Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Numbers

Wow.  As much as I love the holidays, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas always seems to get shorter and shorter every year.  And because yours truly was tragically behind on planning, as usual, most of last week was spent scrambling, and not blogging.

So, without further ado, I present - perhaps a little out of order - The Week (and a bit) in Numbers.

2 cakes
I have a wonderful crew of colleagues.  We have this cute game where we "try" to surprise each other with a card and cake every year, although we've all gotten wise to the idea, so we pretty much know when it's coming from a mile away, especially if a birthday is on a workday.  (The only time it's iffy is when the birthday is on a weekend or holiday, then it's anyone's guess if the ambush comes on Friday or Monday - ha!)  So under the guise of a meeting (which was actually canceled, unbeknownst to me), my colleagues "surprised" me, with a most excellent midnight-chocolate-with-buttercream-frosting cake (made by my boss), and adorned by our division's Happy Birthday candles that we've used and re-used for at least the past two years.


And then on Christmas Eve, Matthew and my in-laws surprised me (they really did!) with another birthday cake.  And their rendition of Happy Birthday was sung with so much love and caring that I didn't mind at all that it sounded like three cats on a carburetor, nor that I was blushing six ways to Sunday.  It was...perfection.


4 courses
For my birthday, Matthew and I went to dinner at one of our favorite spots: the Atwood Cafe, on the main floor of the Hotel Burnham.  It's a beautiful place - lots of warm velvety colors and dark wood, amid wrought iron work from the 1900s and mosaic tiles that had once been covered by concrete and "rediscovered" in the late 90s when they redid the whole building.  We got a table by the window, and, halfway through our shrimp-chowder-bay-mussels-duck/steak-chocolate-cake dinner, it began to snow those big puffy white flakes that blanket everything and dull every city noise.  A magical way to start the week before Christmas.

45 Facebook messages, 8 cards, 4 e-mails, 3 phone calls
Birthday greetings came from around the world, at all different times, and I'm grateful for each and every one.

20 dozen cookies
Every year, I make a plethora of cookies to give away to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  Some years, the results are better than others, and I was determined not to repeat the hockey pucks that I subjected everyone to last December.  So, I went a little crazy this year making seven different types, and more than I've ever made before, but I made some of the doughs ahead of time, so all I had to do during the week was bake them.  I have to admit it was gratifying when a neighbor told me that he liked the double chocolate shortbread so much that he didn't even want to share it with his kids...

One beautiful Christmas morning
For the first time in several years, we woke up to a white Christmas, with about 3 inches of snow covering everything.  And even though I grew up in a place where Christmas is in summer, I can't imagine it being at any time but winter anymore.


8.5 gallons, 450 miles
At a time when gas prices are going through the roof, we had a Prius for Christmas weekend.  'Nuff said.

26 discs
....of pure viewing pleasure.  Tahmoh Penikett = yum.  Jamie Bamber = yummer.  Merry Christmas to me.


6 inches of snow
We came back home to a whole lot of snow that had piled up, which necessitated cranking up the snowblower for the first time this season.  Don't know what it is, but every time I use it, I feel oh-so-very butch.  Vroom vroom.

40 minutes
And in non-Christmas or birthday news, 40 minutes is all it took yesterday for a podiatrist to take a cast of my woefully-flat feet to make some orthotics that will hopefully relieve some of my shin splint pain (while also encouraging me to walk less neanderthal-like), as well as recommend physical therapy that I will start in the New Year.  Marathon aspirations temporarily iced.  Sigh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Domain

Seinfeld didn't mean it this way when he said it, but today I am Master of My Domain, thanks to my wonderful friends, Dan and Meredith, who very thoughtfully secured "The Wizard and I" for me this week.  So while you, gentle readers, probably noticed no difference in getting here if you've bookmarked the prior link, yours truly will be broadcasting from my very own home on the WWW from henceforth.  And while seasoned bloggers will probably laugh at me for saying so, I think that is frakkin' awesome. 

