Review: Tinsel

Oh, and PS: I’d like to acknowledge the global economy, especially the credit and retail sectors, which fell apart between 2006 and 2008 and thereby made profligate Christmas shopping seem all the more interesting and a bit more inane. Here’s to you, capitalism
Those were actually the very last two sentences Hank Stuever wrote in Tinsel, but in a sense, they were this book. According to my Amazon wishlist when I spotted this on a price drop around Christmas, I had it on my wishlist since its publication in 2009. So of course I had to start it immediately after two false starts on books to finish out 2013: Rogues Gallery and Do You Speak Shoe Lover?

I have an odd relationship with Christmas. Christmas in our house looks a lot like Thanksgiving, just with more presents. But I hate shopping. HATE. Yet somehow, I was drawn to this book. To the author’s writing. To the people he met. After finishing the book. it was a pleasant surprise to find the photos of the people he spent Christmas with. I was way off in my mental images, but it was nice to put faces to the names.

Speaking of names, I find it amazing and generous how these folks welcomed him into their homes and their lives. While Stuever wrote at length about the growth of Frisco, it’s still very much Smalltown, USA in that respect. He came to know these people, their families, their friends. He nearly became one of them.
I read this over the course of three weeks, but if I had enough time, I’d probably have read it within a few days as it really grabbed me toward the end. It was an interesting mix of christmas, Christmas, people and shopping. I also think that pretty much describes American christmas in a nutshell these days.
Christmas is the single largest event in American communal life, intersecting with every aspect of religion, culture, commerce, and politics. From mid-November to New Year’s Eve 2006, shoppers spent almost half a trillion dollars on gifts, which is more than we spend on almost anything else as a people, including the annual bill at that time for ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For those who opt in, Christmas is supposed to exist as a pure moment of bliss and togetherness. We spend more money than we have at Christmas in part to get closer to the simple joy it advertises.

I actually found this — which was his premise throughout the book to be fascinating. What is christmas these days. Is it spending money to be happy? Is it about the holiday (pagan or christian?) is it about family

I went looking for an America living not only on borrowed time, but also on borrowed grace. In the Nativity pageant I’ve staged here, I cast myself merely as an extra, a Wise Man in a purple velour bathrobe and a cardboard Burger King crown, following yonder star, bearing my mother’s crystal salad-dressing cruets (my frankincense, my myrrh) on a tasseled living room throw pillow.

In addition to looking for “Christmas”, I think the author had more than a little quest to look for “America”. Frisco, TX, land of the McMansions isn’t America any more than Jesus is the Reason for the Season describes the true American Christmas, but the author did well to try and tie both extremes together. Of those people he met: Carroll the shopaholic tither and her family, Tammie and her Hottie Elves and the Trykoskis and their lights, it was the Trykoskis I liked the most because they seemed to show me more about what Christmas is. I didn’t like Carroll and her family — although I felt them to be a good example of Shop ’til You Drop Spoiled America. Sure, Tammie decorated clients’ houses for Christmas – but that didn’t make her Santa any more than a normal interior designer. Jeff T was paid for his work in Frisco Square, but he did his own house – and the city – out of his own interest and passion.

The Christmas lifestyle as most Americans know and celebrate it is only about a century and a half old, a straight line from Charles Dickens to Martha Stewart.

I had to chuckle at this — because the Christmas that the author found in Frisco isn’t the Christmas I’ve seen in the Northeast. Multiple themed trees? Prelit trees? Worrying about whether a neighbor’s house and Christmas is “Christ-centered”? Never mind Frisco’s obsession with Snow Powder and the Israelis who sell it.
“On Dasher, on Dancer, on Master, on Visa.”

THANKSGIVING….It conveys a sense of national togetherness, pride, gluttonous helpings of iconic food items, and the moments we take to consider our blessings. Then all hell breaks loose.

