Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 11

Back to Tom and my fabulous West Coast years for this memory.

Tommy and I often spend holidays together. In 1996, we decided to meet in San Francisco at Tom's cousin's place for Christmas, followed by a holiday extravaganza trip to LA to celebrate Tom's birthday before I flew home.

I flew down on the 23rd and Tom picked me up at the airport. We had a lovely few days in Beautiful San Francisco...we toured the city, we had dim sum in Chinatown, coffee at a dinky little cafe in North Beach, wandered around making fun for ourselves, went to the Contemporary Museum of Art...all sorts of exciting San Francisco things. Tom's cousin Michael is a charming host, and we had lively meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with many delightful (if eccentric) fellow guests. Tom and our friend Greggie and I rented Crumb and watched it on Christmas night, full of shock, horror, and fascination at this odd little man and his even odder siblings. On the 26th, we headed back to LA along the PCH until a mudslide near Big Sur sent us through the Carmel Valley. We were bummed, since we'd anticipated the fun of the coast drive, but once we got into the weird hills and trees and greenery of the CV we decided it was a fortuitous detour after all. Hit the highway and proceeded to San Luis Obispo for a night at the Madonna Inn.

We'd gotten the last room available when we made reservations, the Maritime Room, which had red leather wallpaper, pictures of ships on the wall, and a mirror made out of a captain's wheel. We got snazzed up in our cocktail attire and headed to the main dining room for a big night out. If you don't know about the Madonna Inn, you must click on this link, as it is impossible to describe. The public area of the hotel is this odd kitschy pink-and-green alpine lodge thing, and the rooms are the original Fanta-suites. They even have cave rooms with fake stone showers. The dining room did a fixed price three-course menu and had live swing dancing, so we thought this would be a perfect way to celebrate the evening. It was. We holed up in the bar while we waited for our table. We ordered some delicious Makers Mark Manhattans, and the couple next to us struck up a conversation about our cocktails. They suggested we try them with jalapenos instead of cherries...they LOVED them this way. They were swingers, and it took us about 15 minutes to realise they were hitting on us. We declined, and luckily got called to our table before it got awkward.

We had a delicious steak supper club meal, with many Manhattans and much wine. After dessert we took a few turns on the dance floor. I actually follow when I dance with Tom, and he likes to spin me and flip me around. I was wearing a flared black dress that was slightly above my knees, and I know I mooned our fellow partiers several times with some particularly aggressive moves. Oh well.

We went back to our room, got a bit of shuteye, then continued on to LA. We spent a few fabulous days there eating at El Coyote and going to the King of Clubs, and then had a fabulous Tom's Birthday/New Year's Eve that culminated in midnight dancing in the street.

It was a solid week of Tom and Mindy fun. When I flew back to Seattle I was smiling the whole time, unable to contain my happiness.

I used to love her, but it's all over now.

I watched 30-minute Meals with Rachel Ray today.

Tom and I used to think Rachel would be our friend. I used to like watching her. But now I find her a bit annoying. I think she's over extended and needs to slow down a bit. Her heart's not in it anymore.

I won't be watching her again. I'm sad, but many friends eventually grow apart.

Lazy Midwestern Days

I have rolled nicely into a lazy pattern of midwestern holiday.

My jetlag has been hard to kick, so I am seeing a bit too much of the Today Show each morning. Today I laughed heartily at Rosie O'Donnell's lambasting of that idiot Donald Trump, and decided that Meredith Viera has proven herself a classless hack in her reaction to it. David Gregory asked her if she had a comment and she got this holier than though face and said no, not really, but she just hated to see people being mean to each other. She's obviously not pleased that Rosie is on The View. You've moved on to the Today Show, Meredith. Let it go and wish them well.

My dad's not really been eating since his radiation, so my mother and I have been coaxing him with anything that sounds good...we figure that if his appetite comes back and he eats something, his strength will come back, too, and he will be better prepared for the chemo. This has resulted in meals we wouldn't normally have, like frozen lasagna. My folks took me to McDonald's for breakfast, I had lunch and a walk around town with my friend Anne who's in town to see her folks (she lives in Tunisia), and then we went to Culvers for dinner. We laughed heartily at the little girl who took the salt shaker and emptied the entire contents of it on her french fries while her dad was up getting ketchup. Do I know how to live, or what?

My mother and I stand at one game to two in Scrabble this break, which makes her happy because she hasn't beaten me since the summer of 2005. No particularly crafty plays yet, though, as we're just warming up.

Came to Minneapolis today with my friend Anne, and Mom and Dad will join me here tomorrow or Saturday and we'll be spending Christmas at my brother and sister-in-law's before returning to Iowa for the last part of my break. Am having dinner with my friend Tim tonight, then tomorrow will spend the day with Karen and Darlene, get my hair refreshed by the best stylist on the planet, and then meet my brother on Saturday AM to shop for cheese before heading to Coon Rapids.

I love the slow pace of my time in the Midwest.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Crazy Jetset Life

I am back on US soil, sitting in my old favorite Christian coffeehouse in my little hometown in Iowa. Left the UK on Saturday, flying BA into Chicago and landing about 2PM. It was a great flight, actually.

I expected that, one week before Christmas, the airport would be a zoo and my plane would be packed. I arrived about three hours before my flight, and was summarily herded into a tent in the departures drop off area. NO one was allowed to even enter the airport until about an hour and a half before their flight. I took a seat and drank my free coffee and tried to pick out the Americans in the crowd. (Hint...look for ruddy cheeked fat men wearing trainers, and women in turtlenecks and you're guaranteed to be right.) Chatted for a bit with a fellow expat on the way home to see her family in Philadelphia and another on his way to Washington DC to see his girlfriend. We were all dreading the flight, and annoyed to be sitting in a tent when we'd tried so hard to be diligent in our planning.

I had to pee, so I begged the attendant to let me into the terminal. She gave in, and so I checked my luggage (had gotten my boarding pass online) and made a beeline to the toilet. Did not wet my pants. What a plus! Did a wander through duty free and then made my way to the gate.

The flight was crowded, but I got lucky and the seat next to me was empty. The other woman in my row was talkative in a good way (interesting, willing to talk only when it was appropriate, cooperative about sharing the extra space), and we had bloody marys to celebrate our good seat fortune. We were very pleased to have each other, actually. There were 30 Krunchy Kristians on their way back from mission in Kenya on the flight, and we were surrounded. Bless them, Kenya needs their help with whatever missionary project they had going and they seemed nice enough, but they held hands and prayed during takeoff and landing. And they smelled like people who'd been in a hot climate with less than adequate showering facilities who then had been on a plane all night. Which is how they should smell, I know, but since I know this about them and at least 5 feet away, you can't blame me for not wanting to sit next to them for eight hours.

My good flight karma just kept on coming. Since it was a 777 I had my own video with channel choices, and GUESS WHAT WAS PLAYING! Little Miss Sunshine!!!!!! I hadn't seen it yet, so I was elated. And, as you will suspect, I love love loved it. I watched it through once, and then kept it on so I could switch from the iPod to the movie audio in time to watch her dance every time it played. I have decided that those who say Olive reminds them of me must be referring to: a) her ability to get up and compete with the beautiful people in spite of her doubts about her own beauty, b) her infectious cock-eyed optimism in a world of dysfunction, c) her ebullient enthusiasm, or d) her red boots. I've decided any of these are a compliment. And can I just say that I love Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear? And Alan Arkin and Toni Collette and that kid that played Dwayne, too? (Olive goes without saying.)

Even more remarkable than the empty seat and the perfect movie playing was the fact that I only developed two white-hot hatreds for my fellow passengers. One of the Kristians was a needy talker who needed to be the centre of attention and by creating drama ALL THE TIME. She was across the aisle from me, and I heard her complaining about having a middle seat (another K switched with her so she would shut up,) about claustrophobia on flights, about air sickness, about the food because the chicken was gone when it got to her, about her layover in Chicago, about the lines at duty free in London, about her headache, about not being able to sleep, about how one of her fellow travellers thinks she hates her (and she SO doesn't), etc. Eventually I stopped paying attention to her and watched the reactions of the fellowship. I think they were getting excited to be rid of her.

My other instant hatred was for a guy I nicknamed "the Recliner." Imagine, if you will, a 50 year old BMW driver with a trophy wife who wanted to be in club class but was too cheap to pay and didn't get upgraded. Now, imagine a total scofflaw who makes a production to get as much attention as he can when he breaks rules. Combine those two, and then make that guy recline during takeoff, refuse to move his seat up when asked to during meals, sit without his seat belt during turbulence, and keep his seat reclined during landing. I was ready to club him. In fact, he knew it, because about 15 seconds before we landed I shouted, "Oh for Christ's sake, pal. Put your damn seat in the upright position." Even the Kristians didn't mind my swearing.

