Category Archives: Christmas

New Old, Same Old

At this time of year, there are lots of people taking assessments of the previous year and planning adjustments for the coming one. Initially, I had been resisting that urge, but as I’ve given it some thought, I realize that there are some reflections worth noting now, whether it is the start of a new year or just a new day.

This Christmas was a really good one for me, and also a very hard one, which is just to say that I had to work really hard to make it good. But I did it, and I’m glad. One of the things I did was go to church for the midnight service on Christmas Eve. I haven’t been to church in a very long time, mainly because I’m not exactly the world’s most religious person. Spiritual, yes. Religious… not really. But this year I think I wanted a little push in the right direction, to wake up the spirit in me.

One of the things the pastor talked about was this idea of pure joy, and the fact that it’s one of those things that is only accomplished when we find ways to fill up the God-sized hole left in us when we’re born. His message was that God fills this hole up for us, and that the birth of Jesus was his Christmas gift to us. (By way of disclosure, this is all just my interpretation of his sermon, but honestly, my point is less in what he actually said and more in how it moved me.) I sat there thinking about it, honestly feeling a bit disappointed. Because I’ve done the church thing, and I’ve really believed in Jesus and tried to let him fill that hole for me. And you know what happened? I inspired a lot of people while my hole just got bigger. There were many nights I showed up to church completely drunk, led worship, had people coming up to me saying how inspired they were, and then slipped off to the graveyard behind the church to sob because no one could see how empty (and positively wasted) I was.

So what does that mean? Did I pray wrong? Do I not believe enough? Am I the exception? This was not the Christmas message I was hoping to get.

But I’ve given it some thought, and I think that maybe not everybody finds God in a church. There are other things that fill me up in the way God fills up our pastor. Things like going on a long hike up a mountain and sitting at the top, enjoying the silence in the clouds and an incredible view. Or the thrill of riding a really fast roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane. Or creating something – a short story, a photograph, a knitting project, a drawing. Traveling to places I’ve never seen before, getting to know and understand a new culture, visiting old friends. Helping people. These things are my church, and even though I know they fill me up, I let them go, every day, in the name of Routine.

I read this blog post last week and it really inspired me, especially the last paragraph:

For me this year in 2011 I am going to focus on what it means to live this life. To be alive. I want to reinvent what living means to me.

And I think that’s what I want, too. I don’t want to change who I am, or lose weight, or find my way from point a to point b (though those things would be nice side effects). I want to find ways to augment the things in my life that fill me up.

There are specific things I’ve come up with to accomplish this. I don’t know if I’ll follow through on them all, but the beauty is that I don’t have to do these specific things. It could be anything that accomplishes the same goal. But here goes, because lists are a nice way to look and see what specific accomplishments have been made.

  • I joined the Appalachian Mountain Club and plan to attend their backpacking seminar so that Billy and I can go on our first backpacking trip ever this spring, summer, or fall.
  • I filled out an application to volunteer for Free Arts NYC, which will allow me to work with underprivileged kids on art as a way of coping with life.
  • Billy and I are hoping to go to meet Siggi and Brett in Germany this summer, so I’ve been attempting to learn German on my own. So far I’ve gotten to where I can say to Billy, “Du bist ein affe!”
  • I’m thinking about writing a book. This is actually a really huge undertaking, and I’m not positive it’s something I really want to tackle right now, but I’m thinking about it, and I’m saying I’m thinking about it. That’s a good first step for now, I think.

So is this a turning point, as we turn the page from 2010 to 2011? I don’t know. Probably not. I think all of life is about little turning points and big ones, and they don’t always coincide with the numbers on the calendar. But it’s probably as good a reason as any to think about it, and so here we are.


A few notes about my holiday playlist

I created a holiday party playlist for a party I went to recently, and as I was listening to it I realized that some of the selections were, shall we say, a little nontraditional. But I stand by my choices. Want to know more about The Best Holiday Playlist Ever Made? Here you go. Just remember, you asked for it.

