Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rockin' -- I mean, Workin' New Year's Eve!

I'm in the middle of negotiations for two big deals that have a deadline of midnight tonight.  I'd like to say more about them, but they've been super contentious and highly publicized in the affected regions, so I need to be careful about client confidences.  Suffice to say that these negotiations have been knock-down, drag-out affairs -- complete with negotiators screaming incoherently on the phone -- and it has been a lot of fun to be in the middle of it all. 

The problem is that so far there's no sign that any agreement will be reached before midnight.  Which means that I get to ring in the New Year doing what I've done all year long:  Work.  I've been on my computer and telephone since 7:30am, and I just got a call from the partner I'm working for to confirm that I will be around "for the duration."  When I told her that I had plans to go to a dinner party and then to a couple of other parties with friends tonight, she said, "Well, next year you're going to just have to do what I do -- have the party at your house so that at least you can talk to people in between negotiation calls."  Riiiight.  Because the definition of an awesome New Year's party is one where your host is holed up in the bedroom negotiating contracts all night.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Synetic Theater: Romeo & Juliet

Tonight I saw Synetic Theater's production of Romeo and Juliet.

Synetic Theater is a small theater company in the DC area that produces wordless plays -- which means they rely heavily on dance, pantomime and other physical storytelling.  It's an interesting concept, especially when they do Shakespeare, because it raises the question of whether a play can properly be considered a "Shakespeare" play when there's none of his text.  The answer may be fairly straightforward for a play like Romeo and Juliet, which is so quintessentially Shakespearean, but less obvious when you're dealing with a history play like Antony and Cleopatra, which I saw them do last year -- the tale exists independently of Shakespeare, so if you remove the words you just have a dance based on historical events, right?

Aesthetically, the plays feel like a cross between a low-budget Cirque du Soleil show and a modern dance concert with ambitions and personalities that exceed its talent.  Which sounds like a criticism (and it kind of is), but there's also something charming about the sincere passion that you see in the actor/dancers' performances.  Sure, the acting can be overwrought at times, and the costumes a tad chintzy -- not to mention the choreographer who gives herself prominent dance solos more often than is warranted by her role (she was the nurse).  But there is also a lot of creativity, and despite the lack of overall polish some lovely moments emerge that are well worth seeing (which is saying something when you consider how hackneyed the story of Romeo and Juliet can be).

For example, I loved the scene in which Romeo and Juliet see each other for the first time after Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet's kinsman.  Both of them were very upset by what had happened -- she grieving the loss of her relative, he in anguish over having killed the man, and both clearly uncertain about what is going to happen to their relationship.  The scene ended up being much more of a scene of forgiveness and reciprocal comforting than I'd seen in other productions of R&J.  The relationship, which so often strikes me as youthfully impulsive and superficial, suddenly seemed deeper and more mature for having weathered that tragedy.

The other scene I liked was in the mausoleum, at the end.  Romeo's dead, Juliet wakes up; normally she sees his body and kills herself on the spot.  Here though, the friar arrives before she awakens.  He panics when he sees Romeo's body and shields Juliet from seeing it, too.  It isn't until they're leaving the tomb, when Juliet sees Paris's body, that she suspects something might be wrong and looks back to see Romeo (at which point she runs back and kills herself; the priest looks on in horror and then runs away).  It's not a completely plausible scenario (surely the friar would have intervened), but the variation gave the scene an interesting twist by prolonging Juliet's rejuvenation before having her go back under.

Monday, December 26, 2011

I've got a barrel . . .

. . . in the back seat of my car.

Ammon mentioned that the local nursery usually has a big sale the day after Christmas, so we went over before I left to drive back to DC.  Turns out the nursery was not open this year, but as we were about to leave empty handed and in the depths of despair, the owner (who Ammon recognized) drove up in his giant pickup truck.  I told him I wanted to buy a barrel and he told me to come back in March.  I said no way and that I would pay cash. 

So now I have a barrel in the back seat of my car.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bowties are cool

Now all I need is a tweed jacket and a time machine.  Thanks, Amanda!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Little Faces

Ashley and Ammon have cute little kids!  And they grow up so fast -- the last time I saw them was in August and already I can see the difference.

