Friday, December 25, 2009

Aught Lang Syne! (Farewell to 2009)

About two weeks ago, I decided to participate in Gwen Bell's Best of 2009 Blog Challenge... but then I got stuck. I have a pretty terrible memory, so recalling things that've happened in the past 12 months felt like a major challenge. I could only conjure up memories from this month, this season - & I thought 2009 deserved a little better than that, mediocre a year though it may have been. So I've been writing this blog for weeks now, poring over old photos & blog posts & Facebook activities, retracing my steps of the last 365 days as I try to do justice to this blog challenge. I've gotten rid of some of Gwen's categories (she presented 31) because they didn't appeal to me, but I've stuck with the ones that tell my 2009 story most effectively.

Oh. And what are your answers?
Don't think you were gonna get off that easily.


I didn't do much traveling in 2009. In fact, I don't think I went anywhere that wasn't the DC Metropolitan Area or the great state of Ohio. (Oh, except for Canada for work, which almost doesn't count!) One of the best trips was the weekend I came home to be a bridesmaid in my friends' Audra & Mark's wedding. I ended the weekend knowing that, sooner or later, I will end up back in the Midwest - & that felt like a huge relief of a realization.


Our first reunion! Early in the year, five of my best friends & I reunited for the first time since we ended our one-year fellowship together. We didn't have much time - it was just a quick dinner at Thai Phoon squeezed in during a work weekend - but it was so rejuvenating to be together again, to feel like myself again, to be with the people who know me best & to be reassured that we will always be able to pick up where we left off.


I wish I used Delicious so I could remember stuff like this. Because I don't & thus can't, I'm going to go with one I read in an issue of Glamour on an airplane this fall. The story featured a half-dozen naked models of all sizes - not just stick-thin. While the recent trend of women's magazines claiming to go "curve-friendly" is getting a little worn, this article was the first time that I, a major magazine aficionado, truly believed that the industry may someday (soon?) rid itself of its ugly & unrealistic predisposition toward scary-skinny models. Unfortunately, as Jezebel.com recently pointed out, Glamour hasn't exactly made good on its promise to stop portraying "plus-size" as anyone whose weight is a number above zero.


I started - & didn't finish - a lot of books in 2009! Notable not-quite-dones include "The Other Boleyn Girl," "1984" and even "The Great Gatsby." My favorite book of 2009 is, I think, Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity," while I shall most assuredly complete before 2010 sets in. I think. This book, quite simply, makes me feel real - & not crazy. Runner-up in this category is "Shopgirl" by Steve Martin, for similar reasons, & for my favorite book quote as of late:
"She moved from Vermont hoping to begin her life, & now she is stranded in the vast openness of L.A. She keeps working to making connections, but the pile of near misses is starting to overwhelm her. What Mirabelle needs is some omniscient voice to illuminate & spotlight her, & to inform everyone that this one has value, this one over here..."

Who can say for certain? 2009 was (along with the rest of my life!) filled with lots of great memories, including some I cannot remember due to intoxication. In the running for most memorable night: inauguration weekend's cocktailish party followed by darts & the meeting of Johnny Fajitas; the evening I was assured that Irish carbombs taste "like milkshakes!" &, upon consumption, vehemently disagreed; multiple incidents of catching up at the same local bar with hometown friends upon my return to the 'burbs; the night we hosted an impromptu dance party in Rachel's living room; the happy hour/strip club/WTF blogger night gone wild (details are still missing) & my now-infamous birthday party bar rumble.

I think the winning "night out," though, is not a night at all but an entire day. I spent the Fourth of July barbecuing, drinking, laughing, photographing &, astonishingly enough, not getting sunburned on an epic roof deck in our nation's capital with at least a dozen of my closest friends. One for the history books, to be sure.


I live-tweeted multiple plenary sessions from backstage at a convention in Toronto hosted by the organization with which I'm gainfully employed. My behind-the-scenes view gave me an opportunity to meet some inspiring speakers (Dr. Eboo Patel & author Anita Diamant) & use a little bit of my social media know-how to engage those who couldn't be at the conference. I was really pleased with the responses it garnered.


