad a hug, and head down to a local thrift store where I scored some old glass ornaments, retro big-bulb Christmas lights, a piece of fabric to cover the base, and 2 stockings to hang with care (I also found a Christmas apron, a chunky red scarf, some unused bows for gifts, and the kitchen sink)-all for $17. For the crowning glory, I cut out two star shapes from a cereal box, painted them with Mod Podge glue, sprinkled glitter, and adhered them to either side of a clothes pin with a hot glue gun.

Like a Martha Stewart project...done by 3rd graders

 I also painted two temporary hooks with glue and glitter for the stockings.

One for me, one for me

All in all, this Christmas tree and assorted sundries cost me $17. But I had the advantage of a handy dad, a personal tree lot, and a really awesome thrift store. You might be able to emulate this somewhat by shopping at a thrift store for your decorations. However, I would not suggest poaching a tree if you don't have some country space of your own. Also, you can't have my dad and his cool power tools.

Oh my goodness, it's adorable.

I am so excited about my first Christmas tree. No matter how you come by it-whether you pick it out in a lot, cut it down yourself, or dig it out of the ground a la Clark Griswold- finding and decorating a tree is such a special way to herald in the season.

Where do you find your Christmas tree?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Songbook

Music has the ability to evoke emotions and memories. Play me some Dashboard Confessional or Jack Johnson and I am transported back to the summer of 2005, the summer after I graduated from high school. Give me The Cranberries and I am thirteen year old again. Simon and Garfunkel "The 59th Street Bridge Song" harkens back to my early childhood; it was my favorite on a mixed tape of kid's music.

Christmas music has a very important memory association for most people, especially since we revisit our favorite holiday songs every year. I know that without some songs, Christmas just doesn't seem like Christmas. Here I am presenting you with my Christmas playlist developed over my 24 (soon to be 25) years of anticipating and celebrating the holiday. Of course, this list is not to supplant your own traditional playlist and there are sure to be many you have heard before. However, check them out. Finding new music you like is always a treat.

*There will be no "Little Drummer Boy" in this list. I hate this song with a burning passion. It turns me into an almost violent Grinch when it blasts over the mall sound system.*

This list is presented in no particular order. I love them all.

"A Cradle in Bethlehem" by Nat King Cole
"O Tannenbaum" by Nat King Cole

This whole album, The Christmas Song, is wonderful. Someone (me) lost this in our house and nearly got sent to spend Christmas in the barn. I had to get another copy, but I don't think I have been entirely forgiven.

"Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle"
"The Seeds of Love"
all by Lorenna McKennitt

This album, Midwinter Night's Dream, is also a gem. I love Lorenna McKennitt's music in general and this Christmas album feels fresh yet very old world.

"Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" by Bing Crosby

Well, duh to adding Bing Crosby. A Christmas mix without him is sorely lacking. White Christmas is one of my ALL TIME favorite Christmas movies. I love it. I love it. My sister and I used to "be" female characters when we watched movies when we were little. This didn't really entail anything. In fact, I'm not sure why we claimed a character. I always got Judy, the dancer. Judy's body proportions are so absurd that I have never seen their equal. My sister was always Rosemary Clooney's character. Now that I am all grown up, I totally would choose Betty over Judy...but I would still rather kiss Danny Kaye than Bing Crosby. Danny Kaye was adorable, kind of like an old fashioned Jason Segel. Kaye may have cuteness, but Bing can sing. The obvious choice for a Christmas track from this movie is "White Christmas," but I like to throw in "Count Your Blessings" instead. It is overlooked but a truly sweet song about being thankful. Don't even think of adding "Snow." This song is deeply stupid. "I wanna wash my hands, my face, my hair in snow"? Really? The songwriters must have been drunk. And "Sisters," insane-but my sister and I used to sing it all the time, so I can't totally throw this one under the bus.

