25 Days of Christmas: Movies Edition

Last year in the 25 days leading up to Christmas I doled out one blog post a day detailing my favorite Christmas songs. I thought about doing that again this year. However, I realized that I although I could certainly come up with another list of 25 songs to post, last year I really exhausted my absolute favorites and the ones I actually had something to write about. Thus, I decided this years 25 Days of Christmas needed a new theme. After thinking about what that might be I settled on my favorite Christmas movies. This isn’t to say I won’t throw in a few bonus Christmas songs here and there or other Christmas related posts, but the actual daily posts will focus on movies.

All of the movies that I’m going to write about either are actual Christmas movies about Christmas related things like Santa or movies that remind of Christmas for some reason or another. I can already tell you a couple of movies that will not be appearing on my list that many of you will find horrifying. There will be no Christmas Story. I can’t stand that movie. I have never understood why everyone loves it so much. I just find it annoying. I will also not be including Scrooged, perhaps because I was too young to appreciate it as a small child when I first saw it and never got over that. Finally, there will be no Love Actually. Based on my small slice of the internet it seems like I am the only one who does not consider this to be their go-to Christmas movie these days. I saw it once when it first came out. Thought it was so-so and never thought of it again until a few years ago when social media informed me that everyone else adores it beyond belief. I thought about rewatching it just to see if there was something that I missed, but then there was a lengthy discussion of it on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast this past week. Listening to that I realized I definitely remembered enough about the movie and it actually made me decide that I didn’t need to see it again. I’m just not as super excited about it as everyone else.

I cannot in any way guarantee the quality of the movies I will be writing about. Many of them are nostalgic favorites from my childhood. Some of them I haven’t even seen since I was a kid and my feelings about the ones I have seen as an adult are forever influenced by my childhood memories. Perhaps if I had seen some of them for the first time now I would be singing a different song. At any rate I hope you’ll indulge my trip down memory lane. Feel free to share your own favorites or try and convince me why I’m wrong about Love Actually.

Once: The Musical

While we were in New York City we took in a Broadway show, which I am wont to do when we are up there. This time it was Once, which is based on the 2006 film of the same name. Once had pretty much been at the top of my list of shows to see since I heard it was being workshopped. My excitement only grew the more I heard about it. It also won 8 Tony’s including Best Actor, Best Musical, and Best Book. I would have seen it the last time we were in New York except that I wanted to make sure to see Peter and the Starcatcher while Christian Borle was still playing Black Stache, so that won out instead. Thus, Once was at the top of my list for this trip.

The movie stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who wrote the songs, one of which won an Oscar. It’s a bittersweet story of music, love, and loss. Glen Hansard plays an Irish street musician down on his luck, while Marketa Irglova plays a young Czech girl who befriends and inspires him. They begin playing music together and work to a demo recorded in order to help Glen’s character pursue his music career. If you haven’t seen the film you should. Then after that you should watch the documentary The Swell Season, which follows Glen and Marketa as they tour as the Swell Season, which they did following the movie until recently. Now it appears they are both playing solo for now.

I was curious how they were going to effectively translate the small and understated but beautiful film into a Broadway musical given that they tend to involve a lot of grand music and dance numbers, but they did a wonderful job. The show is different from any other musical I have ever seen because it is so much more understated. This is the largest musical number in the show as performed during the Tony’s last year and as you can see it pales in comparison to what you would see in most musicals.

The story in the movie and the musical are very similar though there are some changes. The musical is written in a much more humorous fashion than the movie was, some of the plot is left out of the musical, and I guess to make it more palatable to an American audience they changed the fact that the guy was trying to get to London to New York instead. Unlike most musicals where the characters burst into song to express what they’re saying most of the music in Once is sung as if the characters are actually performing the songs either in a bar, for each other, singing to themselves, or in the recording studio. Most of the dancing comes during the scene changes, which is effective. There are a couple of musical numbers they try to add some artsy dancing to, which I actually found distracting. I get why they did it because of people’s expectations for a Broadway musical, but I kind of wish they had left most of it out. That was very minimal though, so it’s not like it ruined the show for me or anything.

