Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aqua is the new black

          In case you are wondering if I received the sweatshirt requested from my mother for Christmas, the answer is that I have instead perhaps learned a lesson. This is that I should really only ask for things that my mother has the ability to purchase. When I requested a cardigan a few weeks ago and specified that it be "50's twinset style", she knew exactly what I meant and bought me, not one, but seven work-appropriate cardigans. My arms will never be cold again, especially if I wear them all at the same time. She also gave me damn near every Jane Austen/Bronte sister film produced by the BBC in the last 5 years, some beautiful scarves and a lovely turtleneck sweater from my favorite store. I am a lucky girl. The sweatshirt, however has already been returned[1] to Bob's retailers, a store I have not visited since I was a tween, when I had not yet given up the idea that if I sometimes wore athletic apparel, I might give off the appearance of a modicum of athleticism.

          In my mind, I thought I was requesting a classic collegiate sweatshirt, in a size small, just without a hood. Ideally it would be something soft that I could wear around the house but that would not humiliate me if visitors dropped by unexpectedly, unlike my current Wisconsin cow sweatshirt. What my mother picked out was enormous, stiff, and aqua. She insisted it fit her and would therefore also fit me, but I find it hard to believe that it did not resemble the shapeless tunics of her "Flax" years in the 90's. I can't recall ever having seen a sweatshirt with no band at the bottom, but this one had none. The fabric was also surprisingly rough. I didn't know they even made sweatshirts like this, as though the purpose of sweats is not one of softness and comfort, but fashion. Oh well. "We'll find one!" she says. I am sure we will. I am sure we will get our hands on that elusive beast, "the sweatshirt".

          Meanwhile at our family friends' house, one sister had given another sister a light pink sweatshirt featuring a kitten in a purse. The recipient, a grown woman, does have a new cat but upon receiving this gift, she made it very clear that she is a cat owner and not a cat wearer. When I told her not to complain, because at least it looked comfortable and wasn't an aqua tent made of sandpaper, I was warned to watch what I wish for. They are already in plans for my Christmas gift next year- the ugliest, cheapest sweatshirt they can find at the thrift store. I kind of can't wait.

[1] The return of said gift is a miracle unto itself for which I should be grateful. My mother has never been one to save gift receipts, usually immediately exclaiming: "Who can we give it to???"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's like non-alcoholic beer...

          My aunt and uncle's house in New Jersey is an hour and a half from my parents' in Connecticut. We make the trip annually in order to spend Christmas Eve with my cousins. (My four cousins under age eight are all ridiculously adorable little tow-heads, but I digress). This year, we had to stop not once, but twice on the way. Once, because my mother does not understand the concept of dehydrating a bit before you get in the car. It never fails that after 30 minutes on the road she will say: "Does anyone else have to go to the bathroom?" She must always have at least one cup of decaf coffee coursing through her veins so we must make a stop before we even reach the New York border.

          The second stop has to do with this same necessity. We have to stop at a Dunkin' Donuts so my mom can get her hazelnut decaf coffee because otherwise she cannot eat. My aunt and uncle aren't big on coffee and certainly not sans caffeine. My mother truly cannot take one bite of an entree without her cup of decaf. At our favorite local restaurant, they start brewing when she walks in the door and they bring out an entire pot with her meal. She literally will not start eating until the decaf coffee is in her possession- I have seen it happen many times. She also needs at least three cupfuls with her meal. My dad usually suggests that the wait-staff get it hooked up to her intravenously.

          On our second stop, since we are already 40 minutes late, I decline needing anything in D& D and declare, (clearly the only one with any sense), that I am staying right there in the car. My dad leaves the car running and it is at the moment they are gone from my sightline that I see it: the lighted sign from the liquor store next door declaring the availability of that rare and fantastic brew which I had almost forgotten was attainable that day. It is a beer coveted by anyone who went to college in Allentown, Pennsylvania and subsequently had the sense to leave Allentown, Pennsylvania, only to discover that it was no longer available north of Jersey. It is Yuengling, the product of America's oldest brewery, and it is right at my fingertips. It is no small thing to return to one's friends in Boston with a case or two of the lager.

