Friday, December 19, 2014

Have Yourself a Merry Little Playlist

And I am firmly of the belief that the best way to enter such a state of mind is by listening to Christmas music every chance you get. And as a gift to your this holiday season, I have painstakingly sifted through hundreds of recordings to find the very best of them all.

I had to make a lot of hard decisions to compile this list. If I left in the runners up, it would be approximately 75 items long. There are so many great recordings of original songs and the classics, countless lovely renditions really. But without further ado, here are my 15 (this started as a list of 10 but I just could not help myself...) picks this Christmas.

15 Best Christmas Songs & Favorite Renditions

"All I Want for Christmas is You" — Mariah Carey
Yes, you're tired of hearing it by December 1. Yes, Mariah should not be allowed to perform this at tree lighting ceremonies anymore. Yes, this song is the biggest earworm in the world. But tell me it doesn't put you in the Christmas spirit, I dare you. Just once a year, this tune has to get a spin.

"Baby it's Cold Outside" — Darren Criss & Chris Colfer (Glee Cast)
By today's standards, sure, the lyrics to this song are absolutely creeptacular. My favorite is the line about homegirl getting pneumonia and dying. HOW CHRISTMASSY. But this adorable duo's performance on the Glee season two Christmas episode is just so sweet, and even though Colfer's vocals mostly annoy me, they work well when paired with Darren Criss' boyish, impish delivery of his lines.

"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" — Celine Dion
When I was a kid, I was a HUGE Celine Dion fan. Hearing this song sung in her beautiful voice is kind of an other-wordly experience. It's at once nostalgic (for me) and transcendent, the latter I credit entirely to her almost haunting and lovely voice. Other renditions of this song are nice, but none give me goosebumps like this one.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — She & Him
This is another tune that's got more renditions out there than I can count, but there's something just right about Zooey Deschanel's voice that's kind of solemn but also pretty enough to carry this song and make me feel all the feels.

"Merry Christmas Baby" — Colbie Caillat, Brad Paisley 
It's rare that a Christmas song has such an upbeat and playful tune. I'm not a huuuuuge fan of Brad's (I'm kind of not over the whole "Accidental Racist" idiocy, to be honest) but I adore Colbie and her voice is so breezy and fun and pretty. They go well together for this ditty.

"Last Christmas" — Wham!
I confess, I do very much love Lea Michele's rendition from Glee when Rachel is creepily trying to create a Christmas courtship with Finn (RIP Cory), but I gotta hand this one to the original songbirds. Holy '80s. And don't even come near me with Ariana Grande's recording.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" — Harry Connick, Jr. 
Is anyone actually with their significant other around Christmas? The songbook would suggest not. But I'd listen to Harry Connick Jr. sing about tax collection, so his rendition of this Christmas classic works for me.

"O Holy Night" — Lea Michele (Glee Cast) 
I just dare you to listen to this and not get goosebumps and/or want to cry.

"Merry Christmas Darling" — Christina Perri 
My coworker lobbies hard for the Carpenter's rendition, and I must admit it is strong. But there's a quality to Christina's voice that's just a little bit sad and sweet that makes it perfect for these slightly sad and sweet lyrics.

"White Christmas" — Michael BublĂ© & Shania Twain
Do doot do doo, doot doot, doot doo doot. #nailedit. It's just fun. Christmas is fun. Snow should be fun. (It only is when you don't have to drive in it OR when you have 4WD.) A song about snow on Christmas should be fun, and this recording is. Plus I heart Bubble. PLUS this makes me think of The Santa Clause and the Denny's scene rocks.

"Winter Wonderland" — Harry Connick, Jr. 
WITH HIS DAUGHTER!? I mean, come on. Harry Connick Jr. might as well be Father Christmas himself to me. And you can just hear the two of them smiling through this track.

"Santa Baby" — Colbie Caillat 
Colbie's is literally the only female version of this song I've ever heard that doesn't creepily fetishize a fictitious character made to bring joy to children OR sexualize the little girl/old dude dynamic for the mainstream (I'm lookin' RIGHT at you, Madonna), so four for you Colbie, you go Colbie.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" — Michael BublĂ© 
As much as I am dismayed by all the apparent long-distance lovers-themed songs that make up the Christmas music genre, Bubble makes this one tolerable and in fact quite peppy and lovely.

"Wrapped in Red" — Kelly Clarkson 
If you don't have this Christmas album on repeat, you're making a huge mistake. Kelly's got some classic holiday tunes and some fun original songs and she shows off her vocal chops in all of them. I love this song.