I spent a sleepy jet lagged night at the Westin O'Hare. My friend Bethany came and joined me, and we sat and chatted while I was still awake, and then Beth read a was great, as I hadn't seen her in a year and we had Heavenly Beds. (Sorry, Lu...knew I wouldn't be good company and wasn't there long enough to justify a call.) Caught a flight to Rochester MN, where my folks met me and brought me home. We had a rushed day to LaCrosse yesterday to meet with my dad's oncologist. He has been fighting an aggressive form of prostate cancer since his surgery six years ago, and unfortunately it has started growing again. He starts an experimental chemo treatment in the next few weeks, and we're hopeful that it will make him feel better and help slow it down. In the meantime, he's got Vicadin and my mom and me to make him happy.

Plan to have a good holiday with my family. Had lunch at Culvers with Dad today, and now he's keeping me company here while I type. It will be a slow-paced, easy going time these next few weeks, and I'm sure I'll have more than my share of lattes here at Magpie while I check in online.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 10

Although I've never been a girly girl, I've always liked dressing up in pretty clothes. I know I've mentioned here before that I've had some serious opinions about what I wanted to wear since I was about two. And my mother, bless her, may have disagreed with my preferences, but she has always done what she can to help me realise my fashion dreams. I think it comes from being a chubby child, something my mom and I have in common but my grandmother did not understand. Grandma didn't encourage my mom to express herself...just encouraged her to lose weight. So my mom made sure that, regardless of how misguided my fashion sense was, I was able to feel pretty and stylish on my own terms.

My mom scoped out all the best stores to find places that carried cute things in my size. This was before the rest of America caught up with me, and so there wasn't a vast array of choice for a chubby/stocky kid. (Please don't tell the AMA that the obesity epidemic is my fault...can I help it if the world wants to be like me?) If we couldn't find what we wanted in a store, then my mom made it for me, or she'd hire a local seamstress to do so...but she was determined to let me be fashionable.

There were three shopping, Easter/spring, and Christmas. I'd start planning my new wardrobe well in advance of the actual shopping season. A girl with my style and grace required forethought to look that good. I'd spend hours poring over magazines and catalogs to decide what I wanted. For Christmas in particular, I was a fan of sumptuous elegance. I liked my rich fabrics....velvets and such...and was not adverse to a little lace if that was required for the look. When I was four, it was a green tweed mini-skirt jumper with lace tights, and a white little turtleneck, with shiny patent mary janes to complete the look (for a more casual use of the jumper I had tall boots, and I had little fake fur poodle coat for getting me from house to venue). When I was 10, it was a spectacular dark green faux velvet floor length pinafore thing with a ruffly poet's blouse underneath. The Reitan girls made fun of me at church because I was so dressed up, but they looked like ragamuffins, so I took no heed. At twelve, I had burgundy corduroy gaucho pants with a burgundy velvet vest, trimmed with some lovely gold braid and frog closures. (Tall boots were required for this one, and I believe I used one of my many ponchos to dramatic effect, as well.)

Most girls are plagued with doubts about their fabulousness...they don't think they're pretty, they think they're too fat...and I certainly had my fair share of this. But in my Christmas finery, I felt positively gorgeous. I would strut like a catwalk model, confident that every eye in the room was tuned to me, wondering how one girl could be so marvelous.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Soy makes you gay

Good lord. As if their campaign against cartoon characters weren't enough, now it's tofu that's making men gay.

Surely, they must be joking.

Red Hot and Rio

The Christmas party lived up to the legend.

We arrived around 730, and within about 2 minutes had been handed Caipirhinas. My black lace cocktail dress makes me look hour-glassy and shows a good bit of cleavage, and since I tend to be a bit of a tomboy by English standards it was really funny watching my male colleagues respond to the girly, made-up me. Got a lot of compliments, always good for the ego.

Dinner sucked, as usual, but you figure they're cooking for 1000 people in a tent so there's a limit on what they can do for the price. The wine was flowing freely and I was sitting next to our MD, who has a tendency to fill your glass when you're not looking. Every time I'm by him at a function I end up much drunker than I should be, and I definitely believe it is his fault. My Christmas cracker contained a little fortune fish that, when placed on my palm, revealed that I am in love. Would be nice if it had a name for me, too, but I'm willing to go on faith. I woke up one morning about eight months ago positively convinced that I would be married within the next year or so, which is not at all like I guess it isn't surprising that the fortune fish could identify my own true love, even if I can't. As long as his name isn't something stupid like Basil I'll be fine.

Anyway, the evening progressed with more caipirhinas, more wine, much dancing and very stupid conversation. Two colleagues confessed that they find me fascinating. One of the women on my team grabbed my boobs and proclaimed them fabulous. So did one of the guys on our sales team. My friend Michelle and I were chatted up by two Scottish blokes with shaved heads. A drunk married colleague snogged TWO of our co-workers (one married, one not), and another fell asleep on the dance floor after snogging Random Guy (we think he was blond). People were dancing like John Travolta. This is England, so their eighties pop music included Stand and Deliver. We boogied up a storm to Stuck in the Middle and Thriller. When "carriages" were announced at one AM, it was all I could do to find my cab and get safely home. And my MD couldn't find his, so he had mine drop him at his hotel and then paid the driver for my fare, too, so all of this fun cost me absolutely nothing.

Woke up with a bit of a hangover on Saturday, which never quite got better since I had to spend the day at the office working on a proposal. But once a year I can do this. And there's always Berocca to help out.

Christmas Memories Vol. 9

My friends Susan and KB are two of my closest girlfriends. I met them when I transferred to Luther my junior year in college. I got to know KB over the summer before classes began. My childhood friend Blane knew her from many college theatre productions and so our social circles overlapped quite a bit. This is bound to happen in a small college town, and since we both spent many a night at Zahasky's drinking Blatz and singing along to Hank Williams on the jukebox, it was only a matter of time until we bonded.

My friendship with KB led me to Susan, who came on campus a few days early to help with orientation for incoming freshmen. As fate would have it, her first night back in town was the night we were out with the Biseks celebrating the new microwave in the was a wild, crazy evening full of pickled eggs and Wisconsin beer, sure to cement any friendship for life.

Though we were very tight in college, when we graduated we went our separate ways and were only in casual contact for the first few years. But when KB finished grad school and moved back to MSP, the three of started hanging out a bit, which turned into quite a bit, which turned us into a tight-knit threesome. We got together on Monday nights for dinner and Northern Exposure. We'd usually pool resources for dinner one or two more evenings in the week, and then we'd have weekend fun ahead of us, as well. We knew pretty much everything about each other. It was awesome.

We developed a little tradition of doing a little exchange of presents at dinner the week before Christmas. We took turns hosting it, and would spend a lot of time thinking of the perfect gift for the other two.

The year KB lived with Mary and Mark on Sheridan Ave, it was her turn to host. I was working in retail at the busy as we were that day, the clock still seemed to creep, so much was my anticipation for the fun we would have that night. When I got out of work it was snowing. A perfect, beautiful snow that made driving a bit difficult but reinforced my Christmas cheer. I stopped to pick up some wine along the way, and made my way to Karen's. We had a lovely candlelit dinner, talked smart and shared stories of our days, and then sat on the sofa with a bottle of cheap merlot and a bunch of hershey's kisses to open our presents.

Susan worked at Walker Art Center, so she had a discount in the gift shop. She gave us each arty, cool earrings...Karen's looked like a bunch of bead grapes, mine were long, slender beads on a lovely gold little wire. I bought the three of us tickets to see the Roches at the Guthrie. (Actually, it might have been Mary Chapin Carpenter, but my gift was definitely concert tickets...that was a fave theme of mine in the 90s.)

So then Karen went to get our gifts from under the tree. She was positively giddy with anticipation. She'd been shopping with her friend Darlene and saw them at Dayton's and knew we HAD to have them. Susan and I ripped the paper off our gifts, opened the boxes and pulled out the most fabulous metal candle holders in the shape of parading frogs holding torches (a taper candle went in the torch spot). They ROCKED. And even better, though KB didn't know it at the time Darlene got her one, as well. They sit proudly in our homes to this day.

Blogger Beta is driving me mad

So first there is the commenting issue. I've found that in MS Explorer I can't even comment on my own blog, let alone any other beta blog. Annoying. And now, I'm at and I tried to go to my own site to use some links and I am getting an error message. I am really annoyed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Home for the Holidays

I'm frantically finishing my cleaning for the cleaner, rehearsing a presentation that I'm doing tomorrow with a client and keeping an eye on the telly as one of my favourite movies, Amelie, is on. I have three more nights here, Friday I stay with my friend Patricia near London, and then I'm off for the holidays. It seems crazy that this is my third Christmas flight home for the holidays. It's becoming a part of my routine.

