Christmas Special

While I was home for Christmas – indeed, as Christmas was happening – I was asked more than once what I was going to write about when I wrote about Christmas. My family, I think, really likes when I write about them and was excited by the prospect of my writing down and preserving all of the funny things that happened while we were together. This still surprises me since I was nervous about writing about them at all when I first started this blog. But I’ve discovered that, honestly, I could write really shitty things about them on here and they would (maybe) still think it’s great. Partially because they love me and partially because they’re all as egotistical as I am. Anyway, this is all to say that I’m about to write about spending Christmas with my family.

Christmas for us, as you can imagine, has always been kind of a big production. Now that everyone is older, though, it felt smaller. Or more relaxed or something. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Santa-believer in our family, so it’s not really that I’m missing that part of Christmas. It’s more that the majority of my immediate family is made up of actual adults now and everyone is just way more civilized.

I spent the night before Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Eve Day making cookies. And of course, I did some last minute shopping and wrapping. My family went to 6:30 mass which was kind of painful for several reasons but I don’t want to give God any more reasons to smite me, so I won’t go into that. When we got home, the first thing we did was take our big family picture in front of the Christmas tree, which was also a painful experience. This year I think we let my dad take five photos before calling it quits, for fear that we were going to kill one another. Afterward, at dinner, my brother Jim suggested we all share our highs and lows of the year. My low was having to go to work every week day and my high was feeling like I improved as a writer. Two of my siblings had the same low, which was having mono. My dad’s low was getting hit by a cyclist while crossing Seventh Avenue. My brother John’s high was deciding to attend Notre Dame next year. Those were pretty legit things that happened. I guess this year wasn’t as eventful for me.

We always open our Secret Santa gifts after dinner. This year, I honestly had more fun giving gifts than receiving, which is kind of a lame thing to say but…it’s true. I felt like I did a pretty good job picking out stuff for everyone I had to buy for. (Well, I’m not totally convinced that my brother Aidan liked the bow tie I got him, but I guess he’s keeping it.) After we finished our gift giving, we all played a game, which has become a tradition. Last year, I made the mistake of buying Settlers of Catan for my family and trying to teach them to play, forgetting that none of them are as crazy nerdy as I am. That led to a lot of confusion and complaining so this year we played Apples to Apples, which was a big hit. After a little while, we kicked our parents out of the game and played Cards Against Humanity, which was an even bigger hit. I mean, I usually have a lot of fun playing this game, but having to tell my fourteen year-old how to pronounce “bukake” made it even more ridiculous. (Also great: having to explain how to pronounce “Hutus and Tutsis” to my eighteen year-old brother, who pronounced those words like a spell from Harry Potter.)

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

one of our many sibling selfies from christmas eve

On Christmas morning, I woke up feeling like I was kind of hungover, which was confusing because I had only had two glasses of wine the night before over the course of like six hours. My entire face hurt and I had a really sharp headache and a little bit of a stomach ache, so I decided that I had a blood clot and was going to die. I worked myself up into a frenzy and spent all morning silently freaking out and then trying to calm myself down. Anyway, I got some nice presents from my parents on Christmas morning. And then I helped my mom make breakfast.

We spend every Christmas with our good family friends, the Hudsons, who conveniently live down the street. We joined them at their house in the afternoon and had a really nice day, eating and chatting and fighting over how many years we’ve been doing Christmas together. (It’s either 20 or 21 years and I guarantee no one will figure it out during the next twelve months and we’ll all bicker about it again over dinner next year). After dinner, a ton of friends and neighbors came over for “dessert”, which is actually just a really, really big party. I’m not going to lie, I might have been…overserved. But when is a better time to be happily hammered than Christmas?

I woke up the morning of the 26th 100% sure that I was not going to be able to make it to my grandmother’s for our second round of Christmas. It took me a few hours, but I eventually got ready for the day in between bouts of catnapping, as well as drinking and then throwing up water. While my dad, one of my brothers, and my sister were watching my brother John run in a race, my mom drove Aidan and I up to my grandma’s house. Luckily, I did not have to use any of the three plastic bags I’d stuffed in my coat pocket in case I needed to barf. In fact, I felt pretty all right by the time we arrived and was able to go to town on some appetizers, all the while reminding myself that I’m not allowed to eat or drink ever again after this year is over.

