A Few of My Favorite Things

You kids need to get out of my room.... you're all up in my personal space.

You kids need to get out of my room…. you’re all up in my personal space.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s December already. Summer doesn’t seem like it was so very long ago, and I can’t remember having a distinct “fall” season this year. I’m sure no one needs to tell you that all of this means that the holiday season is well under way. Christmas trees were on sale before Halloween, and radio stations started playing every version of “The Christmas Song” the week before Thanksgiving. To the Targets, Macy’s, Wal-Marts, and other retail stores of the world, I simply say,

Stop it. Just staaahp, please.

One of the songs I’ve noticed on the radio is “My Favorite Things,” which I had never actually considered to be a Christmas song. I just thought it was the song Maria sang when the Von Trapp kids were afraid of the rain. My cousin’s daughter is in love with The Sound of Music, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it. I recently read that Carrie Underwood will be playing the part of the rebellious nun-turned governess in NBC’s remake of The Sound of Music, which is scheduled to air sometime during the holiday season in 2013. (I think I’ll pass on that version.) The song made me think about a few of my favorite things, whether they’re cool products I’ve seen in stores, shows, holiday traditions, or other items… that rhyme with “things.” 😉

Bath & Body Work’s French Baguette Candle

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This candle is nothing short of amazing. It *literally* smells just like fresh-baked bread. Brian and my sister, Carmen, both make fun of me for my need to smell all the candles I see. I think it’s a tactile+smell thing; the act of picking up the candle and smelling it are soothing for me during a trip to a crowded mall. I’m sure you’ve smelled at least one candle in your life and thought to yourself, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living in between that space between the wax and the lid…” No? That’s just me? Ok, nevermind. Anyway, search for this one next time you’re in Bath & Body Works. You won’t be disappointed.

Adventure Time

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Is it weirdly animated? Yes. Is it aimed at young boys? Probably. But, over the past summer, I’ve become hooked on this cartoon. It’s about a boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who encounter many strange adventures with plenty of odd characters in the Land of Ooo. Finn and Jake serve as the doers of good in Ooo, performing various knight-like tasks and protecting the citizens of Candy Kingdom, which is ruled by Princess Bubblegum. If my sister was a cartoon character, she would be Lumpy Space Princess.

Watching White Christmas

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White Christmas is one of the only holiday movies I actually enjoy watching. I remember my dad teaching me the song when I was little. Later on, one of my uncles introduced me to Bing Crosby, and I grew to appreciate the jazz standards. There’s something about the “Hey kids! Lets put on a show!” mentality that always seemed fun to me. When we were growing up, my sister and I would participate in “productions” with our cousins whenever they’d visit. They grew up on the other side of the world, so it was always a big event whenever they were here. One year, we performed our version of “The Nutcracker,” and I starred as Clara. White Christmas is a classic (and hello! Rosemary Clooney!), with so many great songs, including this one…

History Channel Series

history channel series

I’m fascinated by History Channel’s original programming, and this year, they really stepped up the game with Hatfields & McCoys, The Men Who Built America, and Mankind: The Story of All of Us. Hatfields & McCoys spurred my search this past summer into my family’s genealogy, since my mother’s family came from the same area in southern West Virginia where several events of this story unfolded. I really like how politicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen, news figures (like my manfriend, Brian Williams), and other public figures are used throughout the other series to help tell the story of the birth of America, the great wars, and the innovations that would change the world. Reruns of these shows are still better than new episodes of a lot of other shows.

Being Engaged!

my ring

I know, it’s on the wrong finger, we’re going to take it to get resized soon. I just really wanted to take it home to show my momma.

Yep, I’m engaged! The night before Thanksgiving, Brian made me a very happy gal and asked me to marry him. Two days before he asked me, I had interviewed for a part-time bridal consultant position, and after the interview, I met him for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. His fortune cookie wasn’t that great, but mine read “A good message is on it’s way to you.” Not twenty minutes later, I received a call from the store manager, offering me the position. I think my fortune cookie was extra-strength, since it held out for another few days. I’m beyond excited to spend the rest of my life with Brian, and I can’t wait to start planning, but first, I want to spend some time getting settled into my new job. Until then, I plan to start putting together my own wedding blog since I don’t want to overwhelm this blog with all of my wedding-related posts. (It’s a good thing I’ll be working at a place where I’ll be talking about weddings all the time.) Whenever that’s ready, I’ll share the link. I’m so happy that I’ll have my Dames by my side, too, along with my sister and best friend since pre-school, who is also in the process of planning her wedding. (All this wedding business makes that separate blog really necessary.) But anyway, yay!

What are some of your favorite things of the season? 

