I Want a Valium for Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

My job can be quite stressful. It can therefore keep me away from blogging for lengthy periods of time, especially when there are deadlines right before a long holiday weekend. Like this week!

When at last this long-but-short week came to an end, the relief was palpable. I could finally, completely, head-to-toe relax, even if all that meant was taking a breather between work and beginning to prepare for Thanksgiving and what I’d be contributing to our family meal this year.

I pride myself on my pumpkin pies. Sure, they’re like, the easiest pie to make out of All The Pies, but it’s one of the few–literally a few–things I actually take pleasure in making, and I have my little tricks to make them especially delicious. Furthermore, once I know how to perfect something to my own unique standards, it’s kind of compulsive for me to have to make it. Even if I weren’t going to bring it to a family meal, I wouldn’t be able to not make it. It’s my little Billy Bob Thornton thing.

What I love about this particular time of year is that the holiday season gets into full swing. Stores are an explosion of green and red, and homes and storefronts alike are decked out in lights, garlands, and wreaths. The dude and I have established a couple of our own holiday traditions, including getting a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and getting out all of the Christmas tchotchkes. (“Christmas tchotchkes” just might be an oxymoron, but I’m going with it, anyway.) There really is something special about this time of year that I cherish dearly.

To go with that special holiday feeling is the underlying stress of getting everything done in time for family gatherings, and holiday parties, and gift exchanges, and shipping presents off in time to be opened on Christmas Day, and blowing your wad on stuff you don’t need staying on budget. But we also have a particular salve for that stress: the holiday specials. Do a cursory search for “Christmas” on Netflix or your cable guide and there are no fewer than several hundred airings of all different specials and movies for an entire month. Heck, we’ve already seen Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it’s not even December yet!

As you may know, we are huge Charlie Brown/Peanuts fans. These holiday specials in particular hold a special place in our hearts, along with millions of others’, I’m sure.

HOWEVER: although I am well aware that it is impossible to freeze children’s voices so they can produce dozens of holiday specials just for the sake of continuity, there are only a few of the Charlie Brown holiday specials I can tolerate aside from the original and sacred A Charlie Brown Christmas. The producers of that special did way too good of a job with casting and have subsequently ruined me for most of the other specials. There is one in particular I can not stomach, and it is A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

First things first: the only voices that sound genuine to the characters, in this blogger’s opinion, are Marcie’s and Peppermint Patty’s. Patty’s tomboy gruffness is dead on and Marcie’s sweet squeaks are endearing. All of the other main characters sound totally off, rendering them all L’Etranger. My suspension of disbelief just ain’t happening.

Secondly, Charlie’s extremely low self-esteem notwithstanding (and it really is quite heartbreaking, between his depression about holidays in general, being tricked by Lucy once again on kicking the football, and being steamrolled by Patty et al. as they invite themselves over for dinner), my squeamishness is a direct result of Peppermint Patty’s overbearing personality. Charlie is trying to rev himself up for a holiday at his grandmother’s, when suddenly Patty and the Gang inform him that they’re about to ascend his threshold for a full-on Thanksgiving meal, thank you very much.

We see Snoopy and Woodstock in the kitchen and Snoopy is making buttered toast and popcorn like a pro. One burned dog ear later, he’s got dinner on the (ping pong) table.

Sweet Snoopy happily serves up his homemade toast, pretzels, jelly beans, and popcorn. There are even pink parfaits on the table. A little carb-heavy, sure. But it’s the holiday season, after all. Their ten-year-old metabolisms can probably handle it.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

But instead of feeling happy and grateful to be with friends (heck, let’s call a spade a spade–they’re acquaintances at best), Patty goes on a belittling rampage about the food, shredding any pride Charlie may have had in providing her with a meal. Linus’s gracious speech fell on deaf ears, apparently. Thankfully Patty had brought her subordinate BFF Marcie with her, who becomes the voice of reason, talks Patty down from her rage high, and gets her to apologize. That’s a solid friend right there.

