Tag Archives: christmas

How is it mid-November already?

17 Nov

Is it just me, or does the time between the end of August and Thanksgiving go by in about 10 minutes? I swear we were just getting back from our summer holiday, and now I’m looking at the massive amount of Christmas presents I’ve purchased over the past few weeks and am wondering how I’m going to fit them all in my suitcase when I head back to the U.S. on Tuesday. I’m seriously contemplating not packing any clothing — I have a closet full of sweaters at my parents’, and we already have plans to hit the outlet mall on Black Friday. The only thing I need to bring is running clothes for the Thanksgiving 10K. I keep checking the Thanksgiving Day forecast for Cincinnati hoping for it to warm up. It has changed from snow to rain to sun, so we’re headed in the right direction, but my body is definitely not used to running in freezing temperatures. A PR would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve trained enough for one, so I may have to settle with just finishing.

I was hoping to fit in one more West End show before my trip back, but I couldn’t manage to score lottery tickets to see Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones) in Venus in Fur and didn’t want to see it badly enough to queue for day seats. I only managed 3 day seat queues this year, which is impressive considering I saw 16 shows. I finally got out of the 9 shows a year slump! 16 is a nice even number to go out on, and is setting the bar high for next year. And while I may be done with London shows for 2017, I’m not done with theatre for the year — my friend and I got tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago next month! We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (and believe me, at the insane ticket price and the non-stop “OMG HAMILTON!!” on social media, my expectations are sky high).

As per tradition, I walked around Oxford Street yesterday to take in all the Christmas lights. It’s the same display they had last year (and possibly every year), which is beautiful, but like most things in life, would be even more beautiful if there weren’t so many people everywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the conversation this couple walking next to me was having.

“Look how impressive this is now, just imagine how it will look once they turn the lights on!” the guy said to his girlfriend.

I did not take any photos of the Oxford Street lights, so I’ll post one from Time Out.

oxford st lights

That’s what the street looked like. As the American saying goes, “It was lit up like the 4th of July.” From the stores to the hanging bulbs above the street, the whole area was awash in light. No bulb remained unlit.

What was he talking about?!

He kept repeating it too. “It’s gonna look so cool with all the lights on!”

“All the lights are on, you nitwit!” I wanted to shout.

Perhaps he was confusing Oxford Street with Regent Street. Oxford Street turned their lights on on November 7, while Regent Street waited until yesterday. I walked down Regent Street in the early evening yesterday and the lights weren’t on yet, and it was very obvious to tell. I’m not sure what additional lights he was hoping would be turned on on Oxford Street. He certainly needed to turn on the light in his head.

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My first Christmas in London

25 Dec

For the first time in my life, I didn’t go “home” for Christmas. Since my parents came for Thanksgiving, I decided I would stay in London with Stephen for Christmas and New Years for once. I had visions of a laid-back London Christmas. With the Tube and buses not running, I imagined a blissful tourist-free city. We’d go for a run through the empty park in the morning, then pop into an empty Chinatown restaurant for lunch, then catch a movie in an empty theatre. I was already planning the artsy tourist-free London photos I’d capture.

Ha. Hahaha!

It turns out I was dreaming. It turns out there is no such thing as a tourist-free London. In fact, there may have been more tourists in the city than on your average Sunday. Though it was eerie to not see any double decker buses on the roads, there were plenty of cars and pedestrians. We weaved our way through the crowds in Hyde Park and pushed our way through Trafalgar Square. At the movie theatre in Leicester Square the automated machines were broken, so we had to wait in a long queue to buy tickets. Then my dreams of a quick Chinatown lunch were crushed when we saw the massive queues at every restaurant that was open. Who were all these people out on Christmas Day?! Though I guess they could ask the same about us. So Christmas lunch ended up being movie theatre nachos and popcorn, though we did go out for a proper fancy Christmas Eve lunch yesterday, complete with my first Christmas [figgy] pudding. And in an effort to keep some of the Christmas family tradition alive, I made Swedish meatballs for dinner tonight (and by “made” I mean reheated the frozen ones I bought from Iceland, but they were imported from Sweden and I made the sauce from scratch so that counts for something, right?).

So that was our Christmas this year. It felt a bit like that John Grisham book — like I skipped Christmas. I was a bit emotional earlier this week when it finally hit me that I was “missing” Christmas this year — not just the day itself, but all the traditional events that lead up to it — the Over the Rhine concert, cookie baking, shopping. But I realized I needed to stay back this year. Mostly to take care of housekeeping stuff (I found a good handyman and he’s been round 3 times this past week — the joys of owning an older home!), but also because it made me realize how much I treasure some of the Christmastime traditions. When you do the same thing every year, it can become predictable and expected. It’s only when you take a step back and a year off that you realize what you miss and enjoy. It’s not easy living far away from my family and friends, but it’s the time apart that makes the time together that much more sweet.

santa-hanging

Even Santa can’t stand the crowds of tourists, apparently

Reflection on 1 month in the US

27 Dec

I’ve been back in the US for about a month now, and my experience can be best described by this photo (sub Nov. 25 for Dec. 24):
fat barbie christmasFood is everything that’s wrong and right with America. The first weekend I was back I bought this:

lucky charm marshmallowsA giant tub of Lucky Charms marshmallows for $1.83. (Found at Jungle Jim’s International Market outside Cincinnati).

