Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 94: We Are The World

On Day 94 I braved the cold, icy weather to see one of my favorite bands, Band of Horses, at the Tabernacle with my friend Maribeth. This was not the first time I've seen the band on December 30th and not the first time I've been to the Tabernacle.

Maribeth had a job interview the next day and needed to get home at a reasonable hour. When the band came back for an encore, we decided we'd stay for a couple of songs and then start making our way towards the door.

As Ben, the lead singer, thanked the crowd, I noticed people taking the stage, some of them holding song sheets. Some of them I recognized from the Atlanta music scene. A couple members from the band "The Whigs" were standing next to Patrick, an old friend that I've known since high school.

It was very surreal to see all of these people standing together and I was very confused as to what was going on. I think everyone else was too.
Maribeth shared her confusion aloud, "What is going on?"

I said, jokingly, "I don't know. Maybe this is their version of 'We Are the World.'"

And it was.

I couldn't believe it, but Day 94's thing I've never done before was to see "We are the World" performed live. I had also run in the sleet earlier that day, which is what I was prepared to write about (running in the elements is no fun, by the way).

This unexpected song was way more entertaining. I thought it was awesome.

In fact, the only thing that could've made this performance any better, in my opinion, would have been if Michael Jackson and Tina Turner were there singing it with them. I loved it. I loved it so much that it moved me to become "that girl" at a concert shooting video with her digital camera. I don't know what came over me, but I was giggling like an idiot, holding my camera over my head.

I must've been so happy that I was actually going to have something cool to write about instead of running in inclement weather, I wanted video to prove that it actually happened.

Thanks Band of Horses for such a cool evening.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 93: Celebration at the St. Regis

I woke up in South Carolina on Day 93 and really wanted to take an aerobics class with my mother as the thing I'd never done before. She had other plans, however, and couldn't commit to it, but fingers crossed, that will happen before this year is over. I know it will be a hilarious adventure worth writing about.

Instead, I headed back to Atlanta and went to the St. Regis hotel for my friend Kyle's 30th birthday party celebration as the Day 93 thing I've never done before.

The St. Regis is a beautiful hotel in Buckhead. The hotel and bar are gorgeous. Lots of dark wood and comfortable chairs. There is an outside patio at the bar with a fireplace which was gorgeous too. We had some drinks, talked about our holidays and celebrated the start of Kyle's 30th year.

I felt badly for the waitresses who had to wear what was the equivalent of a turquoise potato sack as their uniform. Beautiful girls working in a beautiful hotel wearing a sad little dress. I wondered if their tips are hurt because of their inability to show skin.

I read a review of the St. Regis and it said it was great for "cougar-hunting." I don't know if I agree with that (at what age does a woman become a cougar anyway? I'm not old enough to be a cougar, right?), but there is a lot of really great people watching.

My personality and my checkbook tends to lean more towards dive bars with draught beers, but going classy every once in a while is fun too. There was a part of me that felt like we were little kids playing dress up, but I definitely hope to go back to the St. Regis.

Day 92: Cruise the Horseshoe

So much of this blog is just going to be about going to places I've never been before, both out of town and where I live. I haven't lived in South Carolina for five years, but I decided to become a tourist in my hometown and go to a place that I've heard people refer to since I was young: the Horseshoe at USC.

My mom agreed to accompany me on this trip, and since she is much more familiar with downtown Columbia, I assumed she would be able to show me where the Horseshoe is. She did not, however, so I eventually just parked the car and we got out and started wandering.

After several minutes, we ran into a gated area that looked very college campusy to me.

"Is this it?," she asked me.

"I don't know. Do you think this is it?"

Before long, it became terribly obvious to even us that yes, this grassy area with a walkway in the shape of a horseshoe was, indeed, the USC Horseshoe that we were looking for.

The area reminded me a lot of North Campus at the University of Georgia where I went. Students were still on Christmas vacation, so there weren't a lot of people walking around.

While at Georgia, I got a job giving tours to visitors and prospective students. I loved that job for many reasons, but I truly loved watching guests marvel at the campus' beauty and history that I was showing them. As I walked through the Horseshoe, on the campus of a school that I didn't go to, I was starting to think that all of those people who acted like they were interested may have just been being nice. One old building started looking like all of the others.

Maybe I should've taken a formal tour instead of my own self-guided version.

The Horseshoe, while nice, doesn't really have the significance to me that I'm sure it does to others who actually went to school there. The same way that North Campus at UGA probably doesn't mean anything to people that weren't Bulldogs.

When it was time to choose a college, I didn't really give the University of South Carolina a whole lot of consideration. I was hell-bent on getting away from my hometown. And I loved Georgia. Still, while standing on the Horseshoe, I considered for a moment that I could've gone to USC and been very happy there.

Don't get me wrong, I made the right decision in going to Georgia. But I'm so glad that instead of nodding absentmindedly when someone talks about the Horseshoe, I now know what they're talking about.

Day 91: Knit Me a Sweater!

The Sunday after Christmas, I helped throw a baby shower for Boston Lindsay at my parents' house. She is one of the many women in my life that is expecting a baby in the spring.

All of these pregnant friends means lots of baby showers in the months ahead. My mom mentioned months before, “You need to learn how to knit so you can make these new moms some gifts.” I think she was kidding.

I was not. And on Day 91, I made my mom teach me how to knit for the thing that I’ve never done before.

My mom walked back to her room and returned with two knitting needles and some yarn attached to a scarf that she had already started. I told her I didn’t want to knit a scarf. There was a reason for my challenge here: I wanted to knit some booties for Lindsay’s baby. Or a hat.

She looked at me, annoyed.

“I don’t know how to knit booties. But if you don’t know how to knit at all you’re not just going to start with making booties,” she said. “You have to learn the basics.”

Once again, my impatience had reared its ugly head. The learning, the perfecting of skills is just not something that I want to deal with. For knitting. Or for anything, really. I’ve tried a lot of things in my 29 years, but I am a Jack of all trades, master of none. I hate that about myself.

Like most skills, there is a natural order of learning to knitting. Learn the stitches, practice them, and once you've mastered the basics, then you can move on to make booties, or hats, or whatever.

I wanted to sit down, learn to knit, and crank out a few pairs of booties right away. I fully expected to take them to Lindsay before I returned to Atlanta and she went back to Boston.

My mom killed that dream. Instead, I learned to knit and purl on her practice scarf.

My dad, who snapped a few pictures of me trying to tackle these stitches said sarcastically, "Wow, I can't wait to read about this in the blog."

True, knitting does not make for exciting reading, or cool pictures, so I'll do us all a favor and keep this short. I look pretty miserable in this picture, but I'm not. That's just intensity. Knitting intensity.

Expectant moms in my life, you can all rest assured that I'll be consulting your registries for your baby gifts this spring. I don't think I'm going to be knitting any booties anytime soon. But if you'd like a piece of the hideous practice scarf my mom and I have been working on, I think I can make it happen.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 90: Polar Bear Plunge

Maybe it was a Christmas hangover (too much excitement from the Christmas crackers perhaps?), but I woke up on Day 90 feeling like crap. I was moping around the house when our family friends and neighbors Mark and Jen, who helped me crash that wedding back in November, came over to my parents to hang out.

