Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Finny Holiday

The holidays take on a special twist at our place. Special like alternative and slightly bizarre, not special like frilly antique ornaments and Christmas carols around the fire. In fact, we're so devoid of holiday-ness at our house that the non-denominational but festive nonetheless wreath on the front door seems like it might have been put up on the wrong house.

Until last week.

Every year this happens. I submerge myself in blatant denial of holiday festiveness from the first moment I see plaid bows going up in stores until the last few days before Christmas. Then, out of nowhere, I suddenly feel this unyielding desire to become the merry being that I've been almost running down in the Target parking lot for the previous two months.

I think it's all the sugar.

Anyway, holiday cheer sprung forth this year in the form of a lot of baking.

For friends and coworkers:

For neighbors:

But, really, what could possibly contain enough sugar to sweeten this maniacally Scroogey soul? Something so fantastically indulgent and so unforgivably extravagant that it could only come from the most magnificent point on the globe: Rome, Italy.

Oh yes. Behold the greatness of it's very existence. The 3Kg (6.61 lbs) Holiday Bathtub of Nutella. Straight from Rome by way of Washington carried carefully and lovingly by one of my dearest friends.

Please note how it towers above the wee tape dispenser. Remark upon the golden sheen of it's lid. Observe the festive gift box inside which it is carefully stowed for gift giving.

I ask you, how could one not inflate suddenly with holiday cheer upon receipt of such an overwhelming holiday bounty?

One must.

And so here I sit - ass on couch, in front of the warm fire, listening to the lewd Cialis commercial playing between quarters of the Pats game, feeling extra merry because I'm full of foreign sugar and free to stare at Bubba's face for a whole week while we're off for the holidays.

Suddenly, I don't hate the holidays so much. And I'm grateful for my big spoon.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fugly House 2006

I was getting a tad panicky because Christmas is less than a week away and I've hardly scratched the surface documenting the illuminated hideousness surrounding my neighborhood.

Yes, there are some people panicked about buying Christmas gifts, and then there's me - worried about making equal fun of all the tards in my neighborhood. I realize I'm going to hell, no need to remind me.

After my short panic, I realized, with great ironic relief, that just because Christmas will pass, it will not mean that people will immediately run out into their yards with ladders and dumpsters to get rid of the "decorations" on their houses. No matter how much I wish it to be so.


I mean, Damn it!

I am conflicted.

So, anyhoo this charade on the blog may go on past Christmas, since the array of animated lawn creatures and multicolored strings of lights won't cease to exist in any significant manner until well after the New Year around these parts. Just to warn you in case you show up after 12/25 and see me still marching around the blog with my middle finger in the air.

For now though, let us rest our merry steaming eyeballs on a few candidates for this year's Fugliest House:

This gem was sent in by a non-blogging friend who reads up on the blog from time to time and felt compelled to out her neighbors and their "Visible from Space" compilation of candy canes, window signs and haphazardly arranged lights. While we both admit it's a little hard to discern exactly what is going on in this photo due to low light, I can assure you that, even in person, it makes no organizational or thematic sense. No, it's just a giant shitshow which emerged, we're sure, from an enormous Wal-Mart shopping bag.

I had aimed to get a better shot of the house when I went over to attend my friend's holiday open house this weekend, but it was raining when I got there and I wanted a drink. At least you'll be happy to know that I've branched out to other neighborhoods so that the merry-finger pointing can be shared all around.

All I want to know here is who, exactly, is manning the sleigh. If Santa, and what I assume is Ms. Claus, are hanging out on the patio, how is it possible that the reindeer are taking flight? Are they trained to deliver gifts on their own now? Does Santa just sit his fat ass on the porch and wait for them to return and give him the hooves-up? It looks like even Christmas is being outsourced now.

Oh, and net lights are stupid.

When I see displays like this, I can't help but wonder why the person didn't finish at least ONE of the objects they were trying to adorn instead of spreading the lights halfway across five different vertical objects. I assume this work was done by someone approximately 6 feet tall, with limited patience being trailed by someone about 5'5" carrying a big wooden spoon. What I'd like to see once, just once, is a tree that is covered with lights from the base of the trunk ALL THE WAY to the end of each branch. Then, at least I'd know it was a tree, and not some bizarre lawn sculpture keeping their giant broomstick waving snowman company in their front yard.