"Come Thou Font of Every Blessing"
"The Friendly Beasts"
both by Sufjan Stevens

If you can tell me how to pronounce Sufjan correctly, please let me know. In 2006, this indie band put out a five disc set titled Songs for Christmas. I downloaded them all last year and introduced them to my family. They weren't a fan. They are strict traditionalists with Christmas music, however, so I don't give a Christmas figgy pudding. I like the set, and these two aforementioned tunes are so, so wonderful.  So take that, family. Take that.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland

This song was originally featured in the film musical Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland. I really liked this movie as a kid, though I would fast-forward some of the dull sections. Our VHS version had a little documentary section that I would sometimes watch. If my memory is correct, when the writer was developing this song, he had much darker lyrics written (this song happens during a sad section of the movie when the family thinks they have to leave their beloved St. Louis for NYC and the little sister just enacted her grief through a mass snowman massacre). Garland, however, asked that the lyrics be rewritten. She was afraid that America would think she was a "monster" for singing this dark song to calm the snowman killing child. It is still a bittersweet tune, but one I want to hear every Christmas. And only the Garland version, please. Let's keep it classic here.

"Christmas Vacation" by Katie Campbell

This is a weird picture, but the only one I could find for this song on amazon. Christmas Vacation the movie is standard fare in our household. We often quote the movie throughout the year. "It's a beaut, Clark." "That there's an RV." "Shitter was full." All these quotes can be frequently heard. Upon reflection, it seems like we are more obsessed with Cousin Eddie than the movie, in general, but I digress. This song is from the movie and doesn't seem to have much connection from the film. It is featured in the opening credits, but I don't think it is included in the movie itself. I'm not sure how it came about. Maybe someone's cousin needed a music plug. However it came to be used, I am grateful. It is actually a fun song. Check it out if you don't recall.

"Jingle Bell Rock" by Brenda Lee

If you have known me more than a couple hours, you will be able to guess why I like this song. It's all because of Mean Girls. Oh Lindsay, how you have fallen from grace. This movie is awesome. In this classic teen flick, the group of popular girls or "plastics" do a "sexy dance" to this at the talent show. They wear knee high boots and have some provocative, awkward grooves. Gretchen Weiners is falling from Regina George's favor and accidentally kicks the boom box playing this song off the stage. In a moment of brilliance, Kady cements her popularity by continuing the dance and finishing the tune by singing. Tina Fey joins in on the piano. The rest of the audience starts singing too. It's fabulous. If you don't like this song, fine. If you don't like this movie, you can't sit with us.

There are many more Christmas songs I love, except you Little Drummer Boy-you suck. I enjoy adding to the list every year. This coming December, I will be jamming to A Very She & Him Christmas by She & Him. This album came out last year, but I missed it somehow. I can't wait to hear Zooey Deschanel croon.

What do you listen to every year? What tunes should I add to my playlist?

*Amendment: The "Little Drummer Boy" mash up by David Bowie and Bing Crosby is acceptable.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Bird

Does anyone else find chicken frightening? I'm talking here about the plastic-wrapped, Styrofoam plates of chicken in your grocery store. I find them somewhat terrifying. While I can admire a slab of beef, check out a chop of lamb, and adore cuts of fresh fish (truly fresh fish smells wonderful, in my opinion), raw chicken looks repulsive. 

The sad fact of the matter is that it looks gross because it kind of is gross. Almost all the chicken found at typical grocery stores comes from factory farms. The farms are truly horrific. I know that most people don't want to think of where their meat comes from. We like to maintain that cognitive disconnect. I understand. I struggle with it too.  I am not going to preach against factory farming chicken (or that lovely lamb and beef I once complimented) here. You can go check out the documentary Food Inc. streaming on Netflix or Amazon (it's scary-there is your warning). Let's just leave it at this statement: grocery store chicken is a travesty.

Okay, okay, I know I sound dramatic and I will admit that I have eaten grocery store chicken with the rest of them. I just have this visceral reaction to it now. I seem to have encountered some kind of mental barrier now that I am doing my own shopping and cooking. I know where grocery chicken comes from (it's bad-Alicia Silverstone would pass out) and I hate how that is represented by the sterile looking plastic packaging. Food shouldn't come in so much non biodegradable wrapping. There is absolutely no connection between the animal on the farm and the meat on the foam. My attitude towards farm vs. factory has been well-entrenched since childhood (check out my mother's awesome farm blog here) and is only refreshed when I dabble in Michael Pollan or watch episodes of Escape to River Cottage (seriously, go check it out-you will become ADDICTED!).

Besides the moral value of factory chicken, don't even get me started on the taste! Grocery store chicken is like tofu, a bland protein base. On my parents' farm, my mother has kept chickens for over 15 years now. It started off with just four Rhode Island Reds living in a converted farm outhouse and pecking around the yard. Now we have many different breeds. Some are for eggs, and some are for meat.

