Christmas music

I thought, as my gift to you, to share with you some of my favorite versions of Christmas songs.

Happy holidays to you and yours <3


The Art of the Mix

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules." ~ High Fidelity

If you've ever received or made a great mix, you know the truth of Rob's words. It is an art form, and it's one that is often overlooked.

In order to be truly great, a mix must (in my opinion, obviously) meet the following standards:
  • The songs need to fit together cohesively, although not necessarily by genre of music. There should be some sort of overarching theme. When I'm creating one, I like to start with a color or a quote or a situation/mood.
  • The music should take you through some sort of emotional arc, similar to a good story: exposition, rising action (with smaller rises and falls within it), climax, falling action, resolution. (This arc is, incidentally, something that I think is missing from a lot of commercial albums.) There needs to be some sort of build, and no random, jarring transitions between songs (ironic transitions, however, can be fun and display a sense of subtlety). The order the songs are put in, then, is incredibly important--and this is the biggest difference, I think, between a playlist and a mix.
  • Ideal mixes should expand the musical tastes of the listeners, but not attempt to teach or school them into something different than they like (condescension sucks). New or rare songs by artists one loves and a smattering of people one hasn't heard of before are best. Mixes that are entirely songs one knows are not as fun.
  • Rarely, if ever, should the same artist be repeated on a mix (unless it is entirely a mix of one artist, which is different and much harder to do effectively). It smacks of . . . well, almost laziness.
  • Mixes given as gifts should always be accompanied by a tracklist with the full song title and artist. Bonus points are given for cover art.
If you are lucky enough to find someone who is good at mixes, make sure you stay close friends. They are invaluable and should be treated as such.


The "If You Had A Million Dollars" Christmas Wish List

Because a bit of fantasy window-shopping never hurt anyone, right?

Alexander McQueen Skull Clutch and Aubergine Pump - would finish off my New Year's ensemble perfectly (nevermind that I don't need a clutch when the party's at my own house)

La Perla bodysuit - It's the buttons down the back that really do it, I think.

Mini PS1 - This bag, the big version, is one of those "iconic" ones (which is a turn-off). But this one is tiny and the leather is perfect and the design is unpretenious.

Nikon D90 - I'd be fine with the D60, too. But I want a real camera. ;_;

Diptyque Jasmin - One can never go wrong with absurdly expensive candles.

Elsa Peretti for Tiffany's starfish - because you can afford to drop 2k on a pendant the size of your fingernail.

New tango shoes - one really can't get by with only a single pair. And while we're at it, some lessons would be fantastic too--preferably located in Buenos Aires.


Ode to Diana

Diana is
golden skin and hair
and green eyes with a slice of gold in one
a grin with one corner of her mouth turned up
and capoeira when she’s too drunk
to drive or remember--

She is the sum of a blond mother
with perfect English grammar
and a heavy, charming accent, still beautiful
and voluptuous;
and a balding father, small, intense,
a full moustache and a habitual silence
deep enough to communicate worlds.

Diana dances,
a kinetic expression of non-stop hips and knees and feet
tapping complicated salsa rhythms;
a high hitch of leg and low,
sensual bachata dips;
her head down, lips parted,
slow tango steps and legs like taut pins,
tapping, sliding, in tiered lace.

Diana is kisses of greeting on cheeks,
hand flutterings when agitated,
raspberry beer for sexy evenings
and the insistence that her happy
birthday be sung in five languages
before the candles are blown.

A Tale of Two Dances

I went out dancing the other evening.

This is not rare for me, anymore; what was rare was the shift from one kind of dancing, at one type of place, to another.

We went to El Parador first; by day, it is a Mexican restaurant, but on weekend evenings it turns, partly, into a club. There is a permanent wood dance floor, and something about the dusk in corners and the abundance of tropical plants makes it feel like some sort of secret, cave-like hideway. A very large hideaway. There are a few lights, but they mostly only light the dance floor.

The band there is decent; they play salsa and merengue, and when they go on break the DJ plays cumbia and bachata as well. I danced and talked and hung out with people from all over the world: Sweden, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Russia, Mexico, India . . . and there's something I love very much about that, of people who may not even speak the same language, but who can communicate through movement and enjoy themselves.

Halfway through the evening, my friend decided she wanted to go to the Maverick. Her friend picked her up, and I followed about an hour later.

The Maverick is a country bar on the eastern side of town. It's more brightly lit, with bars that line a full two sides of the large room, the decor being mostly red and wood-toned. I was given a rather fake-tasting margarita and dragged onto the floor to dance with a tall boy with a wide-eyed grin and a repertoire of two dance steps. He seemed very certain that if he smiled at me enough, I just might decide to go home with him.