TextsFromLastNight.com keeps me consistently entertained (especially because I shelled out $1.00 for the app), though I've yet to be funny enough to make the cut. This year I also discovered some of my favorite bloggers, including Brad at Franco Beans, Alana at Good Girl Gone Blog, Alexa at Cleveland's a Plum, Keri at Your Wishcake & many, many more. They keep me entertained, sane, inspired & comedically challenged.


Have I had these?! OK, just kidding. Best moment of peace was my summer trip to Bear Hollow, Pennsylvania, my favorite place on earth. It took me a lot of effort to get there - my cousin tracked down an obscure bus (leaving at the crack of down) from Union Station into mid-PA, & my uncle picked me up to drive me the rest of the way. It was entirely worth it for three days of solitude in the woods. Also, guns:


I was lucky that 2009 wasn't a year of great challenges for me, at least nothing huge & notable. I had a tough time adjusting to my new job at the beginning of the year, something that literally kept me up at night with worry, but I've come far since then & am truly proud of myself for some of the things I've done at work this year & some of the pressure I've withstood. I've pulled together more than I expected I could. Am I the best? Well, no. But I am a pretty good version of myself, & I hope 2010 sees me getting even better.


What isn't?! I'm easy to please, though favorite finds of the year included Phoenix's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" (thanks, Rob), Donora's self-titled album (thanks, Rob), & Adam Lambert's "For Your Entertainment" (thanks, crummy taste in pop). I tend not to dig entire albums, so honorable singles mentions go to: "Brand New Day" by Joshua Radin, "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver, "Counting Down the Hours" by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, "Be OK" by Ingrid Michaelson, "My Interpretation" by Mika, "Novotel" by Adam Green, "Jane Fonda" by Mickey Avalon, & "Wraith Pinned to the Mist & Other Games" by Of Montreal. Among many others. Obvi.


I want to answer "my bed," but I suppose I'm not that lazy. Instead, this prestigious award goes to the library in my office, where my coworkers & I gather daily to eat lunch together. It's the best part of my day, & many of our most hilarious conversations have happened there. I know everyone says their office is funny, but look, we mean it. I'm actually sort of sorry for you that your coworkers aren't as hysterical as mine. "The Office" ain't got nothin' on us. Anyway, lunchtime in our library is a daily reminder that I'm fortunate enough to have a job I like with people I love. For example? In this photo, one of our lunches turns into a photo session with Flat Froman, a group gift to a former coworker during her fight with cancer. We're both funny and compassionate, eh?!


Don't get too excited. I'm not gonna claim to love it, OK? That would be a huge lie. But I did order mahi mahi at Ten Penh this summer, & I did like it. Until I ate my friend's noodles & realized, toward my last bite, that they contained mushrooms. To which I am allergic. And so I saw that mahi mahi twice. But, you know, it was pretty good the first time, & the fact that I ordered/ate fish at all is nothing short of a Restaurant Week-induced miracle. If I didn't have witnesses, I might not believe my own memory on this one.


From happy to sad & back to happy again, on this front. For a glorious but cash-strapped three months, I lived in a beautiful new apartment down the hall from my old one. It had a kitchen, it had a huge bathroom, it had cockroaches... & it had a rent I definitely couldn't swing. I was reluctant to move in with roommates after two years solo, but my decision to shack up with three friends has proven surprisingly simple. They don't mind when I fall asleep on the couch or hog the DVR, & sometimes they cook me stuff. Score.


In February, I attended Jimmy Eat World's 10-stop tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their best-selling album, "Clarity," the one album I can say has affected my outlook on life, love & a whole host of sappy emotions. As I blogged after the show, it was maybe the first & only time I have felt infinite. In other words? Yes, Jim Adkins, I can actually still feel the butterflies.


I adopted use of the word "well" in places where it doesn't belong. For example, when I'm unsure of anything, I've begun starting sentences with "Wellllll..."And though friends & coworkers have called me out on it, they've also adopted it as their own, which makes it a lot tougher for me to quit!

