Saturday, December 25, 2010

Still my favorite...

by Clement Clarke Moore
or Henry Livingston


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Haiku Christmas Eve Friday

Baking and eating
perhaps a Christmas bike ride
maybe even church.


Family so far,
yet not far in our hearts, minds
Missing home, Mom, Dad.


Our last Christmas in
Philly, just us and the Moue
Thankful for blessings!

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Merry Christmas Eve!

courtesy of my Dad, of course! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Baked Potato Soup

Just in case you were wondering, I made up a recipe for some baked potato soup. It turned out pretty well, so I thought I'd share it with you, especially since it's easy and the weather is getting blustery and cold. Happy Winter! Happy Solstice!
2 - 2.5lbs russet potatoes (about 4-6 larger potatoes)
0.25 - 0.5lb bacon
2-3 regular sized onions
4c. chicken stock
1 can Campbell's Cheese Soup
1 can milk
Peel potatoes and dice them into 1/2" chunks or so. Place in stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for about 20 minutes or until cooked.
Cut up bacon into chunks and fry in a pan until cooked. Drain bacon on a plate with a paper towel and reserve some of the bacon grease for cooking onions.
Cut up onions into chunks and fry in the leftover bacon grease. When almost done, add a couple cloves of garlic, smashed.
Once potatoes are cooked, drain the pot and place the potatoes back in it. Add chicken stock, bacon, onion, cheese soup and can of milk. Depending on when you want to eat, either heat the soup through quickly over medium heat (but be careful not to boil for too long, as the milk and the potatoes will burn - stir frequently) or place on low, low, low heat and allow to come to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
In the end, I pureed the soup with my immersible blender, but I am sure it would be fine without the pureeing, especially if you don't have the immersible blender thingy (since putting batches of hot soup in the blender is NOT FUN!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Numbers Monday

  • On Friday, we attended our first dance party at our dance studio. It's so different to try to dance the dances you've been practicing with lots and lots of people around. The studio was all decked out with festive decorations, and there was even a live band, which was great! We've gotten to the point where we can recognize the dance that goes with the song and we can do a few moves for most of the dances. I think we danced the Foxtrot, Swing, Hustle, and Rhumba. We even tried our hand at Salsa, but that one we're a little bit rusty on. It was a lot of fun, and luckily, we took the bus down there, since my feet were killing me by the end of the dance. Altogether, it was a blast and I hope I can convince Alex to go to more of the Friday night dances at the studio!
  • Saturday became a lazy day for a bit for us. We had gone out 5 nights in a row last week, so by the time Saturday rolled around, we were pretty beat. It was lovely to sleep in, read the newspaper, enjoy the coffee and just generally veg out. It's a rare occasion when that happens. We headed into work in the afternoon and then we headed into Center City, which is always a treat this time of year. We parked the bikes and took a walk around. Luckily, the weather was relatively mild (for us) and we walked through the stores and down the streets, enjoying the holiday shows. We finished our Christmas shopping last weekend, so this weekend was lovely to chill out and not worry about the madness that is shopping. 
  • We hit up the Christmas Village at City Hall, and tried out their mulled wine. For $7, a commemorative mug and some terrible mulled wine. Mental note: PA does not grow the right kind of grapes to make good wine. Never again.
  • We ended up at Nodding Head, a great little pub on Sansom between 15th and 16th. They brew their own beer, and right now are making one called SledHammer (haha! get it?) which weighs in at a pretty high 7% alcohol. It was so tasty and delicious that we had 2 each! Plus, they have the best entree ever there: the steak salad: a nice tasty peppered steak over some spring greens with some tasty vinaigrette and a side of fries! I hardly ever go there, but their fries are so good (Belgian, crisp on the outside, melty and warm on the inside, with a bit of spice to them and some yummy jalapeno-dip like stuff to go with them - wow!) 
  • Sunday was the chore day. I headed into work early to get that out of the way. Back at home, I did about 6 loads of laundry, baked and decorated about 2 dozen cookies and made a pot of Baked Potato Soup. After the 6th load of laundry was in, the washing machine died (which has been a common theme in our house for some time. I then had to hand wash the clothes that were actually in the machine - man! the water is so fricken cold! I had to wear some gloves just to try to keep my hands warm. What a chore! I realized that I am very glad I was born after the invention of the washing machine, and not before!
  • Today, it's a rather mellow day. I've got some thesis-writing to do, but most of my actual things to do at lab have been accomplished. Now, I am just hoping to make several figures and get through two outlines. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Haiku Random Friday

Dentist at seven
Up before the sun, rosy
pink snowy morning.


