Ugly gift contest

Some families have sweet, wholesome traditions of hanging their stockings by the fireplace while little ones run amok in footie pajamas; others leave cookies for Santa on a special plate while trimming the tree and singing Deck the Halls; in my family we have a new ritual: the annual ugly gift contest. This is the second year we’ve scoured yard sales and thrift stores to vie for the prize: an ugly bargain.

The tradition got off to a rocky start last year when my entry was confiscated by officials at Logan Airport for being too ugly. OK, not really, but you can read the story here. This year, I skipped the whole flying thing and drove to Virginia for Christmas. I wasn’t taking any chances. With my ugly presented nestled safely in my luggage in the backseat, the TSA couldn’t touch me.

Crowning the winner would be tricky as everyone in the family offered a contender. How would we determine, impartially, who won? We tossed around the idea of a secret ballot, but when the nominees were unveiled all at once on the table, one thing became clear: no vote was necessary. We had a clear winner.

My entry: evil-eyed moon in gross mustard color with flexible joints

My entry: evil-eyed moon with flexible joints in gross mustard color. Third place.

Mom's entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with sea life in relief, appropriately rendered in the letter "U" for ugly.

Mom’s entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with dolphins in sculptural relief, appropriately rendered in the letter “U” for ugly. Runner-up.

My sister and brother-in-law's entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel.

My sister and brother-in-law’s entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel. Winner.

Yeah, the last one. While the orb (?) was the original gift—ugly enough on its own—my brother-in-law stumbled on a starfish . . . receptacle (?) that housed the flamingo egg (?) nicely. We still don’t know what to make of it. My mom tried to give an award to the winning couple from a bag of seemingly regifted items; the winners declined more crap.

In many ways I was the loser: not only did my moon come in last, it also garnered a few likes from the crowd, which was dispiriting. Regardless, I’m still calling it a victory, because when I packed up the car to come home, not one piece of that junk was in my trunk.


October summer

Columbus might have worn a fuzzy, cable-knit sweater and thick woolen pants when he cruised the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria up to these here shores. But on this Columbus Day in New England, more reminiscent of August, boxers would have sufficed. It’s hot. The windows are open and the beach was packed with celebratory sunbathers. Global warming, we welcome you.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester

People swam despite the water temp and dogs frolicked and romped, savoring the surprise summer day. Clouds took the day off.

Even the kites got into the holiday.

Give a virtual gift

Sure, it’s post-Christmas and we’re at the height of a recession, but it’s never too late to give your friends a little something special.

Last year, I introduced the idea of giving holiday presents that are easy on the wallet: virtual gifts. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to find the perfect gift when you’re not constrained by a budget or real money or real gifts. So when I spot that tricked-out cycle my brother-in-law would love, I can email it to him. Sure, he doesn’t get the joy of opening it, riding it, or actually touching it, but I don’t have the pain of dropping $600+ or figuring out how to ship it to him without shelling out another $600.

My friend whose dream it is to swim with the whales would be getting this lovely whale papercut if I were a more generous friend. Dream on, friend.

I have a friend who would like to own a place in Brookline that’s bigger than a crawlspace. Done! She’d love a 2-bedroom, but there’s no need for restraint in the virtual world, so I picked up this sweet little pad for her that comes with a library (uh, don’t start packing).

Merry Christmas!

To my friend obsessed with bacon, I send virtual bacon jam. In this case, a virtual gift also helps his cholesterol.


Happy Halloween!

Remember Halloween costumes from the good old days when you went to CVS and picked out a costume in a box? And remember how you sweated so much in the mask that you had to keep flipping it up on your head to breathe? And remember how your whole costume was pointless anyway when you live in New England and you had to wear a coat over the whole damn thing?

Halloween mask

I always thought the kids in California lucked out. They could be princesses without the parkas. They could be cats without the leg warmers. If you were wearing a ski mask, it was because that was your costume, not because it was below zero.

Anyway, the whole enterprise has evolved since the 70s. On a recent jaunt to Target with my roommate to Halloween shop for her nieces and nephew (husky, zombie, bumblebee, gorilla) there were aisles of costumes ranging from sexy gypsy to sexy witch. There were about 14 types of witch costumes, actually, with slightly different names though they were all the same.

What do you get for $19.99? A little fringe, a hair accessory, and some cheap tulle. The days of mom sewing your intricate, historically accurate costume are, apparently, over. And why not? These days, girls can just go to their closet, grab a little sparkle and presto, Miley Cyrus.

Oh, Halloween, what’s happened to you? OK, maybe I’m just bitter because here it is, this great fall holiday that’s all about dressing up and getting free candy, and I can’t think of one way to shrink myself into a child again so I can collect massive amounts of chocolate. Looks like I’ll have to steal from a small child again this year.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo

I plan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo tonight by eating copious amounts of guacamole with friends at a cool little Mexican place in Cambridge. Contrary to popular belief, or maybe just my belief, the holiday is not in honor of mayonnaise.

Guacamole is so delicious—and avocados so good for you—that it feels naughty to eat. It’s easy to whip up too. There are numerous variations on the Interweb. Here’s an amalgam of a couple:

 2 avocados
1/2 lemon, juiced (or lime)
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon cilantro 
1/2 teaspoon jalapeno or serrano chile peppers
Mash avocados and combine with the cilantro, chili onion, and salt. Add a little diced tomato, if you like.

Do not do this on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a tricky holiday. So much could go wrong: family meltdowns and dysfunction traveling ’round the table faster than the potatoes, a smoldering bird that triggers a visit from the fire department, or a carving knife used not on the bird but on Uncle Willis who just can’t keep his trap shut. Not that I’d know. 

I do, however, have two tips to share that I learned the hard way.

1. Do not go on vacation with your family and assume restaurants will be open. In the Cape. In November. Because all you may glean from the bare supermarket shelves are a couple of TV dinners and a frozen pizza. A Red Baron sausage pizza, say, which although one of the better frozen pizzas in the 80s, was not the moist turkey, stuffing, and potatoes you were expecting. Microwaved, it’s even worse.

2. This is not the time to try a new recipe. More specifically, do not make Apple and Onion Stuffin’ Muffins no matter how good that perky Rachael Ray makes them sound. I know you’re curious; that’s why I included the link, but don’t go there. Something will go awry and you will end up with a basket of undercooked stuffing globs and a friend whose family torments you relentlessly, busting up laughing at the memory even years later. 

You’re welcome.