Category Archives: Holiday

The Holiday Card 2017

“I don’t ask you to love me always like this but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Cheers, mofos. Taking a page out of ‘The Great Gatsby’, this year I aimed for class instead of trash. Not every Holiday Card brings the kind of image that offends across-the-board (much as I wished it would), so for 2017 I’m trying on a quiet close for a relatively quiet year. Without further hubbub and ado, here is the Holiday Card for 2017:

As for the behind-the-scenes story on the making of this one, it’s pretty simple. It was shot in Boston, where I installed the mantle of Christmas decorations in the weeks before the actual holiday. I haven’t shot a Holiday Card at the condo since 1999, I think, and I’d been wanting to return to the setting for some time. Last year’s card was almost set in the condo bedroom, but I didn’t want to risk bloodying the silk headboard. After the drive from Albany to Boston, a change into the fancy garb you see here, and an authentic cocktail, I took a series of timed shots, checking sporadically on how they were turning out, and was done in short fashion.

It was one of the easiest Holiday Cards I’ve done, and I was patting myself on the back when I returned to Albany the next day to upload them when I noticed that my fly was open in all of the photos. Too late (and too lazy) for a re-shoot, I was forced to use a side profile and call it a day. Sometimes the universe makes editing and selecting easier than anticipated. (More than one person said they would have preferred the open fly shots, but I’m not here to please.)

Happy Holidays, from my fly to yours.

Continue reading ...

A Holiday Lull: The Off-Year

Not all Holiday Cards can feature me spreading my legs and giving quasi-birth to a baby meant to symbolize the sweet baby Jesus himself, so this year is a bit of a fluffy filler. Its non-controversial simplicity is designed rather unintentionally to get me back on all the fridges and holiday card collection displays that found last year’s card too much. (And all this time I thought people loved the big JC.)

Let’s have our annual linky look back at some of the Holiday Cards that have come before. (Can you believe I’ve been doing this shit since 1995? Thank God some of those years prior to the digital age have been lost…) Too bad not all of these are as easily vanquished.

As for this year’s card (which was be posted tomorrow morning), I went back to basics and opened my fly.

 

 

 

Holiday Card 2004
Holiday Card 2005
Holiday Card 2006
Holiday Card 2007

Holiday Card 2008
Holiday Card 2009

Holiday Card 2010

Holiday Card 2011

Holiday Card 2012
Holiday Card 2013
Holiday Card 2014
Holiday Card 2015
Holiday Card 2016

And coming tomorrow the Holiday Card 2017…

Continue reading ...

Wrapping up the Holiday Stroll 2017

Another Holiday Stroll with Kira is in the shopping bag (busted wide open along the seams because Kira doesn’t know to stop stuffing things in). We traversed our city while keeping things close to the condo, from an opening roasted chicken salvo to a closing Sunday dinner of dim sum. For the whole story, check out the most recent posts if you haven’t yet had a chance:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

It was a good weekend, and a reminder of the power of holiday traditions, no matter how new. At seven or so years, this is one that I hope sticks around.

Continue reading ...

Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 4

We slept well following all the walking we did, slumbering after we finished most of ‘The Family Stone’ was done. In the quiet of the night, I pad silently out to the kitchen for a glass of water, looking out across the street to the row of houses that has all the Christmas lights displayed. In a few weeks, after the holidays have finished, the street will be quieter, but if there is snow it will be brighter. There are drawbacks and benefits to both. On this night it is cozy enough, and I savor the moment. The next day will extend our Holiday Stroll, but it doesn’t begin until brunch at 11, and until such time we rest and relax and take our time waking. Buffering such luxuries is why I like to be prepared and unrushed.

This cheeky peanut thief greeted us as we walked into Sunday morning on Braddock Park. Not content to scrounge around in the little garden square, he haughtily stood on his hind legs and brazenly posed until I got the perfect shot. Everyone wanted to be part of this Holiday Stroll. We made our way into Back Bay and a sinfully excessive brunch at Club Café.

Eating until beyond our hearts and stomachs were content (Kira went back to the buffet three times to my one, not that anyone was counting) we were then ready to walk it all off again, which we started to do with a visit to the SoWa Market.

On the way, we stopped at this Christmas tree stand which we always seem to pass at some point during our stroll. A welcome feast for our noses, the evergreens and pines filled the space with their pungent holiday scents, completing our sensory enjoyment and capping the weekend with a familiar fragrance memory.

When we arrived at the market, there was some Winter Festival happening, but the line wrapped around two blocks and I don’t do a line that wraps around anything, so we passed by and picked up some items at Bobby from Boston.

