Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Eat the Cake, Please, People."

I have been wracking my brain this evening trying to think of something to say about travel. After all, this is Travel Tuesday, and since I didn't follow through on Movie Monday, I wanted to at least get Tuesday right. But here I am rather late in the evening, and I have no travel pointers to speak of. 

I am, however, about 26.5 hours away from 2009, and so I was also thinking about topics we could touch on to celebrate the end of 2008. Yeah. No clue on that one, either.

As luck would have it, though, I just flipped on the TV and "Ace of Cakes" is on the Food Network. I don't know if you watch the show, but it's a "reality" show which focuses on a cake decorating shop in Baltimore. I used to live in Baltimore, and I love watching the show for the glimpses of Baltimore and its surroundings as much as I enjoy watching the cakes get made. 

Well, just after I turned it on, I heard Mary Alice (the office ringmaster) commenting on some people who were unwilling to cut into their three-foot-tall cupola cake. Mary Alice's response was "It's a cake. Eat the cake, please, people. Just eat the cake."

So... Here are my thoughts on all of this:

1) Travel Tuesday: If you want a slightly-skewed (but fun) view of Baltimore, check out "Ace of Cakes." If you want a view of Charm City Cakes while on a trip to Baltimore, head for Remington Avenue in Hampden (it's a Baltimore neighborhood) and look for the building which is always featured on the show--but don't expect to drop in and hang out with anyone from the show, since this is their place of work. 

2) Reflections on 2008/2009: I've spent a lot of this year searching for a new job. But I've also spent time doing some fairly serious gardening. And taking the time to travel. And enjoying friends and family. And writing these blog posts. And trying to figure out what is really important to me (in life, in work, in a meal, and just in general). And, well, I'm kind of hoping that next year I not only make a resolution or two, but I also find some resolution to a few of my "situations."

No matter what, I hope to take Mary Alice's words to heart (even though she may not have meant them to be taken to heart). I hope to remember, above all, to "Eat the Cake" and not just ogle it from a distance. 

(And if it also happens to be a white cake with buttercream frosting, well, that would just be the... ummm... the icing on the... well... you know.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Milestone, Hurrah!

It has come to my attention that I have now passed the 100-posting point. In fact, the post you're currently reading is post number 102 which I have added to this blog. How cool is that?

Thanks to all of my "regular" readers, to any of you who just drop by from time-to-time, and--especially--to those who not only read these posts, but also take the time to let me know that you do. 

I only wish I were feeling better and could appropriately celebrate this century mark. Maybe post a bunch of pictures of the  Minnesota Zoo's sea otters from last week (they're coming, I promise!). Or a recipe or two from the Holiday baking I've done. Or at least find something intriguingly new to say about John Barrowman. Instead, I'm sitting here typing while watching a kaleidoscope of television programs as I reach the end of my energy for the day. 

Yes, Christopher and I continue to battle our "common" colds. Although, the further we go along, the more I realize how much of a misnomer that is. After all, the two of us have almost entirely different symptoms, yet if we walked into a doctor's office we'd both be told we simply have colds. My one foray outside the house today was for orange juice, apple cider (good either cold or hot) and bread. So we're stocked up on Vitamin C and cough drops and can make either sandwiches or toast. 

I'm really hoping that New Year's Eve holds more than OJ and toast, but for the current milepost, I'm going to raise a glass of the orange stuff, crunch a buttered crust, hum a chorus or two of "Auld Lang Syne" and head for bed. 

See you soon in posting 103!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Sickday

I'm frustrated to say that we seem to have caught colds, here in Minnesota. Christopher has been fighting off something for a while, and as of the beginning of last week I started a gradual downhill slide, too. Yesterday we both kind of looked at each other and shrugged, realizing the inevitable was due to arrive. 

Thus, it was no surprise to either of us that we spent all of today in our pajamas, leaving the couch only long enough to find some sustenance and do a little laundry. 

On a better note, we played host to my parents again last night. They were back in town after flying out to LA for Christmas, and since their flight didn't get in until after dark, yesterday, they stayed over and drove home today. Seeing them before and after their time in LA was a great way to kind of book-end the Christmas festivities with their visits. I hadn't expected it, but it was actually a little strange to look outside today and not see their car sitting on the street...

