throwback: holiday reading

Holiday Reading

The lists of holiday movies that surface every year are abundant and a bit redundant. There are some great Christmas books out there that will be a fresher holiday leisure activity than watching “Home Alone” for the thousandth time (although, “Home Alone” is great, you should watch it, too). For those of you lucky enough to have a Christmas break, cracking open a good book is the perfect way to spend your days cuddled up inside. Just add hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course) and you’ve got yourself the perfect way to while away those idle winter hours. Here are the top ten holiday books to add to your TBR pile this month. These would also make great gifts for the bookworms on your list.

  1. “My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories” by various authors: Read a short story a day during the twelve days of Christmas for the ultimate holiday reading experience. The stories are written by some of today’s most popular writers, including Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan, and Gayle Forman.. The plus here is that the stories incorporate different holidays and customs, not just Christmas, so it truly does have something for everyone.
  2. “Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris: If you are fan of darker comedies, this is the holiday book for you. Sedaris brings to life the absurd behind the scenes of the department store Santa world and parodies the ridiculous family update newsletters and children’s holiday plays. I recommend getting the book on tape read by Sedaris himself. The sarcastic and twisted humor that this collection emits is fully enjoyed by listening. Bring it on the drive to Grandma’s house (as long as you don’t have Grandma or kids in the car).
  3. “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: The authors of “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” gift us a sweet and fun holiday adventure. Alone for Christmas, Lily leaves a mysterious book of dares on the shelf of a Manhattan bookstore and Dash is the bookish fellow that finds it. This young adult book will delight old and young readers alike. And the literary references make it bibliophile’s dream.
  4. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens: This is quite possibly the most quintessential Christmas book ever published. Travel through time with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future as Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas. Although Dickens wrote it way back in 1843, the story still resonates today. Do away with the “bah-humbug!” and add some vintage Christmas cheer to your reading list.
  5. “Wishin’ and Hopin’” by Wally Lamb: This funny coming of age novella is set in the 1960s and is centered around a 10 year old Catholic school boy. With a lot of heart and not too much sappiness, this book is a sweet, nostalgic holiday treat. 2014 is a good year to read it as Hallmark just released a TV movie version starring Molly Ringwald as substitute teacher, Madame Frechette.
  6.  “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg: This is a great bedtime read during the holiday season that adults will enjoy as much as the kids. This story of wonder takes us on a ride to the North Pole and to Santa himself. Families have enjoyed reading “Express” as a yearly tradition since it was published in 1985. Tots will go to bed with visions of trains and sleigh bells dancing in their heads.
  7. “The Christmas Box” Trilogy by Richard Paul Evans: If you are up for a literary challenge this season, read the three books in this holiday trilogy or just read the first in the series for a more manageable task. But, be prepared for some feels and arm yourself with tissues. These books deal with love, loss, and heartache.
  8. “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson: This is for the middle schoolers, although most parents indulge in reading it, too. Originally published in 1972, this is an oldie, but a goodie. Follow the troublemaking kids of the Herdman family takeover the school play and turn it into the most unusual telling of the Christmas story ever.
  9. “Let It Snow” by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle: Three holiday tales interconnect in this collection of short stories from very capable YA storytellers. Romance is the theme and it is heightened by the magical season during which the stories take place.
  10. “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Suess: No list about Christmas books should be without the wonderfully silly “Grinch.” You probably watch it every year, but when is the last time you read the book aloud? The sing-songy rhymes and colorful characters are fun for any age. And with all the consumer madness, we can all use a reminder that “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a little bit more.”

originally published at collective lifestyle 12.2014

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the x-files project: 5.12

the x-files

season 5, episode 12, “bad blood”

aired: 2.22.98

“bad blood” is many philes’ favorite episode including one of the show’s stars, gillian anderson. it’s not hard to see why, it’s a well-written, well-acted episode. the x-files isn’t really known for comedy or character studies, but they do it from time to time and most of the time it’s done really well. “bad blood” is one of the best examples of the x-files excelling at both.