2009 was average. It was mostly happy. It was emotionally tumultuous. It was in flux. It was indecisive. And it is almost over. And I think I might be glad.


Lord forgive me, I discovered a quick way to get to Target (the DC Circulator is a public transportation blessing of the highest degree), & though my wallet is not particularly thankful, my wardrobe is. Other noteworthy places to spend my hard-earned money include the Ann Taylor Loft a block from my office, which I've slowly weaned myself off of, & Lou Lou, the jewelry boutique next door, which has become my newest obsession.


Three-way tie! Over Labor Day, I rode to Ohio with my best friend, her brother & his best friend; along the way, we sang bad pop music, made a lot of bad jokes & generally bonded. In July, I rode to Ohio with Julie from Wearing Mascara; I hardly knew her, but the trip proved anything but awkward as we discussed everything from sex to politics to blog gossip & left me with a new friend. In September, I rented a snappy Yaris & drove to - surprise! - Ohio with a college friend who I'd almost lost touch with, catching up & making up &, of course, rocking out to a little MJ (may his name be for a blessing!).


This year wasn't a year for that many new people. Rather, it was a year spent cultivating relationships with those already present in my life - making more of an effort to be social, to be reliable, & to be present when they needed me. I'm a homebody & a little bit of a hermit by nature, but in 2009, I made a special effort to let others turn my life upside down - & they didn't disappoint.

My breakfast brainchild, the Great DC Brunch Tour, began this fall! OK, I admit that thus far, we've only visited a meager two locations, but I love the idea, & we have big plans to continue brunching around the District in 2010. No more waffling, I promise! (Ba-dum-chhh. I'll be here all night year!)


I've become a Picnik kid - recently, I even splurged $24 for a yearlong subscription. I haven't yet managed to score Photoshop (& even if I did, I might be too wussy to master it), so Picnik is keeping me in the photo-editing business, even if only a small scale. I started designing some small graphics for my office's website, too, which is fun & has only been possible because I'm now a crafty Picniker.


Friendships, like relationships, need to be maintained - worked on & cultivated. You can't just get into one & expect it to keep itself afloat when things get tough. And as in a relationship, you can't expect the other person to just get you, no matter what - sometimes you have to explain yourself & apologize & recommit... & then give them the opportunity to do the same. But good friends, like good boyfriends, are worth fighting to keep, even if it means soldiering through a rough patch every now & again.


I should stop giving myself so many gifts, actually. My wallet would thank me if I'd quit buying so much stuff for myself - haircuts, dresses from Target, shoes from Payless, accessories from Etsy, faux Buddy Holly glasses from Bleu Dame. But listen, those gifts are still giving, every time I wear them. Wait, was I supposed to answer this, like, emotionally? Whoops.


In September, as I somewhat ashamedly explained to an almost-total-stranger why I want to return to the Buckeye State someday (I care about it, I think it deserves to be inhabited by people who want to help it succeed, etc.), he stopped me & told me to stop being so embarrassed: "Ohio is lucky that people like you care enough about it to want to come back," he told me. Now, whenever I wonder why the hell I want to return to a snowy, economically depressed, sometimes-redneck state when I could instead remain in the best little non-state in the nation, I remember that line & instantly feel better about my love of Ohio.


Did I ever! In early spring, I took a risk & met Plight of the Pumpernickel for dinner at Paragon Thai - we have a few mutual real-life friends, so it felt not-so-dangerous! Shortly thereafter, inspired by my positive experience with her, I took a bigger risk by showing up at Lucky Bar alone for PQ's birthday, where I met LiLu, Lusty Reader, Lemmonex, Franco Beans, What a Grand World & more. Since then, I've met others like 12 Minds, I Hate So Much, Dysfunction Junction, & DMbosstone, most notably during our night of summer debauchery that resulted in my first time at a strip club. I didn't blog about it because, you know, I'm a classy broad, but the others sure did. It was a night to remember - or not.