At one point during their visit, we all started talking about the blog. This happens a lot when I'm around. My sister-in-law Katie and Mark are two of the blog's biggest fans. In fact, there was a bit of trash-talking between them as to who was the bigger fan. I challenged them to prove to me who was the blog's biggest fan by finding me something to do for the thing I've never done before on Day 90.

We tossed a couple of ideas around, none of which sounded appealing, when my brother Jeff, who I don't think reads the blog at all, looked out the window in my parents' kitchen at the lake and said, "How about a polar bear plunge into Lake Murray? The cold water will make you forget about feeling sick."

I had considered a polar bear plunge for the blog, but I always thought that I would do it into the ocean. I had done some research, and even considered taking a trip to a beach I'd never been to in order to make it happen. Many towns organize these plunges, and large crowds of people trek to the shore and then go running, as a group, full speed in to the surf. I liked the camaraderie of that kind of plunge. I also assumed that the only way I would actually do it is if I was surrounded by other people.

In my head, I also thought my plunge would happen after I had gotten a spray tan, and after I spent months in advance working out. And I assumed that if I allowed people to take pictures of me doing it, I would have applied the appropriate amount of waterproof makeup.

Evident by these pictures, none of these scenarios played out in my actual execution of the plunge. No makeup, no spray tan, little working out as I made Day 90's thing I've never done before perform a polar bear plunge. Yikes.

The total time from the suggestion of the plunge to actual execution of it was no more than 15 minutes. That included me putting my contacts in and changing into shorts.

Being that it was December, I left all of my swimsuits in Atlanta. The only suits I could find in my room at my parent's house were ones that I wore in high school, and that wasn't going to happen. I opted for a pair of dance team shorts instead, circa 1997. I'm not sure that was a better choice.

Everyone was waiting downstairs, cameras in hand, for the big event. Their excitement was encouraging, but I was beyond nervous.

I was hands shaking, stomach in my throat kind of nervous.

Concerning, especially since all I was doing was jumping off a dock into cold water. In South Carolina. I know others who have done polar bear plunges in much colder climates and even colder water. If Mountain Man plunged into the icy waters of New England in January, then certainly I can do this. And if I can't do it, I thought, then how am I ever going to have the gumption to jump out of a plane when it is time to sky-dive? There's no way.

So with the paparazzi ready to snap photos, we headed out to the dock. I thought about taking a long running start, but this whole experience was dramatic enough as is. No need to add to the drama. A short run would suffice.

It was time for the jump. I thought briefly about backing out, considering what the neighbors across the cove were going to think. But actions void of reason like this one require quick action. I had to stop thinking and just do it.

So I did. Jeff was right. I forgot about feeling sick. I couldn't feel anything. My hands, my toes, my arms and legs were all acting independently from the rest of my body. The cold water shocked me, but it was exhilarating. I didn't jump very far from the dock and the boat, but with everyone watching me waiting for my reaction, I felt like it took me forever to swim back. Like I was swimming through molasses.

My mom was waiting for me on the boat with a Snuggie and slippers. It was very comforting and very motherly of her. I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that this Snuggie was purchased in 2008 as a part of the Gallman's "As Seen on TV" Christmas. We were among the original Snuggie owners. So to all of you who got team Snuggies this Christmas and think you're so funny and clever for ordering something off TV, I want you to know that the Gallmans had them first.

The plunge didn't go down like I thought it would. It was unplanned, terribly ungraceful and imperfect. A lot like life, I guess. I certainly didn't expect this silly stunt to be emotional in anyway, but when I jumped into the water and looked back at the dock to see six of my favorite people smiling at me, I felt so supported and really loved at that ridiculous moment in time. They were all rooting for me to jump into the cold lake (probably so they could laugh at my stupidity). But they're really rooting for me in life. The water was cold, but I felt all warm inside.

Later that day, I checked Facebook and saw that Katie had updated her status, "Katie Calhoun Gallman loved watching my sister-in-law Steph jump into Lake Murray today" and it made me smile.

I loved it too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 89: Christmas Family Tradition

My family is big on tradition, especially at Christmas.

Up until a few years ago, my mom used to read, “Twas the Night before Christmas,” to my brother Jeff and me every Christmas Eve. When we were children, listening to her read us the story made perfect sense. The tradition lasted well into our adulthood, however, and we eventually found ourselves drinking wine as she read it to us,still in a dramatic voice, still changing the words from, “laying a finger aside of his nose,” to “laying a finger inside of his nose,” cracking herself up. If she's desperate for grandchildren, I think it's just so she'll have someone new to read it to.

Another tradition in my house, also started by my mom, is the celebrity gift tags on all of our presents. Unlike the other kids in the neighborhood who received presents from “Santa” and “Mom & Dad,” I’ve received gifts over the years from Strawberry Shortcake, Carrie Bradshaw, and Oprah. Jeff gets presents from Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Spurrier, and up until his recent troubles, Tiger Woods.

My dad has made a tradition out of checking the living room before anyone else is allowed to go in there to "make sure that Santa came." Santa hasn't been coming for many years, but my dad makes this a big production every year.

Jeff tried to add, “Getting drunk on bourbon and eggnog,” to our list of Christmas traditions, but he was the only one who could actually stomach an entire glass of eggnog, so that one fell flat.

Certainly, I thought, there is something out there that I bring to the Gallman household that could stand the test of time like the crazy gift tags and, “‘Twas the Night before Christmas.” My sister-in-law Katie's debut Christmas with our family deserved it, so Day 89’s thing I’ve never done before was to start a family Christmas tradition.

But what kind of tradition?

I asked this question of myself and out loud to my co-workers a few days before Christmas.

My colleague Sara heard me and said excitedly, “Does your family do Christmas Crackers?”

Fatty over here heard "crackers" and immediately thought Sara meant crackers like Saltines or Wheat Thins. I furrowed my brow, indicating confusion. I had never heard of such crackers.

Sara continued, "You know, like the little favors that you pop open? With the paper crowns inside?"

I shook my head, still confused. Sara saw my blank look, walked over to my desk and pulled up a website on the Internet to show me.

Once I saw a picture of the cracker I knew what she was talking about. Kind of. I’d definitely seen them before, but hadn’t ever participated in this tradition. Christmas crackers, I learned, are a part of English holiday celebrations. They are cardboard tubes with little toys inside. Two people hold on to each side of the cracker and pull it a part (like a wishbone). Whoever gets the bigger side gets to keep all of the goodies inside the cracker.

“Well what kinds of things are inside,” I asked, hoping she would say diamonds, or money.

“Nothing crazy,” Sara replied. “Small toys, paper crowns, little stuff.”

Damn. Too bad.

I kept asking Sara questions, like where do I find Christmas crackers? How much do they cost? How did she know about them?

Sara told me her mom is responsible for bringing Christmas crackers into her household after she learned of them from her English neighbors. They’ve been a part of her family’s Christmas celebration ever since.

Sara was happy to lend me the idea, and even willing to pick up the Christmas crackers for me when she picked up some for herself at Party City.

I liked the Christmas cracker tradition already. Good, cheap, non-alcoholic fun for the entire family. No work. No stress.

When I arrived in South Carolina on Christmas night, I announced to my family that I was starting a family tradition for the blog. With Christmas crackers! They all looked at me like I was ridiculous, which I’m used to, but after a couple of drinks, and opening a few gifts, everyone was much more agreeable and they played along.

