Relative Happiness

Yes, of course, happiness, like beauty, is all about the eye of the beholder and perception is objective, and blah blah blah. Tailor your expectations accordingly and the world is your oyster, or possibly  some other less slimy delicacy.

Not going to be blowing the lid off of that one today. Instead we are going to take a minute to discuss the happiness of your relatives. More importantly, how fickle and unimportant it is. Maybe don’t read this aloud at Thanksgiving.

Some of us have always been the type to try and make everyone around them happy. Some of us have been the type to make themselves happy and wait for everyone else to fall in line. With any luck both of these people grow up to realize that the people around you matter and should be treated with consideration, but no more or less than yourself. And now humanity is universally self-actualized. Or not.


Assuming a slim majority of us claw our way somewhere into the median spectrum, our work is not yet done. Even when we’ve determined how things should go the people closest to us always seem to present an exception. They aren’t ‘just anyone’. They deserve more time. Or you deserve more of theirs. Or they will forgive you because they have to. (This is not universally bad, and when your mother asks you for help, you do it.) When this throws the happiness scale out of balance its a problem, and its no way to treat people you care about.

Despite how tempting it can be to indulge our desires to control the feelings of loved ones we cannot take responsibility of anyone else’s happiness. That’s their job. We can try not to hurt them. We can empathize when someone else does. But sacrificing your own for theirs is only for married people. And sometimes your children (though their teachers would appreciate it if you told them no sometimes, just for the fun of it).

The pleasant shiny person you’re going to be when your happiness matters as much as everyone else’s will make them happier anyway. Maybe not right away. They’ll have got used to you being their emotional on call chef. But eventually, if they care about you too and see you truly happy, they will be happy too. And then you can skip and frolic and stuff.

A Very London Christmas

Much like all other things in life, the English are much better at Christmas than Americans. Probably due in large part to the fact that there is very little public religious association, and a significant emphasis on spirit and festivity. Never has it been so apparent which country the Pilgrims ran from, and which one they ran to.

There are certain areas in particular where this celebratory excellence really shines.

Christmas Jumpers: While Americans thought they were super cool for throwing Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and making fun of over decorated kindergarten teachers from coast to coast, the British have made festive jumpers clever and adorable and mandatory. They go along with the almost daily Christmas parties throughout the month of December (and sometimes November) and the only thing more embarrassing than a hideous one is not wearing one at all. Wooly jumpers are, and always have been a British wardrobe staple, but as soon as reindeer, penguins, and fair isle snowmen jump on you’ve got yourself a cultural must-have. And I must have one. Or two.

Greetings: There is absolutely zero sensitivity about how you choose to spread holiday cheer. Yes, England has its own brand of Protestantism, but London is a cosmopolitan city and honestly no  one cares what you do in your own time, so we all acknowledge that decorations and warm spiced wine and chocolate are wonderful. End of.

Advent Calendars: They do have their roots in very Christian tradition, but most people in England probably don’t know that. They’re simply  a reason to start opening tiny presents as soon as December begins. There are many chocolate ones, but these days you can get them with Legos, and candles, and makeup, and nuts. Really anything you want to wake up to. Why has America not been doing this?

My dream advent calendar.

Twinkle Lights: Fairy lights, Christmas lights, whatever you want to call them, they are flipping everywhere. Every major street in London has light up snowflakes and trees and baubles on the street lights. But the department stores completely take the cake. With the mutual goal of covering every square inch of their five-story city blocks in twinkles they all compete to do it the best (except for Peter Jones, which sticks with the classic stripes) to astonishing effect. And not one bulb is ever out.


No Pesky Thanksgiving: Forget hearing everyone complain about how early the holiday songs are on the radio and having to start shopping the Christmas sales when you’ve barely got the cobwebs down from Halloween. All of that is not only acceptable, but encouraged, in England because there is no silly day of eating (celebrating said Pilgrims’ inability to farm) to get in the way. Though I did have a silly day of eating with a large bunch of British people, who were confused but hungry, and it was fun trying to explain casseroles, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, and pumpkin pie (“Yes, I’m sure that the marshmallows are a side and the pie is the dessert; I mean the pudding”)

I suppose it’s just one more thing to add to the list of reasons why London is the best city in the world and I need to find a way to never leave. As if I needed more.

Happy Christmas xx

Black Fri Lady

Yes, I’m aware the wordplay does not completely work. But the sentiment stands true. There is nothing ladylike about elbowing your way to an eighteen dollar sweater at five in the morning. There is no reason to pay more for something than you have to, but the value of your time and character also have to be accounted for. The spirit of gift-giving is to think about the people in your life you want to show appreciation to and what it is in your power to give them that they might like.

