Under the chandelier

The fact that the above photo looks like a fancy crystal snowflake is a lucky coincidence. It’s actually one of the chandeliers at Radio City Music Hall, taken from me standing underneath it and at a slight angle. I like it better than the photos I took of actual holiday decorations around New York from that trip.

Radio City Music Hall was one of the big reasons I went to NYC last year. My sister-in-law is a Rockette, and I had never seen her perform live as a Rockette. They put on a big spectacular Christmas show with a cheesy story and some silly laser effects, not to mention the live camels onstage, but the real reason to go is to watch the Rockettes, and they are pretty fascinating. Also, I liked trying to figure out how the huge pieces of scenery worked (they all ride in a very large bus at one point, and there are ice skaters onstage). Trying to figure out which dancer onstage was actually my sister-in-law was a challenge at first, but she’s one of the taller dancers and has a very distinctive smile.

I’ve got more photos from the afternoon but this is my favorite from that day. One advantage of having a Rockette sister-in-law is that I get to see some interesting behind-the-scenes photos of the costumes and the dancers and so forth. My favorite Rockette photos, though, are from backstage some years ago when my brother turned up and proposed to her. At intermission. How do you perform after that? She’s a trouper.

Window shopping

I have too much writing to do without signing up for Holidailies, but I convinced myself that it would be a nice way to publish holiday-related photos every day. Maybe it would encourage me to go out and take photos, which I haven’t been doing very much lately (see above regarding too much writing). A Tumblr would be better but I’m too lazy to go start another website.

I founded Holidailies and ran it with Chip until 2010, the year we tried Reddit, which didn’t go over well with a lot of people. Jennifer and Richard are now doing a fabulous job keeping things going on the website.

I used to encourage people to introduce themselves on the first day of Holidailies, but looking at the participant list, I suspect that these days we all know one another, or at least our blogs. Still, if I haven’t posted here in nearly two years, an update might be nice.

I’m Jette. I live in Austin with my husband Chip and cat Rufus. I work as a tech writer during the day, and a film writer on nights and weekends. When I’m not writing, I like to overcommit to doing other things. And then I vegetate because I’m exhausted and reread novels. I’m currently on the board of my local neighborhood association (I could write a book … maybe someday) through January; I’m president of the local film critics’ group, which at this time of year involves a lot of emailing to make sure everyone gets to see all the movies in time to vote for awards; I want to go to the gym every day but, um, that doesn’t happen.

I like to take photos of holiday decorations. I am not a big celebrator of specific winter holidays, but I love light displays and decorated trees and garlands. I could do without the blow-up lawn decorations and the people who think people like me are waging a War On Christmas. Anyway, the photos are what I’m hoping to post to the site this month because otherwise I would just rattle on about movies, which you can read elsewhere if that interests you.

I didn’t take many photos of Austin holiday stuff last year because I was laid off five days before Christmas and then got the world’s worst cold, but I did get some lovely pictures in NYC when I went the week before I got canned. The photo at the top is from the window of a store and I can’t remember the store — it was pretty crowded that day. More on that later, maybe.

Neighborhood lights

I’m not sure why I stopped writing here this month. I got tired, I had too many other things to do, all the usual lame-sounding excuses. No motivation. December has been a very up-and-down month for me. Wonderful Christmas Day, sucky New Year’s. Not much movie watching, but my husband has been going through the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time on Netflix Watch Instantly, and I’ve increasingly been sucked into watching them with him. (We’re finishing the final season right now. It is somewhat ridiculous.)

The above photo is a house in my neighborhood. I felt inspired to take photos of neighborhood holiday lights this year, perhaps in part because my neighborhood association put together a luminaria walk at the nearby school. I found out that it’s damned difficult to take successful photos of holiday lights, at least with my camera and my limited photography skill set.

But if you like that sort of thing, I have a whole Flickr set of holiday decor from this year: holiday lights, the luminaria walk, and a few photos from the house. Chip made latkes on Christmas Eve and I have a photo of that too. I missed taking a picture of our Christmas morning breakfast: latkes and bacon. Hey, we make our own holiday. And I have to say that I was really happy with the holiday we had around Christmas this year.

birthday oatmeal

I had been hearing all kinds of magical, mystical stories about what happens when you cook steel-cut oats overnight in a slow cooker (or Crock Pot, if you’re into that whole brand name thing). I heard especially drool-inducing tales about what happens if you throw apples into the mix. Oh, my. I had never tried steel-cut oats before, being happy enough with the normal kind, but I was very tempted.

I didn’t try it, though. My husband loves his morning oatmeal breakfast but seemed supremely disinterested in the whole steel-cut concept, not to mention he gets a bit mock-y about my cooking unusual things in the slow cooker. Also, we have a rather large slow cooker. I felt like if I experimented with a small amount just for me in the huge Crock Pot, I might wake up to find a smoking black hole in my kitchen counter. With a burnt apple smell. (Yes, I know about the trick of putting a smaller bowl in the cooker and filling the cooker with water, but I was wary.)