I've known Dan since high school when he was a ridiculously cool band geek with an earring, and I was the incoming freshman with no personality and a strange accent.  In the twenty years since we've known each other, I've lost the accent, and he lost the earring.  Can't say much about my personality.  And even though we don't get to see each other more than once or twice a year, I always know that I can depend on him through thick and thin, and he's just a phone call or an e-mail away.  Which really came in handy today, since he even helped set up the new domain for me.  (I consider myself tech savvy - but not that tech savvy.) 

Even more good friends 
On top of Dan and Meredith, this has been a very friend-centric week.  (Hence the lack of postings and dwindling readership.)  I always love this time of year, because even in the midst of waging all-out war in the mall parking lot gift shopping, writing Christmas (and other non-holiday-specific) cards, and baking up a storm, I really enjoy the opportunity to see good friends amid good cheer.

Like Cynthia, who was in town briefly for a conference, but still made time to meet us for dinner, where we reminisced about military parades, bad conductors, and good times on the road - that schlep between Montreal and Prince Edward Island, or the all-too-frequent trip that I dreaded between Montreal and Ottawa in the summer, because it meant being away from Montreal at a time of year when it was really cool to be there.  And while Cynthia and I hadn't seen each other for more than ten years, it was just like old times.

Or Lisa, Amy and Carol, who - bless her heart - went early to the Walnut Room to get us a spot in line for dinner, because everyone and their uncle wants to have dinner at the Walnut Room at Christmas.  (Note to Macy's - those pseudo-snow-falling track lights look more like worms running down the tree.)  Thankfully, we got a table in a quieter part of the restaurant that was much more conducive to catching up.

Good times, all.

Baking
So even though I've found myself doing things a little later than I would like (um...those of you on my ever-shrinking list of holiday card recipients might see yours showing up a wee bit after Christmas...2011), I spent much of today churning out a few holiday goodies, or at least preparing the dough for cookies to be baked later this week in the mad rush to Christmas.  On this year's list:
  1. Eggnog cheesecake bars (combining two of my favorite things on a graham cracker crust)
  2. Vanilla shortbread (half dipped in a chocolate glaze - my poor attempt to replicate those awesome Au Bon Pain shortbread cookies)
  3. Double chocolate shortbread (using cocoa and bittersweet chocolate)
  4. Cherry delights (vanilla cookie with candied cherry topping) - a recipe passed down from my in-laws
  5. Sour-cream apricot roll-ups (kinda like rugulah, but with apricot preserves and coconut) - ditto
  6. Thumbprint cookies with strawberry jam
And these pretty puppies - "snow-capped" macaroons:


And now I'm so tired that I can't think of a witty way to end this post.  Oh, and it's my birthday in three minutes.  Huh.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Glasses

Weak eyesight runs in my mom's side of the family.  My mom and her siblings all wear glasses (except those who've had Lasik), so it was no surprise that I would need glasses at some point.  I managed to stave it off until I was in tenth grade, when I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult to see clearly.  At the time, I thought it was because I was spending too much time in front of a computer learning Turing, a now-extinct programming code that I used in my computer class to build a tres-gay database of 1992 Olympic gymnastics and swimming results, complete with text-character recreations of the Olympic sports symbols.  But - alas, no - it was just my myopic gene finally catching up and having its dastardly way with my vision.

And my eyesight must have been really bad, because apparently I couldn't see that the first pair of glasses I chose for myself were horrendously ugly.  I'm talkin' square-cut, old-school, never-gonna-get-kissed ugly.  And, horror of horrors, I had them for the next four years.  It was like they were their own form of birth control. 

(To give you a sense of how ugly they were, when I got military-issue glasses a few years later, they were almost an identical match to my own.  Yeesh.)