Holiday Reading: The Hunger Games

My post tonight combines Abbie and Jeannette’s commentaries on their Holiday traditions and Sarah’s post on being kind to yourself.

Although my family has a variety of Christmas traditions, such as (in the last 5 years) having Christmas Eve dinner at our house, going to a party with my Dad’s big, extended Lebanese family, and going to my Grandma’s sister’s “big old house” in Mill Creek Park on Christmas Day, one of my personal Holiday traditions is to read as many novels as possible.

I could…should…be working in earnest on my Master’s thesis, and although I will, I need, after a long, difficult, and extremely stressful semester to be kind to myself. I do this by losing myself in fiction.

I have no shortage of fresh novels to read, largely due to the 30+ books that I bought in the Fall as a result of Borders going out of business. But, I also own a Barnes and Noble Nook and was going to a conference in Washington, DC that I didn’t feel like dragging a bunch of books to, so I decided I needed an e-book or three to take with me.

So, in a effort to “be kind to myself” and uphold my holiday tradition, I bought the first  book from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and had at it. A week and a half later (today) I’ve bought and read all three and am so glad I did.

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I admit, I’m notorious for “coming late to things.” I didn’t start watching Grey’s Anatomy until it was well into its later seasons, I was obsessed with The West Wing and didn’t start watching it until it was almost over. And, though I’m a “great reader” (anyone catch the Pride and Prejudice reference? lol), I tend to find a lot of books once they’re made into movies —  although I do make an effort to read the book before seeing it acted out. Good examples of this: “Water for Elephants,” “The Pillars of the Earth,” anything by Nicholas Sparks, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “The Da Vinci Code,” etc, etc, etc.

The same story goes for “The Hunger Games.” I’d heard of it before, certainly seen the buzz on Facebook and other places online, and noticed that they were making it into a movie. I like to watch the MTV Movie/Music Awards and saw the teaser trailer over the summer on one of the broadcasts. Similar to the way I had no plans to read Twilight (for various reasons) but did (also for various reasons), I had no plans to read The Hunger Games.

I thought the movie trailers looked good, knew the film was based on a book, and figured I’d watch it eventually, but really didn’t understand what the book was even about.

So, I did a little research: Found out the the main characters had funny names (Katniss, Peeta, Effie, Haymitch, etc, etc, etc), learned it was set in a dystopian post-United States North America, that its characters lived in an oppressive dictatorship, and that the premise of the story was that the main character was involved in some kind of sick, twisted “sporting event/reality show” that involved kids fighting to the death. I was intrigued, but not sold.

Did I really want to get involved in another series? Wasn’t I a little too old to read this kid’s stuff? Didn’t I hate these sad dystopian stories?

I thought I didn’t/was/did. But I was wrong.

The first book was cheap to buy as an e-book, so I got it. What was there to lose?

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The books are great. End of story. To not spoil the experience, should you decide to read the trilogy, I won’t say anything about the second and third books except that their titles are “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” respectively, and will limit what I say about the first book, simply titled “The Hunger Games.”

You meet Katniss Everdeen, the main character, and her mother and little sister Prim, as they do what they have to do to survive life in District 12 in the country of Panem. You meet her friend and possible love interest Gale, who helps her hunt (illegally) and to whom she shares a special bond since their fathers were both killed years earlier in the same mining explosion. Peeta is her fellow District 12 Tribute whom she has known all her life and to whom, in a way, she owes her life — and whose interest in/relationship to Katniss is more than it seems.

It is the day known as “The Reaping,” when 2 (one boy, one girl) children between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to represent their district (there are 12 in all) as “Tributes” in the annual “Hunger Games.” The 24 tributes chosen will travel to the Capitol, whose people hold the country’s wealth and whose children are exempt from the Games, to train and prepare to fight to the death. The Victor will win glory and enough money/supplies/prestige to keep themselves and their families alive in the largely impoverished District where they live.

The Hunger Games aren’t about glory though. They’re about punishment — a reminder of a previous uprising amongst the Districts which annihilated a 13th District. And, the Games aren’t a noble battle. They’re entertainment, and the “Gamemakers” who orchestrate them will do anything to ensure the citizens of the Capitol are entertained and the power of Panem is maintained. Victory in the Hunger Games isn’t purely based on skill, though more often than not skill helps immensely, but also on luck — and District 12 has neither. The smallest and arguably the poorest of the Districts, 12 has only had one victor — Haymitch, a drunk who is the biggest ally/aid District 12’s tributes can rely on.

This is the atmosphere in which Katniss and her peers enter into at District 12’s reaping. In which Katniss’ sister Prim’s name is called, in which Katniss volunteers to take her place, in which Katniss Everdeen becomes the girl tribute for her District.