Now that? That’s the American Christmas I know. I like how he used his journalistic background to mix in reporting with his story telling. The facts he reported on retail figures, economic growth and contraction, the history of Christmas (more Halloween then Jesus) and suburb development provided a nice back drop to the people without taking away from them. It made for substance to go with the fluff.The same could be said for the religious aspects that he discussed. While an American christmas can be religion fee, I’m not sure the same could be said for a Texas Christmas. All in all, a very good read even if it slowed down at parts. I look forward to reading his other book, Off Ramp, as I like his style and find him very readable. Also, his NPR interview about the book is a fun read. Not sure what my next book of 2014 will be. Yet.

2014: you’re looking pretty good

10 days in and January is looking pretty good, #GoTheDist wise:

  • Steps:: 42,324
  • Miles Walked: 17.8
    (both as of January 9)
  • Miles Biked: 41.44
    (as of January 10)

Pretty impressed with the foot totals in light of the polar vortex and I’ve been to the gym every other day. I am proud of that and hope I can make it stick.

Speaking of looking good. a friend turned me on to Fabletics and I may or may not be hooked. I did need some new clothes as a not small amount of my workout clothes are 60 lbs ago. I’m hoping to use this weekend’s rain to purge and bring the previous purges to the thrift store.

#GoTheDist and DietBet: miniupdate

so after (over)thinking about it, I decided to join a DietBet. While they didn’t work perfectly for me, they were a good jump start and that’s what I’d like about now. I also think I’m in a better frame of mind for it then I was when I took a break last year. As an added bonus, I had winnings in my DB kitty from one last year, so it was free. Double win if I win.

I also updated my #GoTheDist goals so they are as follows:

  • Q1, beat 2013’s Q4 totals since I seem to like beating myself (in a positive way). Totals for 4Q were:
    • 641,913 steps
    • 269.41 miles walked
    • 55.16 miles on the bike

    So my Q1 2014 goals are: 700,000 steps, 300 miles walked and 75 miles on the bike. Those are totally random numbers (not a %) so we’ll see how they go. I’m off to a good start on the bike with 10.68 miles yesterday and am bummed I’m snowed in and can’t get to the gym today.

  • Annual: 1100 miles walked (200 1Q, 4Q and 350 apiece for 2,3Q). Yes, that contradicts my math above. Oh well
  • 2.5m steps. I actually think I could hit 3m, but I’m underestimating since I don’t have a full year’s worth of step data to work with.

And as I mentioned above, snow day! Can I go play and count that for #GoTheDist?


2013: Pretty Well Done

Perfect? No

Well done? Absolutely

From the end of January through January 1, 2014

From the end of January through January 1, 2014

That graph is from when I restarted through today. Was the year perfect? Nope. But I ended 2013 17.3 lbs less than where I started it. That’s good.

I may not be there yet, but I'm closer than I was yesterday.

I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.

I was very good with mini goals and quarterly goals this year. Time to look back at 2013 and set some new ones for 2014:


  • Blog. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes. But when I was losing, I was blogging. So we’re going to try it again. I wasn’t very good with it this summer and fall but I was thinking about blogging even if I never got to writing.
  • On the writing theme, I’m tracking. I was a master at tracking way back when and it’s time to go back. I don’t see what my road block is here. I face the foods when I see the number on the scale, it’s time to face it in my tracker. I tracked today. Including the m&ms. That’s a start. I have been very good at tracking. I’d say 95% overall, when I don’t it’s not because I don’t want to face it, but rather because I leave it too long and don’t catch everything. But I still give myself an A- here. ETA: I almost didn’t track Christmas but then felt guilty. So I went back and tracked it. It wasn’t pretty but I dealt with it.
  • Money. I joined Run With Jess‘ DietBet challenge at the instigation of a Hive friend. It cost me $10 but I will lose my 4% and if I do that every month it won’t cost me another cent I don’t think. AND if I hit the 4% goals each month (a big if, I know), I’ll hit goal by July, which gives me plenty of breathing room if I have an off month. Well I didn’t hit it in July or September, and I got bored with DietBet partially because I wasn’t losing at that rate. I ended up buying the iPad I was thinking of anyway and I love it. ETA: thinking of starting a DietBet again to kick start me.
  • #GoTheDist. I gave up on tracking this a chunk of the way through last year although I continued to track my workouts in MapMyFitness. But the challenge is a great motivator and it gets me to the gym when I don’t want to go. A+ here. I beat my goals and tracked throughout the entire year.
  • Smoothies. Yep, back to smoothies for dinner. They help with the salt retention and they give me my chocolate fix when I otherwise eat things I have no business eating when I get home. This didn’t last, I lost my appetite for them. Do I miss them for my chocolate fix? Yes.
  • I’m not giving up soda. Not yet, at least. I was the queen of fake lemonade last time and while I’m contemplating getting a soda stream, I’m not ready to make the switch off soda. I’m afraid I won’t drink enough until it’s warmer. But it’s diet soda so that’s a partial win. I’m drinking too much soda, and probably too much coffee, but that’s not changing right now.
  • S is for Spark. as in the Spark to get to goal. As in SparkPeople. If I do what I did with Weight Watchers online, I can make it work with Spark. There is no difference in the foods I’m eating. I love LoseIt, and as  I mentioned above, I’m tracking.
  • I’m going to get my knees to the point where I can do more than one squat, or I’m going to quit putting off knee surgery and get it done. This one is still up in the air, but my knee isn’t holding me back too badly.


  • Exercise everyday. It doesn’t have to be the gym, and my 64 stairs a day probably count anyway, but with the weather getting nice there’s no reason not to spend some time outside walking, etc. Especially because I’d really like to finish the Great Manhattan Loop. One thing I realized when I was home for about ten days in July is how much I walk by default when I’m here. There are sloth days, but I think I’ve been good on this step. And I finished the Loop and have started on another goal with the bridges.
  • Eat better. Not just within the calories, but more fruits and vegetables. It’s the perfect season. Eh, sort of. I give myself a C here. ETA C-, but I’ve been a B+ of late so I’m getting back.
  • Diversify my breakfasts. I’m getting sick of Cheerios. I think there are better options to keep me fuller too. Straight up D here. It’s coffee, cheerios or both.
  • Set a goal. Maybe even a Goal. Time to figure out what I’m working toward. F. F – if possible.


  • Stay on track and finish strong. Fall is crazy at work, but that’s not an excuse to undo all the progress I’ve made this year. I wasn’t perfect, but I was pretty good. I didn’t gain over my birthday, Thanksgiving, the gala or vacation. I’m happy with this.
  • #GoTheDist Q4. Detailed yesterdayDetailed above. Nailed this.
  • Better food choices. Goldfish aren’t dinner and coffee isn’t breakfast. No comment.
  • Set a Goal, goal, oal-gay or what have you. Time to stop this ridiculosity and just do it. Um, I plead the 5th

So mixed results, but I’m overall happy because I kept thinking about the goals I’d set and why. So, with that in mind, here are some ones to start 2014.


  • Meet or exceed my #GoTheDist goals.
  • Specifically, exceed my Q4 2013 GTD totals.
  • I’m not sure LoseIt’s 147 days is realistic, but 2014 is the last year I will start overweight
  • Learn to cook. I’m already laughing at myself for this one, but I really wish I could. I think it would make some food choices better.
  • Get back to a regular gym schedule. It sounds cliche, but I feel good when I go. So I need to GO
  • Relax. Keep doing what I did last year. It (mostly) worked and I’m on the right track.

#GoTheDist 2013: Went

I did it, I did it.

Yes, you should read that in a complete sing-song voice since I am wearing a pink tiara.

Been a good #GoTheDist year, despite a rough start after which I revised my original goal of 750 miles down to 500. Then, in July, I realized my initial goal was doable and in September, vowed to beat it.

So how did I do?