"Carol of the Bells" — Mannheim Steamroller
I debated really hard on whether I wanted to give this one to Mannheim Steamroller or Trans Siberian Orchestra. Both are unbelievable. Both are Christmas in musical form. I do very much love them both, and even give a slight edge to the TSO version for showmanship. But my mom used to listen to Mannheim Steamroller at Christmastime when I was a kid, and I see this album cover whenever I hear "Carol of the Bells." So to Mannheim the win goes. (Second runner up is obviously Pentatonix.)

Now believe me, I'm only stopping at 15 because I feel like that's already excessive enough. But my actual Christmas playlist has a few hundred songs. What are your favorites?

+ Linking up with Amanda for a holiday-themed Friday Favorites!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I'm Getting Cheese Fries

Is this thing on? Are we here? Is Humpday Confessions Redux with Melissa a go yet? Whatever, I'm getting cheese fries I'm going for it. And if I'm early, it'll be the first time in five years so I'm calling it a check in the W column. On to the soul cleansing, yes? Yes.

Thing I don't think is cute: People in relationships constantly acting like they're bothered by the fact that they're in relationships, or like their significant other is just a hinderance to their life. Calling your girl "the old ball and chain" or the whole "yes dear, whatever you say dear" song and dance or calling your boyfriend/husband an idiot or acting like he's a dolt who can barely tie his shoes without your help is not cute or funny; it's demeaning and rude. If you're not happy in your relationship, get out. If you are, stop complaining about sharing your life with another person and having to compromise once in a while. I'm not suggesting you pretend relationships are pure bliss all the time, (because even as a #singlelady I know it's not) but come on. Doing something nice for or with your significant other really shouldn't be such a burden to you, and if it is, then perhaps you aren't mature enough to have an adult relationship.

My coworker was having something done at her apartment yesterday, so she brought her little baby kitten into the office so he wouldn't get trampled or accidentally turned loose by the workers in her building. And I operated at roughly 19% efficiency all day because LOOK.
He snugged like this for an entire two-hour conference call. By the end of it he had more of the chair than I did.
(I'm not even a cat person.)

On Monday night, I made myself a perfect cup of Lady Grey tea, ate some peppermint gelato, screened Elf and wrapped all my Christmas presents. It's like Mrs. Claus threw up on me or something.
This Friday will be my last day in the office in 2014. After the 19th, I won't come to work again until January 5. This is partly because my bosses generously gave us off a few days over Christmas and New Years — we work with K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, so it doesn't make much economic sense for us to be open. But I'm also able to take off another few days because I have those vacation days saved up. And I HATE it when people comment about "how lucky" I am to have "such a nice long vacation" with the hint of oh it must be nice attitude. Must I point out that having those days saved up at the end of the year indicates that I took pretty much NO vacation all year long? I'm still losing like three or four days that don't carry over. I work my ass off and am in the office almost every single workday from January–December so yeah, I'm cashing in on a holiday break so I can breathe for the first time in 12 months.

There was one person left (on my too-long to-buy list) that I needed to buy a Christmas gift for, but then I decided to remove them from my list altogether. See, I give gifts for two reasons: the first (and preferred) is as a good-will gesture for friends and family who are loving, supportive, compassionate, and kind to me throughout the year, and who I want to thank by giving them something I think they'll enjoy. The second reason is, honestly, out of obligation and to spare myself a lashing from someone who won't respond to logic. I never want people I love to equate the amount of money I spend on them with love, because I don't have a lot of money to spend, but I have more than enough love, empathy and help to give.
Anyway, a person who was on my gift list has worked their way out of that first category. All through shopping season I was debating what to buy, couldn't come up with something, waffled on what I should spend, and then I finally decided... I'm not going to. What are your holiday/birthday rules for gifting with family and friends?

(Related: Do you tip your super? My last building didn't have one; my landlord owned the building and was the "super"... and he was also useless and mean and weird and creepy so, nah. The super in my new building is a very nice and friendly guy though. Is this still the custom?)

I probably sound really angry, but I swear I'm not. I just spend a lot of time thinking and these are some of the results. That's just one of the perks of being a life-long insomniac. I also just have Resting Bitch Tone. It's just as bad as Resting Bitch Face (with which I am also afflicted), but it happens when you're unbreakably sarcastic and have a naturally deep and sharper tone to your voice. And writing voice. That latter part would be helped if I used more emoticons and exclamation points, probably.

Part of the reason I'm re-watching all of 7th Heaven right now? I've always had a thing for David Gallagher.

