White Christmas:

I don’t have any passion for Christmas. Like everybody who grew up with the tradition, I enjoy the over-the-top gifting and spirit of commercialism, but the deeper meaning of the holiday means next to nothing for me. I’ve drenched myself too much in world history and rationalism to really get enthused by a season of religious nonsense. Early Christians adopted the celebrations celebrated by cultures around the world for the winter solstice. The solstice is traditionally a major moment for people in the past as it signaled various spiritual and practical ideas. For some it was the symbolic death of the year, a reminder of how many days until they could plant, a religious festival, and other important cultural moments. Early Christians were excellent public relations experts and they realized that if they wanted their religion to be adopted by these so-called heathens, they needed to appease them by maintaining as much of their old culture as possible with the veneer of Jesus. Anyway, I’m off on a tangent. I don’t care for the holiday, I much prefer New Year’s Eve and Halloween, but that hasn’t anything to do with anything I’m writing about. Let me get started then. I had an email from the Civic Center, the excellent Des Moines theater that hosts many Broadway shows. It said that there were still a few tickets left for the final performance of White Christmas. I scrolled quickly and went to delete the email because…Christmas, ew…but a name caught my eye. A member of the cast is a woman named Lorna Luft, which doesn’t mean much to anybody, but I clutched my pearls. Reader, Lorna Luft is the second daughter of the legendary star, Judy Garland. Now, I’m a fairly classic homosexual, Judy is a big deal to me, and so I decided that I simply had to see the show. I don’t think there’s a way to be closer to Judy than to see her daughter perform. Nobody wanted to go with me, which was a hate crime, but it wound up being a blessing. I bought myself a ticket — and I bought myself a front row ticket because I’m worth it. This ended up being a brilliant purchase. Everything about the evening in the theater was rather serendipitous. I just finished listening to a lecture series about early musical theater which obviously contained plenty of talk about Irving Berlin. His name should be familiar to most of you. He wrote many of the classics like “Always,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “God Bless America,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” among many others that you could easily hum right now. White Christmas, the film that the musical was adapted from, had music from Irving Berlin and I was thrilled to see a classic Broadway performance instead of one of the new — and honestly marvelous — blockbuster Broadway shows. So I took myself to the front row, sat down, and waited for whatever was about to happen. I didn’t know the story, I only knew the songs, but it was so much better than I anticipated. The story of White Christmas is the production of a show in a barn to support an impoverished general. That’s a limited description, but the plot itself is not essential, it is merely an excuse for song. And that’s fine by me because there was tap dancing and there were classic Berlin tunes, and there was great production value, and there was Lorna Luft. She was everything I wanted her to be. She’s all I’m going to talk about. I couldn’t get to sleep last night because I kept thinking about the show. Lorna isn’t the star, but she’s the heart and soul of the show and the glue that keeps it together. She only has one major number, but with that number, she steals the entire performance. Her song is “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and she delivered it with such brilliance that I found myself entirely captivated. In that moment, she becomes her character, and she also seems to channel her mother, Judy. I couldn’t believe the little warble I heard in her voice like Judy, some of the brusque Judy movements, the emotion of her performance. It was enchanting. A massive standing ovation from me. At the end of the show, a machine makes soap bubbles that look like snow pours out over the audience and it is the most charming moment. I never loved Christmas before, but like the Grinch, I think White Christmas warmed my heart.

Young Hyacinth:

The other day, I felt like I was suddenly thrust into an alternate reality. I was thinking about the many British comedies that I adore and was wondering what the star of Keeping Up Appearances, Patricia Routledge, was up to these days. I loved her as Hyacinth Bucket, the middle class woman aching to be “somebody important,” and would much rather you pronounce her name as ‘Bouquet.’ I was worried that she might have passed away without my knowing, but to my exceptional relief, she seems to be thriving. I was bewildered, though, when I came across an entire slurry of news articles about her thoughts and feelings about something called Young Hyacinth. What in the world could that be? Well, I had a quick theory that wasn’t hard to come up with, but I could hardly believe that the show was coming back in some fashion. I was right, for the most part, the show I was reading about was more of a one off event rather than a new BBC series. To celebrate some kind of anniversary at the British Broadcasting Corporation, some of the classic shows were being celebrated by the creation of new material. Young Hyacinth is an origin story about how Hyacinth and her family came to be the way they are. Patricia Routledge must have missed the memo about the concept and inspiration for the show because she took enormous umbrage with the program and refused to watch. I think she thought it was one of those cheap revivals that fails to live up to the quality of the original. She’s not wrong, but she wasn’t entirely right. Young Hyacinth is only one short episode, but it is charming in the extreme. Hyacinth is a young woman living at home and earning her keep by working as a maid for a wealthy couple. She is immediately captivated by their higher quality of living and begins emulating their prejudices, tastes, and ideas. Of course, Hyacinth’s family are not on board with her becoming so uppity and they refuse to change to please her. It’s quite amusing to see the twenty-something Hyacinth pluck her drunkard father up and screech about his war wounds to deflect from his obvious ailment. And I chortled richly each time she mentioned her “mummy” who had made her own jam and envisioned her as some kind of saint. In reality she had run off with another man…or two. The cast is exceptional. The actress who plays Hyacinth has her vocal patterns down to a science and it was just magical to see these old and beloved characters brought back to life, if even just for a moment. You can easily stream the show online. Do it immediately.