The whole scene gives me disgusted knots in my stomach, quite frankly, to the point where between it and the not-so-great voice casting, I have a high aversion to the special, so much so that it wouldn’t bother me if that particular DVD of the Peanuts Holiday Collection somehow got lost.

In short, this storyline makes me want to reach for a glass of wine or a Valium. It does not embody thankfulness or the spirit of Thanksgiving. To me, the kids’ meal that Snoopy and Charlie and Linus prepared IS what the holiday is all about: gathering with your friends/loved ones and enjoying what you have before you.

Other than watching Snoopy’s antics with Woodstock, I think the best part of the special is when all the kids are singing Over the River and Through the Woods in their off-key and inharmonious way. Also because it’s at the end of this not-so-well-done program. I’m sorry, Chuck. I love ya, but they can’t all be winners.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your feast is belittling-free and full of delicious eats, even and especially if they’re toast and popcorn.

The Lustre of Mid-Day (to Objects Below)

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! I don’t know about you but before researching this a little bit, I had never seen a photo of St. Nick before. So here you go.

Bam!

The lean and holy Saint Nicholas (pre fat and jolly Santa).

If you want to read a very in-depth back story, click here where this other blogger has laid it out so nicely for us.

The real question is…did anyone receive any coins or chocolates in their shoes this morning?

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was a kid, December 6 helped to build up our anticipation of Christmas Day even more because my mom liked to have us participate in the ritual of putting a shoe out by the front door. In the morning, we’d run to check it and we’d usually have “gold” (chocolate) coins and a few other candies stuffed inside our shoes.

In our chocolate induced haze, we came to associate St. Nick with Santa Claus, though I never really understood the motivation behind having the mini Christmas (or “feast”) versus everything we did on Christmas Day. Wikipedia does a nice job of filling in some holes, though.

Now that I’m all grown up, I’m not currently celebrating the chocolate-in-the-shoe thing but I definitely reflected briefly with a hint of excitement that Christmas is getting closer and closer (and if I were a kid, I’d have enjoyed some chocolate with breakfast…or for breakfast).

Instead, I’m using the Feast of St. Nicholas to do a quick Zoe Recommends. I thought the St. Nick’s day thing would be a fun segue. Today’s Zoe Recommends is…a sunrise clock! It helps to make your room glow with “the lustre of mid-day to objects below,” a line I snagged from the classic poem Twas the Night Before Christmas, which features our boy St. Nick, just in case anyone hadn’t clued in on that.

What’s a sunrise clock, you say? It’s a lamp which you set to go off at a certain time in the morning and for about a half hour, the light goes from very dim to very bright (you set the highest bright setting) and the natural “rising” of the “sun” helps to wake you up more naturally than traditional alarm clocks that we all want to throw through a wall every morning.

Some sunrise clocks look like this:

And others look like this (including mine):

I don’t know if all sunrise lamps come with sounds but mine will not just use the light, it forces you to choose an ambient noise, such as birds chirping or meditation sounds or the radio. I choose the meditation sounds because they’re repetitive but not awful and between them and the light, I much more easily awaken in the morning, especially in the winter when the sun doesn’t come out until after 7 o’clock.

Both Kevin and I have found it sooo much easier to wake up in the mornings with this little baby. We’re in better moods upon getting out of bed (most of the time) and we’re not as aware of the pitch blackness going on outside.

Our sunrise clock is the gift that keeps on giving, year after year, day after day, Feast of St. Nicholas to Feast of St. Nicholas. It’s the new chocolate/gold coins in my shoe.

Paying Homage to Pretty

So even though I usually keep the photo posts over on my photo blog, I wanted to share a little bit over here because that’s how much I love staring at pretty, sparkly, lit up Christmas trees.

I think the pagans were right on the mark with this whole tree idea.

