Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last year, my mother and I had the brilliant idea of buying a Christmas tree earlier than usual so as to have my friends from Boston help decorate it while they were at our house for Thanksgiving weekend.  This is another of those somewhat rare arenas in which I can be very fussy.  My mom usually throws ornaments up willy-nilly in her hasty, take-charge fashion.  I, on the other hand, contemplate the traditional placement of ornaments in the past as well as the design aesthetics meticulously.  My dad prefers the finished product when I do the trimming and so I have been doing it since I was about twelve, or maybe even younger.  My parents used to work at the restaurant a lot around Christmas, so I got accustomed to doing it by myself.  My brother had very little interest.  Or more likely, since he was a smart boy, he probably knew to avoid collaborating with the “Christmas Nazi” as my family used to call me. 

Having my Boston friends help last Thanksgiving weekend worked out really well, since it usually takes me about three hours to finish it.  With my friends, we wrapped it up in about a half an hour.  Of course, one of them slipped a drink in my hand during the process, presumably in an effort to help calm me down. 

As an aside, I can tell you from experience that I am not as bad as my friend Rita’s father, John Dwan.  He willingly admits that you can find his name next to “anal retentive” in the dictionary.  One year, when I stopped by her house around Christmas, I was asked to help string the tree lights, because her father was on crutches at the time.  He ended up giving Rita’s little brother and me a small lecture about how stringing lights necessitates one person holding them in a neat “bouquet” and the other stringing them.  Too much slack from the bouquet holder would of course cause tangling, so John was regimented about that.  He further specified that the strands of lights had to be placed six to eight inches apart.  I can still see Rita’s ten year old brother obediently holding his neat little bouquet and following me as I worked.  This did not stop John Dwan from following us around and adjusting the lights with one of his crutches…

This year, with our holiday assistants again excited to help with the trimming, my mother went to the local Boy Scouts’ tree sale and simply said: “Give me the biggest tree you have”.  She did not even look at it with the netting removed.  She just strapped it to her car and was on her way.  Well, she didn’t need to look at it.  When we un-wrapped it, we could see that it was a plump and full ten foot tree and it smelled amazing.  Within an hour we finished trimming it while enjoying peppermint hot chocolate and listening to carols.  When it was finished, we sat and admired it. We decided, with its pearl strands and twinkling white lights, that it was the biggest and one of the most beautiful trees the Holden household had ever seen.  And then it fell over…

Well, it didn’t happen right away.  The girls had left to head back to Boston and the boyfriend and I were out getting a drink.  When we returned to the house around 11:00, I walked absent mindedly through the family room and then heard Brendan say “The tree fell down”.  And there it was, grotesquely bizarre, like some sort of crime scene.  I was in shock.  My parents had apparently been sitting on the couch watching the UConn game, when the tree just went down. 

The really disheartening part of the image was the pile of broken glass surrounding it.  My mom had been so upset that she had gone to bed and said we would survey the damage in the morning.  I had much the same reaction and went to bed thinking about the memories potentially destroyed under our once beautiful tree.  I knew the following day would be spent miserably finding many holiday memories shattered.  With two of us having gone to bed in disgust, I was surprised when I heard the vacuum and walked back into the family room to find my dad and Brendan had put the tree back up again. Only a few ornaments had been destroyed!  Miraculously, my mother’s very fragile glass ‘Partridge in a Pear Tree’ ornaments from her childhood had both survived the crash.  Only one of the broken ones was really sentimental.  It was a clean break though, and we are gluing it back together.

So this year has the distinction of being the only year in which we trimmed the tree twice.  My parents were running errands when Brendan and I attacked the re-decoration process in the morning.  The lights were now all tangled and the pearls were bound up with them.  Somewhere in this detangling process, I looked at Brendan and said: “I’m making an executive decision.  Screw the pearls.”  So we charged onward and Brendan got to meet my Christmas Nazi persona in full form.  He really needed work on his ‘zig-zagging’ and ‘nestling’ techniques, but he is a quick learner. 

