Archive for December, 2023

Merry Carbmas

Christmas elicits a variety of reactions. There are those seemingly born for Christmastime. There are those seemingly born to bitch about those first people. Some get depressed, others find their inner joy. Some take the break to enjoy a personal reboot of sorts. Others stress themselves out more than at other times of year. There’s no one reaction.

I eat carbs. Yes, of course, I decorate a tree, I get into gift getting, and I coax my animals with heavy foods into pictures in front of the tree. I watch Christmas movies. I do all that stuff. But what I do most – and what I look forward to most – is that Christmas is the carb-eating season.

So, two weeks ago, when I announced into the flat ‘it’s time to cheat!’ Burke did give me an arch-eyebrowed look (that might melt one’s kidney). I quickly explained that I meant cheat on our healthy diet. Nota bene: my explanation was not quick enough to get me out of the Dog House.  

We do live a reasonably healthy lifestyle. Sure, a bowl of cereal is snuck throughout the week. Beer’s presence in my life is there more than it should be. And what would life be without cheese? But during the week we typically eat a vegetarian diet, very little bread, and lots of vegetables. On the weekends we eat meat (moderately) and carbohydrates. When I wake up on Saturday morning, it is indeed Sammich o’clock.

But in late December, the short days, the dark, the plummeting temperatures, and the festive foods converge to make Christmas a time that begs a human to eat his weight in bread and pasta. And Christmas needn’t have begged, but rather nudge me in the general direction of cheese. And so for two weeks I plan and begin ordering a cavalcade of treats and foods: pasta, cheese – so much cheese, loafs of bread, ground beef (as a palate cleanser), cookies, cookies, along with a thousand other bits to bring together a Christmas feast.

It is Christmas today. I am sitting, half slinking on the couch. I have eaten a day’s worth of carbs and then started today with a morning’s worth of carbs. My elastic waistband isn’t elastic enough. In fact, it’s giving a bad name to elastic everywhere. Heartburn is rising in my chest and throat. Nevertheless, I have taken four journeys to my kitchen 10 feet away. Each time I have come back with a plate of food that is making me more uncomfortable by the moment. But, you know, tis the season.

Have I learned my lesson?

Fat chance, he says, with hindsight pun intended.

I am glancing at the half-eaten (half-uneaten for you psychopathic optimists) baking dish of mac-and-cheese and I am moaning towards it and reaching my chubby fingered hand towards it. I figure if The Force is going to work one time in my life, this would be the time. It does not move. Thus, I will be forced to engage in another pilgrimage. And then another. And then probably another.

Ho Ho Ho

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Margarita Christmas Shopping

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The mall is hot. It’s as though I have walked into a sauna with a sweater and jacket on over my towel. The sweat is dripping off my nose. Burke is carrying our dog in a bag. We are those people. I am getting some odd looks, but you don’t get to 49 and have an obnoxious laugh without getting used to looks.

We go to a shoe store. Burke carries around the dog to keep her quiet. I try on shoes and practice my Czech to talk about sizes and vocabulary to explain discomfort and to apologize for making someone bring you shoes and then not buying any. As we leave, the woman gives me a different look. This one hurts. We don’t get very many happy looks at the electronics store, the boutique outdoor shop, H&M, the chocolate store, and the coffee store. When we leave those shops, we incur unhappy and unsurprised glances. Even the pet shop was weird – a place where you’d think you could go with a Shih-tzu in a backpack and be accepted. Alas, no.     

The pen store brings us a mild victory. The woman eyes us up with uncertainty. When we buy a few things, she seems genuinely taken aback. As if the fact that we may use the pen for writing words is beyond her understanding.

After the pen store Burke reminds me that there is a ‘drinking place’ near the mall. By ‘drinking place’ she means ‘a pub’ and I not only remembered this drinking place, I was plotting an escape to it. Once at the drinking place we relax and mostly stop sweating. The dog chills in the backpack (which also doubles as a dog condo). The world makes sense again. The waitress eyes me up with caution, but she seems fine when we don’t start smashing glasses or singing at high volumes. After I relax, I have an idea for a gift. I jot it down (in words. with a pen). Then I have another idea. Inspiration stuck.  

