Thursday, December 25, 2008

Throw Another Yule Log onto the Fire



What in the world?  It's a four-hour loop of a burning log in a fireplace, accompanied by holiday tunes?  Yes!  It's the Yule Log, and it's what to watch - or listen to - as you open your presents on Christmas morning.  My first encounter with Yule Log was Christmas of 1996, the first year Marc and I lived in Boston.  It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I realized the Yule Log originated at a local New York television station, the brainchild of its President and CEO.  It is strange to see a program whose only content was a shot of a fire in a hearth, but listening to Nat King Cole's rendition of "A Christmas Song" can fill even the Scroogiest Scrooge with holiday cheer.  The Yule Log phenomenon is so great that there is a website dedicated to it, and Time magazine even ran a story on it.


The TiVo menu shows that Yule Log runs from 9am until 1pm on Christmas day, providing four hours of holiday enjoyment for everyone!

Christmas Eve Tradition


This is the only kind of coffee I'll ever drink:  Irish coffee.  And the only time I drink it is on Christmas Eve at O'Lunney's in Times Square. 

Ordinarily, we avoid Times Square as if it were the plague, especially at Christmastime when it's choked with tourists who apparently have never seen a neon sign.  Yet having a cocktail at this spacious Irish pub has become a Christmas Eve tradition for Marc and me.  


We first discovered this spot while exploring the city in 2000 during our first months in New York.  (It was our first experience with neon, too.)  Months later Marc and I met a friend at O'Lunney's on Christmas Eve, and the tradition was born.  Last night was our ninth visit.

Before our trek to O'Lunney's, Marc and I participated in another of our Christmas Eve traditions: walking around our neighborhood of historic Chelsea.  This year the decorations weren't as festive, but they were still pretty.  I love the old buildings in the area, and seeing them with Christmas lights and wreaths is delightful.

This building is on the corner of 21st Street and 10th Avenue.  It's gorgeous, and the people who live there always do a nice job with their tree (see below).

We felt almost like voyeurs taking this picture.  I hope those folks don't mind us looking in their window, but I'm sure they strategically put their tree in that spot so that we on the outside could enjoy it.

Outdoor retro lights!


A lovely wreath on a building on 22nd Street

Another Holiday Greeting



It's nice when the gifts you give are appreciated.  Kathy is enjoying her catnip-covered cushion Marc bought from Muji.  (We added the catnip.)

The catnip put her in a festive mood:

Holiday Greeting

Merry Christmas from Berkley the Santa Cat!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O! Retro Tree!

It's our thinnest tree ever, and it has the fewest lights ever, but we love Retro Tree!  The giant, solid-colored bulbs are a throwback to our '70s childhoods. The ornaments, most of which were purchased over the years at an antiques store on 18th street in New York, add to the retro flavor.  It wasn't a style we considered before the holiday season began; it merely evolved by accident after Marc purchased the skinny tree in New Jersey.  


Here is Retro Tree in the early decorating stages.  It doesn't look like much right now, but have faith!  Marc is the premier tree decorator.  One Christmas Marc put almost thousand lights on our tree, but that tree was much bigger. This year's total tops out around 325.  


As the lights come together, Retro Tree begins to take shape.


Included in the tangle of lights are blue LEDs (energy efficient); clear flashers that Marc ordered from a Chinese website (not at all energy efficient);  and crazy, solid, painted bulbs that scream 1973 (a wasteful drain of this nation's resources).  


Of course, there has to be a Carolina blue bulb!  The ornaments are next!


First, Berkley helps us unwrap the ornaments that were stored in our front hall closet.  How thoughtful.


As mentioned earlier, we've purchased several ornaments at a place near us called Authentiques.  It's been a holiday tradition for Marc and me since we've been in New York.  


Marc's favorites are the old bells.


He loves stars, too.


My personal faves are these little guys, which were actually bought at Bloomingdale's.  They are so cute!


Marc's favorite bells look great amongst the icicles.



The lighting sets the tone.


My Bloomingdale's specials look great, too!


Red Santa and Green Santa are jealous that their tree isn't as nice as ours.  


Since Kathy is a Norwegian Forest Cat (well, she's just a mutt, but she looks like a Norwegian Forest Cat), the cold, winter holiday season is her favorite time of year.  And she loves trees.  And presents.