No biking today
Too much ice, fear for my life
Slippery tires.


Snow is so pretty 
but treacherous - I fell last
night middle of road

PS: but I'm OK - I think it might have been a mighty funny sight though. I slipped on some ice, fell in the road, had the bike fall on top of me, screamed hysterically because there were cars around me and then couldn't get back up again because I was on a HUGE slick of ice. Made it home in one piece, methinks. I forgot about that part of the winter. I don't like it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I try to get to know all the people I work with, including the people who come through and take out the trash, clean the bathrooms or deliver packages. I'm usually chatting with them about the weather, or the latest sports game (it's pretty much a given that everyone is a 76ers, Phillies, Flyers or Eagles fan). Even if I don't know their names, I always try to say "Hi" and ask them about their day, since after a while, you begin to at least recognize people around the building. For the last few years, I've become friends with Stanley, a middle aged, gray haired man who performs janitorial services around our floor every night. He usually comes through around 6pm, and I always get a big smile and a little conversation from him every night. He's from Poland, moved to Philly quite some time ago. He has two daughters, who are both grown and quite successful. He got the job here at Penn in order to put his daughters through "good school", one is now a lawyer, and the other is an executive. He got so excited when I told him Alex and I are getting married. I think he wants grandkids of his own, and perhaps I remind him of his daughters just a bit. He talks a lot about his little dog, who's getting older and just likes to sit by the heater now that the weather is colder. He tells me about his wife's cooking kielbasa with vodka, and the decorations he's put on the tree and around the house. Last year, during the "Snowpocalypse" when we got over 3 feet of snow in a matter of 48 hours, Stanley was the first to volunteer to stay at Penn overnight to make sure the walks were shoveled and the streets were safe for the students to walk on. He ended up getting stuck with a shovel and a huge pile of snow, but I don't think that deterred him in the least. He's not afraid of hard work, even though he's getting older and should likely let some of the younger boys do the hard work. Yesterday, he reminded me of something even more important. I remarked about the cold weather, he remarked back that things weren't too bad. I remarked back something about it being a loooong winter. And then he looked directly at me and he reminded me how lucky we are. We work in heated buildings, we have heated homes and cars. I remarked back, "But, Stanley, I don't have a car!". And he said, yes, but that's YOUR choice. There are a lot of people who don't even have heated homes or homes for that matter, or warm clothes or warm food or a decent pair of socks. Considering he came from Poland, and I can't imagine what things were like for him growing up, I really took this to heart. I feel so lucky to have the things that I have, the conveniences, the transportation when I need it. The heat, the fancy shoes and coat to block out the wind. It's hard to imagine there are people freezing out there, but there are. And it's a feeling, according to Stanley, you will never forget. So, I'm thankful for Stanley, for putting this Christmas rush and madness (mail this, package that, wrap that -wait, it's not enough! blah, blah, blah) into a bit of perspective. We are such lucky people as Americans. So lucky it's hard to fathom. Thank you, Stanley, for that reminder. I needed it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review Wednesday: The Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson

Alex's mom gave me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when we went to visit her in CO in late July. Honestly, the cover of the book turned me off (I know, I know, don't judge a book by it's cover!) so I put it aside and didn't pick it up for a while. When I finally did pick it up, I found it a little hard to get into. The introduction seemed a little slow, the Swedish names and some references were hard to get. The author refers to the same characters by different names, which was confusing, and the descriptions of places, neighborhoods, etc, were hard to understand. I'm sure if I was Swedish, I none of these things would have troubled me. However, the book did contain a wonderfully delightful and interesting mystery. A couple, actually, that kept me interested, slogging through the slow introduction, getting to know the characters, and then I just fell in love with the book. It might have taken 150 pages or so, but after than I was fully committed. I couldn't put the book down, and I began to love the ridiculously long names of places and the character's penchant for sandwiches, no matter the time of day, their incessant drinking of coffee at all hours of the night, and their interesting and novel lives. None of the women in the novels were stereotypical. All were powerful (in one way or another) and none were yearning for a man in their lives (very little romance, but a lot of interesting relationships, which was refreshing). The protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist is an odd duck too. The books in the trilogy were stunningly good. Action packed adventure, mysterious happenings, interesting and novel plotlines. I just ate them up. I bought the second book in Jackson and I ordered the third not too long ago. I think I liked the first one the best, and the third one the least. But mostly, I just couldn't put them down. Intelligent and well written, involving government and corporate conspiracies as well as deep, dark secrets, I highly recommend these books.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Living in the City - Driving Edition

Upon traveling to a city, like Philadelphia, or any of our densely populated Northeastern cities, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you are driving here.
  1. Once you arrive in the city, you will be faced with an inordinate amount of traffic of various forms, including, but not limited to, cars, trucks, UPS/Fedex vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, cyclists, pedestrians, pedi-cabs, horse drawn carriages and semi-trucks. Give yourself some extra time to get to your destination.
  2. Most streets are one-way only. Ensure that you know where you are going and which way the traffic flows. More than likely, you will need to go around the block a few times to get to your destination. Sometimes, GPS doesn't work in the city because of all the big buildings, so an old fashioned map is usually most useful. Or, even better, get directions from your destination.
  3. There are few areas where parking is free. Most streets and lots charge for parking, and the cost can be exorbitant. Be aware of this and make sure you have both cash and credit. The newer meters in Philly are taking credit cards now, which is nice, but there are still some neighborhoods with metered parking. Other areas have restrictions on parking - like 2 hour parking most days of the week. Look out for signs, usually at the beginning and end of most blocks and make sure to move your car before your 2 hours are up. The Parking Authority is the most successful business in the city for a reason....
  4. The streets are marked a certain way for a reason. Many streets have bike lanes. Don't use these as our own personal driving lane or parking place. There are a huge number of cyclists in the city who use those lanes exclusively. If you have to use a lane to make a turn, be courteous, put on your blinker, and recognize that you are merging into a lane with traffic in it.
  5. Similarly, crosswalks are so marked in order to prevent you from pulling into them. There are lots and lots of pedestrians here, and most tend to use the crosswalks. Most intersections do not allow right turns on red lights, like are allowed in the 'burbs precisely because of the pedestrians. 
  6. Most areas do allow you to pull up to drop off Grandma or a load of groceries. Try pulling up onto the sidewalk (without running anyone over) and put on your emergency lights. I wouldn't leave my car out there for too long, but it's OK to dash in and out, or to grab your sweater or hit the bathroom. I have yet to see Parking Authority give out tickets for that.
  7. Whatever your destination, you will most likely have to walk to it. Wear sensible shoes and clothes. High heels get caught in grates, so look out for those if you're wearing those types of shoes. The city is historically warmer than the suburbs, but in the winter there's lots of ice and gusty winds funneled down the streets by the big buildings. In the summer, it's hot and sticky, so bring lots of water. 
  8. Don't seek out your favorite chain restaurant when in the city. There are tons of small, locally owned businesses and lots of BYOBs to check out that are way better than TGIFridays or Chilis. BYOBs run cheaper because they don't have to pay for the liquor license (and you can bring your favorite bottle of wine or some beers along - some places will even mix you a drink if you bring the liquor). Most places don't take reservations, but a lot exist in clusters, so if one's full, you can just walk down the street or belly up to the bar down the way. Chances are, you'll have an excellent meal in a new place, which is always fun. There are also lots of deals to look for, like the $15 lobster dinner at Bistro Romano on Tuesday nights, or the Restaurant Week offerings or the Center City Sips.
  9. If you are going to parallel park, please know how. Streets are narrow, traffic is heavy, and generally, people have no patience. So, if you're going to try to parallel park on Walnut Street, you better be quick about it. Otherwise you'll have a million people honking at you and yelling at you immediately. My advice? Go a couple blocks away from those busy streets, and find a residential street to park on - less traffic and less stress.
  10. My honest advice for people who are thinking about driving into the city is: don't. Take the train or the bus (which is always an experience in itself). Most stop at 69th Street Station or 30th Street Station, where you can catch the subway or hail a cab. This takes having to drive completely out of the picture, puts less traffic on our streets, and saves you a little bit on the carbon footprint front. Not that public transit is totally reliable, but most bus lines run pretty late into the night, and the regional rail lines have the last trains leaving around 11 or midnight. Besides, this way, you can enjoy your BYOB dinner with a bottle of wine and not worry about the drive home!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Numbers Monday