There are a couple of clever things about the show that I really liked. The set for the show is a bar, and prior to the show and during intermission you can actually go up and order drinks from the bar. Prior to the show members from the cast come out and play a bunch of music on stage as if they’re just hanging around a bar playing music, which then pretty much leads directly into the show. There is no sharp distinction from that and the start of the show except that the lights go down. The other thing they did does pertain to a minor spoiler so stop reading now if you don’t want to know anything about the show. There are a number of characters who are supposed to be speaking to each other in Czech at several points during the show. They had a sort of reverse subtitle thing going during the show with the actors actually speaking in English, but an LED scroll above the bar displaying the actual Czech. For most of the show I was thinking that’s kind of interesting, but whatever. That is until the real reason for that display came into play. Near the end of the show the Guy character (currently played by Tony winning Steve Kazee) and the Girl character (currently played by Tony nominated Cristin Milioti) asks her if she is still in love with her husband. She answers him in Czech, which he doesn’t understand saying “I Love You”. In this case, the actress speaks the Czech and it is the English translation that is displayed on the scroll so that the audience knows what she said even though the guy doesn’t. I thought it was a genius bit of staging.

If you get the chance I would definitely recommend it. It’s obviously still playing on Broadway and I don’t think there’s a closing date set yet, so you should have some time to see it there though I don’t know how much longer the original cast members are signed on for. The show is also going to go on tour starting in the summer of 2013, so you can look for it in a theatre near you next year as well.

Thanksgiving in New York City

We went to New York City for Thanksgiving. My husband’s sister lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband and their twin son and daughter. We took the Bolt Bus from Baltimore to New York early on Thanksgiving morning. We knew we were going to wind up in some traffic thanks to arriving in the city during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and we were not wrong. It took us 30 minutes to go the four block from getting out of the tunnel to our drop off location. Between the parade traffic once we got into the city and an accident on the New Jersey turnpike that slowed down traffic it took us about an hour longer to get there than normal. The drop off location happened to be right near the end of the parade route where all the bands were going once they were done marching. They seemed to be going up and getting their pictures taken on the steps of the post office, which we got a good view of from the bus.

Getting off the bus was a little like stepping into my own personal nightmare though. I don’t like crowds at all and we got let off on to a street that was barricaded and between that, people trying to watch the parade, and the bands coming out of the parade there was nowhere to go and just tons of people shoving everyone around. No fun. We finally got out of there and were then trying to figure out how to actually catch a subway since we couldn’t get to where we normally would go because it was on the other side of the parade route. We finally got up to the Port Authority where we were able to cross underground. We did get to see a few balloons passing by the next block over while we walked up, so that was nice.

Once we finally made it to the apartment we got to spend the day hanging out with the family including my brother-in-law’s mother and brother. The food was excellent as was the company.

Lily looks like she’s cuddling up with her Uncle Paul, but really she was trying to squirm away. 

Ryan climbing on the chairs like he does best while Lily stomps around in her daddy’s shoes.

Uncle Paul enticing Ryan and Lily with his Nexus 7 tablet. They were very into that and all the iPads that were in the apartment over the weekend. On Saturday we went to the Museum of Natural History, which for some reason I didn’t get any pictures of. The ocean exhibit was dark so the signs were backlit making them look like screens. It was quite amusing to watch Ryan continually walk around touching them trying to get them to work like the tablets he had been playing with at home.



Friday we went to Central Park. We went to the carousel. Lily wanted nothing to do with it though, so she watched from the outside while Ryan went on a ride with his and Uncle Paul and me.


One of the toys they have at home is a tunnel made out of hoops and nylon. Lily decided to put all their stuffed animals inside then climb in herself. 

It was a fun weekend, and it was great to see the twins again and see how big they are getting. They are talking so much more than the last time we saw them over the summer. I’m sure they’ll seem even more grown up the next time we get to see them.