vince gilligan has written some of the angstiest episodes of the show. paper hearts, pusher, and memento friggin’ mori, to name a few. he is a master of drama (see also: breaking bad). it’s so unfair that he is equally as talented at comedy. we have him to thank for some of the funniest episodes, as well. gilligan gives us a glimpse into the minds of our favorite agents and their perceptions of each other and the outcome is hilarious. the x-files case becomes a he said/she said dilemma, where both agents have differing accounts of what happened. they each walk us through their version of events and both take this opportunity to point out what they find annoying in the other by exaggerating their behaviors. to scully, mulder is “overly exuberant.” he forgets her name, teases her (“get those little legs moving”), and orders her to do another autopsy forgoing food and rest (and taking that all for himself, in her room). to mulder, scully is “less than exuberant.” she whines, gets distracted by a (possibly buck tooth) sheriff, and yells at him for politely asking her to do another autopsy. i love how they exaggerate the other’s behavior, but i also love how they downplay themselves in their own accounts. scully paints a picture of herself being very amenable to mulder’s whims and mulder tries to portray himself as someone who respectfully tolerates scully’s bullheadedness. they both view themselves as the one in the partnership that is put-upon. let me think, what does that sound like? oh yeah, a MARRIED COUPLE. these two have been each other’s worlds for five years. things are going to come up that bug them and what is more married than airing their grievances, passive-aggressively like this? you would think this kind of bickering would be tedious, but it is a pure delight. i have seen this episode hundreds of times and it never gets old.

this examination of perceptions doesn’t stop at mulder and scully. it is also the main angle of the x-file they are investigating. the vampires in cheney, texas are very run of the mill, ordinary folk, but they are also actually, literally, vampires. they are able to allude capture by acting like normal people. outsiders perceive them as normal, in turn. the behavioral characteristics are there, but other people’s perceptions get in the way of seeing the paranormal reality. they just want to be left alone to drink their blood and what not. except ronnie. ronnie wants to emulate the romanticized image of a vampire, fangs and all. this risks exposing his community by shedding too much light on them and that’s what grabbed the attention of the FBI and our agents. this script is so smart, addressing both the image conscious vampires and the skewed perceptions of mulder and scully in a balanced way and humorously, as well.

rating: 5

wandering thoughts:

let me tell you, it took a lot of restraint not to just cite every line of this episode. every single moment is great.

“bad blood all the way, motherf*ckers!” -gillian anderson

mulder kicking the trashcan.

epic scully face palm.

*snaps* “take me there now.” that snap is everything.

one of my favorite autopsy!scully scenes ever. “yada yada yada.”


mulder’s evil laugh when he takes over the magic fingers.

i love how both versions have the mexican goat sucker reference, implying that she actually did bring it up.

mulder’s reaction to sherriff hartwell’s buck teeth.

i once saw the actor that played ronnie strickland coming out of the scientology branch in los feliz. i was so disappointed.

mulder in that tank. HOO BOY.

mulder only gave the delivery boy a 2 cent tip? no wonder he attacks him.

mulder singing shaft, tho.

the fact that they are actually vampires is a pretty great twist.

the garlic breadstick cross. fuckin’ genius.

when mulder accidentally honks the horn at the end. errrrgh, it’s so cute.

did you know? behind the scenes facts:

in the bloopers, luke wilson makes david duchovny laugh by telling him it sounds like he’s saying “sheriff fartwell.” it’s adorable.

first appearance of arlene as skinner’s secretary.

shipper’s corner:

uh, yeah, they are a married couple in this whole episode.

hands on shoulders when scully asks what she’s looking for. “i don’t know.”

mulder makes himself at home in scully’s room so naturally in both versions.

she fixes his tie while they wait for skinner.

mulder made up the fact that sheriff hartwell had buck teeth/”slight overbite” because he was jealous that scully found him attractive. the sheriff is attractive, but also a vampire which can be very charming, so scully couldn’t really resist anyways.

mulder’s hand on her shoulder when he says “don’t say i never did nothin’ fer ya.”

scully quotes her bf, uh, i mean, partner, when discussing vampires with sheriff hartwell.

notable quotables:

m: “oh shhhhhhii-”

m: “prison, scully. your cellmate’s nickname is going to be large marge. she’s gonna read a lot of gertrude stein.”

s: “he does that.”

s: “begin autopsy on white male, age sixty, who is arguably having a worse time in texas than i am, though not by much.”

s: “yee-haw.”

sheriff hartwell: “y’all must be the gov’ment people.”

s: “what do you mean you want me to do another autopsy?! why do i have to do it now?! i just spent hours on my feet doing an autopsy, all for you! i do it all for you, mulder! you know i haven’t eaten since 6 o’clock this morning, and that was half a cream cheese bagel. and it wasn’t even real cream cheese, it was light cream cheese! now you want me to run off and do another autopsy?!”

m: “finally you left.”

s: “hoo boy.”

ronnie: “you are in big trouble.”

m: “i was drugged!”