Teya (2 yrs) looks about the same, but she's bolder and much more talkative.  She also had a rather disastrous play-date with a boxer puppy across the street yesterday -- it ended in tears and a trip to the ER for stitches (for Teya) and a visit from animal control this morning (for the dog). 

Kellen (10 mos) on the other hand, has gone from a tiny baby to a happy, roly-poly little boy with cheeks out to here!

White Christmas

They don't call northern New York "the North Country" for nothing -- it's cold here!

11:00am in Watertown, NY

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  I mean, we're practically in Canada here.  It's a wonder there aren't polar bears.  (I did find a French-language radio channel from Montreal, which is fun.)

The wintry weather is beautiful, though, and so I went outside for some shots of the homestead.  I love the setting on the river.

It also was fun to see Ammon's forays into animal husbandry.  In the river shot above, you can see the beehives (the low mass, right in the middle).  And then there are the chickens -- source of eggs and rooster-noodle-soup.

They look so innocent out by the shed -- but the snow on the house steps tells a tale of wandering birds.  (I bet they think they're so sneaky.)

And with that, it was time to go inside and warm up by the fire!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dashing through the snow...

After putting in a surprisingly busy 4.6 hours of work today, I'm off to Ashley's house for Christmas! 

Naturally, I come bearing gifts (only some of which are for me).

And food from the German bakery (because Ashley's taking care of the chocolate cake).

butter cookies, apple pie, cranberry-walnut bread

And a lint roller (because not having one can be so upsetting).

Watertown is only 450 miles (724 km) away, so Google estimates the trip should take me eight hours in the car.  (Of course, Google doesn't know the DC beltway on a Friday afternoon, so it might take me eight hours just to get out of town...)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Directions in the digital age

Here’s a secret:  Deep down, Mormon missionaries who serve outside the United States try really hard not to think that they are better than the missionaries who stay stateside -- because, even deeper down, they suspect that they really are better.  Like maybe physically or emotionally or psychologically or intellectually better.  Not spiritually better, though, because to think that (even deep, deep down) would be judgmental and demonstrate unrighteous pride (although let’s face it, just because one thinks one is not better than someone else doesn’t prevent one from actually being better than someone else, right?).

I, of course, never thought any of that.  I was more humble than that.

But this week I went out with the missionaries in my ward and was able to observe some stateside missionaries firsthand.  At first they seemed totally normal, comparable to any missionaries I knew in Belgium and France:  Physically healthy, socially well adjusted, bright enough, totally earnest and well-practiced in the “spiritual voice.”

But then I discovered the dark weakness that surely precluded them from serving in a place like Brussels.  They could not, for the life of them, give directions.  Here's how it went:

[At church]

ELDER:  Hey Brother Davis, can you come with us to visit a Haitian guy whose French is better than his English?

ME:  Sure, does he live near the church?

ELDER:  I don’t know.  Probably.  Maybe not.  I think it’s, like, one or three miles away.  I’ll have to text you the address.

[That night, in my haste to get to the appointment after a crazy day at work, I mistakenly went to the wrong address.  I couldn’t use the GPS on my phone because the battery was about to die, so I called the Elders for directions as I tried to find the correct location on a map.]

ME:  Can you give me directions?

ELDER:  Sure, just type in the address.

ME:  Driving directions, not directions on how to work a GPS.  I’m just off of Wilson and Glebe, and I assume I need to go south on Glebe.  Is that right?  If so, where do I go from there?  Do I turn east onto Route 50?

ELDER:  Gee, uh, I have no idea.  I mean, you’ve got the address, right?  It’s on 8th South.

ME:  Yes, but I don’t know how to get there.  I promise, I don’t have GPS.  What about this:  if I go south on Glebe to Route 50, and then turn left on Carlin Springs [all of which are major roads], I’ll get to three different 8th Souths -- 8th Place, 8th Road and 8th Street.

ELDER:  You don’t have GPS?  Wow!  Are you, like, doing all that from memory?


ME:  No, I’m looking at a map.

