Category Archives: Holidays

Autumn is Coming!

It’s September. The fall season is just a few weeks away … and my husband and I have already pulled out all of our Halloween decorations and started putting them up! As much as I love this season, I can’t help but feel sad looking at the closed swimming pool! I ran into the guy who runs it the other day and tried to convince him to keep it open just one more week! Hey, with these 90 degree temps, it makes sense, right?

The Fall Equinox this year is on Tuesday, September 23. Following our annual family beach week earlier in the month, I plan to get started on my personal fall checklist (which is mostly separate from my Halloween checklist)!

*Continue taking after-dinner walks
*Make crock-pot meals for dinner
*Jump into a big pile of fall leaves
*Carve pumpkins
*Incorporate pumpkin and butternut squash into at least two dinner recipes
*Take a drive to see the fall leaves (already have a Shenandoah getaway booked!)
*Walk through a corn maze
*Drink a pumpkin spice latte (but just one … too many calories etc. in that sucker)
*Finish editing the story I’ve been toiling over for two years, already!
*Go on a hayride
*Make some tasty hot toddies
*Spend more nights curled up with a blanket and a good book and/or movie

Before I get started on any of this, I’m going to the beach!

What’s on your autumn checklist?

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Howl-o-Scream 2011 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Eric and I just love Halloween and have grown to think of it as “our” holiday. We love the spooky ambiance, the tasty candy, the fun events, the dramatic organ music punctuated with Boris Karloff laughs. Unfortunately this year we were both so busy a good deal of the time that we didn’t get to do a lot of that stuff this ‘go round. So I decided we had to have our actual Halloween weekend be the most awesome one possible. Almost immediately, I thought of the famous Howl-o-Scream event at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Continue reading

The Shamrock Shake Lets Me Down

I made a favorite mistake of mine yesterday afternoon by failing to eat up until around lunch time, then realizing I had also failed to do any substantial grocery shopping at the same time I conveniently decided it was time for me to get my annual Shamrock Shake. I COULD have made an egg and spinach scramble with red pepper, Mrs. Dash, and a little Ball’s salsa mix in about 5 to 10 minutes; instead, my ravenous body went through the McDonald’s drive-thru and came back out with a 3-piece Chicken Selects value meal and a medium Shamrock. (What happened to my keeping it at a small?) Martha V.’s Cardinal Rule #1 of Eating Well was broken: NEVER go through a drive-thru while starving! Okay, that’s rule #2. Rule #1 is: NEVER EVER EVER SKIP BREAKFAST. Even eating a sugary donut is better than not eating anything at all! I hate skipping meals, but I was so busy yesterday that I ignored my body telling me it was famished.

After receiving my order, I saw that I needed to correct something I wrote about this shake in my last post. I somehow got the impression that this shake comes in a souvenir cup, but it doesn’t. It’s in the regular clear cup with the lid that some of the McCafe drinks come in. Not only that, but it was topped with whipped cream and a cherry! Sounds great, right? Not for me – I really do not want all of those extra calories! Now I don’t believe in beating yourself up over things that you truly enjoy and want to treat yourself to from time to time – or even beating yourself up for anything, really – but when I saw that cream I groaned. If I’d known it was on there, I would’ve asked them to leave it off. Instead, I drank the shake till all that was left was the whipped cream and a little bit of the shake, then tossed it. The shake was not as minty as years previous so it was easy for me to not finish it. Oh, Shamrock Shake. You make me sad.

I ate my three Chicken Selects and some of the fries while on a conference call, and suddenly waves of nausea overtook me. I had not had Chicken Selects in quite a long time, as that batter is bursting with sodium, fat, and other unpronounceable nasties that I’m increasingly cutting out of my diet. I feel really, really good when I eat well. But when I eat badly, well, I think my body is no longer used to it. It probably met the Chicken Selects and said, “Um, I don’t even know what this IS. What are you doing putting this in me? Are you for real?” It was all I could do not to throw up on the phone! I did keep it down but continued to feel sick on and off for a few hours.

Lesson learned: Eating whole, healthy, fresh foods is great, eating something not-so-good for you but utterly delicious is a great treat, eating something kinda-tasty but terrible for you has a whole new connotation when you’re no longer used to it. Further proof to me that our bodies were not meant to take in many of the things that we feed to them as part of a typical American diet.

In further news, I’ve really wanted to attend the Detroit Auto Show for some time now; I think the 2012 show will be it! I’m hoping and praying to see a resurgence of the Big Three and American cars. (Full disclosure: my current car’s Korean and it’s a GREAT vehicle, but so was my Buick.) Have you seen Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” commercials? Buy American-made (everything) just a little more often and help our economy and American businesses!

Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year everyone! May you all have a delightful and prosperous 2011 with the ones you love! And whether you made a whole page’s worth of resolutions or none at all, I wish you nothing but the best! (I think I made the same three resolutions I make every year, but with different specifics!)

Christmas Countdown: Holiday Movie Guide

It’s so cold! Sounds like the perfect excuse to me to stay indoors with a good movie, my baby and our two fat warm kitties, and some hot coffee! (Put a dollop of Peppermint Mocha Coffee-Mate in it – tastes good in hot cocoa too!) Here are my recommendations, as well as some I’d recommend against!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Lovable Charlie Brown becomes frustrated with the over-commercialism of Christmas and goes looking for its real meaning. Leave it to Linus to weigh in with a timely speech like he always does. If you didn’t catch this one on TV, pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray. I bought mine in a three pack of Charlie Brown holiday DVDs (with six TV specials total – two on each disc).
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A Garfield Christmas

Back in the good old days, this special came on right after Charlie Brown’s. Garfield, Jon, and Odie pack up to visit Jon’s family on the farm and hang with Grandma and crew. I love old school Garfield so much. I don’t think you can watch this on TV anymore, but currently, this is found as one of three specials on the Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD.
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The Muppet Christmas Carol

Gonzo pretends to be Charles Dickens long enough to take viewers through a fabulous musical version of the classic story. Michael Caine is one of my favorite Scrooges ever, and Kermit the Frog plays the perfectly affable Bob Cratchit! And in what other movie can you find a cart of vegetables singing about how terrible Scrooge is?
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Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

Why do I not own this? Make fun of me all you want; I ADORE this special! Big Bird worries over Santa Claus in his typical neurotic fashion, Bert and Ernie unintentionally re-enact The Gift of the Magi, Oscar gleefully wrecks people’s Christmases and Cookie Monster eats everything in sight.
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Well, I couldn’t not put this brief special in here. It’s not one of my absolute favorites, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I’m talking about the original, not the remake with Jim Carrey, which looks horrendous. (I think I might’ve actually watched it at some point and blocked it out of my memory because it was too painful to retain)
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Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

This is one of my absolute favorites – the Rudolph story in stop-motion animation complete with an abominable snow monster! But watching this movie as an adult does make one take notice of some things. For starters, gee, thanks Donner for saying searching for your son is “man’s work”. Secondly, don’t you think it’s a little messed up to introduce a “misfit” bird who can’t fly, and THEN show us a scene of Santa tossing him out of his sleigh from 10,000 feet? And WOW – the reindeer (including Rudolph’s parents and coach), Santa, and all the elves are SO MEAN! The adults even encourage the kids to make fun of Rudolph and ostracize him! OHHH but what’s that, his nose can help guide a sleigh? Guess those who are different are only acceptable when you can use ’em for something, huh Santa? You don’t fool me, you jolly old oaf!
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Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas

I doubt this one comes on TV any more, but please try to catch this cute comedy if you can! Dinosaurs Rex and Herb take you through a selection of favorite Christmas carols; Rex gives you the history while Herb wanders off eating everything. The California Raisins even make an appearance!
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Frosty the Snowman

Okay, so I had never seen this Rankin/Bass classic until a few years ago and Eric and I just about died laughing. A big doofy snowman runs around talking in a dopey voice while some equally dopey kids chase him around …. what more do you want? HEY HEY KIDS! Man, Rankin/Bass specials are so weird. I grew up thinking they were fabulous when I’d only seen Rudolph. Now I start watching more of them and find that many of the others seem to be awful. I’ll let you know for sure when I’ve seen them all. The Cricket on the Hearth was the most recent one I saw, and I wouldn’t wish that one on my worst enemy, if I had a worst enemy, which thankfully I do not (and I’m not taking any applications either). I wouldn’t show it to any kids who are of course the intended audience. I think they’d be bored by the storyline and terrible songs, and then probably traumatized when someone pulls a gun and shoots two of the animal characters out of nowhere FOR NO REASON. The utter butchering of this Charles Dickens Christmas story annoys me to no end, but for the sake of both your sanity and my own I’m going to stop thinking about it now.
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Elf

This is such a funny and cute Christmas movie; I was surprised by how much I liked it when I first saw it. It parodies other Christmas specials while introducing Buddy, a man raised as an elf and sent off to New York City to find his real dad – a workaholic who has no clue Buddy exists. I thought it was going to be dumb, but it made me laugh and yes, warmed my heart.
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A Christmas Carol

There are tons and tons of Christmas Carol movies out there, but this one is my personal favorite (aside from the Muppet one)! George C. Scott is a most excellent Scrooge and does Dickens justice! So if you’re going to rent a Carol, make it this one!
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White Christmas

This is a very well-made musical from 1954 starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Out of the Army and enjoying post-World War II life, a pair of professional entertainer friends find a way to save the inn run by their beloved former general. And although it does make an appearance, the song “White Christmas” is not actually from this movie – Bing Crosby sang it in a prior movie, 1942’s Holiday Inn.
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Little Women