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throwback: christmas budget

Christmas on a Budget

The holidays can be a depressing time when you don’t have money. Everything costs money all year round, but in December it seems amplified. There are presents to buy, holiday events to attend, gift exchanges at work, and even our energy bills are higher. You end up focusing on every cent spent instead of the spirit of the season. It seems like all hope is lost and you scramble to make ends meet in time to start your New Year’s resolution to save money. No wonder December seems to fly by. Well, part of the Christmas spirit is hope and to quote my spirit animal, Clark Griswold, you can have the “hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye” no matter how much (or little) is in your bank account. It just takes some faith, creativity, and a whole lot of unabashed holiday cheer.

  • Holiday movies and specials:  Lots of channels have holiday programming. If you’re partial to cheesy Hallmark flicks, you are in luck. The Hallmark channel plays their holiday fluff around the clock. ABC Family has their 25 days of Christmas movies throughout December. The basic cable networks serve up holiday offerings like A Charlie Brown Christmas and  Frosty The Snowman. Redbox ups their selection of holiday favorites and makes them available for just over a dollar a day.
  • Crafts:  ‘Tis the season to craft. Check Pinterest for endless ideas for budget-friendly, DIY Christmas crafts. Go old school and make paper snowflakes. Add glitter for that sparkle and shine and then you can forgo the lights and save on that electric bill. String a festive popcorn garland. Snack as you craft and this becomes a two for one holiday activity. Ransack Mother Nature. There are so many craft projects out there that utilize pinecones, leaves, branches, and acorns. Make gifts for family and friends instead of buying something.
  • Music:  No need to break the bank on iTunes. Pandora, Spotify, iheartradio, and Rdio all have the option to listen for free and all provide holiday themed playlists. Your local radio station may also play Christmas music exclusively during the season. It’s usually an easy listening station. You can just hang out in any retail store and jam to the free holiday tunes. Or make your own music. As Buddy the Elf says, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
  • The Christmas tree:  There are so many cool alternatives to the traditional evergreen. For the literary minded there’s the book tree. Make a cardboard Christmas tree if you have spare boxes. Decorate it with drawings or chalkboard paint and have holiday visitors make their mark. Find access to free pallets and you have found a thousand ways to make a “tree” to trim. Use washi tape to make a modern wall tree.
  • Events and activities: There are a plethora of holiday fairs and fests in December. Choose ones that provide free activities and attractions. Avoid ones that only offer shopping options, like holiday bazaars. Some will have free crafts for the kids or entertainment like carolers. When making the tough decision on which Santa to visit, see if any offer a free picture with the jolly guy or allow you take your own. Avoid the mall Santas as they force you into buying a photo package and prohibit personal photography. Cruise your neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. Go on foot to save on gas.
  • Charity: I guarantee you that nothing will fill your heart with the holiday spirit more than giving. You don’t need money to give. You can donate your time. Help out at the soup kitchen, sing carols at the senior center, host a food or clothing drive. Buy an extra coffee at the coffee shop and give it to someone braving the cold and the streets. Bring a reasonably priced toy to a toy drive or pick a wishing star for a less fortunate child. Usually the kids in need aren’t asking for expensive gifts.

Even if you aren’t broke this holiday season, it’s important to focus on the real Christmas spirit. Deck the halls with meaningful, homemade crafts, not designer decor. Create memories, not more debt. Spread holiday cheer, not consumerism. Spend time with family and friends, not at the stores. Get your head out of the (check)books and you’ll see all the season has to offer.

originally published at collective lifestyle 12.10.2014


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“the glorious heresies” book review