Who wrote this? Someone who never laughs? How could I possibly choose the best laugh of the year? As I mentioned before, I work with some of the funniest people I've ever met. I'm fortunate enough to have my biggest belly laugh of the year nearly every day. Want evidence of some of the crazy stuff we pull? Well, this one time we just... had a relay race. In Snuggies. With Jello shots. At work. Say WHAT?


There's always more to do, more to say, more to be. I could have done better; I could always do better, & I bet you could, too. I could have lost 15 pounds. I could have started being a vegetarian. I could have learned to play the guitar, could've found a freelancing gig or two, could've made more of an effort to be social & spent less time online. I could traveled more, saved more, written more, loved more. And in 2010, I'll try to do all of these - more, & more often, & better. I want to be a better version of myself, & I don't need to wait until the turn of the calendar year to do it. Cheers to that, my friends.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Greetings from Chilly Ohio!

I'm making jewelry & drinking hot chocolate spiked with mint Bailey's & watching Entertainment Tonight with my mom while wearing leggings & a sweater & wool socks & exchanging texts with a number of my favorite people, Ohioans & Washingtonians alike. My dog is snoring & the wind is blowing & plans are in the making for weekend reunions with friends. I spent all day today shopping & sleeping & sneezing. And aside from that final activity, I think it's clear this evening that life is, in fact, pretty darn good. Whatever your holiday celebration orientation, I hope you're enjoying the day(s) off work, the time with friends & family, & the alcohol that you should absolutely be consuming.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

If you read this blog with any regularity or know me in person, you know that I am, & have always been, Jewish. But I was raised in a household with a father who was what I now refer to as “secularly Christian” – we “celebrated” Christmas and Easter, but never went to church. We put up a tree but did not speak of Jesus. We colored eggs but did not discuss resurrections.

As an adult, I now know that my mother was deeply uncomfortable with these celebrations, that she only took part in them because they were important to my father, because they were the traditions he knew & loved. Even though there was never any pressure to bring Christianity into our secular celebration of these holidays, they were foreign & unfamiliar to my mom, who came from a two-Jewish-parent household & had never before trimmed a tree or set up an egg hunt.

So when my father died, we stopped celebrating these holidays. My mom carried them on for about a year after his death, for my sake (thanks, Mom!), & then we were done. We celebrated Christmas again only once, when we hosted a Catholic foreign exchange student from Peru & wanted him to feel at home, but the sight of two Jewish girls tying a wobbly tree to their window pane with fishing wire confirmed that this was not a holiday we were meant to celebrate.

I’m 25 now. And you know what? I miss Christmas. I spent two holiday seasons working in an Italian bakery during high school, two more working retail during college, & the feeling never goes away – I love Christmas. I love the frenzy of shoppers, the festivity of trees & stockings & snowmen. I love writing out cards, having an excuse to tell people I love them & to show them with gifts. I love movies like “Home Alone” and “Love Actually,” albums like N*Sync’s “Home for the Holidays” and Kyla Roma’s indie Christmas compilation.

Christmas is vanilla & pine & gingerbread. It's good food, warm blankets, bright lights, cold snow. It's friends & family. Christmas, to me, is comfort & joy. Oh - & love, too. Can't forget love.

I moved to Washington, D.C., to work for a Jewish organization, & I’m heading into my third year here. Since beginning this job, I have become infinitely more connected to my Jewish identity, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve become more religious but does mean I’ve become increasingly spiritual & cognizant of tradition. I like becoming “culturally Jewish,” if you will, & feeling connected to my friends & coworkers through the unbreakable bond of a common history & tradition.

I grew up differently than many of them, though. I was the only Jewish student at my 2,000-student high school in suburban Ohio. My family exchanges gifts at Thanksgiving, not at Chanukah or Christmas, because we’re half Jewish, half Christian. I’ve never been to Israel & I’ve never kept kosher & I didn’t know the names of half the Jewish holidays until I moved here & met people who were so observantly Jewish that their parents forbid them from trick-or-treating. I am, in some ways, the perfect microcosm of pseudo-secular America - a lover & avid celebrator of holidays, often without regards to their origins. I am guilty of watching fireworks without remembering that they represent our freedom; yearly, I dress up in witty costumes without recognizing the Pagan origins of doing so.

