Here we are again in the midst of the winter holiday season. I find myself trying to figure out what I want these holidays to be for me. As someone with zero religious inclinations it’s sometimes hard to reconcile a holiday based around something without meaning to me with my desire to celebrate. I realize that christmas is hardly a religious holiday at this point for most so what does it matter? It seems like the time to make our own traditions.
I really enjoy giving handmade gifts and sending out cards. It’s nice to have a reason to take some time to show people you care about that you’re thinking of them. So much so that I may have a tendency to come up with a few too many projects for myself to make. How fast can my little hands sew and knit before it’s too late to give something to someone? Of course, with something handmade, there’s always the worry that someone won’t like the gift at all. It’s feels more personal when it’s something you’ve taken time to put together than something you’ve selected for purchase (though that can be an equally difficult and time consuming task).
Shawn and I have never had a christmas tree since we’ve been together, even though I love trees, mainly because I always talk us out of buying one. One year we found the the most sad and scrawny fake tree but the store refused to sell it to us, because it was the floor model. I still wish we had that tree. It was perfect. This year I didn’t even want to put up or decorations. I can’t say why exactly, but the thought of having to put them away again later in the month seemed like too much. We lucked out this year and my mother let us borrow her aluminum tree and it’s quite lovely and the cats haven’t tried to eat it yet so I’m happy about that.
I love festivities and when things feel special. I had so much fun making a yule log last year. I’d like to make a gingerbread house this year. Though it’s just managed to get a bit chilly here in Los Angeles, it never has the same celebratory feel as other colder states. I’ve been watching snowy movies to make it feel more like winter here.
What are your traditions? What are your favorite things to do to celebrate during the winter months?
We had a double Thanksgiving this year. It’s not uncommon. We kicked things off with the special Thanksgiving meal at Crossroads. We’d never been before and were excited to try it for the first time.
We arrived as they opened and there was already a line out the door. Inside, the the restaurant had a really nice atmosphere, unlike any of the other vegan restaurants in Los Angeles. It really felt like a special occasion. They also had a fancy bar and I wanted to try all their special edition mixed drinks.
The main course was a rosemary hazelnut scaloppini with stuffing, mashed potatoes, porcini gravy and maple mustard glazed brussels sprouts. The scaloppini was quite good, with a unique flavor. I quite liked the hazelnut. I’ll admit that I think I prefer something with a more traditional style like previous thanksgivings. I ended up taking home a bit of this dish and everything was even better the next day topped with extra gravy.
It was a really nice meal and I look forward to revisiting Crossroads on another occasion. As I mentioned, I really liked the atmosphere and I’m excited that there’s now a more upscale vegan spot not too far from us.
Afterward we headed home and started cooking for Thanksgiving number two. Shawn made his family recipe stuffing and biscuits and gravy, to great success. I made seitan en croute, maple glazed carrots and green bean casserole. Jenn brought over a ton of food: mashed potatoes, golden gravy, marshmallow topped sweet potatoes and baked mac & cheese. It was indeed a feast.
Despite the double meal, I managed not to overeat terribly and really just enjoyed spending the day with family and friends.
The holiday season is just around the corner. With a late thanksgiving this year, my mother and I were already able to throw a fancy dinner party. When looking for inspiration for table decor, I found that a lot of the autumn themed decorations tended to be a bit hokey. We kept it fairly simple and decorated mostly with birch logs and little woodland animals that my mom already had from her christmas tree last year. We added some glitter and fake leaves just to spice it up a little then lined the table with real leaves that I collected back East, candles and tiny pumpkins. My mom also found some birch lined planters to house a few ferns. I loved how it turned out and it was not terribly difficult to set up. It even felt like fall in seasonless Los Angeles.
After having a non-stop schedule for the past few months it was nice to have a free day where I could spend some time in the kitchen. We got a little pumpkin in our last CSA box and I had wanted to make something special with it. It seemed like a great chance to make something fully from scratch, instead of using canned pumpkin which is so readily available. It wasn’t difficult at all to bake the pumpkin before making it into puree, it just took a little extra time. I used this recipe for pumpkin bread, halved and without the walnuts. It was perfectly moist and spicy.