Oh and lastly... I still haven't ever watched Home Alone. Please don't hate me, Michael!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Big Girl Specs

When I was in fifth grade, I became overwhelmed with the need for glasses. By that I mean...I really, really wanted glasses. I'm not sure how much my eyes actually needed glasses, but 11-year-old Alyssa? Desperately. I'm not totally sure why, except maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was kind of a weird kid. And I also didn't really love my face in fifth grade. (I don't always love my face now, but 25-year-old Alyssa is allowed to wear makeup and 11-year-old Alyssa wasn't.)

Somehow, I convinced my parents and an optometrist that I needed glasses too. I'm honestly not 100% sure at this point that there were real prescription lenses in there or if everyone was just humoring me (I may have cheated at the eye exam...) and figured if I was going to "act out for attention" that it was best that I was doing it by demanding eyewear, rather than smoking. (The smoking would come in middle school.)

I remember my first frames. They were — are you even ready for this? You aren't — Bugs Bunny glasses. No, I'm not kidding. They had little carrots on the hinges where the frames connected to the legs (terminology? Whatever.) and the legs... Oh man. So the legs were Bugs Bunny legs. The ends of the arms (does that work interchangeably with legs?) where they wrapped around my ears were rabbit feet. The frames were gray. My brother made fun of me. I wasn't even like some huge Bugs Bunny fan or anything! I forget when I stopped wearing them but I don't think they made it to middle school with me. Money well spent, indeed.

Then in my senior year of high school, in a last-ditch effort to get to the bottom of my headaches, after CT scans and neurologist visits offered no explanation, and well before I discovered the magic of chiropractic and a gluten-free diet, back to the eye doctor I went. The thing was, I could see, but I could also un-see really easily. It took just slightly more effort to focus than it did to drop out of focus. That's where I learned that I had "tired eyes." Meaning I spent all day in school and work straining my eyes to read, so by the end of the day, they were tired of trying to focus and that vicious cycle kind of started wrecking my vision.
So I got these. And I wore them to class through college and sometimes when I didn't feel like doing my makeup, but they did nothing for the headaches and, like most things in my life, I kind of just phased them out.

For the past three-plus years, my job has consisted of looking at a computer screen for the better part of my waking day. For the past year I've been putting "See eye doctor and get glasses" on my To Do list. For the past year I've been putting it off because glasses are expensive, yo. But I finally got tired of dropping my computer screen in and out of focus and put "see eye doctor" on my December To Do list and even budgeted for an exam and glasses! Because December isn't a spendy enough month as it is, ya know? But then Firmoo actually saved the day.

They reached out to me because they know I'm blind and poor, apparently, and their offer of a free pair of glasses honestly could not have come at a better time. Because not only did I need new glasses, I needed a reason to take a whole bunch of selfies for you to enjoy.
And by enjoy, I mean cringe at along with me.

I went to the eye doctor a few weeks ago for an updated prescription, and I learned two things: I have exceptionally dry eyes that need drops a few times a day, and I have astigmatism. Why I've never been told before that I have astigmatism, I don't know. But I've been wearing the new frames over the last few workdays and while I still see some blurring issues now and then, there's a dramatic improvement too. Hell. Yes.

Truthfully, I was going to buy my glasses from Firmoo even if they hadn't generously offered me a pair. On the site, you can see dozens of different styles of glasses and sunglasses and the pricing is seriously budget-friendly. Because 25-year-old Alyssa still isn't crazy about her face 100% of the time, I (switching back to first person now, keep up!) loved the feature where I could upload a picture to "try on" the frames before ordering. Ordering was easy, shipping was fast (less than a week from order to delivery), they send a hard and soft case to protect your specs, and my new glasses are ca-ute, if I may be so bold.
What do you think? Do they suit me?

If you're in the market for some new frames, you can get your first pair from Firmoo for free using the code "FREEFIRMOO" at checkout on select pairs. Just head over and upload your snap, select your frames (prescription, fashion, or sunglasses) and it's a done deal. Let the studious selfie session commence.

And now you can just call me Four Eyes.

PS: For anyone with old glasses they no longer need, I'd love to point you toward New Eyes for the Needy as a resource for recycling your old frames. I know someone very close to this nonprofit organization and know the great work they do. I'm happy to help you donate your used glasses however I can!