On Being Thankful

As this posts I will be on a bus to New York City to visit my husband’s sister, her husband, and their twins for Thanksgiving. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about being thankful, but have started and then deleted what I had written multiple times. It’s not that I don’t have more things to be thankful for than I can count, but that everything I wrote wasn’t adequately expressing what I wanted to get across. This what I managed to come up with.

I am thankful for so many things that are a result of me just being born who I am and where I was. I am thankful that unlike many people across this world that I will not have to worry about deadly attacks occurring where I live. Right now the focus is what is going on in Gaza, and as I continue to see and hear about what is going on over there I am thankful I was born in a nation that despite our differences is mostly peaceful. There many places across this world where that peace does not exist.

I am thankful that I was born to a well off white family and because of that have been blessed with many things that directly stem from the station in life in which I was born. I have never had to struggle against racism.  I have never had to worry about where my next meal is going to come from. Living in Baltimore I am constantly bombarded with tragic stories of violence. I have never had to worry about living in a place that wasn’t safe either because of violence or poor living conditions. I have never had to worry about receiving a subpar education. I have never had to worry that if tragedy struck me because of  something like a lost job that there wouldn’t be anyone there to help me out until I could get back on my feet.

I am grateful that as a woman I was born in a time and place that does not relegate me to the status of a second class citizen. I have had the privilege of being well educated. I can hold a job. I can speak my mind. I can vote. I can marry who I want. I can choose to not have children. There are many places in the world that none of these things are true. I am thankful that I have these opportunities.

I am thankful that I am free to practice my faith without persecution and that those around me are also allowed this freedom. I don’t have to worry about being tortured or killed for following my beliefs. I don’t have to follow religious rules being imposed on me whether or not I agree with them.

I am grateful that I am lucky enough to have a job that provides me with good healthcare that allows me to afford to properly treat the chronic illnesses I have and cover me for any other medical issues that may occur in my life. If for some reason I were to ever lose my job and my medical insurance along with it, I am also lucky to have a husband whose insurance would cover me. I don’t have to choose between paying for my healthcare and paying for other expenses. I don’t have to let medical conditions deteriorate sometimes to the point of death because I can’t afford to treat them. I can afford to see the doctors I want and to receive the treatment I want because I happen to get health insurance from my employer. There are many people in this country who do not receive that luxury.

I am thankful for all of these privileges I have in my life that are mostly a result of me being born who I was rather than anything I did to deserve them. There are many people across the United States and the world who do not share these same privileges even though I think they should. Hopefully instead of just being thankful for what I have I can work to make sure that others have these same freedoms.


Music and Lyrics

I’ve been thinking recently about how the way I listen to music now is much different than the way I have listened to music in the past. It’s both a function of how the digital age has changed the way in which I access music as well as changes in when and how I consume music. When reading the music reviews from the fabulous Mark Blankenship, I notice he often refers to the lyrics of the songs he’s writing about, which made me realize that I rarely pay attention in any real way to the lyrics of the songs I listen to anymore.

That was not always the case. I used to be one of those people who came home with my cassettes (yes I’m old) or CDs, pulled out the liner notes and listened to the whole album through several times while singing along. Thus I knew a lot of lyrics to songs and really paid attention to them. I remember a certain point in time where my friend and I would make each subject line on an email to each other the lyric from a song that expressed whatever was about to be said in the email. There is no way I could do that now at least not with any music from the past decade. Both the lyrics and the music in a song used to be equally important to me when falling in love with a song.

Now when I fall in love with song it’s almost always based on the music alone. I still buy a surprising number of albums in this digital age, but they of course don’t come with liner notes. I am a very visual person when it comes to words so without having the lyrics in front of me to actually see them, I don’t tend to internalize them. Even if I had the liner notes, I still don’t think I would be able to spend that much time pouring over the lyrics. Now that I’m married I rarely have alone time in my house, and just don’t have the time to sit around listening to an album while not also being engaged in some other activity. This of course distracts from concentrating on the lyrics. For the most part I do most of my music listening while I’m at work, and there I am obviously doing other stuff so I’m not paying attention to the lyrics but do pick up on the music in a song. I still obviously love going to concerts, but I am sadly no longer one of those people who can sing along with all the songs because I no longer know the lyrics.