Can you tell the difference between the canned pumpkin and the fresh pumpkin in the end? I’m not sure. It’s still nice to know it was simple if I ever want to nix canned foods in general. Plus I made a little video of the process, which made the whole thing a little more fun.
I was sitting in Vegan Treats bakery, having just finished a tiny pumpkin cake, when a wave of elation washed over me. After weeks of planning and stressing and trying to handle a million details during one of the busiest times of the year, I had done what I had set out to do. I was filled with a combination of excitement, relief and just plain happiness mixed with a touch of disbelief. It started with disappointment.
The previous summer I directed my first real short film since college (where I essentially just made abstract art films anyway). It was challenging. Not just because I didn’t have money to spend on it or hardly any crew to make it happen, but because I was in charge of everything. I’m not one to shirk under the pressure of planning and organizing but, looking back, I did not have a lot of confidence in myself. I put so much of myself in to that little film that it was difficult for me to visualize how it would come together. There were aspects that were so clear and others that were murky and intangible. The story was ambiguous and I couldn’t seem to resolve elements based in reality with bits of fantasy.
Months after putting together an edit of the film, and subsequently taking a break from it, I returned to the footage and was supremely unhappy with it. There were elements of the film I wanted to make there but there were other parts that felt stiff. I wanted to move on, start another project and forget how things had gone wrong. Shawn would pester me about it though, reminding me of the parts I liked, questioning me on how it could be revived. I was stubborn. Finally though, a plan arose. We cut out everything that didn’t work, shot more footage and reassembled.
The end result was not the original story I set out to tell, and it is all the better for it. It’s still a tender little thing. It would have been so much easier move along and bury it with any past failures, to try again with something else. As much as I didn’t want to fix it, I now know that making something I’m actually content with gave me the confidence to keep creating with the knowledge that I’m fully capable of making something good. Once it was truly complete it cleared up my head to start thinking about the next thing without a cloud of doubt hovering over me. I will at some point share this film I’m speaking of, I’m just waiting for the right moment.
Not long after Shawn finished filming Ashes of a Cowboy I came across a historical event that I found so disturbing and bizarre that I knew immediately I wanted to make a film about it. I intended to file it away as an idea for later but one day, feeling inspired, I started writing. The script came together quickly and the momentum carried me forward to keep planning to film it. Since the story took place in the late 18th century, the whole thing became more complicated. Actually filming it seemed so distant and unreal but I just kept on moving forward as if it would happen.
Something compelled me to keep moving forward. I wanted to make this film and it was going to have be before winter came or it wouldn’t happen until sometime next year and the momentum I was gliding on would be lost. Then a moment came where things turned from possible to real. A historic location was booked and schedules coordinated. I had just under a month to piece everything together from costumes to props to casting and getting it all to a distant location all while working my full time regular job and hosting horror marathons and making Halloween costumes.
There were many times in that month where I thought maybe it wouldn’t work. Unlike before though, I trusted myself. I knew clearly what I wanted and also knew where to let go of that vision for the greater good of the project. Still when we arrived for the first day of shooting I had a list in the back of my head of all the things that could potentially go wrong. Yet somehow, almost magically, in so many instances where I had backup plans, things went even better than expected. A prop I needed that I wasn’t able to bring showed up the day before at a relative’s house. A room I didn’t know we would have access to had the exact lighting I needed for a shot. That’s not to say there weren’t difficulties. Shooting a film, even a short one, is always a battle against time and light and so many other things.
I had a lot of help from some very patient people, some of whom I enlisted through the internet and only met for the first time the day of shooting. Plus some some family that Shawn convinced to don period clothing and populate my historic village. It goes without saying that Shawn helped me tremendously, though I’m not sure he knew entirely what he was getting into until the last moment.
There will be a long way to go to finish the film. Editing is its own harrowing process. I wanted to record this feeling though, the one I felt back in the bakery, of pulling all the pieces together and actually making it happen.