I think we all learned a lot from the process.  The first, and most obvious lesson, is that you have to weigh down a tree stand when a ten foot tree is involved.  And the second, (and this one is mostly for me), is that no matter how meticulous you are and how steadfastly you hold onto traditions, some of that might slip away from you in the blink of an eye. Still, the important things will find a way of remaining intact.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Downward Snoop Dogg

I tried my first hip hop yoga class this weekend.  Now generally, I find yoga boring and difficult, but this class had the added bonus of also being loud and obnoxious.  Oh well, at least it was long…  
It’s rather unfortunate for my well-being that I not only hate sports, but I also hate exercise in general.  I hear people talk about this endorphin rush they get after exercise and so I keep waiting for exercise to feel like eating a piece of chocolate. This has yet to occur for me.  
Taking a brisk walk in the Public Garden during my lunch break is lovely, but going to a room full of sweaty people to get on machines that go nowhere?  No thank you.  Jogging or running?  No thank you.  Running outside gives me a coughing fit and to quote Liz Lemon on 30Rock while she was mocking the joggers in Central Park: “Look at me!  I'm gonna run around in a circle so I can live longer.
          This all being said, I know I need to make exercise more a part of my routine.  Knowing that winter is coming up and I am not likely to trek out for a brisk walk in 4 degree weather is another reason to try to expand my horizons.  I like swimming, but the logistics of it can often be a pain.  So, if I can psych myself out into approaching yoga as a relaxing, meditative, and continual practice, (like, you know, the Easterners who invented it do), instead of a form of muscle work, maybe it will make it less painful, mentally and physically.  If I could see it as a refuge from daily life instead of as a masochistic chore, maybe it would actually work to motivate me to do it.  I actually do enjoy “Freedom Joy Yoga”, which is offered in the same studio and which also consists of a free dance break in the middle of class.  It gives me a chance to break out “The Tree”, a dance move I was infamous for cultivating in college and sadly, beyond.  The Tree involves waving my hands in the air with my eyes closed as though dancing at Woodstock.  Freedom Joy Yoga is one of the few venues at which such a move is socially acceptable.
          So I thought that perhaps hip hop yoga would be similar.  I imagined some fabulous, un-choreographed hip hop dance break in the middle.  There was no hip hop dance break.  There was only an interminably long hour and a half of vinyasa style yoga set to a poundingly loud soundtrack with approximately 50 sweaty people in the room.  Music that is too loud when I haven't been drinking makes me feel self-conscious that I have become an ornery grandma.  To compound my feeling of being an octogenarian, I also never seem to have the right clothes on.  Everyone else looks so put together, but I always find myself leaving the house still searching for my one ill-fitting sports bra and grabbing the nearest sweats that don’t look too much like pajamas.  Yoga pants are expensive if you can only muster the willpower to tolerate yoga approximately 5 times a year.
I was also having a frustratingly hard time understanding what the instructor was shouting into the microphone between the blaring music and my relative unfamiliarity with the terms.  Unable to focus on relaxing my breathing, with so much aural distraction and my pant legs up to my ears, I spent the first half of class wondering when an appropriate time to sneak off to the bathroom would open up.  I generally don’t engage in any activity that prohibits me from peeing for more than an hour and a half.  I drink a lot of water, (I am a singer... with kidney stones).  I found a time to sneak off to the restroom, and was then locked out of the class and had to get help from the front desk to re-enter.  In hindsight, I just should have left altogether, but my sweatshirt was still in there and my friend Rachele might have worried about my disappearance.
When we were in Warrior Two position, instead of meditating or finding my center, I noticed the room’s dozen or so beautiful Tiffany style light fixtures, and couldn’t help but think about how my $15 dollar class fee had gone toward outfitting the yoga studio’s already presumably expensive Back Bay space.  (I also love how the black stones plunked into the sinks of the otherwise utilitarian locker rooms are supposed to dupe me into believing that we've suddenly been transported to Tibet.) The second 45 minutes of class consisted of writing this blogpost in my head, until I began experiencing a pounding, music-induced headache that being in Downward Dog only exacerbated.  Yes, I am the first to admit that music is a powerful drug, and sometimes its powers are not used for good, like this time, when it seemingly refused to aid me in releasing my shoulder tension.
By the time class was over I was a ball of misery— not exactly the result I was looking for— but I can be proud in the knowledge that I tried something new and excruciating.