Firmoo generously provided me with a complimentary pair of glasses in exchange for a review, but all opinions and Looney Tunes-related anecdotes are my own. This post contains an affiliate link.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Glances Backward: Part II

One week closer to 2015, it isn't any easier to believe this year is almost over. Let's keep looking at what a year it's been. (Read January, February, and March here.)
April was partly a "settling in" month. I was settling into being 25 — and not having the world collapse around me — and started getting comfortable with the fact that I might actually be what you'd call a runner. I had my first 50+ mile month. I went to my first hockey game. It was our first Easter without my grandmother.
Some of the cousins, post-Easter egg hunt.
April was a month made not of big, notable moments, but of small and quiet developments that weave the tapestry of the year. Like I said, the theme of 2014 was change.

In May, I made a great escape from NJ and (finally!) went to visit my friend Lisa in her new home, Raleigh.
Then I did something really dumb after I came home and (after finally getting a new Macbook to replace my aging Sal and screwing something up royally) deleted/lost most of the pictures from that trip. Some highlight shots can still be found here!)

After I came home, I joined my family in celebrating my amazing grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary.
I ran my second race (a 5k, and I didn't PR...),
Homie in the back is my favorite.
and broke my three-year tattoo drought.
I took a plunge here and wrote about money for the first time, and shared my love for the great state of NJ (twice!) before heading down the shore to celebrate Memorial Day weekend the Jersey Girl way.

In all, May's big moments more than made up for a quiet April and eased the transition into June.

June was in parts difficult — mostly internally — and incredibly fun. I was really questioning my work, my job, what I'm doing with my life. (I still am, but less, and with more finality in the answers.) I said "see you later" to a dear friend.
On the brighter side of things, I carried on the tradition of spending two nights on the water with Dave Matthews and the guys.
I ran a third race and registered for my first half marathon, to be run a few months later. (We'll get to that in October.)
I reached my six-month running anniversary and checked off goals I had never thought possible.
And then summer came to NJ.
Next week we'll hit the peaks and valleys of the rest of summer 2014. It was one for the memory books, that's for sure.

Linking up with some of the best bloggers in town for the 2014 review extravaganza.
Don't forget to swing by and see the sweet hosts:
Melissa // Karen // Shane // Angie // Kenzie // Amanda  // Emmy // Nicole // Amy

Friday, December 12, 2014

One, Two, Three to the Four

A get-to-know-me post on a lifestyle blog needs no introduction, does it? This is making its rounds and I have like negative 4% brain efficiency today, so off we go.

Four names that people call me other than my real name:
1. Allie (my entire family, and those who know me through family)
2. Owl
3. Al
4. Alyss (please stop)
Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Super scooper and manager at a homemade ice cream/gelato shop
2. My Gym instructor
3. Township health department assistant
4. Writer

Four movies I’ve watched more than once:
1. The Dark Knight
2. Dirty Dancing
3. The Wizard of Oz
4. Stand By Me
Four books I’d recommend:
1. Sloppy Firsts (& the rest of the Jessica Darling series)
2. The Storyteller (and literally every single other book by Jodi Picoult)
3. Slaughterhouse-Five
4. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

Four places I’ve lived:
1. The town in NJ I was born in and lived in for the first 18 months of my life
2. The town in NJ I grew up in and lived in until I was 22
3. The town in NJ I lived in for a year after college
4. The town in NJ I live in now

Four places I've visited:
1. Cooperstown, NY (Baseball Hall of Fame)
2. Washington, D.C.
3. San Diego, California
4. St. Martin
St. Martin, 2008
Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. The beach
2. Portland
3. Someplace where the sun's out
4. Hogwarts

Four things I don’t eat:
1. Red meat
2. Mushrooms
3. Leftover seafood
4. Straight chocolate (without a buffer, like pretzel or peanut butter)

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Sushi
2. Any combination of noodles and cheese
3. Big salads
4. Potatoes prepared in pretty much any and every way
How my officemate and I spend our workday. Taking color-coordinated yeesh-face selfies.
Four TV shows I watch: (all in syndication; I don't have cable anymore)
1. Friends
2. Parks & Rec
3. Friday Night Lights
4. Lost

Four things I’m looking forward to this year: (through 2014, because I can't think any more about 2015 yet without going bananas)
1. Meeting Kristen
2. Spending Christmas with my family
3. Two full weeks of vacation from work
4. Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties

Four things I’m always saying:
1. "That's aggressive."
2. "Hashtag Alyssa's life." (I know it's absurd; we started saying it at work like two years ago and we just can't shake it.)
3. "Words? What? Do I know them?" (When they just aren't things right now because I literally can't.)
4. "What." (Said as a statement, also when I literally can't.)
Bonus #5. "I can't." (#basic.)

Linking up with Amanda and playing this tune on repeat all weekend long.
What are you getting into the next few days?