I finally got new glasses in 1996, when I went through my Shaolin monk phase, because in a undecided crazy moment about what to do with my hair, I had my stylist shave it all off, leaving about an eighth of an inch all around.  But because my hair seems to have a life of its own and grows outward, rather than close to my head (hence the copious amounts of product I use on an annual basis), I had to get it buzzed every three weeks to avoid looking like an Asian chia pet.  And nothing would have said loser like my big square glasses on my big Asian chia-pet-like head.

Cut to 1997, when I decided to try contact lenses, and I haven't - sorry, pun alert - looked back.  And since the optometrist was okay with giving me a free sample pair so I could ostensibly try them for future purchasing consideration, I took some colored contact lenses that were green, so I could be just like that fulfilling-a-legend Asian girl in Big Trouble in Little China and cause men to chase after me.  (1986, Kurt Russell, because the white guy has to save the day when Asians apparently can't.)  But - argh, foiled again! - my eyes being naturally dark negated the color in the contacts, meaning that no one could tell that I now had cool, butt-kicking green eyes but lonely ol' me and my very unresponsive mirror.  Sigh.

I've never considered Lasik, because I'm too squeamish about the thought of a laser cutting into my eyes.  Bleh.  So every morning, I roll out of bed, load up my two-week disposables and see as clear as day for the next 12 hours.  And save for one little incident involving jalapeno peppers*, I've been relatively problem-free with contacts ever since trying them out.

I still have glasses, which are thankfully a wee bit more trendy than the ol' honkers I had in my teens, and which I use at night or when we're flying (because the dry environments of planes suck every drop of moisture out of my eyeballs and skin).  And I like having glasses with fitted magnetic clip-on shades, so that when we step out of the airport into the (preferably) bright sunlight of our destination, my eyeballs aren't scalded.

So, apart from boring you with the mundane history of my poor vision (which has apparently - thankfully! - plateaued for now), the whole point of this posting is - to show off my new glasses!  Even though I don't wear them often, I got the "Cadillac" package:  polycarbonate lenses (equals lightweight), anti-reflective, semi-rimless, blah blah blah, which - thanks to my insurance - didn't cost me a month's salary as I had feared. 


Aren't they purr-ty?


* A few years ago, in an attempt to undertake new culinary adventures, I made the rookie mistake of dicing jalapeno peppers with my bare fingers while trying to follow an overly-complicated recipe for quesedillas.  Even though I washed my hands thoroughly (or so I thought), when I went to put in my contacts for an event that night, I seriously thought my eyeballs were being burned out of my head.  (Ask Matthew - he remembers the blood-curdling screams.)  Needless to say, I wore my glasses that night, and now there's a bottomless box of disposable gloves in our pantry for handling those fiery frakkers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Huh?

I get a lot of crap in the mail.  It definitely helped that I signed up on some do-not-mail list a couple of years ago that has prevented me from getting random credit card applications every day, but still, like many others, our mailbox is typically full of marketing junk that I mostly find annoying, particularly from businesses with whom we supposedly have a relationship, tangential or otherwise. 
Like the Lane Bryant flyers I used to get all the time, probably because I spent too much money shopped at Bath and Body Works, and because I like to smell nice moisturize, they assume I am a woman of larger stature.

I also managed to get put onto the Victoria's Secret mailing list for a good chunk of time.  At least Vicky would send me coupons for free...ahem...support garments, and since I'm not about to pass up anything for free, even if it is for someone else's benefit, I used to bring them to my former all-women-but-me office, where one of my colleagues was happy to take them off my hands without slapping me.  (You know I'm still talking about the coupons, right?)

At least I figured out that I got put on these lists because these stores are all owned by the same parent company.  Fine, I get it.  Everyone in their marketing department has to earn a living, but clearly someone should be filtering their mailing lists a little better. 

And then there is the surreal junk mail that makes me go - Huh?

Like this lovely gem in today's mail:


I assure you I'm nowhere near the membership age requirement. 

Like I said - Huh?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Geekout

This awesome cartoon was originally posted on the Shoebox blog, but I was directed to it by AfterElton.  Hi-la-ri-ous.  It combines two of my favorite things: Christmas and Star Wars.  Total geekout fest.