However, a few weeks ago, my husband asked me to buy some steel-cut oats when I was at one of the fancy grocery stores, and I took that as my cue. He mocked the slow-cooker idea, arguing that it was easier just to use a saucepan on the stove, but I noticed he didn’t have time to do them on the stovetop. So last night, I decided I would just make a big batch of oats in my big red Crock Pot and see what happened. Oats are not exactly pricey — even if I had to throw out a mess, it would not be terribly heartbreaking. Read on »

It’s the time of year where people start to talk about Christmas movies, and I want my turn. Every year we get new crappy Christmas-themed movies in theaters, as inoffensive and family-friendly as possible, and that’s not what I want to talk about. No Polar Express, no ninety-thousandth remix of The Nutcracker or even A Christmas Carol (although there are several versions of the latter that I like).

What is a Christmas movie, anyway? In my book, it’s a movie that you want to watch when it’s Christmas. You don’t really get a hankering for it in July, although I remember one grad-school summer when AMC was showing It’s a Wonderful Life almost daily and I used to like watching the first half if I stumbled upon it. It can be a movie with one good Christmas scene in it — like Little Women, Meet Me in St. Louis or Holiday. Brazil is set at Christmas time, and perhaps that’s your cup of tea. Lots of people enjoy Die Hard.

Or hell, maybe it’s one that has nothing to do with Christmas at all but you’re used to watching it then. A lot of people grew up watching The Wizard of Oz on network TV at Christmas. I have a fondness for Singin’ in the Rain at this time of year, usually if I am actually wrapping presents. My husband and I go to Alamo Drafthouse on Christmas week every year for their annual movie-and-sliders screening of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Okay, I don’t think that actually qualifies, although we can certainly count Bad Santa, which we often watch on or around Christmas.

I bought a movie on DVD yesterday. I don’t buy a lot of DVDs anymore. The household rule of thumb for DVDs is that they should be movies you plan to watch at least once a year. Otherwise, we’d need a bigger bookcase for them. But I also like to buy older movies that I’ve been waiting to be released on DVD for years and years, not just because I love the movies, but because I want to support these types of movies being on DVD, and the best way to do that is buying them. We have a lot of 1930s movies on DVD for just this reason.

I had just read something online about Christmas movies, and thought about one of my favorites, even though I have only seen it once or twice, and on a whim I did a search on Amazon. Lo and behold, TCM has released a DVD of Remember the Night. This is a 1940 movie written by Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve) and directed by Mitchell Leisen (Midnight). It stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck and a lot of familiar character actors, several of which show up again together in It’s a Wonderful Life some years later. Naturally I snapped it up immediately, and it should be here soon.

Remember the Night is the kind of movie you stumble upon while wrapping presents in the back bedroom on Dec. 24 if you want a distraction and are weary of A Christmas Story. At least, that’s how I ended up watching it the first time. Stanwyck is a shoplifter whom MacMurray’s DA has put in jail awaiting trial over Christmas, but when he finds she can’t make bail, he bails her out himself, and even offers to drive her to her family’s home in Indiana for Christmas. It starts out hard-boiled and snappy, but the second half gets a bit sentimental and hell, even corny at times. However, you get to be a little schmaltzy with a Christmas movie, especially with Stanwyck around. Double Indemnity, this is not, not by a long shot.

I want to see Remember the Night again. I’m hoping I still like it, even though it’s been years. I hope I haven’t hyped it too much in my head because it was unavailable to me (TCM shows it annually but we don’t have cable). And … sometimes you just want to watch a sappy Christmas movie, especially if it is counterbalanced with Sturges’ snappy dialogue. I have seen It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street too many times, and White Christmas gets a little annoying in spots, and Bad Santa doesn’t quite satisfy my need for a little unabashed melodrama. I don’t know if I’ll watch it now or save it another week — I’ll have to see if it’s at all interesting to my husband — but I’m looking forward to revisiting this movie.

Testing new camera

So my secret plan for posting here every day during Holidailies was this: I have a Flickr badge in the sidebar that displays three random photos from my Flickr set. I would pull up the website, pick one of the photos and post it with a paragraph or two about it. If I really hated all three photos I could refresh, but I hoped to avoid doing that too often.

Unfortunately, I ran into a snag. Apparently the “random” photo selection isn’t really random. It’s only the most recent 100 or so of my photos. And frankly, the last 100 or so photos are not very exciting from a personal writing standpoint: film-fest pictures, snapshots from my neighborhood’s Independence Day parade and a bunch of photos from a local event honoring Spike Lee. I have already written about most of that stuff elsewhere. I could swear that at first, I truly was getting a random selection, but maybe a photo of something recent reminded me of an earlier one. I don’t know.