Weird how an international flight used to be exciting. I'd make a packing list, I'd plan ahead, I'd not be able to sleep the night before. Now I don't even think about my trip until a night or two before I leave. I can pack for two weeks abroad in about 45 minutes. I only have to plan ahead and do laundry. And at Christmas time I have to run a few errands. It's not a holiday without some meat flavoured potato chips any more.

Friends in Minnesota...many have been asking me about my holiday schedule, so I thought I'd update you here. I fly on Saturday, and will be in Iowa for the majority of my trip. I have currently planned no social gatherings. I am getting my hair cut on the 22nd at 430pm. I have put the 22nd on the calendar as a free night, but haven't made plans yet. If you'd like to join me if there is a group gathering, you should email me and Ill keep you posted.

Baby, I'm a STAR

Bubs found a cool little internet toy, and so I immediately went to find out what tarot card I am.

You are The Star

Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Star is one of the great cards of faith, dreams realised

The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench your thirst, with a guiding light to the future. They might say you're a dreamer, but you're not the only one.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cleaning for the cleaner

I've given in. I am not a person who enjoys cleaning. I never have. So I don't really do any more of it than I have to. I am content to live in clutter and dust, as long as bugs and rodents don't pitch a tent. And while I'm not a hoarder, I do tend to collect things. I tell myself that someday I'll want these things for something, but I never do. They will find their place of prominence and then sit there unnoticed and untouched until I accidentally bump them a year later and see the dust that has collected, which horrifies me. I then quickly move them someplace else so they can sit for another year until the cycle repeats.

The problem was compounded here in my house in England. Very little in this house is mine. My things are all in storage, or rather transitioning from one storage to another right now, but still...they're in Minnesota where I cannot access them. All the furniture and furnishings to speak of in this house are either my landlords, or they have been cast off by tenants past. Even Kat, my temporary roommate, left things here that she didn't really want anymore. My house is very very cluttered. And the carpets and the curtains and the baseboards and pretty much every inch of this house could use a clean. Tenants only keep things at a livable state. They don't really dig in and make things excessive.

It's been starting to get on my nerves...and then about three weeks ago, I was having a conversation with one of the nice ladies that cleans our offices after hours and one thing led to another and now I've hired a cleaner to straighten me up.

She stopped by on Sunday, and I think she was horrified. People who clean for a living tend to like things neat. She commented several times on the amount of crap sitting around. It's not mine, I said. She didn't care. She's going to stop by for three hours every week for the next two months to get this place tidied, and then we'll slow down to three hours every other week once things are in order and she just has to touch things up. I am so relieved I can hardly stand it.

Basically, for the cost of one nice dinner out (or two not so nice ones,) I will have a neat, tidy house.

But in order for her to start, I have to remove the clutter. Tonight I did the kitchen. I have somehow managed to remove all traces of clutter from the counters. That has never happened, ever. I still need to go through the cupboards and remove all of the crap that is unnecessary to an efficient kitchen, but for now I've removed enough of it that I can see the counter tops. Tomorrow I will deal with the clutter in the lounge. That will take awhile...books to sort, Cd's to file, junk that I don't know what to do that will need to find a home. But Wednesday she'll be here to do the kitchen and the living room.

I'm so excited.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Memories, Vol. 8

My mother had great holiday decorations. She's a decorator anyway. There are two bright orange porcelain sinks in my childhood home, chosen because they were really cool in 1976 and went with the hand-painted poppy plates in the kitchen and the earth-toned "first bathroom". But at holiday time things went crazy.

Things heated up in October with the onset of Halloween. We had pumpkins and witches and black cats printed on cardboard that could be put up around the house. There was a felt bat that could hang from the ceiling (and never screeched or got caught in my hair), and Hallmark made these cool wax candles in shapes for sitting on tables. (We never ever lit them, so there are still wax jack-o-lanterns in a box in our basement, I'm sure.)

Thanksgiving saw more of the same, including wax candle pilgrims and turkeys, as well as these FABULOUS paper honeycomb 3d turkeys. (We had pumpkins for Halloween, too, but the turkeys were the best.)

But these were just warm-ups. The day after Thanksgiving, the gloves came off and the real decorating began. Dad and I would go to the Christmas tree farm and tromp around looking for the perfect tree. Unlike dale's daddy frank (one of my favourite Christmas stories ever, FYI), Dad had a good eye...which was lucky for him, as my mother would not have settled for anything but a perfect triangle shape, not too tall, not too wide, and a straight trunk required. Yes, she actually cared about the vertical of the trunk. We were allowed one small hole in the branches because there was a giant felt Santa who could rest inside it and peek out from the inside of the tree. It usually took us a couple of hours, but we never failed. We'd hacksaw the thing down, my brother or I'd take the pointy end and Dad would take the trunk, and we'd haul it in to be measured and roped to the car. Our tree was always about six feet tall. My dad is 6'2" so I'd use him as a measure and make sure I found flaws in anything too short. (I like me a tall, tall tree, I do.)

While we were gone, Mom was getting organised. We had so many Christmas decorations that they were organised into boxes and marked "Christmas 1", "Christmas 2", and "Christmas 3" to delegate the priority in which they were brought upstairs. (Three rarely saw the light of day because we ran out of house by the time we got halfway through 2.) We'd crank up the Ray Conniff and the Carpenters Christmas albums (on vinyl or 8-track, of course,) and then get the party started.

Our tree had traditional multi-colored bulbs. My dad would spend HOURS stringing them on, or so it seemed to a child. He is an engineer and tends to do things in a methodical manner with no patience for interruption or deviation. The lights were perfectly balanced, perfectly secured to the tree, and colors were spread evenly around the tree. (He'd even have me sit back and tell him if there were too yellows or blues too close to each other and then replace the bulbs with a red or green or pink.) When and ONLY when the lights were set could we begin decorating. Mom always put her little china teapots and a few blown glass ones from her childhood on first, and that was the signal that we could start. She'd let us put the bakelite Rudolphs on, and then came the homemade ones on my tree right now, some craft fair ones, some gifts from friends, the little glass birds from the Czech store in Cedar Rapids and straw ones from Vesterheim. Mom would let us at it, but kept an eye to make sure we spread things evenly. She INSISTED we decorate the back of the tree, too, so the wall would be happy with its view. (A habit I've retained to this day.)

When the decorations were on Bob lost interest, Mom and I moved on to the rest of the house, and Dad put the tinsel on. Strand by strand, he'd dangle that stuff all over the tree...a proper frosting of silver but not too much to be tacky. It was like he went into some zen-state draping that tinsel. It took even longer than the lights, I swear.

My favourite non-tree decorations were the angel collection, the Noritake bells, and the manger scene.

Mom had about thirty angels of various materials and we'd put away her normal knickknacks and replace them with angels. They were made of glass, wax (also Hallmark candles), and porcelain, but the best ones were cardboard cones covered in velvet and rickrack with little wooden or felt heads and this weird polyester spunsilk hair. The one with the felt head had a wooden stick to keep the head upright, and you could remove it from the body and run around wielding a severed angel head on a pole. I loved that game. My mother did not.

Noritake bells were cool because we got a new one every year. They featured the twelve days of Christmas and I loved being the one that got to unpack the new one. I'm lucky I didn't have sisters, because my brother didn't really care about them once he got old enough to realise it wouldn't be cool.

The manger scene (NOT a creche) was the best of all. It didn't need was a little wooden stable on a board, with plastic characters and animals glued in place to ensure no major variation of position from year to year. There was a little lightbulb in the roof that would light the whole scene when it was plugged in, and a music box that played silent night. The roof was covered in little glued on wood shavings to make it look thatched. It was awesome. Once it was out I would sit by it for hours winding up the music box, listening to it slowly grind to a halt, and then speed up a little too much when I'd rewind it a little too tightly. I sang along under my breath, always at the speed it was playing. I'd even slow down and drop my pitch along with it. And when I was really little, I'd pick the wood shavings off the top and eat them. Yum.

About the time we finished with the rest of the house Dad was finishing with the tinsel. He'd move the TV into the living room so we could watch television AND enjoy the tree, and then we'd turn the lights out and marvel and the sparkling beauty of our handiwork.

That was the best part.

Important News Items

I couldn't sleep this morning...woke up at like 630AM completely wide awake. So I spent some time online reading some news stories, catching up on blogs and watching BBC Breakfast. There is some really useless news out there.

