winter yule

Hark! Yule is here

I’m just about to head out into the Seattle night to watch the sun rise. Those of you who regularly read this blog understand my mixed feelings about this holiday.

On the one hand, yay winter solstice. Bring on the snow! No, wait. Bring on the snow after I’ve returned to New Hampshire on December 26th. Then, snow, snow, snow! Jingle bells, and hot cocoa and ho ho ho and all that winter wonderland stuff. I live in New England for a reason, friends, and it’s because the changing of the seasons — particularly the cooler ones — fills me with joy. So winter, welcome!

Bundled up and rosy-cheeked

And then there’s the other hand…

The winter solstice is the longest night of the year. Prior to the invention of electricity, extended darkness was not a pleasant experience. Cold had to be fought with firewood and peat. The falling temps and lack of light kept people homebound and had a detrimental effect on their moods. To counteract this, many cultures celebrated Yule on this day with religious and secular activities, such as lighting the Yule log, decorating homes and trees, placing candles in the windows, kissing under the mistletoe and feasting.

I follow many of these traditions, and like the druids at Stonehenge, I also take the time to go outside and begrudgingly acknowledge the coming of the light. Yes, the sun is required to make others happy. And yes, we need sunlight to grow plants and flowers and food. But as someone who prefers darkness to light and moonlight to the day’s vicious glare, I curse a destiny of longer days and extended solar illumination. Yule also marks the coming end of the holiday season, and since this is my favorite time of year, I can feel melancholy looming on the horizon like a January sunrise.

Ah well, nothing to be done for it. Time to head out, watch Ra’s return and to make the most of the holiday time we have left. In between shifts at work and flights home, I shall enjoy my time with family and friends, open presents, eat, drink and be merry. May you also have the pleasure of such Yuletide activities.

(Photo by Andrew Mayovskyy)

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Books

My top 10 favs of 2014: A year spent reading and watching some truly intriguing stories

This year, I consumed 48 books, 37 movies and numerous TV programs. Herein are my favorites.

(Note: Not all were released during the past 365 days.)

MY FAVORITE BOOKS
 

1. “One Summer: America, 1927″ by Bill Bryson
2. “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker
3. “Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It by Studs Terkel
4. “The Yoga Store Murder: The Shocking True Account of the Lululemon Athletica Killing” by Dan Morse
5. “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King
6. “Altitude Sickness” by Litsa Dremousis
7. “Revival” by Stephen King
8. “As You Wish” by Cary Elwes
9. “I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day” by Lu Ann Cahn
10. “Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig

(Honorable mentions: “Thank You, Mr. President: A White House Notebook” by A. Merriman Smith, “Love Life” by Rob Lowe, “City Room” by Arthur Gelb, “Lexicon” by Max Berry, “Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys” by Billy Crystal, “10,000 Steps Blueprint – The Daily Walking Habit For Healthy Weight Loss and Lifelong Fitness” by S.J. Scott, and “Die Trying” by Lee Child)

MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS
 

1. Supernatural
2. Leverage
3. Person of Interest
4. The Americans
5. The Good Wife
6. Grimm
7. White Collar
8. CSI: NY
9. The Following
10. House of Cards

(Honorable mentions: NCIS, Castle, Haven, Chuck, Forever, Once Upon A Time, Sleepy Hollow, Covert Affairs and Agents of Shield)

 

MY FAVORITE MOVIES
 

1. About Time
2. That Guy…Who Was In That Thing
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
4. John Wick
5. The Impossible
6. The Hundred-Foot Journey
7. Chef
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
9. Saving Mr. Banks
10. Page One

(Honorable mentions: The Monuments Men, Interstellar, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Dracula: Untold, Maleficent and Edge of Tomorrow)

