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!