(We did not pick up these wooden choir boys.)

We made our way through Chinatown, where I thought we might find Kira a reasonable substitute for a green dragon-embroidered robe she had seen at the market. Alas, the Chinatown shops of just a few years ago have closed or moved, and the shell of retail options left us bereft of any such robe. We paused in a few sad spots, but the main thing for sale was food. It had been a couple of hours since our brunch, so who were we to deny the pull of that? A couple of years ago we had a dim sum moment on one of these strolls, and we were happy to try to recreate that magic now. It worked only minimally – you can never do the same thing twice, no matter how fierce, and it was a futile exercise in trying to recapture what was once such a novelty.

We wound our way back through Downtown Crossing and into Faneuil Hall, where we were just in time for the lighting of their grand Christmas tree and a promised ‘special light show’ starting at 4:30. Dusk was falling and made the perfect backdrop for the tree. Mariah’s Christmas classic started up and the lights began moving. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Faneuil Hall since I actually moved to Boston many years ago, but it holds a special place in my heart at this time of the year, and despite the crowds and stupid tourists, there’s a bit of magic that creeps into my most jaded assessments of the place. We stepped carefully over the cobblestone walkways and ended up at Government Center, where we had, in the final hours of our Holiday Stroll, the unique and unexpected delight that I’d been hoping but not specifically planning for.

I’d read about the skating rink here, but forgotten about it – and never really thought much about visiting. We happened upon it en route to the T-stop, and though I should have been on the Mass Turnpike if I was going to make it home at a reasonable hour, the excitement and charm of a little make-shift village and shops was too magical to resist. Kira has been wanting to skate for some time, but that’s just not my scene. I promise her a cross-country ski trek in January, perhaps in Vermont. For now, we watched from the sidelines as our Holiday Stroll concluded with a cool blast of Boston whipping by our chilled cheeks.

Continue reading ...

Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 3

We pause in the Holiday Stroll story to honor one of those jewels-of-a-moment I so treasure: the interim and in-between times in which we find ourselves in a holding pattern, either at the condo or a hotel lobby or quiet bar. There is no great excitement or action involved – just a moment to take a breath, to relax, to simply be. To halt for reflection of holiday joy. The first such moment happened as we returned to the condo after a day of shopping. That late afternoon is one of my favorite times to be in the condo, no matter what time of the year, and strangely enough because it is often so sad. The light is questionable – it can stream in during the summer or the end of winter, or it can be hidden, in grays and cloudy mists. This time of day is often hidden too – just before rush hour, long enough after lunch, one of those awful shifts when you don’t know quite how to feel about it.

On this afternoon, we returned to the condo – spent and sore but happy and relaxed, when you finally sink into the weekend because you are as far from Friday and Monday as you can get. We lit a few candles, and by this time the heat had filled the rooms – from the top of the high ceilings to the amber-glowing floors. No matter what maelstrom of weather of holiday bustle was taking place outside, in here it was always safe and warm, and we took a moment to watch the rest of ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ before reserving a table at Post 390 for dinner.

Darkness fell all the way down while we readied ourselves for dinner. Bundling up, we went back into the chilly December night, but the lights were bright, and we cut through Back Bay station and Post 390 was right there. The last time we were there had been a gorgeous spring day a few years ago. We stopped in for an early afternoon snack of oysters before a party we were throwing for JoAnn. On that day the fire had seemed an unnecessary thing; tonight, it was a welcome treat.

Though they forgot our oysters tonight, we made the best of it and decided to do our nightcap elsewhere. Back along Boylston, we took a moment to sit by the fire in the Lenox Hotel, another favorite haunt that is done up to fine effect for Christmas. (Its lemony-scented atmosphere was a happy citrus burst of rejuvenation.) 

These little hotel lobby stops are an important part of our Holiday Stroll. They offer breaks and escapes from the rush of crowds and outside weather. For five or ten minutes, we sit and contempt the scenery. We indulge in some people-watching. Mostly, we enjoy the quiet time together, as friends do during the holidays

Kira showed off her new coat purchase. When you find something that fits you well, and is a steal, you take it. I insisted. She obliged. The end result is chic, stylish, and perfect for a late-night walk back home. We were not quite ready to make those final steps though. The Mandarin quietly called with its own fireplace and cozy Bar Boulud. 

A pair of white cosmopolitans was my acquiescence to Kira’s preference for sweetness and vodka. She struck up a quick conversation with the bartender, who explained that a small band was setting up to play jazz music in a bit, so we stuck around for one more. The music began and the night swelled into something magical. 