Other than feeling zombie-ish until approximately 7 pm, it was a nice day. Nice in that way spending time with your family is nice. It was nice to see all of my cousins and aunts and uncles in one place because I probably won’t get to see everyone all together again until next Christmas. And it was nice to see my grandma (La) so happy that everyone was there.

That evening, we drove another two hours to my other grandma’s house. I was a little terrified during the car ride because my parents kept saying things like “drive slowly” and “black ice!” before we left and it was really dark and kind of snowy and my sister was driving. However, we got to Binghamton all right and found my grandma (Kay) sitting on her couch with CNN turned up so loud that her living room tchotchkes were trembling. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up just in time to get ready for 11 o’clock mass.

I don’t usually go to mass on Fridays – um, or any day actually – but this was a special occasion. My mom’s brother Jim, the third of the ten children in her family, died unexpectedly 10 years ago, on December 29, 2003. My family was skiing in Vermont when we heard the news. I’ll never forget the next day, driving with my mom the six hours from Stowe to our house back in Westchester to pick up our clothes for the funeral and then another three hours to Binghamton, crying and disbelieving that what was happening was happening the whole way. The days weren’t good ones for our family. They don’t feel like they’re so far off; I remember so much of them so clearly. But, when I think about it, ten years worth of events really have happened since then.

The memorial mass was said in the chapel of the high school my mom attended. I’d never been inside before and it was interesting to see the place she’d talked so much about. Most of our family members were there for mass, as well as a good number of my uncles’ friends. Afterward, we had a lunch at the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which is I guess the most Irish-Catholic thing you could do in that situation. The Binghamton chapter looks like a bomb shelter from the outside and an Irish bar crossed with a fraternity basement on the inside. I was very tempted to have a Guinness just because but then I remembered that I had wanted to “detox”…so I had a Diet Coke instead.

We went back to my grandma’s house after that. Basically, I spent the next 24 hours sitting in various places in her living room playing Pokemon X on my Nintendo 3DS, which is very cool because I probably did the same thing – obviously, it was Pokemon Red Version on a Gameboy though – on Christmas vacation fifteen years ago. Of course I spent time with my grandma and my great-aunt Honey and my cousins but like, I really did mostly play Pokemon. (I know. Yikes.)

So, that’s kind of it. We drove back home the next day and my sister very kindly drove me back to Brooklyn and now I am on another week of vacation. (Yay!)

To my family: Did I leave anything out, Flannerys? I know there were a lot of jokes and stuff I could have included here but I feel like they’re a little too insidery. Like, whenever I read our group texts to my friends they just kind of chuckle and say “that’s funny” but I know they’re really thinking “Haley, pleeeeease stop talking about your family we get it.” I guess what I’m saying is that I’m really trying to be better about reading the proverbial room. (I don’t think that’s the right use of “proverbial” but I really just want to finish this post and don’t want to look up another word.) Anyway, thank you to all of you who made another Christmas so great, or at least so fine that I really don’t have anything to complain about, which we all know is very rare!

Merry Christmas! I Made These For You.

In theory, Christmas baking is one of my favorite things. In reality, it’s a huge pain in the ass. I wait until the last minute to do anything and never make as many things as I had planned. Everything always takes so much time. (Keep in mind that I’m a person who sat on the couch and watched like 15 movies this weekend.) This year, I had committed to baking for a holiday party, and also for my family’s annual Christmas shindig tomorrow, so I did end up baking quite a few things which I will share with you now.

 

thumbprint cookies

I made these thumbprint cookies topped with raspberry jam a few weeks ago for a holiday party. I would share the recipe, which my mom got from an old friend, here but I am too lazy.

christmas cupcakes

These chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting were for the same holiday party and I made them only because I couldn’t find ingredients in the grocery store for other cookies that I wanted to make. Also, you can’t tell here, but I used Christmas cupcake liners because I impulse bought some when I was at the Christmas Tree Shoppe with my grandma over Thanksgiving.

snickerdoodles

I made these snickerdoodles on Sunday using this Smitten Kitchen recipe. They turned out well, according to my brother, who said they’re the best snickerdoodles he’s ever had.

sugar cookie cut outs

I have been making these sugar cookies every year for the past few years. I use this Martha Stewart recipe.

