Cherryhill at Christmastime

John and I live near this mall in London called Cherryhill.
Let me back up: London calls things malls that I would just call a strip mall with an inside, since it's cold. There are two larger malls that I think of as actual malls. Cherryhill is more like an indoor strip mall aimed at senior citizens, many of whom live in our neighborhood. It's got everything a senior person - or any person - might want (pharmacy, groceries, liquor store, travel agent, bank, post office, public library branch), and once you're there, you don't have to wear a coat or worry about slipping on the ice.
Come to think of it, Cherryhill has just about everything I want within walking distance. It was perfect last year when we needed groceries during the Big Snow of 2010. When I say it's popular amongst seniors, I'm not complaining or criticizing. It's a cheerful place, especially in the coffee shop where a lot of people seem to have long-standing meetings with their friends. We love having a library branch so close by so that we can request books and dvds to pick up there. John once overheard an amazing line from an older gentleman while waiting in line at the library.

Elderly Patron: I need a new library card.
Library staff: Can I see your old one?
[Patron hands her the card, she examines it.]
Library staff: Wow, I've never seen one this old!
Elderly Patron: I got it when I came back from West Germany.

In a way Cherryhill seems like what a depiction of a charming "period" mall from the 80s would be like - you know, like Pioneer Village, but a mall. It's basically one long hall way with a food court at its center that features almost no chain restaurants (not even Tim Horton's). The annual Christmas decorations are easily my favorite thing about this place.

During the holidays they set up about 4 different displays of animatronic people and animals that move and look cheery.

They represent the way different social classes might celebrate Christmas. The poor fruit sellers, the guy warming his hands over the burning trash (or is that some other material I don't recognize? Why is he burning charcoal in that pushcart?). Note the light under the can - it looks like it's really burning.

You've got your bourgeois/upper-class carolers.

Last year someone put a picture in each of their carol books of a man wearing overalls but no shirt (completely not obscene). Their expressions turned from "singing joyfully" to shock when they bowed their motorized heads to look at the picture. The pictures weren't there long, but I thought it was a pretty fun, harmless prank.

I think Mary looks an awful lot like the curly-haired woman selling apples.

And of course you've got your standard manger scene.

These kids throwing snowballs and skating are pretty cute, but I have to admit that sometimes these figurines used to creep me out.

That little boy with the snowballs has a way of turning his little animatronic head in my direction right when I walk past, as if he's eying me as his next target.

Less creepy than last year's sheep heads worshiping the snowy Jesus.

In general though they don't give me the creeps as much as they signal the start of Christmas in our neighborhood, and for that reason I've started to really love the Apple Lady, the Kid Who Falls on the Ice, the Manger Camel. You can't look that friendly camel in the face and argue that it's too soon for Christmas decor.


Books for Fall 2011

Instead of a list of foods I made this week (mostly grilled cheese) or a list of random events that happened to me, I thought I could confirm my nerd status by making a list of things that have been going on in my brain parts. Here are some books I've been reading. As you'll see, they obviously relate to each other in a logical and inevitable way.*

1. Dialectic of Enlightenment, Max Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno (originally published 1944).

Adorno and Horkheimer (or "Hork," as I call him in my notes) were 20th-century critical theorists. My advisor put the first chapter, "The Concept of Enlightenment," on my fall reading list, since I'm studying Rameau, the 18th-century music theorist (and the two obviously go together...*sarcasm*). In a way it was a really obvious thing for me to read in regards to Rameau, since they deal with the Enlightenment values that effected his theories - and I'd argue, as others would, that we still practice and teach music theory in a very Rameauian way. He's stuck with us like not many else have. So I've decided to take a social/cultural angle and study him, specifically the idea of Nature as something Enlightenment scholars wanted to master through rationalism. Dialectic of Enlightenment deals more with the idea that Enlightenment is a totalitarian phenomenon that commodifies our thoughts and our sense of self, and that enlightenment culture eventually led to the Holocaust. The more radical aspects of their theory aren't what interest me so much, but I am intrigued by their idea (similar to Foucault's) that when we "know" a thing, such as Nature, we dominate it. You could say Rameau did something similar, since he was obsessed with finding a natural source for tonality as we know it - the corps sonore.
The Dialectic is among the hardest things I've ever tried to read, but I would say that this translation by Edmund Jephcott is more readable than others. I'd recommend it, if this is the kind of thing that floats your boat.

Enough. I'm sure you're thinking, "Save it for the diss."

