Ten ways I embraced the holiday season (mostly in pictures)

Usually I don’t do much over the holidays. I’m not all “Bah, Humbug,” but then again I tend to feel sort of “Meh” when the jolly season comes around. This year, however, I went out of my way to savor the time since last year I pretty much missed the whole thing being in Oman (though we did celebrate a little). This is how I got into it:

  1. I got a tree. After several years of not doing so, I bought a tree. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh tree. It makes me so happy. As soon as it gets dark here, I turn on the lights and eat my dinner to the ambiance.

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    My view from the couch as I watch TV

  2. Saw lights. My friend has a house on Peacock Lane, Portand’s street of holiday cheer. I also saw the big tree downtown. Pretty. It’s hard to hold back holiday cheer when seeing so much festivity.
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    The Portland tree. The local statue is dressed for the weather.

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    Crazy lights on Peacock Lane.

  3. Spent time with friends and family. I love how the holidays is one huge focus on getting together with people who matter. I’m lucky enough that this is a relaxing time and feeling.
  4. Saw movies. I saw The Martian, Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D, and the Hateful Eight in 70mm. There was a long dry spell in my life where I really didn’t see many movies in the theaters (or at all, really). This is slowly changing, thanks to being overseas where seeing an American film felt like a special treat. I like going to the movies again. Yeah, the snacks are still too spendy, but I have found that belief that the ticket price is worth the fun and escapism I see on a huge screen.
  5. Experienced holiday entertainment. I went to a former student’s Christmas cabaret. I heard carolers at the hospital where I work. Played Christmas carols in my house and in the car. These musical events left me laughing, touched, and nostalgic. Magical.

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    These young carolers helped the mood at the hospital.

  6. Gave to charity. In lieu of presents, my parents and I give to charities. This year I donated enough to Heifer International to send a young woman to school for a year. I also donated to help support Syrian refugees. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this.
  7. Drank silly holiday beverages. I drank the controversial Starbucks pumpkin latte (I liked it better with the real pumpkin, but maybe that’s just me) in a controversial Starbucks holiday cup. It was delicious. I also tried some weird chestnut latte thing. I wasn’t as excited.
  8. Made cookies and traditional foods. Friends came over and we baked sugar cookies and decorated them as if we were five. We made our own colored sugar and used it liberally, mixing all the colors together. I also made Latvian piragi like grandma used to make; I made them over Thanksgiving weekend and again for a Winter Solstice party. Yum.
  9. What are the holidays without leaving the house, at least for a little bit? Despite leaving on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I still encountered airport woes, as my plane was a full two hours late. Thankfully, my friends had come to the airport with me to do some last-minute shopping and so to the bar we went! It was decorated in a strangely, confused festive way.  In the end, I made it to Sacramento to spend Christmas with Dave’s family. Saw movies and the sun! I need to see the sun more often.
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    Strange bar decor.

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    Sun and palm trees in Sacramento. Hooray!

  10. Went to lots of parties. How did this happen? My social calendar was full of house gatherings complete with silly gift exchanges, laughter, yummy food and drink, and connection. I have a ton of outgoing friends who are warm enough to open their doors to others. So much fun – thanks to all of you for hosting and thinking of me when creating your guest lists.
    Peacock Lane party 2
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Good things that happened today

I went to bed, and woke up with, the worst headache I’ve ever had, and went to work anyway. A colleague brought me some Advil, and then went out to get me some more.

The weather was cold, rainy, and dreary, so I treated myself to a decaf pumpkin latte. The warm cup felt cozy in my hands.

As I walked home from work, it started to rain, so I stopped by to see a friend in her shop along the way. There, I bought two Christmas ornaments: one for me and one for a friend. Her cat let me pet him.

A wheelchair-bound woman was struggling to get up the ramp when a young man asked if she needed help. She quickly accepted and within seconds he pushed her to the MAX stop. A small task, but an enormous gesture.

I had no plans for the evening, so I cooked myself a meal of roasted Brussels sprouts, my favorite, and ate them while watching an old episode of Fantasy Island. I just heard the line “Why don’t you just boogie on out of here, Duke.” A healthy pleasure accompanied by a guilty one.

Sometimes when things look bad, they really aren’t.

FANTASY ISLAND - Gallery - Season One - 1/20/78 Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in "Fantasy Island".  Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.   (AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.) RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE

FANTASY ISLAND – Gallery – Season One – 1/20/78
Ricardo Montalban (as Mr. Roarke) and Hervé Villechaize (as Tattoo) star in “Fantasy Island”. Tales of visitors to a unique resort island that can fulfill literally any fantasy requested.
(AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC.)
RICARDO MONTALBAN, HERVE VILLECHAIZE

Holiday anticipation

The heater kicks on signifying that we’ve officially moved into the cold, rainy season. A little more than a month left of days getting shorter. Less than two weeks until Thanksgiving and the onset of a holiday season that I am looking forward to. Not sure why, or what I will do to make it special, but the anticipation of random parties and gatherings fills me with warmth and joy. I am going to get a  Christmas tree because I love the way they smell and dimly light up a room. Is it too early to think about this? Possibly, but it’s fun to look forward to it.

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Christmas in my neighborhood a few years ago.