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Christmas presents

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things This Year

The holidays are here again, and everyone is crazy busy. My shopping is done for the year — as usual I finished early — but if you’re still looking for that perfect gift, let me offer a few suggestions, à la Oprah. Dear readers, these are a few of my favorite things:

tea kettle

FOR THE TEA DRINKER: Melitta 40994 1.7-Liter Kettle

Our last electric tea kettle, a perfectly serviceable Proctor Silex started to die in January. M picked up this new kettle after reading some excellent reviews and I certainly put it through the paces. Unlike our last kettle, the Melitta can fill two large mugs of tea and still have hot water to spare.

rose ring

FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES AFFORDABLE, YET BEAUTIFUL JEWELRY: The Rose and Petal 925 Sterling Silver Ring

I decided to upgrade my look this year, and since we were saving for a house, I focused on accessories. This ring was my favorite item.

garlic peeler

FOR THE GADGET GURU: Zak Designs E-Z-Rol Garlic Peeler

This gadget is so easy to use! Just pop in a garlic clove, roll and voila! All of the sticky paper is removed. For just $5, you’ll never have to deal with the odor of garlic on your hands again. Best of all, it’s dishwasher-safe. Also comes in festive red and green.

paprika

FOR THE COOK: Paprika Recipe Manager

For years I have searched for ways to collect all of my online recipes in one place. After trying archived emails, PDFs and numerous apps, I finally discovered Paprika. With this app, you can “organize your recipes, make meal plans and create grocery lists.” It’s a very handy tool and one that you can use on a Mac or PC, iPhone or Android, iPad, Kindle Fire or Nook.

K&H Thermo-Pet Mat

FOR THE PET LOVER: K&H Thermo-Pet Mat

I bought two of these mats last spring for my eldest cats because their old bones just couldn’t take the cold anymore. The mats were so popular that I decided to pick up two more in the fall. I’m now the most popular kitty mom around. One small note: If you do end up buying one, cover the mat with an old pillowcase. This will make cleanup super easy.

Signare Tapestry Handbag

FOR THE FASHIONISTA: Signare Tapestry Handbag

Big enough to carry everything you need, compact enough to not look like you’re Mary Poppins. More importantly, this purse is sturdy, which as most women can attest, is not always the case with bags in this price range.

As you wish

FOR THE LONGTIME FAN OF “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”: “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride” by Cary Elwes

Elwes, who played Westley in the film, has penned a wonderful behind-the-scenes book about this cult classic. While I have no doubt the print/ebook versions are great, I highly recommend the audiobook to hear Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, William Goldman, Norman Lear, Carol Kane, Andy Scheinman and Rob Reiner share their favorite stories about the making of the movie. M and I listened to “As You Wish” in the car over several weeks and had a blast.

i dare me

FOR THE ADVENTUROUS, OR AIM-TO-BE-MORE ADVENTUROUS: “I Dare Me: How I Rebooted And Recharged My Life By Doing Something New Every Day” by Lu Ann Cahn

This is a compilation of Cahn’s many fun and daring “firsts” — activities she’d never tried or hadn’t tried in about a decade. I decided to give it a whirl and this year I enjoyed quite a few interesting experiences. I avoided saying anything negative for a whole day, bought a rubber stamp that symbolizes me, figured out a way to eat, and like, brussels sprouts, got chased by zombies, had a letter-boxing adventure, became a vegetarian for a day, studied French, took piano lessons, took sign language lessons, shared a migraine photo, revealed my Oscar predictions, sounded a barbaric yawp in public, spent a whole day without looking in a mirror, stood up for a cause I believed in, took classes in astrobiology, the nature of terrorism, social media and archaeology, took care of someone after surgery, tried a fondue dinner and used a Youtube video to learn a new skill.

fitdesk

FOR THE PERSON RESOLVING TO BE HEALTHIER IN 2015: FitDesk v. 2.0

I picked up a FitDesk as a Valentine’s Day gift for my husband and ended up using it more than he did. Not only is the bike easy to ride, the desk part allows me to work while I do it (or more to the point distracts me while I do it).

Zombies Run

FOR THE PERSON WHO WANTS TO STAY HEALTHY BUT HATES TO WORK OUT: Zombies, Run!

