December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012

This year has gone by so fast! So much has happened this past year that I feel like I have finally stepped off and my life is still spinning without me. I'm still trying to get back to a normal routine and waiting for everything to settle down. I can't believe student teaching and the holidays are over already.

I'm actually looking forward to the cold snowy days ahead where I'll be forced to stay in my house and slow down and catch up with everyone. 

So this New Year's I'm planning to do something fun that I've always meant to but never got around to doing. I love finding an old CD and remembering the year in which it was my favorite thing to listen to. Now that everything is digital, I hope to recreate that feeling by making a playlist of my top 25 most listened to songs of 2012.

Itunes already has a top 25 Most Played smart playlist. It's simple enough to make it a separate 2012 playlist before it adapts to the new year. I'll probably write a list of the songs and artists in my journal just for posterity. After I do that, I'm going to reset the play count on my songs back to 0 so as not to skew next year's counts. So here's this year's playlist, pleasure songs and all:

Top 25 Most Played


1. The Rocky Road to Dublin- The Dubliners
2. Across the Universe of Time- Hayley Westerna
3. Wuthering Heights- Hayley Westerna
4. Simple Day- Poe the Musical
5. Out Tonight- RENT
6. Straw Hat and Dirty Old Hank- Barenaked Ladies
7. Good- Better than Ezra
8. James Connolly - Black 47
9. Maiden Jane- Hesperus
10. Safe and Sound- Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars
11. Fire Marengo- Johnny Collins
12. Maui- Johnny Collins
13. If I Could be a Writer- Poe the Musical
14. Time to Say Goodbye- Andrea Bocelli & Sarah Brightman
15. Fortunate Son- Creedence Clearwater Revival 
16. Murder- Bheegey Hont
17.  Have You Seen Me Lately (live)- Counting Crows
18. Le Ballet D'or- Counting Crows
19. All That I've Got- The Used
20. Alejandro- Lady Gaga
21. Somebody That I Used to Know- Gotye
22. Some Nights- Fun
23. Too Close- Alex Clare
24. The Kiss- Last of the Mohicans
25. Erin Gra Mo Chroi

I would be extremely interested in seeing the top twenty-five lists of everyone. Leave a comment with your top 25 most played songs of 2012 or feel free to post on your blog and link to it. I know you probably don't want to include those guilty pleasure songs, but you really should (and if you don't, make sure you include it in your private playlist.) :)

Happy New Year everyone!  

December 24, 2012

A Kiss Under the Mistletoe: History of Mistletoe

"A memorial of customs departed:
For the maids they all try to seem bashful and shy," - Blackwood's Lady's Magazine 1841

 Mistletoe is a ubiquitous plant that has been used in holiday decorating since at least the 1400s. It is characterized by its dark green leaves and striking white berries. There are over 1,300 types of mistletoe and the plants themselves are partially parasitic. The plant gets its water and nutrients from a host tree while using its leaves to convert light into energy.

In the winter, it can be seen growing out of tree branches and tree trunks, lush and green when all of its surroundings are dead. It was precisely this reason that mistletoe was seen as a mystical plant to early peoples.Though it has been linked with romance for centuries, its name roughly translates as "excrement on a twig" which is an allusion to how people thought the seeds were spread. The Mistletoe that grows in the United States is different from the type that grows in Europe but both were used in decorating.
The magic of mistletoe certainly comes from the kissing traditions linked to it. Historically, on Christmas a gentleman could steal a kiss from a young lady caught under the mistletoe, then he had to pluck a white berry off of it. When all of the berries were gone, no more kissing could commence.It was said that couples that kissed under it at Christmas would be married within the year.
Image from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, many books proclaimed the practice vulgar, others insisted that it was only something done amongst country people and servants. It was said to be a test of feat for young men and a test of coyness for young ladies, who could refuse the attempt. Regardless of the views on the practice, mistletoe was a big part of household decorations along with pine boughs, holly and ivy.

You can almost see the celebrations where a young man, drumming up courage to propose to a lady caught a break at a Christmas dance, where his lady of choice was momentarily thrust under the mistletoe.  Caught off guard she accepted his kiss which heightened his spirits enough to ask her father soon after. How romantic! I'm sure there were equal numbers of heartbreaks that happened beneath the mistletoe as well.

