Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day Six: Bohemian Rhapsody

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Today's ornament is a blue blown glass bulb (I think this is considered a witches gazing ball or something like that) which I bought in Prague. My friend Terry and I went to Prague together "for the weekend" when I was visiting her in Vienna during my fall break from UEA in England (sounds very cosmopolitan, I know...wait, and it won't). We had planned to leave on an evening train after Terry finished with classes. Terry didn't make hostel reservations because in her experience on one previous trip to another city, she didn't need to. We were VERY green on this whole travel thing. I carried my full-size backpack--the same backpack I would later use for a whole month in Europe--for the 2-night trip. Terry, too, overpacked--with books for doing homework during this lengthy trip. We would regret these choices later. Badly.


After a trip involving some tense moments with a customs agent, we arrived at the main train station of Prague. Prague then was still in the post-Soviet stage of development. A horde of representatives of guest houses descended on us--the only tourists--upon our arrival. By representatives, I mean old ladies in babushkas, smarmy looking guys, teenagers--the gamut. We thought we had our stuff together and went to find the university hostel we were so sure about from the Let's Go guide. I don't know at which point we decided to go with the woman, but we did. She was an old lady and looked harmless. And she was. But, she brought us to several apartments, promising she'd put us with "American boys" and "near bar." We felt a bit like we were being pimped out, so we cordially declined and set off to find the hostel.


We boarded a tram in search of the hostel. We weren't sure we were on the right track. Fortunately, we ran into a nice student who offered to help us. He knew about our hometown area (Pittsburgh) because of Jaromir Jager, who played for the Penguins at the time. He dropped us at the very eastern block-looking building and went on his way.


It turns out that this building--way outside of the downtown area--is a dormitory and currently occupied by students. Not something the guide mentioned. Bummer. We turned around for the bus to take us back to town. It was very cold and dark. On the bus, we met the Czech army's basketball team, who were not supposed to be out but offered to house us for the night. Though they were fun guys, as you can imagine, we declined. We said goodbye to them at the last stop of the bus, the Sheraton.


It was very tempting at this point to max out our credit cards for a warm night's sleep. But, our stop at the Sheraton was mainly to use the phone to try to call hostels. We were a sight. Two girls with hiking boots and huge backpacks trekking through the fancy hotel. The woman at the front desk eyed us suspiciously. We made our calls with no success. One of the hostels was nearby, and so, we walked over. We were quite literally screamed at and chased out of the lobby. At one point, we were walking down a desolate street...unsure of what to do next. We were starving--we hadn't had dinner and couldn't find a place to eat. We see a shadow approaching...we were sure we were up for a mugging or something more sinister. The shadow got closer and closer. We considered running and then we heard "Hey guys, do you know where such-and-such street is?" It was an American expat--a miracle in tennis shoes! He took us to a commuter train station for some nosh and was going to offer us his sofa, but he was staying at a guest house where he was already in trouble with the hostess.


Long story (extremely long story) short--we didn't sleep that night. We circled the outskirts of Prague in trams, loaded down with books and shoes and clothes, with the homeless and nightclubbers (there were actually an insane amount of people on the streets). We waited for the McDonald's opening at 7 am to use the bathrooms and eat. I've never been so happy to have a burger for breakfast.


We sleepwalked through the day and seeing that amazing city. I bought a few of these ornaments, carefully carried back to Vienna and then England and then the U.S. in my trusty, overpacked backpack. I had 4--my parents have 2 and I gave another to one of my aunts. Wish now I'd bought more! Had we been cozy at the Marriott, I don't think we'd have as vibrant a memory of that time!

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day Five: O Noble Dickinsonia

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Again, this was supposed to be yesterday's ornament. This one is veerrry self-explanatory. It's the main building of my undergrad institution (Dickinson College)--Old West. It currently holds the administrative offices of the college and is the building from which graduates emerge to accept their diplomas. Interestingly, it was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, an architect of the U.S. Capitol and namesake of Latrobe, PA--near my hometown, where Rolling Rock USED to be brewed and where my brother went to college at St. Vincent's.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day Four: Eiffel Tower

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This is a brass Eiffel Tower I got at Restoration Hardware the year my mom and I went to Paris--An 2000. When I suggested we go, she hesitated. She had never flown in a plane, let alone a transatlantic flight. At which point, I was like "Are you CRAZY? It's PARIS!" She got over any fear of flying, particularly when we had a bottle of wine in the air. We went for about five days, and it was great. (At this point, I can forget that I couldn't sleep because she was snoring in our tiny room in the eaves of a small hotel on the Left Bank.) It was nice too that it was also my first trip to the Eternal City. (I had been to France in college, but only the south.) Now that I realize it's been 8+ years, I think it's time to go back! Oui!