Jeff and Katie grabbed their crackers first and pulled. I was expecting a “pop” that would indicate the cracker had been cracked, but it was far less dramatic than I had hoped.

But just as Sara promised, in each Christmas cracker, there were toys, a joke, and a paper crown.

I demanded that everyone put their crowns on. My sister-in-law, the trooper that she is immediately complied and began to play with the whistle that was inside.

Mom and Dad went next, and again there was no exciting “crack,” but soon we all had a toy, we all read our jokes aloud, and we all were wearing paper crowns. Even my dad, whose crown ripped a little bit (I think his head is on the bigger side) left his on through our entire dinner.

I guess we won't really know the success of this challenge until next year to see if Christmas crackers are a part of Christmas 2010. But if I have anything to say about it, the Gallmans will all be wearing paper crowns to dinner next year, and every year after that.

Day 88: Salad Shooter

Christmas Eve had finally arrived and because I couldn't go home to South Carolina until Christmas Day, my friend Dayton invited me over to her house for Christmas Eve dinner. I accepted her invitation, and since she was cooking dinner, I offered to bring a salad.

I made Day 88's thing I've never done before make salad dressing from scratch.

I know, enough with the food already. But it was Christmas, and I was burnt out with all of the parties and shopping. I needed a blog break. And I needed something to take to Dayton's, so salad dressing it was. This is one of the first blog food challenges that did not require me going to the store. I actually used what I already had in my cupboards and refrigerator.

Garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spicy mustard, some salt and sugar. Voila! I did it.

The salad and the dressing were a hit. Dayton and her family all raved about it, which made me feel good.

I have one more cooking challenge and then I'm done for a while. I promise. It's getting a little ridiculous with all of the food.

All of my blog chatter about not having knives to cut with scored me two in my stocking this Christmas, so Gift Gods if you're listening, I carried my beautiful salad, with my homemade dressing, over to Dayton's in a mixing bowl. Just saying...

Day 87: Chex Yo Self

By the time Christmas week had rolled around, I had O.D.’ed on holiday sweets, thanks to a constant flow of cookies, cakes and fudge at work. I'm not even counting the fabulous recipes I had tried out for the first time. My waistline was expanding, and I was getting a little sick of the sweets, when another food challenge came to me by way of my friend Bug (real name: Jennifer).

Bug and I had been trying to get together before the holidays and I suggested a Wednesday night dinner. She said fine, but said that was also the night she and her mom (Susan) were going to be making Chex Mix for their neighbors and friends. I had never made Chex Mix from scratch, so I asked if I could join in their family tradition and make that Day 87's thing I've never done before.

They said sure.

So I went. For dinner and some Chex Mix. Which actually ended up being more like Chex Mix with some dinner, because the second I arrived there I started eating some of the mix that Susan had already made. Apparently the sweets hadn’t completely filled me up.

I wasn’t the only one, either. In between games on the Wii, Bug’s husband, Sean and her brother, Scott (also good friends of mine) would take frequent timeouts, grab a handful of Chex Mix and then head back to play more. Did I mention we’re all grown adults, not 8-year olds? We were childlike, almost, spoiling our dinner with Chex Mix.

While waiting for dinner to cook, Susan gave me a crash course in Chex Mix preparation, going first to the corner of the kitchen where she pulled out a large white trash can filled more than half way full of already mixed Chex cereal (corn, wheat, and rice), Cheerios, pretzels, and several kinds of nuts.

I like Susan's style. It reminds me of something my own mother would do. My mom cuts pizza with scissors. She would be in favor of mixing an obscene amount of Chex Mix in a trash can.

I wanted to dive into that trash can, but I refrained.

Bug brought out Christmas hats while Susan brought out a pan and a few simple ingredients, including butter, Worcestershire sauce, some garlic and onion powder. Again, just like my own mom would, Susan casually threw some ingredients into the pan. She instructed me to pick up the Worcestershire sauce and pour it in.

"How much?" I asked, as I started pouring, concerned there was no measuring.

"That's enough," she replied.

At what age do women who cook stop using recipes and measuring cups. Is that an age thing? Is that what happens when I turn 30? Is that when I'll just "know" how much onion powder to throw in there?

After all of the butter mixture was put together, we went to the trash can and scooped out several cups of the mix and threw it in the pan. Susan told me to stir the Chex mix with the butter mixture.

"And that's it," she said. "Now we put it into the oven for 15 minutes, take it out and stir it again. For an hour."

Chex Mix is easy! Time consuming, but easy.

For one hour, I monitored the timer closely and took out the pan to stir the mixture. My diligence completely paid off because when it was done, it was awesome.

Though not easy for her to do since she normally just makes the mix from memory, Susan managed to write down her recipe for me to take home. After a few glasses of wine, I showed my thanks with a Sharpie, decorating Susan's Chex Mix trash can, hence the name of this blog.

I think of all the holiday treats I have sampled and made myself, Chex Mix might be my favorite. They sell bagged Chex Mix in the grocery store year-round, so must I wait until next Christmas to make this again?

I don't think I can.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 86: 3-D Mania

Day 86's thing I've never done before was to see a 3D movie, Avatar.

It was my friend John (Christmas Party John, not Hunting John) who came up with this idea and though I rarely see movies, I was happy to go along, for the blog. John also suggested we get Filet-o-Fish meals from McDonald's beforehand, but I didn't want to blow two blog entries in one day, so we're saving the fish for another time.

I like movies, but I hardly ever go. If I do go, I rarely see big blockbusters like this one. If everyone else likes it and it has a cult following and people are camping out for tickets, (think Twilight, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), I've probably never seen/read it. I'm a positive person, but for some reason, anything with outrageous popularity often becomes unattractive to me.

For the record, I have tried to read all of these books. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but I think Twilight is for 16-year olds, I think Harry Potter is for 13-year olds and I think Lord of the Rings is for 30-year olds who still live in their parent's basement. I did have to watch Lord of the Rings for a college class and didn't hate it as much as I thought I would. I doubt I would watch it again, though.

There's just something about fantasy and the supernatural that turns me off of these films as well, so I was a little concerned about going to see Avatar. I find real life drama to be way more interesting and complex than anything someone could make up. I'd rather immerse myself in that than in wizards and vampires and avatars. I worried that I'd look at John during the movie and say, annoyed, "Oh, like this could really happen!" Uh, yes, Stephanie, that's actually the point.

Usually when people go to the movies, there is a great deal of discussion about what movie the group will see. Well we already knew we were going to see Avatar, but there was still a lot of conversation because there are at least three different ways to see the film. There's Regular (2-D, I'm assuming), Suped Up on 3-D, or Super Suped up on IMAX. Our IMAX theater wasn't offering it, though, so John and I went 3-D.

The ticket sales guy gave us our individually wrapped glasses along with our tickets and I noticed immediately that these were not your average cardboard 3-D glasses. They were actual plastic frame glasses. Not. Attractive. In fact the style prompted a conversation about BCGs (Birth Control Glasses), as they are called in the military. John's brother used to make BCGs in the Army.

Still, I was excited about them and demanded that John take my picture while we were standing in the concession stand line so that you can see just how unattractive they are.

We got our snacks (read: industrial sized popcorn and enough soda to drown us) and took our seats just in time for my favorite part of going to the movies: the previews. Odd, since I will likely never see any of the movies they are promoting. But I love it when they edit all of the film's best clips and set them to music. I almost always look at the person sitting next to me and say, "That looks awesome. I can't wait to see it!"