2. The Nutcraker and the Mouse King, E. T. A. Hoffman (1819-21).

After I looked into the Nutcracker performances in Toronto, I learned that E. T. A. Hoffman wrote the original story. That kind of blew me away, since most of what I know about him I learned from IU's trippy production of Tales of Hoffman a few years ago (could you do a non-trippy version of that opera? Maybe, but it'd be boring). But then I realized that it makes total sense for him to written the Nutcracker, since it's plenty weird itself.
If you're into reading Christmassy things this time of year (as I'm wont to do), I would recommend this story. It's not very long, maybe 10 short chapters, and it was readily available to me through the UWO catalogue. The story is stranger than the ballet, though the book jacket and wiki tell me that the ballet is actually based on Alexander Dumas's "watered down" version of the story. Clara in the original story is named Marie and she's only 7 - which I know doesn't conflict with every production, since sometimes Clara is pretty young and not en pointe. But the story is really a coming of age, and little Marie definitely has some adult feelings for the Nutcracker doll when she realizes there's a prince trapped in there. I won't give everything away, but some highlights:
  • there are actually multiple battles, and Marie cuts the bejeezus out of her arm in the first one, so everyone thinks her fever made her hallucinate the whole thing.
  • there's a crazy story-in-the-story that explains how a princess is the one who originally gets turned into a nutcracker by the Mouse Queen; Drosselmeier and an astrologer travel all over trying to find a cure for her condition. Then they meet his cousin, whose son is involved in breaking the curse. Through a series of events, we learn that the younger Drosselmeier (son of his cousin) is the one trapped inside the little Nutcracker that Marie wants to save. Eventually, as in the ballet, they do make it to a land of sweets even more elaborate than any ballet production (obviously), including a sea of rosewater that has sparkly gold dolphins in it. Crazy.
  • All the romantic weirdness between Marie and the Nutcracker/Prince does explain the way some productions portray their weird relationship, since he's her Godfather, but he's sometimes in an awkward competition with the Prince for her affection.
Short and sweet, and I'd definitely recommend reading it if you've only ever seen the ballet, like I had.

3. Christmas Customs and Traditions, Frank Muir (1975).

I'm one of those obnoxious people who have to restrain their Christmas spirit until it's almost seasonally appropriate. This year I decided to temper my outward enthusiasm for Christmas by by reading a book about its history, and a brief search on the UWO catalog led me to this one. I don't know much about Frank Muir, but in preparation for this post I stumbled onto a blog dedicated to Muir fandom, so check that out if you'd like to know more.
I realized recently that this book combines a lot of my favorite topics: history, early Christian rituals, the Church's appropriation/adaptation of pagan rituals, all combined to be Christmas-specific. Muir covers a lot of the figures that you may associate with Christmas, like St. Nicholas and St. Stephen (you know him from the Good King Wenceslas carol), as well as Wenceslas, traditions like wassail, the boar's head, and the Yule log. He also describes lesser-known traditions like the Lord of Misrule, whose job it was in the Middle Ages to keep the party going from Halloween to New Year's, lest winter depress everyone, or the Mummer's Play that involved Santa Claus narrating a dual between a Knight and a Turk during the Crusades. I'm only about half way through it so far, but it's great for bedtime reading.

I'll spare you the other stuff I'm reading, since it's mostly for my proposal preparation and not for fun. These three are the most memorable of the semester so far.
What about you? Anything you'd like to suggest for my reading list? Or anything that shocked you when you read it? Or was wildly different than your expectations?

*spoiler - they don't.


12 Gym Days of Christmas

For a couple months now I've been toying with the idea of registering for this half marathon in Indianapolis in May 2012. My good friend Carla will be running and has offered to run the actual race with me - an opportunity I don't want to pass up. But I have some reservations about it, and I wanted to write a pros and cons list here (because, you know, my amateur running hobby is endlessly fascinating). If, after reading this, you have some wisdom to share, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Winter running is fun, especially when the long runs are only 5 miles.

- Could get advice and support from Carla and other running friends while I train.
- Could run the race with her, so I wouldn't be bored.
- Running that much would mean I would get to eat more, especially dessert, and that's fun.
- Sense of accomplishment.
- General badassness.