The roosting coop at my parents' farm. Picture from my mother's blog

My dad notoriously disliked chicken. He thought it was tasteless, boring, and dry. Then! He tried some farm raised chicken. It's amazing what a little nutritional variety and sunshine will do for a meat. He was amazed. You see, really good chicken doesn't need tons of buffalo sauce, taco seasoning, or ranch. It can stand on its own with some butter, herbs, and vegetables.

The chicks in their rotational grazing pen. It gets moved every day so they have fresh grass and new bugs. The pipe across is actually a waterer that is cleaner and easier than a bowl/bucket. This picture is also from my mother's blog.
I recently threw out a boneless, skinless Perdue chicken breast that had been sitting in my refrigerator. I was so upset about it. I didn't want to cook it because it grossed me out, but I hated to waste it. It felt like such a failed endeavor to finally toss it when it went bad, stewed in my ambivalence. I realized then, however, that I have a choice about what I eat and where it is from. Some people may like the distance of a plastic package, but I know I'm eating meat and that it was once a live animal. I want to make sure that animal didn't have a terrible life.

This rooster slightly frightens me in real life. I think he know this. Picture from my mother's blog. 
 It is time to reduce the guilt here. I'm not going to become a vegetarian. I eat meat a couple times a week. I still love beans and tofu and nut butters so I have my proteins covered. But I'm not interested in cutting meat out entirely. I want to eat meat, but I want to eat it conscientiously. I want my meat to have been raised well with lots of nutritional variety, movement, freedom of space, and sunlight.

This means giving up grocery store chicken. This means putting in more effort when it comes to shopping and sometimes a little more money. Do you know that in many European countries, it is normal that people spend over 50% of their income on food. Tally that in your head quickly. Do you spend that much? I know my weekly grocery budget is a lot lower than 50%. Americans want cheap food, but it comes at a hidden high price of poor quality, poorly produced meat. I'm not going all the way up to 50% for my food budget (Sallie Mae would probably wonder where their loan repayments went). However, I am resolved to focus more on the quality of what I am eating.

Not everything, of course, is going to be tutti-frutti, hot-patotti organic, free-range fancy pants around here. I love Jiffy cornbread and I'm not going to go find some Annie's version of it. I'm also not some dummy consumer that thinks that just because it says "all natural" on the packaging that it is somehow good. An organic pop-tart is still a pop-tart.

When it comes to some of the essentials, however, I am fixin' on making some changes. Turkey and chicken from a local farm that is about 15 minutes from my apartment (Landis Poultry Farm). My parent's food when I can get it (wink). Eggs from the same local farm (I could write an entire post why I despise grocery store eggs [Have you seen the color of a free-range egg yolk? Once you go there, you can't go back]). I am still throwing around the thought of raw milk as well. Whoa. Raw milk? You crazy, girl?

Probably, but that's a post for another day.

(Now she get's political? When it was election time she wrote an ode to undies, but a Perdue chicken makes her protest? Where are this girl's values?  In my kitchen.)

*Post Note: A mom recently explained why she buys organic pop-tarts. She knows that they aren't a health food. However, her kids really love pop-tarts and so she provides them in the most healthy way possible, without any artificial flavorings or colors. This makes sense. I get it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Find Your Foundation

As election day draws near (very in, now), it is time to do some reflection. We must consider our essential beliefs, our foundations.

During one of the presidential debates, President Obama got salty and accused Romney of promoting social policies that belong in the '50s. This was an insult to be sure. Times were not too kind to anyone outside the white male sphere. Don't believe me? Watch an episode of Mad Men. Actually, if you don't want to commit to an entire episode, about 10 minutes should be enough to show you that things were pretty unequal during this time, especially for the ladies.

I'm not sure if this is the best use of my intellectual power.

Now, I'm not debating the veracity of Obama's comment here. Ma blog isn't going to be cluttered up with all that. I can safely say, without taking political sides, that I certainly don't want to return to prefeminism. It sucked and it wasn't fair. This time, however, was not all bad.