I just no longer listen to music the way I once did. Sometimes I miss it, but I now value songs in a much different way than I once did. It’s not a bad thing, but just something I was thinking about and felt like sharing.

Baby Block Baby Shower Brunch

Yesterday my friends Alison, Darra, and I hosted a baby shower for our other friend Tracie at my house. We went with a baby block theme, which should be pretty apparent in a minute. After I decided on the theme, I of course wanted to decorate the cake with baby blocks somehow. While searching for baby block cake decorating ideas, I instead stumbled upon the idea of making the cake itself into baby blocks. I’ll go into more details about the cake later for anyone who is interested in how I made it. It certainly wasn’t perfect and if I were a professional baker would probably wind up on something like Cake Wrecks, but I was definitely pleased with the way it turned out.

The rest of the menu was brunch type food: potato, acorn squash, and goat cheese gratin, a Mediterranean strata, curried chicken salad with croissants, berry salad, and regular salad. We also provided coffee, orange juice, and hot spiced apple cider to drink.

Party City didn’t have any baby block themed shower stuff. They also had very few choices that weren’t gender specific. Since the mommy-to-be isn’t finding out whether she’s having a boy or girl, I picked the best gender neutral set of decorations they had. You can kind of see the garland thing strung above Darra’s head. My cats were fascinated by it hanging up there and kept trying to figure out how to get to it, so I was super disappointed when they had zero interest in actually playing with it after I took it down and offered it to them.

After enjoying the spread of food we played Baby Song Name that Tune. I clipped short segments of songs (about 10 sec) from songs that had the word baby in the title. There were 20 songs and people got 1 point for the song title and one point for the artist. I sometimes forget that most of my friends are not into music nearly as much as I am, so people struggled through the game more than I thought they would. I think they still had fun though even if they did lousy. The winning score was a 28 out of a possible 40.

After that game we moved on to opening presents. We played baby shower bingo during that. I handed out blank bingo cards to everyone. They had to write items they thought would be included in the presents in the blank squares and then they could mark their squares off if that item was opened.

Our final activity of the shower was decorating wooden baby blocks. I have been to several showers in the past few years where we have decorated onesies, which is a cute idea but since it is done so often now I wanted to come up with something a little different. I ran across the idea of decorating blocks somewhere while looking for different baby shower ideas online and thought it was a great idea. I ordered the wooden blocks from this wood crafts site  and bought markers that can be used for decorating wood at Michael’s and Joann Fabrics. And yes I am the nerd who broke out the dictionary because I was trying to make a U block since the baby’s last name begins with U and couldn’t think of enough things that began with the letter U.

Our shower favors were also of course baby block themed. They were little candles shaped like baby blocks.

All in all I think it turned out to be a great shower.


Now for anyone who is interested in the actual making of the baby block cake. I made two 9 x 13 cakes and cut them into six approximately 4 inch squares. Then I stacked them to make 6 cubes. I thought I might need to cut off some of the cake to make them 4 inch squares, but with the shrinking of the actual cakes during baking I pretty much was just able to cut each cake into 6 equal squares, which worked out great. I made one chocolate cake and one yellow cake so that each cube had one chocolate layer and one yellow layer.

I used this recipe for the chocolate cake and this recipe for the yellow cake. They were good recipes for this kind of cake because the cake was fairly dense and didn’t fall apart when cut, but just for regular cake eating purposes I’m not sure that I was very happy with either one and probably won’t use them again.  Don’t get me wrong they were still tasty, but I have better cake recipes than either of these turned out to be. The buttercream frosting I used on the other hand was a keeper. I’m always trying out new buttercream recipes because I often find many recipes to be cloyingly sweet. I wound up using this recipe with a few tweaks. One I only put in about 1/3 teaspoon of almond extract because I find it to be a really strong flavor and 1 teaspoon seemed like a lot. I also did not include butternut extract because I have no idea what that is and wasn’t about to try and hunt it down. I figured the almond and vanilla extracts would suffice. The almond extract definitely gives it a slightly different flavor than the normal buttercream. I obviously wouldn’t use this frosting with a lot of cakes, but it worked really well in this case. I wound up making 2 and half batches of the frosting because there is a surprising amount of surface area that needs to be covered when making this cake.