  • On Friday, we headed over to our friends' house to bake and decorate some cookies. It was a blast. Jen had made no less than 4 kind of cookie dough, and we proceeded to roll out, bake and decorate the hell out of those cookies. One person brought 3-D cookie cutters, and another brought science cookie cutters, so we had lots to decorate and make. We tried a bit of this stuff called Snap, which is a locally made liquor that tastes kinda like gingersnap cookies, with a lot of vanilla flavor to it. It's a pretty unique drink (and there's another one called Root that tastes like alcoholic root beer), it's organic, and it's locally made - what could be better?
  • On Saturday, we met up with another friend to get some brunch. We ended up at Sabrina's on 18th and Callowhill. Breakfast was delicious, and the restaurant even left some hot cocoa for us outside while we waited for  our table. It was lovely to see our friend, who recently moved to Baltimore, but it was a bit depressing to hear how bad that city is. 
  • Saturday afternoon, we rented a car to do some Christmas shopping. Because it was Saturday afternoon, they were out of all the normal economy cars we would normally rent, so we were upgraded to a Chrysler 300, which is a bit of an old person car, but it was super nice! It had leather seats and a nice roomy trunk to fit all our purchases. And the car was so quiet, it was hard to hear the freeway traffic around us. Wow.
  • We hit a bunch of stores, including Target, REI, Petsmart, and the King of Prussia Mall. I don't even want to think about how much money we spent :) But, the good news is that the shopping is done for bout our families - now we just have to mail things off hopefully tomorrow!
  • Saturday night, after our shopping extravaganza, we were able to catch Harry Potter 7.1 at the local movie theatre. The tickets were $11 each! Whew! That seemed really expensive to us, but since we hardly ever go to the movies, it was worth it. The theatre was really nice (unlike the horrible ones here in the city) and it had those comfy rocker chairs and cup holders and all those nice things! Both Alex and I thought the movie was really brilliant - the plot line followed mostly what we could remember, and I thought it ended in an appropriate place. Now, I think I'll have to re-read them all over again! How I love, love, love to do that!
  • On Sunday, we made the rounds to pick up two cases of beer from the beer distributor, and to hit up the grocery store for all those things I'd like to bake in the coming weeks. We also hit up work quickly, then gassed up the car and returned it. It's amazing how much you can get done with a car! The rest of the afternoon was spent making one batch of pea soup, one loaf of french bread and addressing and signing about 50 Christmas cards. I felt so pooped, that I went to bed around 9:30pm - although I did read my new Vanity Fair magazine for a bit before nodding off.
  • We awoke at 5:30am this morning to the sounds of our cat, Moue, running wild. She was acting like she had a mouse cornered, so we cautiously turned on the lights, put shoes and glasses on, and started moving things out of her way. While I believe she DID have a mouse that she was chasing, it somehow got away from her and we couldn't find it. This is the second time this has happened, where she sees a mouse and it somehow gets away. I am hoping she scared the bejesus out of that mouse, so it will not return to our house. But I have a feeling one of them will be back.
  • Even though I should have gotten up, I went back to bed and then awoke at 11am! Woah! Methinks I have quickly switched to hibernation mode. Consequently, I didn't make it to work until 1pm. Good thing I don't have much to do today!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Haiku Cookie Makin' Friday

Decorating some
cookies tonight with friends for
some holiday cheer!