I recently read through this blog post from a year ago, “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” by Andi Rosenthal, a Jewish convert who can’t bring herself to throw out her ornaments because she still feels emotionally tied to her pre-Judaism Christmases. The post itself didn’t resonate with me much; what did was one of the comments left just yesterday by a reader :

It is interesting to me (and OF COURSE, I understand the history behind it) of the hyper "you must choose....Christmas or Chanukah" split sentiment among Jews, as well as converts...while this doesn't exist for St. Valentine's Day. Let me write that a bit more correctly..."SAINT Valentine's Day." As in, Roman Catholic...as in, Christian. My same Jewish female friends who go into a frenzy over Xmas decor at the local school and malls will turn around and threaten certain death of their boyfriends/fiancees/husbands if a romantic Valentine's Day dinner and presents aren't lined up...or have NO PROBLEM getting good and tipsy on SAINT Patrick's Day (wearing green & shamrocks and the whole nine).

I know it's a bit controversial, but there IS a big difference between Jesus (which is Christian) and a tree with ornaments, lights, and presents (which is of pagan origin). I wish converts didn't feel the struggle as much or as harshly...or that it's some litmus test of their dedication to the Jewish faith. Just my thoughts. No mean to offend...

It’s crudely expressed, sure, but the sentiment has made me think. Do I need to choose? Do I have to give up Christmas? I miss it, I love it, & I want to celebrate it again.

Within the next few years, I hope to settle into a home, an apartment of my own back in the ‘burbs. When I do, must I feel obligated to continue my Christmas-free existence, looking longingly at the celebrations & decorations of the gentiles I know? Am I any less Jewish if I do? Have I ever been any less Jewish - for wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day or for giving out Valentine’s on February 14th? Of course not. I don’t want Jesus – I just want Christmas. And while I’m sure that will offend quite a few folks out there, Christians & Jews alike, I don’t know whether that’s enough to keep me from someday bringing a little bit of Christmas back into my life.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow My Gosh! I'm a Homebody.

This is the most boring blog post I've ever compiled. I didn't leave my house today, & it stands to reason that I didn't do a single thing that would be of interest to you, my dear (though nowadays sparse) readership. Still, I've had at least a dozen out-of-town friends & relatives ask how I'm surviving the Great DC Blizzard of 2009 (otherwise known as #snowpocalypse, the worst word Twitter ever helped make famous), so I figured the very least I could do was to provide a photo montage of this beautiful snow day. (PS: At last check, fellow DC blogger Spleeness measured a whopping 16 inches of the fluffy stuff. Even the Ohioan in me is impressed!)

Without further adieu, my day went as follows.

I woke up (circa noon & on my living room couch) to this:


I didn't take (too much) shame in donning my most abhorred fashion trend, leggings as pants, for the majority of the day. Forgive my general bodily lumpiness, but this was the most comfortable decision I've ever made - though, rest assured, it's still not one I'll be carrying out in public:


I took it upon myself to create a delicious one-woman brunch of pre-mixed Bisquick pancakes, super-crispy bacon, Ore Ida square hash browns & super-weird-tasting pear yogurt, complete with syrup in a cute ramekin:


My roommate slaughtered me at Scrabble using words like "flux" on a Triple Word Score square when I was pulled crap like "zoot," which might not be a real word to anyone but the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Final score was indeterminable, as we quit before the game was actually over.


I whipped up two-dozen-plus cookies to take to the DC JCC on Monday as part of their holiday collection for... um... someone needier than me. I definitely don't need baked goods. For reinforcement, see leggings-as-pants photo. Anyway, sugar cookies! I can be domestic! Exclamation points!


Actvities that didn't make the photography cut including watching episodes of at least four different TV shows, washing three loads of laundry, and Swiffering the apartment a little. In all? A surprisingly productive day! And to top it off, my mom texted me a video of my neighbors caroling at their annual Christmas party this evening.

