Christmas

Apparently, three days and three nights is the maximum amount of time I am able to spend with my family in Tennessee without getting into any arguments. Which means I am now back home and able to reflect on the nice things I did while up in Tennessee:

[357/365] I only turned around where the trail was flooded..There were a family of geese.
The creek was high..I saw an abandoned putt-putt course.
Funny signage from the Greenbelt in my hometown, where I ran this morning.I went for a wonderful run on the Kingsport Greenbelt, a paved trail in my hometown that connects different parks and neighborhoods, and is long and flat and pretty. It’s one of the few flat places to run there, actually, as my town is in a very hilly/mountainous part of Tennessee. It had been so rainy that the creek was really high and parts of the trail were flooded out, but I managed to see some lovely sights, meet a family of geese, discover an abandoned putt-putt course, and enjoy the signage that reminded me distinctly of something you’d see in the parks of Pawnee, Indiana. (Seriously, if you’re not watching Parks and Rec, get on that now.)

Dinner!I also left on a good note after Christmas dinner, which my brother and I cooked and which came out wonderfully if I do say so myself. I forgot until after eating that marshmallows are not vegetarian (they contain gelatin) and I should have skipped them, but I guess I am not perfect. The gift exchange went well and I think everybody was happy with what I chose for them.

Driving off into the Sunset (Sunday)I had been planning to stay over until Monday morning and then drive home in the daylight, but I decided to leave after dinner on Sunday. I still made it back home by 10:30 pm even though I left right as the sun was sinking low. A road trip in the dark is not my favorite, but I tried to enjoy the quiet roads and the prospect of my own couch and bed awaiting me.

Scenes from my Drive. Blurg.It was much better than the trip up there a few days before, which had involved over three hours of driving through a blinding, furious, torrential downpour that actually followed me northeast on interstates 40 and 81. How rude.

Egon and I were both pretty exhausted after the stresses of travel, and we slept in until almost 11:00 yesterday morning. It was glorious, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. Today has felt pretty self-indulgent, too: I started out with Body Pump class at the gym and then a quick run. Nothing better than doing something good for yourself first thing in the morning, whether that’s much needed sleep or a workout: each one has its own time. Body Pump, if you don’t know, is a group strength training class where you do a routine of weight-lifting moves set to music. Normally I love this because the music, instructor, and other people in class are all very motivating. I don’t need much motivation to do cardio as I just plain love running and biking — but when it comes to weights, I need all the help I can get, so this is a great option for me. But can I just mention that it drives me absolutely insane when the instructor and/or the other class members can’t keep time with the beat correctly? As a former marching band nerd, I take offense at any human’s inability to work within a 4/4 time signature. BUT ANYWAY.

Continuing my self-indulgent day, I watched some Vampire Diaries (I’m just getting started with season three), read a bit, and then went TV shopping. I’m buying a flat screen HDTV after getting to use W’s for a long time and seeing how much better it is than my old, crappy, 19″ tube. It is seriously nice, y’all. He’s been generous enough to leave his TV over at my place since Egon came home from the hospital and had to be crated 24/7 — we just stayed here all the time and it was better to have the nicer TV for a lot of reasons. The ability to play BluRays and stream Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon is, in a word, awesome. But I need to give it back to him soon, so I’ve been shopping around for my own smaller version. Thanks to a couple of gift cards and some money I received, I was able to get a 37″ model (which I got a great deal on because I ordered it online). It feels quite silly and materialistic indeed to be getting myself something so, well, excessive, but I think the enjoyment will be entirely worth it. It should arrive the week of January 2. Hooray!

So how was your Holiday weekend? Do you have any incredibly indulgent gifts about which to boast? Shocking tales of family conflict? Please do tell!

Happy Holidays

Greetings, friends! Christmas is almost here — are you ready, if you celebrate it? I am ready! The one thing I haven’t done yet is mail out holiday cards, which are I guess going to turn into New Year’s cards instead this year as I am so hopelessly tardy on that. On the bright side, this means that if you’d like to be on my card mailing list, there’s STILL TIME! Because I am SO BEHIND! So just email me your mailing address (kateoblog at gmail) and I’ll send you a little how-do-you-do.