I put each block of cake on it’s own little sheet of parchment paper, which made it much easier to handle each individual cube. I started off frosting the cakes with a crumb layer, which I admit I’m usually pretty lazy about when frosting cakes, but it’s a must for this cake because of the cut sides. For anyone not familiar with a crumb layer, it’s a thin layer of frosting that you put on the cake which traps all the crumbs from the cake in it. You then put the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to let that frosting harden. Then you frost the cake for real. The crumb layer keeps all the cake crumbs trapped so that they don’t show. After frosting each cube I decorated them using a pastry bag and round icing tips. A small (number 5 I think) one to put the edges on the blocks, and a large (number 12 I think) to make the letters and numbers on top of the cake.

The one thing I didn’t have, which I think would have made the cakes come out slightly better is a an offset spatula. As many cakes as I bake in a year it’s surprising I didn’t have one. I think using that rather than a butter knife would have made the frosting come out smoother, but oh well. I tried to find the night I made the cakes, but neither my local Target nor my grocery store had one in their baking sections. I’ve ordered one from Amazon, so I’ll be prepared for my next cake.

Tights Every Librarian Should Love

Guys. I’m so excited about my new tights. I love fun tights as anyone who follows me on Twitter might have surmised from recent tweets of photos of my tights. I wanted to add to my collection since winter is here and tights weather has returned. I got it into my head that I wanted some kind of literary tights that had writing on them. I mean I’m a librarian, why wouldn’t I want tights with script on them. It took me awhile to even find any tights like this. Then I kept coming across photos of these particular tights that people had posted various places on the internet but not somewhere I could order them myself. Never fear though, I prevailed and found somewhere I could buy them from…in Israel. Ok, honestly I didn’t realize I was ordering something from Israel until the package came today, but still. Their arrival was completely serendipitous as well. I was already planning on wearing a black skirt with a grey sweater today. Though I was planning on wearing my black and grey argyle patterned tights with the outfit. My husband answered the door for the delivery right as I was getting dressed after my shower. It was perfect. Also for anyone asking, I have no idea what the writing actually says or what it’s from. It is written in English, but it’s obviously hard to read. The label for the tights had something to do with love, so I’m guessing it’s a love poem of some sort.

Getting My Civic Duty On

I can not tell you how excited I am to vote today. I feel like a little kid in a candy store. I think this is the first election where I haven’t cast my ballot either early through an absentee ballot or early voting or voted first thing in the morning. I decided to avoid the long lines that tend to form in the morning before work I would head home over lunch and cast my ballot. I probably could have voted this morning though as I drove by my polling place this morning on my way to work and sadly there was no evidence of any sort of line. I guess I should have known given that I voted about 45 minutes before the polls closed during the primary and they told me I was only the 27th person in my precinct to vote that day. I generally love my neighborhood, but this makes me sad. The place where I voted at my old apartment in Baltimore on the other hand always had a line no matter what, so at least some people in Baltimore care. I guess the good thing about waiting until this afternoon is that I get to prolong my excitement. I can hardly wait until lunch time.

There are a number of questions on the Maryland ballot that I do feel strongly about, and most of them are neck and neck. I know my vote will count for those issues. Living in  Maryland  and more specifically Baltimore it doesn’t much matter who I vote for in regards to the presidential race or Congress. I live in a state and city that are going to go Democrat. That doesn’t matter though. It is still my right and duty to make my voice heard through my vote. For a long time in this country I as a woman did not have the right to vote. There are people who fought long and hard to change that. There are also many people whose countries don’t allow them vote or even have elections. Voting is a right and privilege we have in this country and everyone should exercise it.