“All the Way,” by Billie Holiday: Well, the answer’s in the artist’s name. Plus, when is Billie Holiday ever NOT appropriate?
“Angel,” by Sarah McLachlan: I don’t know about you, but at Christmastime, I could sure use the touch of an angel’s arms to lift me out of my strife.
“Believe,” by Lenny Kravitz: “If you want it, you’ve got to believe.” That, my friends, is the epitome of Santa Claus.
“ChamPain,” by Cee Lo Green: Everyone drinks champagne on Christmas, right?
“Clocks,” by Coldplay: Doesn’t the piano sound sort of like Christmas chimes to you? I thought it did. It’s on the list.
“December,” by Collective Soul: Answer’s in the title. I don’t even know what the lyrics of this song are about. I’ve never listened to them.
“Elegantly Wasted,” by INXS: That pretty much describes Christmas dinner for me. Although this year, not for me since I am now almost five months sober. Still a good song.
“Faith,” by George Michael: Really? Do you have to ask? What is Christmas all about if not about faith?
“Fat Bottomed Girls,” by Queen: What do we expect after eating all those holiday cookies?
“Feeling Alright,” by Joe Cocker: Christmas had me feeling alright this year. Add it to the list.
“Figure Me Out,” by Jennings: I discovered this band at an art show on Governor’s Island this year and I really love them so they are on every playlist I have. They qualify for everything right now.
“Fireflies,” by Owl City: The image of millions of fireflies lighting up seems very Christmassy to me. Even if there are not generally fireflies around here during the winter.
“Georgia,” by Cee Lo Green: Someone must travel to Georgia for Christmas. OK, even I’ll admit, that’s a little weak.
“Holiday,” by Madonna: Holiday! Celebrate! What could be more appropriate!
“I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” by the Scissor Sisters: I almost always feel like dancing at Christmastime, but that’s kind of the irony of this song, right? It totally makes me want to dance, every time I hear it.
“I Say A Little Prayer,” by Aretha Franklin: This was a special year for me because I actually went to church on Christmas Eve. And I said a little prayer. For you.
“I’ll Take You There,” by the Staple Singers: They’re obviously singing about taking you to the North Pole, right?
“Let it Be,” by the Beatles: Billy really doesn’t get this one. But it’s all about Mother Mary! Come on!
“Love Train,” by the O’Jays: OK, this one is kind of an inside joke for me, since it always reminds me of that one Christmas party where we played this song after lots of people were already pretty drunk, and I remember we conga-lined ourselves into the bedroom where a friend had passed out. She had a chihuahua jumping all over her and a room full of people screaming the words to “Love Train” and she didn’t stir. But did we check for signs of life? No, we just sang louder. Perfect holiday song.
“Low Shoulder,” by Toro Y Moi: This actually came off a best of summer CD, but I thought it was appropriate for Christmas, too. You are free to disagree if you wish.
“Maria,” by Blondie: This song just rocks. Christmas rocks. Works for me.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: I have to be honest. I don’t know what the hell this song has to do with Christmas. I just liked it.
“New Soul,” by Yael Naim: Christmas is kind of about birth, right? Maybe rebirth? Hm, maybe not.
“Nightingale,” by Norah Jones: I love bird-watching around the holidays.
“Peel Me A Grape,” by Diana Krall: Honestly, I regret adding this one to the list. I don’t like it and I don’t think it fits with the theme of the season.
“Poker Face,” by Lady Gaga: Tell me this song doesn’t raise the spirit of the season for you. Srsly.
“Recognize,” by The Juice to Make it Happen: “Gonna to take a second to recognize why I need you by my side…” It’s a love song all about Christmas.
“Rehab,” by Amy Winehouse: Try to make me go to rehab? On Christmas? Are you fucking nuts??
“Scenario,” by Tribe Called Quest: Hm. This is another one I’m not sure I can answer. But it’s another kick-ass song that somehow seems to end up on all my playlists. And for good reason.
“Suspicious Minds,” by Elvis Presley: This was actually added by request. Billy wanted an Elvis Christmas song on the list. I hate “Blue Christmas,” so this is what he got.
“Touch of My Hand,” by Britney Spears: The instrumental bits of this one feel very old-world and spiritual to me. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but they’re irrelevant anyway.
“Umbrella,” by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z: When it snows outside, wouldn’t YOU want an umbrella??
“Unskinny Bop,” by Poison: I kind of debated on this one, but Sharon said that if Die Hard can be classified as a Christmas movie, then “Unskinny Bop” can be a Christmas song. And I think she’s right.
“Wake Up Call,” by Maroon 5: Who doesn’t dream of blowing off the head of their girlfriend’s boyfriend at Christmastime?
“Warm Ways,” by Fleetwood Mac: So many Christmas songs are about being cold and the snow. It’s about time someone came up with a Christmas song about being WARM for a change.
“Your Precious Love,” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Everyone’s love is precious at Christmastime, and what better song to remind you of that!