In all other respects, though, I am ready to Initiate Holiday Action Sequence. I’ve got gifts for my family all figured out and bought and wrapped. Oh yes indeed! I spent last night wrapping gifts and drinking some (wait for it) pink champagne. It was doing business as “sparkling rosé,” but come on now. I was feeling silly and festive and that just happened to be what went down at Kroger as I was faced with the selection of sparkling wines. That pink bottle made its merry way into my basket. Don’t judge.

Oh, Champagne...

Anyway, I have the guy’s present worked out, too — despite the cruel fact that some certain retailers to remain nameless had a great sale going on and then ENDED the sale the week before Christmas just to prey upon the desperate last minute shoppers who’d be willing to pay full price. Well, they didn’t get me! I found a competitor stocking a similar product at a much better price. Look, I’d tell you all about it but he 1) hasn’t opened the gift yet, and 2) knows about this blog, so you’ll just have to remain ignorant for now.

Wrapping

Ribbon.Stack

Anyway. I’ve got a table full of festive presents that, sadly, can’t be placed under my pretty tree because, let’s face it, that’s just dog entrapment right there. My suitcase is also packed and ready to go. What’s that? Yeah, I’m fixin’ to head out of town tomorrow morning, up to East Tennessee to visit my family. I’ll be up there until just after Christmas, and then back here in time to decompress, celebrate New Year’s Eve, and then recover in time for the new semester.

Spikes
[359/365] Berries

Christmas 2010

I normally look forward to snow in Tennessee at Christmas, as it happens almost every year. Last year, in fact, it started to snow while we were at Midnight Mass, and when we came out of the church it was all drifting down beautifully and magically and it was perfection, I tell you. This year, I don’t expect to get my snowy wish granted — the forecast is showing temperatures in the 50s and 60s, only slightly cooler than the 60s and 70s we’ve been seeing here in Alabama. In December. I tell you what: I do not approve of this bullshit. It is supposed to be winter, you know, and not only winter but Christmas! Well, you can’t win them all, can you?

I hope you all have just a wonderful Christmas (and/or a great weekend)! Eat good food, sleep in, hug your friends and snorgle your pets. Happy holidays!

White Christmas

My short trip up to East Tennessee is already over — and so is Christmas. It was a nice trip all in all. I had a great time hanging out with my family even if they did (it’s becoming an annual tradition now) invite me to go shoot guns with them. Which (annual tradition part two) I declined.

My brother and I went out one night to hang out with some of his friends who play in a pool league, and spending the evening in this pool hall was one of the most entertaining experiences of the trip. There were dozens of pool tables, ashtrays in each bathroom stall, and plenty of drama among the pool players. My brother and I don’t play (at all), so we just hung around and offered witticisms.

[358/365] Spot the Photographer

The rest of the trip was more low key and far less smoky. We planned and cooked dinner for our parents (who are not into cooking), watched some movies, and slept in every day. The best thing about Christmas, though, was the snow! It was flurrying slightly when we got out of midnight mass, and by the time we woke up the next morning there was a thin layer on the ground. It continued to snow all Christmas day and into the next day. By the time I was safely back in Alabama I heard my hometown had accumulated several inches of the cold stuff.

Branch

Winter is my favorite season and snow is my favorite type of weather, so I was pretty thrilled. After Christmas dinner while everyone else was napping, I took to the streets on a four-mile walk and took plenty of pictures.

Shrubbery

[359/365] Berries

Roadway

Gate

Snow is the best Christmas present! This almost makes up for the fact that I never really get to experience winter where I live. In other news, I must decide what to spend my gift money on. I’m thinking one of these camera bags and/or a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

How was your Christmas, if you celebrate it? If not, how was your weekend?

Cookie Time!

Can I tempt you with some cookies? Or pixellographic representations thereof? In spite of my very Grinchy attitude about traveling home for the holiday, I spent the day baking treats for my family. They are not cooks, really, and are more canned- and frozen- and buffet-type-food people, so I hope they appreciate the baking.

In addition to the chocolate chip cookies I tested earlier this week, I made three more recipes from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. They all turned out great.

Citrus Glitters

These are the “Citrus Glitters,” kind of a puffy sugar cookie flavored with whatever citrus zest you please and rolled in turbinado sugar for the glittery effect. Very tasty, but bringing together the crumbly dough and rolling it in the sugar without breakage was a little tricky.

