Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

a Workplace Conversation

ME: So...why are we here at work this week?

COWORKER: Because we're chumps.

ME: Oh.

New Year's Eve

I don't go out on New Year's Eve anymore, mostly because I never had that much fun when I did. But whatever you do this evening--whether it be go out, go away or stay in and curl up--I hope you are safe, happy and looking forward to all the good stuff that could, should and (hopefully) will happen in 2011. Happy New Year, everyone.

Holidaze: 12/30/10

This lamb looks pretty frigid in the manger at Daley Center Plaza, but it won't be for long--temperatures are already in the 40s and will scoot into the 50s by tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In the Meadow, We Can Build More Snowmen

While Chicago didn't get dicksmacked the way the Eastern Seaboard did over the holiday weekend, we still did get some snow--as the storm passed well to our south, it turned our winds off Lake Michigan, which dropped snow on the city and northern suburbs (six inches along the shoreline, two to four inches elsewhere). It was still more than enough snow and motivation for someone to build this little guy. Shame that he'll be gone soon--rain starts tonight and continues through New Year's Eve, when temperatures will spike around 50 before plunging back to more seasonal levels New Year's Day.

Holidaze: 12/29/10

She looks unhappy. Maybe she didn't get what she wanted for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holidaze: 12/25/10

From my home to yours, a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Tree in the Living Room Window

I don't remember when Grandma put her Christmas tree up for the first time. It must have been in the late '70s, sometime after Mom had, while Grandma was in the hospital for an extended stay, cleaned her house from one end to the other, top to bottom. (Grandma, a master hoarder, had "treasures" stacked to the ceiling throughout her cottage. She was, um, "surprised" when she got home and found most of the junk thrown out and the walls freshly painted by her grandsons.)

The tree was not much more than a foot tall and made of molded green plastic, which mom had modified it a bit by wrapping it in small colored lights, a gold garland and a few ornaments held on with twist ties. Mom then parked it in the center window of the little cottage on McLean Avenue, where it stayed every holiday season until Grandma was moved to a nursing home, and it stayed there every holiday season until she passed away.

At that point, the little tree came to me and has stood in my living room window every year since, with a few of my own modifications: I removed the gold garland (which had long since started to fall apart) and added more ornaments--mostly glass balls like the ones Mom had affixed, but also various imported glass shapes (a walnut, a pepper, the hidden pickle, etc.) and the odd tiny Hallmark creation (if you squint at the photo above, you can catch a glimpse of a '50s-style Catwoman dangling on the right side of the tree).

Granted, few people could see it from either the tiny living room window of my first apartment, a converted attic on the second floor of my parents' house, or the center window of the original La Casa del Terror, which was on the third floor behind a locust tree. Even in my current apartment, which is on the first floor, you can't see it lit very often, mostly because, with my work schedule being was it is these days, I'm rarely home to light it. (It makes little sense to flip the switch when I'm not getting back to my place until after ten or eleven.)

That's not really the point, though. It's not there necessarily for others to see, though it's nice when someone walks by the window, glances up and smiles or points at the pretty lights. Grandma's tree is there for me to see, whenever I'm around and able, as a reminder of holidays past, of the importance of treasuring the friends and family still in my life.

That's more than worth a flip of a switch every now and then.

Holidaze: 12/23/10

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Cups Runneth Over

Every year in the Honorable Richard J. Daley Center Plaza in the heart of Chicago's downtown, the city puts together its holiday display, usually consisting of the following: A tree (this year a not overly full thing that would have benefited greatly from being covered by something other than just lights); a Nativity Scene (take that, atheists!); a large menorah (at least through Chanukah); and cluster of small, heated huts known as the Christkindlmarket, where one can buy imported ornaments, Germanic treats like brats or potato pancakes, and even tasty alcoholic beverages to artificially warm your frigid innards.

One of the drinks served is mulled wine, provided in steaming souvenir cups shaped like little boots and decorated with a drawing of the plaza and the market with what appears to be the Snow Queen on one end of the illustration and the official city tree (which looks so much nicer on the cup than in real life) and the Picasso sculpture on the other. It's a sturdy little cup well worth keeping long after the effects of the warm wine have worn off.

A coworker had bought such a cup and brought it in for display atop her workstation, which is festively decorated with a small golden tree covered with small colored lights. I liked the cup and decided to bundle up and trundle down to the market.

Daley Center Plaza was cold and windswept, but nonetheless packed with sightseers, shoppers and pilgrims like me trying to stoke the holiday spirit, dampened in my case by too many hours at work, too little time to myself and too much mucus above my neck and below it as well (both circumstances aided and abetted by lack of sleep).

Was it really a good idea to have a drink while on cold medication? Hell to the no. Was I going to do it anyway? Hell to the yeah.

The mulled wine was sweet and a bit spicy, and for the few minutes it took me to sip it down to the bottom of the footwear-shaped cup, I didn't feel so weary--my cold was as bad as before, but I cared a little less.

The effects of the wine and the holiday displays faded quickly, though, and making it through Friday was more effort than I wanted to make. I slept in Saturday, but had to eventually get up and do something with my life (such as it is). Bills to be paid, Christmas cards to be mailed. Stuff to get done.

On the way back from the post office and the currency exchange, I stopped by the neighborhood Village Discount Outlet. I've found it to be a very useful place to visit, especially as the weather turns colder. (In Chicago, that's usually around, like, Labor Day.) I can always use another good sweater, they have a surprisingly diverse selection of candles, and at this time of year in particular, they drag out the discount Christmas decorations.

The place was packed, so I wanted to get out as quickly as I could (claustrophobic as I am), but I found a nice vanilla-scented pillar candle and, on the same shelf, something else: a boot-shaped cup decorated with a drawing of Daley Center Plaza. It was a Christkindlemarket cup, but from three years ago. Now I had a pair of cups. Coolness!

Then a couple of things occurred to me. If this cup is from 2007, then it's a safe bet that Christkindlmarket had commemorative cups in other years as well, possibly all the way back to its beginning in 1996. And Village Discount Outlet has a sizable glassware section. Could there be more such cups over there? Hmm.

A turn of a corner and a twist through a crowded aisle gave me my answer: Yes. Four more times over, yes. And all at 50% off their ticket prices.

For now, the six cups--from 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 and this year--adorn my workspace. A little holiday cheer in a time and place where such moments of positive emotions are scarce these days. It's not much, but every little bit helps.

Holidaze: 12/22/10

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Season's Screenings

In addition to having written numerous essays about this festive holiday season over the years, I've also had occasion to write about holiday TV specials--some beloved ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), some not so beloved ("The Star Wars Holiday Special") and some that aren't so easily categorized ("Mr. Krueger's Christmas"). Check 'em out.

When Reindeer Attack!

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Mr. Krueger's Christmas

Last Night on the Way Home

Holidaze: 12/21/10

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Over the nine years that I've had this blog, I've had numerous occasions to write essays about Christmas. Here are a few of my favorites.

Silent Night

A Christmas Casa

The Forever Tree

"O Holiday Tree, O Holiday Tree..."

The Christmas Scarf

Holidaze: 12/17/10

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010