If anyone wants the complete list, or for me to burn a CD for them, let me know. This list is as awesome as it sounds.

This year’s Christmas menu

Breakfast: bagels and lox with capers and homemade scallion cream cheese

Lunch: garlic and cheese fondue with French bread and apples

Dinner: Thai pork skewers with peanut sauce, coconut rice, and improvised Thai salad

Dessert: peppermint brownies and peanut blossoms

She’s a fine girl.

Earlier last week, I got the news that my mom’s dog, Brandie, had to be put to sleep. I took the news pretty hard. I spent hours over the Christmas holiday struggling with the reasons why it had happened, and tearing at myself for being unable to do anything to save her. It would have cost me thousands of dollars, my home, and my sanity, but it still felt as though I was letting her down by not rescuing her.

I remember the day my mom brought Brandie home. She came into my room with this furtive smile on her face, like she had a secret, put her hands into her jacket, and pulled out this ball of fur and put it on my bed. At 18 ounces, I was sure it was a hamster, and before I knew it, the thing had all but fallen into the 3-inch crack between my bed and the wall. It took several minutes for my mom to convince me this was a dog – a white Maltese we’d eventually come to call Brandie.

That night, Brandie ripped all around the house for a full hour. We thought about calling her white lightning. For a solid hour, this animal just RAN. And ran, and ran, and ran. And then, mid-leap, she just stopped. She fell onto her side and went to sleep. We were sure she’d died. We checked for breath. Checked for a heartbeat. Tried to get her to get up. She was having none of it. We let her rest, and within the next few weeks, we fell in love with this psychotic pile of poof.

We loved her even when she got her head stuck in an empty tissue box and knocked around the living room trying to get it off. We loved her even when she ate my stepbrother’s birth certificate. We even loved her when she chewed through the cord of my mom’s stereo, which, luckily, wasn’t plugged in at the time.

Brandie was a puppy farm puppy, and had problems from the start. When she was three or so, she stayed with me for a month while my mom was settling her new house in Florida. After a few days, she suffered acute renal failure and nearly died. My best friend Erica’s mom saved her life. We continue to be so grateful for that.

Brandie’s eyes never produced tears, and so, when my mom left her at the kennel last week when she went to Las Vegas to visit my brother and stepbrother for Christmas, the vet discovered she is 90% blind. The vet also discovered that she had four kidney stones the size of quarters that needed to be removed, that she had a bladder infection, an ear infection, and a bowel obstruction, among other things. He wanted to do a surgery to remove the kidney stones but wanted $2,000 up front from my mom before he would do it. He would not say that any of the other problems Brandie had were curable, and could not guarantee it would only be $2,000. He would not take partial payment.

My mom and Rudy and I cried and suffered to know that Brandie was suffering. I considered quitting my job, getting an apartment that allowed dogs, paying the $2,000, and doing whatever it took to make sure she had all the care she needed for all the things that would chronically be wrong with her. In the end, though, it was my mom’s decision and I respected it – it would be one thing to spend the money if Brandie would have a healthy life otherwise, but another if she would only continue to suffer. She and Rudy decided to put her to sleep.

This was very difficult for me to reconcile. I felt I had let her down. I felt I had let my mom down by letting her make that choice. And I was extremely pissed at the vet for being so insensitive and cruel.