I finished* 2013 on a high note:


  • 205,116 steps
  • 87.2 miles walked
  • 47.48 miles biked

Totals for 4Q

  • 641,913 steps
  • 269.41 miles walked
  • 55.16 miles on the bike

Totals for 2013

  • 1,889,696 steps **
  • 948.09 miles walked
  • 335.83 miles on the bike


I also hit my Q4 goal (barely, pathetically on the biking side) and with 87.2 miles walked, I hit my last ditch goal that I set Friday.

Inspired by that, I’m setting my walking goal at 1100 miles. 1,000 seems to little of a bump from ~950 even though I know that’s lower than real, but 1,200 seems too high. So 1100 it is. I still need to do some steps math, so I’m not sure which is primary yet.

ETA: 1100 miles, 2.5m steps is my goal.

More to come on 2014. For now I’m going to bounce, that burns calories, right?

* there will be more steps tonight but it’s too cold so I don’t expect them to amount to much

** since May, when I got my Jawbone

Bookworm nerd alert

Since I don’t foresee myself finishing Rogues’ Gallery (at all, never mind by tomorrow) or Do You Speak Shoe Lover, I think I’m going to finish 2013 with 35 books read (and 5 unfinished). That is short of my goal, but not bad at all. Huge shout out to the 6 I read while away this month.

2013 was a lot of fiction. But it’s reading, so it counts. I definitely took to reading on my iPad and had no preference between iBooks or the Kindle-I do not like the Nook app. I do love my tags for cataloging books.

Past years:

  • 2012: 16 books, that’s just pathetic. It’s what spurred  my goal for 2013 as I love to read and there was no excuse for barely more than one book per month especially with ~5 being in one week. While I think I was bad at tracking, <20 is still a bad total.
  • 2011: 26 books, so much Patricia Cornwall as I tried to read her entire series. I didn’t finish it though. I did manage to catch up on James Patterson. This is also when I got my first eReader.
  • 2010: 21 books, many about  my WLJ.
  • 2009: 20 books, football and grad school (although I was done)
  • 2008: 24 books, not bad for being in grad school. An eclectic mix, to say the least.
  • 2007: 28 books, thank you European and Australian travel time. You made up for the time in class when I had no time to read.
  • 2006: 29 books. I think 99.99% of those were Jan-August while in Japan and before I started grad school.
  • 2005: 116 books! I miss Australia and Japan, and limited internet and cable TV.

I didn’t track 2004 in Library Thing, and I’m not sure 2005 is accurate per my notes here. Alas, the true totals are lost to time and not even the wayback machine can help. :-(

So what’s my goal for 2014? I want to say 45. I think that’s doable especially if I have a week’s holiday again. However I wouldn’t be disappointed with 40. Below 35 is not acceptable.

Random other reading notes:

Thanks to web archive, the list of books I wild released in Australia in 2005 remains as does the partial 2007 list, which includes one of my favorite reading spots.

#GoTheDist: 4 days left in 2013

and at 36.55 miles biked (28.87 in December!) I’m 15.95 miles from my goal of 52.5 miles on the bike.

Can I do it? I don’t know, but I think so. I wish my gym was closer to go this weekend, but I think I can go Monday and Tuesday.

Walking wise, I’m all set. Goal was 102.7 miles and I’m at 256.01! Wow. New mini goal, beat November’s mileage. I don’t think weather will cooperate to hit October’s 99.11 miles, but 83 is within sight as I’m at 73.8 miles through yesterday.


#GoTheDist Q4: Two months in

Whoops, I’ve been bad here since I discovered Tumblr.

My Q4 goals were:

102.7 miles walking and 52.5 miles on the bike.  My comment on that was that I hoped to have hit both by the end of November.

I nearly hit that in October, walking wise, with 99.11 miles walked but fell short on the bike. November was more (less?) of the same: 83.1 miles walked. None on the bike. I will remedy the bike this week but while happy with the miles in mostly unsuitable weather, I need to get to the gym more.