  1. The story about the plane that had to land because the passenger lit a match to cover the smell of their flatulence just hit the news here.
  2. Then there's this little gem. Poor Indian men.
  3. In Health, they're stating the obvious...people can be thin and unhealthy! They're FAT ON THE INSIDE! In other news, too much marijuana smoking can hurt kids brains.
  4. I've talked about the propensity for drunken stupidity and violence from YOBs and the male population of the UK. Now they're finding the girls are boozing it up and itching for a smackdown, too. (This is on the tale of the news that the lasses are also getting freakishly pissed a bit more than they should.) Ah, the realities of England. They'll make even the biggest anglophile get some perspective.
  5. Then there's this lovely little tidbit. Who thought blackface would make a comeback?
  6. And prisoners don't like Santa.
  7. There's a serial killer in Suffolk who's out there killing prostitutes. This story gave us the trivia that the five groups preyed upon by serial killers in England are prostitutes, the elderly, children, young adults who've just left home, and the homeless. I'm safe for now.
  8. Mariah Carey has found a new problem.
  9. Mel Gibson found another ethnic group to offend.
  10. But he empathises with Michael Richards.

Scared of Santa Gallery

Bubs has been highlighting this recently, and let me tell you it is hysterical. I don't know why, but seeing children in complete, total terror on Santa's knee is the funniest thing I've seen in some time.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

And the iPod says....

1. Green Eyes - Erykah Badu
2. Choice in the Matter - Aimee Mann
3. Almost Blue - Chet Baker
4. Skinwalker - Robbie Robertson
5. Coat of Many Colors - Shania Twain and Alison Krauss
6. Doin' What Comes Easy to a Fool - Junior Brown
7. Star 69 - Fatboy Slim
8. Last Living Souls - Gorillaz
9. I'll Look Around - Madeleine Peyroux
10. 52 Girls - The B-52's

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 7

When I moved to MSP after college, I lived with my friend KC. We started off in a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis, but in the spring we got a chance at a great three bedroom in an old Victorian house in St. Paul. I convinced my friend Chris to join us and the three of us set up house. Our place was fabulous. It was the entire downstairs of this giant house. The rooms were huge, the ceiling was high, and there were three formal fireplaces...Chris and I even had them in our bedrooms. It was in a "transitional" neighborhood so the rent was cheap. There was a crack house across the street, a woman from the building across the alley used to knock on the door regularly and ask for money, and the day after we moved in they found a guy "expired" in a vehicle in front of our house. (Or so the nice policeman told me when he knocked on the door at 6AM. I still imagine him with a date stamped on his forehead.) But these seemed like minor irritations to 22 year olds who had to choose between safe neighborhood rent and eating.

We were young and sociable, and the house was great for entertaining. It had a huge kitchen, a back yard with a grill, a dining room, and a giant, wide corridor that worked well for bowling. We could easily have 50 people in this house with little problem, and we did several times a year. Chris and KC and I were a trifecta of party fun...Chris was a whiz with decor and ambiance, I'm a pretty good cook with an innate sense of entertaining, and KC was a cocktail magician and could power clean like nobody's business. We were vivacious, flirtatious and had a wide range of friends between us that made for excellent cocktail conversation.

As Christmas rolled around, Chris and I were really excited to decorate. KC was a bit of a Scrooge, but we steamrolled right past that. We went to Cub up on Lexington and 694, got a fabulous $20 tree, stuck it up in the bay window and went to town with the twinkle lights and Target ornaments. The tree was tall, voluptuous and a little bit pear-shaped...we joked that it was a perfect reflection of our three body types. It was beautiful. We decided to throw a Christmas party to celebrate.

It was frenzied planning. Chris and I were both working retail so we had to coordinate schedules to have a Saturday off. We made dips and appetizers and holiday vodka slush mix and bought a keg of beer and even had a few fixins for proper cocktails, though back in those days we hadn't graduated to martinis. There was a bottle of Jagermeister in the fridge. We were ready to go. We made our friends wear fancy duds...there were men in tuxes, women in lovely cocktail dresses, suits, ties, , cleavage and shoulders...and a few guests in Carhardt, but they were charming and funny so we let them in anyway.

Our party was a HUGE success. I was the QUEEN of the Bridget Jones Introduction. "Bob, this is Tim. He works for John Grunseth but still has scruples. Bob is a Cherokee warrior and just came back from his vision quest." Republicans were talking to Democrats. Scientists were talking to musicians. Mistletoe-induced kissing was everywhere. There was dancing in the living room and the hallway. There was drunken buffoonery abounding. I have a great picture of me licking CP's face, one of KC and Kent with their backs to each other, barely aware of the other's presence (they're married now), and a great picture of Susan, KB and me lauding the tiny baby Jesus from the manger set. (There's a whole series of Baby Jesus pictures, actually. It's like he was a substitute for Santa.)

The party went well into the night. We ended up with about five house guests and some pairings that caused rumor and speculation for months to come. We started the next morning with a walk in the snow to Sweeney's for bloody marys and fried food.

The party became an annual tradition. So did one or two of the pairings, but that's a different story.

Hot and Sour Roulette

I got home late from work tonight, and had nothing thawed to make for dinner except a package of pork mince. It went out of date on the 5th, and so I looked at my watch and it said it was the 6th so I made some delicious hot and sour soup and ate it. Then I looked at Bubs' entry on Pearl Harbor and thought, "Silly Bubs. It's only the 6th. And then I remembered that tomorrow is the 8th because it is our Christmas party, so it really was the 7th. So the pork was TWO days out of date.

Now I am waiting for every little gurgle to turn into gut-wrenching cramps of pukedom.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bat in tree

This is a horrible story. I'm never buying a real tree again.

Culture Clash

My favourite cultural oddity is just two days away...the company Christmas party. We're going to a Christmas Party venue here in MK that is themed as "Red Hot and Rio." Salsa dancing, mojitos and caipirhinas, dinner, dancing, drinking, and bumper cars. What more could a gal want? And people really do get as drunk in real life as they do in the movies here. Seriously. It boggles the mind. I am so looking forward to it I can hardly stand it. I even have a new black lace cocktail dress for the occassion. Need to find shoes, and I'll be set. I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 6

1992 was my last year in retail. Over the course of four years, I'd worked my way up from plebian sales associate through various levels of management, and finally was a store manager with a fabulous new store. They had high expectations of us, and we were having a killer sales season. We worked crazy hours and I was exhausted by the time Christmas Eve rolled around. But I knew there was much kolache baking and merriment happening in my absence, and I was itching to get to my brother's so my holiday could start.

By the time I arrived, things were buzzing. My nephew Sam had just turned one, and this was the first Christmas in years with an excited little kid in the mix. Everyone was poised with cameras and anticipation of the fun they would have as he opened package after package of unnecessary toys. Appetizers and wine were set and ready, dinner was on the stove, and everyone was excited. I blustered in all chatty from my busy day and entertained them with my stories of stupid husbands looking for last minute gifts for their wives. We had a lovely evening...opened presents, played some games and relaxed.

As the night progressed, I noticed I was getting a bit gassy and had a lingering headache, but figured it was something in the soup or too much cheese or perhaps one kolache too many. I was wrong.

About 3AM I started barfing. Gut-wrenching cramps and spastic shooting pain had me bent over in agony. Complete misery, I tell you. I took some alka seltzer and hoped it would help, but I puked it right back up. Merry Christmas.

On Christmas Day we'd planned to spend the day with Michelle's extended family. Her mother was cooking, always a posh affair; I think there was a rack of lamb and some divine coconut cream cake involved, but I was never to know. We were due to head over for lunch around 11, but by the time we were through our stockings, I was in a cold sweat and pretty much unable to move. My mom thought I was faking it and kept asking me to get ready, but finally she gave up, they gave me the phone number, some ginger ale and saltines and left me to my moaning on the sofa with only a TV remote to keep me company. I found some channel playing It's a Wonderful Life on a loop, and I drifted in and out of a feverish sleep to the strains of "Buffalo Gals" and echoes of Zuzu's petals.

About 7 o'clock, my family returned, all talking and laughing and smelling like cold. My mom came to put her icy hand on my forehead, which, of course, caused me to shriek and then whimper. Good grief, she're really ill. I think she got me a sprite or something, but there was not much they could do for me, so Bob, Michelle, and my mom and dad sat down with some scrabble mix (chex party mix for you outsiders) to play a few hands of bridge. (My biggest regret about not being married is that I don't have a permanent bridge partner. And potential suitors must have an eye for trump games or they're right out. A girl must have her priorities.)

While the grown-ups table talked and exclaimed loudly over lost hands, Sammy, my nephew, was busy playing with his new toys. He was on the floor near me, and kept looking up and making nonsensical noises my direction. I couldn't be bothered to even smile. I just laid there like a slug stuck in salt, listening to the tinny echoes of the conversation happening across the room. After a while, Sammy pushed himself up on his toddly little feet and baby-staggered over to me. He was barely taller than the sofa, so when he stood by my head his face was about a foot from mine. And that cute little bugger reached out, grabbed my hand and patted it to try and comfort me. Then he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Actually I think he licked me, because it was mightly slurpy. But I let that was a nice thought. And he stood there for the rest of the night taking care of me.

