Archive for December, 2009

My Christmas Gift

I tend to forget with Christmas that I get presents. It usually hits me on Christmas Eve, after I’ve returned home from the extended family gathering, that I am going to receive presents that I don’t even have to pay for. With all the other serious business that goes on during the holiday season, it’s easy to forget.

It wasn’t that way when I was a kid, because at that age (1) I didn’t have to do any of the work and (2) really, what could possibly be more important to an eight year old than a PILE OF EXQUISITELY WRAPPED PRESENTS? But now that I am undeniably an adult, the presents tend to be an afterthought.

However, this year, I got a gift that has excited me to levels that haven’t been seen since childhood. I got a silver KitchenAid stand mixer. It is amazing, full of promise, and I often find myself stroking it in loving admiration. I’m not sure I can convey how beautiful it is. This picture makes an admirable attempt at conveying the beauty, but even this does not fully succeed:

I used it to make “crusty” pizza dough on Saturday night, which was not terrible. If anything it was a little too enthusiastically crusty, which was so my fault, and so not at all the fault of the mixer.

It makes me want to bake things (LOTS of things), as if I don’t have huge quantities of leftover Christmas cookies sitting on my counter right now. I want to learn to bake every type of bread IN THE WORLD. (Very handily, I have a cookbook called “Breads of the World.”) I want to find more recipes like the oatmeal-sweet potato cookies which are delicious, yet not necessarily completely unhealthy. And then I will BAKE THEM ALL.

The degree of how much I want to bake things is many times the degree of how much I actually want to eat things. So, obviously, the best way for me to satisfy my overpowering! urge! to bake! will be to find some recipients other than myself, like the Ronald McDonald House or something. I believe I have found a project to occupy my time while my sister is away for the next six months.


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Down to Christmas Business

Now that the recital is over, I have three weeks without dance class, which feels like kind of a long time, but which is actually no time AT ALL, especially when most of that time will be taken up with holiday festivities.

But that means it’s time to focus on Christmas, since that is, shockingly, NEXT WEEK. It is occurring to me that I am really, really behind. I need to start on my holiday baking. Figure out what I’m going to do about gift-giving. Maybe send out a Christmas card or two–although I’ve already decided that I’m going to be using leftover cards that I already have instead of buying new ones, if I send out any at all. Try putting back up the Christmas lights that fell down. Oh, and maybe I should also clean up the HOT MESS that has erupted in my house, so that I can actually enjoy the lovely Christmas decorations.

(Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, I cannot see you beneath the pile of laundry.)

I have been experiencing strong feelings of laziness lately. The laziness tells me that it’s perfectly okay to just dump all my clean clothes on the couch and to pull out wrinkled shirts when needed for wearing. The laziness proclaims that it’s okay that my floors are dirty, because it’s cold outside, and they’re building huge gingerbread houses on the Food Network. The laziness tells me that I have plenty more time to bake the seven dozen types of cookies I intend to make. The laziness dictates that it is far better to enjoy some tortilla chips with melted sharp cheddar cheese while sitting on the couch than it would be to go to the gym.

Oh, but Christmas is coming and I need to at least fake my way to a better work ethic. It’s not that I don’t want to indulge in festive Christmas CHEER. I love Christmas cheer.

I’ve noticed, though, that as I have gotten older, time really has begun to pass with increasingly frightening speed. Part of what that means is that I can’t help but think, “Oh, so what if I screw up Christmas this year. Another one is going to be here before I know it. I can do it better next time.”

But you’d think after I spent all that time whimpering about how I waaaaanted it to be Chriiiiiiistmas, I would be more on top of things now that it is well and truly here.

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Senior Class

The class I’m in at my dance studio is called the “senior class.” It is not name that has ever been officially assigned, but it gets used by all the dancers anyway. It is the most advanced class, and the class that typically opens and closes the recital.

Years ago, when I first started at the studio, I remember watching the senior class in awe, marveling at how talented they were and how grown-up and cool and fun they were. I have more vivid memories of dances I watched the senior class do than of dances I did myself. There was such a mystique that surrounded being a part of that class.

My (younger) sister was asked to be a part of the senior class well before I was. I wasn’t terribly offended, and was somehow able to accept that, though she’s three years younger than me, she was a much better dancer than I was. I knew that she deserved to be there, and that I didn’t.

But, you know, it irked me a little. After all, I was in college–one of the oldest people at the studio!–and I had never gotten the opportunity to graduate out of my class into the senior class.

So, while I wouldn’t say I devised a scheme, it’s true that a plan did come to me.

In my last year of dance before I went away to college (not knowing when I started the year that I would be transferring to another state), I maneuvered my way in. I told my dance teacher that I would be joining a choir that met at the same time as my current class, and that therefore, I needed to be in a class that met at a different time. Leading her to say, “Well, then I guess I’ll have to put you in the Wednesday night class.” The senior class.