          I hem and haw for only a moment before I decide that I will be quick and that they won't even miss me. I grab the keys and my wallet and head for next door. After no more than 3 minutes, I return to find my puzzled parents looking in the windows of the car, which I had of course locked. As it turns out, my mother was worried about my disappearance, while my father was worried that I had left the keys in the ignition and locked the doors, because I am apparently 5 years old. All their fears were assuaged when they saw both the keys and the case of Yuengling in my hand. It wasn't until Christmas day that I learned that a family friend had driven 40 minutes to Brewster, NY to purchase three cases of Yuengling varieties for myself and my friends.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Best of the Bad: Christmas

          I will admit to being a music snob. I will also admit that it is during this time of year that my tolerance for bad music is much higher than usual. I will happily put up with a much higher percentage of the stale and saccharine in the name of tradition and the Christmas season. Growing up, my family referred to me as the "Christmas Nazi" because shortly after Thanksgiving, all music in the house had to be Christmas related. It is no different for me at this age. I have my radio set to the two Boston stations that play non-stop Christmas music 24 hours a day and I flip back and forth between commercials. Regardless, there are certain songs and or renditions that I simply can no longer put up with in the name of the season. Below I have compiled a list and analysis loosely based on Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs: ('s_Book_of_Bad_Songs )

          When he first posted this column on which the book was based, he got such a strong reaction to it that people would stop him in the street, grab his arm and say: "That Pina Colada song? I hate that song!" While Dave Barry surveyed for his compilation for many months, my very thorough research has consisted of approximately 2 hours of internet surfing. But here it is: the best of the bad of Christmas.

          Now, as my friend Rachele points out, nearly every Christmas song from the last ten years could fall under this category fairly easily. Never underestimate the power of a Christmas hit and residual payments annually. I once saw what I hope was a parody of a Christmas collaboration between Kiri Te Kanawa and the Sex Pistols, for example. It seems though, that bad Christmas songs have been in existence for centuries. There is a traditional Dutch carol that tells the story of an evil butcher who, during a famine, kills and then pickles a group of children in a vat of brine. It is St. Nicholas who comes to their rescue and prays them back to life. Just a sample, I'm sure, of many Christmas songs we have sung to generations of children in the hopes of haunting their dreams for the rest of their lives. Of course, one need not go back so far. I don't even need to get into the B section of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and its depiction of a man who is watching us sleeping. And at a friend's holiday party recently, a group of us put on a Phil Spector Christmas album. I cannot think of a creepier image than the one on the cover of this particular release. That's actually Phil Spector dressed as Santa. Throw in his murder conviction and it makes one good nightmare.

Then there is the just plain bad:

"Who took the Merry out of Christmas?" - Donny Osmond

"Christmas Conga" - Cyndi Lauper

"Merry Christmas with Love" - Clay Aiken

"My Only Wish" - Jessica Simpson

"Marshmallow World" - As performed by anyone (Admit it, it makes you want to poke yourself in the eye).

"All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle" - Dora Bryan

"Please Daddy, Don't get Drunk this Christmas" - John Denver (whom I love- I was horrified to find this!)

          Throw in here that entire Amy Grant album with orchestra that they just love to play this time of year. The sound of that schmaltzy orchestra only painstakingly enhances every flat-sounding syllable with that wobbly vibrato that she utters. That Christmas Waltz song is particularly nauseating.

          More controversial are the many holiday offerings of the Carpenters. I will not refute the beauty of Karen Carpenter's instrument. Rather, to quote one of my college professors on the subject of the group, it's that "tinny, commercial sound" that I find renders the songs unlistenable for extended periods of time. And yet if one comes up on the radio in isolation I will smile because 'it's December'. If however, I hear one more lackluster cover of "Santa Baby" I might fly into a rage at the grocery store.