Two months ago I texted my mom “Does Little Caesars still have pretzel crust pizza? Because we need to get it when I’m home.”

And so we did:

little caesars pretzel pizzaAnd it was glorious, although if you’re listening, Little Caesars, it would be 10x better if you substituted ham or bacon for the pepperoni, because the pepperoni completely overpowers the cheese sauce and pretzel crust instead of complementing it like bacon or ham would. Just a suggestion.

I also baked a crap-ton of cookies, but for the first time, did not photograph them. Also for the first time I remembered how much I hated everyone and everything after decorating cookies for hours last year, so I perfected a quick and easy method.

However, I did not learn from my past experiences with cake decorating. I once again used almond milk instead of cream or whole milk in my buttercream icing and it broke:

almond milk buttercreamIt still tasted amazing though, which is really what matters. I think most people would prefer an ugly cake that tastes delicious than a beautiful tasteless creation, right?

I also made peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes, which are notoriously difficult to dip. This year I traded the traditional tooth pick method for the Chinese way:

buckeye chopsticksI knew my mad chopsticks skills would come in handy some day!

I’ve been doing some other stuff while I’ve been home, but eating has taken the cake (tehe). I guess this is why people make New Year’s resolutions…

It’s the second week of October, Merry Christmas!

9 Oct

And now, part II of a feature I started in December 2011: Things White Middle Class People Get Overly Worked Up About.

On Monday during my weekly grocery shop in the rain (sans umbrella because the Fitbit-wearing left arm must always be free to swing and the right arm must pull the trolley) I saw chocolate Santas at Aldi. It didn’t really register with me, and I went onto Sainsbury’s. There I saw an aisle of Christmas gift suggestions. At Waitrose I saw Christmas poppers. And then it dawned on me that even though my parents and I had just booked our trip to Biltmore for December, it was still only the second week of October.

Had this been in America, there would have been an uprising — angry mobs with Halloween- and Thanksgiving-themed pitchforks. There’s an understood rule in the U.S. that you do not celebrate anything Christmas-related until after Thanksgiving. (6pm on Thanksgiving to be exact, or maybe earlier this year, I haven’t seen any Black Friday doorbuster ads yet). To get an idea of how worked up Americans get over this, take a look at these comics:

santa turkey comic
thanksgiving christmas comic
could we finish thanksgiving dinner first

thanksgiving mall decorations
As you can see, Americans get really riled up about this — but why? Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes. Why don’t they want to get a jump start on it? I doubt they really care about how Mr. Turkey feels getting passed over (judging by the comics, he’d like that!).

Turkey christmas music

pumpkin santa turkey comic All I can think of is that it’s about time. As Jim Steinman wrote in Meat Loaf’s song “Heaven Can Wait”: “And all I’ve got is time until the end of time.” If you want to get deep about it, time really is all we have — everything else like health, wealth and happiness can extend our time and make it more enjoyable, but once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. Adam Carolla joked on his podcast that old people continually wake up and eat earlier and earlier in the hopes that one day they’ll actually gain a day back by moving everything forward (like showing up for Thanksgiving dinner so early that you arrive on Wednesday night instead). We don’t want to think about December in October because it’s like skipping over two whole months we’ll never get back, and we’re supposed to “live every day to the fullest.” On the other hand, I like getting into the Christmas spirit early (maybe not second week of October early, but November will do). Since I head back to the U.S. for Thanksgiving through Christmas, I would miss out on the London festivities if they didn’t start so early (and they’re allowed to start early since Thanksgiving is not a thing and Halloween barely is). I get that people feel like retailers are taking advantage of them by pushing the holidays too soon, but think of it the other way — if people started at least thinking about Christmas gift ideas a little earlier (not even buying yet), then there’d be less stress and rush in December. But of course, life is all about prolonging the inevitable, isn’t it?

Merry Christmas [Cookies]

24 Dec

Every year we have Christmas cookie traditions: we make Swedish spritz cookies, gingers and sugars. By “we” I mean my mom often makes the dough or hands me the recipe, and then I get some crazy decorating idea on Pinterest and spend hours I can never get back getting carpal tunnel in my powdered sugar-covered wrists as I announce “Next year I’m just slathering icing on!” But of course the cycle repeats the following year as I get some new decorating idea.

This year I decided to keep my ginger cookies “simple” by only using a few shapes and two colors of icing: white and blue, because I’ve never seen blue Christmas cookies before.

billy madison blue duck

blue ginger cookiesThe marble technique looks pretty, but as usual, takes entirely way too much time.

