Ukuleles = festive

I’m just going to come right out and say it. This week is kicking my butt. Between evergreen trees, shopping, wrapping gifts, waiting in long lines with armfuls of packages, cleaning, and preparing for a very much-anticipated house guest, I am pooped. This list doesn’t even include the cookies I meant to make for my staff meeting today or the prep for two upcoming brunches that I am hosting–one just for kicks with some friends to do a test run of my aebleskiver technique and the second for family. For those not in the know, aebleskivers are little round Danish pancakes that are spherical in shape and spiced with cardamom. I’d just like to note that my family has made them for decades and they are hollow! I have no idea ¬†why every other reference to them I can find says they are solid. The stubborn part of me thinks everyone else is just plain wrong, including the entire country of Denmark(!), but it was probably some change an ancestor of mine made to the cooking instructions. (There, now the Danish government won’t declare war on Charm City over my inflammatory aebleskiver remarks.) Needless to say, I’m feeling a little worn. But for all the stress, I truly love this time of year. If I could just sit in my dark living room with my lit Christmas tree for the next week, I’d be a happy camper.

All this hustle and bustle has got me in mind of one of my very favorite Christmas songs called (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays. I grew up listening to the Perry Como version, complete with back-up choir and orchestral arrangement, but apparently The Carpenters recorded it in the late 1970s. There’s this wonderful lyric that goes, “From Atlantic to Pacific – Gee, the traffic is terrific!” This has become a family saying and is usually whipped out during every single traffic jam or parking lot incursion that is observed, endured, or survived from Thanksgiving clear to New Years.

So tonight I have dug up two versions of this classic. The first one is with Perry Como’s melodious voice and theatrical accompaniment (it positively screams Broadway musical). The second is this cute guy singing in a very nice bass voice and playing the ukulele. It is adorable. Enjoy!

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A desert rat’s lament

I love fall on the East Coast (love it). I’m enthralled by the riotous and outrageous displays of color on the trees. I’m totally behind the easing off of summer’s heat. And I’m delighted that my early October birthday actually feels like the season it supposedly occurs in. I love fall. It is my favorite time of year… That being said though, I despise winter. I loath winter with the passion of a thousand burning suns, which sadly is never enough to thaw me out. I guess it is a by-product of growing up in the blast furnace that is Southern Arizona. Snow fills me with an unspecified dread. The prospect of frost makes me incredibly grouchy, and don’t even get me started on ice. Blech!

But my adoration of autumn and my disgruntlement with winter put me in a rather sticky situation when it comes to the weather. I start looking forward to fall right about mid May (another by-product of my childhood climate means that summer and I are barely on speaking terms, despite the fact that it is drastically different when experienced here in Charm City). I spend the summer watching intently for that first stray golden leaf, and I do feel quite pleased with myself when I eventually spot it in late September… for about 5 minutes. It is usually around that time that it hits me that this means winter is next in line and my good fall mood dies prematurely.

This year I was actually holding up pretty well. I did my usual summer slog (26 years in an oven is kind of hard to override), but when the temperature began to get milder and the leave started to turn, I managed to focus on the panoply of the season and not on the impending sense of doom. I told myself that it was pointless to get all worked up about the weather since there was little I could do to change it. I think I also mumbled something about the cycle of life and the noble beauty of the natural world… whatever it was I’m sure it was suitably vague and pretentious.

But it was all for naught! Last Friday the weather reports were all kicking up a fuss about the Nor’easter that was barreling down upon the region and was expected to drop several inches of snow on Charm City! And just like that my peaceful acceptance of the changing season and its “noble beauty” curled up and died. My hatred of all things winter steamrolled in and I made my husband go buy a new snow shovel and an electric blanket. Well, unlike much of the northeastern portion of the country, we ended up getting no snow at all. This was good and appeased my grumpiness a little. But we did get our first hard frost to serve as a little reminder of what is lurking just around the bend. And now my feet are cold, my hands are chapped and cracking, and my winter angst is festering deep inside me.

Which reminds me that I discovered Joni Mitchell during my time in Boston. (Yes, this is related to my seasonal griping. Just trust me.) During the summer of 2008 I happened to pick up a copy of Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon–and the Journey of a Generation at the library and was madly tearing through it to avoid incurring late fees (it’s a bit of a tome). It is an amazing book that fuses together music, feminism, and American culture and history and then wraps them around the intersecting and intertwining lives of three very different women. I really recommend it (go read it now!). Inspired by the book and eager to know more about the music of these now infamous musicians, I sought out some of their albums. I kinda chickened out when it came to Joni Mitchell, her being the one I was least familiar with, and settled for buying one of her greatest hits collections. Who knew I’d be so ensnared so quickly? Anyone familiar with her work knows that it is intensely poetic and achingly honest. Mitchell had/has a reputation for being fiercely independent and artistically eccentric. And her love life was turbulent, involving some of the biggest names from the music charts during the 1970s, including the likes of Graham Nash and Jackson Browne.

I have developed a real fondness for her, I must say. I think everyone needs a songwriter like her in their collection. She was the first in a line of many, all of them trying to fill that niche–though I’m willing to wager none of them intentionally. Kate Bush, Tori Amos, and Regina Spektor all fall into this category and are each amazing in their own right. But I’ve made my choice. And I have to admit that part of that is because deep down it turns out that she was a bit of a desert rat, too! Now you may ask how I have come to this conclusion. And that is a valid question. Well, it isn’t because she grew up in the frigid plains of Saskatchewan. It isn’t because she fled south and has spent the majority of her long career singing the praises of California (it gets mentioned in a lot of her songs). It’s because of one of her early compositions, 1965’s Urge For Going, perfectly reflects my feelings towards winter.

It’s a tragic song with a bitter tinge. Winter is painted as a true villain who chases both lovers and a personified spirit of spring away. And to be honest, I think she got it just about right.