That rocked.

And I was still barfing the next day, so I got to call in sick for the day-after-Christmas returns and crazy-eyed sales frenzy. That rocked, too. Hard.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Words I don't much care for

Ointment, meme, jerkoff, salve, cooties, grunt, kipper, peter, skank, gurgle, dink, mildew, wiener, panties (and undies, for that matter), uffda, meat, deese (short for decent), ooze, moist, pimple, titties (or teats), fanny, hairy, bird, snickerdoodle, gaucho, giggle, funnier, mature (if pronounced is fine), goober, keeper, grody, spank, vino (unless said by an Italian or Spaniard), Spaniard, party (if used as a verb), spittle, hyper (okay as a prefix), creamy, pad and any word that comes from combining a person's name with a real word (such as dale-icious, not to say you're not delicious,'s just a word that came to mind).

Oh. And words misspelled for "cleverness." Spelling is not something to play with.

Christmas Memories Vol. 5

I think tonight we'll move to the Seattle Years for the Christmas memory.

My friend Pam got me thinking about this when she commented on my tree decorations and my reference to the forest of trees. In fact, it's this memory that started this whole series, because it got me thinking about the many good Christmas memories I have. Certainly I, like most people, have some unhappy ones, too, but I'm electing to focus on the ones that make me smile. I lead a pretty blessed life, actually, and I think I lose sight of that sometimes.

For those of you who don't actually know me, a brief history...I moved to Seattle basically on a whim. I needed a change, my friend Ben was going and it just seemed like the right thing to do.

It was.

It was difficult to get settled and, as with all new places, it took me some time to get my bearings. I'd moved there with my friend Sonja, but she moved back to Minneapolis for love. I found a true soulmate in my friend Bethany, and El Ben has always been like the air that I breathe. But two friends aren't a social life, no matter how dear they are. And if you're going to live somewhere you have to have a social life.

Then, about two years into my stay, I found my Play Group. It started when Knox moved in when we had a vacancy in my Montlake house. Knox is a writer, he's esoteric and vivacious and a bit off-beat. We hit it off immediately. Knox is a people collector...a few weeks later, he invited his friends Larry and Pam over for dinner, whom he'd met through a personal ad a bit back. I joined them at the table for some conversation and had immediate crushes on them all. (That makes us sound like swingers, which is not accurate. Larry and Knox dated for a bit; Pam and I were the straight girl sidekicks...sort of like Arthur. And crushes are often best when they're not romantic.) As the weeks progressed, I gained Christopher, Vaughn and host of other friends, and within a few months I had a full blown social circle.

These friends were like my family. We knew everything about each other. We bickered and had all sorts of drama, but we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company most of the time. When the holidays rolled around, it turned out that none of us were going anywhere. So we decided to have a little Montlake Christmas to celebrate together.

It started with the trees. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chubby and Tubby had some seriously cheap trees, so we bought three. We spent one of our weekly Sunday dinners stringing cranberries and popcorn and decorating the trees with all sorts of little curios, like dreidels and gingerbread men and snowflakes and Happy Meal toys and goofy chatchkes from the charity shop. (Yes, I am aware that a dreidel is not traditionally a Christmas decoration. Well they ARE in my chosen family. We're liberals. We embrace diversity. And some of us are Jewish.) We hung mistletoe and strung lights and made the house a haven of holiday cheer. It was awesome.

On Christmas eve, we threw a huge sit-down dinner. It was a true cocktail party...the girls broke out the pearls and the heels, something not common in any crowd in Seattle, let alone mine. (I believe some of the boys wore heels, as well. And Larry always wore pearls.) We drank wine and talked smart and sang along to Christmas music. Knox made a goose and I think there was even a turkey, and we had a plethora of veggie options and interesting side dishes provided by the adventurous cooks in the group. It was a loud, boozy night...the sort of chatty, golden holiday celebration chronicled in Turning Leaf wine commercials, except with a better soundtrack and less inane conversation. (See isn't the lens of memory a kind one?)

It was my first Christmas away from my family and, while I missed them a lot, I was not lonely. I was surrounded by people who made me feel happy and safe and loved. Which is exactly what I think Christmas should be.

The next day, I got up and called my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. I got to talk to my folks, my brother and sister-in-law, and tried to talk to my nephew Sam, who was too young to actually understand what was happening with the phone, so it wasn't very productive. I had a few homesick tears, but my friends came to the rescue before I could get too melancholy. We went to the International District for dim sum. I had my first century egg that day...also my last. I spent the day at the movies with Larry, and then had dinner at Ho Ho Seafood.

It is one of my favourite Christmases ever.

What I had for dinner

Falafel with hot sauce, baba ganouj and a seltzer.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 4

My last name is Czech.

As with many Americans, the ethnicity gets diluted pretty quickly as immigrants marry other nationalities and kids try to blend in at school, and pretty soon all that's left are a few rituals and traditions that incorporate the family background.

For my family, most of these are food related. My dad's Czech grandmother lived with his family when they were growing up. She did a lot of the cooking, and my dad learned to love the breads and meats and soups she made. Therefore, Christmas is a time for baking the treats of my dad's childhood and trying to evoke a bit of the heritage of our hard-to-pronounce name. Our primary baked goods are kolaches, rye bread and houska. (Houska is a braided sweet raisin bread glazed with powdered sugar icing, candied cherries and almonds, which, like fruitcake, looks better than it tastes for most people.) Houska and rye bread are the more complicated ones so they have fallen by the wayside in recent years. I think they'll see a revival eventually, but for now kolaches are the attraction.

My father, displaying a prize houska AND my santa-mouse-stocking in the background. Bob's perfect sock is over to the left, cut out because it detracts from the houska.

On Christmas Eve, my dad was baking at the crack of dawn. (Kolaches have some serious rising to do.) We make open-faced ones, not the ones that look like little pouches. Kolache making is a very precise science and I used to BEG to help, but Dad would have me demonstrate my technique each year before roping me in. If I wasn't up to the task, I would be sidelined as his chief companion but would not be allowed to touch them.

Proper kolache technique: The dough is sticky, light and airy, and so you have to be careful not to overwork it. Dad sections the dough, rolls it into a tube, and cuts it into balls the size of a good sized matzo or golf ball. You must flour your hands lightly, cup each one around the ball, and press lightly as you move your hands in circles in opposite directions. The ball smooths out into a perfect little orb. These are placed on a greased tray, brushed with melted butter and allowed to rise for an hour or two. We used the "first bathroom," our term for the one used for guests and kids, as the dough-rising room. My parents have electric baseboard heaters in each room of their house so we'd turn it up to 80 and the room would become a little sauna. We'd cover them with tea towels while they raised.

Next phase: dip your index and middle fingers (both hands) in cold water, and press evenly into the little ball. It makes an ever-so-faint deflation noise (Fssssssst!), or so my childhood ears imagined. You carefully tap to create a circular reservoir with a lip around the edge to keep the filling in. The finer the bottom and the more subtle the edges, the better the final product. Preferred fillings were cherry pie filling, apricot pie filling or a homemade prune thing. (In my college years I tried for ethnic authenticity by adding a cottage cheese filling to the mix, but it sucked. We've reverted back to the core three, with an occasional foray into blueberry or raspberry at the whim of a grandchild.) Filling is applied with a teaspoon, and one must be VERY CAREFUL not to color outside the lines with the goop. You finish that off with a sprinkle of butter/sugar/flour mix and another brush of melted butter. In for another rising.

Last year's proper reservoir-creating technique. Can you hear my dad yelling, "GENTLY!"?

You can feel the anticipation mounting as they go in the oven. The best kolache is a piping-hot-fresh-from-the-oven one. The men in the family compete to see who can eat the first one without burning their mouth on the piping-hot filling. I think the record for kolache snarfing fresh from the oven sits with my brother, who has downed at least half a dozen before the baking is done. It might actually be more, but I don't want to shame him publicly. I've already shown you his charming smile-for-the-camera look.

Everyone has a favorite flavor. Cherry is the gateway flavor, a crowd-pleaser that leads to the more hardcore apricot and prune. I hate, positively HATE the prune ones. My sister-in-law loves them. My nephew Joe doesn't really like kolaches at all...but he seems to love making them, as do his brothers. Somehow my dad has gotten more lenient on the precision, though. My nephew Nick has been known to slop cherry filling across three kolaches and to dump practically half a can in one. From him, Dad thinks it's funny.

Grandkids get away with murder. This is so not fair.

My nephews, sloppy technique and all, sharing a kolache moment with their proud grandfather last year.