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The Hunger Games is a story of power. Of politics. Of what it means to adapt to and manipulate forces outside of your control that are shaping your destiny. Of playing to people’s emotions and getting caught up in them yourself.

It is a love story. Love of family, friends. Romantic love. Love of self.

It is about denying and coming to terms with self worth.

It is about imagining a world that is so contrary to our own in so many ways, but also like it in ways that startle and frighten deep down.

So, ask yourself:

What would you do if once a year, your government gathered you and your peers together to choose two of you, one boy and one girl, to represent your region in a battle to the death?

What if you were not chosen, but your younger sibling was, or your best friend, or the love of your life? Would you volunteer?

Would you fight as hard as you could to survive, or give up?

Or would you try to beat the Game itself?

I suggest you read The Hunger Games and find out.

“May  the odds be ever in your favor.”

 

 

Happy Holidays!

Holiday Hiatus

This post is going to somewhat piggyback off of Abbie’s most recent post. My life has been fairly hectic recently as I’m sure many of yours have been as well. Between finishing my first semester of graduate school, to coming home from school for our break, to shopping for Christmas, decorating the house, and constantly going to a social gathering-it’s been crazy, hectic, and stressful, but I wouldn’t change it for anything else in the world. (Needless to say, all this craziness has caused me to neglect my dame duties!)

As Abbie mentioned, this time period is extremely intense and can cause a number of meltdowns (don’t worry-we’ve all been there). Despite the fact that there are so many happy and exciting events going on, it’s easy to get caught up in all the craziness and forget to appreciate and experience the meaning of these gatherings. We can get so stressed out about having everything a certain way that we overlook actually being in the moment and we forget to live and experience things as they happen.

Although I don’t always like predictability, I can always count on and look forward to a number of events during the holiday season. If one of these events didn’t happen, I’d feel like the season were incomplete. For example, for about the past 8 years or so, many of my friends have gone caroling around a neighborhood to continue spreading holiday cheer. Despite the below freezing temperatures, mounds of snow, sheets of ice, and disgusting slush, this tradition has continued despite transitions from high school to college, college to grad school or a big-person job, and various other significant life experiences. Although this experience might seem silly to some, it’s one that I look forward to each and every year.

I can also always count on our New Years Eve celebration. For the past 9 years, my family has had a New Years Eve celebration at our home. It started out small with four of my brother’s friends and their families watching fireworks somewhere around town, followed by a party at our house. Despite many changes within the makeup of the party, this celebration has continued throughout the years. Although preparing for the event is a lot of work (cleaning/baking/cooking/eating!),  it’s one of my favorite nights of the entire year and certainly one of my favorite experiences during the holiday season!

Without fail, my friends always manage to have some extremely wonderful gatherings despite the fact that everyone is so busy. Although there is sometimes drama involved (what else would you expect?), I can’t imagine not doing something ridiculously fun with them over the holidays. Whether it be reliving our high school days, line dancing in the living room, or making up new words for The Twelve Days of Christmas, I always know I’m going to have a good time =)

So, what do you most look forward to during the holidays?

Chocolate Chip Cake

This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t like pumpkin pie. Consequently, when Thanksgiving rolls around there isn’t always a dessert I like, so I’ve taken to fending for myself and making something I know I’ll enjoy. Because, come on, regardless of how full you are from turkey and stuffing, you still need dessert.

This year I decided to make Chocolate Chip Cake.

I’ve made it before and it’s both really good and really easy. And, despite what the title of this post says, it’s a perfect dessert for any time of the year!

Chocolate Chip Cake

Ingredients:

1 Yellow Cake Mix

4 Eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup mini chocolate chips

5 Tablespoons grated German chocolate baking chocolate (3 for cake, 2 for garnish)

2 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar (For garnish)

Equipment:

Hand/Stand Mixer

Measuring Cups

Spatula

Grater

Bundt Pan

Instructions:

1. Combine the cake mix, the milk, vegetable oil, and eggs.

2. Blend the ingredients on a low setting for 30 seconds. Then beat the ingredients on a medium setting for 2 minutes.

3. Grate approximately 5 tablespoons of the German Chocolate baking chocolate. Add 3 Tablespoons to the other ingredients and save the remaining 2 Tablespoons for later.

4. Add the mini chocolate chips to the mixture.

5. Blend the German chocolate and the mini chocolate chips in to the rest of the ingredients, beating on low for 30 seconds.

6. Pour the batter into a greased bundt pan.

7. Bake for 55 minutes at 350 degrees.

8. Allow cake to cool and then remove it from the pan, placing it on a plate.

9. Mix the remaining grated chocolate to the confectioner’s sugar. Sprinkle the mixture over the cake.

10. Serve!

Happy  Thanksgiving!!!