Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frivolity and festivities.

Quickie recap before I go into a food coma:

Matt and I had our own private Christmas where I got to give him his t-shirt and sweater (not exciting) and his CDs (total triumph, as he loved them all and couldn't believe I found them for him). He got to give me my slippers and wallet and a couple of things I asked for.

We also opened the stuff from my family and I am pretty excited about some of it. I got a pair of Felco pruners that I have been wanting forever, and I can't wait for some decent weather to try them out! Got the calendar of kid pictures from my sister and a Work Mate from my dad (I was hoping for a sander but this looks pretty useful in the tool/garage category). I also got some books I am pleased about - Three Men in a Boat (not to mention the dog), The Judgement of Paris (about the rise of Impressionism), and a Dave Lieberman cookbook (I like that guy's style, I have another of his books and it is great). It was quite a haul, so it was good we did it separately from the presents with the in-laws or it would have been out of control. I tipped my parents off so they got him music DVDs and sheet music he has been wanting, so he did pretty darn well too.

Wednesday night was cioppino night at Matt's parents house and a late night church gig for the Christmas Eve service. Nice and festive with singing and lighting candles. I then went home and passed out.

Thursday, Xmas morning started around 10:30. I made a dutch baby and some bacon and put out fruit and pastries and whipped cream. We opened presents and spent most of the morning watching my little niece open each of her presents and want to play with it instead of opening more presents. The biggest hits were a little Golden book version of Finding Nemo (she calls him Meemo) and a ball with puppies on it. Possibly both from the Dollar store. So much for my fancy book, I thought it would be a hit because it's about a little dog. But Meemo is the man of the hour.

Everybody came back for Christmas dinner - traditional turkey with everything, and an apple pie for dessert. I passed out around 11. In-laws are nice and friends will always bring a dish, but I need to get these people trained to do dishes!

Friday was the epic couch quest. We went to five furniture stores in the morning, most of them were empty and every one was having a super sale. Matt and I disagreed extensively on how much we were willing to sacrifice comfort for looks, and vice versa. This was misery so we broke for lunch. We went to three more stores after lunch before finally reaching success at the La-Z-Boy store. We got a couch that is relatively clean-lined and attractive, but the sneaky part of it is, it has built-in recliners that you would never know are there. It is reasonably priced after the Christmas blow-out deal we got and we can sell the old one for a couple hundred bucks. When it shows up I will post a picture. It was slightly more than we wanted to spend but the quality was clearly much higher and we both love it, which is an accomplishment in itself. Friday night friends stopped by and we watched Casino Royale and had leftovers and did nothing on the couch, and that was plenty.

Today I snuck off to do a surgical strike on the sales at the fancy mall on the far side of town. I returned/exchanged a couple of things and then found a pair of pants and some pillow covers for the old throw pillows that are going to go on the new couch. All on super sale and really nice quality. Also checked out some of the ornaments and the star I was coveting on the Potterybarn website. They were kind of junky so I was glad I forbore from splurging on them before the holidays (I didn't even get them on sale). I can find a star next Christmas. There's no rush.

And tonight was hot pot at my sister-in-law's house. It's a little bit like fondue but you don't cook stuff in straight oil, it's an oily, very spicy broth. You do meat and noodles and mushrooms and potatoes and fish balls and then you dip them in a sesame paste sauce and it is AWESOME.

So now I have to go tip over into my food coma. And possibly never shop again. Or eat.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Feeling Festive.

So this is my first tree. Not bad, I say (although it does seem a bit hard to see in the photo). Some of the ornaments were from my grandmother, others from my sister, others from the Cost Plus sale rack (a very good deal). Lights and garlands are from a holiday-obsessed friend with spares. You can't really tell, but the lights are all red. So I call it the Satan tree. It works for now but eventually I would like LED lights that are colored, they don't use much energy and I grew up with colored lights so this solid color thing is new to me. Also it looks like I will be waiting until the after Christmas sales to get a star. Because the star needs to be right. Can't stick just anything up there. So I can be patient. A little bit patient. At least I have a tree, and it's a very nice tree. Especially for my first tree of my very own.

Here is my unqualified success of a Christmas amaryllis. People ask me if it's fake, it is so unbelievably awesome. If you look closely the flowers look like they have glitter on them. That's right, my flowers sparkle. No joke. It is awesome.

The past couple of days have really put me in the Christmas spirit. Thursday my band went and played Christmas carols at old folks homes, we did sing-alongs and whatnot and they seemed very pleased to see us. Then Friday night we crashed a cookie exchange and ate a bunch of free Christmas cookies. Saturday we drove to California for a family Christmas party. These guys are professionals. Every square inch of the house is decorated and there are things that light up and sing and blink and do all sorts of stuff. So it is inspiring and also brings me down to earth a bit. I am not in Sandy's league. She is the decorating queen and there is no need for me to go to that extent (unless I want to, of course). And not for my first Christmas.