Or, if we're in the time saving mood, I could just swing by with a blowtorch and do everyone a favor.

I've got a news flash for these folks, Santa is NOT stopping here. (See the sign? Yes. We all do.) Even though they have the runway clearly marked and the arbor announcing Merry Christmas for all the western hemisphere to see. As it turns out Santa is leery of nuclear testing grounds and the glowing trees are a dead giveaway. Even if he does decide to come in for a landing, he's going to have to shoo the Snowman Family off the runway or pummel them with reindeer hooves. It will be a Christmas massacre for the books.

For now, that's what I've got. But this weekend, I fully intend to take a long dutiful walk around the area and get shots of the worst offenders. I've gotten some anonymous and some blatant direction on where to conduct my search. It appears that there are other hellfire sinners out there who would rather slyly slit boxes of inflatable Santas at their neighborhood Target with keychain pocketknives than endure a city block of fossile-fuel sucking yuletide cheer.

See, it's not just me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

[BOOK CLUB] The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

I won't lie, I *may* be over Bill for the time being.

In true Finny fashion, I binged on the too-good thing and gave myself a stomachache. Like when I was about 10 and decided that a good afternoon snack would be a bowl of Oreos covered with Cool Whip. Eaten with a spoon at hand-in-the-cookie-jar speed, I made myself sick enough so that I didn't go near an Oreo for a good decade. And I've never looked twice at Cool Whip since. Thankfully, my last dose of Bill in the Thunderbold Kid was pretty good and I had some good laughs, but it was no Walk in the Woods or Sunburned Country. So, in the end, I didn't barf, but I'm not going back for more, at least not now. I feel like I'm not yet at the Cool Whip stage with Bill, but I'm definitely approaching the Oreo stage.

Thunderbolt Kid was an amusing look at what it was like for Bill to grow up in Des Moines starting in the 1950's or so. I didn't get a lot of history or drama, but I did get a good idea of what it would have been like to go to school with a perpetual pants pooper or be a paper boy in a nice midwestern neighborhood.

I liked the nostalgia of drive-in movies, his first experience with a billboard, his quest to touch boobs and the way he described how his uncle flocked fellow diners while he ate potatoes, but beyond that, I didn't really find myself gasping for breath from laughing like I had in the past.

I thought it was because I'd gone from reading his new material to reading his old material. I thought for sure I'd pick this newest work up and immediately be thrown to the floor with hysterical laughter. I thought I had just gotten turned in the wrong direction and was about to right myself with a brand new book, hot off the presses and full of hilarity.


I think the thing that I never fully latched onto was the weaving of his childhood fantasy of superheroship at random intervals throughout the story. I'd have rather him just made fun of a few more passersby than waste precious page space trying to tie his childhood experiences together with intermittent references to the zapping of neighborhood dogs or stories of imaginary destruction and devastation while wearing a raggedy old thunderbolt sweater.

But I won't be a total downer. Especially since it was my idea to go straight to another Bryson book after The Lost Continent, and I dragged you all down with me. I did have some good chuckles and I do really like his smiling picture on the inside flap of the book. So it's not a total loss. And I was, at one point, laughing on the couch loud enough for Bubba to call out from the office to see if I'd gotten my hand stuck in the dustbuster or accidently squooshed the cat. Which is more than I can say for the majority of books I've read in my lifetime. So, at the end of the day, Bill has set the bar so high that I'm not sure even he is up to the challenge. But the good news is that he has a quiver full of fabulously entertaining books - some just more than others.

So, I hope you all were able to enjoy the book, smile a bit and then look forward to something a little different, perhaps something with more riveting historical flavor.

Perhaps written by someone who's untimely death in the Nazi concentration camps left her masterpiece unpublished until 60 years later when her daughters uncovered it and released it for printing. Someone who knows what it's like to flee ones homeland for uncertain fates.

I'm imagining humanity, drama, introspection, honesty and a good look into the day to day experiences and struggles of people ousted from their lives in the face of an invading war.

I have high hopes.

Suite Francaise

Join me, won't you? Let's meet back in the New Year - say 2/1/07. I'll bring my big fat mouth and a G&T.

Oh yeah - don't forget to vote (and comment) on The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, (poll at right). Then get to reading and having yourselves nice holidays and all that.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Legend of Winter Blackberry Pie

Sure, we've all heard of blackberry pie. Most of us have probably had it and loved it. Maybe in summertime with some vanilla ice cream melting ambitiously on top. It's pretty fricken good.