So now that Christmas is pretty much officially over, Christopher and I just have to figure out how to get up enough energy to stay up until midnight on Wednesday night. Oh. Heck. Who am I kidding? I'm just hoping to work my stamina up to being able to stay awake until 9:30 by then.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

You "Otter" Try It

Having the day off, Christopher and I went to the Minnesota Zoo yesterday (avoiding the zoo-like shopping, for the most part), and watched the Sea Otters frolic in the 30-degree weather. It was great. One of those moments of zen that you really really really hope for this time of year, but seldom get to experience. 

We stood in front of the enclosure and watched the otters zoom through the water, leaving trails of bubbles. We watched one of them curl up in a ball (or... well... a donut shape), and spin vertically in the water. And--our favorite--we watched one go back and forth right up against the glass, on his back and kind of waving out at us. 

For a while we weren't cold, we weren't stressed out by work or family, and we didn't care that we've both eaten too many cookies in the past few weeks. Instead, we just watched them. And it made us happy. 

So you know what we did?

We waved back. 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Calm Before the After...

We are currently spending a very nicely relaxed evening at home after the festivities of the past 36 hours. 

We also, I must say, have had a very nice past 36 hours--Christmas Eve and Christmas were both quite enjoyable. We had what I would consider was a just-right mix of family and alone time, complete with sitting at home last night in front of the Christmas tree and the (TV-broadcast) yule log. 

We're not looking forward to the possible freezing precip (drizzle or rain or snow or a combo) tomorrow, but we've had two great weather days--including glorious sunshine on the snow while driving around today. And we can run any necessary errands on Saturday.

So I leave you to yourselves for the evening. Christopher and I are going to have a few more cookies and head for bed. 

Ahhh... Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Entertaining Dilemma

Sorry. That's not meant as "funny," it's meant as a dilemma one has when entertaining guests.

Let's start with part one: You and a co-host decide to have a very small gathering of friends over for, say, Groundhog Day. You both sit down with your lists of friends and go through it and pare down whom to invite. This is either done as an "additive" process or a "subtractive" one, depending on how you think about it. For our case, let's say it was done in the "additive" sense. 

So the two of you start by inviting the people who first pop into your mind. You make your lists of those people, and see how many you end up with. Say you're hoping to have about 15 people in attendance, so you start with your initial list of 5 or 6 people and then begin adding in until you get to 15 or 20 (figuring that a few people will have to decline, since so many people have plans around Groundhog Day). You do your best to choose people who will mix well with the initial 5 or 6, and you keep adding in. Although you have to make some hard choices, eventually, the two of you get your combined list to around 18 people, after adding and moving people around. 

So you have your Groundhog Day party, and it's a very nice turnout. Of course, it's the beginning of February, so the weather may have kept some people away. Even so, you get between 15 and 20 people--just what you wanted. You all enjoy a nice evening of Groundhog Day favorites, and you don't even end up with a ton of dishes at the end of the night. All good, right?

Still with me? Okay, we've made it through part one... Now, on to part two:

A few days later, you find yourself at a friend's Groundhog Day party. Unfortunately, this friend wasn't on the list of people you invited to your party, because you seldom see her and although you like her and her boyfriend, you can't imagine that they would have wanted to come. After all you really only see each other at parties thrown by mutual friends. In other words, you're simply "friends-in-law"--and as with most in-laws, you just don't hang out together on your own.

So, there you are at your friend-in-law's party, and she's very happy to see you. She and her boyfriend have welcomed you with hugs and are making sure you're taken care of and comfortable. You've brought a hostess gift, and it was well-received. 

It's going very well, and you're having a nice time, when suddenly someone who WAS at your Groundhog Day party makes a comment about said party. Of course, this was an off-hand remark, so you hope against hope that possibly your host (who wasn't invited) didn't hear the question. But, alas, she perks up and says "When was that?" And your former guest turns and says "At the Groundhog Day party they threw last weekend." This, of course, is answered by silence... and a strangely palpable combo of feelings of querulousness and odd Groundhog Day guilt. Luckily, this is eventually followed by hostly offerings of more wine and cake. 

Ah... The dilemma of entertaining around Groundhog Day. Isn't it fun?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Movie Monday - "Australia"

Last week, while my folks were here, we took the opportunity to head out to a late-afternoon matinee of "Australia."

