Monday, December 31, 2012

a year end list.

I'm a sucker for lists and love the 'year in review' shows on TV and articles that seem to show up in every media venue known to man. Not one to be left out in the cold I'm shamelessly stealing the idea from everyone who has already posted theirs the last few days. Here is a brief overview of some of my favorite happenings throughout the months of 2012.


The once in a lifetime trip to Antarctica.  (really the list could stop there, it doesn't get much better than this!)

A behind-the-scenes visit to the Library of Congress

A fantastic St. Patrick's Day brunch

Spring in the District

Camping in Pennsylvania

Hanging out with the cutest nephews in the world

Nats games!

Road trip to Rhode Island

The US Open

Running a 5K

Hosting Pie Day

Capping off a year of great performances and concerts with a few holiday shows

It always gives me pause to see just how far I've come and what has happened in the space of 12 short months. Lives can change in the blink of an eye and yet sometimes the longer increments of time seem to fly by without any noticeable changes at all. I'm grateful for the various outlets I have for keeping track of all that I've done, the things I've seen and experienced and learned that help me keep life a bit more in perspective when I feel as if I'm stuck or not accomplishing all I'd hoped to accomplish. Sure, there are a ton of things still left on my list but I've crossed off quite a few too! Here's to a new year, new lists and new experiences. Tune in tomorrow for the latest edition.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

a fun-filled holiday season.

As most of the world can relate, the holidays are often so jam-packed with goings on and things to do that one usually feels more harried than happy, more manic than merry. And while I had my moments of madness, mostly I was surrounded by incredible friends and family, busy making gifts and memories and basking in the events of the season.

I was able to travel home for just over a week for Christmas itself and spent time cuddling the nephews, soaking up the wisdom of my grandparents, enjoying the snow and the company of great friends, getting visits from Santa and eating my weight in delicious food.

making treats

playing in the snow and the mountains
Santa loves me!
one of many delicious meals
more treats
one of many fabulous light displays
more lights
Man I've missed you! My life has been in an emotional upheaval lately which you'll hear about soon enough but I needed to make some belated updates on the holidays and steal some ideas from some friends' blogs to get myself feeling caught up and ready to tackle life and regular postings again. So, pretend this really was posted a week and a half ago and many apologies for the tardiness of it all.

Friday, December 14, 2012

a promise of peace.

In light of today's horrific events a friend had posted the words to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day on facebook.  I thought it was a beautiful tie in and a great reminder that while we won't experience peace on earth in a worldwide sense there are always moments of peace to be had and the promise of peace to come.

 And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

 The Prince of Peace has given us His comforter in times of trial and will come to reign personally over all His creations eventually.  So while our hearts and prayers go out to those who are the victims of senseless acts of violence or natural disasters, abuse, disease and so many other things I'm grateful for the knowledge that these things "shall be but a small moment" and in time we will all have peace.

(I'm also grateful for the knowledge that God is just and will measure out His judgements accordingly!)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas music!

If you are mutual friends with either of my wonderful music swapping buddies, you'll know that I am very behind in posting this.  For those of you who aren't, let's just pretend that first sentence doesn't exist and go merrily along under the assumption that I'm totally on top of things!

A few months ago two friends and I held a playlist swap before one of those friends moved on to greener pastures. We had such a great time we decided that we should carry on the tradition in a quarterly fashion, sending mix CDs to each other in the mail to whatever far-flung regions we should find ourselves. Thus it was that I found myself wracking my brain to compile the ultimate (and slightly obscure as these ladies are much bigger music junkies than I could ever hope to be) Christmas album.  Here's what I came up with: (Click on any of the links to listen)

1. Christmas Child Carbon Leaf
2. I Saw Three Ships Nat King Cole
3. Winter Moon Mindy Gledhill
4. Il Est Ne The King’s Singers (this one is impossible to find, but it's my absolute favorite version of this can hear another version here)
5. Winter Wonderland Jason Mraz
6. Let It Snow! Ella Fitzgerald
7. It Snowed Meaghan Smith
8. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Jack Johnson
9. One More Sleep Til Christmas The Muppets
10. Angels We Have Heard on High Seabird
11. In the Bleak Midwinter Julie Andrews
12. Good King Wenceslas Mel Torme