ELDER:  Ohh . . .  a map . . . .

ME:  Yes, a paper one that I keep in my car.  Anyway, did any of those directions ring a bell to you?

ELDER:  Nope, can’t say that they did.  I have no idea which 8th South you’re supposed to be on.  Just look for the apartment building with a big parking lot in front of it.  Or tell us where you are and we'll come find you, then you can follow us back.

ME:  That's a terrible idea.  Okay, look, I’m just going to go with what I think is right and I’ll call you when I get there.

[My directions were exactly right, and I just happened to pick the right 8th South -- I spotted the Elders instantly in their car in the parking lot in front of the apartment building.]

ELDER: [all astonishment]  Holy cow!  I can’t believe you made it!  I could never have found my way here if I didn’t have a GPS!

ME:  [shaking hands with Elder Obvious, refrained from comment]


Lady's Christmas Tree

This is the tree on which Lady honed her lighting technique:  two strings (200 lights) for every foot of tree; one light on the very top.

As for the ornaments, I miss all the family ornaments that we had accumulated over the years!  We had a tradition growing up that every year we'd get a new set of ornaments, one ornament for each of the kids.  The idea was that when we left home, we'd have a whole set of ornaments to start our own trees and to remind us of home.  The idea worked perfectly -- I love having my ornaments on my tree, and I love seeing my siblings' ornaments on their trees -- but I do miss seeing the whole collection on Lady's tree.  By the end it seemed as if there were as many ornaments as there were lights!

Lady has continued the tradition by sending me a new set of ornaments each year.  This year it was glittery snowflakes; last year it was these great mercury glass pendants that I hang on my garland.  I think it might be time for the kids to start a reverse tradition and repopulate the ancestral Christmas tree...

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I love holiday parties (I've been to five in the past week).  I especially love holiday parties that involve raclette.

Raclette is a type of cheese from Switzerland and the Savoy region of France.  It's generally eaten melted over baked potatoes and grilled meats and vegetables.  It sometimes takes the form of street food in Strasbourg, but it's more commonly enjoyed as a convivial meal among familiy or friends gathered around a central electric grill.  Each person gets a little cheese tray that goes under the grill and melts the cheese while the meats and vegetables cook on top.  Once the meat and veggies are done, you pull them off the grill onto a bed of fingerling potatoes and then pour your bubbly cheese over everything.  It's delicious. 

The first time I ate raclette was back in 1999 when I was a newly minted missionary in Mons, Belgium.  The Bompas family had a habit of inviting us over for dinner and feeding us extraordinarily well.  If there was any doubt in my mind as to whether Belgium was the place for me (and let's be honest, there wasn't), it wouldn't have stood a chance against Sister Bompas's raclette (or her endives au gratin, or her chocolate mousse, or -- well, you get the idea). 

Since returning from Belgium, I hadn't eaten raclette until three weeks ago in Strasbourg -- and I feared that a similarly long stretch might run before I ate it again (I don't have a grill, you see, and I've never been able to find one in the U.S., although this puts me in a mind to try again).  So I was thrilled to discover that a guy in the ward had a raclette grill that he'd brought home from his mission in southern Germany.  Naturally, I invited myself and two other couples over for a raclette dinner party last night. 

The dinner was nearly a disaster.  Turns out, the Nevilles were providing everything BUT the cheese, and the person they'd asked to bring the cheese was over an hour late (and, when he arrived, had only brought a small amount).  No one had been assigned to bring cornichons.  !!!  Imagine having "raclette" with gruyere and no cornichons.  Might as well sit in the corner and give yourself paper cuts all night.

A near disaster, however, is not a disaster -- and in this case it was a great success.  You see, I have a rule of thumb when it comes to dinner parties that have any sort of food assignment or pot luck element:  I always identify the thing (or things) that are crucual to my enjoyment of the dinner, and then I make sure that I have total control over those items (whether I'm invited to do so or not).  As far as I was concerned, aside from the grill (which I knew the Nevilles were providing), there were two things that were absolutely necessary for this dinner to be a success:  (1) raclette cheese (because that's the whole point), and (2) cornichons (because without them life has no meaning).  Both needed to be high quality, and both needed to be plentiful.  So on the way to the party I picked up a quarter-round of raclette and a jar of cornichons.