I'm sure you've heard of it. It's the epic movie starring Aussies Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman and directed by (Aussie) Baz Luhrmann. Even more Aussie than all of them is Brandon Walters, who steals the show as the Aboriginal "half-caste" child who narrates the film.

I had seen trailers for it way back when, in which Kidman was telling a small child the tale of "The Wizard of Oz" and it was being equated to the history of Australia. Since then, I've seen the trailers where the movie looks like a Western with a Romantic Comedy thrown in. Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect when the lights dimmed.

Oh. I should mention a few things: 1) We were the only three people in the theater; 2) The movie is 2h45m long; 3) We had purchased the "Pop and Popcorn" combos as our dinners for the night. Why is this all important? Because it's much easier to go into an almost-three-hour movie when you're comfortable. Since we figured we wouldn't annoy anyone if we got up to use the bathroom mid-movie (and then had to talk to the person next to us to get caught up), it was much easier to settle in.

And settle in we did. When the movie was over, we all admitted that it didn't seem like it had been three hours. But... I get ahead of myself.

The story revolves around an upper-crust Englishwoman (Kidman) who goes to straighten out her husband in Northern Australia. On her arrival, she is greeted by The Drover (Jackman), a working-class cattle driver. When they reach the ranch, she finds out that her husband has been found murdered, their ranch is without water, and the entire place is being run by the staff--all non-white and terrified by a local major land-owner.

The movie begins with the ranch and the murder mystery. Then it becomes a cattle drive western. Next it becomes a story of power struggles and land rustling. Finally it wraps around into a wartime adventure film. 

I know it sounds like it should be four separate movies. And it could easily have been choppy or... well... lumpy, at the least. But it's not. Somehow the movie seamlessly flows from one area to the next. Although I admit that I wasn't thrilled with the war movie at the end, I should fully disclose that I'm just not a war movie watcher. And, even with that extra component, I still found myself coming to the end of the film wanting to see it again so I could pick up the small points.

I feel like I'm leaving so much out. There are small characters throughout who make all the difference--the bartender in Darwin, the ranch staff, The Drover's team, the "bad guys"--all make this movie more interesting moment to moment. 

There is amazing music in the movie. There are great vistas and scenery which at once makes you want to go visit, and terrifies you. And, oh, yeah, there is Hugh Jackman looking absolutely amazing (I saw him say in an interview that he loved the role because it was the first time in ages that he got to use his own accent). 

I fully intend to drop "Australia" into my Netflix queue for when it comes out. I'm really looking forward to seeing it again and catching more of the nuances in the spectacle.

Does Nicole Kidman's forehead ever move? I don't think so. Is this a movie which is big enough for you to forget that Nicole Kidman's forehead doesn't move? Definitely. 

Go see it. Now. It's the perfect 3-hour break from all the Holiday family time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunny Sunday Mini-Post

I am happy to say that I am NOT outside clearing off the sidewalks. Having done it twice, yesterday, to make sure that our guests were able to get in and out okay last night, I figure I deserve a bit of a break. 

Instead, I'm very much enjoying sitting in the house and looking out at the hyper-white of the snow-covered world now that the sun has come out. Granted, it's only about 2 degrees outside, but at least it's pretty. Currier and Ives would be proud of it.

Seems like the perfect day to curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of hot chocolate, doesn't it? (Now you know why this posting is so short.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Kind of Christmas Shopping

I don't know about you, but I can skip the malls this time of year. I'm not excited about going to the strips of big box stores. And even though I love the occasional shopping excursion to the "home goods and all things semi-kitschy" stores, December is not when I find myself excursing there. 

Where do I love to go this time of year? (Okay... my immediate family and my close friends have a leg up on the competition when answering that...) 

I love Grocery Stores. 

And today was a great pre-Holiday day for me. Officially, I was shopping for what we need for tomorrow night's small cocktail and dessert party. Unofficially, I was spending 3 hours getting my Holiday spirit in gear. 

I started out in the wine section of a World Market. While I was there, I had a nice conversation with another shopper about when, during a party, you should serve a $5 bottle of wine. (We both voted that later in the evening was the best answer.)

Then I moved to SuperTarget for the lion's share of the groceries and a few kitchen essentials. Amazingly enough, I had a nice conversation with the kid at checkout. He was obviously new to retail, and had a rather rehearsed repartee, but at least he was making the effort as he bagged my purchase. 