- Huge blister issue that I have yet to resolve. I've done all the things people suggest (non-cotton socks, changed shoes, used bandages, used body glide or similar product), but they are pretty God awful. I'm not sure if I could actually run further than 7 miles with them that way.
- Long runs take a long time, even if I stayed at only 3 runs per week. The long run would kill a major part of the day, and I feel busy as it is.
- Related to that last one, my big task for next term is to write my dissertation proposal, and I want to devote as much time to that as possible. Between the funding and immigration issues that effect my timeline for the rest of the degree (topics for another post), I don't want to add anything to my schedule that would inhibit my progress. Not that I'm going to quit running and become a (even bigger) hermit, but a half marathon would require a lot more training than I'm used to.
- Adding more mileage than I ever have in the dead of winter, lots of miles in the snow or on the treadmill (which I try to avoid for anything longer than 4 miles, for various reasons, my motion sickness being the main one).
- More running requires more of the things that running demands: stretching, foam rolling, strength training and cross training. It's not that I don't enjoy those things (although yoga and pilates are off the table because of motion sickness), but it's all more time. It's not just the run.

In general, I feel the cons outweigh the pros. My plan instead will probably be to train for a 10K in the spring, such as the Forest City Road Race, or even the Really Chilly 10K in February. I think with that much time I could try to break my current PR for the 10K and go below 60 minutes, while increasing my mileage more gradually. Then maybe I could consider the Fort For Fitness half-marathon in Fort Wayne next September. That might be an easier one to train for, since Ontario summers are running-friendly.

Having said all that, I do feel the need to sort of shake up my routine ever so slightly for the rest of the calendar year. With no more races ahead of me until 2012, it can be a little hard to want get out the door to run.

Enter: The 12 Days of Gym Christmas.

My good friend and UWO colleague, Djillian, created the 12 Days of Gym Christmas as a way to stay motivated for working out as Christmas approaches and the opportunities to indulge in fatty/sugary (re: awesome) food are more abundant than ever. The goal is to work out in some form (gym and cardio not required) 12 days between Dec.1-24; no more than one session per day can count, but it's up to each individual to define what that session will be. Djillian gives a 12 Days of Gym Christmas button to whoever completes it! Win win (win). My plan is to record my weekly progress here as part of my normal once-a-week posting routine. Twelve workouts in that span of time is fairly normal for me, but it is nice to have a little extra enthusiasm to work out at the end of the term and during the holidays, since if I'm going to skip a work out, this is the time of year I'd do it. And I'm hoping to more than just run during that period, so I may try things like the stationary bike, elliptical, or strength training that I'm normally not good about doing.

I know it's only November, but Happy Early Christmas Season! If you have any thoughts on holiday workouts or distance running, please hit me up in the comments!


How the Universe gave me a burrito and a cold.

For this week's post, I've decided to make a list of lessons I learned, and things the Universe dumped on/gifted me this week.

1. A cold.

2. Autumn colors.

3. The ABT Nutcracker with Mikhail Barishnakov (just picture him in tights, or click here.). John says it's too soon for Christmas-related anything, so I secretly got this version of the Nutcracker from the library and watched the first act while he wasn't home. Ultimately, though, he figured it out and looked at me in disgust. Whatever, John. What a scrooge. As Dave said, I love pizza, so why would I only eat it one month out of the year? It's past Halloween. Time for Christmas!
I've been looking at the National Ballet of Canada website to see if we could go see the Nutcracker there, but it's kind of cost prohibitive. The cheapest, worst seats would still cost about $100 and then there's the issue of getting there and parking. If only Toronto were a little closer, or I guess if only London/Western had decent enough ballet to put on their own Nutcracker. That's one thing I really miss about IU - going to see good ballet productions at the music school, especially the Nutcracker.

4. A rejection to a regional theory conference, but also, the motivation to revise my abstract on George Crumb.

That's the Agnus Dei from the Makrokosmos, a piece I wrote about a while back. This paper is on a song cycle, but it has a fun graphic score like this one. This rejection stung a bit more since I feel like I've been struggling to catch up on work ever since SMT last week, and that's been compounded by getting sick. Meh. Can't win 'em all. I still have a bunch of other conferences to apply to, and my abstract is getting better over time, so maybe I'll get on somewhere else.

And finally (because 5 is a nice round number),
5. Delicious butternut squash black bean enchiladas.

Peeling and chopping butternut squash is such a pain, but so worth it. This recipe takes a little time to put together because you have to roast the squash, but once you've done that, it's pretty simple, and very tasty. Definitely different from the enchiladas I've had in the past, but the flavors work well together. These didn't come out very...photogenic, so no picture. But if you click on the recipe you can see the ones on the original site and they're pretty good.

Here's to next week being a little more cheerful with a little less cold medicine!