December 25, 2012

December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide 2012

So you’re probably wondering what to get me for Christmas.* Or, y’know, what to get your actual loved ones for Christmas. Whatever. I know that were it logistically expedient, you’d have already chosen one or two items off my extensive Amazon wishlist, I’M NOT JUDGING.

Though I can’t give good advice for parents (mine are getting pants and coffee), I humor myself that I have a couple of ideas for the discerning people in your life.

For the discerning foodie: Hobnobs. I have eaten dessert on four continents. These are my favorite go-to sweets, oatmeal cookies dipped in chocolate. If you’re really hungry, eat the whole tube. Otherwise, just one will do. Also, they’re British!

For the discerning reader: Gone Girl. It was a hard choice for book of the year in 2012, because I so loved both “Gone Girl” and “The Age of Miracles.” But whereas “The Age of Miracles” held me closely before gently letting go, “Gone Girl” almost suffocated me before abruptly ending. And if those metaphors don’t describe how you relate to books, maybe we aren’t the same kind of reader.

For the discerning viewer: The West Wing, complete series DVD set. In a year with elections, lurid scandals, and more international incidents than you can shake a dead fish at, remind yourself of a time not so long ago when ALL THE SAME STUFF WAS HAPPENING, but with smarter, more verbose people. And a big wheel of cheese. (Inside joke that you will get once you’ve watched "The West Wing"!)

For the discerning traveler: A non-rolling travel bag. Look, I’m all for rolling travel bags. I always travel with one. But you cannot, cannot, CANNOT travel with two rolling bags. It spells fail, which I personally witnessed this year in five countries. For the love of Pete, get your loved one a duffel bag, or something with a shoulder strap, so he has at least a chance of navigating airport security. DO IT FOR THE REST OF US.

Then go out and get yourself something nice. I got a new MP3 player, that also has a GPS, camera, wifi, and (I think) a cold fusion engine if I shake it correctly.

* Substitute winter holiday of your choice.

December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

O Little Old Town

One holiday event I encourage you to try at least once in your lifetime is Historical Alexandria’s annual Candlelight Tour of Old Town. Granted, this will be a lot more difficult to accomplish if you don’t live in the DC area; examine your life choices accordingly.

The tour’s 2012 iteration included four stops: Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House, the Bank of Alexandria, and Lee-Fendall House. Also included this year were some chocolate-making demonstrations and tastings, though there was more demonstrating than tasting going on than I would have preferred. Bottom line: If I’m not coming out of there with a faceful of chocolate, it’s not a win.

(Microsoft doesn’t think “faceful” is a word, which goes to show how little Clippy really knows me.)

Gadsby’s Tavern, as I may have mentioned before, was a popular lodging and dining establishment in Colonial Times. I could tell you that Washington ate there, but Washington ate just about everywhere in Virginia. #humblebrag What’s more impressive is that Washington celebrated a birthnight ball there AND Jefferson had an inaugural dinner there. So there.

When I last visited, I got to see some dancin’:


Carlyle House is a hot Halloween tour spot, because Carlyle died around that time of year, so the entire house puts on mourning apparel, including a corpse (or is it?) in the master bedroom. It’s freak-ay, you guys. Whereas at Christmas, it’s much more cheerful.


The Bank of Alexandria isn’t usually open to tourists, so this was my first time inside it. Good to know that Old Town still has a few secrets. The bank’s original vault is still there, though I didn’t find any colonial money on the ground. Totally kept an eye out, though.


Pretty badass night deposits slot.

Lee-Fendall House, built by Robert E’s uncle, is always decorated in the Victorian style. The docents there would tell you this is because the house’s last major renovation took place during that era, but we all know the real reason: Victorians were the first to pimp Christmas out. Trees! Gifts! Santa! Woo!


Also, flute ensemble:


Good times, you guys. Good times.

Not to mention the fact that you can stop at Trader Joe’s afterwards and stock up on seasonal appetizers. At least, that’s what I always do.