The music being played was, without exception, country: a three chord progression of twang and lyrics that sound so similar they could be interchanged with anything from the last twenty years and one would hardly notice. There was something almost comforting about that observation, about the repetition of the two step and the simplicity of jeans and boots and button down shirts.

I realized suddenly, too, that there was not a single person in the room that wasn't Caucasian and very clearly American. I was the most exotic of everyone, in my pale skin and near-black hair and character shoes. I imagined the hostile stares a Mexican or Puerto Rican might have gotten had they chosen to enter, recalled the near-fight I witnessed when the boy I was dancing with thought it was funny to slap his male friend on the ass as he passed (and the paranoia in his voice when people seriously questioned his sexuality afterward).

I wonder about people who self-select into a homogeneous group, who distrust anything outside the boundaries of that group. I relish feeling international, of talking to people with experiences vastly different than my own. This sort of open-mindedness is the very foundation of my classroom teaching.

And yet, part of me still enjoyed the Mavrick, liked the simplicity, the homogeny--despite the ignorance and prejudice that I knew lurk in the corners of that wood-lined room.


there will be a real post soon, but in the meantime . . .

Some things I've loved recently and wanted to share (as always, click the image for the source):

Elise's lovely post on Phillipe Petit, who walked a tightrope across the Twin Towers.

Correspondingly, Let the Great World Spin, a novel that revolves around the day that Petit walked between the Towers, and looks into the lives of several (fictional) people around the city on that day. It won the National Book Award, and I loved it (though Colin, in his infinite grumpiness, claimed he could see the "puppet strings" and put it down halfway through the second chapter).

The photographer Vivian Maier, whose work someone found at an antique auction, and posts her photos on the blog as he goes through the staggering amount of photographs and negatives. I loved this one, love that she's a fantastic artist and that no one would have known except for his discovery.

Book carving. Thought this one was rather poetic.

Forgotten bookmarks--a blog by someone who works in a rare & used bookstore, and posts the things he finds in the books. Somehow I loved this one especially--people were having anniversary parties in 1880, too.

I've been reading Melissa's blog on and off for about a year, now. She makes lovely cards and printed things, and this is the second time that I've received a gift from her, just for reading her blog. I received in the mail yesterday several--perhaps 50?--printed gift tags in different colors and patterns, absolutely free. My presents will be so much prettier this year because of her, and it warms my heart that people are willing to just give of their craft and their love that way.

And, finally, my new favorite song, which I found because of Steve's fantastic "Year in Music" post.

It's good to take pleasure in small things when the world (mine, at least) is so full of insanity, stress, and work.



take that, naysayers OR a NaNoWriMo success story

My Pre-IB sophomores have spent the last month writing novels as a part of National Novel Writing Month. The adult challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. As students, they were asked to set a goal of at least 18,000 words. As a reference, that's about 60 pages of text in double-spaced, 12 pt font.

I am incredibly proud of the following statistics. Of my 31 students,

  • 18 met or exceeded their word count goal.
  • 22 took a risk and set a goal that was over the minimum, even though they knew that this could affect their grade negatively.
  • 23 wrote more than 18,000 words.
  • The class average percent of the word count completed was 85%.

This is a huge, mind-boggling success. It is an incredibly tangible expression of my personal belief that my students--despite being heavily minority, taught by failing schools, and mostly on free and reduced lunch--are capable of anything, if only one asks it of them and believes that they can succeed.


thought processes

Sometimes, it's so clear what my students were thinking when they write something.

One of my students, in answer to a quiz question, did the following:
5. Medea escapes on a charriott cherrote c cart pulled by dragons.

Although html coding makes it impossible, on the paper you can see her increasing levels of frustration as she uses one line to cross out the first misspelling, two for the second, and several lines for the final "c". It's especially funny as she could have used the "c" for the "cart" she finally chose instead of chariot.

It's such a microcosm of of how we function in all areas of our lives, and it made me chuckle.



Mayhap tomorrow I'll wear red and tan or grey.

Top image from Sartorialist; bottom from Garance Dore. Of course, in addition to being fantastic photographers in their own rights, they're lovers.

You'd think after browsing so many of their images, I'd learn how to look better in photographs.


NaNoWriMo preview

I'm not planning on really showing this whole thing to anyone. This is what I tell myself so that I can continue writing freely. But I'm kind of pleased with this section, now that I've read it over, and I figured I'd put it up so that those of you who keep asking what I'm writing might have some idea.