And here is Retro Tree in all his glory!  We love him!  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Shopping - Yuck

I really don't like to shop during the holidays.  When I go to a physical store, I always find things I want for myself instead of for the people for whom I am shopping.  Then there's my issue of hating people and crowded stores.  Rude people, poor customer service, and all that noise combine to create a nightmare for me.  Yes, I'm the one who chose to live in one of the largest cities in the world (an estimated 8,214,426 according to the 2006 census).  I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me; I'm just venting.  I know there are some things you have to buy in person in a store, but for the most part, I'd rather shop online.  

Which raises another issue.  I live in a building that doesn't have a doorman, so sometimes receiving packages can be a bit tricky.  If no one is home to sign for a package, UPS, FedEx, or the post office leaves a note.  After three delivery tries without a response from the package recipient, the shipping company takes the package back to its store.  (Is it actually called a store?  Warehouse?) Anyway, I have to pick up the package, which can be a pain because I have to walk all the way to the post office (3 blocks) or UPS (10-minute subway ride), or FedEx (less than a mile, depending on which location).  And I'm a big baby.

This Christmas everything I order online is being shipped to the Mail Boxes Etc. in Greenwich Village.  It will cost me, though:  $5 for envelopes, $10 for boxes up to 44", and $15 for boxes larger than 44".  True, it's almost the same as picking up my packages at the shipping locations (except that's free, actually), but I like the fact that MBE will call me when it arrives, so there'll be no back and forth, "Oh, I tried to deliver, but you weren't home" nonsense. Plus, I won't run the risk of my husband intercepting the packages and discovering from where I ordered his gifts, thus ruining the surprise of Christmas.  (He's lucky:  He ships my presents to his office.  Since I'm self-employed, I have no office.)

At any rate, holiday shopping is annoying.  I'm trying to get it out of the way early to spare myself a ton of bah-humbug moments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lyrical Lapse - A Grammar Lesson in Song Lyrics

I'm a fan of the Silversun Pickups.  Because I bought their albums Carnavas and Pikul through iTunes, I had no liner notes and therefore was not privy to the lyrics of their songs.  Just moments ago, I was listening to their song "Common Reactor" and wondered what kind of girl Brian Aubert was singing about in the second verse.  A quick Google search led me to the website lyricsmania.com, where I found the lyrics to the song in question.  So, here's the second verse:

"it's the colorless picture
in a heart shaped frame
the silhouette of a dough eyed girl
who at one point had a name"

Forget, for a moment, that there should be hyphens between heart and shaped and dough and eyed because that's not the real issue here.  I laughed out loud when I saw the phrase dough eyed girl because I pictured a girl with pizza dough dripping from beneath her eyebrows.  No, I thought the lyrics should have read doe-eyed girl, meaning this girl was naive or had the large eyes of a baby deer.  

I assumed that lyricsmania.com made this mistake between the two homophones.  (Homophones, as we all know, are words that sound the same but have different meanings and usually different spellings.)  Then I decided to browse through the official website of the Silversun Pickups, and a brief glance at their lyrics tab revealed the same thing as the lyrics website:  dough eyed girl.  

I was going to use this blog entry as a way to lambaste both the band and lyricsmania, but something told me to investigate further.  Imagine my embarrassment when I discovered that dough-eyed is an actual term, albeit a slang one.  According to urbandictionary.com, dough-eyed refers to women who "hang around [a wealthy man], be he attractive or not, looking to marry him for his money."  So, it's another term for golddigger.  Incidentally, the term dough-eyed does not appear in my standard dictionaries, real or virtual.

Before I apologize to the Silversun Pickups and to lyricsmania.com, I wonder which interpretation the band intended when describing the girl in "Common Reactor."  If the band was singing about a girl who was after a man for his money, then yes, she was indeed dough-eyed.  But if she was an all-too-trusting girl with an innocent, wide-eyed look on her face, then the term doe-eyed should have been used.  With a hyphen.



Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving Yakitori - Two Days Later

With the savory flavor of grilled chicken and vegetables still lingering on our taste buds, my husband and I couldn't resist another night of yakitori cooking.  This time we bought tsukune, chicken meatballs, from Mitsuwa.  Lucky for us, the meatballs were already prepared, so that significantly reduced the time it usually takes to put all this stuff together.  