The Mirror of Literature and Amusement, published in 1841, gives some hearty advice on holiday cheer, some of which involves mistletoe:

"On this day all must be friends, everybody must be goodhumoured, eat , drink, and be merry. To day we will have no fasting men, and no tee-totallers. Every belly must be well lined with the good roast beef of old England, turkey, sausage, plum-pudding, and mincepie ; and every lip shall sip the juice of the vine, "the merry cheerer of the heart," or shall pour down " potations pottle deep" of good home-brewed ale. He who can't sing shall pipe, and he who can't dance shall hop, stand on his head, or do something or other to please the company. Unmarried ladies, not forgetting our favourite old maids, shall be kissed under the mistletoe bough; and no supper for those that skulk from this excellent privilege of the season. There shall be hearty laughter and much frolic in the kitchen, where the "yule log" shall burn on the fire, and the largest bunch of mistletoe and holly shall hang from the beam, while the floor shakes with the Highland reel, the Irish jig, and the English hornpipe; and John, Thomas, Susan, and Ann, shall sing bravely to the fiddle and flute. Christmas comes but once a-year, so pray let us make the most of it. Let every home be cheered with mirth, plenty, and kindness.

"Bring more wood and set the glasses.
Join, my friends, our Christmas cheer,
Come, a catch !—and kiss the lasses,
Christmas comes but once a-year."
Enjoy the holidays and keep your eye out for mistletoe!

December 20, 2012

The End of the World

In my 24 years, the world has been scheduled to end at least 3 times. I remember the fear of Y2K, when the new century would not be compatible with the way computers had been programed and the whole technological world was going to be thrust into chaos. Bank accounts were going to be wiped clean, all business transactions were going to go haywire and the world as we knew it would end. So everyone celebrated New Year's with the fear of not knowing what would happen the morning of 1/1/2001. 

It was scary, especially for a kid who barely knew what any of it meant. For all we knew, it meant the end of the world and we closed our eyes on new year's eve waiting for the chaos to commence. At 11 years old, we were far too cool to admit we were scared. Then we woke up, we called our friends on the phones (which were in our rooms, that was a big deal back then) and realized that everything was the same. The only reported issues were some people who had rented movies were charged hundred year old late fees, which were easily corrected.

So by the time the next end of the world came in 2011, I was older and some might say, wiser. Millions of people did not rapture as anticipated. Nor did they on the extended deadline date. Thanks Harold Camping. Although we did get to read lots of funny articles and meme images with witty titles such as "Apocalypse not right now," so at least there was some entertainment value there.

Now, I normally wouldn't comment about something so silly as the end of the world. You weren't worried, were you? But recently I was teaching a bunch of 16 year olds who were more honest than I would have been at that age. "We're scared!" they told me. Everyone says it's going to be the end of the world." They told me that the Mayans foretold it. The end is coming.

Maybe it is coming. But the Mayans didn't predict that. This is one of those history myths that refuses to die but people keep telling because it makes a better story. The Mayans long-form calender will end but a new one will begin and bring a new era with it. Regardless, why are we trusting the Mayans now? After all, they didn't predict their own demise.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy end of the world. Maybe the lesson we should take away from this is one that Gandhi said many years ago: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Every day may be the end of the world, make the most of it.

Images taken at the University of Penn Museum of Archeology's Maya 2012 Exhibit.

December 10, 2012

Spinach and Mushroom Risotto Recipe

I have been wanting to make risotto for the longest time. Risotto seems to have been popular in the U.S. at the turn of the century and became all the rage again in the 1980s. My first encounter with it was in the only fancy restaurant I have ever been in. All I can say, is we weren't impressed and I was pretty sure it couldn't be that hard. This was perfect for the cold rainy days we've been having lately. 


- 5 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 cups Spinach, stems removed and sliced
- 8 ounces Shiitake or Baby Bella Mushrooms, chopped (If you use Shittake mushrooms, use the tops only.)
- 1 Onion, chopped 
- 2 cups Arborio Rice (Do not rinse rice.)
- 4 cloves of Garlic, minced 
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, shredded 


Add oil to a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly brown. Cook onion in oil until translucent (about 4 minutes). Add mushroom and spinach and cook until the liquid drains from the mushrooms (about 5 minutes.)

Drain juice into a large saucepan and set spinach mixture aside. Add rice to large saucepan and stir to coat the rice in the juice. On medium heat, add one ladle full of broth and stir the rice until the broth is absorbed. Keep adding broth a ladle full at a time. Stir often but be sure to keep the risotto covered when not stirring. The rice should take on a creamy texture in about 20 minutes. When soft, add spinach mixture and one final ladle full of broth. Mix well and add Parmesan cheese and mix again. Serve in bowls and top with shredded cheese.     

 Cooking the Mushrooms.

Adding the Spinach.

Enjoy! Hopefully I'll be back around soon! I can't wait to catch up with everyone.

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