Oatmeal Cranberry Almond

Here, I took the basic oatmeal raisin recipe and Christmassed it up: I switched dried cranberries for the raisins and added almonds and orange zest. They look vaguely healthy but I assure you they are nothing short of decadently chewy and delicious.

And finally, get ready, reader, for the pièce de résistance:

[356/365] OMFG

The “Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows” (stupid name, I know). These things were also a little time consuming to make, as I had to roll the PB filling into balls and then shape the chocolate dough around them, but SWEET MOTHER OF DOG they were worth every second. So delicious I didn’t even know what to do with myself and had to reevaluate my entire cookie belief and value system. Highly recommended, if you can handle your earth being shaken in such a manner.

I wish I could make these cookies magically downloadable for you, friends, but sadly technology is not there yet (Hello, scientists, please get on this). Instead I will leave you with my wish for a very happy holiday! I hope you are relaxed and content and enjoying some tasty treats of your own. I won’t have internet until I get back from the wilds of Appalachia, but until then I will see you on Twitter.

Two Sizes Too Small

What I really love about the holiday season is staying in, enjoying the quietude of my house, staying warm when it’s cold outside, enjoying holiday foods and music, and generally feeling warm and cozy. What I do not really love about the holiday season is the travel and the series of obligations and expenses. That is the phase of Christmas break about to begin.

Thursday I’ll be heading back to my hometown to visit my father, brother, and stepmother for the holiday. I don’t see them all that often so I’m looking forward to spending some time together. I just wish there were some magical way that I could preemptively edit out all the parts where they criticize my diet, ask me about the academic job market, talk about politics, and invite me to go shoot guns with them. That would winnow the trip down to a manageable few hours or so.

While I’m throwing out impossible Christmas wishes, I also wish we had a family tradition of exchanging gift wish lists. You know, so that I had any clue as to what to give them (and they me, of course). We are complete and total opposites and I always find myself at a total loss. I don’t think I am hard to shop for, but apparently I am. I have very definite, specific, well-known hobbies and interests (photography, running, cycling, cooking) but I usually walk away with something along the lines of a calendar of cat pictures, or a throw-blanket with cats embroidered on it. Because I have a cat. They don’t even realize, for example, that I don’t actually like my cat and in fact prefer my dog.

I don’t think I’m a materialistic person and in no way do I feel like I should receive expensive presents or anything. It’s not about that. A calendar with dachshund pictures instead, for example, would actually go a long way toward soothing my crankiness. It’s just these gifts sometimes feel like an empty gesture: a disconnected and unconcerned gesture of obligation. This aspect of Christmas always makes me sad.

When I ask them what they would like, I just get a non-answer. “Oh, nothing special.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Whatever.” And then whatever I buy winds up collecting dust, still in its packaging, on some forgotten shelf five to ten years later.

This whole entry sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I just feel like when you know a person well, it’s easy to think of things they might like to receive as gifts. So it doesn’t seem like we know each other that well. Couldn’t we just start using Amazon wish lists so we could fake it, at least? Grumble.

Well, I don’t mean to be so Grinchy. I really am looking forward to most aspects of the trip. Especially the night when my brother and I try to collaboratively cook Christmas dinner. Apparently all of his cookware is cast iron and “seasoned” with bacon fat. That should make a good story, at least. Let’s just say the bottle of wine will remain uncorked. Happy Holidays!

Cold

In what may be my favorite moment of dialogue in all of television ever, Mad Men‘s Betty Draper is being hit on by the naïve young Arthur Case at the stables where they both ride. As she is giving him the brush off, he tells her, “You’re so profoundly sad.” Betty’s response: “No. It’s just my people are Nordic.”

I have been told many times by the smug Arthurs of the world that they know what my emotional state is. I have been nicknamed by my very own mother “The Ice Princess” since I was a small child. If only I’d had Betty Draper’s dry wit in those situations. My people, too, are Nordic.

We are cold people. We are scientists, logicians, phenomenologists, mechanics, engineers, ship-builders, cabinet-makers, fishermen, Alpine climbers, ice-hearted businessmen, snow-shoe hikers, Arctic tundra dwellers. We come from small, rocky islands bathed in a thick grey mist, where preserved fish and ice-cold vodka warm the body from within. We are sailors of the Baltic, the North Sea, the North Atlantic; settlers of the frozen Great Lakes; residents of old misty mountains; perchers on the edge of the cold Pacific. We measure, we analyze, we calculate. Our eyes are the color of ice, of deep ocean waters, of granite. Cold is in our blood.