The spirit is not to dive in to the dollar bin grabbing everything within reach, only to decide later which unfortunate cousin is going to get a battered copy of Die Hard, and who gets the stuffed reindeer with the jingle hat. Shopping on Black Friday is not relaxing, so you can’t even claim retail therapy.


The only ladylike way to shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving (the day after you have dedicated a whole uninterrupted twenty four hours to connecting with friends and family whilst consuming twice your body weight) is online. There are some incredible sales, that no reasonable person can expect you to ignore, but the pursuit of a bargain should not take over your brief respite from work and other distractions. Pick a time to commit yourself to the pursuit of a reasonably priced coat, or set a cellphone alarm for that Amazon lightning deal you just can’t miss, but limit it to an hour or two. Then read a book, curl up and watch a movie, or even take a walk with your aunt or other relative you don’t get to see very often.

As we get older, and advertising agencies get evermore overeager during the holiday season, we seem to forget that celebrating is meant to be about spending time and making memories with those we love. Whether it’s taking the time to tell one another what you’re thankful for, or making sure gifts are both thoughtful and personal, make sure you take full advantage of your time away from the obligations of work to play a little bit.

If your idea of play happens to include a quick tirade through Target with your mom, then so be it.

Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Hanukkah!

Mmm Pie

2009-10-30_2By request, and in honor of the season, I am going to tell you how to bake a pumpkin pie that will not shame you in the eyes of the pilgrims or those who have to eat it. The first and most important issue to address is the common use of canned pumpkin goo as the base for the typical Thanksgiving pie. This is disgusting, unconscionable, and will not be tolerated if you are going to use this recipe. Pie ought not to taste like aluminum and feeding sub-standard pie to those you claim to love, or put up with, is mean. Don’t do it.

If you are wondering how in God’s name you are to make a pie without preformed cylinders of unnaturally orange food product then you need to leave. Just Google search ‘butt’ like you were planning to do anyways and please never make food for anyone- yourself included. 

If instead you are dazzled by the prospect of turning a vegetable into pie (or muffins, or bread, or…goodness it all sounds so good I’ve bought five pumpkins and now I need you to enlighten me as to how they become food) then you are ready for Step 1. Buy a pumpkin. You probably have one, but if you’ve stabbed it in the face to make it smile at your neighbors like the creepy gourd that it is then it’s too late. No one wants to eat that. It started rotting the second you cut it open and now it has dirt and candle wax and probably bugs in it. Eww. So go get yourself an unmolested pumpkin. You can draw a face on it of you must, and even name it, but dont poke any holes in it. Only get a massive pumpkin if you are feeding your family of eighteen, otherwise a little one will do- roughly the size of your head.

Step 2: Hack it up. You are going to take your pumpkin and a very large knife and cut it into bits and pieces. Embrace the spirit of our intolerant, ignorant, and mildly hypocritical forebears by ruthlessly killing that which you don’t understand. Dispose of the guts however you like but don’t let them near the pie. You want some good-sized chunks- as if you were making mashed potatoes out of them (the pumpkin chunks, not our forebears). Throw them all in a big pot and boil them to within an inch of their life, or until soft and stabbable with a fork. Then peel the skin off (this is where the Indian forebears come in) and put your mushy pumpkin chunks straight into a food processor, if you have one, or into a bowl, if you don’t. Either way you want to mash and stir until you get something the consistency of a creamy soup. Now you have your pumpkin muck.

Step 3: Pie filling. This part is super easy. You are literally going to stir all of these things up in a bowl in this order. That’s it, you know until step 4. 2009-10-30_1

2 eggs, beaten

1 3/4 cups Pumpkin muck

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 2/3 cups evaporated milk

Step 4: Now you have a bowl of orange-ish milk with specks floating on top- perfect! You are going to carefully pour this into a 9 inch pastry shell almost to the tippy top- but not quite. I make my pie crust, but if you’re exhausted after all of this hacking business and generally want to tell me to stuff it at this point then don’t worry about it. I’m not nearly as indignant about the use of inauthentic crust and will not come to your house to malign you verbally with excessive force if you cheat. If I sense an empty pumpkin can, however, I’m going to find you.

Step 5: Bake. You’ll have enough filling to make 2 pies, so transport these very slowly to your preheated oven which should be a toasty 425 degrees. Try really hard not to spill in the oven because it’ll burn in the bottom and be gross. After 15 minutes reduce the heat to 350 degrees and wait another 20 minutes. You should be able to poke it with a knife (I know, more stabbing) and pull it out clean so just leave it in an extra few minutes if theres still pie goo on it. It’s still going to wobble a little when you take it out, but that’s ok. Your pie will also collapse a little as it cools, but that’s ok too.

You’re done! You have made an exceptionally yummy pie without dishonoring the entire holiday of Thanksgiving and the spirits of all of your ancestors. You can eat it now.