And thus it also was that I returned home from long days at work to find fun packages in the mail brimming with holiday tunes!  Some of my faves? I've loved revisiting this John Denver classic, and disovering this version of Auld Lang Syne from one disc. The other contained this amazing version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel (one of my favorites! okay, most of them are my favorites, but still...) and this version of Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, not technically a Christmas song but definitely one with an appropriate and corresponding message.

Go here and here for the full lists.

Happy holiday listening!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

an auspicious date!

Happy 12-12-12!

I had hoped to mark the 12:12 time today as well but I was waiting for a technician to come look at my dryer and the time slipped by unnoticed.  Good thing the date lasts a little bit longer.

If you're superstitious you probably bought lottery tickets or got married today.  Congratulations! Or maybe you're counting down the last few days until the world ends (12-21-12 if those Mayans are to be believed).  Hope you're living it up!  Or maybe, just maybe you're like me and have spent the day celebrating the birth of one of my favorite people: Frank Sinatra!

Okay, so I haven't really spent the day celebrating. Unfortunately, having an actual job precludes much superfluous celebrating. But I did take a few minutes to watch some YouTube videos and listen to some music and thought I'd share a few of my faves with you in honor of Ol' Blue Eyes and his special day.

Born 12/12/1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey, the scrawny, only child of Italian immigrants grew up idolizing Bing Crosby and never graduated from high school. But he'd been singing for most of his life and figured he might be able to eek out a career in music. Though he never learned to read music he went on to release over 60 albums and won 13 Grammys. But singing was just the start.  He also appeared in over 50 pictures, won 3 Academy Awards, had tumultuous love affairs, made friends with politicians and mobsters, fought for civil rights and influenced billions. He died May 14, 1998.

Happy Birthday to The Chairman of the Board! (And if the world really ends next week, I'll be seeing you and expecting a personal, heavenly concert on the other side!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

a good book!

Man, it's been a long time since I've done one of these! I have no good excuses for my lack of blogging of late.  Holidays, sickness, church commitments, home hoopla, you name it it's gone on but it's all a pretty sad reason for not being more diligent.  I've missed you all! So, here are a few of my favorite picture books from the past month or so in no particular order. There've been some real gems come out this year and there have been a bunch I've missed but you can't go wrong with these.

Sleep Like a Tiger
Author: Mary Logue
Illustrator: Pamela Zagarenski
Pages: 32
Age Range: 1-5
Published: 2012
Genre: Picture book
Cover Score: *****
Overall Score:*****
Rating: G

A young girl who is not at all sleepy goes through the motions of getting ready for bed after her parents tell her she can stay awake all night as long as she's in bed. But once tucked in she tries another delay tactic and begins asking questions about other animals, do they all sleep too? Yes, her mom assures her, the whale and bats and dogs and bears and tigers and other creatures all sleep, some in the daytime, some in water, some in nests. Soon the girl has imitated each of the animals in some way and drifts off to sleep.

This is a beautiful story that has hints of Goodnight Moon about it but rather than framing the child’s world it acts as a magical dreamscape blurring reality a bit. The narration is gently repetitive and lyric, lulling the reader into a doze but it’s the illustrations that truly shine. The lush, deep-toned, mixed media layouts carry bits of Americana, Klimt and a myriad of charming details in the collage that can be pored over incessantly. It’s simply lovely and would make a great gift for new parents or toddlers.

Monsieur Marceau: Actor without Words
Author: Leda Schubert
Illustrator: Gerard Dubois
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-9
Published: 2012
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG (mentions of violence, older themes)

A great intro to the life of the world's premier mime, Marcel Marceau. Born in France in 1923, young Marcel was entranced by Charlie Chaplin and would practice miming and acting for his friends to make them laugh. His happy existence was interrupted by the onset of WWII. Of Jewish descent, he changed his last name and joined the resistance eventually saving the lives of hundreds of children and hiding Allied soldiers. After the war he studied mime, performing in countless countries on stage and in film; his signature costume and movements being instantly recognizable the world over.