But have you heard of Winter Blackberry Pie?

Because at Finny's house, it is something of a phenomenon.

About six years ago when I started dating Bubba, I started this phenom by innocently freezing the remnant filling from my regularly scheduled blackberry pie. Because I have an issue with waste. Because as I was staring at this last few cups of pie filling all I could think of was sweating my ass off on the hottest day of the year (every year I manage to choose the hottest day somehow) so I could make this pie. Because I could, then, not bear the thought of watching it slide down the garbage disposal.

So, despite lack of space in our freezer (this was back in my Green Box days, a story I'll recount another time), I wedged the bulging Ziploc between the ground beef and a tower of Green Boxes for futures.

Futures came sometime in February when, due to an extreme lack of funds, I was staring helplessly into my freezer for something, ANYTHING, to make/bake/fake for dinner. It was then that I spied the bag of purplish goo frozen into an obscene shape hanging out in the back of my freezer. It was lying next to a discarded frozen pie crust.


So, after a long-ish dip in a sink of hot water, the blackberry filling went into the crust (this was before the pastry-cutter came into my life and changed pie crust forever), pie went into the oven and the real reason Bubba asked me to marry him came into being. And, yeah, we ate pie for dinner because that's just how we roll.

Winter Blackberry Pie = Your normal blackberry pie produced in the rainy doldrums of winter when it can be truly appreciated and upheld as the ultimate winter dessert and reason to propose marriage to its creator.

So, now, every summer when I come home with a TJ's bag full of Ziplocs each containing the approximate amount of berries for pies and batches of jam, I clear out a little space in the freezer for the fateful bag of leftie-over filling from which will be produced the ever-famous Winter pie.

Because Bubba smiles real big when I make it and I get to reminisce about summer while it rains and the fireplace warms Rocket's ass.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Finny gets Freaky

Tag, I'm it.

Despite my year+ on Blogger, this is my first meme-tagging moment. Call me a late bloomer.

And to make my tagger feel better after her recent admission of acronym-itis in the comment field of this post, I should say that I felt compelled to look up the true definition of "meme" online (an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. Although the term encompasses much of the natural flow of communication in the Blogosphere, there are active bloggers and blog sites that are dedicated to the creation of memes on a regular basis.) True, "meme" isn't an acronym, but it's something of a nerdy-online kind of word that I wasn't 100% clear on. So, whatever. I'm a dork.

This meme, as it were, asks me to pick up the nearest book in arm's reach, flip to page 123 : line 5 and put the words from the next three lines into my post:

..."previously set free-for drug-related offenses and parole revocation in particular-were instead locked up. Between 1980 and 2000, there was a fifteenfold increase in the number of people sent to prison on..."

I feel compelled to put some context around the above three lines which are in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

The theory they are writing about, which the aforementioned three lines work at explaining, is that the drop in crime rate during the 90's was explained, by some, to be the effect of incarcerating more criminals for drug and parole related crimes. This, however, is not a theory shared by the authors of the book.

In fact, the theory they present is much more controversial and definitely worth a read through. I think I whipped through this book in an afternoon and did find many of their theories to be at least provocative enough to consider if not totally rational and acceptable.

I won't lie though - conservative thinkers should come prepared with helmet. Some questions are asked in this book that are probably illegal in our redder states.

Now comes my turn to tag - please forgive me for this chain letter-esque activity. I figure, at least it's book related, which I do enjoy, and you three always have shit going on that I find interesting. PS, no hard feelings if you don't meme-along.

Laura in AK - I would love to see what book you have nearby since it's probably something wildlife related, or perhaps sleddog-ish?
Africankelli - since Shelley put me down for getting her into blogging, I think you deserve the same treatment you big enabler, you.
And Farmgirl, even though I know you don't have time for this since you're probably out in the back 40 managing the sheep or busy at the stove with one of your recipes that I will copy and pass off as my own.

The End.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Let the games begin

For those of you who were with me last year, you might recall (maybe with great joy like I do) the new holiday-time tradition that I devised to soothe my aching eyerolling muscles.

I won't lie, some people have called me mean-spirited, grinch-y, a bitch - because of this new (fun, hello) tradition. But I won't be dissuaded from speaking my true feelings.