December 5, 2012

December 5, 2012

Party On, Garth

With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to create/refresh the covers we use at parties and other social gatherings. If you’re lazy, you can continue to introduce yourself as Nancy Drew (what a coincidence!), a freelance accountant working mostly in the education sector who needlepoints in her spare time.

Or is that just me?

But if you want to keep things fresh, it’s probably a good idea to start working on your legend. Pick a name, hometown, profession, and hobby that are uncommon enough to preclude follow-up questioning but not uncommon enough to raise suspicion.

For example, I’d love to reference one of my favorite TV shows of yesteryear and claim to work for “a clandestine government organization seeking to rid the world of evildoers.” I mean, it’s a quote from SheSpies and it’s true. But that’s just the sort of smartass quip that throws people. Better to go with “commodities trader” or “multinational bulk manufacturer.” If asked to define further, use buzz phrases like “We get products to market” or “We leverage synergistic efficiencies.” Basically, quote Dilbert cartoons before excusing yourself to get another drink and some more cheese.

Or is that just me?

For an introvert like me, this is a fun way to survive parties, especially with strangers. For all they know, you could be Carmen freaking Sandiego. Own it. Ever wished you knew how to knit, or weld, or make your own shoes? You do now! In fact, historical trades are the best obscure hobbies. No one can disprove your claim to be a weekend cobbler, cooper, or chandler because they don’t know how. You don’t think I can make a horseshoe? WHY DON’T YOU PULL OUT YOUR BILLOWS SO WE CAN THROW DOWN?

Thought not.

There’s always the risk, of course, that you’ll run into someone using the same play. And if math tells us anything, it’s that no group of people will contain two (fill in your obscure hobby here, for example: amateur whist players). Should someone connect the dots and try to connect you with another person who “shares your passion,” do what I would do: Fake anaphylactic shock.

Or maybe just learn a bit about your “hobby” and see if you can make the other person look bad. This is called “winning the party.”

One last note on hometowns: Midwestern towns are best, because they’re all the same, and attract so little recreational travel. When’s the last time you were in Sioux City? Topeka? Mankato? Learn a few good crop-centric jokes (start with corn) and you’ve basically got the region covered. I’ve got a solid seven minutes about dairy, since I’ve been doing this for a while.

A bonus of this strategy is that when the hosts are cleaning up and trying to figure out who took the shrimp home, the best they’ll be able to do is “that girl from Iowa who makes her own shoes.”

Winning the party, my friends. Winning the party.

December 4, 2012

December 4, 2012

I'm Buying Pants, Not Lumber

Christmastime, the season when we find ourselves trying to figure out what other people want to receive, when what we’re best equipped for is knowing what we ourselves want, and this is why everyone should just give gift cards.

Or is that just me? (And Rachel Green, who famously exchanged all her presents for store credit. You call us picky, we call ourselves DISCERNING.)

I find myself trying to shop for men’s clothing, and even online, it is awkward and I end up sweaty and tense. It’s like going to Macy’s minus the wandering through cosmetics. And I think the source of confusion stems from the crazy measurements of men’s clothing.

With women, it’s simple. One number. Eight. Fourteen. Zero. You have a number for tops and a number for bottoms. Sometimes, THEY ARE EVEN THE SAME NUMBER. Too easy. Sure, the numbers don’t translate into any apparent unit of measurement, but still. They have meaning because we give them meaning, like Twitter hashtags or the take-a-number system at the deli.

With men, there are numbers for necks and inseams and waists and OHDEARGOD. Every garment has, like, two numbers. MULTI-DIMENSIONAL garments, people. Perhaps the people who created this system thought we’d appreciate specificity. “You want a shirt for your husband, madam? Tell me exactly every torso measurement you can think of.” In the end, you have a shirt that fits really well, but also a wife who has killed herself.

In related news, happy holidays! Right? RIGHT?