I didn't know much about Avatar prior to going into the film, other than James Cameron created it and he's the genius behind Aliens (the sequel to Alien, which I didn't know until movie buff Ben pointed it out) and Titanic. He had the idea for Avatar many years ago, but couldn't make it happen because the technology didn't exist to execute. I know that everyone measures success differently, but I think we can all agree that if you come up with an idea before the technology even exists to make it happen, you are a success! And as of this writing, Avatar is the largest grossing film of all time. Double success!

I've read since that people experienced motion sickness while watching the film, but I fortunately did not. I found the glasses and the experience to be a little strange at first, but after a half an hour, I was used to it and I was fine. It was like I was a part of the action, swinging from branches in Pandora and riding the dinosaur/bird-looking things. I wouldn't be surprised if the viewers in front of John and me got motion sickness, as they were partially watching the film and partially text messaging for the entire two and a half hours.

I wanted to hate Avatar just because everyone else was talking about how amazing it was, but I couldn't. The story, the 3-D and special effects, were all really cool. It was great. I didn't even mind that it was epic long or that it was make believe. I was thoroughly entertained the whole time. The quote I've used numerous times telling people what I thought about the film: "Seriously, I hate shit like this and I loved it. Go see it."

John sent me an email the next day with a link to an article (click here) about people who have become depressed after seeing Avatar because they long to live in a place as perfect as Pandora. I laughed at the article, because it seemed completely ridiculous to me. It's a movie, folks, settle down. Then I laughed at the photograph attached to the article, especially the guy in the second row eating a pizza all by himself.

I can't believe people are depressed about this movie. There are so many things going on in the world to be depressed about. Don't put Avatar on the list.

Instead, Avatarize Yourself, as I have done, and be happy. No, we can't live in Pandora, but we can all waste valuable time uploading pictures of ourselves to ridiculous programs like this one.

Life is good! So is Avatar.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 85: Debt Proofing Christmas

Putting off my Christmas shopping is definitely not something new for me. I've been doing that for most of my life. So when I began my Christmas shopping on December 21st, I wasn't really nervous.

What did make me nervous was that Day 85's thing I've never done was set, and stick to, a budget for Christmas.

This doesn't sound like a big deal to most people who have been doing it for years. Not me. I take an enormous amount of pride in being a really good gift-giver (really good) and each year I'm in competition with myself to see if I can out-do what I did the year before. I know when it comes to giving gifts that it is the thought that counts, but my thoughts are big. Big and expensive thoughts. Broadway tickets, a ride along in a NASCAR Race Car, a personalized painting by a local artist are just some of the gifts that I've dreamed up, and executed over the years.
I truly don't know what comes over me. It's like I forget I have a salary and that it's not infinite. I'm sure there's some psychological explanation for this behavior (like I'm crazy), but when I see something I like for someone, I buy it.

And I spend the months following Christmas wishing that I hadn't.

Last Christmas I was in Asia for three weeks and bought several items for my family that could've doubled as both souvenirs and Christmas gifts. But when I returned to Atlanta, I still managed to take another shopping trip and returned with a $200 Indo Board for my brother.

What every newly engaged real estate agent Indo Board?! I went into the store looking for a fleece jacket and came out an hour later with this new toy. It was a fun, and my entire family played with it on Christmas Day. But I haven't seen Jeff play on it since that day. Maybe the fleece would've been more practical. Maybe there is a less expensive toy that we could've all played with? A kazoo, perhaps?

Well this year, it was time to get serious about not going overboard. Before I left, I wrote a list of what I wanted to buy and how much I wanted to spend and I went out in search of those items. Just those items. I paid cash for everything and I resisted the urge to add "just one more thing." I almost fell off the wagon, wanting to get Moody Blues tickets for my dad, but at $70 a piece that would've been breaking the rules in a big way. So I got him an autographed picture of Robin Meade as an "extra thing" instead. It cost me nothing and he loved it!

I will never stop loving buying gifts for people, and I don't want to ever stop being generous, but I'm fighting the urge to let it get out of hand.

I debt-proofed Christmas and I'm debt-proofing my life.

Day 84: My Brother, Married Homeowner

Charleston, South Carolina is like my home away from home. I didn't grow up there, but many of my colleagues assume that I did because I talk about it so much. I lived there for a year after I first graduated from college and I miss it. A lot.

Lucky for me, I have an arsenal of people that I know and love that still do live there, so I visit often. Among them, several of my best friends from high school, my college roommate and my newly married brother and his wife. Many times, I don't figure out where I'm staying until I get there.

The weekend I was in Charleston for Mitch's wedding was not that kind of weekend. I mapped out my lodging plans well in advance because Day 84's thing I've never done before was to stay at my married brother's new house.

We talked about this plan over Thanksgiving, when I first hung out with Jeff as a married man. He seemed receptive, which was somewhat alarming, as he was not always so agreeable.

I recall several instances over the years when I told him I was coming to Charleston and the first thing he said to me was a variation of the same question, "You weren't planning on staying at my house, were you?"

Uh, well no, I guess not.

This time was different. I called several days before my arrival just to make sure that it was still okay if I stayed there. "Yes, of course," Jeff said during our conversation, "I thought we already talked about it."

"Well, yes, we did, but . . .," I stopped. No need to drudge up the past. This is Married Jeff. He's different.

Following the wedding that I attended, I met up with Jeff, Katie and all of their friends at the "Friends of GPS Christmas Party," a party that started with a mere five participants that has grown over the years into quite a soiree at least 20 people strong.

It would be a stretch to say that I was extended an invitation to the party, but just getting to join the after-party was enough to witness the extravaganza this party has become. Everyone was having a good time and we closed the bars down before heading back to the house.

Katie and Jeff's house is a 1970s ranch-style home that they bought from the original owners who were looking to downsize. It's in great condition, and in a perfect location, but was in need of some updates. I first saw the house during their wedding weekend, but since then, they've taken down wallpaper, knocked out a wall, repainted several rooms and the trim, and replaced some bathroom fixtures.

Between all of the improvements and the decorating, I was impressed.

Not shocked, though. My brother has lived in some pretty great places in his lifetime, and I've been to visit most of them. My favorite was a doublewide trailer in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina when he was in college. Not many guys out there can say they shared a doublewide with three of their friends, but my brother can. All of his places have been clean, as Jeff is a tidy person, but they were all full of mismatched furniture and strange decorations and all screamed, "DUDES LIVE HERE!"

When he bought a condo near Folly Beach, South Carolina, Jeff took a sincere interest in home improvement and carpentry. These interests manifested in several unfinished projects and several pieces of furniture made out of plywood. Something tells me now that he has a home and a wife, he won't rip carpet out of a room without plans to replace it or just let a hole in the bathroom ceiling exist at all for very long.

When we got back to Jeff and Katie's, the party continued, and I saw that owning a home hadn't really changed things. Late night was still allowed, and pretty soon Jeff and his best friend Trey were blasting Phish DVDs just like they used to at their beach condo on Isle of Palms. I remember thinking back to all of the other times I've seen this scenario play out at all of the other places that Jeff's ever lived.

It was a chilly evening, so we considered breaking in the fireplace. Jeff retrieved a starter log from the hallway closet, and I thought we were going to have a nice cozy fire at the new house. Only he lit the starter log on fire and then went back to his DVDs. I don't think there was any other firewood to burn, and he never went in search of any. He may be married, he may be a homeowner, but he's still Jeff.