Even at this very moment, my tree is sitting lit behind me and I keep turning around to look at its pretty lights and the reflections on the ornaments. Having a beautifully decorated Christmas tree helps to make up for not having a fireplace or mantel, something I grew up with and adored. (Someday….!)

Below are one picture I slated for Zoe Says and another from Flickr that I’m linking here because I couldn’t decide which look I loved most. Ah, the magic of editing software.

However, if you want to see more, because obviously I took lots of different shots from different angles and processed them differently, go here or here.

What are your favorite holiday decorations? (We have stockings up, too, but they pale in comparison to the tree.)

Tree Triptych

From Sprigs to Colossal Displays

I wonder if the Pagans from hundreds of years ago could have ever anticipated the extreme lengths to which people in the future would go to celebrate the Winter Solstice, now incorporated into the massive holiday we now know as Christmas.

Certainly there would have been feasting and music, which are more than prevalent today. I personally have an extensive Christmas music collection and I have asked for a multitude of new albums this year. (Julie Andrews singing Christmas carols? Yes, please.)

This is sprigs + lights. And it's stunning!

Since I am not even going into the consumerism aspect of Christmas (i.e., gift giving and shopping), I’m mainly focusing on the lights and decorations aspect.

Obviously there are people for whom Christmas is just another day (I do not refer to the religions that do not celebrate Christmas) and they could care less about decorations or being jolly or any kind of “spirit” associated with the season, unless of course they prefer the alcoholic kind. (And many do.)

But for some decorating is a custom, nay a compulsion, that must be carried out each year and it must beat out last year’s effort. Remember all the episodes of Home Improvement where Tim had to outdo his neighbor for the holiday lights/display contest? (Remember how torn up Charlie Brown is about Snoopy going for the lights and display contest? Ha, managed to get in a Peanuts reference.)

Take this guy, for example (this is in Boston):

Clark Griswold, do you see this?

I have no idea how this guy’s neighbors sleep. It sure is pretty, though.

Then there’s the unveiling of the tree at Rockefeller Center. It’s a huge event that draws the millions in NYC plus the tourists who are there to see….an enormous tree strewn with lights. The concept seems simple but what it all boils down to is that we’re all attracted to pretty, shiny, sparkly things like moths to a flame.

Having grown up in St. Louis, I was fortunate to experience the Winter Wonderland display at Tilles Park. Since words can not accurately describe how elaborate this scene is, I’m going to link you to the video they have about what it takes to put this show together. This year is the 25th anniversary of young and old alike flocking to stare at the pretty lights in celebration of our nation’s biggest holiday.

Do you decorate for the holidays? Have you put up your tree yet? (We have…) What are your annual holiday traditions that you can’t live without?

Baker’s Dozen: We Know It’s the Holiday Season Because…

1. The day after Halloween, instead of everything being about Thanksgiving, every store went right to Christmas. November is now officially Christmas Part I. Or, Christmas: The Prequel.

2. Despite the warm spell hitting the middle of America currently, Christmas tree lots are sprouting up in a Store Parking Lot Near You.

3. Radio stations have already dedicated certain hours to solely playing Christmas/holiday music.

a) Stores start playing Christmas Muzak exclusively. I have it from a very good source that stores like Sephora were playing Christmas music even before Halloween and that she saw her first holiday ad on October 31.

4. The sheer bulk of our mail has tripled, with stores now advertising TWO Black Fridays or two days equivalent to Black Friday. Plasma TVs for $.49 and other nonsense.

5. Houses and small local businesses start decking out their exteriors with Christmas lights by November 2. These are the same people/establishments who will not take these down until March 3 or Easter.

a) You see ornaments for outrageous prices. I love Hallmark, being the card obsessed woman I am, but their Keepsake Ornament prices simply stagger me.

6. Large department stores put giant bows and wreaths on the outside of their buildings, making them look like it’s one giant gift box.