“the glorious heresies” by lisa mcinerney

3.5 stars

god is a great listener, but he or she is not much of a talker. it is left to us poor souls here on earth to interpret signs along the way. there is no way of knowing what is coincidence and what is fate. what is divine punishment and what is bad luck. what is absolution and what is self-justification. what is hereditary and what is choice. what is orthodox and what is heresy. these questions constantly bombard the characters in “the glorious heresies.” as a reader, you are constantly questioning it, as well. almost anyway you look at it, though, the results are tragic. this bitingly earnest first novel by mcinerney doesn’t sugarcoat the hopelessness of post-crash ireland. although there is a bleak air from start to finish, the string of that famous irish black humor weaves its way throughout, keeping you from the depths of despair. i also found myself puzzled by the paradox of sympathizing with every character, but not necessarily rooting for any of them. wishing for a happy ending seemed futile from the beginning. any expectation of miraculous recoveries or a character’s anomalous change of heart is dashed early on. it is refreshing rather than depressing and you find yourself wanting to go on the journey anyways.

i received a copy of ” the glorious heresies” from blogging for books in an exchange for this honest review.

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throwback: oscar drinks (2015)

Drink Your Way Through The Oscars

Celebrate the Oscars in style with themed cocktails. We’ve got eight luscious libations that pair perfectly with the best picture nominees and popcorn. Inspire the bartender within and add some panache to your awards viewing. Raise a glass to Hollywood and toast these cinematic contenders.

  • “Selma” – Celebrate the brave marches from Selma to Montgomery with the Selma Sipper. This recipe requires a blender, but as Dr. King taught us, some things are worth going the extra mile. The drink contains quintessential Southern liquor to transport you to the location of this historic civil rights milestone.

Selma Sipper

4 cups pineapple chunks (fresh or canned)

16 oz. Bourbon

4 oz. Southern Comfort

8 oz. cup club soda

Juice of 1 lime

Blend the pineapple. Strain into a pitcher and discard the pulp. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve over ice.

  • “The Theory of Everything” – “The Theory of Everything” follows the life of the incredible Stephen Hawking. Try to soak up some of his genius with A Brief History of Thyme, the cocktail, not the book. Lemon and thyme go together just about as well as Stephen and Jane.

A Brief History of Thyme

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 sprigs of thyme, plus more for garnish

2 oz. vodka

Juice of 1 lemon


Make the thyme simple syrup by bringing the water, sugar and thyme to a low boil. Let boil for 1 minute. Let cool and strain out sprigs. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add vodka, lemon juice, and 1/2 oz of the thyme simple syrup (more or less depending on how sweet you want it). Shake and serve over ice. Garnish with thyme.

  • “Whiplash” – Jazz up Oscar night with The Miles Mule. This cocktail gets its name from both the actor Miles Teller who portrays Andrew, the drumming prodigy, and jazz great Miles Davis. A splash of lemon is added to bring out the sourness of Andrew’s intimidating mentor.

The Miles Mule

2 oz. vodka

3 oz. ginger beer or ginger ale

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Lemon “cymbal” for garnish

Combine all ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon “cymbal.”

  • “Boyhood” – A Boy Rogers is a non-alcoholic option. In the 12 years that “Boyhood” spans, Mason is never at a legal drinking age. In the spirit of childhood, indulge in this mocktail.

Boy Rogers

1 can of cherry cola

1/4 oz. grenadine

1 maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine cola and grenadine and serve over ice. Garnish with cherry.

  • “Birdman” – This cocktail attempts to harness the crazy energy that is Riggan Thomson aka Birdman. Think of the Madman Manhattan as the Times Square scene in a glass. The combination of dry and sweet vermouth echoes the mix of drama and humor in the film.

Madman Manhattan

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey

1/2 oz. sweet vermouth

1/4 oz. dry vermouth

2 dashes orange bitters

orange rind twist for garnish

Combine the whiskey and both vermouths in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over ice. Add the bitters. Garnish with an orange rind twist.

  • “American Sniper” – One shot is all it takes. This is not so much a recipe as it is a shot of your favorite American made liquor.
  • “The Imitation Game” – The Code Breaker Cooler is a bit complicated, but not as complicated as actually trying to break Nazi code. Stay true to Alan Turing’s patriotism and use English lavender.

Code Breaker Cooler

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

2 sprigs lavender, dried or fresh

1/2 in. piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2 oz. London dry gin

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Sparkling water

Make the lavender simple syrup by bringing the water, sugar and lavender to a low boil. Boil for 1 minute. Let cool and strain out sprigs. Muddle the ginger in a cocktail shaker. Add gin, lemon juice, and 1/2 oz. of the lavender simple syrup. Shake and strain into a highball glass over ice. Fill with sparkling water.

