Monday, December 29, 2014

Blogmas: Day 23-- Favorite Winter Story

I've mentioned this before, but I loathe most Christmas-themed music, poetry, prose, and films.  I am not sentimental in the way that most of these films expect the audience to be.  However, there is one Christmas story that has always held a special place in my heart, Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory."

Like Capote's protagonist, I was raised by an older family member as a small child.  This simple, poignant story reminds me of those early days and, I have to admit, I get misty eyed every time I read it.

You can find a copy of the story here.  I hope you enjoy the story as much as I have.

Blogmas: Day 22-- Day in the Life

Wouldn't you know it, I am once again on the Blogmas catch up. Such is life.

For Day 22's entry, I thought I would give you some insight into my December 25th preparations.  I was busier than a three legged cat in a sandbox in the lead up to Crimbo . . . which made for some interesting situations and nice snap shots.  Enjoy!

Breakfast of Champions

Errand Running Outfit

My Beloved Faux-Opal Necklace
My "Face the Day" Supplies 12/24

"Christmas Song" for the Non-Christian

The Moment You Realize the Bus Isn't Running on 12/24 and
You Have Been Waiting for It For 20 Minutes

Weird Water Bird Found While On My Way to Pick Up My Glasses

Pre-Baked Pies

PRO TIP: Roast Your Turkey Half-Way the Day Before an
Event to Cut Down on Kitchen Time on the Day

THE FOOSA Does Not Like Her 'Lil Grumpy Santa Hat
I hope your holiday preparations went off without a hitch!
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Blogmas: Day 21 Favorite Winter Poem or Picture

I’ll be honest I have never read a Christmas poem that didn’t turn my stomach.  Almost without exception, Christmas poems harken back to a sweeter, more holy, bygone era that according to my own extensive historical research (Wikipedia) never existed.  Suck it, Clement Clark More: we all know you’ve been playing fast and loose with the facts!—kerchief my ass!

My distaste for Christmas verse aside, there are a wealth of wintery poems that should get more love at this time of year.  This poem from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, is a personal favorite and an underrated gem.  The Orpheus poems were inspired by the death of one of Rilke’s daughter’s friends and focus on love, loss, faith, and transformation.  Having lost someone very dear to me a few weeks ago, Rilke’s words in the follow sonnet have provided me a measure of comfort. 

Read on and enjoy.

The Sonnets To Orpheus: Book 2: XIII
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.

Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.

Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.

To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.

Blogmas: Day 20—Last Minute Gift Ideas—Gift Card Etiquette

With time at a premium this week, there is one failsafe gift that will quickly tick the final names off of your holiday shopping list—a gift card.   Though they are often maligned as a copout—either bought at the last minute or purchased for someone you feel socially obligated to “care” about—gift cards can be a thoughtful gift that demonstrates your appreciation for someone you love.  When you are about to purchase a gift card for a loved one, there are a few rules of thumb you should keep in mind.

Only get your loved one a gift card to a retailer they actually frequent.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not the thought that counts when giving someone a present.  If you give someone a card to a store they never visit, the implication is that you don’t know your loved one.  Getting an ill-conceived gift is almost as bad as not getting a gift at all.

If you are gifting electronically, gift generously.  As a rule of thumb, the more impersonal a gift is the more you should spend.  If you send your brother an Amazon electronic gift card on Christmas Day, it wouldn’t be tactful to give him just $25—you’ll appear to be cheap in addition forgetful.  Even if you bump the denomination up to $35, the implication is that you recognize how impersonal the gift is . . . so you’ve thrown in a few extra bucks so your brother can get an extra paperback.  Ditto if your gift is going to be late.

When in doubt, Target and Amazon are safe bets.  If you have no idea what kind of gift card to get your loved one, you can’t lose by getting a Target or Amazon card.  Your buying options are almost limitless from rather retailer, so you’ll be guaranteed that your loved one will find something they love.

What are your “rules of thumb” for gift card giving?  Let me know your guidelines in the comments.

Blogmas: Day 19-- Preparing for the 25th

Of all the holidays celebrated in the West, Christmas offers ample opportunities for failure with little hope for redemption.  With every major retailer closed on the 25th, small inconveniences become major disasters: if you have run out of butter, salt, or (worse) wine; if your child is having a meltdown because their new toy needs a 9-Volt battery that you do not have; or if you have forgotten to buy a gift for your least favorite sibling, you know the Christmas struggle.  If you plan ahead, however, your Christmas can be bomb without going nuclear (see what I did there?). 

Triple check all of your holiday meal components.  Look for every ingredient in every dish you are making; locate every item and physically check to make sure you have enough to get through Christmas and Boxing Day.  Remember: items like salt and butter run out quickly and they will be two of the central ingredients used to season your turkey. 

Check your prescription medications and make sure that they have been recently refilled; also, stow your prescriptions in a private place, out of the reach of sketchy relatives.  Many medical offices will be closed through the weekend and you may not be able to get the refills you need in a timely fashion.  Also, everyone has that uncle; keep your prescriptions and your valuables tucked away in a private and secure place until your relatives are waddling back to their respective homes.  Just saying . . .

Make sure your first aid kit is stocked.  Accidents happen.  Accidents frequently happen when your dad tries to jimmy together your nephew’s new bike with a butter knife. 

Make sure that you have enough booze to make it through the weekend.  You should always drink responsibly and ration your alcohol consumption throughout the holidays.  I recommend having at least one bottle per relative you cannot stand in your vino reserves.