 

Continue reading ...

Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 2

Our day began without great hurry, as no plans had been made and no itinerary needlessly nagged us. We had a cup of hot tea and cut into a Panettone, which Kira had never tried before. (Thank you for the inspiration, Miss Coco Peru!) The day was bright, but slightly overcast. As long as it didn’t rain, we didn’t mind. (And even then we’d managed to make the most out of matters in the not-so-distant past.) On this day it looked like uneventful weather for a full morning of shopping and gift gathering, and we began with the bustle of Boylston Street.

In trying so valiantly to do something different and avoid our favorite haunts, we inadvertently fell back onto the tried and true ruts of Boylston Street and Downtown Crossing. Neither of which was necessarily bad, but we still wanted something new and unique to serve as the totem for this trip. That would have to come later, once we stopped trying so hard. For now, we worked our way along Boylston, skirting the Public Garden and the Common, then arriving in Chinatown for an early lunch of pho – a welcome winter habit.

Revitalized and warmed by the spicy broth, we rallied and fought our way through Downtown Crossing, where Kira found a giant FAO Schwartz bear and insisted I take her picture. Around this time we shared this puzzling exchange, in the way that Kira sometimes challenges me:

KIRA: What do you call those people who crash weddings?

ME: Wedding crashers?

KIRA: Yes. That’s it.

And that’s where the conversation ended. It was something she needed to know and I happened to be able to provide an answer. (And then I cracked up laughing.)

Our arms filled with shopping bags, we were feeling the first waves of fatigue as the crest of the day began to subside. I’d made no dinner plans, but it was early yet. Not too early for a cocktail, however, and one of our favorite places – the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons – had two high-top seats in a cozy corner of the bar. Service in that corner takes forever for some reason, but eventually we got to enjoy a cocktail. Near the lobby a winter wedding was starting to assemble in the same place where Andy and I held our own wedding lunch. A happy omen for a moment of respite.

The sights and sounds of the season surrounded us as we continued on our merry way. Making the Boston rounds with Kira is always a joy; doing so at this time of the year, with all the decorations and Christmas cheer, adds a certain sparkle to every step, no matter how quickly it gets dark. The light was quickly draining as we walked back to the condo for a late afternoon siesta.

We took a meandering route through the Copley Fairmont and its impressively-baroque archways. A pair of gold lions greeted us as we strolled through the lobby, and deep inside the hallway a pair of peacocks stood sentinel. A hotel lobby is a busy and exciting place at this time of the year. Reunions and squeals of delight, emboldened children doing their best to be good for Santa, and the not-just-yet exasperated friendliness of the staff makes for a crux of holiday mayhem. We bustled our way in and out, then returned to the condo as the last light of the day gently left the sky.

Continue reading ...

Holiday Stroll 2017 – Part 1

It was cold and gray when I entered Boston, save for a sliver of blue in the sky beyond the old Hancock building. The clouds were just rolling in, and a chill was settling into my bones. The thermostat in the condo was blank, save for a small ‘Low Batt’ message that I didn’t even notice before heading to the grocery store. In order to set this Holiday Stroll apart from the others (and to make up for a missed birthday in the fall) I was going to make Kira a roasted chicken dinner.

This is only the second or third chicken I’ve roasted in my life, and quite frankly none has ever been a smashing success, but I’m all for breaking through such a psychological impasse, so I picked up a five-pound bird, a bottle of wine, and all the necessary accoutrements then set about cooking dinner with some advice from ‘The Women’ running through my head: “If you stick a roast in the oven, what’s to stop it from getting done?”

The most difficult part for me remains cleaning that bird off and pulling out the insides. Reaching into an animal’s rib cage cavity will always freak me out, but I charged through it, patted the thing dry, stuffed it with lemons and garlic and thyme, then trussed the legs, rubbed it down with butter and sprinkled it liberally with fennel salt.

On a bed of fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, fennel, onion, carrots and more thyme, the chicken nestled into its rack. I shut it up in the oven for an hour and half and prayed that the smoke alarm wouldn’t go off. There was other work to be done, in the form of a private cocktail hour for one, and some last minute Christmas decorating to fully furnish the condo with holiday cheer.

I don’t know if it was the candles that mingled with the aroma from the kitchen, the ledge of holiday greenery that I assembled in the bathroom ledge against a background of brick, or the cool cocktail making its way into my belly, but suddenly the cool gray start to the weekend was melting into something warm and fuzzy. Kira would arrive in a little. As much as I eagerly awaiting her arrival, I took a moment to enjoy the solitude, and the coziness of what was to come. Those quiet jewels of time would be the sparkle that shot through the darkest nights when memory was all that remained.

