Monday, December 26, 2011

How I spent my first solo Christmas

I am happy to report that my first Christmas sans family was not a miserable lonely affair. It was actually rather low-key and nice. It occurred to me today that, quite by accident, I engaged in a number of my favorite activities.

1. Sleeping late

Some of my friends with more grown-up lives were awakened at the crack of dawn by their Santa-believing youngsters. Not I. I slept in till 11:30am. It was fantastic. There are few things I love more than sleeping. I am a varsity sleeper. This is apparently normal according to my zodiac/astrology chart -- those born on March 1 "need a lot of sleep because they have especially active dream lives." So true and so great to have a sort-of-legit-but-not-really-"scientific"-explanation for my penchant to spend half the day in bed.

2. Cooking

I made myself a fancy breakfast from some leftover stuff in my fridge. I considered attempting my first omelet, but didn't want to risk failure on Christmas, so I opted instead for the frittata route. I wilted some spinach in garlic and oil, added gorgonzola, and folded it into my eggs. YUM.

3. Muppets

After "breakfast" (which was consumed around 12:30), I cuddled up with Maude to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I hadn't watched it in years and it was so heartwarming! The scene where Piggy (Mrs. Cratchett) and Kermit (Bob Cratchett) are mourning the loss of Tiny Tim actually made me cry. Also, kudos to Michael Caine for his sincere and committed portrayal of Scrooge -- it's as though he's not even aware his costars are made of felt.

4. Chinese food

Since coming back from China, I haven't eaten much Chinese food. After consuming nothing but for almost a month, I was a little burned out. But I rediscovered my love for the cuisine last night at The Golden Temple in Brookline. I finally experienced the Jewish tradition of Chinese food on Christmas. The place was a madhouse, already packed at 5:30 pm. Fortunately, my friends had reserved ahead; otherwise we would have had to take our chances at some sketchy hole in the wall joint like Lucky Wah. If all you want for Christmas is food poisoning, Lucky Wah is your jam. Or as one Yelper eloquently put it, "Lucky Wah doesn't just make you feel a little iffy. It makes you feel like death incarnate. Like you've been immersed in so much salt that you could be stuffed into a barrel and consumed by New World-bound Puritans."

Fortunately, Golden Temple uses very fresh ingredients and no MSG. The crispy green beans with garlic were phenomenal and will probably haunt my dreams.

5. Going to the movies

I went to see Hugo and while the 3D gave me a slight headache, it was the perfect movie to see on Christmas. Well-made, beautiful to look at, good story, and 3D effects that actually enhanced the film.

6. Drinking craft cocktails in a swanky lounge

I finished off the night at the newly opened bar, The Hawthorne, located in the Hotel Commonwealth. My friend is a bartender there, so I stopped in to say hello and sip their high-class version of eggnog, The Flip Royale, made with ginger liquor, rooibos tea-infused simple syrup, soda water and a raw egg. (You can watch it being made here.) I also had something called The Bishop, which is basically a rum sour topped off with red wine. Yes, weird-sounding, but surprisingly delicious.

So that's how I spent my Christmas. Not too shabby. I did miss my family, but I spoke to them all on the phone and will see some of them soon in the New Year.

To wrap it up, I invite you to bask in the awesome glory of my rather large Christmas tree and my rather large cat.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Movies that take place at Christmas time are not necessarily Christmas movies

I have blogged about my favorite holiday films before
. This year, I feel the need to clear something up. Something that may be confusing to some.

Just because a movie happens to take place in December and/or reference Christmas in some oblique way doesn't make it a Christmas movie. For example, David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I saw yesterday. The film begins on Christmas Eve and ends right around Christmas one year later. It's set in Sweden so there's lots of snow. BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE -- it's NOT a Christmas movie. Murder and rape cannot be in a Christmas movie. Santa would not approve.

Now, my cable provider, Comcast, would like me to believe that any movie with any sort of minor holiday/December tie-in counts as a Christmas movie. Let's take a look at some of the films they recommend under their Holiday category (which is subdivided into Yuletide Comedies, Christmas Classics, Festive Family Faves, Holiday Romance and Holiday Action):

Batman Returns

Ok, I haven't seen this since it came out in the early 90s, but its genre is obviously superhero/action. Does Batman save Christmas in Gotham City? No.