And everyone loved them.  My cheese, which came from France via a nearby artisinal cheese shop, was delicious and more than enough for everyone.  As for the cornichones, the other guests -- who had never tasted them before -- polished off the entire jar with glee. 

We ate for approximately four hours, talking politics and religion and other taboo dinner-party topics, and then waddled out into the night -- off to our homes, where we dreamt of cheese and potatoes and tiny baby pickles.

The trials of Saint Katherine

I'm worried about my shamrock.

It's actually an oxalis, not a shamrock, but it's been in the family since before I was born and we've always called it a shamrock.  And this shamrock has weathered many a trial:  from kids to cats to cross country moves and excessively hard water, this plant has been through it all.  Not without complaining (it's got the temperament of a prima donna) but always without fail. 

Consider, for example, her reluctant resilience after a recent repotting:

But there are greater dangers than repotting.  Within a couple of weeks after coming back strong and lush, all those brand new leaves began shriveling and losing their color.  At first I thought it was just another example of the shamrock's high strung nature (it's cried wolf a few too many times).  But by the time it looked like this, I couldn't ignore it any more:

I took a closer look and discovered tiny white bugs on the undersides of the leaves, sucking them dry.  This wasn't something the shamrock could battle on its own, so I rushed off to the nursery with some specimens in hand to consult my guru:  The woman who runs the greenhouse is to houseplants what Yoda was to the force.

She said the bugs were thrips and that there might also be some other type of fly, as well as some fungus.  I needed to cut the plant to the ground and leave it alone.  Once it sprouted new foliage, I would need to follow a careful regimen of pesticide misting for several weeks.  After that, the shamrock should be safe. 

I hope so.

One of the coolest things about learning another language

is that it's like having a little radio receiver activated in your head that can pick up signals that had always registered as white noise before.  You forget it's on, and sometimes it's quiet because there's nothing to pick up, but then you pick up a signal and you realize that you're tuned into a whole new world.

For example, right now I'm watching Strictly Ballroom while blogging, wrapping Christmas presents and unloading the dishwasher.  In other words, I'm not really watching; more listening to the story (a melodramatic comedy about Australian ballroom dancers) in the background.  At one point during the story, our hero goes to his dance partner's house, where everyone speaks some other language and dances fancy steps.  When I first saw this movie, I relied on the subtitles to follow the conversation.  But tonight, all of a sudden, I realized we were in the middle of that part -- and I'd been following it all along, without even realizing it, because it's all in Spanish. 

It's the same feeling I had when I first got back from Guatemala in 2008.  I'd walk through the grocery store, or pass a construction site, or ride the metro and discover that a whole world of background noise had become intelligible and real to me in a way it hadn't been before. 

With French, I gained access to a new cultural universe -- but in the U.S., where no one speaks French, radio moments like this don't happen; my French universe is one of literature and film and art, not real life.  Spanish, on the other hand, gives me access to a more visceral, real-life culture that surrounds me every day.  It's a different sort of richness but no less wonderful.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where have I been?

The other day Amanda posted some visual travel logs (which she, in turn, got from her sister Rachel), and challenged me to post my own (because, natch, this IS a competition). 

It would appear that I should have focused more on the big countries like Russia and China -- all those tiny Caribbean and Central American countries don't do much for me...  Of course, as you can see in my Canada map, below, a more granular approach gives a very different picture.

By this time next year, I should have a lot more red!

visited 26 states (11.5%)

visited 37 states (74%)

visited 2 states (15.3%)

Christmas Amaryllis

After an unhappy childhood, my birthday Amarillis has bloomed most lovely.

I'd never seen this color pattern in an Amaryllis before.  I love how starry it is -- so perfect for Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

O, the generosity of clients

[Friday, 5:45pm]

Client (email):  I have some questions about the contract that may require some changes -- how late are you going to be at the office?

Me (email): I have to leave the office at 6:30pm, but I'll probably be back online around 7:30pm or so. 