The '50s were part of the foundation upon which we built our modern time. The inequalities of the '50s inspired the revolution of the '60s. Thanks to those counter-culture social protesters  I don't have to pretend to be inspired by this shiz anymore:

Is that Kelly Ripa with the Electrolux oven?
This cake is coming for you.

But, I'm not hating on all aspects of the '50s here. You all know my love of kitsch, so the '50s aren't a total wash for me (new vintage Pyrex obsession currently getting out of control).

In fact, there is something about the '50s that I think ladies should really miss. The foundations. No, I don't mean the foundation of racism and sexism, no, no, no! I'm talking about the foundation you wear under their clothes. While Victoria seems hell-bent on sharing her secret with the entire world through ever shrinking under options, I have a hankering for something a little more substantial. The slip.

The 50's had something on us when it came to foundation wear. Sara Blakely may have cornered the market on the revolution of the girdle. But Spanx are for special occasions. I'm not going to haul myself into sausage casing everyday. Spanx are a one-in-a-year type deal (did you know that Gwyneth wears two pairs on the red carpet?! We should all just give up now). Stores today seem to think that shape-wear is the only type of foundation wear a girl needs. Not so, stores! Hear my protest!

The slip is a highly underrated, almost extinct animal. But unlike the Dodo bird, this is an extinction I actually care about (sorry, Dodo, but you understand). My grandmother was a lunch lady for a while. She had a yellow uniform and a pink uniform. Under those uniforms? She had a pink slip and a yellow slip. Slips weren't for fancy occasions! My grandmother wore them to dole out milk and tater-tots. But nowadays, no one seems to care about slips.

Don't you forget about me.

I want to end this slip ignorance and bring it back! I never regret wearing a slip. It creates a smooth line with skirts and dresses. Sara of the Spanx dynasty would like to convince you that a smooth line can only be achieved through squishing and squashing every offending piece of body behind a scary flesh colored tube. I beg to differ. Yes, I'm not going to look like I lost a million pounds, or whatever. However, you shouldn't underestimate the slimming, chic-ifying power of a slip.

I don't leave the house in a skirt or dress without one-especially in winter when I wear tights. With a slip, the worst thing that can happen is that it peeks out from under your hem. Without one, we are dealing with odd static cling, weird bumps, and sometimes the dreaded butt-bunching action. Not. Pretty.

A slip will elevate your entire outfit. Clothes these days aren't high on quality. We live a more clothing disposable lifestyle and don't expect much from our garments. A lot of my skirts are from Target, but I try to keep them from looking cheap. Target skirts certainly don't come well-lined, so I add a slip and everything stays in its place.

There is one really important item you should always wear a slip with. If you learn only one thing from this blog post, if you pay half-attention, please give your half to this tidbit: Always, always wear a slip with a sweater dress. Sweater dresses are an odd apparel item. They look super comfy, but aren't all that flattering on 99% of people. Why? They don't fall correctly. The construction of a sweater is too chunky or too thin to make a well-fitted dress. And don't even get me started on how much these babies ride up! Do yourself a major favor if you are a sweater dress fan, wear a full slip underneath. It makes a huge difference.

So-we now know Maggie's entire rant about the slip. Where do you find one? Short slips are easy. Target has some nice, simple selections.

Mid-length slips are a simple find, as well.

I don't wear these as often as my short slips.
I don't mind when this one peeks out. Anthropologie.

This light pink one was a vintage store find.
The trouble, I have found, is sussing out a full slip. There are a lot of shape-wear options out there, but no one seems to be selling a nice, pretty, non-spandex full slip. I have found that my only option has been the thrift store here. I dug up some really lovely ones.

Hello, beautiful!

Such lovely details.
It still had its original tags when I bought it.

Oh, you're pretty too.

Of course, since this is something worn close to the skin, you have to be more careful when shopping for slips. Look for signs of wear under the arms and rips in the seams around the rear. Don't buy anything that has stains or smelly funky. Also, be careful of the fabric. Both mine are nylon and light, but don't bother with heavy polyester which is notorious for keeping any smells it acquires.

Politics can be divisive, but when it comes to our foundations, I think there is something we can all agree upon.

Happy voting!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Where in the world is Maggie San Diego?