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day Three: In a Pickle

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I forgot to post this yesterday, but that's okay because I don't think many people are hanging on the edge of their seats!

This is a glass pickle ornament. (This supposedly relates to a German custom of hiding it in the tree and having the children find it. However, that isn't a custom in Germany, as explained here). I bought it just because I thought it was fun. The year was 1998. It was a cold January in New York City.  It was a girl and the American dream...

I had a series of interviews at the liberal arts consortium (Bantam Doubleday Dell, ABC News, and Barnes and Noble.com). The fact that I had to pay $200 a night for a hotel room in order to have interviews for jobs that paid around $20,000 a year in MANHATTAN should have tipped me off that this was not the world for me (but rather crazy people or those w/ trust funds). But, no matter. It was the first time I'd spent any significant time in the city. My mom accompanied me on the train and we stayed at at Marriott. Macy's was having after Christmas sales, and I purchased a pickle ornament.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day Two: Handicrafts from Catherine

 

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These two ornaments were made for my family by Catherine. Catherine was like a grandmother to me and a prolific maker of all things crochet and plastic canvas.  Growing up on Depot Street, our house was subdivided into our house plus two smaller apartments. Catherine lived in the lower apartment for my early childhood and would babysit me. She would make me French toast in the kitchen which still had an old style Frigidaire and I would climb up on her bed which seemed like a mountain and play with her jewelry. 


 



We walked to the hospital which was a half-block away and where she worked in her younger years and had grilled cheese sandwiches and milkshakes at the "hospitality shop" (where I'd also get a toy). She often treated me (and then my brother) to lunch in Downtown Greensburg. It was never a bustling metropolis, but when I was little, it actually still had businesses. The two places we'd eat were Troutmann's Department Store restaurant and the Murphy's 5 and 10 lunch counter (I'm only 32, so this was well past the hey day of this sort of thing). Generally, my meal choices centered around grilled cheese. 



At one point, Catherine moved to Pershing Square, a subsidized senior high rise. We of course still visited her there, where she made me French toast (unparalleled to this day by even the hottest brunch joints) and hamburgers for my brother. She was heavily involved in the social life of the building and was the first to tip us off that my grandfather--who lived there briefly after his divorce from his second wife--was a hot commodity. We lost her in 1999, but her love lives on in the copious amounts of crafty goods she made. Never is this so true as during Christmas. These two ornaments are only the tip of that crafty iceberg!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas Ornaments! Day One: Empire State Building

For the Twelve Days of Christmas, I have decided to share some of my Christmas ornaments and the story behind them!



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This is a cheap Made in China resin version of the Empire State Building in all its Christmas glory. I got this last year (Or was it 2 years ago?!) when Erin and I went to NYC on a day trip on a Greyhound (not something either of us would recommend). It was the coldest. day. ever. It was absolutely freezing. We went to see the Rockefeller Center tree and the windows at Macy's and Saks along with every other human in the Western world. It was insane and not that enjoyable until we found a sweet tea room in the Upper East Side. (We still have dreams about those scones.) 


At night, at I believe my insistence, we decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building. Though I'd been to NY quite a few times, I never quite made it there (or the Statue of Liberty for that matter). The line was insane and further proof that things are never like you see in the movies. We missed our bus and would have to take the last one out. However, we made it up, and the view was indeed amazing. However, it was FREEZING. I cannot explain exactly how awfully cold it was. It was bitter biting cold blowing against us from all sides at a high altitude. Like millions of tiny needles simultaneously pricking you all over your body. But, I still couldn't stop looking at the city lights and the impressive grid of streets. I love NY and love deco buildings and seeing things from the sky. It was pure enchantment. Of course, there was a bus to catch and limbs to preserve. So, I went inside and bought this cheap ornament. We made it to the last bus at which point, 2 pushy ladies cut in front of us. We were cut off from getting on the last bus by, you guessed it, those two women. Fortunately, Greyhound added a bus and all was relatively well. We swore on the NJ Turnpike we'd never bus it again, no matter how inexpensive it was!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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One of my big pet peeves (and this shows how petty I can be) is when people think the twelve days of Christmas are days that precede Christmas. Au contraire.  They're the days AFTER Christmas, before
Epiphany on January 6.

Sometimes, American Capitalism can be very lame. Everything focuses on the time BEFORE Christmas because that's the time when people are buying gifts, hence the misconception that the 12 days are before the holiday.

Another pet peeve (I have a lot of them) is that those radio stations that play 24-7 Christmas carols do so from a ridiculously early time in October until exactly December 25. You turn the station on on December 26 (which in many places is still a holiday--St. Stephen's Day and Boxing Day) and they're back to playing adult easy listening or whatever. It's stupid.