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – This cocktail revolves around a main plot point: the whereabouts of the priceless painting Boy with Apple. A martini is a classic drink that would have been served at the titular hotel. The use of elderflower is a nod to Gustave’s lover and Grand Budapest patron, Madame D.

Boy With Apple Martini

1 oz. elderflower cordial

3/4 oz. gin or vodka

1/2 oz. dry vermouth


sparkling apple juice

Combine the cordial, gin or vodka, vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour into a martini glass. Fill with sparkling apple juice.

Any or all of these would be a great addition to any Oscar party. If you are rooting for one film in particular, enjoy the one that corresponds with your choice. Or try all of them, but only if you can hold your liquor. Consume and view responsibly.

originally published at collective lifestyle 2.2015

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throwback: zoolander returns

Zoolander Returns

Ben Stiller has announced that the long anticipated sequel to the 2001 comedy hit, “Zoolander”, is set. He did it in a high fashion way, much to Mugatu’s chagrin. Derek Zoolander and his nemesis turned BFF, Hansel, took to the catwalk at the Maison Valentino fashion show during Paris Fashion Week. They were looking “ridiculously good-looking” in a brocade suit with a hand-embroidered overcoat and a silk print pajama suit with a double cashmere overcoat, respectively. Stiller reaffirmed it on social media, setting the date for “Zoolander 2″‘s release for February 12th, 2016. Obviously, Stiller and Owen Wilson will reprise their roles as Zoolander and Hansel. Will Farrell is to return as the notorious Mugatu along with Christine Taylor as Zoolander’s love interest. Justin Theroux returns but in a behind-the-scenes capacity. He will be penning the screenplay. No word yet if he will return to play Evil DJ, which he was practically unrecognizable as in the original. Penelope Cruz has been cast as a new addition. Plot information has been hush hush. Stiller has said that changes in the fashion industry are fast and furious and it will be 15 years since these top models were at the top of their game. It may be a story of reinventing oneself in an ever-changing industry. Whatever the plot is, you can count me in. As the photos from the Valentino runway appeared in my instagram feed my anticipation for this sequel has grown ten-fold. I’m not the only one who is excited to see Blue Steel and Company return to the big screen. This will likely be a successful sequel!

originally published at collective lifestyle 3.11.2015

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throwback: left shark

Left Shark is my Spirit Animal

By now you have probably heard about the real MVP of Super Bowl XLIX. I’m not talking about Tom Brady, I’m talking about Left Shark. This lovable dancing sea creature has captured the heart of the world. After sloppily dancing back-up to Katy Perry in the most watched concert of the year, Left Shark has taken to the open waters of the internet and gone viral. Shark Week came early this year. Memes galore have surfaced and hashtags are overflowing in all social media outlets. You got to hand it to the fish, it’s hard to outshine mega diva, Katy Perry, but he managed. The momentum this story has gained you’d think Left Shark was Janet Jackson’s nipple. In Left Shark we have a more family friendly half-time show blunder. In addition to being an online sensation, Left Shark appeared on the “Late, Late Show” with guest host John Mayer. Mayer attempted to interview both sharks, but, alas, they don’t talk. Just dance. 3-D printed Left Sharks were being sold (at least until the manufacturer received a cease and desist letter from Camp Perry). An Indiegogo campaign started raising money for the environment by selling Left Shark stickers, suit patterns, and costumes. Environmentalist David Lam who started the campaign is donating 100% of the funds raised to several organizations like WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Left Shark has contributed to helping Lam raise over $45,000 for environmental causes. Left Shark will also be responsible for what will probably be one of the most popular Halloween costumes come October.

The message I get from the media saturation of Left Shark is that it’s ok to mess up and it’s ok to laugh at yourself. Even if you are a back-up dancer on one of the world’s biggest stages, you can do a few missteps and still come out ok in the end or maybe even better than you’d thought (like a viral meme). Everyone has love for Left Shark and that shows our humanity. We can all relate to failing and Left Shark shows us not to let it get us down. Just be you, left or right, shark or human, back-up dancer or inept hoofer. We are all human. We are all flawed. We are all Left Shark.

originally published at collective lifestyle 2.9.2015

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