Kira arrived after the chicken had had ample time to rest. I filled her wine glass and the Holiday Stroll weekend had officially begun. We toasted the event, then set about to carving the chicken, which neither of us had a clue how to do. It was a mighty mangled affair, but with some judicious cuts I managed to give us each the majority of a breast, and the darker meat we somehow pulled apart until satiated. The vegetables, soaking up all the fallen butter and chicken renderings, were the decadent stars of the meal. All in all, it was a success, and I’ll be more confident in roasting chickens for the future.

It was already late. Time moves swiftly when good friends are in company. Rather than head out for a night-cap, we stayed in the cozy comfort of the condo, which for the most part was warm from the oven and the candles. The bedroom was still cooler than it should have been, and it was then that I took closer notice of the whole ‘Low Battery’ thing. We would get a trio of triple A stock the next morning; for now a heavy winter blanket and a late-night viewing of ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ would suffice to keep us toasty.

A jazz-inflected piano version of ‘The Christmas Waltz’ lulled us to sleep. A full day of strolling was on the agenda. The holidays had arrived.

Continue reading ...

A Holiday Highlight

The danger inherent in my Virgo desire for order and structure and scheduled itineraries is when things don’t work out according to plan. No matter how perfectly-tailored one’s strategy may be, disruptions and last-minute reworkings are a requirement in today’s whirligig world. I kept that in mind when loosely plotting out my Holiday Stroll with Kira.

It is one of my favorite holiday traditions, and for the first couple of years we weren’t even sure what we were doing. As we walked into the Boston Public Garden on a snowy Saturday in December, I simply declared, half-jokingly, that this would be our Holiday Stroll. Kira had no idea what I was talking about, but she went with it, and after promenading through the park (in a ridiculous hat and boots) a new tradition was born. Since that time, we’ve done five or six of them – and they still mainly consist of walking around Boston, doing some holiday shopping, pausing for food and drink breaks, and hanging out in the condo with a Christmas movie. It’s become a thing, and a very happy one at that.

This year, we decided to go back to basics. With the Red Line to Cambridge out of weekend commission, we planned on omitting the Porter Square to Harvard walk/shop route, and keeping things closer to home. All that to come, but first a look back at some of our previous Holiday Strolls:

Continue reading ...

A HighBall With Andy’s Mom

It was the first and only Christmas I’d get to see Andy’s Mom. The year was 2000 – which in many ways seems a lifetime ago, and then again just like yesterday, so vivid is my memory of this night. We were stopping by Andy’s parents’ home to drop off gifts and wish them a Merry Christmas. It was my first time meeting his mother – I’d only just corresponded with her via a shared love for reading at that point (I’d given her a copy of ‘The God in Flight’ by Laura Argiri and she wrote back her notes and opinion of it. A rather bold choice of mine, considering all the gay sex in it, but she was unbothered and unfazed by it – only remarking that some of the more graphic moments might be better left out.) I knew then that we’d get along famously. Though I may have jumped the gun a little on that first meeting.

We sat down at their little kitchen table. Andy’s Mom asked if we wanted anything to drink. (He’d told me it would be ok to request an adult beverage, or I never would have suggested it.) I said a highball would be great, then proceeded to take it a little too far. What I planned on saying, and the sentence that was formulated in my head was, ‘Andy says you enjoy a good drink’ but what came out was, “Andy said you liked to drink!”

She looked at me for a second, then bent down to her son and whispered, “I’ll let that go since it’s Christmas.”

It was the perfect first meeting, and sadly one of our last, but it remains a fond Christmas memory, a way of holding onto our past, of bridging our time with lost loved ones. And it still makes Andy and I chuckle whenever we think about it.

Continue reading ...

A Christmas Song to Set the Season Right

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

This weekend marks my Holiday Stroll with Kira – a tradition we’ve managed to keep intact since 2011 or 2012. It’s grown into something entirely too structured and planned-out, a notion I realized last year when my elaborate itinerary, printed out of thick green yardstick, fell completely by the wayside and we ended up doing perhaps two out of ten things. This year, I have no formal schedule (though I may make a loose one – a life wholly lacking planning or foresight is a life not worth living). We shall play it largely by ear. The only definite is that I’ll be cooking dinner for Kira in a double-purpose evening (celebrating the season and her much-belated birthday). Cross your fingers that I can manage a roasted chicken. 