Instead of rolled out sugar cookies, this year I decided to make copycat Lofthouse cookies (those delicious round iced sugar cookies you get at the grocery store bakery). They came out mini, which is probably better. I could have used green and red icing, but decided on purple and turquoise because they’re more fun.

copycat lofthouse

And look great when you drop your new iPad mini onto them:

ipad icing fail

I also traditionally make my own birthday cake to take to our family gathering in Cleveland on Christmas, and often get carried away. Two years ago I made a rainbow cake, last year I made a panda, and this year I decided to make chocolate Biscoff icing and decorate it using a technique I found on Pinterest.

Expectation:

decorated cake

Reality:

biscoff icing

At least the buttercream I made with this bad boy tastes amazing:

chocolate cookie buter

We took Squirt to the kennel this morning before I got a chance to take a Christmas photo of him, so here he is hoping some sprinkles will land on the floor:

squirt tongue

Hope you have a happy Christmas and can resist the sugar coma!

A British Sun Guilt Visit to Hyde Park

24 Nov

Last Friday (yes, I’m over a week behind on posting) I intended to stay in and clean the bathrooms, but it was sunny outside. And there is an unwritten rule in Britain that if it’s sunny and you have the opportunity to go outside, you do not stay inside and clean the bathrooms. So my camera and I walked to Hyde Park.

hyde park fall

The swans were out and looking for bread.

hyde park birds

A lady threw a piece on the swan’s back by accident.

swan bread

This swan and dog threw down… the swan won.

swan dog fight

View of The Serpentine with the Italian Fountains in the background.

hyde park london

I love that this tree has almost every colo[u]r of autumn.

london fall

swans swimming

Ravens are creepy. I thought there was something wrong with his beak until I noticed he had a piece of bread.

raven london

I guess I got too close to his precious bread so he flew away.

swans raven

majestic swan

How does the childhood story go? If you give a swan a piece of bread…

swan seagulls

… the seagulls will come.

crazy seagulls

And eventually the swan will have to share.

seagulls swan fight

I walked all the way through Hyde Park to Harrod’s in Knightsbridge to do some Christmas shopping. I’ve finally been there enough times that I know my way around and don’t end up curled up in a corner crying. Their Christmas window displays were impressive, but did not photograph well. I also decided to put my camera away because even though I’m sure 90 percent of Harrod’s customers are tourists looking for the gift shop, I didn’t want to wander around with a camera strapped to my neck.

Regent Street Christmas Lights and How Jessie J Made Me an Amoeba

20 Nov

Yesterday I ran around Christmas shopping. I mean that in the most literal sense — I laced up my running shoes and ran three miles to Oxford Street, then on to Regent Street and Piccadilly, awkwardly hugging my shopping bags as I weaved in and out of crowds of pedestrians, all of whom gave me rightful odd looks for being the crazy person who dared to run on what have to be three of London’s most congested sidewalks (what they call “pavement.”)  I like to think it was practice for my big race on Thanksgiving where I may have to weave around walkers and fellow runners. My run to the first store was purely exercise and training, but running between stores was more out of necessity because I was freezing. In fact, I stopped at Lillywhites to buy some thermal base layer shirts because it’s getting a little too cold to just layer on another T-shirt, and it’s not exactly easy to move when you look like this:

most-tshirts-worn

Since I often head back to the US for Thanksgiving and stay through Christmas, I don’t have any problem with London getting into the Christmas spirit in early November. (There’s no Thanksgiving to get in the way of Christmas magic!) The other day my friend asked me if I’ve been taking any photos lately, and it dawned on me — that used to be what I enjoyed and blogged about before my life was consumed by looking for a flat, moving, unpacking, and lately, working. So last Tuesday, the first day it wasn’t raining, my camera and I went down to Oxford Street to do a little shopping and take in the lights.

I came out of a store around 4:30 pm and was surprised that the lights were not on yet. Then as I made my way to Selfridge’s, I noticed more and more people gathering on the sidewalks and the street had been blocked off. When I came out of Selfridge’s, I could barely move. I crossed the street to try to avoid the crowds, but they absorbed me. We moved like a giant amoeba as police officers guided us around the block, denying us access to the stage in front of Selfridges because of the crowds. Thanks to the rubberneckers and inquisitive onlookers, we moved slower than a snail’s pace, but I learned that that night — the night I chose to leisurely walk around and take photos and shop — was in fact the night that Jessie J was to perform and officially switch on the Oxford Street lights. I just wanted to get to the other end of the street! Eventually the bottleneck broke and I was free to take back roads to Regent Street, where the lights had been turned on days earlier.

regent street lights

The lights were similar, if not the same, as last year, showcasing the 12 Days of Christmas.

regent street christmas

I like the above photo because you get the effect of almost getting run over by a double decker bus, which happens all too often.

london christmas lightsMy next stop was Carnaby Street, a tucked away pedestrian street that always has an impressive Christmas display.

carnaby street 2013

They also have some quirky shops, like the place that sells this panda getup that even I wouldn’t wear:

crazy panda outfit

And then my hands got too cold so I took the bus home. From the window of the bus I saw the hordes of people trying to get into the Oxford Circus Tube Station after the performance was over — it had to have been at least 20 people thick on all sides, just trying to get INTO the station, never mind onto a train. The Evening Standard said queues were up to 30 minutes! Score one for the bus wankers!

bus-wankers-gif