[Client calls at 6:00pm]

Client:  Please do NOT feel like you need to stay late tonight to work on this.  No reason to log in from home on a Friday night on my account!  It's totally okay if you get this back to me tomorrow morning.

[We discuss the contract. Client pointedly notes my "value adds" on a couple of issues (suggesting that I added no value on the other issues -- despite the fact that I restructured the whole document in a way that he didn't know was possible in order to achieve his desired result)]

Client:  Thanks again for your help with this -- have a GREAT weekend!  I'll watch for the revised draft to come sometime before midday tomorrow.

*  *  *
Because, really, who cares if you have to work on Saturday as long as you get Friday night off?  That's always been my definition of a "GREAT" weekend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


What on earth are tomatilloes?

As I stood in the produce section of my local grocery store yesterday, I realized I hadn't quite done all my homework.  My shopping list called for a pound of tomatilloes -- but I had no clue what to look for (and no mobile device to consult Wikipedia).  So I just started reading labels until I found them next to the tomatoes.

Not that they look like tomatoes.  More like Japanese lanterns giving birth to mini-Granny Smiths.

With these beauties in hand, I was able to try out a new chili verde recipe.  Toss the tomatilloes together with some pork sirloin, navy beans, hot green chilies, onions, cumin, garlic, chicken broth and chopped spinach.  Cook for six hours, and then serve with a dollop of sour cream and a cilantro garnish.  Yum!

Brahms with lamb and a lemon tart

'Tis the season for holiday parties and benefit concerts.  Last night I found myself with the following options:  (1) the firm's holiday party, (2) the ward Christmas party, and (3) a benefit concert of the NIH Philharmonia.  The concert by far seemed like the most fun, and it was the only one with a firm starting time, so I decided to go to the concert and swing by the other parties afterwards (which, let's face it, was just a passive aggressive way of ditching the parties). 

I'd heard about the concert from my friend Amy (who, in turn, had a friend in the violin section) who'd invited me to come along.  It's a community orchestra and I wasn't quite sure what to expect by way of quality -- but Amy assured me that it would be good, and the program was strong enough to tempt me:

Die Fledermaus Overture, Johann Strauss
Symphony no. 60, (Il distratto), Haydn
Symphony no. 3, Brahms
Turns out Amy was right.  The three pieces were all difficult and, with the exception of a few squirly horns who could never quite land their notes, the orchestra sounded great.  The Brahms, in particular, is very lovely.  Clara Schumann described the third movement as a "pearl dipped in tears."  It was a pleasure to hear it live. 

Of course, no evening out is complete without food.  The concert was out in Rockville, Maryland (a.k.a., halfway to Canada), so Amy and I took the opportunity to find a new restaurant.  We picked a Greek place called the Original Ambrosia.  I got a lamb stew with potatoes and... (drum roll) baclava!  The place was packed and the food delicious.

After the concert, Amy and I went to La Madeleine to chat with the violinist friend (8 months pregnant!) and her husband (proposed to her in Paris!) and father in law (owns a house in Provence!).  Since the Austin La Madeleine is the place where I ate the lemon tart and Perrier that started this whole thing, I thought it only appropriate to repeat the order:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Hot pot, anyone?

Ever had a Sichuan hot pot?  Me neither, until last night.  Boy, was it tasty!

Mala Tang is a new Chinese restaurant in Arlington that specializes in these hot pots and Chinese street food and has gotten lots of good attention among the food critics.  While I was enjoying other delicious food in Paris, Tim (a friend from the newspaper and fellow food enthusiast) suggested that we check this place out when I got back.  Last night was the night.

The basic concept of a hot pot is this:  You sit around a pot of spicy, boiling broth, dipping various fresh vegetables and meats until they're cooked to your satisfaction, and then eating them with a spicy dipping sauce. 

We started with some appetizers:  Dan dan noodles, pork water buns, zhong dumplings.  They were all very good, but the zhong dumplings were outstanding.  We could have eaten those all night -- but we didn't.  In stead, we moved on to the main event:  the hot pots!

