Thursday, December 21, 2006
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.
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.
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
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 book...it 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
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 occasions...school, 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
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 me...so 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.
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 RV...it 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 time...as 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.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
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.
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
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
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 assembly...it 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.
- 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.
- Then there's this little gem. Poor Indian men.
- 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.
- 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.
- Then there's this lovely little tidbit. Who thought blackface would make a comeback?
- And prisoners don't like Santa.
- 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.
- Mariah Carey has found a new problem.
- Mel Gibson found another ethnic group to offend.
- But he empathises with Michael Richards.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
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
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.
Now I am waiting for every little gurgle to turn into gut-wrenching cramps of pukedom.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
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 said...you'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 pass...it was a nice thought. And he stood there for the rest of the night taking care of me.
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
Oh. And words misspelled for "cleverness." Spelling is not something to play with.
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 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.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
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.
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.
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:
Friday, December 01, 2006
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.
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