When I was living in Pittsburgh, my friend Jimmie introduced me to Margarita Christmas Shopping. The concept is simple and, if you were paying attention, pretty much says it all. You drink margaritas and then you go Christmas shopping. The idea is, you loosen up and then go shopping. This makes it easier for you to spend money on stupid things and after little consideration. I took to it rather well.

I go back to the mall, which was near the drinking place. I burst back into the pen shop. The woman gives a startled look – but surely you won’t buy another pen. But I did. An orange one. And I asked for a box and a bag. Then I went to the coffee store. Did I buy flavored syrups for coffee? You bet. And I also bought measuring cups that I did not need. I was one shot away from buying a reusable baking sheet, but that one I – even in my state – couldn’t rationalize. But don’t count me out. There are six shopping days left and that drinking place is right next door.  

The gist here – do your Christmas shopping when you’re fra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-fucked up.

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God Bless the Bishop, Everyone

December is a love-hate month. The weather and time turn against us. The pretense of autumn ends in late November. When we say things like ‘cold winter, eh?’ and some pedantic dildo nearby decides to inform you that ‘winter starts December 21’, you begin to rethink your stance on capital punishment and biblical stonings. For surely these people would be the first to go.

It’s currently 6:12 am on Monday. Outside my window it’s cold, it seems to be rain-snow-winding, and I know that sunlight will be a rumor until much later. And then, it’s a thing I’ll miss if I sneeze too long.

With the weather against us, you’d think it would be time for us to take it easy, hibernate, regroup, reenergize. But you’d think wrong. This is crunch-time for the people we work for – and whose NAME depends on your level of conspiracy theory. And, just for kicks, due to the lack of sun, light, and warmth, you have the energy (and consistency) of a seven-month-old tortilla that you found pressed up against the back wall of your fridge.  

But then there’s Christmas. And whether this holiday causes you a great deal of stress or comfort or (for many of us) both, it’s a thing to be reckoned with. There’s shopping and parties. It all but takes over Netflix and one can’t help but break open a bag of popcorn and watch formerly small town now corporate women go home to a place called Autumn Hill or October Glen or Flannel Bend and realize that, yes, the small town is the place for them after all. And even though the smarmy big city boyfriend will have slick backed hair, a cheap suit, and will have just sold an orphanage of kids to an Air Jordan factory, you’ll feel a little bad, because man, he doesn’t know what’s coming.

In the end, Christmas is a force, both cultural and pragmatic, to be dealt with. And this can be stressful.

So, how to cope? Drinking. Walking. Drinking. Walking somewhere to drink. But as a walk to a place to drink rudely involves walking back with a stagger, I have gone for watching Christmas movies and reading a book about Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens’ timeless Christmas tale, A Christmas Carol is such a part of our Christmas culture that it has been done redone more times than ‘Hallelujah’. It has been done by the Muppets. It has been done by Mickey Mouse. There are now movies and books about Charles Dickens writing the book (the one I am reading now). You rarely see movies about Homer banging on his stone tablet while writing the Odyssey.    

But what I like about the story of A Christmas Carol is how realistic it is for Christmas. Dickens was under a deadline, his wife was pregnant, his latest book installments were getting ho hum reviews. The pressure was on. And Dickens only had a few weeks to deliver. And he did. And we all know what happened. Scrooge. Marley. Three ghosts. Bah to the humbug. Tiny Tim. And good ole Bob Cratchit.

The very fact that Dickens needed a drink after he was done writing this book comes straight out of the last scene. Scrooge, relieved, having avoided ghosts, hell, and probably an eternity of listening to Jacob Marley tell drunken stories, says to Bob:

A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!

Yes, we’re happy about Bob and Tiny Tim (who will evidently now live to be Tall Tim). We’re happy about the happy ending and Scrooge’s redemption. But we are really happy about the Smoking Bishop.

A Smoking Bishop is a hot punch drink that belongs among a group of cocktails called the Ecclesiastics. This is a bunch of punch cocktails that are named after members of the clergy. A Smoking Bishop, the Smoking Pope, the Rich Pope, the Smoking Archbishop, the Smoking Beadle, and the Smoking Cardinal. These protestant-borne cocktails provide us not only with a good, solid drink, but a way to make fun of the Catholic Church. In protestant countries such as Sweden, the punchbowl is shaped like a bishop’s miter.