We’re down to about 3 cookie cutters at my parents’ house. Every year I say that I’m going to buy a few more and, shockingly, I never do. (We threw the shamrock in for my brother Dayton, who is currently a student at Notre Dame, and my brother Johnny, who will be headed there next year.) Anyway, I was up until about midnight finishing baking these last night.

frosted sugar cookies

And today…we frosted! I usually just wing it when I make royal icing. Confectioners sugar, egg whites and a little water. This Joy of Baking recipe (the one with egg whites) is basically what I do.

Thank you to Tori and Johnny for helping frost and decorate these guys. Frosting – without eating the cookies – is really hard work.

And Merry Christmas to all!

Albums of 2013

Earlier this week, I posted my favorite songs of 2013. Today, I’m posting my favorite albums. My choices shouldn’t really surprise you if you saw my list of favorite songs. (I really, really liked the albums that my most-listened-to songs were on!) Honestly, my choices shouldn’t surprise you in general, I guess, since I think everyone liked these albums?

This wasn’t a HUGE album-listening year for me. I was definitely more singles-focused. But there were a bunch of things I spent quite a bit of time with, enough that I feel pretty good calling them my ‘favorites’. I’m organizing them alphabetically because, well, I could rank them but honestly, it’s not as fun as ranking songs and I’m only posting 15 16 albums here anyway.

Here we go:

Ariana Grande, Yours Truly

So, I have not liked a straight up pop album this much in a really long time. I heard “The Way” this summer on the radio while driving somewhere with my siblings, who are much more pop music-savvy than I. “She sounds like Mariah Carey!” I said. My siblings were like, “Yeah, duh.” And then I listened to “Honeymoon Avenue” and “Baby I” shortly after her album came out and couldn’t stop listening to them and was like, “Oh my God, I have to listen to the whole album.” So I did and it was a very, very good decision because it has many more good songs.

A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP

I almost forgot that this album came out this year. But then I remembered! I listened to this a lot at a certain point earlier in the year when I decided that I wasn’t listening to enough hip-hop in general. This is something I do every year, I guess, and then I end up going through a “hip-hop phase”. Anyway, this album stuck with me more than a lot of others.

Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety

Oh man. This was my big album of the first half of the year, for sure. (Duh, I related to an album titled ANXIETY.) It definitely makes me think of the winter, which means I’ve been rocking it a lot again now that it’s cold and snowing off and on here in New York.

Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

I saw Chance the Rapper perform in June and it was one of the most fun concert experiences I had all year, even if the venue was full of underage bros. I actually didn’t listen to his mixtape, Acid Rap, until right before the show. I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the whole thing. (You can download it here.)

CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe

Late last year, I heard “The Mother We Share”, just in time to put it on my favorite songs of 2012 list. This album was one of my most anticipated of the year. I was held over by the singles “Recover” and “Gun”, but ended up being kind of late getting into the actual album because it came out around the same time as a bunch of other stuff. Anyway, it’s great!

Danny Brown, Old

Even though I’d been hearing a lot about him for a while, I never really listened to Danny Brown until this year because I assumed that I wouldn’t like him? That was dumb. I love Danny Brown.

Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record

Full disclosure: I am a person who had a Fiery Furnaces poster over their bed in college*. I’ve loved both of the solo albums Eleanor Friedberger has put out so far and I really did connect to the, ahem, personal nature of this record and, of course, her storytelling, which is really top-notch.

*Actually, it’s still hanging in my room – in a frame now – five years after graduation.

Haim, Days Are Gone

This ended up being my most-listened-to record of the year. I was never not listening to Haim at any point this year, especially in the weeks after this album came out, when they were the only music I listened to at all. So yeah, I really loved this one. I love every single song, even “My Song 5”, which I really hated for a while. That song is like an acquaintance who you see often enough at parties and they kind of annoy you from a far but then finally you chat and really connect and you’re like,

Julia Holter, Loud City Song

I listen to Julia Holter’s music the most during my mornings and weekends. I was surprised at how much I loved her last album, Ekstasis, and equally as surprised when I loved this year’s Loud City Song. While it didn’t have a song I liked as much as “In the Same Room” or “Moni Mon Amie”, I ended up listening to the record on repeat, almost not realizing that I was falling in love with the mood of the whole thing.

Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze

I didn’t listen to Kurt Vile until two years ago, sometime around the release of his last album. Since then, I’ve become a pretty enormous fan. I was actually nervous that this album wouldn’t be good and I only ever feel like that when I really, really like an artist. (This means that no one can even talk to me about Joanna Newsom until she releases another album and I’ve listened to it a few times because I’ve been anxious about it for years, at this point.) ANYWAY, this album. I liked it very much. I also saw Kurt Vile twice this year and enjoyed those experiences very much, even though the first show made me so tired that it led me to post this weird like, rant about going to concerts on weeknights.

Laura Marling, Once I Was An Eagle

As a mostly lazy person, I don’t understand Laura Marling. At 25, she’s already made several mature, beautiful albums and I’m more than a little bit jealous of how smart and accomplished she is. Once I Was An Eagle is easily my favorite album of hers so far.

Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia

Even if I didn’t like this album it would still be on this list because of its title. Lucky for all of us, it’s actually good. Well, lucky for me, really, since this was another one I was kinda nervous about not being good? I don’t know why. I’ve been a Marnie fan for a long, long time and she has never disappointed me.

My Bloody Valentine, mbv

I won’t be one of those people who’s like, “This album was worth waiting twenty years for.” A) I didn’t wait twenty years for it because I did not listen to MBV until maybe ten years ago and B) I will always, always like Loveless better than almost anything. HOWEVER, I listened to this a lot after it came out in February and I liked it a lot.

 

Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time

I saw Sky Ferreira on a subway platform this fall. (It was the Bedford L stop, natch.) I wanted to say something to her but I was too nervous slash I was pretty afraid it wasn’t her? I played “Everything Is Embarrassing” on repeat for the better part of a year, soooo I am kind of fan girl. This was shortly after Night Time, My Time came out, which has become one of my favorite-favorite things-in-general of this year. I love almost every song and am sure I’ll be playing this for…a while.

 

Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

This album made me feel things. Like, a lot of things. I guess it reminded me of the experience of connecting with an album as a teenager.

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Oh, boy. I want to write a lot about this one, but maybe I’ll do that another time. I put off (closely) listening to this album until this summer, after the initial buzz had died down, and I’m glad I did. Somehow, it made the experience of listening more intimate? Anyway, I just think (most) everything about Modern Vampires of the City was really well done. Not that those dudes need me to tell them that. 😉

Songs of 2013

Songs of 2013

A few years ago, I decided to get in on the whole year end music list game. I mean “in on the game” in the sense that I wanted to make a list of my favorite songs, not that I wanted to compete with all of your favorite/least favorite music publications to name the “best” songs of the year.

So, here’s the list of my favorite songs of 2013. I had a lot of fun making the list this year. I ranked my top 50, even though I feel ranking gets kind of arbitrary, and linked to videos where possible. I also included 25 “Honorable Mention” songs because after #50 it got really hard for me to decide if I liked one song better than another.

I included all of the songs I could on this Spotify playlist: Haley’s Songs of 2013

*****

50. Courtney Barnett: ‘Avant Gardener’
49. The Knife: ‘A Tooth For An Eye’
48. Wavves: ‘Demon to Lean On’
47. Neko Case: ‘Night Still Comes’
46. Bleached: ‘Outta My Mind’
45. Fear of Men: ‘Seer’
44. Toro Y Moi: ‘Rose Quartz’
43. A$AP Ferg: ‘Hood Pope’
42. Blood Orange: ‘Chamakay’
41. Classixx feat. Nancy Whang: ‘All You’re Waiting For’

40. White Denim: ‘New Blue Feeling’
39. The Preatures: ‘Is This How You Feel?’
38. Lorde: ‘The Love Club’
37. Grouper: ‘Vital’
36. Colleen Green: ‘Only One’
35. Speedy Ortiz: ‘No Below’
34. Jessie Ware: ‘Imagine It Was Us’
33. Ciara: ‘Body Party’
32. Toxie: ‘Newgate’
31. Miley Cyrus: ‘We Can’t Stop’