7. Every major website is adorned with the same type of advertising and promotions as physical stores. Sites like eBay have a counter that tells you how many shopping days are left, giving you that nice pre-holiday ulcer.

a) If you are an email subscriber to anything, you will be receiving early yuletide “secret sale” emails. “HURRY!” they shout.

b) Shipping prices have been slashed to either one dollar, one cent, or free.

8. Folks at work begin surreptitiously using all their free time to shop online. Postal workers, UPS men and the FedEx guy all start looking stressed when they enter places of business. The front area of every office looks like this:

These were all just for me today. Seriously.

9. Food, if it’s not already a constant in your workplace, begins multiplying as if we’re all going to hibernate the day after Christmas. (If only.) Bowls of chocolate, tins of popcorn, plates of cookies, pie, and any other type of holiday confection are all available 10 hours a day, five days a week. Add to this that emails begin circulating about holiday food gatherings.

10. Every single eatery, without exception, releases their holiday packaging. McDonald’s bags are decorated with golden snowflakes, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts will have their new festive holiday cups which contain their Christmas/holiday/yuletide coffee potions drenched in syrups, sprinkles, whipped cream and gooey toppings. Even gas stations have holiday packaging. You can buy a person a gift card to a gas station.

11. Your local and national news coverage, both on television and online, will dedicate (exponentially) segments/articles each week to saving money on travel, avoiding spending pitfalls, losing that holiday weight before it happens, circumventing travel nightmares, and promoting any human interest story that will get a tear or a dollar out of you. It’s already happening. (If you click on that travel link, you’ll see that the date of that article is September 20.)

12. Speaking of dollars…Salvation Army bell ringers line the street corners, clanging their bells incessantly while you try to maneuver the mobs and throngs of people all trying to get into the same stores as you are (mostly to escape the clanging bells).

13. All of the major networks come out with promos that are embedded with jingle bells, singing, etc. Channels like Hallmark, Lifetime and WE advertise their annual holiday made-for-television movie involving people being separated for Christmas and a person or animal joins them together, showing them the true meaning of the holiday spirit. While the movies tell you not to place such high importance on ribbons, tags, boxes or bags, the advertisements tell you that the ONLY things you should be worried about are when you buy your gifts and their accompanying, ribbons, tags, boxes and bags. HURRY UP, ALREADY!

a) Holiday specials now air in November. Check it.

These are only the thirteen that I could come up with and it’s November 15. If you buy into all the hype, you’re rushing off to start making those lists and checking them twice!

Author’s Note: Me, I love Christmas. Love, love, love it. I started listening to my Christmas music over the weekend. It was inspired by the fact that according to the stores and Everywhere in the United States, I should be fully immersed in the Christmas season already. So I thought, screw it, and the lilting voices of Bing and Nat and Perry and Johnny and all the rest of them filled my living room.

The USPS Gets Nostalgic

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Be ye from the States or from across the globe, there is a good chance you are familiar with Charles M. Schulz and his adorable Peanuts characters.

Like my post about the Ctrl z cards, I am going to keep this as brief as possible, since I merely want to announce the arrival of adorable Charlie Brown envelopes and boxes at the United States Post Office.

Did you hear that? Charlie Brown/Peanuts envelopes. At your local post office. Get yours before they sell the hell out!

Anyhow, because my boyfriend and I are such enormous fans, I picked up an empty envelope the other day when I was mailing something else, just to take it home with me. I am sure the woman behind the counter thought I was a curious person.

Yet, whoever is the recipient of this small mailing envelope (and they come in a large size and also hard boxes that you put together in the post office!) is a special person indeed, since I wouldn’t grace just anybody’s household with it.

Clearly the USPS likes promoting adorable, witty characters, and so they have graced us with Peanuts mailing supplies this holiday season. I can’t say I blame ’em.

For you to marvel at, and then go buy some of your very own:

Does it get better than this?