When it was time to go to sleep, I still had to sleep on the couch, but only because there were already people in the guest room. I've slept on couches, futons and floors at Jeff's houses over the years, but this time there were blankets! And extra pillows!

There may have been DVDs strewn all over the floor, empty beer bottles on the coffee table and every light still on when I woke up, but I was warm and cozy and didn't have an uncomfortable crick in my neck, so I'm going to call the night a dramatic improvement and an overall success. I like Jeff with a house.
It was lovely to take a shower in a clean bathroom and not have to go in search of something to dry off with, only to come back with a damp beach towel. Katie directed me to the hallway closet where I had my choice of new, clean and fluffy towels.

And Jeff's bed had a bed skirt on it. I remember my mom tried to give him a bed skirt for Christmas once and he looked at her like she was insane. Putting a bed skirt on a bed was simply too much for bachelor Jeff, but thanks to Katie, I have no idea what's underneath their bed now.

When I opened the cabinets to look for a glass, I was happy to see an assortment of matching glassware next to my brother's plethora of plastic cups he is always drinking from.

Jeff was still lying in bed, struggling to get moving when he grabbed his head and said, "I love the holidays, but I can't wait until they're over so I can get back to work on my house."

His statement made me laugh, but it also made me think. Like some of my other friends, taking wedding vows didn't really change Jeff, but owning a home certainly has. Instead of staying out all hours of the night and feeling like crap the next day, staying in and being productive has become a priority.

Before we left to go to lunch he showed me the attic and the backyard, where the latest improvement had gone down a couple of weeks prior, when they decided to have years of overgrown plants and bushes ripped out. The yard is now a blank canvas, waiting for Jeff and Katie to personalize it, or leave it a dirt pit for their dogs, Penny and Ron.

I'm anxious to see how else Jeff and Katie will update their house the longer they live there. But for now I'm glad to have a permanent place to stay with clean towels and matching glasses.

Day 83: Summerall Chapel

Day 83's thing I've never done before was to go to the Summerall Chapel on the campus of the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina. My friend Mitch and his beautiful bride Marisa got married there the weekend before Christmas.

The Summerall Chapel was built in 1936 and is a shrine of religion, of patriotism, and of remembrance. From an aerial view, the red clay tile on the roof forms a cross. The Chapel is beautiful and so was the wedding.

I went into the wedding timidly, not really knowing who was going to be there. Mitch and I were friends in high school, so I kind of had an idea, but I cruised in solo praying that I would find at least one person to hang out with. Fortunately, there were several old friends there and it was fun to catch up. It was especially great to see Mitch and meet Marisa. They are a great couple and I'm so happy for them!

I also got the fastest speeding ticket in the history of my driving career on the way to Charleston. I didn't even have time to flash the officer a pretty smile or give him a reason for why I was going 85 in a 70.

He pulled me over and wrote me a ticket and I was on my way in ten minutes.

Efficiency. That's what I like in a police department when they're writing me tickets.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 82: Dad, Please Don't Read This

In case the title isn't clear enough, Dad, I'm going to have to ask that you not read this blog.

The 30th birthday parties are underway among my girlfriends. Actually since I have friends of all ages, the parties have been going on for several years now, but for some reason the latest to turn the big 3-0 is making me painfully aware of how quickly my big birthday is approaching.

Day 82's thing I've never done before was to attend a "Dirty 30" birthday party for two of my friends, Trish and Kyle.

My friend Momo (real name: Maureen) had attended this type of party, also known as a XXX Christmas gift exchange, and decided she wanted to host one of her own, in honor of our friends' birthdays and for the holidays.

The concept was simple: bring a lingerie/sex toy gift for a White Elephant/Yankee Swap game.

Dad, seriously, stop reading this. It's going to make the next time we see each other super awkward. Mom, Jeff, boss Paul, you can all stop reading too.

I picked up my gift at Victoria's Secret, just like I have for the countless bachelorette parties I have thrown and attended over the years. Not a big deal, I'm an old pro at this. If I'd had time I would've gone to Inserection, a completely creepy but hilarious "Adult Store" to pick up something else.

When I arrived, everyone was chatting and laughing. I could tell right away that Momo had outdone herself. There was an elaborate food display, a cranberry champagne punch bowl, beautiful decorations. I didn't know it then, but I would soon learn that her effort was far too classy for what was about to go down. But at that point, I wasn't thinking anything was terribly out of the ordinary. Just an all-girls holiday get-together. No biggie. Momo passed around a bowl full of Christmas jingle bells that were numbered. I drew #2, which meant I would only have one gift to possibly steal. Not a good number.

Kristen drew #1. I'm not sure if this was her strategy or if she wasn't wanting to take any chances because she chose her own gift, a modest pair of pajamas.

Then it was my turn to either steal Kristen's gift or open another one. The pajamas were nice, but I wanted to see what else was out there, so I chose a nicely wrapped square box from under Momo's Christmas tree and took it back to my seat. All eyes were on me as I tore the paper and lifted the lid and removed the items inside, nervous laughter spilling out from me like a faucet.

Inside the pretty little package was a red see-through teddy, crotchless underwear (yes, I just typed "crotchless") and my favorite, a pair of fingerless gloves with ribbons on the wrists, presumably for tying the wearer's hands together or to piece of furniture? The tag said, "One size fits most."

My friend Trish, who purchased this raunchy gift began apologizing immediately and profusely, reading the expression on my face for disappointment that I didn't get something better. She apparently couldn't tell that I wasn't disappointed. I was just mortified.

Everyone was laughing. I started to sweat. I think I actually said at one point, "Is it hot in here?"

Lots of questions began running through my mind at this point, including, 1. Where the hell did Trish find it? 2. What possessed her to buy it? 3. Do people actually wear this kind of stuff?

While I'm trying to reconcile the answers to all of these questions, birthday girl Kyle shouts out, "Since it's my birthday, I'd like to make a rule that everyone has to wear whatever item they get on the outside of their clothes!"

Oh well that's a fun idea, Kyle! Sike.

So as if it wasn't bad enough that I had to open this outfit and hold it up in front of everyone, but then I had to put it on. My face was bright red and my hands were sweating.

I don't know why I was so embarrassed. I'm 29-years-old, for heaven's sake. I have dedicated myself to writing a year-long blog revealing every personal thing about myself. Why the sudden desire to play innocent? Plus, these women are my best friends and this was a game, this was all in good fun. Why the nerves?

I don't know. My own reaction surprised me too. I'm not bothered by sex toys or lingerie. Except, apparently, when they are given to me.

Luckily, I sitting next to Shelley who provided just the amount of comic relief that I needed to relax. She opened several awesome gifts, all of which were stolen from her. My favorite was definitely the 'Mrs. Santa Claus' number. I'm still not sure what she ended up with.

The game moved forward and I watched with sincere interest to see the items that were most commonly stolen. My plum nightie was popular, as were all of the holiday inspired items. I also loved seeing the pleasant but annoyed looks on some of the women's faces when their gift was taken from them. For the sake of the blog not getting moved to an "unsuitable" corner of the Internet, I'll just say there were some pretty suggestive movies, toys and devices that are now occupying my friends' homes.