And tonight was band practice for our Christmas eve church gig, we get to do all the nice songs that people don't know the words to (no Rudolph this time). So I am feeling properly festive now!

AND, remember how I was saying I needed people to be festive with? My in-laws are less festive than I am so it has boiled down to them doing Christmas eve dinner with family and friends, me doing Christmas morning with only family and then me also doing Christmas dinner with family and friends. That means breakfast for six (I get to make my Dutch Baby after all!) and dinner for 10 (turkey and apple pie, nice and traditional and not too fancy). I'll probably post more about the meal later, with recipes and probably not pictures (I forget to take them when cooking projects are occurring).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review Time!

My sister took me to see Australia last night as a thank you for babysitting Saturday night. And mostly because she really wanted an excuse to see it. Now I have to say, I am a Baz Luhrmann fan, I loved Moulin Rouge and have finally realized I need to own Strictly Ballroom. It is very much a Luhrmann film, he has a very distinctive style and there are elements that I would probably not tolerate from any other director, but here they have an element of familiarity that makes them acceptable. It is basically two movies, an epic adventure of underdog ranchers racing to get a herd of cattle across a particularly nasty stretch of Australia, followed by a war movie with a bit of race relations included as miss Kidman is trying to adopt a 1/2 Aboriginal child who the local whites want sent to the mission to "breed the black out of 'em" (apparently standard operating procedure until the early 70's, he threw a little historical bit in there too). So basically, as I am a Luhrmann fan, I loved his love letter to OZ and tolerated his quirks (and NK's stiff face) because it was a gorgeous film of epic proportions and I didn't mind that it was nearly three hours long because it was DARN good in the end.

Also, I'm glad I saw it on a big screen, and now I want to go to Australia.

Review #2: Flashman, by George MacDOnald Fraser, the first in The Flashman Papers, a humorous retelling of the epic adventures of a total cad in the late 1830's-early 1840's. This was a heck of a read, I finished it in two days because I wanted to know what happened. However, old Flashy is a hell of a character to follow, I probably will end up taking a break before reading another one of these. It is a hell of a story starting with his getting kicked out of school and joining the military, to his being sent to first India and then Afghanistan where he has some pretty spectacular adventures and ends up perpetually profiting (not intentionally) from the misery and/or heroism of others. Basically he gets his ass saved a lot and a lot of acclaim for his nonexistent heroics. This makes for a fantastic story but after a while I got kind of sick of him as a character (although there is a clever little twist at the ending which I loved). Basically, I enjoyed the heck out of it but I need to read some palate cleansers before I start on the next one (and there are several more).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I am terrible at titles.

So hmm. This was quite a weekend. The Christmas party Friday night was not as planned, but ended up being lovely anyways. Lots of people came but some of them were over an hour early, which changed the vibe a bit. The people who came, all brought food, and a lot of the random people I was worried about Matt inviting didn't show, so I ended up with more food than I started with. This is complicated only because it seems to be predominantly cookies or dips. All good stuff, but still, not exactly the easiest stuff to use up. We missed some people but some of the more dramatic people didn't show up too so in general it was a happy crowd.

We made cider, and it was a huge success. Basically we bought a bunch of Knudsen's Cider and Spice apple juice and poured it in one of those big coffee-maker carafe things with a spigot on the front. The we poured in some apple brandy. It was perfect. Also, self-serve. I just had to refill periodically. Still have some of both left...

Being up until 2:30 Friday night led to a day of complete unproductivity yesterday - slept in WAY later than I usually do and pretty much just watched Dr. Who on the couch until about 5, and then went to my sister's to babysit (I am such a nice sister, and my nephew is pretty entertaining/adorable to boot).

Today, I went to the library and got my first batch of new books that I put on hold - we begin with the first Flashman novel, The Moonstone (Collins), Jane Eyre, and Bel Canto (Patchett). The next hold list includes (so far) The Master and Margarita, and Devil in the White City. The local library has a great website where you can not only reserve and renew books online, the hold has a date function so basically I can say "put this book on hold for me, but not for two weeks", so nothing new comes in until I put a dent in the current pile. This is definitely a good start on the new book bandwagon (although I still need some decent fluff for bathtub reading). Thanks everyone for all your great suggestions!

I also broke down and ordered some stuff from the J Crew sale, which I am trying to avoid doing. So here's hoping! It was too good of a deal and some of my favorite shirts were down to $7 a pop so I am crossing my fingers because I also ordered a sweater, and they are so nice but the sizing varies annoyingly. So I've got my fingers crossed.