Still, a final note of consternation: Why do West Coasters insist upon thinking the rest of the country would prefer to be in their neck of the woods for the holidays? Your bragging of 75-degree weather doesn't tempt me in the least - Christmas cacti do not sound appealing & December isn't meant to be celebrated in flip flops. Give me snow any day, suckers, & quit it with your West Coast smugness.

And on a less cranky note - Happy Snow Day, DC! How did you celebrate?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The White House: I Want to Go to There

Picture this: A coworker & I discover neither of us is invited to a staff meeting we feel we should be attending. So we print out photos of the country's most famous party-crashing couple, don them around our necks, & show up at the meeting anyway.


Now, cut to a few hours later. About a dozen people from my office (including some coworkers' young kids) have tickets to tour the White House's Christmas decorations. We're all dressed up, & maybe I left work at lunch to buy a new purple cardigan in honor of the festive occasion, or something. The kids show up in their Christmas finery, & we cab our way over to Barack's house, giddy with anticipation.

Except then the unthinkable happens. You know what I'm about to say, right? Of course something this awesome would go awry.

Our names... were not on the list.

Well, to be fair, six of them were. Five coworkers & one plus-one made it in with no problem. The other 11 of us somehow didn't make it onto the final, be-all-end-all list. We spent about 20 minutes chattering with cold as we tried to sort out this devastating situation, half our coworkers already inside without us. We were hopeful, though. Would you turn this little munchkin away from the Christmas tour of her dreams?


End result? No dice. We were offered a make-up tour on the 23rd (I'll be out of town) or a post-Christmas private tour (sans decorations), both of which are, of course, massively appreciated. But yes, I was actually so disappointed that I cried a little. Just because IT WAS GOING TO BE SO COOL. And I was so dressed up. And Kal Penn was there.

Yes, Kal Penn. Yes, he's my favorite, & I've been talking about running into him in DC for, oh, a year now - but under the circumstances, I was too sad to even enjoy my first spotting, though not too sad to snap this "Boy in the Striped Pajamas"esque photo of him through the wrought-iron fence:


Officially rejected, we turned away & trudged back to the office in the blustery cold - party clothes, crushed spirits & all:


We did try to console ourselves, though. How? With vodka, of course. Nothing says "Wish we'd gotten into the White House" like drinking a vanilla vodka Coke at 4:30p.m. on a Thursday.


I returned to the office to find a text from the coworker who played the meeting-crashing joke with me earlier: "Wow. That Salahi joke seemed a lot funnier a couple of hours ago, eh?"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Like Taking Candy Pie from Strangers

The caption at the Woodley Parks McDonald's reads "Apple Pie, $1 each or 2 for $1.00," so obviously I was enticed. A pie so nice you're charging me twice if I only want one?! But next to the apple pie sign was a little picture of a little blob with sprinkles - clearly not apple - and a caption that said "Holiday pie!"

Consider my interest officially piqued.

I asked the guy working what flavor holiday pie is. His answer? "I don't really know..." He confirmed only that it was tasty & that a customer told him it tasted like birthday cake. When asked to approximate its ingredients, he laughingly refused, despite my persistence. He did, however, offer me a free pie if I'd provide him with an apt description to give other inquiring potential-pie-buyers. I happily accepted the free sprinkly blob & bit into it with only moderate hesitation, es evidenced below:


I'm a pretty good sharer, so the roommate tried it, too:


The verdict? The "birthday cake" describer came pretty close. It's vanilla custard, I think, or some sort of lumpy imitation Bavarian cream. Inside a warm cookie. And in fact, it tastes a lot like a doughnut, though McDonald's insists upon marketing it as a pie, thus doing a disservice to Thanksgivings everywhere by tricking cheap fast food lovers into eating incorrectly labeled pastries. Also, it comes in a small rectangular box, so color me confused - that's not pie shape! Still, it was pretty delish, I saved $1 & got a free dessert for my descriptive skills! Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?
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