Gingerbread is what
I like best, but sugar or 
chocolate is good.


Cookie cutters are
in my bag - I only have
three - does Santa know?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Big C

Elizabeth Edwards' passing really hit me hard. I was trying to think about why I would be feeling so bad about a woman I had never met and then it hit me. It's because I lost my Uncle Dennis to cancer just a few years ago. He, too, had received the information from the doctors that "there was nothing else they can do". He went home and died at home several weeks later, surrounded by family, friends, laughter and music.
Death is weird. It's an uncomfortable thing to face, since we'll all go through it at some time or another. I don't know a lot about death, even though I have lost quite a few relatives. One minute they're there and the next minute they're not there.
Dennis' death was bittersweet. He had battled cancer for years and years, earning respite after respite until there was no more they could do. He went in and out of treatments, was enrolled in clinical trials and endured countless types of medication. I don't think the cancer ever ruled his life, but I do know that it was a big part of his life. Family and friends made accommodations for him and I think he ended up living his life the way that he wanted to live it, in spite of the cancer. At least I would like to think that. He was a pilot, and loved nothing more than to get into his plane and fly off somewhere. When the cancer got worse, he lost his license and his wife ended up getting her license. I think she was always fine to fly with him because he had countless hours upon hours of flight time. And even though the doctors said he wasn't fit to fly, his knowledge was still there in the plane with them.
After several years, there was nothing more the doctors could do. Dennis figured out that each treatment would last less long. His first rounds of treatment kept him cancer free for 6 years, then his second round kept him cancer free for 3 years, then 1.5 years, then 6 months. In the grand scheme of things, he had less than a year to live. It's hard to be an outsider, looking in. We heard that the cancer was back, that things were not looking so good. But they had looked bad in the past, and things had gotten better, right? So, this time would be like the last. Except Dennis decided to end treatments. He decided, on his own terms and with his own mind, that he would end treatments. Word went out that Dennis was dying, and the troops rallied and we all gathered at his bedside.
He had become a shell of the man that he was - thinner and knobblier and hobblier. His voice was strong, but the cancer had spread to his bones, so it was hard to touch him without causing him pain. Someone was always holding his hand, no matter what was going on. Hospice care came in and talked to everyone, telling us what to expect, giving Dennis medications to keep him comfortable, encouraging him to eat and to go about daily life, as normal as possible.
At the time, my cousin, Rhonda (Dennis' daughter) had just given birth to her son, Sayer. He was just a few weeks old when his Grandpa passed away. I remember how Sayer would instantly calm down when he was laid on his Grandpa's chest. How green the hills were, how the rains had come and gone and left this beautiful paradise all green. There was laughter all the time, likely a product of our nervousness at being around death, but there weer true, genuine moments, too. My cousin Adrian, sang some beautiful songs for us (and I think we all sang along, too). There was a constant flow of people in and out of the house, bringing food and beer and love and compassion. It was a true community effort, and in all truthfulness, it was an amazing thing to be a part of, as weird as that sounds. For a moment, or two, this dying man brought together his family and friends, from all parts of his life: his church, his home, his childhood, his adulthood. And we all gathered around to watch his life end, surrounded by those who loved him, and likely hoping our end would be similar.
Dennis died on a Saturday morning, with his wife and his daughter and his grandson by his side. As his disease progressed, he slept more and more, and could no longer see his visitors, although I think he knew we were there. Death is something weird, but also weirdly beautiful. Your friends and family are never gathered together in such a way, and people often don't get the opportunity to tell you how much they care about you, and how much you have meant to their lives. In the end, although you don't want this person to leave you, you begin to realize the pain and suffering they are going through, such that, when death comes, it's almost a relief.
I will always be thankful that Dennis was allowed to do things in his own way. I will always be grateful that I was there to share the experience, and that I played a role, however small, in sending someone on to their next life, or wherever one goes. It was a wholly humbling and amazing experience.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things...

