Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On Happiness and Merrily Kissing 2008 Goodbye

This morning on the way to work, a very angry driver in a white construction material-loaded pickup truck nearly ran me out of my lane on the 91 freeway. I'm one to stay away from drivers with road rage, but this time there was no escaping Mr. Shiny White Truck as he erratically veered around me (missing me by inches), flew across two lanes to the left and then back in front of me before slamming on the brakes. I think he had malicious intentions.

It didn’t help that, at the time, I was listening to incredibly annoying commentary on NPR about "Non-Troversies of 2008" in which John Ridley named a number of big news stories from the year that he felt were completely irrelevant. I will spare you details, mostly because I’m not sure 2008 is a year that a lot of people want to re-live. Don’t get me wrong; 2008 certainly had its incredible moments. But, for the most part, I don’t think I’ll miss it. And, no, I don’t think Ridley’s “non-troversies” were irrelevant. There, I said it.

Suffice it to say that I did not consider that a happy start to the last day of 2008. I spent the rest of the drive to work fuming about nearly getting run off the road. Then, I started to realize that there was something wrong with the whole picture. Why should some stranger on the freeway have any control over how I feel? He probably didn't give our encounter a second thought as he drove on, so why should I let it bother me when, only seconds earlier, I was driving along minding my own business.

Anyway, I was soon sitting comfortably at my desk editing an article about happiness, which is a follow-up to this article that will run next week. I started thinking, again, about what really makes me happy, and I thought of you, my dear readers (however few you are) and this blog. I’m starting to think of this as a place where I share all of the things that make me happy, because I think that is something we, collectively as a nation or even a world, need right now. The party is over (for now, anyway) and it is time to look for the simple things that provide joy in life.

So, before I finish, I want to leave you with the picture that brought me out of my slump this morning:

This photograph was taken by my aunt, Linda Morrow, and is the January image in her 2009 calendar “Long Beach After Dark.” I hung the calendar right next to my computer at work on Monday. I don’t have a window near my desk, but I’ve already caught myself staring at this picture of the Second Street Bridge as if I were looking through a window. All of her photos are vivid and colorful with a painterly quality. I just love this one, which seems to capture dusk on the water beautifully.

I wish you a very cheerful and healthy New Year, but most of all, I wish you a very happy 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cut the Chill with Some Holiday Warmth

Christmas is only two days away, and most of the country is in a deep-freeze. I think it's about time to share some secrets to staying warm around the holidays, inside and out. Following are my top-three ways to cut the chill. I would love to hear what you like to do to stay toasty and spirited when it gets cold outside.

Hot chocolate. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love to savor good chocolate. Not just any chocolate will do. It has to be dark; the darker and more bitter, the better. A good friend of mine once wisely advised me to turn to hot chocolate to satisfy a craving. I can't say I do this all the time, but the following recipe makes for an incredibly rich, if not ever-so-slightly decadent, winter treat:

2 1/2 cups whole milk
4 ounces 100% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until steam rises from surface. Whisk in chocolate and sugar, continuing to whisk until sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in vanilla. Reduce heat to low and serve in small cups.

The original recipe says that it serves six to 12. Twelve might be pushing it, but this drinking chocolate is so rich, I'd be impressed with anyone who could consume more than a modest cup of it.

Holiday baking. Nothing keeps a house warm like baking cookies, and lots of them. I dedicated a good portion of the past weekend to baking Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk, Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk and Ginger Molasses cookies to cut through the cold and add to the holiday spirit.

White Christmas. There are a few holiday movies that are required watching in our household between Thanksgiving and Christmas. My favorite, though, is Irving Berlin's White Christmas (1954). It may come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that a movie featuring the gloriously contrived show-within-a-show plot line might be a must-watch around here. White Christmas showcases Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney's singing and Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen's dancing (and waistline), requiring its audience to suspend disbelief so dramatically that watching this movie has become, for my family anyway, the greatest holiday escape.

You can imagine my glee when I found out that Irving Berlin's White Christmas, The Musical debuted a few years ago in San Francisco and has since toured the United States. It is now on Broadway. I happened to catch an exhilarating performance of it at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in 2006 and nothing has topped it since. At first it took some doing on my part to get past the absence of Bing Crosby, but the finale was completely thrilling. Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit faster than listening to the music from White Christmas, The Musical, even if I do still miss Crosby, just a little.

So what do you do to stay warm during the holidays?