Next stop: Cub for some coupon items we needed. This started out as a questionable experience when I couldn't find a hand-basket, and the lines at the registers were hugely long. But as I was doing the self-service checkout a very nice woman helped me get the coupons to scan, and I actually got a smile out of an older woman standing in the door waiting for her car. 

On the way home, I hit Lund's for some specialty cheeses and white chocolate. Lund's almost always beats the competition in the service department. Today was no different. I had a nice chat with a sample-pusher who was straightening up after being attacked by cheese cascading out of the case behind her. And a manager-type did a stock check for me when I couldn't find the white chocolate that I wanted. At check out, the woman who was bagging my groceries even struck up a conversation about my Gemar's Market reusable bag from my hometown grocery store. 

As I was hauling my 7 bags of groceries in from the car, I couldn't do anything but smile. There's nothing like an afternoon in four different food stores to get my Christmas spirit in sparkling. 

I know. I'm a bit odd. But at least I'm happy. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A "Wonder"-ful Movie

Yes. It's the Holidays. Yes. We all know which "Wonderful" movie comes to mind at the Holidays. No. That is not the movie I watched today.

I actually watched--with some trepidation--"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" this afternoon. It's about a magical toy shop owned by Dustin Hoffman (Magorium, an "avid wearer of shoes"), run by Natalie Portman ("composer of music"), and having its books done by Jason Bateman (Henry, "the Mutant"--don't worry--that's explained in the movie). There's also an amazing young kid named Eric Applebaum ("the hat collector") played by Zach Mills. And then there's the store, itself, which is one of the most important players in the movie.

But, as I said, I started watching the movie with trepidation. I had seen the previews and thought it could definitely go too far to the cheesey, too far to the schmaltzy, or simply too far. Happily, it doesn't.

Sure... There are moments which are way out there for adults, but I'm sure kids watching the movie would have enjoyed them. And there are moments where the background activity kind of gets in the way of what little story there is. And there is the whole question of where Magorium came from 243 years ago. Yet, somehow, the movie works. 

There are small moments which help you to see the humanity in the insanity. And small moments when you see just how insane day-to-day life can be. When young Eric asks Henry to play checkers with him--a conversation entirely conducted by writing on pads of paper and holding them up to a dividing window--you begin to see the need for the wistful and the imaginative in Henry's grown-up life. Watching Portman try to convince Hoffman not to leave by giving him "the greatest day ever" (including going into a mattress store to jump on the beds), well, that just shows how great life can be if you don't take yourself too seriously.

Surprisingly, Magorium spouts some pretty nifty platitudes in the movie, which I hadn't expected. And I found myself, as the movie ended, thinking how much I had enjoyed it and how glad I was to have put aside my laptop for the time it took to watch the movie. 

Okay. Full-blown honesty: Some of the CGI special effects were just a little off. I don't know what it was about them, but there were moments when you could tell the actors were simply acting, and didn't know what was going on around them. Sadly, in one of the pivotal scenes, it was very distracting. Luckily, for me, it was being able to identify with the human actors in the movie which made it fun for me. 

Greatest movie of all time? Sorry, no. See it anyway? Yes. If you've got time to get it, I'd highly recommend taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the Holidays with a shopping spree at the Wonder Emporium. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pre-Holiday Wrapping-Up

I have always held that the weeks preceding Christmas are much more fun than the day itself. I guess I thrive on the anticipation and the preparation, and have always been a little worried about having reality not live up to the expectations. And, yes, I fully admit that I feel that way in many areas of my life--not just at Christmas time.

With that in mind, I've got to say that the past few days have been really fun. We're still a week from Christmas, and my parents have been in town for about four days. We've gone out to dinner with some of Christopher's family. We've stayed in for full days reading and watching TV. We went to lunch at a cafe which is actually in a flower shop/greenhouse not far from home. We even did some last-minute shopping. And, yes, we've spent time in the kitchen while baking and talking.

Right now we're sitting in front of a 1950s movie musical from Netflix with the Christmas tree lighted, and then this evening we get to enjoy one more dinner before taking Mom and Dad to the airport. You see, Mom and Dad are heading for California tonight, off to spend Christmas with my sisters and their families. They'll be having a big Christmas with the grandkids, while Christopher and I spend the holiday with his family. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm definitely looking forward to the next week. We're hosting a very small Christmas party this weekend. I still have presents to wrap (yes. I consider that enjoyable). And Christmas with Christopher's family is always fun. But I have to admit that--in some ways--this past few days will be hard to beat.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful...