I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my bright red ensemble and matching cuffs was going to be mine forever, when late in the game, to my surprise, my newly engaged friend Melissa piped up from the couch, "Gallman, hand over the cuffs."

"Say wha?"

Wowza, Thomas is in for a big surprise. Trish, happy that her gift was stolen said to me recently, "I need to ask Melissa how that's working out for her."

Her stealing my gift meant that I had to open another one. This time I chose Maribeth's, which was full of several goodies, my favorite being an Exotica Mask ala Eyes Wide Shut. So weird. Again, with the questions, 1. Where did she find it? 2. Are people really turned on by feathered masks? 3. Will the guys that read my blog be more interested in me now that they know I have it, and some other fun toys?

The mask did come in handy in that it let me hide from the rest of the gift-giving. It made for some awkward moments the next day, however, when I was in Charleston with my high school friend Danielle. As I was taking my luggage out of my car, her 7-year old daughter caught a glimpse of the mask in the backseat.

"Aunt Steph, what's that?" she asked, pointing at it.

Danielle and I looked at each other, trying not to laugh and Danielle said, "Karson, sometimes Aunt Steph likes to dress up in costumes."

Thanks, friends, for forcing me to face my fears and for forcing me to explain to a 7-year old the weird twisted activites I participate in on the weekends.

I live in fear of my own bachelorette party.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 81: Deer Hunting for Dummies

If there is one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that after participating in a late night of drinking, planned or unplanned, there are several things that one should not participate in.

Among them:

1. Call someone. Call anyone.
2. Operate a firearm.

I managed to stay off the phone after the impromptu wine tasting (thank God), but I already had big plans for the next day that couldn’t be changed. Wine haze or not, Day 81's thing I've never done before was to go deer hunting and shoot a pistol.

This adventure was put together by my friend John, who is an avid hunter. When I first learned of his hunting pastime, I was surprised. That's a lie. I was shocked. John, lover of the Grateful Dead, the Black Crowes, who spent eight years as a Park Ranger in Jackson Hole and looks more like a Colorado hippie than a Southern outdoorsman, hunts? A walking contradiction, that John. Much like myself.

Before we went I sent John an email asking him what I needed to wear and what I needed to bring. He emailed me back, "You will not need too much stuff, the real challenge will be to see if you can sit still and be silent for 3 or 4 hours!"

Ahh, yes. He knows me well.

In a separate paragraph of the email, after telling me that I needed to dress warmly in clothes I didn't care about messing up, he also said:

No makeup. Definitely NO perfume. No earrings that sparkle in the sun.

We had a conversation about these three things at work later that day. The no perfume made sense. The no sparkly earrings I understood. But, no makeup?

"Who are you wearing makeup for? The deer don't care if you're wearing makeup," he said.

He had a point, I suppose. A deer staring down the barrel of the gun I'm about to kill him with probably won't care whether or not I'm wearing mascara or whether or not my face is shiny. But I'll care. And if I’m successful, and therefore forced to snap the obligatory hold-the-deer-by-its-antlers picture on the back of John's pickup truck, I want to look at least presentable. Plus, makeup is just part of my routine. For me, it's like putting on pants.

John just shook his head and said, "Whatever."

I compromised. I just wore mascara, and chapstick. That's it. I swear.

John's family has a hunting cabin and 178 acres of land about twenty miles east of Athens, Georgia. I followed him over there from Atlanta, since he was planning on hunting for several days and I was just staying for the day. He’s hard core. I am not.

In case any of you sticklers for the rules were wondering, the fact that John had this cabin, and this land was the only reason that I could actually go on this excursion without a hunting license. Apparently on private property, any complete moron can fire a weapon if the owners say it's ok. Including me!

I love cabins and mountains and woods. Or at least I thought I did. I’ve been trying to drum up support for a mountain weekend with my friends for years now, but nothing has ever panned out. But the kind of mountain weekend in my head is one in a heated cabin with a stone fireplace, vaulted ceilings, central heat and a full kitchen. We would make chili, drink microbrews and play board games. This cabin was not like that. It was the real deal, rustic kind of cabin with no heat or air conditioning. There was a stone fireplace, but there wasn’t a refrigerator or stove. All of the food and beer John would be eating and drinking for the days he planned to be there was packed in coolers.

Too bad deer season is in the wintertime, I thought. I think I could've stayed there in the summertime. But I’m a sissy when it comes to the cold, and there was no way I would’ve lasted the night in the winter months.

After unpacking John’s truck, he helped outfit me in the most ridiculous hunting getup that included olive green pants (that were so big they fit over the jeans I was wearing and I rolled the waistband), a camouflaged jacket and an orange vest. I felt like the marshmallow man and looked even worse. I sort of hoped that I might be that girl that could pull off looking good in camouflage. Unfortunately, I was not.

He then gave me a thorough lesson in gun safety, including how to load the weapon, how to engage and disengage the safety, and when ready, how to fire. My heart raced raced throughout his instructions. This was the closest I’d ever been to a gun that could actually do some damage. John then he looked at me, with a very serious look in his eye and asked me if I wanted to carry my own shotgun into the woods.

I thought about it. Surprisingly, that was the first time I thought about the fact that this was my chance to shoot a rifle and possibly kill an animal. Prior to that, the experience of going deer hunting was just that for me, all about the experience.

I didn’t know how to answer him. I didn’t want to not get the full experience, but I’ve also seen enough After School Specials to know how horribly wrong this could all go. Guns are scary. I decided not to carry a rifle and let John carry his. If we saw any deer (and he explained, that’s always a big if), then we could decide when we were out there who would shoot it.

We took off into the woods on a pathway that as John had earlier showed me on a map, almost split the plot of land in half. We were walking and casually chatting for no more than 15 minutes, when I saw two deer approach us on the pathway.

I looked at John, who was on my left, certain that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

"John?” I whispered through my teeth.

He continued talking, unaware that I had said anything. He was telling me about the cabin that was originally built right after the Civil War.

“My dad and my uncle recently re-stoned the fireplace . . .," he said. To me it sounded like "blah, blah, blah," as I became paralyzed with the fact that I saw at least two more deer join the first two that I already saw.

I finally stopped walking and said his name again.


He paused and looked at me.

"I think there are some deer on the pathway right in front of us," I said, trying not to move my mouth or any part of my body.

His eyes widened and he turned to look to see what I saw.

"Don't move," he said, which was completely unnecessary because I hadn't moved since I saw the deer.

Then he told me get my camera. Mixed messages, John! How can I get my camera and stay still so as not to scare the deer? But this illustrates why I love John. Because of willingness to sacrifice the deer for the sake of good blog photos. Sorry to disappoint, I was unable to get my camera, so there are no pictures, at least not of this.

We stood there, frozen for a few minutes in a stare down with the deer. Then John lifted his shotgun to his arm and aimed it towards them. I realized this could've been it. My hunting excursion could've been a success in the first 30 minutes we were out there.

John told me before we went that he had already killed three deer that season, and had a freezer full of meat, so unless I told him to, he was only going to kill what he called a "trophy buck." I think that he meant the kind that you hang on the wall.

None of these deer were "trophy bucks," but John had a clear shot of all four of them. He looked at me, us both knowing he had the shot. He actually had his choice of four shots. We were in a stare down with the deer.

"Do you want me to kill one?," John asked.