This wasn’t a complete lie on my part, because I really did think I would be joining the choir. It just so happened that the person who told me about the choir exaggerated the degree to which the choir was looking for new members. And also, I never auditioned.

So, I got my coveted spot, and I worked hard to show my dance teacher I was serious about being there. I practiced my tap dance repeatedly in my apartment hallway, undoubtedly driving my neighbors crazy. And I don’t think, at the time, my teacher regretted letting me join the class, at least not too much.

Maybe she had just been waiting for me to ask, and had assumed that because I never said anything to her about wanting to move classes, I was perfectly content where I was. But I can’t help feel a little bit guilty about the play I made.

This is probably why, even now, I put pressure on myself to improve, improve, IMPROVE! It’s also probably a part of why I experience so much low dance self-confidence now. (In addition to my lack of talent, basic coordination, flexibility, balance, and strength.) I used trickery to worm my way into the senior class! So even now, years later, I feel like, if I’m going to deserve to be there, I have seriously got to earn it.

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The dance recitals were on Sunday, and like always, no matter how much time I spend worrying about them, they went fine. We didn’t do as well as we did in the spring, but, most importantly, as always, they were lots of fun.

When my dance teacher asked my sister and me last year if we might be interested in re-joining this class, she cautioned, “And you know, re-joining that class would mean that you would be doing recitals again.” As if recitals were something we might want to avoid!

It’s exciting to perform, of course, but the best part of recitals is the renewed group camaraderie that comes from sharing dressing rooms and putting on lots of make-up and the taking of pictures and having spontaneous dance parties while waiting backstage. I always wind up having a conversation with someone in my class that I’ve never really talked to before.

It’s funny that I get so hyped up about dance recitals, because my dance studio is an interesting combination of laid-back and perfectionist. It’s not someplace you go for classical training or if you want to be a competition dancer. It has the feel of a cozy, comfortable neighborhood studio, where you go if you want to have some fun dancing. At the same time, at least in my class, there are people who are committed to the class and committed to dancing well, so we still put pressure on ourselves to try and be good.

At this recital, we weren’t great, but we were good. It gave me some extra inspiration to improve, and now it’s going to be kind of nice to have three weeks of a break from dance, during which I will undoubtedly indulge a little more freely with delicious foods, like the tortilla chips I enjoyed last night with chili and lots of sharp cheddar cheese.

Unfortunately, the plans of my sister and I for a post-recital celebration were totally ruined. After the last recital, we got Chik-Fil-A to celebrate, which is the sort of treat in which we almost never indulge. This time, our plan was to order a pizza and start watching season 5 of “Lost.”

However, none of our local video rental establishments had the first disc of season 5 of “Lost.” And I realized that the nearby pizza place we wanted to order from doesn’t do delivery–only carryout. By the time we got home we were both way too tired to even consider going back out to pick up a pizza. So instead, I ate leftover white rice and we watched the Christmas episode of “iCarly.”

Not quite as awesome as last time–but still pretty good.

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Here are some possible reasons why an abandoned wheelchair has been sitting in the front yard of the vacant house next door to mine for the past two days:

  • Someone in one of the neighboring houses needs a wheelchair some of the time, but they don’t feel like actually storing it inside their house.  Where it would be, you know, safe from the elements, like the snow that fell overnight.
  • Some punk kids stole a wheelchair from a nursing home and used it to push each other up and down the sidewalk. Then, not knowing what to do with it, they dumped it at the vacant house.
  • Some person was going down my street in his or her wheelchair, when they were abducted by the mafia for their role in a scandal involving the mafia boss’s daughter. The person was picked up and shoved in the car, leaving the wheelchair behind.
  • Someone who had just robbed a bank obtained a wheelchair to use in order to look less suspicious. He or she casually rolled away from the scene of the crime, until reaching my street, when they ditched the wheelchair and ran.
  • It’s not abandoned, and the vacant house isn’t vacant. Instead, the vacant house is inhabited by GHOSTS, and… one of the ghosts suffered a spinal injury?
  • My street block could have restorative powers similar to those of the island on “Lost.” Maybe there was a total John Locke situation, in which someone who needed a wheelchair visited my street, and then suddenly discovered that he or she could walk again, thus rendering their wheelchair unnecessary, and a part of that person’s past that he or she would rather forget.
  • It’s not abandoned. It actually has Jacob from “Lost” sitting in it, and I just can’t hear him.
  • Someone who knows how my imagination operates put it there just to freak me out.

I myself have taken to calling it “Jacob.”

All this brings me to this question: is there something I am supposed to DO about the fact that there is an abandoned (HAUNTED?) wheelchair sitting in the yard of a vacant house? Far be it from me to shirk my neighborhoodly responsibility, but I am at kind of a loss.

From the looks of the wheels, it has clearly been used. I believe wheelchairs are fairly expensive, and there is probably an organization out there that could use an extra wheelchair, or could match it up with someone who does. At the same time, I am hesitant to assume responsibility for it, and then get accused of stealing someone’s wheelchair.