According to Wikipedia, this period was a period of revelry in Medieval Europe--Christmastide--leading up to Twelfth Night, the night before the Epiphany. Twelfth Night was a day where people dressed up to be something they weren't and made mischief, much like Halloween in some ways. This was the basis for Shakespeare's play of the same name, where roles are reversed and there's trickery involved. [ As an aside, saw Shakespeare Theatre Company's production last week, and it is FANTASTIC--I highly recommend if you have time. The photo above is by Carol Rosegg, on the Company's web site.
Featuring Veanne Cox as Olivia (who I seriously worry needs to eat
more...she was so think it was distracting. I kept wanting to offer her
a hamburger) and Ted van Griethuysen as Malvolio (FANTASTIC--absolutely marvelous). Not pictured is Christopher Innvar who was yummy as usual.
]

All of this is why I like having my holiday party around Twelfth Night. It extends the Christmas season and makes the period after Christmas less of a letdown. People can relax without worrying too much about running around to multiple parties and preparing for Christmas. I'm starting preparations for my next one now!

Happy Winter!

Here's a DC winter moment from a few years ago! Enjoy--the days will start to get longer now!

Dc winter

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fa la la la la la la la la

I decorated for Christmas this Sunday. I'm still getting in the mood...better hurry or it will be February before I know it!


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"Don't call it a comeback...I been here for years"

Well, my fan base informed me that the absence of my blogging has left a deep hole in their psyche. Okay, it was one person, and it wasn't that dramatic. I've been away from blogging for no good reason. Just wasn't feeling inspired or something. The economy has made things abyssmal in my company--layoffs (fortunately not me), people put on part time (again, fortunately not me), and paycuts (me). I think that has something to do with it...plus, with holidays time can get away from you. Here's some of what's been going on:


I went on a tour of the National Park Seminary site in Maryland. It is a National Historic Landmark that is currently being rehabbed with new housing. In its former life, it was first a hotel and then an exclusive boarding school for girls. It then served as an extension of Walter Reed Army Medical Ctr during and after World War II. This was also the day my camera died. :(


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I also repainted my ol' side cabinet. I got this cabinet at an estate sale before moving to the DC area after college. I think it's appropriate that I painted it with Martha Stewart colors both time. Then, "Bee Balm Red" from Sears. Now, French Bulldog Black from Lowes/Valspar. It took a long time to dry, and the finish ain't perfect, but whatever. I guess the good news is that because I didn't learn my lesson the first time and use a primer, I'll be redoing it again at some point! I completed the look with new knobs from Restoration Hardware's Leesburg Outlet (a complete steal at I think 99 cents?!). It definitely fits in better with my overall look.


Then:


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 Now:


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Other than that, the past month has been a blur. Went home for Thanksgiving, where I visited with family and ate well, as usual. I also got to see one of my favorite family members (no offense, Jean), my nephew dog Sammy


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Onward to December!!! Gripping life I do lead--sorry to have kept you all in the dark!

"Don't call it a comeback...I been here for years"

Well, my fan base informed me that the absence of my blogging has left a deep hole in their psyche. Okay, it was one person, and it wasn't that dramatic. I've been away from blogging for no good reason. Just wasn't feeling inspired or something. The economy has made things abyssmal in my company--layoffs (fortunately not me), people put on part time (again, fortunately not me), and paycuts (me). I think that has something to do with it...plus, with holidays time can get away from you. Here's some of what's been going on:


I went on a tour of the National Park Seminary site in Maryland. It is a National Historic Landmark that is currently being rehabbed with new housing. In its former life, it was first a hotel and then an exclusive boarding school for girls. It then served as an extension of Walter Reed Army Medical Ctr during and after World War II. This was also the day my camera died. :(


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I also repainted my ol' side cabinet. I got this cabinet at an estate sale before moving to the DC area after college. I think it's appropriate that I painted it with Martha Stewart colors both time. Then, "Bee Balm Red" from Sears. Now, French Bulldog Black from Lowes/Valspar. It took a long time to dry, and the finish ain't perfect, but whatever. I guess the good news is that because I didn't learn my lesson the first time and use a primer, I'll be redoing it again at some point! I completed the look with new knobs from Restoration Hardware's Leesburg Outlet (a complete steal at I think 99 cents?!). It definitely fits in better with my overall look.


Then:


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 Now:


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Other than that, the past month has been a blur. Went home for Thanksgiving, where I visited with family and ate well, as usual. I also got to see one of my favorite family members (no offense, Jean), my nephew dog Sammy


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Onward to December!!! Gripping life I do lead--sorry to have kept you all in the dark!