(Sorry. No "but" after that.)

As I write this, at 4:30 in the afternoon--which, granted, is past peak solar heating time in mid-December--it is currently -3 degrees outside. No. That is NOT the windchill. It's just the temperature. 

I realize that many people are going to read that and say (either outloud or to themselves) "He lives in Minnesota, what does he expect?" But you have to know that this kind of temperature is normal in late January. And it's mainly when we're talking about overnight low temperatures. Today, -1 was the high. We're expected to spend about 36 hours below zero before getting up to a balmy 7 degrees tomorrow in the midafternoon.

Average high on this day? 24 degrees, according to The Weather Channel. That's a difference of 25 degrees! That is the equivalent of Vegas having a freeze overnight, instead of only a temp in the 50s. Or of Miami being in the upper 30s, instead of the low 60s. It's a big difference.

Of course, this being Minnesota, we're pretty much taking it all in stride. I made sure to cover myself from head to toe--with only my eyes showing--when I went out to clear off the sidewalks. (One problem: My glasses not only fogged up, but also froze over. So I had to clear the walks with them off. My apologies to our neighbors for the mediocre job...)

In the house, it's noticeable too, though. Because it was warm (almost 40) and rainy yesterday, before dropping about 50 degrees in 14 hours, we've developed a lot of condensation on the windows (some liquid, some frozen at this point). Strange the tricks that Mother Nature plays. 

Don't worry, though. Christopher and I are still going to go out to dinner tonight with all of our parents. 

We'll try to get home before it gets too cold.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The AMAZING Smell of Lasagna

Christopher has spent the past couple of hours in and out of the kitchen. He started around 2:30, making a massive pot of pasta sauce. Cans and cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste, red wine, oregano, garlic and a bunch of pepper and other spices went into one of the largest pots we own. By the time 4 rolled around the house was already smelling heavenly.

It's now just after 5 and he is back in the kitchen putting together the lasagna which will be for tonight's dinner. He's starting with some of that incredible sauce (really... it's amazing... just the right amount of spicy heat... SO good!), and layering in ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, and pepperoni into it. I can hear him grating the cheese and I know it's going to be in the oven soon. Basically, the next 90 minutes are going to be excruciating as we sit around smelling it and salivating.

OH. Slightly different topic:

My folks are in town right now (which is part of why we're having the amazing dinner). They're flying out of MSP on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas in LA with the rest of the family. They had been planning to come into town today or tomorrow, but as the weather forecast kept getting worse, I pushed them to come yesterday (when it was in the 30s and sunny. 

So no one is driving through the rapidly-icing snowy weather outside. Instead we're all happily warm and cozy inside with a football game on the TV, lights on the Christmas tree, and lasagna in our not-immediate-enough future. 

Let the Holidays begin!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Best Laid Thursday...

This has certainly been a day of things "oft going awry."

1) I was all set to make a batch of cookies today, and then realized that it had to chill for at least a couple of hours before shaping and baking. I set it aside, but by the time it was ready, I wasn't in the mood to be festive with the dough.

2) Since I wasn't feeling festive enough for decorated Christmas cookies, I decided to move on to the wrapping of some gifts. But as I reached into the box shipped from a certain online store (which shall remain nameless until at least after the 25th), I found that one of the items I had been shipped was completely and totally wrong. I mean, it was the right type of thing--for our secretive pre-holiday purposes, we'll say it was a sweater--but instead of being a naturally-colored nubbly fisherman's sweater in an Extra Large, it was a hot pink cashmere with a v-neck and three-quarter sleeves in a size zero. (Yes. I'm heading out into the December chill to look into an in-store exchange tomorrow. Wish me luck.)

3) Christopher and I were planning to meet up with an old friend of his for dinner tonight, and then go out to hear some friends of ours perform in their Country Western yodelling band Rope Trick this evening. But the after-dinner conversations just kept going, and the next thing we knew it was 11:30 and we were all yawning--definitely not in the right state of mind for heading out to a bar for a few drinks and some yodelling. 