Again, a question I hadn't yet considered. There we were. This is it. This is deer hunting! I thought for a moment how proud my dad would be if next week instead of some lame Christmas gift, I instead brought him a cooler full of deer meat.

And then I thought about what would've taken place after the kill. The approach to the bloody, lifeless animal and the carry back to the truck and then the processing of the meat. Would I have to be a part of that? I also saw my sister-in-law Katie's face staring at the deer meat and then at me with a look that said, "Sissy, you told him to shoot?!"

Finally, I had my answer. "I don't think I want you to," I barely squeaked out.

After we let the deer go and realized they probably weren't coming back because they were "spooked." I wondered if getting "spooked" meant that they sensed some hunter and his novice friend with a blog were contemplating killing one of them. Eventually they all ran away into the forest and we resumed our walk.

Seeing the deer so quickly was surprising to me. Seeing them at all was extra surprising to John. He looked at me, smiled and said, "You do understand that what just happened here never happens.” He went on to tell me that his friend hasn't seen a deer in three years. Poor guy. I saw four within the first half hour. I must be a deer whisperer.

The rest of the day we moved through the land listening for a sound that might've meant a deer was nearby. There was a lot of creeping (not in the Jersey Shore kind of way, I mean walking slowly through the woods, trying not to make any noise) and a lot of pausing, listening and crouching down. We sat for hours and just waited.

I was a pretty worthless hunter. My favorite part was using this little deer call that John let me turn over to let out a sound that attracts the deer.

I did cause a little bit of excitement when I swore I saw a buck's antlers about 50 yards away as we were leaving the woods and heading back to the house. We stopped, stayed still and waited for the shot. I'm now convinced that those antlers were just leaves on a twig. Whoops. Sorry, John.

Silence, solitude, a oneness with nature. I guess I understand why so many people like hunting. I thought it was boring, however. So boring, in fact, that I fell asleep twice. Apparently that's what happens when I don't talk for several hours.

My favorite part of the day was sitting at John's cabin drinking beers afterwards. John gave me healthy dose of advice that I was seeking the whole day but couldn't ask for because I had to be quiet. And better than other friends who give me advice, John also handed me a pistol and let me really work through my issues. I'm a terrible shot, but I didn't care.

Friends who will listen and give you advice? Good. Friends with cabins and guns? Even better.

Day 80: A Shot Tasting Twofer

Day 80’s thing I’ve never done before was get a swine flu shot.

A definite sign of the times, considering the swine flu didn’t even exist a year ago.

Getting the vaccine came so highly recommended, but I still wasn't sure I wanted it. I've never had any sort of flu shot. I asked co-workers if they were planning yo get it. I got mixed reviews, but supporters of the vaccine all looked at me like I was crazy for even questioning it.

“Yes, of course you should get it! It’s free!”

I like free stuff. But this is a shot. I don’t like shots, even if they’re free.

“Why wouldn’t you?”

Because maybe the swine flu is much ado about nothing? And because nobody knows anything about this vaccine?

“If you get the swine flu and come in here and affect everyone, Stephanie, I’m gonna be pissed.”

Well if you get the vaccine, then you should be safe, right?

In the end, I got the shot. Not because I was worried about getting the swine flu and not because I thought my immune system couldn"t handle it if I did. I did it for the blog. I didn't like it, though. I pride myself on being a pretty healthy person and I’m completely drug free. Free of antibiotics, prescriptions, until this day, vaccines. In my head, I was tougher for not participating in modern medicine. Getting the shot made me just like everyone else. A swine-flu free wuss.

I thought that would be it for this day. Day 80 took an unexpected turn, however, when I met my friend Melanie for dinner at a restaurant in my neighborhood, The Glenwood. The food was good, but the dinner wasn't particularly extraordinary.

That is, until the manager of the place, an Al Pacino looking gentleman stopped by our table and invited us next door to hear the jazz band that plays there every Wednesday night. Melanie and I looked at each other and said, "Why not?"

The manager, who I will call Al, ended up treating us to a mutliple glass wine tasting at his bar. He told us of his adventures in Italy, and he knew so much about wine, we assumed he could've been from there, or at least spent a lot of time there. Al was from Georgia, though. He told us about the film "Bottle Shock" and told me I must see it (Melanie already had). Then he mixed up some White Russians and showed us how to tie our scarves the way Europeans do.

We shut the bar down, but not before we met Al's wife, who is also a restaurant manager and his son and his son's girlfriend, who both work at the restaurant. The night was so unexpected and so fun. Al refused to let us pay for any of it. He wouldn't even let us leave him a tip. It was like we were all old friends drinking at his house.

So, Day 80 was a twofer. A swine flu, wine-tasting twofer. Not too shabby.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 79: You Are What You Bake

A little less than two weeks to go, and Christmas was starting to stress me out. The holiday unfortunately always gets to me at some point. Adding work and the challenge of doing something new everyday and I was super stressed.

What to do when I can't think of anything else? Cook.

Day 78's thing I've never done before was to make a fruit cake.

Anytime someone says the words (or is it word?), "fruit cake," a negative reaction almost always follows.

Fruit cake is the dense, Christmas dessert with brightly colored candies and God knows what else in it. I've never eaten fruit cake because every fruit cake I've ever seen looks completely disgusting. I've definitely never made one.

This was my year. To make fruit cake?! Gah, I’m so lame.

I found an Emeril Lagasse recipe for Creole Christmas Fruit Cake with Whiskey Sauce. I had high hopes. First, it's Emeril. His stuff always looks good. "Creole" in the title sounded promising too. Plus "Whiskey Sauce?" Whiskey makes everything better. If a tasty fruit cake exists, I figured Emeril was behind it.

Making fruit cake, I quickly learned, was not the cake walk (pun intended) that I hoped it would be. It did not help my Christmas stress level whatsoever. Fruit cake is involved, and requires a great deal of preparation. It's also expensive, calling for assorted dried fruits, three different kinds of nuts, and two different kinds of liquor. I spent at least $35 on a cake that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like and pretty sure no one else would eat once they found out it was fruit cake.

If this blog is going to make me poor, which it’s starting to already, I’d prefer it to be on exotic trips to places I've never seen before. Not on Gran Marnier knockoff liquor and a 1/5 of Jim Beam required to bake a cake.

The assembly of the cake mixture was pretty standard. There was a lot more chopping and measuring than usual because there were so many more ingredients, but the cake turned out beautifully. It looked pretty, anyway.

Fruit cake is one of the few things that I've ever made that is not supposed to be served right away. Emeril told me to put the fruit cake in cheesecloth and put it in a plastic freezer bag. Not having either of those things, I left the cake on the plate, wrapped it in coffee filters and covered it with plastic wrap. That’s kind of the same thing. Right?

Everyday for week I had to unwrap the cake and douse it (through the coffee filters) with a bourbon sugar mixture. I'm not sure the filters were an appropriate substitute for cheesecloth because the syrupy liquid just sort of went everywhere. The cake, which grew staler each day, eventually sopped it up, though, which I think was the point.

When I finally was able to cut it, I was impressed at how well it turned out. Other fruit cakes may be gross, but mine and Emeril's was great!

I’m warning you, there are more holiday food entries ahead, but here’s where we are so far:

Gingerbread with cream cheese frosting = eh, I’ve had better

Latkes = yes, please!

Fruit cake = tasty, but not at all worth the expense or the trouble.