I took the bus across the city yesterday in the hopes of avoiding the blustery cold cold coldness that has descended upon this city and I thought up a few of my favorite things about this city, this time of year, and perhaps, nothing in particular.
  • I love that there are lights everywhere in the city - the holiday lights, the giant menorahs, the Christmas trees and the gaudy, over-the-top Christmas decorations. Maybe it's because the city is so compact, and sometimes people want to pretend they have a front yard like in the suburbs, but the lights are dense and over the top. I love it.
  • I love that this city is so walk-able. You can reasonable walk from one end to the other end of Center City in about an hour. Each block is different, and the closer you get to the Delaware River, the older the houses are. I love the neighborhoods. No matter how many times I walk up and down the same streets, I always see something new. Especially now that everyone is decorating for Christmas. 
  • I love to stumble upon "new" things. Like, the new bars and restaurants that are always opening up or changing decor or re-doing something. I love finding a new cafe or bar, right where there was nothing for a long time. The other week, I rode my bike past a dress store that I'd seen before, but I'd never really looked at it. I called them up, went in for a visit, and walked out with my wedding dress!
  • I also love to imagine what living in that neighborhood would be like. I think this stems from when I was a kid - we used to look at new houses and I would always decide which room was mine and where I was going to keep my toys, etc. I love to look in people's houses - yes, I am bit of a voyeur! Some houses are so traditional, with huge chandeliers and high ceilings, while others are more modern, or newly furnished. I am always surprised to see actual art work on the walls of peoples' homes.
  • I love that businesses are in buildings that were not built for their business. Restaurants are in old homes, apartments are in old storefronts, stores are in old apartments. I love it. I love that some places are so tiny, it's hard to maneuver with a backpack on. I love that some restaurants are in basements, some people live over their bar or restaurant or dance studio, and some stores have an apartment in the back (with a handwritten sign on it saying "owners only". There is something about going into someone's home for their business that is so appealing.
  • I love the used book stores, the church flea markets, the block long yard sales. So many people, such a small space and so much JUNK! I love it!
  • I love that Philly really caters to small business. I can't think of one chain business that I frequent other than Trader Joe's,  South Square Market or Au Bon Pain in my building at work. Most of the places, including our dance studio, where I bought my wedding dress, where we buy our produce and most of the restaurants we go to are all locally owned with either only one or just a few establishments in the area. Of course, sometimes we hit up Qdoba or McDonalds or Starbucks, but mostly we stick to the local stuff, especially the bars and restaurants, since they tend to serve the best food and beer for a pretty reasonable price. Besides, all the chains are in the hotel areas, which are areas we try to avoid.
  • I love that we can see historic buildings and historic things on a regular basis. We can walk past Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell anytime. I took the bus past the US District Courthouse last night, and I can walk down Elfreth's Alley anytime (the oldest consistent residential neighborhood in the country). I catch the bus opposite Ben Franklin's grave and I walk past any of the established parks in the proper city of Philadelphia on lots of occasions (legend says the layout of the city of Philadelphia was established by William Penn himself, who insisted on at least 5 parks within the city limits - one of those parks became City Hall, but there are four remaining parks within Center City itself). Macy's is in the old Wannamaker building, which houses a huge organ as well as a Christmas display inside and in the windows on Market Street. I get my produce at Reading Terminal Market, or I head down to the Italian Market, with real butchers and trash can fires. City Hall hosts a "Christmas Village" outside, with a ton of vendors selling Christmas Trees, hot cocoa and traditional ornaments and lots of other stuff.
  • I know I might regret saying this, but I love the weather this time of year. Movies and society have always told me that Christmas should be cold and chilly, and I should have to bundle up a bit this time of year. It's bracing and chilly, but it's also a bit magical. The air is crisper and clearer, the lights twinkle a bit more, and the hustle and bustle of the city just makes me smile. 
  • I also love the randomness. You never know what you will encounter. With so many people, and such a small space, you are bound to run into something interesting almost every day. I went for a run yesterday, and there was one guy who stopped, blew a shrill whistle at me and then proceeded to scream some football lingo at me ("32, 15, HIKE, RUN, PUNT"). Why? I have no idea. But it did make me giggle. Or the guy who was trying to help another person parallel park by screaming such epithets as, "No, you're f-ing it up!" and "Where did you learn to drive, stupid?" and "Well, now you f-ed it up again!" and "What is WRONG with you?". Granted, it was pretty obvious that the two people (the one in the car and the one on the street) did not know each other. When Alex crashed his bike on some trolley tracks the other week, a bus driver leaned out his window and said, "Why don't you know better than to get stuck in the trolley tracks?". Or the time when I took my parents on the subway to Old City and a couple of guys gave up their seats for my Mom and me. And then proceeded to hit on me. In front of my parents. Yeah. That was weird!
So those are some of the things I love about this time of year and being here in the city. It's hard to miss family and friends and be here while I know they're across the country. So, instead, I'm choosing to focus on the positive things I get to experience. And hopefully we'll get some snow!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Memories