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I love this app. The game’s tagline says it all: Get fit. Escape zombies. Become a hero. If you haven’t tried it yet, give it a shot. It’s great fun.

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Brat Child

La Reine Est Morte. Vive La Reine!

In the midst of grief, I’m unable to properly sum up the life of Brat Child.

Let’s just say she always made an impression.

Born Noel Ellena in 1997, Brat Child Walker Weir was adopted by my best friend Amy on Christmas. When Ames died two years later, I took in Brat Child and her sister Buddha (née Lily) and silently promised to make them feel safe and loved for the rest of their lives. Although I have cared for them longer than Ames did, in my mind, they were always her cats as well as my own.

Brat Child came by her name honestly (via former stepfather John Rodgers), which is to say she was a bit of a terror. Whether she was beating up our dog Duncan like a clawless prizefighter or fending off sneak attacks by everyone else, Brat Child always managed to cause havoc. She liked to lie in my lap, for as long as it suited her, and would crawl into it even if there was another cat already present. If Brat Child was there first, however, beware!

Brat Child loved eating tuna (but only from her own plate and not with those heathens we insisted on adopting), drinking from water fountains, hanging out on my shoulder while I worked, blithely stretching on the dining room table even though she knew full well she wasn’t supposed to, sleeping bonelessly (and sometimes falling off her bed/perch), stepping onto M’s laptop keyboard while trying to jockey for a better position in his lap, luxuriating in warm patches of sunlight or near heated radiators, kneading people’s jugular veins and resting on top of my desk chair. But her favorite activity was wraithing (see video below), a unique fighting game that involved rough-housing and making growling car engine noises.

What I’ll remember most about Brat Child was not her bratty demeanor or insistence on being the matriarch of our home. It was how how sweetly she loved and how loudly she’d purr when comfortable or triumphant. She was a champion cuddler, particularly during winter months, and while her “requests” for lovin’ were more like demands, I enjoyed every encounter.

At 17 years old, Brat Child was Ouiser Boudreaux from “Steel Magnolias,” Yzma from “The Emperor’s New Groove” and the Brain of “Pinky and the Brain.” Her Napoleonic dictates were the stuff of legend in our household, and her firm belief that she was born to rule the world seemed to appeal to all seven of her Twitter followers.

When, like her first mother, Brat Child’s kidneys started to fail, she took the decline in stride. So much so that M and I foolishly convinced ourselves that she would live forever. Alas, it was not meant to be. Brat Child died this morning with her loving parents by her side. Thanks to a kindly veterinarian, she died bravely.

Brat Child

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Knives

Culinarian Or The Next Jack The Ripper?

“A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen.” –Masaharu Morimoto

I like knives. From the wee sgian-dubh to the gigantic claymore, I’m drawn to this cutting-edge weapon (get it? Cutting edge? Ok, I’ll stop.)

Put a knife in a killer’s hand and he instantly becomes more terrifying. But in the hand of a skilled cook, a knife is an appliance, a utensil, and only occasionally, a weapon.

Although knives — plus a healthy dose of anger — will surely make mincemeat out of any intruder, I’m far more likely to utilize them in the kitchen. The chef’s knife, the paring knife, the bread knife, these are the tools I use on a daily basis to make and bake nearly all of our meals.

When I’m cutting food during prep, I enter a zen-like state. The music of the blade slicing through the fruit or veg and brushing against the surface of my board only adds to the sounds of boiling water, clattering silverware, closing cabinets, sizzling entrees, timer buzzes and banging pots and pans.

This year, I received two chef’s knives for my birthday: a Victorinox which was created in Ibach, Switzerland, and a beautiful blade made of Toledo steel that M brought home from Spain. Well-made and well-reviewed, these wickedly sharp knives lack any fancy decoration, which is fine by me; they’re meant for work, not meant for show. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I have every intention of putting them to good use.

(Photo by Eans)

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