My mom got home from Las Vegas today and went to the vet’s office to settle everything, only to find a bouncy white Maltese waiting to give Rudy tongue kisses for coming back.

Apparently the vet did have a heart. He went ahead and did the surgery on the pretense that my mom would pay for it in installments (in the end the surgery only cost $900, and he is letting her pay in monthly installments of $100). If she did not want to do that, he would screen other patients to find a good home for her with someone who could give her the care she needs. My mom and Rudy are taking her home today, after her bath.

It appears after all that the Christmas spirit does amount to something, and if you were to ask me again, I would still say yes, there is a Santa Claus. And he gave me the best gift of all this year: he brought my puppy back to life.

Mele Kalikimaka

It’s the day after Christmas and all through the house…

Billy’s off at work right now and I finally took it upon myself to shower. I figured after wearing the same shirt since Tuesday it was probably about time. I’m feeling a little lonely and blue but can’t quite put my finger on a reason why.

We had a very good Christmas. It’s the first one in a while I didn’t get drunk. We didn’t drink at all, actually, and it was nice. We kept our tradition of holing up together at home and cooking all day long. Here’s this year’s menu:

* eggs benedict for breakfast
* garlicky cheese fondue with French bread for snack/lunch
* homemade pizza from scratch, including the dough – we topped it with ground sausage, peppers, onions, tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella. I wish I’d taken a photo of it because it was AWESOME.
* fresh homemade cheesecake, which we never did get around to eating – everything else was too good!

We gave and got good gifts all around. I feel so lucky to have Billy in my life. I wish I lived closer to some of my family, but it was nice getting to talk to them on the phone for a bit. We watched a whole lot of Christmas TV, starting with “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which Billy had found on DVD and surprised me with in my stocking. I cried at the end. I am such a sap.

I think it’s a little unfair that after all I did and tried to do in the last several weeks, I still feel like I fell short of the mark on so many counts. And now that I’ve got all the time in the world, all I have left to do is sift through the rubble I left in my path as I was plowing through my days. It’s a little depressing, to tell you the truth. But, I guess, that’s life.


Before guests arrived for the cookies and cocoa party.

Before I finished that second glass of Jack on the rocks (but after I started it).

Before I spiked my cocoa with Goldschlager.

Before I spiked my cocoa with Bailey’s.

Before I spiked my cocoa with Frangelico.

Before I stopped paying attention to what I put in my cocoa.

Before I attempted to play the piano.

Before I realized I couldn’t even play the piano with one finger.

Before I tried to lead an a capella rendition of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Before I failed at leading a round of Christmas carols.

Before I realized Neil was recording my futile musical attempts on my computer for his Christmahanukwanzaakah concert.

Before I broke the DVD player.

Before I broke the VCR.

Before I spilled half a gallon of milk on the table trying to make more cocoa.

Before I passed out on the couch (which may also have been before some of the guests left the party).

Before I woke up in a puddle of drool at 11:30pm wondering where everyone went.

Before I spent four hours wishing I could fall asleep.

Before I spent Monday wishing I was dead.

All was calm. All was bright.

Just warming up.

I’ve got the last of my ginger snaps in the oven right now, leaving just the lemon bars, peppermint brownies, and chocolate liqueur truffles to finish for tomorrow’s cookes and cocoa event.

I am starting to run out of steam. My back is getting sore and my feet are tired from standing for the last several hours. But I love baking so much, I can’t stop. I look at all the cookies I’ve already finished and I just want to make more, more, more! We’ll see how I feel tomorrow; maybe I will whip up some chocolate chocolate chip cookies before people start arriving.

Are you coming? I hope so. I had been so excited that Billy was actually going to be able to come – we both had a day off at the same time! – but at the last minute he was invited to go to a Giants game. For free. I guess free Giants tickets don’t really compare to cookies and cocoa with your wife and her girlfriends (and their families), even though it should. At any rate, I hope people show up, because otherwise I am going to have to eat all 400 of these cookies all by myself. And shit. That would be an awfully lonely thing to do. Send me an e-mail if you need directions! I’ll supply the cookies.