Please, please keep in mind that it's pretty rough, and hasn't been edited at all.


He met Louise in the lobby of the theater, as she had requested. He still hadn’t gotten her phone number, and so when she was a few minutes late, he worried that she had perhaps decided not to come. He wandered aimlessly around the lobby, looking at the movie posters for films he had never heard of, films in other languages that had won awards at independent movie festivals, stared out the slightly dingy windows and down the darkened street, trying not to look like he was nervous. It was entirely unsuccessful; the couple of employees could tell immediately that he was waiting for a girl. After a few months working at a movie theater, especially one as small as this, the signs were unmistakable.

When she walked in, he radiated visible waves of relief. He walked up to her, put his cheek against hers for a split second, then kissed it. He pulled back to look at her.

“Wow,” he said. “You look gorgeous.” And he caught her hand and pulled it so she spun around in front of him.

She was wearing a dress that was simple, one shouldered and to her knees, made of a light fabric with threads of silver running through it. She’d done something to her eyes so they looked even greener, and she smelled . . . heavenly. When she twisted in front of him he could smell whatever she’d put on just faintly.

He had let her pick what movie they were going to see, and he bought her ticket without the title of the show even registering on his consciousness. It was filled with her, and there was not much room for anything else.

As they walked across the worn, red patterned carpet, not touching, the air between them nearly shimmered with electricity. Every movement she made was somehow echoed in the way he moved, as if they were dancing some sort of subtle choreography. He didn’t even realize the way he was responding to her, but he knew it was going to be a good night.

He was going to let her pick where they sat, too, but she stopped in the back and said, “I never pick the seats. You choose.”

He was startled. “Why not?”

“Well, everyone always has such particular tastes. I don’t really care that much, and if I pick, someone always ends up not liking it. It’s just easier to not do it myself.”

“Alright.” And he chose the center seats in the third row from the back. He would have liked to go in the very dark back side corner, but he had a feeling that would have been pushing his luck—and Louise was the type of girl who would refuse to give in, then, just on principle.

The seats were a sturdy sort of imitation velvet, and as the images spun by on the screen and glimmered on the face and body of the girl next to him, he breathed so shallowly that he started to feel slightly lightheaded. He had forgotten what this was like, the tension so thick that it was a tangible thing in the air, the newness of an attraction so powerful that it enveloped his whole existence. It had been three years since he and Julia had first started dating, and even then, the feeling hadn’t been this strong.

Her hand was resting lightly on the armrest in between them, and in the dark he slid her hand beneath hers, gently, running the tips of his fingers down her palm and the length of her fingers, not actually even trying to hold her hand, yet. She flexed her fingers a little, but didn’t pull away.

He did that for several minutes, achieving that state of focus on a single thing that he had reached only a few other times in his life, a focus so intense that for that moment, the only thing that existed in his consciousness was the feel of his skin against hers, tracing the tiny indentations where her fingers bent, almost memorizing the lacey crosshatchings of the surface of her palms.

And then she breathed in, and sighed, and shifted, her hand coming to rest on the inside of his knee, almost casually, almost as if she had done it unconsciously. He glanced at her face and saw that she was still engrossed in the film, her other hand cupping her jaw as it rested there.

He ran his fingers up her arm, then, twirling them in small circles as he did so, fully conscious of how that motion in particular set the body on edge, fed it with anticipation so strong it couldn’t be ignored.

In the dark next to him, she shivered slightly, and he saw a smile tug up the corner of her mouth that was closest to him; and he leaned over, gently, and kissed that corner as it smiled, pulling back again, gently, very gently. And then he pretended to watch the movie.

Suddenly, and without any warning, the movie screen went blank. He heard someone cursing in dark above and behind them, and then the fire alarm went off, piercing the air, shrieking so loudly they both put their hands on their ears.

They filed slowly out of the theater with the few other people that had been in the audience, following the lighted signs that had seemed superfluous until now, into the dark, star-lit night. John and Louise stood for a moment, looking at each other.

“Were you really watching the movie all that closely?” he asked.

“Not as closely as usual,” she admitted.

“Do you want to wait and see if they let us back in?”

She considered. “What are our other options?”

“Well,” and he paused, trying to figure out how bold he could risk being. “We could go get some cheesecake. Didn’t you say something the other day about loving cheesecake?”

“Yes,” she said, and looked at him with unfathomable seaweed eyes.

“Or we could go sit in the park and stargaze,” he tried.