Now it's almost midnight, and I'm only barely going to get this post in under the wire to say it was done on Thursday. Or at least I hope I am. The way the day has been going, it probably won't show up until Saturday...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The "Lesser" of Two Evils

On Monday night, on the way to bed, I noticed one of the small miracles of this time of year: The hyper-bright nights caused by snowy ground and light. Granted, on Monday, the light causing the snow to glow was from "light pollution" reflecting off of low-hanging clouds, so everything was kind of a freaky orange color. Even so, it was pretty amazing having all of that light pouring through the windows hours after the sun went down. 

Of course, all that snow on the ground late on Monday meant that I got to go out on Tuesday and clear snow. This time there was definitely too much to sweep away, and since I had gotten gas for the snow blower earlier in the week, I figured this was my chance to become acquainted with this gadget. I helped Christopher pick it up a couple years ago, but I'd never used it (I always opted for the shovel). 

So yesterday morning I filled the tank and spent the next 5 minutes or so working on starting it--manually, with the electric start, and, finally, with a few appropriately placed "coaxing" expletives. Suddenly I found myself standing in the middle of the driveway with a roaring snow blower and no idea what to do with it. For practice, I shoved it back and forth around the driveway. 

Here's what I learned during my first snow blowing session:
1) I found out that it's pretty near impossible to pull it backward through snow (snow simply builds up behind it). 
2) I frequently reminded myself that pulling it backward while the blade was still running was STUPID and dangerous. 
3) I discover why it shouldn't be pushed into the wind (and felt the wrath as the snow blew into my face). 
4) I learned that getting too close to grass (or flower beds) results in nasty dirt and mulch kick-ups.
5) (This one is interesting!) I found that the more snow you're going through, the higher/farther the snow will go. I'd have thought that small amounts would do just as well, but there you go.

And, unfortunately, I found out this morning that the snow blower comes with an unexpected side effect: really sore forearms. Yep. I woke up this morning with an amazing aching that starts around my elbows and goes all the way to my thumbs. For about half an hour I was kind of freaked out by that. Then I remembered what I had done, yesterday, and realized what had caused the achiness.

Which leads me to the titular dilemma:

Is it better to deal with a sore back and shoulders from shovelling? Or to deal with sore forearms and hands from the vibrations of the snow blower?

I mean, it's nice that it's not my back, but I'm not sure if aching forearms are really that much better. I guess I'll get to make that decision in a few days when we get more snow...

Oh. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the full moon this weekend. I can't wait to see how that looks on the snow. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Tree is Up!

Christopher and I spent yesterday putting up our new Christmas tree. Hurrah! 

And, yes, we have a brand new artificial tree, for one or more of the following reasons (you decide):

1) More Eco-friendly (we didn't have to deforest anything to get it, plus it will be around year-t0-year).
2) More Eco-nomical (if we use it one more year, it will more than pay for itself, in comparison to "live" trees at the current prices).
3) Less mess (no watering... no loose needles... no complaints).
4) It's a "narrow" tree so it actually fits our space (6.5-feet tall, but only about 2 feet across at the base).

We spent a bunch of yesterday putting it up. I was having a blast fluffing the branches (it was my first time!), but Christopher has done it before so he was a little less enthused. I wrapped the lights on it (I figured we could wrap and unwrap the lights each year for less than the difference in price between a "pre-lit" and "un-lit" tree), and then we went to town. 

We started with a brand new "Lady and the Tramp" ornament, which took pride of place in the front and center of the tree. And then I let Christopher go first, so we have all of his Hallmark Grinch, Snoopy, Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, and Muppet ornaments up and nicely distributed around the tree. 

Then I started going through all of the boxes of ornaments I've been carrying around for years. There are crocheted snowflakes from a little old lady in my hometown. There is a blown glass "Campanile" from my alma mater of South Dakota State University. There's a whole bunch of Mickey Mouse-shaped silver "balls."

** sidenote ** Yes. We both hung a lot of memories on the tree, yesterday. But some things simply aren't made for blogging about. Take some time to look over your own ornaments and tell someone their stories, and you'll know what I mean. ** end sidenote **

Christopher walked through at one point while I was lying on the floor looking for the perfect place to put the next ornament, and just laughed. "Enjoying yourself?" was all he said. ("Yes, thank you!") 

In fact, as I continue to search for a job, I think I'm going to look around for a year-round Christmas tree decorator position. Or tree decorator AND baker of Christmas cookies. Hmmm... Where do you suppose you send an application to become an elf?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

First Christmas Card!