Tsukune with asparagus



Yummy skewers ready for grilling



Cooking this kind of food is a snap with our Japanese grill

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Yakitori


There was no turkey dinner at our place this Thanksgiving.  It worked out well because my husband isn't a turkey lover, and I'm not a fan of cooking a giant feast for only two people.  So we did what anyone else would do.  We grilled yakitori skewers!  

So what, exactly is yakitori, you ask?  It means grilled chicken.  Chicken wasn't the only thing we grilled; we also had shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, and okra. It was a yummy, if unconvential, Thanksgiving feast!



Chunks of cut-up chicken thighs interspersed with shiitake mushrooms and okra on skewers



Chicken thigh chunks soaking in a mixture of sake, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.  Okay, I know this looks gross, but it's what makes the chicken and veggies taste so good!



Sliced shiitake mushrooms and shrimp waiting to be grilled



A cool and refreshing Japanese beer is the perfect complement to yakitori.



The finished product

I've Been Published!

Being new to writing, I'm so excited to have something published (see blog entry from September).  Forgive me for being a goof, but I've been published again!  This time the publication is Chopsticks NY, an English magazine dedicated to helping its readers "experience Japan in New York."  My story is about tenugui, a kind of cloth that has a long tradition in Japanese history.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruri Kippenbrock, the delightful owner of Wuhao New York Inc., a company that sells tenugui.

If you're in the New York or New Jersey area, pick up a copy of Chopsticks NY at a Japanese restaurant or supermarket.  If you're farther afield, check out my story here.

Facing the Facebook Pressure

I received another invitation to join Facebook today.  That makes four official invitations and countless pressure from other friends to become a part of the social networking craze.  When I asked what benefit I would gain from joining, one friend answered that Facebook is "a great way to waste time."  I waste enough time as it is. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chester Drawers and Other Mispronunciations

Writing about Chester Drawer made me think about how funny the English language is.  My friend John, a native North Carolinian, admitted that he spent roughly the first twelve years of his life thinking that "chest of drawers" was in fact pronounced "Chester Drawers."  After hearing John's brave confession, I was reminded of a sportscaster with whom I used to work.  He's a great guy who loves sports, but it drove me up the wall when he misspoke a particular phrase.  You know the phrase "for all intents and purposes"?  Well, Mr. Sports said, "for all intentional purposes"! Even after being corrected several times, he continued to say it this way.  Why?

It made me think of my own foibles with the English language:  I was in fourth grade when I discovered that supposed  was not spelled sposed, as in "He's sposed to call me tonight!"  In John's case and my case, we were children growing up in the south who were simply listening to the way in which others around us were speaking.  To a certain extent, we are the products of our environments*.  Luckily, common sense and higher education prevailed.  As for Mr. Sports, well, I think he was just stubborn.  (By the way, he's also from the south.)

A Google search of Chester Drawers led to a couple of discoveries, one interesting, one scary.  The interesting one is a library (not libary) of the 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English.  In addition to the beloved Chester Drawers, the list includes classics such as artic (instead of arctic), supposably (instead of supposedly), and - my personal favorite - doggy dog world (instead of dog-eat-dog world).  It seems as if most of these mistakes are made by people from the south, so I wonder if these are colloquial.  Irregardless, it was fun to read this list and think back to my childhood and how happy I am to have escaped it relatively unscathed.

The scary discovery I made while searching Chester Drawers is that a person named Chester Drawers actually exists.  Well, it's the name of a character played by a children's author, but still.  While I was too scared to investigate his entire website, I did notice a couple of instances where he misused commas on his homepage.  I hope the children he visits in schools don't visit his website and think that's the correct way to write.  

*I agonized over whether to type products of our environments or product of our environment.  I went with the plural because the subject is we.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chester Drawers

If you're looking for furniture, or you just want to see really large furniture, visit the Piedmont area of North Carolina.  High Point is known as the Furniture Capital of the World (or Home Furnishings Capital of the World, if you want to include things such as lamps).  Ten miles away in Thomasville sits what could be the world's largest chair.  And in quaint Jamestown stands a big-ass bureau at Furnitureland South


It's hard to miss this behemoth attached to one of the buildings in this mega furniture shopping complex.  Unless, of course, you're not paying attention.  Yes, this bureau, which a friend of mine called Chester Drawers, is big.  And ornate.  I wonder if the drawers open.  