Music Profiling

There's no way I'm doing that long questionaire of boring things. (I do snore sometimes and often snort when I laugh, though.) But I love the randomness of music profiling so I am doing this. (But I will never use the term "meme," FYI. I like the internet, I'm obviously a self-obsessed, compulsive blogger, but I don't care for "terms" and prefer to treat everything I do as traditional self-publishing. Sort of an eco-friendly Thomas Paine, but without all the relevance and with more song lyrics and recipes.)

How many songs: 2835 (haven't loaded half of my collection in yet)

Sort by song title:
First song: '69 El Camino by SCOTS
Last song: Zombie Love by the Jazz Butcher

Sort by time:
Shortest: Outro by Rilo Kiley 0:04
Longest: Group Dance by Charles Mingus 18:39

Sort by album:
First song: Hello by Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory
(Punctuation must come before numbers in the sort)
Last Song: The Rockafeller Skank by Fatboy Slim - You've Come A Long Way Baby

First song that comes up on "shuffle":
Where Have All The Good Times Gone by the Kinks

Number of items that come up when searching for:
"sex": 3
"death": 6
"love": 288
"you": 355
"me": 839
"cry": 25

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 3

I love holiday lights. I love to see neighbors vying for the tackiest house in the 'hood. I love blow up Santas (for the yard) and reindeer on the roof and lights that stream along every beam and eave. I love twinkle lights. I love the way lights look in the snow. I love Christmas Vacation because of the lights. One of my favourite things in 2000 was the house on Hamlin and something north of Summit that created a palm tree with lights on their maple. Beth and I drove by it about 30 times. I think they thought we were stalking them.

I love holiday lights.

Our first Christmas in MSP after college, Tom and I had the sorts of jobs English majors and History/Russian majors got in 1989...we worked in bars, restaurants, and retail. We had weird schedules and lived our lives off the clock. Breakfast happened at 3 AM. You got up at noon. You worked eight hours at some point in the day, sometimes 12 or 14 hours even, but you just didn't know when you'd be doing it.

Tom's housemate, Karen, had told him about this great house in Golden Valley that had the most obscene, energy-draining, over-done cavalcade of twinkling Christmas bulbs in the city. We had plans to go out for dinner and a drink, but I didn't get off work until 8. I ended up running late and got done around 9. Tom picked me up, and we decided to go see the crazy-ass Christmas Light Guy on our way to dinner. You gotta have a holiday show, doncha know. I'd had a crap day and was very excited. We got a little turned around once we hit the suburbs and were running a bit late to begin with, so we worried that we wouldn't get there in time since upstanding midwesterners go to bed around 10 on a weekday...just in time for some Paul Douglas weather before falling asleep to Letterman (or Carson, back then. By the way...Johnny Carson...dead, not dead?)

We turned down the sidestreet and we were in luck. There, looming four blocks ahead, shined the brightest star in the tacky-light galaxy. A true work of art, even from a distance. We squealed in glee. But as we approached, the lights started going out. "NO!!!!" we cried. "We're not there yet!!!!" We hit the gas, but by the time we pulled up in front of the house it was totally dark. Tom LEANED on the horn. "Turn them back on!" we were yelling. "Come ON!"

We honked and screamed for about thirty seconds. The neighbors must have been getting seriously pissed. But the master heard our plea, and slowly, section by section, he juiced them back up until his house was illuminating the city of Golden Valley. He gave us a jaunty wave from the dark window, and we clapped and howled and honked some more in appreciation of his splendor.

Then we went to Perkins. It was totally awesome.

And the iPod says...

1. Reason to Cry - Lucinda Williams
2. Scholarship is the Enemy of Romance - Billy Bragg
3. Shut Up - Black Eyed Peas
4. All My Tears - Emmylou Harris
5. Girlfriend is Better - Talking Heads
6. Frontlines - Teddy Thompson
7. Dagger Through The Heart - Sinead O'Connor
8. Weird Divide - The Shins
9. If You Only Knew - The Mavericks
10. Can't Seem To Make You Mine - Alex Chilton

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas Memories Vol. 2

My Grandma B came of age right before the Depression. She was one of eight children, raised by their mother after my great grandfather left the work camp and disappeared to Indiana to start a new family. These were not friendly times for a single mother. My great grandmother had to take in a lot of laundry and put in a lot of time to earn enough to feed her family. As the second oldest child, my grandmother was required to shoulder a lot of responsibility for her younger siblings while her mother worked. She helped stretch the food to feed them all, helped with darning and mending and other household chores to extend the life of their belongings, and learned frugality as a way of life before she turned 18.

Throughout her life, she retained this frugality. She fell in love and married my grandfather, who was a kind, generous man with a good sense of humor who valued happiness and life much more than wealth. Instead of trying to use his engineering background to make money, he ran the town implement and spent his time gardening and fishing and hunting...things that made him happy. Between his good nature and her natural ability to stretch a dollar they didn't take trips to Europe or anything, but they managed just fine.

When my grandfather died, my grandmother was about 50. She couldn't drive, she had no office skills and she lived in a tiny town. So she made money babysitting and cleaning houses and doing whatever she knew how. She walked everywhere, she kept her house at 60 degrees, and she darned her pantyhose. She got by.

Grandma B never spent a dime on herself. Ever. My mother, an only child, took responsibility to make sure she had clothes and shoes and other necessary items. But Grandma was proud, as well, so there had to be an OCCASION for her to accept anything. She would not hear of taking money from my parents for basic necessities.

There were a lot of things she needed, but we couldn't just buy them for her. So my mother, who is one of the cagiest people I know, concocted a brilliant strategy. Grandma B was a born-again Christian and loved Christmas about as much as anything. She was like a little girl, giddy with anticipation of the holiday. Before her conversion, my grandmother was pretty and vivacious and dramatic and loved a good laugh. And though her conversion made her a more serious, somewhat stern person most of the time, when it got to be Christmas time she'd loosen up and you'd see flames of mischief and glee in her eyes. She would not say no at Christmas. Therefore Mom would buy 6 months of anything Grandma might possibly need and give it to her for Christmas. (Her birthday was in June...perfectly timed for Round 2!)

So we would buy paper towels. Toilet paper. Dish soap and laundry detergent and Saran Wrap. Canned goods and flour and crisco and pantry items we knew she'd use. Pots of rouge and face powder and tubes of red lipstick, the cosmetics she still allowed herself. Housedresses and slips and all the Leggs pantyhose we could find in her size. White leather oxfords with a separate heel (her preferred shoe for all but the dressiest occasions.) And cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, her favorite dining treat in the world. We would wrap every item individually and put them under the tree and hand them to her on Christmas Eve, and she would open each one and gasp with surprise and gratitude and tell us we shouldn't have. She'd marvel at each little package, and she'd mean it, because a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew was an extravagance in her book.

My mom and dad and brother and I would head off to church around 11pm...they did the standard candlelight service of carols, and it's always fun to cram into a pew in a jam-packed church and harmonise to Joy to the World at midnight. Grandma B would stay behind to clean up the kitchen. We were Lutherans, after all, and as a Baptist she felt that we weren't saved...our service wasn't really her cup of tea. But when we'd come home, Grandma had always lined up her sundries with the same sort of pride I found in my Barbie Dream House.

Man, I loved my grandma.
Catherine Tate - Gingers for Justice

I'm watching Catherine Tate right now, and decided I'd check out youtube to see what I could find. Here it is...Gingers for Justice.
Catherine Tate - Helen Translates

Another one of my favourites...Helen can "do" lots of things.

Rhubarb yogurt

I love rhubarb yogurt. It is a standard yogurt flavor in the UK. You can even buy generic rhubarb yogurt. My new favorite breakfast is rhubarb yogurt with grapenuts, two cups of PG Tips white, no sugar, and a glass of ruby red grapefruit juice.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christmas memories - Vol 1

I am quite the fan of Christmas. I like the way it smells. I like the way it sounds. I like the cold air (the one month of the year where I DO,) and I like the way snow looks with Christmas lights. Or ice on Christmas lights. That's REALLY cool. So in honour of the holiday season, I am going to share my favourite Christmas memories and other Christmas trivia over the next few weeks. Many among you will find this sappy. You're right. Got a problem with that?

Today we will start with my stocking.

Back when we were babies, older female relatives knit. Booties, scarves, blankets, you name it. There's a baby coming???!!! It's knitting time!!! (Crocheting was for multi-colored afghans.)

When my brother (who is two years older) was born, my dad's Aunt Til knitted him a fabulous stocking with a jaunty Santa climbing out of a chimney and BOB (his name, luckily) on it in big letters that look like they're straight from a laser. (Even though his given name is Robert, they all knew he'd be called Bob. We grew up in an era where nicknames were just fine...everyone had a nickname and a real name. It was cool. Just ask Tom, whose family called him Thomas.) Bob's stocking is awesome. It's practically three-dimensional, it is so cool. Santa looks like he's winking. He has a fuzzy beard. Aunt Til was a master of the knitcraft. Such an example of perfect holiday cheer is hard to find, I'm telling you. Draw a picture of the perfect Christmas stocking, and this is it.