Those being that I FEEL like people are a skoshe too liberal with lights, ornaments, lawn decorations, inflatable holiday characters, the use of generators to maintain their festive metropoli and, in general, a mite careless with the consumption of fossil fuels to charge these displays.

Plus, they're usually really ugly.

Sure, I imagine that there are some people out there that have even the most marginal tact and taste and, despite all odds, are still inclined to bedeck their homes with colored lightbulbs and seasonal frippery, so I acknowledge the fact that there *may* be homes out there that are not, in the typical sense, FUGLY, but I don't care about those. I care about the ugly ones. Because they are everywhere and they bug me.

So, let us kick off the '06 round of "Which House is the Ugliest?" with a teeth-grinding comparison of last year's fugliest house:

with this year's updated display:

Notice the addition of the two enormous inflatable candy canes.

Stand in awe of Harley Santa and Sidecar Snowman on their green inflatable motorcycle.

Rejoice in Jack in the Box Santa lingering diminutively next to Penguin atop Igloo unlike last year when Santa towered above man, beast and churning snowglobe alike.

And, finally, appreciate the whimsical carelessness with which the pastel-hued twinkling lights were strung to highlight only the widespread lack of parking space in the driveway.

Year over year, this house can be counted on to be a true gem of fugly house decorating. Which is why I was willing to swerve haphazardly across two lanes of traffic and park, albeit momentarily, but illegally across the street in order to photograph it on my way home from the store the other night.

I was actually pretty inspired during my drive home and ended up abandoning most of my honed safe-driving practices in order to capture some of the more offensive techniques in the neighborhood. And before we part ways and go off in search of fuglier examples to celebrate this, my now one year old, fabulous tradition, let me leave you with a couple more good examples of Fugly, for reference purposes:

Example: Psychedelic funhouse Christmas
Example: We can't decide so throw all the lights at the house and see what sticks

Feel free to send me the most glaring Fugly examples so we can all point and laugh from our own remote locations: finnyknitsATgmailDOTcom.

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

City Swap

After multiple trying endeavours with the various shipping facilities in my area, I have finally managed to ship my City Swap gift.

Let me just say - fucking phew.

Ugh. I won't go into the specific details of my encounter with the individual at The UPS Store, but let's just say that I will not be going back. Ever. Since it appears that these stores are manned by people from a far-off land so distant that they are completely unfamiliar with normal shipping practices, the materials used in the process of shipping and really just human interaction in general.

To put it in perspective, at the end of my UPS Store experience I was actually looking forward to my trip to the post office and was considering any uniformed USPS officer as my personal savior. That takes some serious damage.

However, to get back to the real reason for this post, I would like to put some method behind my City Swap madness so that the poor soul paired with me will understand the contents of the package and not think that I totally missed the point of the swap.

The point of City Swap was to find the unique bits of your city and shower those bits upon your swap buddy. Sounds simple and lovely, no? Especially if you are from a city as glorious as, say, Rome, Sydney, New York, Milan, etc.

No such luck.

As much as I love where I live (San Jose, CA) I can't say that there are a lot of bits that are uniquely San Jose that I'd want to shower on anyone. I mean, yeah, we've got the Sharks, but who really gives a deuce about hockey? I live approx one mile from their stadium and hadn't even been to a game until two weeks ago for godssake. And after that, what IS San Jose besides obscenely sprawling, crawling with traffic, home to some of the biggest tech companies in the world and jam-packed with geeks?

So, this left me with the issue of finding something -anything-unique and pleasing in San Jose so that I could represent my fair home proudly on an international stage.

I gave up on the Sharks as my answer because nobody wants a Shark's head on a keychain anyway. And anything computer-ish and dorky was out because, well, I'm not ready to admit on paper that I live and work amongst the geekiest population of people on planet earth.

I finally decided that the best thing about San Jose was the one thing that convinced me to move here from the more scenic Peninsula in the first place, my little neighborhood of Willow Glen. See, San Jose on the whole is, IMHO, not all that glam. Yeah, we have a fancy pants shopping center, an international airport, a homeless problem, some passable restaurants and a museum that people are always yamming on about, but that is not enough for me to want to associate it's zip code with my mailing address. However, my little corner of the city is.