When my Alaskan cousin sent me an email about Bill Streever’s book, Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places, little did he know that I had already heard an interview with Streever on the radio and had procured a copy of my own as soon as possible. An entire book dedicated to cold, I thought, would be just the sort of thing to have handy on my bedside table for those nights when I felt like weeping in exhaustion after having endured yet another day in a suicidally hot and humid place like the one where I currently live. I could assuage my pain by living vicariously through Streever’s travels and research.

His book details (among many other things) the time he spent in Fairbanks (where my cousins live) studying the patterns of winter there; the cold. Here is what he writes about the time he immersed himself inthe near-frozen waters of Prudhoe Bay:

I go in headfirst. The water temperature is thirty-five degrees. I come up gasping. I stand on a sandy bottom, immersed to my neck. The water stings, as if I am rolling naked through a field of nettles. I wait for the gasp reflex to subside. My skin tightens around my body. My brain — the part of it I cannot control — has sent word to the capillaries in my extremities. “Clamp down,” my brain has commanded, “and conserve heat.” I feel as if I am being shrink-wrapped, like a slab of salmon just before it is tossed into the Deepfreeze.

I had Streever’s words in mind as I prepared to plunge into my tub of ice water after today’s run – – the recovery ice bath I had been assured would prevent muscle soreness the next day. I filled the tub with cold water and dumped in as much ice as I had — I had been making extra and saving it in the freezer all week with today’s bath in mind. I plopped my still be-socked feet into the icy water and carefully slid all the way in, immersing myself to just above the waist.

I felt the cold ache in my feet, the part of my lower body that is the least well insulated with fat. My calves, shins, and thighs were slower to feel the prickling sensation Streever descibes, but as I sat in the ice water I could easily envision the capillaries constricting, the over-worked muscle fiber wringing itself out, any potential swelling prevented before it could begin.

It didn’t hurt. Honestly, the extreme cold I subjected myself to for those fifteen minutes felt like a relief. Whether or not I’ll feel any delayed-onset muscle soreness tomorrow (as would be typical), I can say that the time spent in the ice bath was, strangely enough, a pleasure. It may have been the only time my body stopped actively producing sweat since I moved to Alabama in 2007.

[30/365] IceI will no doubt be employing the ice bath after my race two weeks from now. With a hotel ice machine, I may even be able to get enough ice to make it truly, terribly, wonderfully cold in that tub. Ice bath, take me home.

My Tree is Lit; My Tofurkey is Thawing. Now Bring Me a Soy Nog and Don't Hold the Brandy!

It may be my winter break, but I have still managed to be busy, busy, busy. I am getting ready for my dad and brother’s visit down here for the holiday, which entails a lot of cleaning, organizing, and planning. I realized that it was all fine and good that I had a Christmas tree, but it would be even better if I had presents to go under it. Likewise, the vegan Christmas dinner I am planning would be best presented on the surface of, say, a dining table instead of a coffee table. Just for example.

IKEA to the rescue, as usual! I found a very cute, simple, glass-topped table and four chairs for a very reasonable price, and got it all assembled just now. I have even managed to find a few presents that are, I hope, not entirely lame and/or thoughtless. (I am bad at shopping for my male family members. What do boys even like? Worse yet, they always already have everything they would want. Sigh.) But at any rate, I think it’s shaping up to be a top-notch Christmas chez moi.

I’m just a little nervous about it because I have never hosted for a holiday before and my family are all omnivores and I am making them a Tofurkey and on and on. It’ll be good though. I just can’t forget the brandy for the egg soy nog. I think anyone can forgive me for serving soy nog if there’s enough brandy in, right?

In other holiday news, I mailed out my cards and mix CDs to all you lovely people earlier today, so be on the lookout for an envelope from me. I hope you all enjoy it! I do have to warn you that there is one oh-sweet-fancy-moses unbelievably cheesy song on there — you’ll know the one when you hear it — but I just couldn’t HELP MYSELF. I had to do it. HAD TO.

And, to bring this holiday post to a close, I offer you a photograph of my dog in front of the tree, 1980s Polaroid style.

IMG_0553

“Happy Holidays,” says Cap’n Snuggles, “now why is there no giant rawhide bone under this tree?”