I have my cards. I have my letter written and photocopied. I have my stamps. And, since I moved this year, I had every good intention of sending out my cards early to be sure that I had given out the correct new address to all of my friends. 

Unfortunately, as with my cookie baking, I'm also running behind on my card mailing. I was going to write some today, but after shovelling snow this morning, I just wasn't feeling up to it. I was hoping that a nap would get me into the spirit, but even after a nap and a shower I still didn't feel up to the task of being seasonally cheerful. 

Tomorrow we're planning to put up the Christmas tree, watch a Christmas movie or two, and maybe do some more baking. I'm hoping that by the time we're done with all of that I might have a little more energy which I can put toward the cards.

Of course, in the meantime, we got our first card in the mail today. It came from some great friends, and I think it will definitely spur me on tomorrow. At least it will if I don't have to shovel...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Baking - The Early Stages

For the first time in years I didn't start my Christmas baking the weekend after Thanksgiving. In fact, I didn't start until yesterday. And even then it was only a few dozen Spritz cookies which I whipped up because Christopher's grandmother was spending the night. And, really, how hard is it to crank out (literally--I have a crank-style cookie press) 5 dozen wreaths?

Okay. I'm sure I sound kind of obsessive to many people. After all, there have been years where I made over a hundred dozen Christmas cookies of various types (yes. more than 100 dozen. my top was 113 dozen, to be exact, which works out to 1,356 cookies, bars, and scones), but the past few years I've maxed out around 50 or 60 dozen. I know... I've become a slacker.

Well, this year I've been putting off starting because I haven't wanted to trash the house when Christopher is around. You see, I bake Christmas cookies with a certain amount of abandon. Although in some areas of them I'm pretty particular (just ask my friend Jen about sprinkling colored sugar on Spritz cookies...), I still tend to end up with flour on my shirt, powdered sugar on the floor, and chocolate-coated oatmeal stuck to the table. 

And although Christopher has some idea of all that has happened in my kitchen around Christmas the past few years, he's mainly been around to see the sweet goodness of the "aftermath." He hasn't been there when the pans were going in and out of the oven. Or when the table was covered with waxed paper for 4 hours to let chocolate "no-bake" cookies harden.

So I'm starting slow. I figure if I work it right I'll be able to do them all when he's not around, and he'll simply come home in the evenings to see more cookies magically appearing. I might even be able to carry it off, if I can keep the flour and powdered sugar explosions and chocolate-oatmeal shrapnel to a minimum. (Wish me luck!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Commercial Perceptions

I've worked in and around Marketing for long enough to know that it's not the advertising you do that makes the difference. What makes the difference is how people perceive the advertising you do. 

You know how it is. You see a commercial and the jingle sticks in your head, but when someone asks you what the commercial was for, you have no idea. Or, worse yet, you watch a commercial for, say, an Audi, and when it's over you're thinking "Wow. I really want to travel to Italy, too." Some marketing exec just spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a car ad, and you've boiled it down to a travelogue. Oops.

As we come up to the Holidays, we get lots and lots of ads, and many of them don't always have a solid focus. They're trying so hard to catch customers, that they throw the net as wide as possible and hope for the best.

Of course, there are a few constants in Holiday commercials. You know you'll see lots of twinkling lights. You know you'll hear all sorts of Christmas carols. And you know that you'll be seeing more red and green than you can stand. 

Well, this season, I have found one commercial which combines many of the "constants", but--at least for me--falls way off the mark. 

I wish I could find a link online to the ad, but it's for a nationwide chain, so maybe you've seen it. The ad is a Wal-mart ad currently running on TV. 

** sidenote ** I'm not going to go into any opinions about Wal-mart, here. I wouldn't even mention their name if it couldn't possibly help you understand what commercial I'm talking about. ** end sidenote **

In the commercial, a squad of people walk toward the check-out lanes and proceed to switch their "open" lights off and on and we, the audience, watch them flash while listening to "Ring Christmas Bells." It's well choreographed and interesting enough, but the first time I watched it, all I could think of was "So which lane is open?"

Every time I've seen it since then, I get a little anxious, thinking "With my luck, I'd be in the store while they were doing that, and I'd NEVER find a lane that was open long enough to check me out!" By the time the commercial is over and the checkers are all smiling and proud of themselves, I'm frustrated and feeling like I want to run the other way.