I am good with the idea of holidays with no set plans, but lots of possibility. OK, part of that isn’t completely true; Thanksgiving is partially figured out. As has been family tradition, for me Thanksgiving is about spending time with friends—the family not related by blood, but bond. Private karaoke will kick off the week (a first time for one friend!), then some workdays, all flowing lazily into cooking Ethiopian food and drinking bubbly – after all, that’s what we do. Then the rest of the weekend will just be like any other – or will it? That’s where the openness comes into play. Maybe I will be able to convince some to go on a walk, or random drive. A trip to mini Stonehenge perhaps? A wander around the city to look for murals? Shall we fulfill our mission to drive to Paisley, Oregon adorned in plaid and polka dots? Or maybe we will lose ourselves in a film or two. However we do it, I hope that exploration is part of the game plan. Not knowing what will happen is part of the fun.

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At mini Stonehenge, summer 2012.

Expat Christmas

Christmas Eve:  I’m awake enough to make the half-hour drive back with holiday tunes from the Ventures and Elvis to keep me company. The crew of three men I came with is asleep, full of turkey, contraband ham, mulled cider, and wine. Eleven expats, mostly British, gathered together to feast on a traditional meal; there was even plum cake for dessert. It was easy to forget that we were thousands of miles away from home and any land that recognizes this holiday season.

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Good food, good people, and a Christmas tree!

 

 

I feel content to be able to get us all home safely. When we pull into the apartment complex where two live they rouse, surprised that they are home. I wish them a Merry Christmas and drive home.

The next morning is Christmas Day. No presents are exchanged and that’s OK. Instead, we open a bottle of sparkling wine and pour ourselves glasses, adding a few shots of bitters to each. This creates a beverage friends of mine back home refer to as “Shut Up,” for it pleasantly quiets the mind either from the effects of the night before, or just closes off the world in preparation for a day of nothing. We toast each other in celebration of a Christian holiday that we don’t really follow in a country that follows it even less. To the world outside, it’s just another day; yet somehow we are blessed with the absence of the construction crew normally outside our windows. The silence is appreciated.

My intentions to try out our oven for the first time are quickly foiled. As I open its greasy door, I discover where the rat that lived in our apartment for a few weeks a month back made its nest. Disgusted, I begin the process of cleaning and disinfecting. Satisfied that I rinsed everything thoroughly enough, I turned up the gas oven as high as it would go, and left the room. When I returned an hour later, the chemical fumes in the kitchen were so strong that my throat burned and eyes watered. I ran out of the room (but not before rescuing the rest of our morning beverage). We turned on all the fans in the house, opened the windows, and declared the house unfit for habitants until it aired out properly. It was time for a leisurely drive to pick up Plan B for Christmas brunch – a pizza from a coffee shop nearby.

Not in a hurry to return home, we took a gravel road up a hill to get our food. We stop to admire the view, amazed we had not explored this route before. We aren’t even five minutes away, and yet somehow this location has remained a secret to us – when we reach the top, we can see the whole village, including our house, a date farm, and the mountains in front of us. Another easy place to retreat to for sunset viewing. We get out of the car and stare silently in appreciation of the scenery and the day.

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Our house in the tiny pinkish one in the center.

rustaq view

We pick up our pizza — really, just round cheese bread topped with frozen vegetables. The concept of sauce sadly escapes people in this country. Luckily, we are prepared for this. The air of the kitchen now almost breathable, we quickly grab a jar of sauce for dipping from the cupboard, along with oregano and red pepper flakes. Dave puts Airplane on his computer and we sit down to an afternoon of laziness. Naps follow.

It’s almost dark when we finally wake up. Our next round of holiday socialization will get a late start, but that’s OK. This country, with its heat and general lifestyle, does not lend itself to a culture of punctuality. After quick showers, we get back into the car and drive to a local Yemeni restaurant and tell the purveyors to give us enough food for six. They invite us to sip tea and watch a Premier League game they have projected onto a screen outside. Many restaurants engage in the practice of either playing football matches or Bollywood films for those who wish to sit outdoors or even stay in their cars as they eat. It’s a bummer this doesn’t happen more in the US.

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Tea and football outside!

 

 

The spread is amazing – an assortment of grilled meats, several types of bread, some salad, hummus and something like hummus (not baba ganoush, so I have no idea what it was, but it was delicious), and pickled vegetables. Christmas feast take two, this one more reflective of where we live.

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Christmas Day meal — a typical spread here in Oman (albeit fancier than usual).

 

Our gathering tonight is at a friend’s place, although he isn’t there; he elected to go back home to visit his grandchildren in Europe. Instead, another teacher is house-sitting and we are taking advantage of the courtyard with its projection area (one wall painted white). We watch a pirated version of The Interview, the movie making all the news in the US, yet hardly worth the buzz. It was silly enough but nothing special (I mean, the entire movie was a slow build up to a climactic fart joke); the movie choice even more surreal given that I become one of the first of my friends to watch the movie in a land where very little is cutting edge.

For intermission, we break for a fire and conversation, and then go back to the screen to watch Die Hard – the ultimate Christmas movie, at least to this unsentimental crowd. I miss my usual Christmas ritual of Chinese food and karaoke with my friends back home. I miss my family and an easy-going dinner on the 24th, but I truly appreciate the make-shift family I have found here. A family of brothers that I feel comfortable enough with to wear the tiger-print track suit I bought for my Halloween costume earlier this year. With my limited wardrobe, it’s the most comfortable thing I own.

My first Christmas as an expat. I hope everyone had a memorable holiday season. Nothing that special has to happen in order for the days to be good ones.