We live in a country where you have a say in how your government works. I think I’m going to institute a new rule. If you start complaining about the government I’m going to ask you if you voted in the last election. If you say yes, then you may proceed with your complaints. If you say no, then you will need to keep your mouth shut until you cast a ballot in an election.

I know a lot of people who will be voting like I do today and a lot of people who won’t. Whether or not we share the same beliefs I hope you go out and make your voice heard. My friend Billy, who I guarantee is voting almost the exact opposite of me, wrote something on his blog last week that I think does a very good job of explaining why. Go vote today, and if for some reason you can’t vote because you failed to register in time then spend the time you would have spent voting filling out your voter registration for the next election.



Brandi Carlile Concert at The Lyric

Last night I saw Brandi Carlile with opening act Blitzen Trapper at The Lyric in Baltimore. I was not familiar with Blitzen Trapper prior to the concert last night, but I mostly enjoyed them. Wikipedia lists them as an experimental country/folk band. That sounds about right. Some of the music I really liked and some of it I didn’t hate but wasn’t in love with either. It definitely broke along the experimental line. The stuff that sounded more 60s/70s folk rock to me (think Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Neil Young) I was a fan of, the rest less so. Lady on the Water is one of the songs they played last night that I liked.

I have wanted to see Brandi Carlile in concert for a long time now, but have either had no one to go with me or have been otherwise engaged when she’s been in the area. I still didn’t really have anyone who wanted to go with me to the concert, but I forced my husband to take me because I really wanted to go. I try to not force him into too many concerts because I know they’re not his thing and if you drew a Venn diagram of our musical tastes the circles would only overlap the tiniest bit. I at least figured he would enjoy the music off Brandi Carlile’s newest album, Bear Creek, even if he didn’t like her older music. He of course won’t admit to anything lest I force him to listen to more music and attend more concerts than I already do.

I’m so glad I dragged him though because the concert was fan-freaking-tastic. Everyone I know should want to go with me next time she’s in the area because Brandi Carlile is an amazing performer. This show had pretty much everything I’m looking for in a concert. The music of course was great. She’s touring to promote her new album, so of course I’d say about 50% of the songs were off that with the rest a mix of music from her previous albums. I was totally fine with that as I would say that Bear Creek is actually my favorite of her albums. She was super engaged with the audience. She got them singing and clapping a lot.  She told lots of stories about stuff she was just thinking about or about the ideas behind the songs they were playing, which I always love. It was obvious she and the band were up there having a great time and not just going through the motions. The Lyric is a beautiful old opera house in Baltimore, so she said in a space like this it would be a crime to not step out from behind the mics and do a song acoustically, which was wonderful. They also put their own spin on a couple of covers, which I also like in a live concert. They played Dolly Parton’s Jolene and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares to U, which on reflection were the absolute two best covers they could have chosen to play. If you had asked me what songs I would want Brandi Carlile to play I wouldn’t have been able to answer you, but now I wouldn’t be able to answer with anything else. These two songs I think perfectly reflect the spectrum of her music.

I often have a hard time choosing what songs I’m going to embed in posts like this, but I decided on these two for a couple or reasons. One, they bookended the main set. She started out with Raise Hell and ended with The Story before coming back out for the encore (Also kudos to them for coming almost immediately back out after they left the stage. Let’s not kid anyone at this point. Until the house lights come back up we all know you’re coming back on stage. Musicians that stay off stage for lengthy periods before coming back out for the encore drive me nuts.) Two, I also think they demonstrate perfectly what I was talking about regarding the cover songs she sang reflecting the spectrum of her music.

The Story is the title song off her second album and the first Brandi Carlile song I ever remember hearing. It’s a beautiful song and I love it.

Raise Hell is off her newest album. I like the whole thing, but I think this might be my favorite song from it.

If you ever get the chance to see Brandi Carlile in concert, don’t stop to think about it, just go.