So far, Christmas food was not really stacking up, though I did make believers out of some of my co-workers who tried my "Christmas" cake a week later when I brought it into work. I didn't tell anyone it was fruit cake. What they didn't know didn't hurt them. They liked it!

Day 78: Mazol Tov! Latkes!

My desire to embrace each holiday the last year of my twenties has been evident in the activities that I've participated in for the first time. Going to New York, baking gingerbread, visiting a Christmas Tree farm are just a handful of examples.

There happened to be another holiday season going on during this time that I have completely ignored all of my life. A holiday that I don't celebrate. After my friend Lauren, who is Jewish, walked me up and down 5th Avenue amidst all of the Christmas shoppers and took me to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree, I decided it's only fair that I stop ignoring it and start embracing cultures different from my own.

In honor of Lauren and her tolerance of Christmas both in the United States and abroad, I decided to embrace her Jewish faith and make something related to Hanukkah.

Day 77's thing I've never done before was to make latkes. I obviously had to consult Lauren on this task, as she was the resident expert on Judaism. In fact, shortly after we met, Lauren soon became the person I relied on to tell me all about Judaism, especially their holidays like Rosh Hoshannah, Passover, and Yom Kippur. I'm not sure she really wanted this job, but she took it on anyway and lucky for me, she took it very seriously.

Before long I had learned about sitting Shiva, eating noodle pie and why Jewish men wear Yarmulkes.

Latkes are potato pancakes that are, according to Lauren, "sooooooooo good." She said making them from scratch is essential. From a mix just doesn't count.

She found me a recipe that looked easy enough. There weren't too many ingredients that I would need to buy, however once again I found myself frustrated that it asked for 2 cups of grated potato without any guidance on how many potatoes it would take to achieve that. Even more frustrating was that it is impossible to buy "a" potato. Potatoes are sold in big bags.

For those of you keeping score at home, 1.5 potatoes = 2 cups grated potato

This means I now have a two pound bag of potatoes that will a. take up space in my almost non-existent kitchen and b. I will end up forgetting about them and c. they will end up spoiling and I will be forced to go on a search for the source of the gross smell permeating my apartment. I think there is a way to help improve the life of a potato, but I believe it involves panty hose. I don't own panty hose, and that sounds like far too much effort. Why, I wondered, do stores not sell one potato at a time?

The only other part of making latkes that I didn't completely understand was drying the grated potato with cheesecloth. I've seen recipes that called for cheesecloth, but I've never actually worked with it. What is it, anyway? I used clean dishtowels instead of cheesecloth and they seemed to do the trick. Forgoing the cheesecloth for the towels meant that there was a good chance my latkes might also have terrycloth lint in them, but that was a chance I was willing to take.

Besides the whole cheesecloth thing, the latke recipe was extremely easy to assemble and easy to cook. Onion, eggs, a little flour, some salt and oil and it's not hard to make the patties and fry those suckers up. Some of my colleagues scared me that the latkes might be a little challenging, but I didn't find that to be true at all.

Not to mention, they were delicious. They're potatoes, fried in oil. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. I finished making them at 10:30pm that night and planned to take them to work the next day to share with my co-workers. Only I didn't really have enough to take them to work because I ate half of them that night.

They tasted like french fries, in patty form.

I told Lauren they might be worth converting for. She can have the eight days of lights, the Hora, and while it pains me to say it, even the chair dance performed at Jewish weddings.

Let me have latkes! And lots of them! No, on second thought, I think I might want the chair dance too.

Shalom! Mazol Tov! Latkes!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 77: Laughing (not really) All the Way

After Lisa and I went to the Christmas Tree Farm, we grabbed dinner at Taco Stand and she said would be down for more blog adventures the next time I needed a friend. I told her there were plenty of holiday options to accomplish in December: ice-skating, gingerbread houses, Christmas caroling.

I'm not sure how we came to the decision that Day 77's thing I'd never done would be to go Christmas caroling, but it felt like a good Sunday thing to do. We texted our friend Philip to come with us. Well, we didn't exactly tell him what we were doing, just that we wanted him to come.

"Don't make plans for next Sunday," the text read.

Philip texted me back, understandably confused. No less than 20 text messages later, he finally agreed to come hang out with Lisa and me, so long as our activities didn't involve moving. He actually said that via text message ("I'll do whatever as long as I don't have to move anything"). I meant to ask him what that was all about, assuming he must've had a moving horror story worth hearing, but I forgot. We figured if we got Philip to Taco Stand for a couple of beers, we could get him to come along with us for whatever we were going to do.

"No way," Philip said when I finally spilled the beans we were taking him to Christmas carol. "Are you insane?"

"Yes. You already knew this about me."

We continued eating and finished our beers, Philip still refusing to come caroling. He and Lisa both claimed they didn’t know any Christmas carols.

“Even Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer? Jingle Bells?”

I pulled the lyrics to both songs up on my blackberry. Not knowing the words to the songs was not going to a viable excuse for getting out of singing. I found it sad that they both claimed to not know the words to songs that we’ve all been singing since we were kids. As my mom says in reference to the caroling trips we used to take as children, “if you need a song sheet for Jingle Bells, you probably shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas.”

Philip held strong that he would not go caroling. Well, then, what other “Christmasy” activity are we going to do, I asked. Lisa threw out ice-skating at the St. Regis hotel. It was expensive, but I said fine. I still wanted to carol, but I was outnumbered. Philip’s reluctance had rubbed off on Lisa.

We walked out of the restaurant, and I demanded that Philip ride with us, certain that if I let him drive his own car that he would ditch us. We rode over to the St. Regis, but they were already closed.

Caroling it was!

My plan was to go to our friend Andrew's house first. I figured the possibility of completely freaking Andrew out could possibly turn Philip's opinion around about this little excursion.

Philip said no. Andrew was on his way back from a not-as-fun-as-expected weekend in Birmingham. There was a good chance he wasn't even at home and if he was, our three faces were the last things he'd want to see.

I had in that time, found a miniature bell in my car from a wedding reception. I gave it to Philip and told him that he didn't have to sing, he could just ring the bell. He seemed to like it.

The next on our list of victims for the caroling were our friends Kyle and Greg. Their house was nearby so we headed straight there.

On the way, I felt like a frazzled, nagging mother with my two whining children in the backseat bitching and moaning in the back telling me they didn't want to go.

"We're doing it for the blog and you're going to like it!" I felt like screaming, but didn't.

Truth be told, I'm not sure Philip even knows I have a blog. Dropping that bomb might've been disastrous, so I left it out.

We arrived at Kyle and Greg's front porch and knocked on the door. Teddy, their dog, immediately ran to the door barking loudly. Greg, who likely caught a glimpse of stupid faces from down the hall opened the door. We immediately started singing and Philip started ringing the bell.
Greg bent down to deal with the dog and before I could even get to the chorus of Jingle Bells, he was gone, leaving us standing there mumbling the words to the song to a door that was cracked.

He eventually came back, but not before we realized that caroling was a bust. Actually Lisa and Philip seemed to know that caroling was going to be a bust from the start. I remained confident until this happened.

I think the trick here, and with any activity like this is full commitment. Every person, regardless of how silly the challenge is, has to be invested and ready to make it happen. With two less than eager participants, this plan was dead on arrival.

Caroling was not a success. Not even a little bit. But involving people in the blog that don't know about it was a great success. I'm already brainstorming.