And it is supposed to snow tonight. I do like snow, I just hope the drive to work tomorrow a.m. isn't too nasty.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Looking for suggestions...

I had a really nice coffee date with my buddy Victor last night. We hung out at the coffee shop until it closed and then went and got a margarita (Matt had band practice at the house). He is a movie buff so we spent a lot of time discussing movies, books, and his screenplay, among other things. This helped me realize something:

I need something to read. I have been alternating between reading classics, and reading fluff. This is partially because I have had bad luck with the last few classics I have picked and needed some fluff to get the bad taste out of my head. I LOVE to read but I am getting pickier in my old age and I need some fresh stuff now.

Here's a sampler for context:

one of my favorite books of ALL TIME is the Count of Monte Cristo. It is so fascinatingly complex and interwoven but the characters are so well drawn and I have never rooted for a disturbed semi-hero like I root for Edmond Dantes every time I read this book. Which is about once a year now.

Also in this annual re-read category is Cold Comfort Farm (also possibly Kate Beckinsale's best movie ever, this translated surprisingly well to the screen and was brilliantly cast - I love you Joanna Lumley!), a clever little 1930's satire.

Another in this annual re-read category is American Gods. I grew up obsessed with world mythologies and this book is a smorgasbord of some of the best bits, shoehorned into an epic story of, not good vs. evil, but old gods (Loki, Thor and Anubis, among others) vs. new gods (manifestations of modern life and things like technology - media, the internet).

A possible new addition to this category that bridges the classic/fluff designations is Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day. I thought this was adorable and I loved the writing. This is the kind of fluff I am looking for now.

I am looking for something new. It doesn't have to immediately join the annual re-read list but of the last couple of books I have read there have been a couple that I just put down as I decided they weren't worth my time to finish.

The last couple of classics I have read were The Scarlet Letter and Vanity Fair. Of TSL I have to say I enjoyed the language because I am a Hawthorne fan, but I wanted to punch every single character. That book does not translate well into the modern era for me. Vanity Fair started out ok, but similar to TSL, I lost patience with the complete lack of sympathetic characters (Becky Sharp starts out as interesting, at least, but just turns into a repeating caricature, and I just stopped caring about Amelia by the end, she is really a damp sock of a character). I think I need to stay away from writers who got paid by the word for a while.

Jane Eyre has been heartily recommended but it keeps being checked out when I go to the library. Instead I read all of the Jasper Fforde novels starting with the Eyre Affair and was highly amused. But he hasn't written much since then and I need some suggestions! Anyone, anyone?

P.S. now I can't remember who blogged it, but per someone's great review I think I am getting Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) for Christmas...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday listening post.

Talk about aging fucking gracefully. I was channel surfing the other night and mocking the AMAs (American Music Awards). Then they brought out Annie Lennox. Talk about class. That woman is amazing. She is an activist that I can get behind (I'm looking at you, Bono). And a brilliant musician. With the Eurythmics or solo, I love that woman. She is who the girls of today should be looking up to. Miley Cyrus, this is what you should be aspiring to, not Britney or Madonna-dom.

At the AMAs, showing how it's done. NOT lip syncing, not using AutoTune (the program that most popsters use to make sure they're singing in tune and without heart/soul).

This one won't embed. But it is awesome too. Spend some time on youtube - the woman does amazing videos, and embedding seems to be turned off on most of them. Sigh.

This is a Bob Marley song.

Even when she's singing "I need a man" she still is less demeaning to women than those little chickie-poos that I do my damndest to avoid in modern pop. How does she do it? I would post about twenty videos on here if I could but I hate piling up a bunch of links.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lunchtime update

So the Christmas plan is still in flux. We will be here, but have two invites for Christmas Day dinner and no plans for Christmas morning. I am guessing we will crash the brother and sister-in-law's so we can see the wee one open her presents. I am volunteering for Christmas Eve dinner, which is not a Lucchesi tradition so I'm not derailing any plans. But what I WANT is people to cook for on Christmas morning so I can make a (Farnady tradition) Dutch Baby. Sigh.

The plan (well, my plan) is to go get a tree this weekend. We have friends with lots of spare lights and garlands and the in-laws think they have a tree stand we can use. This cuts down quite a bit on the decorating $$. I picked up some ornaments while I was home for Thanksgiving and inherited some from my grandmother when she heard I was going to have a tree for the first time. So all I need is a tree and a star (doesn't that sound like a song lyric? or maybe all I need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by).

I want to get the decorating done this weekend because we are having a Christmas party next weekend! Can you tell that I like feeding people? I wish I could invite you all! Among other things, I will be attempting to make mulled wine and these just because they are gorgeous.