I’m a huge fan of picture book biographies. I love that so many amazing people are made accessible to children through this medium and this one is really well done. Simple text brings his world to life for even the youngest of readers while an afterword and end matter provide some extra meat for older readers. The crux of the story revolves around his career, what a mime is and how he does what he does something many readers today probably aren’t familiar with. Several complete spreads are devoted to showing him working his craft. Beautiful oil illustrations capture his charm and the fluidity of his motions, the bleakness of war and the dramatics of show business. Perfect for Francophiles, artists, actors, or anyone with a curiosity about the lives of others.

Waterloo and Trafalgar
Written and Illustrated by: Olivier Tallec
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-9
Published: 2012
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG (violence)

This is one of those rare books that can appeal to the masses but will most likely slip under the radar and be missed by most. A wordless battle goes on over the course of years and pages between two men, one orange and one blue (showing clearly their lines of demarcation) until a small bird comes along to show them the folly of their ways. It’s a brilliant and obvious cry for the ridiculousness of war with just enough silliness to keep young readers enthralled and enough truth to get older ones thinking. And the irony of the two men's names will add to the meaning for even older readers. A gem.

Creepy Carrots
Author: Aaron Reynolds
Illustrator: Peter Brown
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8
Published: 2012
Genre: Picture Book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score:*****
Rating: PG (Some scary elements)

Jasper bunny loves carrots and the best carrots come from Crackenhopper Field. He stops by and picks and munches every chance he gets. But one day he hears the distinct sound of carrots creeping up behind him and pretty soon he's seeing creepy carrots everywhere! His parents don't believe him of course so he takes matters into his own hands and builds a moat/fence/gate all around the field so the carrots can't get out. A perfectly Hitchcockian twist at the end will leave you laughing, I promise.

I'd meant to showcase this one at Halloween but life got the better of me, as usual, so here you have it with my belated apologies. The story is one that will be enjoyed by most readers but will be truly appreciated by an older audience (parents, rejoice!) It's perfectly paced, slightly spooky, and filled with tongue-in-cheek descriptions of 'the soft...sinister...tunktunktunk of carrots creeping' and 'terrible carroty breathing' that may give tiny listeners pause. Black and white panel illustrations evoke frozen film noir frames with only the carrots and their dopelgangers (a bright malevolent orange) breaking up the monochromatic scenery. And the carrot-filled end pages are delightful!

Written and Illustrated by: Birgitta Sif
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8
Published: 2012
Genre: Picture book
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: G

Oliver feels a bit different. He doesn't like the things that everyone else seems to and spends most of his time by himself. But he's not completely alone, he has an entourage of stuffed animals and toys that keep him company and combined with his rich imagination he's never bored or lonely. Together they search for treasure, cross bridges, fight sharks and even visit the other side of the world. But he comes to realize that his 'friends' can't always give him everything he needs. One day while playing tennis by himself the ball rolls away and he loads everyone up in the wagon for another adventure. But what they find isn't at all what they expected; the beginning of the best adventure he's ever had. I won't give away the little twist at the end but it's a good one and leaves Oliver being true to himself and the reader satisfied with the world at large.

Ahh the illustrations! Pencil sketches that have all the charm of Marla Frazee's stuff but in an entirely different style. Big eyes, spaghetti limbs, backgrounds that nearly overwhelm small Oliver and yet perfectly highlight his contentment at being practically swallowed by the world around him, filled with details and characters with charms and personalities all their own. And the lovely green tinted gallery on the end pages; be still my beating heart, they are almost worth the cover price on their own! Beautiful!