Plus, you know, there is still the possibility of ghosts (or JACOB), and I really don’t want to get too close to that business.

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“So You Think You Can Dance” was the perfect summer TV show. It was a fun and festive way to spend summer nights. Then, FOX moved it to a fall primetime spot, and my beloved summer show is bordering on “dead to me” territory.

They made all sorts of fancy changes to the show, which just aren’t working. They got a new set, with an awful new stage. They made Adam Shankman the permanent third judge, which is getting old. He was always my favorite judge, but I miss the variety of the revolving door of judgment. They lost Mia Michaels, who was one of their best choreographers.

The biggest problem, though, is that this season’s top 20 dancers are either unlikeable or uninteresting. Most of them are great dancers, some of them are so-so dancers, but almost all of them are annoying. Anyone who gets in front of a camera and says on national television, “What America doesn’t know about me is… that I feel most alive when I am helping other people,” makes me want to vomit. Sweetheart, that’s called exploiting volunteer work in a painfully unskilled attempt at pandering to a voting audience.

The judges have taken up the mantel of trying to convince everyone–the audience, the network, the viewers at home–that this season’s dancers are truly talented and compelling to watch. The feedback after almost every single dance has been, “That was beautiful, you were wonderful, and you are X type of dancer, so you should not have been able to do Y style!” That feedback is ridiculous, because the whole point of the show is to find a dancer who is talented and capable at doing every style. Meanwhile, my sister and I have been sitting at home yelling, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME. DID YOU REALLY NOT SEE HOW SLOPPY THAT WAS?”

I appreciate that the judges are stuck. They can’t say every week, about almost every dance, “Wow, that dance was okay, but it wasn’t awesome. And wow, did we sure make some mistakes in picking this top 20.” The judges’ comments have become worthless and occasionally infuriating.

(Partly infuriating because of the way they regularly picked on Evan Kasprzak last season, when he danced way better than some of these season 6 yahoos.)

On this week’s episode, miracle of all miracles, there was actually a legitimately awesome dance. For the first time this season, I was shocked and amazed and excited. Then I watched the dance four more times, and mourned for the show that used to be able to regularly create greatness like this:

I owe “So You Think You Can Dance” a lot. It was the thing that inspired me to go back to dancing myself, which has been wonderful for me, even when I’m experiencing low dance self-confidence like I am this week. But this season, it has become apparent that SYTYCD is getting ready to grand jeté over the shark. The one great dance is a ray of hope, but it’s not enough.

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Speaking of cookies, I am sure you are wondering, how has my “four in four” project been going? My attempt to get in better physical and mental shape for my dance recital, and lose four pounds in four weeks while I’m at it?


Not… awesome.

It’s amazing how much more difficult it is to accomplish those things when it’s the Christmas season. When I was on Thanksgiving break, did I want to go to the gym? Hardly. I wanted to get a piece of pie from The Pie Kitchen and take it with me to see New Moon. I wanted to fry up leftover mashed potatoes in butter to make potato pancakes. I wanted to sleep late and decorate my house. And I somehow always forget that while I’m sitting, watching TV, I could use that time to stretch out my very stiff right leg.

Plus, I don’t believe I have ever in my life been good at going to bed early in order to get a full night’s sleep.

Contributing to my laziness is the fact that I’m not in love with the dances that my class is doing this semester. Last semester, we danced to “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse (which, for added inspiration, can be found on the Twilight soundtrack). It was a tough, kick ass dance that I really, really wanted to get right. This semester’s big dance is to “Fame” from the recent movie soundtrack. I’m not quite as inspired by that one.

Last semester, I had the challenge of feeling like I had to prove myself of being worthy of being in the class. That anxiety is still there, but it doesn’t exist to the same degree. I know I’m still at the lower end of talent and ability in the class, but I don’t feel like my dance teacher is going to kick me out, either. While dance is no less fun and important to me, some of the novelty has worn off.

Maybe most significant in my lack of behavioral changes is that the costumes this time around are more flattering. Potential humiliation is a great motivator.

Excuses, excuses.

My dance recital is in a week and a half. I have got a week and a half to get myself right for it, which at this point means that practicing the dances takes top priority.

It’s hard to do, because there are two floor surfaces in my house–carpet and ceramic tile. Neither of those are good to dance on, at all. Last semester, we regularly had class for an hour and a half on both Wednesday and Thursday nights. This semester, I don’t think we’ve had more than one Thursday rehearsal. I am realizing how much I depended on that extra practice time. It not only helped me learn the dances better, but it helped me feel more confident in my movement overall. Last night in class, I felt shaky and off-balance and off-kilter and clumsy. It’s so frustrating to feel like I can’t make my body move correctly.

For those of you attending my dance recital, I believe it is time for you to lower your expectations.

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