ALDI Wine Advent Calendar:

In my mind, ALDI can do nothing wrong. NOTHING. I won’t rhapsodize over the cheeses and salads now and I really won’t even talk about the wines that are available on a daily basis — I’m still going to talk about wine, though. ALDI is infamous for cheap wine that is unreasonably palatable. Their $3 Merlot is honestly a steal and you should stock up because if you served that in a decanter, you’d have to be snooty or a sommelier to be offended by it. ALDI is also infamous for creating hype around certain products such as their award winning rose wine that everybody had to have a few years ago. It was impossible to find, kind of like a golden ticket from the Wonka factory, but now it’s easy to find in all of the shops every day of the year. The current hype is for their advent calendars. They make calendars for cheese, chocolate, beer, and wine. The wine box is the most popular and the most impossible to find. It’s been sold in the United States for about two years and I have never been able to get my hands on one. It’s big, expensive, limited, and enormously exclusive. They sell out immediately. The gods were on my side this year and my mother unexpectedly found the very last one at her local ALDI and snatched it up for me. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was gobsmacked by the opportunity. But then I had to wait for December to begin so that I could start enjoying the selections. I’m writing this on the fourth day and I am on pins and needles about what wine I’ll be enjoying when I get home tonight. I’m hoping for a red of some kind [UPDATE: it was a delicious Tempranillo!], but I have been thrilled with the offerings so far. The first night was a rose champagne that was effervescent and fun. Night two was a Sauvignon Blanc, and even though I’m not big on white wine, it was perfectly nice. Last night, though, the bottle was a treasure. It was a rose style wine made with Merlot grapes. I didn’t know such a thing was possible, but of course it is and it’s just something I’ve not thought much about. It was lightly sweet and enormously refreshing and I hope this is a sign of new wines to come at ALDI. I can’t wait to sample the next twenty little bottles! Oh, and I must add that these aren’t skimpy samples that are hardly a swallow, each bottle holds a nice sized glass of wine when poured. I’m enormously pleased and having such fun. I hope that these become easier and easier to get hold of in the future because they make the holiday season absolutely worth it.

August Smart Lock Pro:

Not my arm or my door. My Apple Watch is much more elegant!

I feel like I’m updating you on the latest update to my smart home addiction each week. And I hope I’m acquiring new smart devices that often because they fill me with the sweetest bliss. I was running late to work the other day and dropped the keys to my front door as I was hurrying out. They, of course, sequestered themselves in an awkward crevice that was next to impossible to fish out. I did manage to get them and I somehow managed to get to work on time, but I vowed that I would never have to suffer this way ever again. And as fate would have it, this happened to be Cyber Monday. For nearly half price, the August Smart Lock was being offered and it was winging its way to me before I had time to think about it. It was a whim and I don’t regret it for a second. This lock has everything and I am beyond obsessed with it. I have it set to lock the door immediately whenever it is shut and it is the most glorious freedom to not have to dig out a key from a coat pocket. Look, I’m well aware that it’s not the hardest thing in the world to lock a door, but that is not the point at all. It’s not hard to vacuum, either, but I’ll never go back to a life without my Roomba. I love the convenience of these new pieces of technology. And to gild the lily even more, the lock can sense your phone when you get near home and it unlocks the door for you before you reach the front step. This is the very height of elegance, y’all. If only it would open the door for me I could almost imagine what it would be like to have a butler of my own that I would call Jeeves regardless of their real name who would take my bags and then hurry to make me a good gin martini. Ugh, the life of the wealthy must be something special. I’m doing a fairly good job of recreating that life with my staff of robots. It’s just a matter of time before everything is controlled by them, but that did leave me with a perplexing speculation — what am I supposed to do with all the free time these devices provide me? I mean, the lock isn’t going to save me more than literally a minute per day, but the smart lights and vacuums and mops and eventually faucets are going to take a lot of the tedious tasks out of life. I don’t think I’m ever going to miss doing the dishes or folding laundry when that is finally automated, but it’s going to be interesting to see how these machines change human culture. I’m already being an archaeologist about new things!

Click & Grow Smart Garden 9:

I think I have the ability to be a remarkable gardener. I have a passion for plants, for cultivating beautiful spaces, and for cooking with the bounty of my harvest. I have four large gardens where pumpkins and popcorn and sunflowers grow in abundance, but like all of the best plans of my life, my gardens always kind of fizzle out. I have too many expectations and not enough willpower to follow through with the maintenance. Inevitably, the weeds get the better of my garden and though I still have herbs and vegetables in abundance, the gardens start looking more like an abandoned plot than the Martha Stewart approved horticultural center I envisioned. The weeds always get the better of me. Every single time. It’s inevitable. Either it’s too buggy or too hot or I’m in another continent. I can’t defeat them. But I learned that I can defeat them if I don’t let them ever get started! This is why I’m passionate about gardening inside! This is easier than it sounds, especially if you buy the proper machines. I’m not talking about a room full of hydroponic grow tanks, because I’m not insane, but rather about little counter top machines that give the proper nutrients and lighting to herbs and flowers. My passion for this concept began years ago with the AeroGarden, devices that seemed to me to be on the cutting edge of technology. They were messy, though, and they fell out of my favor. I forgot about the idea until a new company called Click & Grow came around. Their machines were much more elegant — and you know how important the aesthetic elements of anything are for me — and you don’t have to feed the plants any food. The plants completely take care of themselves. All I have to do is plug it in and add some water. I was an early adopter of this machine and ever since they released a newer model, I’ve been lusting over it. The newest iteration holds nine plants, is absolutely gorgeous, and the base has a gold option! Of course I ordered it! Now I have lettuce, tomatoes, and basil growing in my kitchen. I can’t wait to harvest them and make the most scrumptious caprese salad! If you don’t use fresh herbs in your cooking, you are really missing out on something wonderful. I don’t know how I’d cook without them now. I’m already planning the next set of plants for my kitchen garden. I want thyme and parsley and more basil and maybe even rosemary! Go shopping for this, reader, it’s the perfect Christmas gift and it will pay for itself in time.

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