By the time I was born, Til wasn't knitting anymore. (She may have died in those two years, or perhaps her arthritis got the best of her. Not really sure.) Luckily I had many knitting great aunties, and my Aunt Irma stepped up to the plate. Irma, bless her heart, is saucy and interesting and full of life and love. But she was a bit more.....oh, shall we say abstract in her knitting style? Bob's stocking has a lovely arch and heel square as the calf part turns into a foot. Mine had a bulbous end/foot, making it look more like someone sewed a stocking cap on the end of a legwarmer. Mine says Mindy (as it should,) but the M is in a slightly different font than the rest of the letters. There's a Christmas Triangle with little sequins for ornaments. And a Santa who looks like he used to weigh 6 bills and slimmed down to 250 on a liquid diet, leaving him pear shaped and cave chested. And he looks kind of like a mouse carrying a sack of rocks.

When I was a kid, I totally coveted my brother's sock, but couldn't really swap them because it's hard to change names that are knit into fabric. (I think I may have suggested this before I could read, though.) A complete ingrate as most kids are, I couldn't believe my misfortune at having such an ugly sock. I learned the true meaning of mixed feelings when I wanted desperately to have my stocking displayed but felt total shame when I realised it would be. My mom and dad, who are lovely supportive people, always reassured me and tried to help me find the beauty in my mis-shapen Santa Mouse stocking. Of course, my brother would have none of this. He would point out its flaws any chance he got. He couldn't help it. That was his job.

But as I got older, I learned to love my sock. I realised its hidden joys. For starters, it holds much more than Bob's does. And that bulbous end just begs for extra special presents to be hidden in the toe. And I'm old enough now to appreciate the love that went into knitting it. And the prophetic irony in the fact that I got the oddball stocking.

Of course, 40 years later, my parents figure I can handle the truth. Now they ALL make fun of it when it comes out of the box each year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why I'm Not Married

If you don't read Coaster Punchman's World, here's a little story of our wacky life on the left coast. I was really annoyed at first because, while I find the story quite funny, his retelling made me feel like I didn't handle it well. But I thought about it a bit more and I thought about the Five Crushes tag, and I realised that, in fact, I've had to handle more than my fair share of whackjobs with a lovejones. I'm entitled to be sick of this, and therefore handling it at ALL is handling it well.

The story of Bodhi explains, tangentally, why I am not married.

I am not a dater, nor do I engage in casual pickups. It is not wise for me to trust men. This is not man-hating...on the contrary, I love men. And men love me. But it's like I'm magnetic north in the world of crazies. I have to be very careful.

My logic has always been that sane men just don't find me that attractive, but actually, that's not true. They do, but I'm intimidating and a bit odd. They usually don't tell me they fancy me until they have given up and moved on to someone who doesn't terrify them and it's all past-tense. The ones who DO profess their devotion, well, they tend to be freakshows, mean bastards or lying. Here is a sampling of the men who HAVE told me they love me.

There was the one who, when I was eight, used to snap my training bra and pull me by the hair. Eventually I got a pixie cut and could get out of his reach before he got hold.

There was the one in junior high who was a year younger than me and had anger management issues. He used to follow me around after school and threaten to beat me up if I didn't go on a date with him. He used to call my house, too, and make the same threat. He stuffed one of my male friends in a trashcan in a jealous rage.

There was the nasty piece of work who cornered me at a high school dance, told me he loved me and then smothered me with tonsil-scraping a kiss. His friends had dared him. For the rest of the year, he would taunt me in the hall and call me sweetheart. The best I can figure is that I was a foxy rebel chick and the jock boys figured I needed to learn my place.

There's the guy who would tell me I was beautiful and then tell me I was disgusting and fat, just to keep me guessing.

There's the one who professed his love and then slept with my friends. There's the bible-thumping jerk at my old office who used to call me to discuss a proposal and then try to talk dirty. Seriously, I had an ongoing working relationship with this person, and he'd ask me to tell him about my panties. And it wasn't a joke.

Need I go on? Cause I can.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a sad-sack-feel-sorry-for-me type. I quite like my life, and being single suits me. There have been some excellent boyfriends in the mix, as well. And the weirdos make for good stories.

But I will admit I am now more cautious than most when I sense someone is attracted to me. And that IS sad, actually, because in my heart I'm a diehard romantic who believes deeply in pure true love and soulmates and finding someone spectacular who makes you gasp when you think how lucky you are. And thus far it eludes me.

I figure some day this will change. Somehow, someday, there will be a nice one who thinks I'm fabulous AND has the balls to tell me so even if I am a little scary, and I'll trust he's not crazy and let us fall in love. Who knows. It could happen.

But it seems more likely some nutter will read this and turn up on my doorstep with the severed head of a kitten. (Note to nutters...this will not get you points. I would hate that. It will get you arrested. Don't be getting any ideas.)

In the Holiday Spirit

My tree is up. It is a 3-foot tall tree (ok, maybe 4) that I got for £2 at a carboot sale. It has colored twinkle lights and a lovely angel on top that was a gift from my friend Bethany. Bethany also left me a cute little caroler/angel last year when she was here, and it's right up there where I can see it.

There are childhood ornaments that my mom made. She was crafty...I know other people that have these same ornaments, but my mom's are much nicer, I must say. My favorites are the sequined mittens (the red ones), the Santa slipper with sequins, and the fake skates with paperclips for blades.

There are dreidls from my friend Larry in Seattle, who added a bit of Hannukah to our forest of trees to make them more inclusive. When I lived with Knox and Ellen, the Christmas trees from Chubby and Tubby were only $3. So we got three. They were Charlie Brown trees, but they were AWESOME.

There is a set of vegetables from Tim and Mark...a bulb of garlic, a potato, a tomato, and an eggplant. I have a teapot and a kitchen set of mini utensils that were a gift from the Poodles. Back before I moved to England I used to be a great cook.

There is a little cotton boll angel from the Atlanta History Center, purchased on a Thanksgiving trip to Atlanta to visit my friend Susan when she was still just the Curator of their textile collection. There's also a little diversity bus that I think she got me in Chicago. I think that there's a sequined bee somewhere in my stuff that should be on the tree for awhile, but it's due to be smuggled into her luggage on my trip home.

There's a handprint from my godchild, Sonja, done in air-drying spongy craft goo. And a weird cathead thing my youngest nephew, Nick, made me in preschool.

And the pickle is in plain sight, so I can make as many wishes as I like.

I like to sit by the light of the tree and practice Christmas carols on my ukulele. I'm doing really well on Angels We Have Heard On High, Silent Night, and Deck the Halls. There's a Bmin chord that's a bit troublesome, though, so I need to work on that. If I get good enough, I'll play them for you online.

Going to a Christmas Market this weekend, though I haven't decided between Bath and Bury St. Edmonds (both are supposed to be great.)

And the mince pies are out in force.

I love the holidays.

Movie News

Dale has tagged us with a little movie quiz. I have elected not to discuss my five grossest moments because that wouldn't be polite, and don't care to reveal my life's crushes because, well, I've traditionally had some freakishly bad taste in men, and that stems from freakishly bad taste in boys.

But this one I'll do.

1. Popcorn or candy?

I generally don't eat anything at a movie theatre, but if I do I buy the popcorn with a bit of delicious butter-flavoured topping, put salt on it and then dump Milkduds, Sugarbabies, Goobers or M&Ms in it. Just like the boyfriend/secret service agent in First Daughter.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.
The Women. I know I will love it, just haven't had time to see it. Note, I have not put Mommie Dearest down here because, as my mother always says, there are just some things that shouldn't be given your attention. Psycho actresses who look like transvestites and abuse their children fall into that class for me. Call me crazy.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom?
I might make the folks at Lord of the Rings: Return of the King hand it over to Sofia Coppolla for Lost in Translation, but that still leaves my man Bill Murray without an individual Oscar and I'm not sure I can take it back from Sean Penn so that leaves me stymied. Or I might tell Cuba Gooding Jr. to give it up for William H. Macy, who kicked butt in Fargo. Gwyneth would be in danger for beating both Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie. Or Roberto Benigni might need to give up his best actor to Jason Schwartzman, who was positively brilliant in Rushmore.

But most likely, I'd have Mel Gibson turn that Braveheart Oscar over to Todd Solondz for Welcome to the Dollhouse. Now THAT'S a struggle for independence.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe.
I want Doris Day's wardrobe in Pillow Talk. (Confidential to CP...We made an agreement. You were on my time.)