Die Hard

Yes, it's set at Christmas. Yes, there is some Christmas music in it. And this famous shot, of course:

Still, it's violent and people get killed. I'm pretty sure that takes it out of holiday film contention.

Trading Places

I love this movie; it's one of my favorites. Eddie Murphy as con artist Billy Ray Valentine is pure comedy gold. But I don't think Christmas affects the plot much -- yes, seeing Dan Ackroyd drunkenly crash his former company's Christmas party dressed up Santa and stuffing an entire salmon down his suit is funny, but the movie doesn't demand to be viewed at Christmas. If you wanted to watch Trading Places over the summer, it would be fine. If you suggested watching Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Story in a month other than December, it would be very, very weird.


Seriously? A man's body gets stuffed into a wood chipper.

Little Women

It's a heartwarming movie, but it spans many years and months. If this counts as a Christmas movie, Gone With the Wind might as well be considered one as well since Christmas, you know, happens over the course of the film.

Basically, for a movie to be a Christmas movie, it can't really be watched any other time. Christmas has to feature prominently in the plot -- the central conflict or source of comedy must be related to Christmas (Will Ferrell thinks he's an elf! The Griswolds' horrible in-laws are all staying at their house over Christmas and Clark's Christmas bonus hasn't arrived! etc).

Oh, and no one can be brutally murdered, unless they are killed by a serial killer who dresses up like Santa, like in Christmas Evil (which was originally titled You Better Watch Out):

Ho Ho...Homicide?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(Not) Home for the Holidays

I've been feeling very adult/grown-up lately. Why? Because for the first time, I am not spending the holidays with family. I'm not traveling anywhere, in fact. I'm staying at home, alone.

I will wake up Christmas morning in my apartment, accompanied only by my cat. There will be no long security lines or checked baggage fees, no relatives, no drama, no binge drinking, no emotional eating. Well, there might be some of those last two.

It's not that I don't like visiting family -- it's just that holiday visits are always fraught with tension for one reason or another. The idea of an anxiety-free holiday is very foreign to me, but some people tell me they exist. I didn't intentionally boycott the family holiday; it's just that as the winter months approached, it seemed less and less feasible for me to get the time off from work and afford the overpriced plane tickets. Plus, I have a bonafide family vacation to look forward to in January, after the chaos of Christmas: my brothers and I will be joining my mom and stepdad in the Cayman Islands for a week of sun, relaxing, and rum punch. So don't feel too sorry for me.

Thanksgiving usually finds me in St. Louis, with that chunk of family (Dad, 2 brothers, stepmom), but this year, I chose instead to fly to Pittsburgh and spend the day with my best friend Al, who's getting her master's in conducting at Carnegie-Mellon. She invited two other friends to join us and we had an unconventional-but-delightful vegetarian Thanksgiving that included chili, wild mushroom and chestnut stuffing, swiss chard, spinach and cheddar casserole, homemade cranberry plum sauce (my family always cheats with store-bought) and chocolate, pecan & whiskey pie (my aunt's recipe). It was awesome and the only stressful moment occurred when we realized we had to get to a liquor store before 9pm on Wednesday in order to have Thanksgiving booze. (Crisis averted -- a Thanksgiving without turkey, I could handle. One without wine, perhaps what I'm most thankful for, would have been a different story).

Initially, I planned to go to New York and hang with some Jewish friends on December 25, but since I have to work Christmas Eve and can't bear the thought of spending 4 hours on a smelly bus on Christmas Day, I've now decided to just stay in Boston. I have a few friends who will be around. It will be quiet and subdued, I'm sure. But that's ok. I have enough excitement at other times that I'm actually looking forward to a little solitude. All the loud, obnoxious BU students will be home for the holidays and Allston will be a peaceful, civilized neighborhood for a few weeks. That may be the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Continuing Education

This January, I'll be leading my first poetry workshop, at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. I'm very excited about it and intrigued as to what kinds of students my course on formal poetry might attract. It is Cambridge after all, so it's fair to assume I'll be teaching an eclectic assortment of characters that might include any or all of the following: MIT physicists, freegans, retired opera singers, cutters, Tea Party enthusiasts.

