Monday, December 19, 2011


There are some people (read: my brother Shane) who are all about traditions.  Eating certain meals on certain days, hanging decorations in the same places every year - doing things that your people have done before you and that your progeny will continue after you're gone.  I don't quite buy into that, nor do I eschew it altogether.  I guess my strategy is something of a hybrid, picking and choosing those traditions worth carrying on, and leaving others behind in the dust.

During the holiday season, though, more of my old family traditions tend to rear their heads than at other times of the year.  Here are some of my favorites, ones that I hope that the Bug and the Bunny will carry on themselves:

  • Cookies.  I don't have much of a sweet tooth.  I don't buy cookies (or other treats) on a regular basis, and I only make them when one of my kids has a birthday or a school obligation.  But I love making - and eating - Christmas cookies.  But I have a half dozen Christmas cookie recipes from three of my four great-grandmothers, and I make three or four kinds each year.  I think it's so neat that the recipes that my great-grands never even needed to measure out still make the best cookies in town.
  • Advent calendar.  We had one that looked like this when I was a kid, and when the Bug was born my mother found a seamstress who could make one for us.  The girls love pulling the ornaments out of the pockets and finding a place for them on the tree, and the Bug counts down the days until Christmas after each morning's ritual.  Here's hoping there are still people who can sew when my girls are ready to start families of their own!

  • Family.  I love spending time with family over the holidays - from our extended family's annual Christmas party pot-luck, to Christmas Eve at my Grandma Jan's house (where, if you were ever curious, I learned that gin is the better spirit to add to a bloody mary), to the full-day eating affair we fondly refer to as "Christmas."  I don't much care if the venue, the meal and even the participants rotate, but I care very much that I spend time with family.
  • Photo Christmas cards.  Yeah, they can be cheesy (trust me - we've gotten some doozies over the years), but I love them.  I love receiving them, and I send them myself.  We just don't see our friends and their kids often enough - the cards are a simple way to follow the goings-on of people in our lives.
I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some of the big ones, but this is what came to mind today.  Hope you're having the merriest of holiday seasons!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Great Expectations

So I've had a tough time finding a rhythm for reading and reviewing.  We moved, then I was finishing my twin nephews' stockings... excuses, excuses.  But now I am again gainfully employed (more on that soon), the stockings are done and I think I will be able to be back in a groove.  May not be the frequency of prior years, but no more 3-months-between-book-reviews bullshit.  Promise.
I had very modest expectations about Great Expectations, a classic by Charles Dickens that I have not heard of anyone reading outside of high school English classes.  I'd read A Tale of Two Cities as a sophomore in high school, and I hated it.  My impression of Dickens was that his books became classics because he was old and British, and he'd written the impressively bizarre and dark A Christmas Carol along with some other old British crap.  Well, apologies to your memory, Mr. Dickens.  Your other books are bizarre and dark and kinda hilarious, too.

The book begins with the back story of our narrator and protagonist Pip, whose first and last names are not really relevant.  Orphaned at a young age, he's been raised by his sister (who pretty much resents him) and her husband Joe (who is pretty much bullied by his wife).  He ends up being forced to assist a felon with the completion of his escape by providing the convict with a file and a parcel of food.  This memory tortures Pip, who sees his convict in every shadow.  After a subsequent run-in with the same convict, Pip doesn't hear from him again.

Several years after this misadventure, Pip finds himself befriended rather mysteriously by the (totally insane) Miss Havisham, an elderly-ish woman of indeterminate age, who dresses in her one-time wedding dress with all clocks in her mansion eternally reading the time of her being left at the altar.  Pip becomes enamored with the somewhat unexplained Estella, has a run-in with a young gentleman who tries unsuccessfully to kick his ass, meets a whole pile of strangers who hate his guts.  And ultimately, he learns that he has been left a fortune by an unnamed benefactor.

Not to give away the story - it's quite compelling and takes several very unexpected turns - but Pip goes to London to live out his great expectations.  Hence, the title.  He meets a number of dark and maybe-evil supporting characters, and nothing that happens early in the book should be forgotten.  I'm not going to go as far as to call this one "highly recommended", but I will certainly not shy away from more Dickens in my future.

Next up: Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian novelist Per Petterson.  It was released in English translation in 2007 and appears on quite a few best-of lists for that year. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Key West: you should totally go there

Sunset from Mallory Pier
First, a huge thank you to Mima and Boppie for watching the girls last week so that Joker and I could get away to Key West, Florida.  We couldn't have done it without your help, and the girls both thought that THEY were the ones on vacation... worked out perfectly for us!

We met two other couples down there for a weekend of eating, drinking, sunshine, laughs and a couple of trips under the water.  And the city didn't disappoint - we had a wonderful time!  What a treat to spend the weekend with friends we don't see often enough!

There are so many reasons that Key West is one of our favorite repeat destinations.  It is an easy trip from the east coast (though not so much from Denver), it's a walking-friendly town, the seafood is fresh and plentiful and it's a great party scene.  The people are laid-back and friendly.  The sun is shining and the sunsets are breathtaking.  There are a few cool shipwrecks to dive.  And there are sometimes pirates.

Sunset from The Top, the highest point in KW

Just after the sun has set, from The Top

Halloween meets Christmas... meets pink lawn flamingos

And it's quirky.  The biggest party of the year is Fantasy Fest, which is the week leading up to Halloween.  From what we hear, the town turns out its crazy and visitors flock from all over the place.  Last weekend was the Christmas parade and there were already decorations aplenty. (Including a few houses which seemed to just throw red and green lights on top of the existing Halloween decorations.  As I said, it's quirky.)