Elsewhere on the compound one can find ridiculously over-price lawn ornaments, such as this seal here.

Cats of the Week: Sug, Weezy, and Elvis

Now my Cat of the Day has become Cat of the Week.  It really should be Cat of the Every Other Month.  Anyway, here are Sug, Weezy, and Elvis.  They belong to my friends John and Tammy down in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  They are soft and sweet.


Sug is not a Russian Blue - my first guess - but she's just as beautiful, isn't she?


Aww, doesn't this picture just break your heart?


Take a look at that exquisite silver coat.


Weezy, the softest cat in the world.


Weezy wears fur pants.


Weezy poses with the pink flamingoes.


This little guy is Elvis.  He was pretty elusive during the picture-taking process, so this is the best I could do!  He's awfully cute, though.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mountain Grammar

While I was checking into a hotel in the quaint, bucolic town of Boone, North Carolina, a woman approached the front desk asking for a copy of USA Today. Here is the response from the young coed working at the hotel:

"The last one just got gone."

Okay, now I'm from North Carolina, and yes, I say y'all and fixin' (as in, "I'm fixin' to go to the store.").  But I have never, ever used the expression listed above.  I can't even repeat it now.  Somehow I resisted the urge to correct her. Actually, correct is the wrong term.  Somehow I resisted the urge to scold her and find the names of all her past English teachers and write them angry letters.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Encore Presentation of Game 6: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks vs Chiba Lotte Marines

The link to what should be this story on yesnetwork.com actually goes to the Hawks/Golden Eagles game in Sendai.  I decided to post the story here.

We couldn’t get enough of Japanese baseball, so we decided to see three more games.  Our sixth game was a matchup between the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines. 

The Marines play in a tile-covered stadium about a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo.  The family-friendly ballpark has a play area for children, and there are benches and picnic tables situated around the perimeter near an aisle of food kiosks.  


As with the other teams we’ve seen during our trip, the mascots were out in full force.  A cat mascot made balloon animals for children.  Several fans – mostly adults – sat on the ground in front of the stadium to watch Mar-kun, a seagull, provide pregame entertainment.  Later, Mar-kun and three other birds joined the cheerleaders on the field for a lively pregame dance.





We had a great view of the field from our seats by third base.  The section was populated mostly with Hawks fans, so we didn’t get the full effect of the Marines fan club, Team 26.  Japanese teams have 25 players on their active rosters, so the fan club’s name is derived from the concept that collectively the fans are the Marines’ 26th player.  As a result, no player on the Marines wears that jersey number.  Team 26, sporting bright white shirts, had a tremendous presence in the right field stands and fashioned their cheers in the style of European soccer fans, bouncing up and down in unison.

The Marines won the game 4-2 behind the strength of starting pitcher Naoyuki Shimizu, who was named player of the game after going 7 2/3 innings, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits with no walks and 6 strikeouts.  After his postgame, on-field interview, Shimizu and the mascots walked to right field, where together they bowed before Team 26.  


Former Mets player Benny Agbayani started in right field for the Marines and went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk.  


In a losing effort for the Hawks, pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada threw a staggering 141 pitches in 7 innings.



The best part of the day came before the game.  In a touching ceremony, the Marines paid tribute to Hawks manager Sadarahu Oh, who announced his retirement on September 23 after fifty years in professional baseball.  His 2006 battle with cancer led to the removal of his stomach, and health issues have forced him to leave the game at season’s end.  The Marines played a video highlight of Oh’s illustrious career, and afterward he stepped out of the visitors’ dugout to acknowledge the crowd.  Bobby Valentine emerged from his own dugout to present the retiring legend a bouquet of flowers.  Oh-san shook the hand of each Marines player and received a bear hug from Julio Zuleta, whom he managed from 2003-2006.



Valentine is an icon in his own right, especially in Chiba.  The city has embraced the outspoken American as one of their own, which was easy to do since he won the Japan Series in 2005.  His likeness is everywhere, from the shrine dedicated to him in front of the stadium to his smiling face on food-court menus.  He was on the field even before Oh’s tribute, shaking hands and throwing baseballs into the crowd. 


Our next stop is to see another game with Oh’s Hawks, this time against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Sendai, north of Tokyo.  Waku waku suru! (I’m excited!)