I love this movie version of the Louisa May Alcott novel with its all-star cast, including one of my favorites, Winona Ryder. My sister and I make it a point to watch this together every year.
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It's a Wonderful Life

Guess what? I somehow managed to not see this classic until I was in my early 20s. Frank Capra is a down-on-his-luck businessman ready to off himself on Christmas Eve, when an angel appears to show him how much better the world is with him in it. It made me bawl, which is probably why I haven’t watched it again since, but it’s a good film!
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Bad Santa

If you are looking for something a little less feel-good but a lot more hysterical, have a good laugh at this Billy Bob Thornton film that is decidedly not for kids. Thornton stars as the worst low-down alcoholic mall Santa Claus you have ever seen … it’s a classic all right.
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Scrooged

If you want a more modern take on Carol you can’t go wrong with this Bill Murray hilarity. It’s been far too long since I took the time to watch this. Murray is a modern-day Scrooge-ish executive who is the biggest jerk imaginable, but don’t worry, the three ghosts we all know and love aren’t going to let him get away with that!
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Black Christmas (remake)

Would you rather scream than laugh or cry this Christmas? Try Black Christmas (the original or the remake). Personally speaking, the remake makes me laugh rather than scream (despite some disgusting moments) but I’m weird like that. Enjoyable either way!
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Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

I could never leave out the Home Alone movies about Kevin McAllister battling some bumbling robbers! They are both great if you ask me, with all kinds of silly slapstick humor. You get a creepy tarantula in the first one, a perfect Tim Curry in the second, and a parody of old gangster films in both! Now I hope I don’t have to tell anyone this, but do yourself a favor and stay away from any other sequels if you can help it because they’re awful and a cheap attempt to cash in on the success of the originals. They’ll try to fool you into buying a set of all four movies together – take it from me, RUN FOREST, RUN and just buy the set of the first two!

Those are some of my recommendations! I have plenty more, like The Hebrew Hammer (Jewish superhero saves Hanukkah from Santa’s evil son) and Nothing Like the Holidays (Puerto Rican family reunites for Christmas) and of course my recently re-discovered She-Ra & He-Man Christmas special! But I’m tired of writing already. Haha! What are your favorites?

Bull Run Festival of Lights

Since moving to this area three years ago, I look forward every year to driving through the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, VA with my favorite Valentine family! (We did miss it last year!) It’s a very cool event for anyone to enjoy, especially since you can stay in your warm car the whole time (unless you want to visit the outdoor Holiday Village winter carnival at the end … read on).

After paying your admission, turn your car radio to 97.1 FM (or whichever station is playing Christmas music) and cruise on down the lighted pathway for the next 15-20 minutes. On either side of the road, and sometimes arching over it, are figures made out of Christmas lights. Many of the figures “move” – Old Man Winter blows a gust of wind at you, gingerbread men and reindeer fly over your head, Santa and his elves make toys, etc. You’re supposed to turn off your headlights so that everyone can get the best view in the dark; the road is lined with lights the whole way, so there’s no need to leave anything but your parking lights on. The first year I went, I was driving Frank the Buick and it turned out the automatic sensor lights could not be turned off, so we went through with headlights glaring the whole time. Oops.

Most of the light scenes show holiday stuff, but there are plenty of random ones that depict fairy tales and whatnot. We didn’t see any new ones this year that I can think of which was disappointing. Eric took pictures this year, but most of them came out awful. That’s probably because we weren’t drifting to a halt every other second to take umpteen flash photos while holding up the rest of the line, like SOME people in front of us kept insisting on doing! Here are a couple shots that came out decently, but you’ll probably need to do the click-and-enlarge bit to get a decent look.

Giant scary apple tree! He moves his arms back and forth.

There are a lot of random non-holiday scenes thrown in. Here's one with Peter Pan flying overhead and the gator opening and closing his mouth!

The Holiday Village at the end is like a carnival in freezing weather. There are a few kiddie rides and food and game booths set up. I would’ve loved to ride the Ferris wheel, but it was just too cold for me to sit still for that long. As for the games, this year I got some weird deformed aqua-colored animal (“It’s whatever you want it to be, honey,” said the lady at the booth) from the pick-a-duck “game”, and a cup of hot chocolate that tasted just like what I imagine hot motor oil tastes like. They did have a crepe truck at one end but I was not hungry enough to get one. Too bad … I love crepes! A crafts store was open, and the Valentine family posed for a cute picture with Santa Claus inside. Little Stephen looked adorable walking around in his sock monkey hat and caused lots of people to stop and go “Awwwww.”