180 degrees of animation!

 

Update: As of December 20, these were sold out at my local post office!

Kringley, Jingley, Cookies and Trees, Gluttony, Family Gatherings and Obligatory Gifts: sounds like Christmas!

suicidal-snowman13Howdy and Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, I’m well aware. Thanksgiving brought with it the last four weeks of getting ready for Christmas; and let’s just say I’ve been figuring out how to make Christmas work this year (read: sleeping, worrying, stress eating, sleeping, watching mindless TV, total avoidance, etc). 2008 has brought many a fiscal disaster and while my finances are far from disastrous, it’s still a small feat to crunch the numbers to find out what I can afford in cash and what’s going on ye olde credit card.

Firstly, I’d like to give a huge shoutout to the Internet (or the “World Wide Web,” as a beloved professor once called it), simply for the miracle of online shopping. I would not have been able to keep calm about everything I had to buy without this fabulous tool. If I’d actually had to go out to multiple stores to find everything I need to buy, I would have given up on the holidays long ago. The only con to online shopping when one lives in New York City is figuring out where to send the boxes. I don’t have a doorman or an apartment that delivery folks have total access to at all times. So I am forced to send things to my office and bring large bags with me to work so I can haul everything home on the subway. Fun, huh?

But still, thanks to virtual shopping, I haven’t had to stand in a huge line to get photos printed, thanks to Shutterfly. That’s my digital print shop of choice. Amazon currently sells 99% of everything under the sun (anybody try that Kindle thing yet?). Short of buying pets on Amazon.com, I’m pretty sure one can find just about anything on there. I made my giant order and was able to carry on with my daily life whilst waiting for the gifts to arrive.

Usually I get stressed out about sending out holiday cards. I’ve actually managed to do the bulk of them but I still have pending cards to write. They’ll probably sit there until December 23. Nothing says Merry Christmas like getting a holiday card on January 3. There’s always one person’s address I don’t have and then the card ultimately doesn’t get sent out. But doing the whole post office thing in NYC is….somewhat traumatic. At no time during the year is the post office ever slow. The post office is kind of like the U.S. Senate – the locations do not go by population. There are a certain amount and that’s it. So take New York – we have 9 million people here. We have a post office for the respective zip codes like everywhere else. So every single post office I’ve ever visited, without exception, is packed, the lines extensive and people impatient. There is always one New York asshole who must stand in line to mutter and curse about the long wait. It’s S.O.P. In fact, let’s just say that if I go to a drugstore or post office without hearing muttering or cursing (and I’ve been known to do it), I wonder where I am. My world doesn’t look like this (if only!): christmas-poster1

You’d think I’m not a fan of Christmas, but I really really am. I adore Christmas and Christmastime. I love Christmas songs, I love all the baking people do, the lights and decorations, the smell of pine trees, stationery and Hallmark stores, “that Christmas feeling,” new holiday coffee flavors, and particular to New York, all the street vendors and the roasted nuts guy – all of it.  

Christmas is just best when you’re a kid, though. You have absolutely none of the worries and ALL of the expectation that when you wake up on Christmas morning, you can run down to the tree and rip open presents for three hours. It’s a divine experience that we take for granted when we’re kids. Now I know all the work it takes to get those presents under the tree on time, the Christmas ham or goose or whatever to come out perfectly, and how much MONEY it takes to really have that Hallmark holiday.

Why does wrapping presents give people diarrhea? If you don’t learn how to do it properly, you give gifts that look like a car ran over them or a 4 year-old taped together. Both of my parents are excellent gift wrappers. I learned from the best. My father is extremely thorough. He’s not just wrapping, he’s making a gift presentation with lots of curly ribbon and bows. He has a wrapping timetable so he can get it all done in time. I’m pretty sure my parents spent many a Christmas Eve wrapping presents until almost dawn – and then knock knock, it’s 6am and the kids are ready to rip! But seriously, I can attest to the fatigue that wrapping brings. I finished the first half of wrapping last night (not including packing things to ship – uuuuugh) and I just wanted to curl up right there in the wrapping paper remnants and go to sleep.