'Scuse me, I gotta go find my lightsaber now. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tales

This week, I hit a bit of a milestone:  I finished a book.  Cover to cover.  A book with words, and those words weren't in bubbles over pictures.  Whoa.

Cue sarcastic, yet polite applause from my perplexed, yet kind blog readers.

As someone who managed to painfully claw his way to an English literature degree many moons ago, it's a bit embarassing to admit that I rarely finish a book these days.  Don't invite me to join your book club - I'd be the worst member ever.

The truth is that I read and write all day for my job, as well as keep up with the regular newspaper, business newspapers and magazines (so I know what sectors are making money, even in these times) and fundraising periodicals (which make me feel inadequate provide helpful tips on raising money, even in these times).  And between all of that, with my Entertainment Weekly current event and cooking magazines, not to mention all the other crap I get in the mail (because I can't seem to get rid of my old United airmiles except by ordering more magazine subscriptions, and God knows I can't pass up anything that's for free), I don't have much time to crack open a tome by the end of the day.  (And yet here I sit, blogging and not reading...huh.) 

So unless the book is published by Marvel, DC or Dark Horse these days, it's likely to sit on my nightstand until I can muster up the courage to read it.  Even so, there are books that I start, but have to put down, and by the time I get back into them, I have to start at the beginning, because I've forgotten the parts that I've read.  So the constant question is - do I pull the trigger on actually starting a book, or dance the inevitable dance of having to restart it?  It's a delicate pas de deux that usually ends with a torn hamstring and tears.

But...there are a few authors for whom I will always make time:  Amy Tan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Armistead Maupin, and Carole Henikoff.  Which leads me to this posting - the occasion of having finished Mr. Maupin's latest book, Mary Ann in Autumn, a continuation of his Tales of the City series.


(So I'm trying out this new widget from the HarperCollins site which should direct you to an excerpt to read, if you're so inclined.  Hopefully it'll work, since I just copied the HTML from their site.)

Maupin's original Tales series chronicled the lives of a disparate group of San Francisco residents - straight, gay, transgender - and appeared in serialized format in a San Francisco newspaper, beginning in 1978.  The series was later published in book format, which I only discovered when I moved to Chicago, along with the television adaptations of the first three books, starring Laura Linney (to whom Mary Ann is dedicated) and Olympia Dukakis.  (Dukakis was at a Chicago book event a few years, and when I asked her how she came to play Anna Madrigal, she said that Maupin instantly thought of her for the role when the TV adaptation was in progress.)

There's definitely a soap-opera-ish feel to Maupin's books (now numbering eight in the Tales series, but I've read his others as well), with many characters chronicled and interwoven through the years.  Despite some pretty outlandish subplots (transmogrification - really?!), I think what I've enjoyed most about his books are the sense that for those who live in places where you have no relatives, family is what you create.  This is certainly true for his troop of Barbary Lane residents, who arrive in San Francisco with their own baggage - physical and otherwise - and come to depend on each other like family. 

Mary Ann in Autumn picks up a few decades after the original Tales series, and follows on the heels of Maupin's intermediary Michael Tolliver Lives.  The once idealistic Mary Ann is now 57 years old, and has spent two decades on the East Coast, essentially isolating herself from her ex-husband Brian, and her daughter, Shawna.  Now in a crisis of her own, she finds solace once more in her long-time friend, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and his husband, Ben, and her San Francisco family, including D'Or, DeDe, and Mrs. Madrigal.

I won't go into much more detail, other than to say that - like the other Tales books - it's a quick, easy read.  I like that Maupin reverted back to his typical third-person, multi-story arc format (whereas Michael Tolliver Lives was in the first person and perhaps borrowed a wee bit too much from Mr. Maupin's personal life), and while the book probably won't win a Pulitzer, I have to admit that it's comforting to find out how each of the original, surviving Tales characters has turned out.  It's like the Facebook of the Tales world - which is somewhat ironic, since Facebook actually figures prominently in this particular book. 