30. 2 Chainz feat. Pharell: ‘Feds Watching’
29. Julia Holter: ‘Maxim’s I’
28. Mount Kimbie: ‘Made to Stray’
27. Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge: ‘White Noise’
26. Chance the Rapper: ‘Chain Smoker’
25. Mariah Carey & Miguel: ‘#Beautiful’
24. Torres: ‘Honey’
23. Sophie: ‘Bipp’
22. A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T: ‘1 Train’
21. Liquor Store: ‘Vodka Beach’

20. Rich Homie Quan: ‘Type of Way’
19. Rhye: ‘The Fall’
18. Danny Brown feat. Purity Ring: ‘25 Bucks’
17. Kacey Musgraves: ‘Silver Lining’
16. My Bloody Valentine: ‘Only Tomorrow’
15. Eleanor Friedberger: ‘My Own World’
14. Angel Olsen: ‘Sweet Dreams’
13. Giraffage: ‘All That Matters’
12. Marnie Stern: ‘Nothing Is Easy’
11. Young Galaxy: ‘Pretty Boy’

10. Waxahatchee: ‘Coast to Coast’
9. ScHoolboy Q: ‘Man of the Year’
8. Laura Marling: ‘Master Hunter’
7. Ariana Grande: ‘Honeymoon Avenue’
6. CHVRCHES: ‘Recover’
5. Sky Ferreira: ‘I Blame Myself’
4. Kurt Vile: ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’
3. Haim: ‘The Wire’
2. Autre Ne Veut: ‘Play by Play’
1. Vampire Weekend: ‘Don’t Lie’ / ‘Hannah Hunt’

Honorable Mention:
Ariel Pink feat. Jorge Elbrecht: ‘Hang On to Life’
The Belle Game: ‘River’
Charli XCX: ‘You (Ha Ha Ha)’
Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear: ‘Doin’ It Right’
Drake feat. Majid Jordan: ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’
J.Cole feat. Miguel: ‘Power Trip’
Justin Timberlake: ‘Mirrors’
Kanye West: ‘Blood On the Leaves’
Kevin Gates: ‘4:30 AM’
Little Boots: ‘Motorway’
Majical Cloudz: ‘Bugs Don’t Buzz’
Mas Ysa: ‘Why’
Mikal Cronin: ‘Weight’
Mutual Benefit: ‘Advanced Falconry’
The Range: ‘Metal Swing’
Rihanna: ‘Stay (Branchez Bootleg)’
Roosevelt: ‘Elliot’
Parquet Courts: ‘Stoned and Starving’
Pure Bathing Culture: ‘Pendulum’
Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar: ‘Nosetalgia’
Solange: ‘Cash In’
Swearin’: ‘Watered Down’
Washed Out: ‘It All Feels Right’
Willow Smith: ‘Sugar and Spice’
Zola Jesus: ‘Fall Back’

Things I’d Rather Be Doing Today

hello kitty december

1. Baking so many kinds of cookies, but especially:

– Sugar cookies (Christmas cutouts) with royal frosting
– Minty chocolate cookies dusted with powdered sugar
– Linzer cookies

2. Sitting in front of a cozy fire with a book, preferably a fantasy novel, though I’d be open to other genres

3. Studying all of the German past tenses

4. Walking on a treadmill while reading The New Yorker

5. Finalizing my list of favorite 2013 songs

6. Crafting stuff (stuff TBD)

7. Participating in a hot dog eating contest, which isn’t seasonally appropriate, but is something I’ve always wanted to do

8. Listening to a every single volume of A Very Special Christmas

9. Drinking unlimited beer, but only as long as I’m guaranteed to not be hungover tomorrow

10. Hiding in a Christmas stocking full of gifts and candy, which is what the Hello Kitty on my December calendar page is doing

11. Watching Lilyhammer Season 2, which isn’t even available until tomorrow and isn’t even really that good, though I’ll admit that I watched the first season kind of quickly

12. Buying Christmas gifts for myself

13. Doing all of the crossword puzzles I’ve saved during the past six months

14. Singing (karaoke)

15. Watching my mom’s Zumba class