As a token to one of my favorite things, I’m going to attempt to present a link attached to this photo of the Screaming Banshee, an e-card on Hallmark. Let’s try it: banshee1

Click on that shit and enjoy the hell outta it. If that’s not an accurate depiction of prepping for the holidays, I don’t know what is. (Have your sound on!)

But through it all, corny as it is, the real gift is in the giving. I love the anticipation of waiting to see what goodies I managed to find. I’m gonna toot my own horn here because I am a very good gift giver. I could be a personal shopper, I think. Except then I’d have to deal with obnoxious clients. But I use my feminine, Zoe Intuition to really hone in on something thoughtful for the people I love. I hate having to resort to a gift certificate. It happens to the best of us, though. I love when people manage to find something really Zoe-esque that I treasure for years. Otherwise, I have been the recipient of MANY cheap and expensive bath products, because that’s the Fallback Gift that all women receive when someone doesn’t know what to get her. There probably isn’t a man in a relationship that hasn’t braved Bath & Body Works at the holidays, trying to figure out “Would she like this?” and getting an entire gift basket of “Pine cone cinnamon amethyst” or “Honeyglazed lily moonstones” products – you get the point.

Besides trying to get everything done before Christmas Eve hits (and let’s face it, December is the fastest month of the entire year), if you work in an office, you are surrounded by constant offerings of food and special treats. I know I am. Thus far this month we have had popcorn tins on each floor of the office, a holiday breakfast, lavish holiday party (coming up tomorrow night – right when NYC is supposed to be slammed with snow – woo!) and one of my bosses has received a multitude of treats, including chocolate peppermint bark, a huge basket of chocolate covered pretzels, Oreos (!!!!) and graham crackers, and a bunch of us had a holiday potluck of sorts, where we all brought something festive and exchanged recipes. (I brought seasoned pecans – a big hit, not gonna lie.) The other day, in the span of 12 hours, I was offered cookies from no less than three different people. Including myself, people’s away messages are all about “No more cookies – seriously.” It’s gluttony central.

So it’s the last full business week before the holidays. Christmas is ONE WEEK FROM TODAY. I have oodles left to do but thankfully putting up and decorating the tree isn’t one of them. I have no pets or children, so I can relax without wondering if I’m going to come home to a fallen tree in my apartment. By the time January 2nd is here, I’ll be ready to swear off cookies and treats….for a little while. But even I, with my famed sweet tooth, get sweeted out at this time of year. I offered someone a “chocolate covered something or other” and he emphatically said, “NO” and gave me a shoving hand gesture.

In a TOTAL act of randomness, I read in O Magazine about the popularity of the salty/sweet combination. A reader wrote in and said she made a batch of chocolate covered bacon. I’ve had chocolate covered potato chips (which were sinfully delicious) but never thought about chocolate covered bacon. What do you think? Would you try it? I can’t say I wouldn’t try it – my voracious love for salty/sweet is too strong.

I should take the time to ask if anybody likes Christmas but hates Christmas music. My roommate and I have had music playing and had a whole Christmas movie marathon of sorts when we did our tree. We watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and Bad Santa. Three classics. But definitely on the list to watch are A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated OR live-action). I have a bunch of others but there’s only so much time to watch this stuff. I’m definitely in the cult fan club of A Christmas Story. I don’t get people who don’t get it. David, am I right?

In an attempt to put an end to this huge tangent about Christmas, I hope all of you have a fantastic holiday season, peaceful and bright, with at least one fun drunken moment (but without blacking out or puking) and a celebratory New Year. Just avoid getting in front of the camera at those holiday parties. I can attest that not all drunk photos come out great.

Merry merry!

chris_41