Somehow, I don't think that's the perception they wanted me to get from that commercial.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When is a Trip Considered "Travel"?

I know that it's Travel Tuesday and, thus, this should probably be a post about... well... travel, but the only place I've been lately is out to Christopher's family's place in Stillwater for Thanksgiving. 

I guess that, for some people, the fact that it's a 45-minute drive makes it worthy of being called travel, but for those of us out here in the middle of the country that's not nearly far enough for the "T" word. For us, "travel" has to refer to drives of multiple hours--probably at least 2. So the trip I made for the birthday party a couple months ago was travel. The trip Christopher and I took Up North was travel. Driving to what equates to the other side of town is not travel. 

Of course, my sisters who live out in LA with their families drive hours per day just to commute, and that isn't really travel, either, since it's simply commuting. Hmmm... So I guess it's more a distance thing than a time elapsed thing. 

Whenever I've been in Europe (including, for this argument, Great Britain), I've been surprised that people find a 2-hour train ride to be a major excursion. And the idea of a 5-hour drive is way too excruciating to undertake more than once a year. So in that case, a trip is considered travel even when the destination is much closer than what we talk about here in the Midwest. For instance, that 45-minute drive out to Thanksgiving would have been "travel."

Where am I going with this discussion? I'm not sure, either, but I hope you enjoyed the trip...

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Home For Sweeney Todd's Holidays"

Yes. The title of today's posting is a bit odd, but if you're paying attention you should realize that today is Movie Monday. If you're both paying attention AND a movie trivia buff, you may have guessed that the two movies I've seen in the past week are "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and "Home for the Holidays."

Oddly enough, they have the same general theme: Going back home to where it all started. Of course, they have completely different reasons and results, but I was struck by how that overall factor came into play in both movies. So, on with the reviews...

"Sweeney Todd" is a Tim Burton film. In case you don't know what having Tim Burton in the director's chair means for a movie, he also directed "Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands," "Nightmare Before Christmas," and the most recent version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." So, as if Sondheim's musical wasn't bizarre enough, now we've got a master of the macabre mixing things up. Burton's direction makes for some interesting (and not always winning) scenic choices--but that often happens when a show written for the stage ends up on screen. What bothered me most, though, was his casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. Carter was odd enough to play the roll, but her voice just couldn't carry the role which has been played by theatrical greats like Angela Lansbury and Patti Lupone. On the other hand, although I was all set to not like Johnny Depp in the title role, I found myself... well... not really "liking" him... but enjoying his portrayal as we went along, as I was with the three supporting "kids" in the cast. Good movie to rent if you want to vent some spleen during the Holidays? Yes. Good movie to watch on a "dinner-and-a-movie" datenight? Not if you're having anything with a red sauce.

On the other hand, "Home for the Holidays" is Jodie Foster's bittersweet tale of a grown woman's trip home for Thanksgiving with her family in the mid-90s. I started to write "dysfunctional family"--and a few years ago I may left it in--but I think that, as we all grow up, we find that our families all function just a little dysfunctionally. In "Holidays," we have Holly Hunter flying home for Thanksgiving with her parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), her button-pushing brother (Robert Downey, Jr.) and her uptight--yet well-meaning--sister (marvellously multi-faceted as played by Cynthia Stevenson). Basically, yes, anything that can go wrong does. There are arguments during dinner. There are old wounds that surface even before the table is set. And as the movie ends we all know that the family will be together again for Christmas, God help them. So... Bring it home with you for the Holidays? Definitely. Watch it with your family around? Only if you promise not to tell your relatives which characters they remind you of.

One last thought about these movies--or, rather, about "Holidays": Each time I watch the movie, I find myself identifying with a different character just a little more. 

** sidenote ** See...? That's why I made sure to mention that the comment is about "Holidays" and not about "Sweeney Todd" because if I said I identified with anyone in "Sweeney Todd" people would never eat my casseroles again. Ever. ** end sidenote **

I'm sure that when I first saw Holly Hunter go home to her family I probably identified most with her. I was living in Baltimore at the time, and going home to South Dakota felt very strange. But I've watched "Holidays" multiple times and have found myself identifying with both of her siblings... and their spouses... over time. And this time I even found myself understanding more about where her parents were coming from. Yeah. That was kinda weird. 

Weird, but good. Seems like that would also sum up these movies.