I spent a lot of time searching Flickr, Google and WordPress and could find no good answer on how to fix this. I want three photos picked randomly from ALL my photos. Apparently I could get a random selection for photos with a certain tag, but which tag do I pick? I don’t want to pick just photos from Austin, as that would leave out any childhood and vacation snapshots. I don’t want photos from just one year, either. Read on »

Gilded branches

I picked the photo with the star for my holiday cards, and also ordered cards with the reels-and-candle mantelpiece to send in a quasi-professional way. I liked the photo with the ogling Santa, which I took in Tucson last year, but I didn’t want to get anything too overtly Christmas-y, although my parents may even interpret the star as religious if they choose. I like a holiday card that’s open to multiple interpretations.

I suppose I also could have considered the above photo, which looks holiday-ish in a generic sort of way. There are a few traditional hanging ornaments but they’re subtle. And I have an odd fondness for winter holiday decorations in Texas that don’t have snow, because we never have snow. How do you portray a Texas Christmas? Cowboy boots with holly are too obvious. Dead grass is not decorative.

The photo above was taken at the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Austin last year. I don’t normally hang around at the Four Seasons — it’s lovely but I always feel a little grungy and underdressed in there. Although when I go for press events, often the “celebrity” I am interviewing looks even grungier than I do. Read on »

Marfa Film Festival

It is a busy time of the year for me. I have to watch a lot of movies. Oh, pity me, all of you, I have to sit on a comfy futon or in a not-crowded theater and watch movies that haven’t opened in theaters yet. My life is so sad. And because I can’t usually bring my husband as a guest to these screenings, I will probably have to see some of the year’s top movies twice. The agony! The suffering! Can we get Warren Zevon over here please for a rousing chorus of “Poor Pitiful Me”?

Ahem. Anyway. Lots of movies to watch, Holidailies to keep an eye on (today’s tip: check your entry after you post it to make sure you posted a link and not a discussion post that won’t include your link), and the general holiday season to prepare for. We don’t do a lot of holiday prep in the house, but last night I was proud to have decorated our pink and sparkly holiday tree while watching a movie that I suspected (correctly) wouldn’t need my full attention.

While pulling out the ornaments and things from the storage boxes, I also pulled out the Christmas/holiday cards. I was surprised. Usually I have a couple of boxes of cards — some leftover from other years, some bought on sale, and so forth. But last year I must have cleaned them out pretty well and forgotten about it. Oops. Read on »

I drink MY milkshake.

Today’s prompt over at Holidailies is “guilty pleasures,” and while I normally use my own Sekrit Method of prompting myself, a guilty pleasure immediately leapt to mind as I was posting a thread about the prompt to the website. See that photo above? One of my biggest guilty pleasures are the chocolate milkshakes at Alamo Drafthouse theaters.

I have rules about the milkshakes. I am only allowed to consume them during film festivals (or really long movie marathons). I try to limit myself to one shake per festival, too. This means we’re talking about perhaps four milkshakes in a year, tops. People tell me the vanilla milkshakes are divine but you know me, I can’t resist chocolate. The espresso milkshakes sound wonderful but I did promise my husband I would stay away from milkshakes with the word “espresso” in them after I had one at The Hideout and practically suffered a personality change, and not for the better.

I visited a dietician today, recommended by my doctor. My cholesterol level is a little higher than we would like. My weight is rather higher than anyone would like. I was worried I was going to be subjected to a Shame Session but the dietician turned out to be helpful and friendly, and gave me a lot of good advice that didn’t hinge upon me changing my diet too radically. Or so I hope. Read on »

My archives from previous incarnations of my blog/online journal/whatever are all hidden and password-protected. It’s like re-reading a high-school diary: really embarrassing, especially the unrequited crushes, and even the writing itself to a certain extent. But there’s still some good stuff in there.

And because it is the first day of Holidailies 2010, it seems like a great time to share a couple of entries from 2000, back when my website went under the name Anhedonia (yeah, that’s embarrassing too), and 2001, when it was Celluloid Eyes. These are just excerpts, although I’m tempted to include things like the paragraph where I said Rick Perry couldn’t do too much damage to Texas in what I was sure would be his brief stint as governor. Don’t ever ask me to predict politics.

I’ve made a few notes, which are in square brackets and italics.

December 5, 2000: days of treats and rants

I was rummaging around on the ThreeWay Action board [now The Simplest] yesterday and found a topic about “treats” that many people who keep journals give to their readers or notify list members for holidays or special occasions. My response was that, er, I thought that sharing my witty and wonderful prose with the world was treat enough. I couldn’t imagine making cards or sending little candy boxes or whatever else it is that these people do, even though many of them probably have more readers than I. I was admittedly being a smartass when I posted but honestly, I barely have time to write the entries, much less shower everyone with homemade gifts. Does this look like the Martha Stewart site to you? Read on »