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright,
Tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh,
And ev’ry mother’s child is gonna spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

We will also, at some point, watch ‘The Man Who Came To Dinner’ and pause it during the ice-skating scene to enjoy (or force down) a couple of baked sweet potatoes (see the movie for the reference). The general goal of this year’s holiday stroll weekend is to keep things closer to home, finding a way of slowing down and relaxing at the condo rather than bustling about when the weather can be so changeable. Kira and I haven’t seen each other since early fall, so quality quiet time will not be a bad thing. The condo is already done up in its holiday garb (the decorations extend into the bathroom this year) so all we need to do it show up and enjoy. (See, planning pays off.)

And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although it’s been said
Many times, Many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

Enjoy this first weekend of December. We’ll regroup and rehash how it all went in a little while. 

Continue reading ...

A Mad Start to the Season

This may become an annual tradition, as I’ve already posted about this scene once before, and it is always worth a revisit. The classics never fade, they become more valuable with age. In this case, a return to a Christmas episode of ‘Mad Men’ – and the workings of two of my favorite characters from that show. It’s Don and Joan – both of them complicated and complex. Each cold in his or her own way, but wanting for warmth, desiring connection, and lamenting the conundrum of their circumstances. 

“My mother raised me to be admired,” she says winsomely. Being admired only gets you so far, especially at the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe, though, that’s enough for the fleeting coziness of the season. Maybe a Christmas cocktail, shared by two beleaguered co-workers is enough. Maybe a Christmas waltz is enough.

Frosted windowpanes… 

 

Continue reading ...

Back to Black

The amateurs’ shopping season has begun, which means that from now until January seasoned pros like myself will be avoiding the malls at all costs. That goes for Wolf Road as well, especially if that Toys R Us is still open and operating. (When a police car needs to be stationed at a place for Christmas, things have gotten out of hand.) There are other hustles and bustles in which I’d rather be involved.

As for the start of the holiday season, my Grinch-like tendencies have softened over the years, and the secret way I once loved Christmas has not been a secret for quite some time. We need this bit of warmth and coziness at such a cold time of the year. We need all the light and sparkle we can muster when the nights are at their darkest and longest. Give in to the cheer – it’s always easier than fighting it.

Soon, the traditions of the holidays will be rolling in – from my Boston Holiday Stroll to the Children’s Holiday Hour to our annual Holiday Party. The constant in all of these happy events: family and friends. It’s the only way to make it through the winter.

Continue reading ...

Let Us Give Thanks

The older I get (and I’m getting quite old), the more I realize the importance of the quieter parts of days like Thanksgiving, and the opportunity to meditate on the real meaning behind the holiday. It’s more than stuffing turkeys and stuffing ourselves, more than fables of camaraderie and feasts between Native Americans and immigrants, and more than the first official shopping day of the season. It is a day of gratitude – and almost everyone can find one or two things for which they can be truly grateful. Sometimes just taking a breath is reason enough to give thanks. That we are here. That we are alive. That we are still going.

I pause at such moments. In the early light of the day I sit in the quiet of the dining room, looking out at the backyard. The wet and matted grass is dotted with fallen leaves and little pebbles of rabbit scat. On winter mornings the cardinals will visit, gorgeously scarlet against a winter sky – jagged splotches of red in a sea of snow. For now, though, all is gray and brown and still. Another moment for which to give thanks. Another day in which to find gratitude.

As Andy and I are enjoying a meal with our family, I wish you the best in whatever you may do today.

Continue reading ...

From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Day

The day after Santa arrives is always a celebration, even if there’s the usual deflated expectations of hype and hoopla. This time around there was nothing but smiles, and a rambunctious crew ready to run wild until someone busted a lip open. Such is the excitement of Christmas Day, and the perils of a game of chase.

We’ve come a long way from the days of prim and proper behavior, of dressing up and settling formally into a church pew. I never thought I’d miss that, but part of me does.

Still, there is nothing that can dim the magic of Christmas, especially when you learn to embrace family and friends more than you do throughout the rest of the year. That’s the lesson I’ll try to remember as we begin the long trudge through winter darkness.

 

Continue reading ...

From My Fam to Yours: Xmas Eve

Welcome to the Ilagan Christmas Eve Spectacular!

We have dancing girls!

We have dancing boys!

We have the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, coupled with a fancy surf and turf dinner!

Best of all, we have family!

I got all my sisters with me! (Which are none.)

I don’t know if I get more joy watching the twins open up their presents, or my parents open theirs.

That’s what Christmas Eve is all about.

Hope yours was as lovable as mine.

Continue reading ...