The original recipe was labor-intensive and took over 24 hours to make. Since I know you don’t have that kind of time, we’re using a boiled down recipe that’ll get you seeing ghosts in about 2 hours.

Ingredients

    750 ml ruby port

    750 ml red wine

    1 cup water

    1/2 cup brown sugar

    1/4 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated

    1/4 teaspoon allspice, ground

    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

    4 oranges

    20 cloves, whole

    All of your sins written out on a sheet

    No ghosts in sight

Garnish: clove-studded orange slice

Instructions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Wash and dry oranges. Pierce and stud each orange with five cloves.

    Place oranges in a baking dish and roast until lightly browned all over, 60-90 minutes.

    Add port, wine, water, sugar and spices to a saucepan, and simmer over low heat.

    Slice oranges in half and squeeze juice into the wine and port mixture.

    Serve in a punch bowl, and ladle into individual glasses.

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The Plunge

It’s about 6 a.m. and I’m standing in my bathroom doing everything but getting into the shower. I always come up with stupid ideas when I have too much time and can’t get outside. And this one is a doozy.

The ideas that come when I can walk around the park or down the street seem to have a different veneer to them. I come up with story ideas, guffaw at one-liners that rear their heads during a dog walk. Positively chuckle my brains out while stomping off down the lane to our local pub. I suppose this all makes sense. The outdoors, fresh air, the promise of a beer somewhere that isn’t my living room. These things promote ideas.

But with the recent onslaught of our daily 16-hour evenings and the wintry wonderland that hath become Prague, well, my thinking is done indoors. The air is bereft with animal dander and skin that has plummeted from our bodies to live in nearby cloth and the oppressive horrors of dreams dying and dead. You know, that sort of thing.   

It doesn’t go well. If you throw into the mix Dax Shepherd, well then things get worse. Dax has a podcast that I love listening to. He’s an actor-writer, who I at one point admittedly considered the poor man’s Marc Maron. But this is by far no longer the case. He’s a very interesting person and far more intelligent than he might seem at first. And he does lots of cool things, some of which I have no interest in at all (race cars) and other things that seem like I should be doing (cold plunges).

This is where my trouble begins. The cold plunge. Cold plunging – at its core – involves plunging into freezing cold water. This is said to have a number of benefits, both for one’s physical and mental health. In a conversation Dax had with Eva Longoria, they described the utter amazement at how awake it makes them feel all day.

This piqued my interest. I was cooking meatballs at the time for an evening we were having with a friend and I stopped above my spaghetti sauce with a spoon. “Awake?” I asked aloud, thus once again convincing Burke of the fact that I have imaginary friends.

The idea of ‘being more awake’ appeals to me a great deal. I get up early, caffeinate my soul off, and then spend a few hours like a jittery robot on Ritalin. Then there’s the crash. Then the period of sedation wherein I’d fistfight Gandhi for an hour of sleep. Then the late afternoon resurgence, which occurs shortly after I go home. Then there’s the period of post-mortem exhaustion that occurs two hours before bed. Then there’s the wide awake that seems to coincide with the split second I lay my rump into bed. Yes, being awake is something to be explored.

In theory this is a grand idea. Wake up, do your work, work out, take a shower, and then finish that shower with an uber-refreshing invigorating blast of freezing cold water. In theory.

The thing with theory is, it always happens when you’re far more comfortable than when you have to do the theoretical things that will put you in theoretical misery. At the point of conceiving this plan, I was in my kitchen sipping Scotch and palming meatballs together. I was warm. I was in comfy clothing.

Reality is far from this. Standing naked at 6:58 am under a stream of warm water and convincing yourself to turn the water abruptly to the left to make it cold. This is hard. But I did it. The kind of cold that comes from a tap makes you long for the days of cave dwellings and sabertoothed tigers. When the water hits you, things that belong outside of your body disappear into it. Things that provide transition seem to lock up forever. The screech I made could be heard by local birds and distant rodents.

I counted to twenty.

I shut off the water.

I had done it.

I cursed Dax Shepherd in many multisyllabic words.   

Twenty-five minutes later, I dozed off on the bus.

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