Hanging out in the Holiday Village

I was saddened to see that the heaters-on-poles and the little slick of an ice rink (if it was really ice … to me it looked like vinyl, hehehe) were missing, perhaps to make way for the new light show feature this year. We sat down to check that out. Warm blankets were provided; thank goodness for that because until I put one on the bleachers I felt like my butt was glued to a block of ice. The light show consists of several Christmas trees flashing lights in synchronization with a couple of blaring Christmas carols. Kind of fun, but the one who got the most out of it was Stephen, who was fascinated.

Another thing that you can do at the Holiday Village is get some marshmallows on sticks and roast them over the big fire pits. For some reason we neglected to do this this year. There was also a hay ride available to go through another section of the lights; I don’t remember its being available before. I felt like something was “missing” this year and I guess the ice rink and heaters would be it. I still highly recommend visiting Bull Run this month for an evening of fun. Prices vary based on type of vehicle and number of people, but we paid $20 for an SUV with five people. If you want a preview of the show, just drive by on I-66 – you can see the light displays at the end of the forest trail, and the carnival with the Ferris wheel.

Have fun!

It’s the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is awesome. Can we have Thanksgiving once a month? Although I missed my mom’s delicious squash casserole – she’s saving it for Christmas when my sister’s there to enjoy – several other dishes were debuted that were too yummy for words. Along with our typical turkey, cranberry sauce, homemade mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, champagne, herb stuffing, and baby sweet pickles, we had:

-Salad: broccoli florets with ground pecans and gorgonzola cheese. (A very tasty creation of my father’s!)
-A second, almost unbearably delicious stuffing with cranberry and bacon courtesy of my Aunt V.! (I said “unbearably” because now I’m sitting here craving it)
-Cauliflower and cheese casserole
-Brussels sprouts
-A new green bean dish with bread crumbs. I missed the green bean casserole we usually have, but this was a yummy substitute!
-A different kind of casserole with big chunks of butternut squash.
-Pecan pie
-Pumpkin pie

My mom is a fabulous cook, hands down, but she really outdid herself this year.

Black Friday: I don’t do Black Friday. Nothing against people who do, unless you’re that person kicking people in the groin to get your discounted LCD TV, but getting up before the crack of dawn after a day of overeating is not my idea of a good time. I’d rather sleep in for a change and then wait for Cyber Monday! But I read a few newspaper articles about many retailers trying to move Black “Friday” to Thanksgiving night and get people in the stores early. That is the worst idea I have ever heard. Don’t look at me to join in because my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving are as follows: eat, lounge around indoors, avoid crowds and stampedes.

NaNoWriMo: Oh man! There are two days of NaNoWriMo left, including today, and I’m about ready for it to be over with so I can go at a more leisurely pace! I need to do a ton of editing and more research. I’m dying to do these things before I write anymore, but I have not even broken 40,000 words yet. Eyestrain and a computer that shorted out, was fixed, and THEN refused to boot put me way behind! Never fear; quitting is not an option. I will win NaNoWriMo!

Christmas is coming soon. I have been on the look out for my favorite holiday teas, but sadly, some of them are rather elusive. My favorites are:

Celestial Seasonings Nutcracker Suite and Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride
Oregon Chai Original Peppermint Concentrate (add to milk)
Bigelow Eggnoggin’
Twinings Christmas Tea and Pumpkin Spice Chai

Sadly, I can’t find most of those at either my local Safeway or Giant, so I’ll have to try Harris Teeter next. I thought about tracking down this one stock boy at Giant that all the older ladies always come after for help getting stuff, but I think he was off for the day.

Decorations are going up all over our apartment! I already had out the Christmas lights/stockings, jolly color-changing snowman, and rotating snowmen music box (except it doesn’t make music anymore). Eric put a giant snowflake on the front of the balcony and some lights and is stringing more lights through a giant wreath right now! Sumo is having a ball playing with everything. His tubby body shakes around as he leaps after random decorations. It’s adorable how much kitties love Christmas.

I love my car’s Sirius XM radio at this time of year, especially, because of the Holiday Traditions classics station that pops up this time of year. There is also an XM station called Holly that plays holiday pop songs, but I usually prefer to avoid that one. Two Christmas seasons in a row of listening to awful 24-7 holiday “hits” like “The Christmas Shoes”, “Christmas in America” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” while trapped behind a returns desk will do that to ya.

Blog posts have been few and far between since I started working on NaNoWriMo, but I have tons of ones I’ll be finishing soon. Upcoming subjects include: Luxembourg, Omaha, Germany, Amsterdam, a new and very scary Place Unseen, the first of the 30 Things, the first of several entries on Arlington County’s “Walkabouts” self-guided tour program, my trip back through all the books I was required to read in school, and some fitness and nutrition program reviews!

Next planned trip is to Seaside, Florida in January! My cousin’s getting married!