Take an inventory of your presents.  Write a list of all the people you should have gotten presents for this year by the evening of the 23rd (today!).  Go to your solstice bush or your present hiding place and cross off people’s names as you locate their corresponding gift(s).  If you have inadvertently left someone out, create a gift buying plan for Christmas Eve.

Do your dirty laundry before airing your dirty laundry.  You don’t want a mountain of clothes or bed linens overwhelming you during an already stressful time of the year.  Also, you would be surprised at how relaxing a nice set of clear sheets can be after a long, stressful day.

Pre-bake your pies and sweets.  Because Christmas Day will be a busy affair, you should try to get as much of your baking done before “game day.”  You are less likely to forget about the cherry pie or sugar cookies in the oven on Christmas Eve than you are on Christmas Day . . . when children and screaming and your adult relatives are perfecting the familial equivalent of the neg.  It’s better to microwave day old pie than to set your kitchen on fire. 

Pre-roast your turkey.  If you brine your turkey, prep your bird tonight and roast it about two to three hours tomorrow.  If you’re not a brining kind of person, prepare your bird tomorrow and roast it for a couple of hours tomorrow.  Pre-roasting your turkey reduces the amount of time you will be in the kitchen on Christmas and it gives you more time to focus on not screwing up your side dishes. 

Schedule your last minute wrapping.  Fit your last minute wrapping around your other pre-Chrimbo chores.  I like to begin my wrapping with the larger gifts because I feel more accomplished for having wrapped them.  Go with the good feeling, I say!

Do you have any last minute holiday planning advice?  Share your helpful hints in the comments.

Blogmas: Day 18—Small Treat Ideas for Loved Ones

When it comes time for the festive season, the proverbial devil is in the details.  You can remember to buy your loved one the PRESENT OF THE CENTURY and then undermine the whole endeavor by forgetting to fill their stocking (or “solstice leggings,” if you prefer).  As the hours until “C-Day” tick away, here are some no-fuss, easy-to-source “treat” ideas under $50 to make your last hosiery-filling a breeze.  

Keep in mind that many of the selections I have listed for various age and gender groups would work for anyone . . . just use your discretion and knowledge of your loved ones guide your selections.  All of the items below can be located in stores near your own home using the "Pick Up in Store" options on each retailer's site.

For the Men in Your Life

For the Women in Your Life

For the Teenage Girl in Your Life

For the Teenage Boy in Your Life

For the Children in Your Life

For the Infants/ Toddlers in Your Life

What do you still have left to buy this holiday season?  Let me know in the comments below.
Monday, December 22, 2014

Blogmas Day 17: Winter in My Family/ Culture

The winter time is always a fraught time for me.  My parents come from two different cultural traditions and neither was ever insistent on my accepting one tradition over the other.  So, come December, I don’t have a holiday tradition that feels 100% my own.  Instead, I celebrate an amalgam of winter festivals—Sinterklaas, Hanukkah, [Christ]mas, Boxing Day—in an effort to negotiate my cultural intersections. 

For my American audience, especially my high school students, Sinterklaas is the holiday topic that is raises the most questions.  I thought I would focus this post on the holiday.  

Sinterklaas (December 5) is a holiday in the Netherlands and Belgium where St. Nicholas visits houses and brings good children gifts and sweets.  Depending on where your family is from, Sinterklaas has a progressive discipline plan for ne’er do wells than can either be mildly frightening to straight-up terrifying. 

My maternal family is from the Dutch provinces of North and South Holland and I’ve always been told that the first year you misbehave Sinterklaas won’t give you any gifts and will only leave you a lump of coal as a warning.  The next year, if you still haven’t gotten your act together, Sinterklaas will either pull you out of bed and beat you up or pretend to beat you up in an effort to scare you straight.  Sometimes, Sinterklaas’s sidekick (or sidekicks), Zwarte Piet (Zwarte Pieten—plural— if you live in a region where Sinter has an entourage) will do the big guy’s dirty work.  For those little sociopaths who are horrible three years in a row, Sinter and Piet will beat you up, shove you in their magic sack, and drag you back to their castle in Spain where you will have to do hard labor making toys in order to earn your freedom. 

From the time Sinter and Piet come to the Netherlands in late November, preparing for delivery day, Dutch children are on guard: no one wants to piss off Sinterklaas and find themselves involved in white slavery.  It is not uncommon to see a crowd of Dutch children following Sinterklaas around at a public appearance, but taking care to give him a wide berth and to not make a sound.  When you’re Dutch you learn three things: 1.) How to swim, the country is below sea level; 2.) How to skate, for when the canals freeze over and you need to go on a midwinter’s burrito run; and 3.) Stay out of kicking range of otherwise benevolent, gift-giving saints. 

Interestingly, it isn’t this legacy of child abuse that has run Sinterklaas afoul of many contemporary Dutch parents: it’s Zwarte Piet.  For those of you who don’t know Dutch or German, “Zwarte Piet” translates to “Black Pete.”  The story goes that Piet is a Moor that Sinter met in Spanish prison back in the day; the two connected over torture and gift giving and formed a bromance that exists to this day.  In pantomimes, Piet has often been portrayed by a white person in black face, which is as unsettling as it sounds and has (thankfully) fallen out of favor in many regions.  Even the Dutch prime minister, weighed in cringingly on the issue earlier this year.

Personally, I think the image of Zwarte Piet is deeply offensive and I don’t think “tradition” is a strong enough reason to continue this aspect of the Sinterklaas festival.  Sinterklaas is a fictional character; there is no reason why the festival cannot be reshaped to reflect the Netherlands’ pluralistic society. 

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.