We came down here about five years ago for a 4th of July BBQ at a friend's place and when we left, we vowed we'd buy our first home here. Perhaps we were a little lit from the festivities, and had unrealistic expectations about what we could actually afford (um, nothing) in the area, but we were determined to live on one of it's tree-lined streets within walking distance of the cutesy downtown so that we could walk our future dog to our future coffee shop and mow our future lawn while chatting it up with our friendly future neighbors and do (A LOT) work on our future Craftsman house. It was all very pie in the sky and ridiculous, I'll admit.

But after killing ourselves to make it happen, I can say every day that I'm glad we did. We walk to our current coffee shop along the tree lined streets on the weekends and chat it up (so much) with our current friendly neighbors and its just generally love fest all around.

That is what I wanted to share with my swap buddy.

So, I did what I like to do best around here, I walked the tree-lined streets. For hours. And took pictures of all the good stuff. Hand painted bus benches, steel-wrought rhinos on street corners, dog grooming shops, yoga studios, the place I get the best falafel in the world, houses decorated for the holidays, houses decorated for the invasion of aliens - you know, the youge.

And with the photos, I made stuff like note cards, gift tags and a shopping bag so that my swap friend can appreciate this place without having to figure out what to do with a life size shark carcass, random bits from a computer hard drive or a dose of Silicon Valley smog.

During an especially inspired moment I weeded out photos of shop signs and put them, as a collection, on the shopping bag. It's almost too cutesy to openly admit.

Anyway, I hope she is able to get some use and amusement from the cards, tags and bag - and that she can see why I live in this geeky city rather than our hoity-toity neighbor 45 mins north.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Yearly ritual

In the absence of having actual holiday traditions (which are openly loathed in my grinch-y household) I have yearly rituals that happen to occur around the holidays.

This way I don't have to watch Bubba's eyes roll back into his head while he sighs meaningfully and pretends to skewer himself with my chef's knife. And I don't have to feign interest in the true meanings that surround the conveniently placed holiday.

One of my yearly rituals is the taking down of the year's correspondence and starting over for the next year when the first holiday card arrives in the mail. I decided a while back that I loved all the cards that I got throughout the year; for birthdays, anniversaries, thank yous, babies born, marriages vowed, etc, that I didn't want to just let them flop around on the bar or fireplace mantle. And I really didn't want to have to replace them when they blew over or were swept aside by the tail of a passing land beast we call Rocket.

So I pin them up. Not in a fancy way, just to a ribbon that is pinned up at the corners, with some old clothespins that I don't use anymore because I can't figure out a way to shoehorn a clothesline into our teeny laundry room. And throughout the year, starting with the first holiday card we get, I continue on my merry way pinning and stacking and strategizing ways to get all the cards collected on the ribbon without it peeling away from the wall and crashing down all over our entry. This event, too, causes much eye rolling and faux self-impalement, so we try to avoid it.

And, for 2006, I can say that we have started anew upon the receipt of our first holiday card. Which, ironically, comes from the person I'd least expect to have the time, energy or inclination to put together a holiday mailing (particularly the gorgeous one she sent) since she's, at once; packing an entire house by herself, selling most of her earthly belongings, changing jobs, moving across the country and carrying her second child. All this while her husband is thousands of miles away caring for their first child and working his rear off at a new job in the new city. If you have those friends who seem to be able to manufacture time and get an outrageous amount of stuff accomplished in addition to their very busy work lives, you know what I'm saying here. It blows my mind. And here comes this beautiful card sailing into my mailbox on 12/1. Incredible.

Anyhoo, this card gets the highly coveted top/center spot on the card holder thingee and starts off the annual ripping down and starting over of the whole process.




And this year, I decided that merely admiring the nice cards for a full year while they hung on the card holder thingee (I've stopped short of giving it a real name) is not enough. No, I need to reuse them somehow. So, if you receive a gift from me this holiday season, odds are good that it will have a weird looking gift tag attached to it with some abstract something or other on one side and your name on the other. That is because it was punched (by way of a Sizzix) from a card someone sent me this year that was too pretty/fancy/weird/ugly to throw away.

I'm aware that these gift tags will just perpetuate the common feeling amongst my family and friends that I'm mildly off my nut and I just don't care. But, I'll tell you, I finally don't feel guilty about throwing away greeting cards and that is a great, strange relief. And don't sit there and tell me that you don't have a twinge of guilt when you throw away a birthday card or thank you note because I won't believe you. And I might start not liking you a little bit because you are clearly a stronger, and saner, person than I.