With the holidays swiftly approaching I'm going to take this opportunity to advocate the giving of books as gifts. There are few gifts that can have as lasting an effect as the perfect book. The ones above are fabulous choices, of course, but there are so, so many out there to choose from that with a little help you are almost guaranteed to find something for everyone on your list.  A book can also be a vehicle for another gift as well if you don't want to be known solely as 'the person who gives books'. (I've already garnered that honor in my family, thank you very much!) Here are a few ideas:
  • give a non-fiction book about a favorite animal along with passes to the zoo, aquarium, circus etc. to see the animal up-close and in-person
  • movie tickets or a DVD along with the original literary version
  • how-to book paired with equipment for the task (ie cook book and spatula, knitting and yarn, drawing and pencils etc.)
  • biopic of a favorite musician with a CD or itunes gift card
  • travel guide, historical fiction or non-fiction of a place along with plane tickets to that location-for those big spenders out there :)
  • your favorite poetry book paired with magnetic poetry
  • an epistolary novel (written in a series of letters or journal entries) along with a set of stationery or a journal
  • for kids any book can be tied into a corresponding toy (a book about spring? kites!  a book about vehicles? toy cars! a book about a bear? a teddy bear!)
  • for more brilliant ideas check out this website
And if you're giving a book can I put a plea in for the personal inscription?  I LOVE when there's a note from the giver in the front cover! I'm not always good at this but I've already got the inscriptions planned for a few of the books I'm giving this year.

This one for dad
A couple of these for the nephews
This for mom

Who's on your list?  What books have you given/are you giving/been given? Can't wait to hear about them all, but until then...Season's Readings!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

listening to a legend.

We've lost a lot of treasures this year and today we're forced to say goodbye to yet one more; jazz legend Dave Brubeck.

I grew up trying to clap along to the syncopated and crazy rhythms of Mr. Dave Brubeck and his 5/8 and 9/8 timings. I wish I could say I conquered them but unfortunately it's something I still have to really, really concentrate on. (I try not to listen to the more challenging pieces while I drive, I've been known to tap the gas and break alternately and sporadically!) But he helped shape the way I listen to and appreciate music.

He was influenced by and influenced scores of musicians, jazz and non-jazz alike and the world will have a bit less cadence and pulse without him.

a life lesson.

I haven’t been MIA on purpose, despite how it’s all looked lately. I’m still trying to decide what to do about the lack of storage space issue.  Apparently blogger gives you 5 gb free storage for photos and videos and then after that you have to pay a monthly fee. So, I’m debating whether to go back and delete superfluous photos or just suck it up and pay the money or see if there’s something else I can do. And on top of that I’ve had a whopper of a cold this week.  Home from work and subsisting on a steady diet of soups and cheesy Christmas movies I’ve had a lot of time to think…but I haven’t. Mostly I’ve just soaked up a myriad of lessons from tv and the kindness of friends and roommates.  I thought I’d pass on a few of the best to you all! (You can thank me later.)

  • There is healing power in homemade gingerbread
  • All wishes come true
  • There’s no such thing as too much Lysol
  • Christmas music is the best music of all, and finding new faves makes the season even better
  • A hot bath and a good book can cure a host of ills
  • Even if things don’t quite go as planned along the way the end result will be better than you imagined
  • You can relive/makeover your entire life in the span of 24 hours (or a couple of weeks, tops)
  • Soup, in its endless varieties, is a near-perfect food
  • Packages in the mail make even the worst day bearable
  • A meddlesome Santa/family member/guardian angel is the best matchmaker (and if you don’t marry the person they’re trying to match you with your efforts to escape them will lead you to The One)  
  • To increase your chances of finding love volunteer at a dog shelter
  • And if all else fails hire someone to be your significant other to fool your family and you’ll be married by New Year’s!

So, adios to the first cold of the season. (Did you hear me? I'm done with you!!)  Let’s hope this isn’t a portent of things to come but rather the only blow, leaving the rest of winter (or pseudo summer if you’re experiencing 70+ degrees and sunshine like we have been…or so I’ve heard) sickness free!