I will be paid a very small sum, but can take a class for free as part of my payment. Here are some of the options I'm (somewhat) seriously considering:

French Regional Cooking

Enjoy a hands-on introduction to traditional dishes from many different provinces in France. We'll prepare recipes showcasing the widely different styles and tastes of provincial cooking. Learn to make mussels with hard cider and cream from Normandy, kirsch soufflé from Alsace, tapenade from Provence, coq au vin from Bourgogne, pork with prunes from Périgord, potato gratin from Dauphiné, and clafoutis (cherry flan) from Limousin. In each class, we will prepare a complete meal from appetizer to dessert. At the end of the evening, we will share the meal and stories of France.

Zut alors! That all sounds delicious. I have no stories of France really to share, except about the time several members of my a cappella group contracted scabies from a hostel in Paris. Probably not the best dinner conversation.

Fine Wine on a Tight Budget

Yes, you can get a great-tasting bottle of wine for under $10. Learn how to evaluate the mystery wines in the 2-for-$16 bin, pick through the closeout rack, and recognize a bargain when you see one. The instructor will share his favorite discount wine sections and the secret wine graveyards where the great wines go to die. Italy, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Spain, and Portugal all offer prospects, but so do France, Germany, and the United States. We'll sample a variety of wines; please bring three wine glasses to class.

This class would make navigating the bargain tables at Blanchard's easier. If anyone tries to make me drink Yellowtail Shiraz, however, I'm out.

Divorce in Massachusetts: With or Without a Lawyer

The class would probably be dull, but it might be a swinging place to meet men and/or lawyers. Though actually, the last time I dated a lawyer, it didn't turn out so well. Never mind.


The class will give an overview of urban beekeeping, covering a brief history of beekeeping, bee biology, and getting started in urban beekeeping. We will go over the basics of beekeeping, types of bee hives, equipment needed to get started, locating the hive, options for getting bees, starting the hive, first-year activities of the beekeeper, products of the hive, and resources available to new beekeepers, with the ultimate goal of participants being able to start keeping bees on their own next spring.

This appeals mainly for the randomness and because of how funny it would be to add beekeeper to my growing list of professions (teacher, waitress, poet, beekeeper). Also, pretty excellent for the Special Skills section on a resume -- I'm awesome at Powerpoint, Excel, Word, oh yeah, and BEEKEEPING.

White People Challenging Racism

Examine the impact of white privilege and how being unaware of that advantage helps perpetuate racism. We'll discuss short readings and share everyday situations in which we did not speak up against racial bias. Using role-playing, we'll develop effective ways to respond. We'll focus on the role of white people in dismantling racism and building a just society. You'll develop specific plans for challenging racism in your workplace, organizations, community, and personal circles, as well as be encouraged to find other people in your life who can provide support and serve as allies in your efforts.

I'm just flummoxed that such a course exists. The title implies that the class is only open to white people...if only there were a word to describe prejudice based on race...OH WAIT. Knock, knock: who's there? Irony.

Intentional Travel: Where in the World is Your Life Telling You to Go?

Where do you need to travel, be it by armchair or hitting the road? The places you need to visit for personal history, spiritual grounding, or fulfillment may not be where tour guides take you. We travel to have our perceptions altered and to discover what we didn't know we were searching for. We may travel in pursuit of a personal vision based on our life story. And we travel to be surprised and delighted by a latent self waiting for this moment to arrive! We'll share travel experiences, research specific destinations and itineraries, and design maps of future travels. Bring a travel-related book and journal.

...Intentional travel as opposed to unintentional travel, like being sent away to prison? My life is definitely not telling me to go to this class. I honestly think the person who wrote this might have been high. My "latent self" is very amused.

In all honesty, I'm leaning towards either taking a class on Moby Dick because I've never read it (and might never read it on my own) or an intermediate cooking class. My parents actually met in a class called "Cooking for Singles" so perhaps I'll also fall in love while learning some snazzy knife skills and how to poach pears in wine.