5. Your favorite film franchise is....
Ma and Pa Kettle. Now that's a lotta yuks.

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?
I like Tom's list of Best in Show/Guffman/Mighty Wind people, but I feel I need to be original. Therefore I'll have:

Jack Black because everything he does is funny. And I think he's hot.
Frances McDormand. I'd make her do her Fargo accent. And she seems like a good conversationalist. And I think she's hot.
Bill Murray, because he likes baseball. Plus, he's hot.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, because they are an excellent couple. Plus I think they'd like me and we would become excellent friends and I could stay with them at their place in Ireland. And they're hot.
And I'd invite Kevin Bacon, too. Hot, AND would give me a degree of one.

I don't live in a good place for entertaining so it's hard to imagine cooking here. Maybe I'd order takeaway curry and have a ton of Cobra to chase it down.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?
I'd allow them to take their calls, but they would have to sit in a seat surrounded by stinky people and crying babies for the remainder of the film.

8. Choose a female bodyguard:
I don't want a female bodyguard. I want Spiderman.

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?
Molly Shannon. That girl ain't right.

10. Your favorite genre (excluding "comedy" and "drama") is....
I like Kung Fu movies, musicals and nerd movies (Napoleon Dynamite, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Rushmore, Election, Bridget Jones' Diary, etc.) If I am snorting/laughing and whispering "Please make it stop," I am really enjoying myself. But isn't that true of most things in life?

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?
I will ask them to give me a setup of the first 10 minutes, and if I can guess the ending then they go down the toilet. Plus I'd insist that at least half of my movies are entertaining documentaries.
12. Bonnie or Clyde?
Rock Hudson and Doris Day

13. What movie have you watched more than any other (my revised question, because the Jesus question has been answered well by others)?
I have gawker slowdown with the following movies, so it is likely that, though these are not the best movies ever made, I've seen them more than I should have. What's more, they have all made me cry. I am a sad, pathetic loser.

When Harry Met Sally
Napoleon Dynamite
First Daughter
Dirty Dancing

Sorry I've been away

So sorry I've been absent. Have been off doing various things, allowing me to reconnect with the life I ignore when I'm in school. It's been lovely. I've also had a bit of a dodgy tummy with the antibiotics I've been taking. But I have finally lost most of my cough and I am well rested and have started going to the gym again. All good.

It's good to feel like myself again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

And the iPod says...

This first song is dedicated to Dale. See, everyone's iPod has hidden depths.

1. Bandstand Boogie - Barry Manilow
2. Gimme Some - Nina Simone
3. Long Hot Summer - The Style Council
4. Don't Worry Baby - Los Lobos
5. Ain't Got a Thing - Josie Kreuzer
6. Blister in the Sun - Violent Femmes
7. Workin' In Corners - Nanci Griffith
8. Sick Day - Fountains of Wayne
9. On Green Dolphin Street - Gene Harris
10. Evidence - Joseph Arthur

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gingers for Justice

On tonight's (or more specifically last week's) episode of The Catherine Tate Show, a pack of gingers decide they're tired of hiding out in Russet Lodge, living in shame. So they break out and form Gingers for Justice, and begin protests at the Houses of Parliament dressed as carrots, gingernut biscuits and Duracell batteries (the Copper Top). Of course, the protest is cut short because it's a sunny day and they forgot their sunscreen.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pray for Fidel, please

So I had been approved for the study tour to India, and then I started thinking. There is a tour to Cuba. As a US citizen, I can't go to Cuba without a damn good reason. Education, now THERE'S a reason. So I decided to check into it. And I've been allowed to switch. In June, I will be traveling to Cuba, assuming the Treasury Department approves my request for a license.

This is really, really cool. We'll get to see first-hand their exceptional school system and health care. We'll get to do a community service project. And if he's still alive, rumour is that we may even get to attend a reception with El Presidente. Now THAT is an educational experience.

I have always wanted to go to Cuba.

I used to have past life dreams about how I AM Cuban. (Or, more specifically, WAS.) In the dreams, I am from a wealthy Havana family. I fall in love and marry a farmer/landowner that I meet while I'm strolling with my sisters on a lovely spring day. I move to his estate and we're very happy, but then I have an affair with the brooding neighbour. My husband catches us and is furious, but I beg and I beg until he agrees to take me back on the condition that I am never to see or speak to our neighbour again. This works for awhile, but then one day I'm in the garden and the neighbour confronts me and tries to get me to admit that I love him. I protest, he grabs my arm as I try to flee, and at that point my husband see us and he has a gun and he shoots us both. One dream would be too many mojitos and too much black bean soup. But I've had this dream a lot. Almost as much as the one where I marry Dennis Hopper and he systematically kills my friends and family before turning into Frank Booth and strangling me while laughing a sinister, wheezy laugh.

I wonder if I'll instinctively find my past life home?

Trinny and Susannah know the score

On night one of my brief reprieve from student hell, I have come home, made dinner (some tesco healthy living crunchy fish and sweet potato fries with fresh green beans and tomatoes on the side,) and decided to watch telly. I turned to Trinny and Susannah Undress, their replacement show for What Not to Wear now that they've moved to ITV1.

Instead of dressing one person (or two, as they settled on in their last WNTW format,) they dress couples who have started taking their looks for granted now that they're all paired off. Tonight's couple are a bit odd and quite frumpy. She is short and four months pregnant. He is tall and FREAKISHLY long wasted. Trinny picked up on this immediately. She said, "My LORD you have short legs for a tall man." Susannah didn't see it right away, but when she took Andy shopping she realised that Trinny and I were right. In fact, she told him to take one of his outfits on because he looked "positively deformed."

Somehow, I feel vindicated.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Half Way Through

One year ago right now, I was getting ready for my trip to New York for Thanksgiving, where I would spend a few blissful days with my friends Tom and George seeing plays and eating delicious food. I was mulling over the idea of applying to grad school, but was frankly a bit frightened that they'd laugh at me when they saw the application. But I took my laptop with me anyway and I sat on Tom's couch working on the essays. I knew I'd never actually get in, but figured I had to try.

Little did I know. As of 4PM yesterday, I am officially half way through my MBA. And I'm good at this. My right thumbtip is still numb from the pressure on my pen for three days and I'm not able to actually focus for long on the screen because I'm freakishly tired, but all in all things went relatively well. I was as prepared as I could realistically be, and I figure I had an alright answer for most things. I may not have lit the sky on fire with my eloquence and ability, but I think I held my own.

Here are the sorts of things I've been writing about. Many of you will find this amusing, as these are not typical topics of Mindy conversation.

macroeconomics (3 hours) - the multiplier and accelerator principles regarding injections into the economy; the Phillips Curve (regular and augmented) and why there isn't actually a tradeoff between inflation and unemployment; comparing and contrasting endogenous and exogenous growth; Balance of Payments, the US trade deficit, and the potential consequences for both us and for the rest of the world.

Strategic Management (3 hours) - customer strategic matrices, culture webs, Porter's five forces, VRIN resources, causal mapping, and various permutations thereof

People Management (2.5 hours) - analysed the effectiveness of Starbucks' HR policies and how they must/must not change in the future to accommodate exponential growth; international HR policies and how to manage expats; appropriate methods for performance appraisal and why they work

Finance (3 hours) - did discounted cash flows for two possible plans for manufacturing a new product, and made a recommendation as to which one the company should implement...and then I calculated stock prices, company value and made various investment recommendations

Supply Chain Management (2 hours) - Value-added time and time based compression; activity- based costing; procurement policies and potential gains from the RFP process; and then discussed the causes of amplified demand how companies can deal with it (the bullwhip effect).

When exams were through, we had a nice little party at a place here in MK where we ate and drank heavily and danced. We had a great time. I could actually drink this time because it was taxi-distance from my house. Many shots of tequila and sambuca were consumed. (Seperately, because simultaneously they would be vomit-inducing.) Got home around 130 last night, slept until noon, and have done nothing of consequence today. I started watching things I've been tivoing over the past two months and made a run to Tesco so I had food in the house. Unearthed the Christmas tree and decorations and will likely put them up tomorrow night. Had intended to do it today, but it's more fun to sit here and feel lazy/sleepy. (Note - I get to put my tree up early because a) there is no Thanksgiving here to mark the season, and b) I leave for home in the middle of the month so I wouldn't have enough time with the pretty lights if I didn't.) Intend to continue to listen to the iPod on shuffle while I read some FICTION and maybe drink some tea.

I have an incredible sense of achievement right now. I've been talking about my MBA for years. I really wanted this. A year ago, I figured people would forget I'd mentioned it eventually and I wouldn't have to be a failure in their eyes forever if I didn't get in. But I did. And in a year I'll be done.