Sometimes I just can't think of anything interesting to post, so I thought I would just jot down some random memories of Christmas when I was younger.
  • when I was really little, we had two Christmas trees. One, we would put up in the living room and it would be the "formal" Christmas tree, with all the presents under it. The other one lived in a pot in the backyard during most of the year, and was brought in at Christmas time to be decorated. We called it "Chrissie's tree" and it had my favorite ornaments on it, like the goofy cartoon ones, and the ones sent to my from my relatives "Back East".
  • I always could open one present on Christmas Eve and it was always pajamas that I would wear that night.
  • My Grandma always made a coffee cake for Christmas breakfast. Since she's gone, my Mom and I always make that same cake. My Mom even has the recipe in my Grandma's writing.
  • One year, my Mom got a sponge sandwich with a pickle soap for Christmas. I was totally jealous.
  • Most years, my Dad would come home with something and tell my Mom to wrap it up for him "from Santa". One year, it was a espresso maker, but more recent years, it's been airplane or Model T parts. 
  • Our stockings usually have toiletries in them. My Mom's will always include a giant size bottle of aspirin. And we all get oranges in the toes.
  • I always thought Christmas was special because we left the Christmas lights on all day and we got to have a fire in the fireplace. 
  • When I was little, we had lots of people stopping by at our house all day long on Christmas. Neighbors, cousins, uncles and my Grandparents, even Randi (when we got a little bit older). It was such great fun, as a little kid, to have that many people in my house, when normally there were only the three of us. It's probably why now I would love to have lots of kids just to have the totally full house at holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Numbers Monday

  • This weekend involved a lot of errands and a bit of handing around the house. On Saturday, we biked to 2 errands, Reading Terminal Market, where we got hot cocoa and warm ham sandwiches. We also purchased fruits and veggies and some meat since our CSA has stopped. It was nice to buy fruits and veggies we wanted for a change. We normally try to cook what's given to us, but sometimes that involves yucky stuff like cabbage, beets and brussel sprouts. It was great to be able to buy peppers and mushrooms and pears, oh my!
  • I finally finished the 3rd book in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I must say, I really loved those books and have not stopped thinking about them since I put them down. I am sure I will write more on those books in another post.
  • We battled wind and freezing cold temperatures to hit up the Franklin Institute's display on Cleopatra: the last queen of Egypt. Apparently, two scientists have been excavating places around Alexandria, Egypt and this was a display of their findings. It was fascinating to see carved marble statues at least 20 feet tall, recovered from the bay near present day Alexandria. There were lots of artifacts, and even revelations about other cities and areas that were around Alexandria in ancient days. The displays weren't about Cleopatra per se, but more about her dynasty, and her family and her time in Egypt (as, it's hard to prove that something was owned or touched by her, since her tomb has never been found). The exhibit was well done and interesting, and we even bought 2 Christmas gifts!
  • I spent the rest of yesterday doing those things I hate to do: 6 loads of laundry, changing the linens, scrubbing the bathrooms, etc. I cooked one chicken, made a batch of creamed cabbage (actually pretty good!), some potatoes and an emergency chocolate cake. Perhaps I will post some of the recipes sometime soon!
  • Today, we biked to work in 30 mph winds so that I can go to lunch with today's speaker. I am hoping her talk is as good as I want it to be, since I think she might be on "the postdoc list" - and she's in CA, which is even better!