          Now there is that part of all of us that loves that certain song in spite of its inherent mediocrity. This usually has to do with the fact that we grew up with it. For me, this genre is the Christmas music of Anne Murray (the country singer, not the opera singer). Are the tempos a bit slow? Yes. Is there a bit too much 80's style midi utilized? Yes. But I love it all the same because it sounds like Christmas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"You should take voice lessons"

          Many of you have seen this already, but for those who haven't, this accurately sums up dozens of conversations I have had, almost verbatim, explaining my trade. Thanks to Marcy Richardson for legitimizing our profession further. This is both hilarious and a little sad:

You should take voice lessons:

Friday, December 3, 2010

I'll fall asleep counting my blessings...

          Over Thanksgiving, one of my visiting friends forgot something warm to sleep in and borrowed a flannel shirt of mine that I keep at my parents' house. I then asked my mother for something warm to sleep in. It is at moments like these when the absurdity of my mother's collections becomes even more evident. If I had asked her for a vintage pillbox hat or a Mexican guayavera shirt, or even a pair of childrens' shoes from the turn of the 19th century, she could have provided me with seven options each. But the woman could not find me a single garment resembling a sweatshirt. No flannel pajama tops or long sleeved house shirts could be found either. Every sweater she offered me had a zipper or 15 buttons, or was a turtleneck. We found a long sleeved t-shirt that was really too nice for sleep but oh well. I did not need to ask her why she doesn't own any normal bedclothes. I have told her for years that if she is cold at night she should probably skip the electric blanket and wear something other than a nightgown. 

          Had I probed some more, she might have responded facetiously with something to the effect of "Sweatshirts are so plebian". Also, if she buys no clothes designated expressly for lounging, she gets to justify the keeping of everything in her closet when she has her routine purges: "Couldn't I just keep this for 'around the house'?" she will say. It could also just be a generational thing. Her contemporaries may wear things like sweatshirts, but she has an old soul and has always been more enamored with her mother's fashion era than with her own. My mother is not a particularly formal or uptight person in conversation, but perhaps it is this idealization of the past that has made her consistently err on the side of dressing formally to the alternative. This also transferred to her children of course. There was the time she dressed me in an ivory satin gown that I had worn as a flower girl to go to a rehearsal dinner. It was a little outlandish, but at a North Carolina barbecue, it was downright ridiculous. I remember at age eight, being very annoyed that I could not properly show off my cartwheels.

          This all reminded me of when I was in Rome for the semester and my friend Avi came to visit from Spain. Knowing that I had to pack light for the four months I was there, and knowing that Europeans are not exactly enamored with the look of the hoodie, I only packed one item of the ilk. Of course I knew full well that this "biondina" would never be mistaken for an actual Italian but I still harbor a desire to avoid giving them fodder to make fun of my American slovenliness. So I avoided sweatshirts and sneakers, and packed one hooded sweater that I wore in the apartment. While Avi was there for the long weekend, she was looking through my clothes for something warm to wear in the house, as one does with old friends. Avi is a connoisseur of all things cozy and comfortable. She came to me saying; "I can't find your sweatshirts".

"I didn't bring any".

"But where are your sweatshirts?" she said, unable to fathom a home without hoodies.

"Avi, I didn't bring any. I only brought this hooded sweater."

"Katie, where are your sweatshirts???"

Clearly the apple does not fall far from the tree.

          Come to think of it, my mother did have a sweatshirt once. I think it was a gift from her friend in Green Bay. It was made circa 1991 and says "Wisconsin" on it. It features cows wearing pink and blue ankle warmers and on the back it says "udder cold". I know this because I have stolen it permanently and wear it frequently in the winter. It is the perfect combination of worn thin warmth and has no hood to interfere with sleeping or lounging. Brendan looked at it this fall and said "Oh boy... it's that time of year again!" I have asked my mother for a new sweatshirt for Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yes, I know...

          Yes, I am aware of what comes up when you google "Ukrainian Picnic". I will tell you this though: it did not show up when I was creating the blog and I looked it up in Urban Dictionay: My theory is that when I entered it, they made up a definition. Kudos to the editors over there for their creative filth though...

Printed! Classical Singer's December issue