Bottom line - if you love Tales of the City as much as I do, then this is certainly a worthy successor, and a fun read.  Much like Maupin's other books, loose ends always get tied up by the last page, and while some of them you can see coming from a mile away, it's reassuring to know that there's a - spoiler alert! - happy ending by the time you reach the back cover.

Which I did, quite proudly. 

The End.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmasfied

While I was making our Turkey Day non-turkey dinner last week, Matthew got the house all Christmasfied.  It's a process that we both really enjoy - he loves decorating for the holidays, and I get left to my own devices in the kitchen.  Win-win.  Plus, my decorating gene is apparently recessive, so I'd no doubt put everything in the wrong place. 


We got this pre-lit tree for our second Christmas together, and it seems to be going strong.  Still, every year we bring it out and wait with breath that is bated while we assemble and plug it in.  And even though I'm so not mechanically inclined, I've managed to resuscitate it in years past if the lights don't work, unlike our outdoor garland, which apparently has moved onto lighting heaven despite my best efforts to bring it back to life, and which now has a DNR. 

Our plush Rudolph with his Santa hat is seated at the base of the tree, having come to us as a gag gift from a party.  Press his antler and he belts out a rock n' roll version of Jingle Bells in his best Goofy-like voice.  We only ask him to sing two or three times a year, because we're afraid he'll eventually give up the vocal ghost.  But, even if mute, he's a welcome furry addition to the household every Christmas.

All of our tree ornaments have some special meaning to us, having been passed down to us by our parents, given as gifts (to each other), or picked up on our travels.   Here are a few of my favorites:

These two anatomically-incorrect reindeer were our first Christmas decoration purchase together.  We always put them together on the tree because they're so darn cute.  I love the preppy-ish striped scarves, hanging stylishly to the side.  And much like us in person, we can't tell them apart.  Although the one on the right seems to say more jazz hands! than the other in this particular photo.   He's such a little extrovert.

I freakin' love the Goodman Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol.  Yes, we all know how the story ends, having seen countless renditions/rebootings/reimaginings of this story, from Bill Murray to Mickey to the Muppets.  Still, it must be awfully dusty in that theater because every time the Cratchits have their Christmas Eve dinner, and Bob Cratchit talks about a Christmas without Tiny Tim in the future, my eyes get watery.  It's allergies, I tell ya, allergies! 

And then there's the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present throws up some sparkly stuff and the whole rear of the stage is suddenly backlit to look like a star-filled night.  It's a simple, corny, really cheap lighting trick, but it gets me every time.  And even though I know the moment is coming, I get a kick out of hearing all the kids in the audience ooh and ahh, much like I did the first time I saw it.

We got this ornament of Scrooge and Tiny Tim after our first trip to the show a few years ago, although we later found out that Tim is missing his crutch - a prediction of things to come for our little fella?  Ah, happy endings.

In 2005, we spent Thanksgiving in New York and saw the parade live, where we took this photo of Santa and Mrs. Claus.  We had a great vantage point, close to where they kicked off the parade, and we were able to see the bands, floats, stars (Kristin ChenowethJeff Corwin! Leeann Rimes, pre-home-wrecker!), and huge balloons in all their glory.  And now we get to remember that fun trip in a deeply-discounted-post-holiday-but-still-awesome commemorative Pottery Barn frame for years to come.

A sweet story behind this one:  every year in Chicago, the city hosts a downtown Christkindlmarket, a German-style outdoor Christmas market that has many different vendors, one of whom makes flag ornaments.  Two years ago, Matthew wanted to surprise me with a Canada flag ornament, but the vendor said that he didn't make them, and that he would the next year.  And true to his word, the good guy did.  Hence my maple leaf Christmas ornament that makes my maple-leaf-emblazoned, maple-syrup-bleeding heart go pitter-patter.

O Canada.