December sneak peak: 42.5 miles walked through yesterday.  Yes, I just caught up on tracking.

Red Square in the East Village

every time I do a tour with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, I learn things that have nothing to do with Judaism and/or the Lower East Side. I attribute this to the diverse range of guides they use, each of whom bring their own flavor to their tours. This bit of history might actually be Lower East Side related, depending on whose definition you use of the Lower East Side.

As we stood on the southern side of Houston St. headed from Congregation Chasam Sopher to Angel Orensanz, Marty pointed out a new building on the northern side of the street. On the surface, there wasn’t anything special about the building, aside from it being newer than some of its neighbors and decidedly not a tenement. However, Marty encouraged us to look up to the top where we saw a statue of Lenin and a clock whose numbers were backwards.

Welcome to Red Square, on Houston Street.

The rental apartments, on land that was a gas station for 25 years, were designed by Michael Rosen and the statue of Lenin, which points toward Wall Street, was added later following the fall of the Soviet Union when it was discovered in Moscow. The building’s clock is said to come from a design in MoMA’s store.

Some of the building’s neighbors are just as eccentric as Red Square itself and all add some flavor to a street that is adding too many chains and strip malls for my liking.

Crossing Delancey

with photos.

on a day where crossing 1st Ave. due to the marathon was the bigger odyssey. Luckily, the m15 was (sort of) running and I was able to make it down for the Jewish Heritage Festival.Before I made it to the Festival, however, I caught a peek of a broken-down synagogue on what I realized was Norfolk St through the Seward Park playground. With time to kill, I walked down Essex to Delancey and back up Norfolk for a better look. It turns out it was Beth Hamedrash Hagadol, formerly the Norfolk St. Baptist Church/Alanson Methodist Episcopal Church, now a landmark in some serious disrepair. Sad. While it appears it is no longer in immediate danger of being torn down, it appears that another piece of living history is gone.

From there it was a hop-skip to the Conservancy’s visitor center where, by virtue of the numbers, I did Crossing Delancey with Marty of Manhattan Walks, the guide who I loved from the Upper West Side and Jewish Harlem tours. I was pleased to be joined by Jeff Dobbins of Walks of New York, Howard Teich of the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative, among others familiar faces from the Conservancy’s tours.

Because I hadn’t planned to go today or put much thought into the tour I was going to take, I hadn’t done my homework. I was pleased when the first stop was the Stanton Street Shul, one of the LES synagogues by which I am most fascinated. Although its congregation was mostly LES immigrant poor, a ton of love and detail was put into this tenement shul, especially the mazalot. There is an amazing amount of history in this 20′ x 100′ space.  While Eldridge St. remains the crown jewel of synagogue restoration, others like Stanton St., Beth Hamedrash Hagadol and Emory Roth haven’t yet been as lucky. I hope that tide turns soon. Stanton St. is amazing as one of the last remaining tenement synagogues (from a high of 700), all which had an interesting role in NYC history.

After Stanton Street, we headed to Clinton St. and Congregation Chasam Sopher, one of the oldest buildings whose continuous history was as a synagogue. It was originally built in 1853 by Congregation Rodeph Sholem, now located on the Upper West Side. Yes, more congregation musical chairs. Chasam Sopher has an interesting history, both in its continued existence as a free synagogue, but also how it suvived the down turn of the 1970s-80s and is now thriving due to the  influx of young Orthodox families on the Lower East Side.

Although the tour continued down Orchard Street, my final stop was at Angel Orensanz, a cultural center whose work I love. I had no idea that it was (one of) the previous homes of Anche Chesed, nor that it was the oldest surviving building in New York City built specifically as a synagogue, and the first synagogue structure built on the Lower East Side. It is now a venue that is available for rent (especially weddings!) and has been home to some amazing cultural programs. I hope that rental income allows it to thrive because this architecture cannot be lost to history.

I was sad to leave the tour, but it whet my appetite for even more exploration of the Lower East Side, which will hopefully come soon.