Where have I been this month? I certainly wasn't hanging out in the blogosphere. This month has been a little cray-cray for several reasons:

1. Weddings-one in NYC and one in State College. Lots of travelling over the weekends. I caught the bouquet in the second wedding, which wasn't a challenge as no one else went for it. After I caught it, I remembered why the bouquet wasn't a prize. Hello, unknown, just as embarrassed man touching my leg! I will never, ever go for that bouquet again. Happily, in the first wedding, I had my own bouquet and I didn't even have to suffer through bad stranger touch to get it!


2. Work-Oh my job, I am so grateful to have you, but sometimes you wear me down. It was the paper grading that did me in this time. I know, I know-I agreed to trekking the mountain of 7th grader papers when I signed up to be an English teacher. This month, however, the mountain tossed down an avalanche and not even a search and rescue doodle with a thermos of hot cocoa could save me. I feel more caught up now. Just in time for the next essay.

To power up for a long day of grading, I like to start with a nice fruit smoothie.

Sitting desk

Now a standing desk, which unfortunately requires some alternate footwear. I am so ashamed. 

3. BIG Financial Decisions-

a. I consolidated my federal student loans through Direct Loan Consolidation. My grace period ends in November, and I wanted to be all ready to go. I also chose the repayment plan that best suits my life/budget/plans. It was a scary process and I am sure that things will go wrong before it is all settled, but I don't want to have 3 different loan holders-Sallie Mae, AES, and FedLoans. To all my recent fellow graduates with terrifying student debt, we should all have a debt free party in 2080.

b. I set up an IRA through my work to start saving for retirement. My company has a financial adviser and he helped me to choose a plan and paycheck deposit amount. If you have not done this, you should really look into it. It doesn't have to be a huge amount every month and it really adds up in the long run if you start early. Suze Orman says that you don't miss what you don't have and to deposit as much as you can in your IRA/401K. I remember listening to this on a Suze Orman tape (what??) when I was younger and it stuck with me. Check with your company to see if they have a financial adviser you can meet/have a phone conversation with. It was not fun (I had stress neck spasms like I did in high school), but I am relieved and proud that I did it.

c. I bought a freaking car. Me. Me! I bought a car! This is a huge deal.

I have no hair color loyalty-darker now.
Since college, I have driven my 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback. That baby and I have been through a lot together: a blizzard in the mountains of West Virgina, roadtrip to the Outerbank Banks and Key West, a move from PA to Miami and back, countless trips from home to college (4 hours each way), up to Boston, through the streets of Harlem, back and forth to grad school and student teaching. Subie has 208,000 miles on her and has become less dependable and more expensive. It seems that this model from 1997-1999 had engine trouble and needs a new head gasket (replaced by my parents), converter (replaced by my parents), and transmission (yet to go). I was planning on buying it from my parents but with the increasing repairs and poor gas mileage, it seemed time for me to get a new vehicle and retire the Subie to the farm (this is legit-I am not putting her down).

So, I went through the car buying process. became my best friend. I realized a deep anxiety around dealers. I am sorry, they stress me out (neck spasms, again). I scanned and I checked NADA and Kelley Blue Book values. I made a list of my high priorities in a car to keep my head on straight when the dealer started talking and things got overwhelming. My criteria included comfort (the Subaru was a little worn out and not too nice for long trips), good gas mileage, dependability, and under 12,000. I found this little baby:


A 2008 Hyundai Elantra with 15,000. I likes it. I likes it a lot. Financing was a pain in the tush, but I got it sorted with the help of a banking fairy godmother (5% was just not acceptable). Warning: Having car dealers and banks pull your credit score actually hurts it! Proceed with caution.

Owning a car and all the associated costs is nerve wracking, but another important "grown up" step. I could not have done it without my fah-jah. My advice to first time car buyers? Get someone who has car buying experience to go with you. They know what questions to ask and when to bargain (turns out that I can barter for trinkets in Chinatown, but not a vehicle). Thanks, Dad!

4. Odds and ends-

A new bed! I picked it out of an IKEA catalog. 


Apple crumble made by moi during the 2nd presidential debate

Perfect petite pan. From ma mom.

Doodle shenanigans

Carving pumpkins with someone special. Mine is the owl.

There are my excuses for the long hiatus from Blogger (oh, and Blogger had some photo uploading problems that kept me away too). I missed cyberspace, and hopefully life won't bowl me over in November and I can post more consistently. Goodness knows that October is going out with a bang...

Stay dry, you all!