“Or you could show me your apartment. I am interested in seeing your book horde.”

“I think I could stand that. It’s better than waiting here in the cold.”

So he grabbed a passing taxi, and when they got in and she gave the driver her address, he realized that her apartment building was only a block away from his own. Internally, he groaned. Of all the women in the city he could fall for, could want to sleep with, could be so intently focused on, he had to find one that lived close enough to his place that Julia would walk past it on her way to work.

He shoved the thought aside. He was not going to think about Julia now, was not going to spoil the perfection of this night with any kind of guilt.

They climbed into the tiny elevator, and before he could register what was happening, she was kissing him, her lips warm and soft and incredibly intimate, her hair brushing the sides of his face in a way that made him wish he could stop the course of the evening in this one spot. But the elevator doors were opening, and she pulled away.

They walked to her door, and she turned toward him, key in her hand. “I’m not going to sleep with you tonight.”

He balked.

She laughed at him. “I probably shouldn’t have agreed to letting you come back to my apartment. It gave you the wrong idea.”

“No . . . no, I wasn’t—” he tried unsuccessfully to make it sound like that hadn’t been what he was thinking.

“And I shouldn’t have kissed you like that just now in the elevator. I’m not quite behaving well.”

“No, it’s fine.” His voice was a little higher than usual.

“I guess I can let you in now,” she said, and did.

He calmed himself as they looked through her books, even managed to pull some obscure facts about a few of her editions that she hadn’t known, and impressed her. And as they talked, and flirted (the remains of her icy reserve entirely gone, now), there started a slow, drizzling rain outside the window.

“Well,” she said, “Since I can’t keep you here much longer without risking taking you to bed, why don’t we go for a walk?”

He groaned. “I like the risking taking me to bed better.”

“Too bad,” she said, slapping gently at his knees as she stood up from the couch so he would move them as she went by.

“A walk,” he repeated, and thought to himself, again something to remind me of Julia. Julia is the one I go for walks with. Fuck. What am I doing?

“I’m going to change into something warmer,” Louise said, and as she closed the door of her bedroom behind her, the thought of her easing out of her silver dress pushed Julia from his mind.

Louise emerged in a dark grey trench and jeans, and they left the soft glow of her apartment.

When they reached the street he offered her the bend of his arm, and she took it, and they paced beside each other without speaking for a long time.

They walked to the end of the street, and John assumed they would turn around, but Louise said mischievously, “Have you been through this graveyard, before?”

He had been trying to imagine what her bare stomach looked like. “Uh, no,” he said, peering at it through the misty rain.

“Are you adverse to hopping fences?”

He stopped and faced her. “I think I might have gotten the wrong idea of what kind of girl you are. I can’t imagine you hopping a fence, near midnight, in the rain, to go wandering around a graveyard.”

She made a face. “Clearly, you have no idea what kind of girl I am.” And she went around behind a tree that grew close to the wrought iron of the fence, and used a couple branches to help hoist herself over. He followed.

The experience was almost surreal. Most of the light came from the lamps that bordered the road, which left them in a darkness just thin enough to read the headstones. She showed him her favorites, showed him the section where children were buried. They paced through them and he was amazed at all of the toys left behind on the ground, on the stones, most of them worn from sun and rain and covered in earth. His heart ached for their unknown parents, for the brothers or sisters these children had left behind. Some of the stones even had pictures of the children etched onto them.

It was one of the loveliest moments of his life, this walk through a cemetery with a girl he wanted and kept dancing just out of his reach, emotionally and physically. The delight of her and the counterpoint of the memento moris all around him blended into a bittersweet infusion of emotion, wormed its way into his heart and stayed there, throbbing slightly in a way he had never experienced.

And then she was yawning, and said she had to get home, so he took her, and kissed her sweetly in the hallway, not even expecting that she might bring him in. And when he left and paced softly through the rain, he felt he had left some part of himself in the midst of the stones on the hill behind him, and somehow, he didn’t mind that at all.

Julia was still out when he got home, and he showered and then sat on the couch for awhile, reading and drinking the leftover wine from dinner, and then he climbed into bed and slept, so that he was asleep when she came home and didn’t have to deal with questions about his evening. He knew he couldn’t keep up a lie like that, with the glow he knew was suffusing his face—and with that thought, he drifted off with the pillow covering his face so that she might not see when she returned.



One of my favorite independent home decor stores in Tucson is Presence, at the southeast corner of Oracle and Magee. I spend a decent amount of time wandering around stores with items for the home, but Presence manages to be unique and tasteful without being overly pricey. I am also quite fond of the pun (intentional?) of the name, since I've started going there on a regular basis when I am in search of gifts.

I wandered in the other day (as I often do), and discovered that they were in the midst of unpacking their Christmas shipment. Normally I am annoyed at the early onslaught of Christmas spirit, but the beauty of their merchandise won me over without too much trouble. Also quite winning was that the owner (I believe) let me pick through the boxes to examine ornaments that might be in the colors of my decorations.

I went back today to purchase items for my Christmas shopping list and take some pictures to share, since their displays are now up.

They also carry candles, small purses, pretty pill boxes, and things of that sort. I didn't really take pictures of those because I was so in love with the Christmas stuff, but these candles are a cute example. If I knew anyone who was getting married in the near future, they would definitely be receiving these.

(click the pictures to see details)

The only problem with this store is that they have stuff stashed in every little corner; if you're not careful, you'll overlook something fantastic. I bought those two silvery ornaments in the middle, but I almost missed them.

If you like what you see (and I can't imagine that you don't), I strongly recommend going to visit them soon, before all the best stuff is gone. The merchandise seems to go pretty quickly.


november is the cruelest month

Seriously. Staff morale is at an all-time low.

November, however, is time for another type of insanity: it's National Novel Writing Month (check out www.nanowrimo.org, or ywp.nanowrimo.org for the kids' version). People all over the world sit down and try to write a brand new novel in 30 days. The adult goal is 50,000 words; this is the length of The Great Gatsby, and not the recommended length for modern publishing, but it's still quite a feat.

I'm doing it. Not so much for myself, but because it's just the sort of batshit insane thing that's a great teaching project; I figured that if I'm making my students do it, then it was only fair that I do it too. I told them that they had to do at least 18,000 words, but I have a few who set their goals higher. I even have two that are aiming for 50,000 with me.

As of this moment, I am at 3,557 words, but I haven't spent much time on it. It's coming surprisingly easily when I do actually sit down and do it.

Anyway. Since I have so little spare time, and that basically has to be spent writing this novel if I'm going to make the goal by the 30th, I won't be posting here much, if at all, for November. Expect a revival come December, loyal audience of perhaps two.

À bientôt~


the fire is so delightful

It's November again . . . and that means, among other lovely things, a fire going in our fireplace. We're about to light our second one of the season as I type this.

There are few things as truly comforting, I think, as a fire, especially paired with wine and a good book--and, hopefully, someday, a deep bathtub.

I pulled these from my stash of "decorating inspirations." I read several home design blogs, and whenever I find something I like, I save it. I don't ever bother with the credits, though, so you'll have to forgive me.



steak quesadillas

The problem with steak leftovers is that they never taste as good if you simply reheat them.

The solution is, clearly, steak quesadillas.

Start with cold steak and a sharp, unserrated blade. Trim off any fat (which should be easy to spot, since it'll be white). Figure out which way the grain of the meat is going, and start cutting perpendicular to it in order to make the meat more tender. Slice as thinly as you're able, and cut the slices into 1 inch lengths. Lightly salt.

Use real flour tortillas. If you see a sign advertising handmade tortillas, buy them. Otherwise, resort to buying from the market: look for something locally made with the least number of ingredients. I'm a fan of Alejandro's, which you can purchase at Walmart. Get the large size.

Heat two tortillas in a large, ungreased skillet on a medium-low setting, turning them quickly so they're warm but not starting to crisp. Put the least crispy side face down and place your steak on the bottom tortilla, making sure all slices are flat. Pile on finely shredded cheese (I prefer the whites: mozzerella, jack, Parmesan and Romano), making sure enough fits between the beef to make it stay together (the mortar to your bricks, if you will). Press the second tortilla on top.

Cook until the cheese is at least half-melted and the bottom is just starting to get crispy, and then flip. Before removing from the heat, ensure that all the cheese is completely gooey. Slice with your knife from before, and serve piping hot, accompanied by steak sauce.

The better your original cut of meat, the better the result. Steak quesadillas in restaurants often use inferior, chewy steak, and it makes a huge and delicious difference when you make it at home and pay attention to the details.


cowboy cliché

All taken on our way home from a local wine tasting in Willcox, on my cell phone. I was kicking myself for not even bringing my point-and-shoot.

Not sure if you can tell, but the setting sun was turning the falling rain orange, so it looked like this firey mist hanging in mid-air.


things i like this week vol. 2

(click on image for source)


book images all via bookshelfporn.com

Best saved for last. Love the look on the face of the officer to the right.