Hot pot with spicy chicken broth
Wine marinated beef
Enoki mushrooms, lotus root and cabbage
Green bean leaves
Dipping sauce specially concocted by our waitress from the sauce bar
Everything was incredibly delicious.  My favorite ingredients ended up being the lotus roots and green bean leaves.  The beef was tasty but had a tendency to get lost in the broth -- by the time I could fish out the little pieces with my chop sticks, they were often overdone.  The cabbage was more annoying than anything else.

I particularly liked how the cooking process slowed down the meal.  Since you weren't presented with a plateful of food ready to eat, you couldn't just dig in and snarf your dinner.  Instead, you had to cook it and eat it piece by piece in a very active process.  So it took longer and provided a great context for conversation.

I also liked having my own pot.  Apparently hot pots in China are usually a communal affair, with everyone sitting around a single pot.  Neither Tim nor I are natural food sharers, though (my first recollection of Tim is from 2007, when he took a few summer associates to lunch and instructed us to ignore everything the waitress was about to say regarding family style sharing) and so, although a communal pot would still have been delicious, I was very happy to see individual pots on the menu.

By the time we were done, both of us were absolutely stuffed.  Fortunately, the restaurant is only a few blocks from my apartment, which means I was able to roll walk myself home -- and will be able to walk myself back again (and again, and...)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rainy Occupation

Wednesday was dreary and gray, and it rained steadily all day long -- one of those rains that never quite qualifies as a downpour but is unquestionably not a sprinkle or a drizzle.  We get days like those from time to time here in DC (most often during hurricane season) and I love them.

For one thing, rainy days are an excuse to wear my SWIMS (a.k.a. Norwegian mini-galoshes).  I got them a couple of years ago when I upgraded my shoe collection as counseled by my Gentleman's sartorial guide.  Turns out, handmade leather shoes last longer when they don't get soaking wet.

As you can see, I went for the classic, understated look.  I worried at the time that I might feel a tad self-conscious about being the only guy on the subway wearing, say, bright orange galoshes (let alone galoshes in the first place).  But now I think some color might have been fun, especially since I learned that one of the better-dressed partners at the firm just ordered purple ones...

I may have been the only person in galoshes (well, male person -- women wear all sorts of cool rain boots), but I certainly wasn't the only person out in the rain.  The "Occupy DC" protesters decided to leave their tent city for a disruptive march through downtown.  When they got to my block, I was cozily working away in my office -- but I had a good view as they passed by:

Given that my firm is in the heart of downtown (the Occupiers' tent city is on the plaza right in front of our building), we were in the thick of it.  Although I'm sure that my negative net worth places me squarely among the 99%, I'm equally sure that many of the Occupiers would view most of the law firm partners as belonging to the hated 1% -- and there's no doubt that we represent the big corporations and Wall Street banks that are so detested by the Occupiers.  The firm apparently came to the same conclusion:  it locked all the outside doors (key fob access only) and stationed extra security guards at all the entry points. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Eight Strings

Proving, once again, that she is her mother's daughter, Ashley has 800 lights on her three-foot Christmas tree.  [clapping, wild clapping all round]

Over the years there apparently has been an inverse relationship between the size of the tree and the number of lights at the Stuart home:  Each year the tree gets smaller but the number of lights increases.  Because more lights is always the right answer when it comes to Christmas trees.

Observe, too, the single light at the very pinnacle of the tree.  That's another hallmark of the Lady school of Christmas-lighting:  There is ALWAYS one light bulb at the very top, regardless of whether you have a tree-topper (as Ashley does) or not (as on mine).

(And since we're looking, check out the cool stripes Ashley painted on her living room walls.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Deck the Halls!

This week I received a mystery package in the mail:  a small box bearing my address and the Pottery Barn logo but no indication of the sender.  With holidays in the offing, this is NOT the season to start opening packages indiscriminately.  So I sent a feeler out to my family and got these responses:

Dad:  Not from me.
Lady:  They're from me and Dad!

It was a Christmas present, but not a wait-until-Christmas present, so I opened the box and discovered a set of six sparkly snow-flake ornaments.  Which meant it was time to start decorating for Christmas!

I pulled out my box of decor and set about hung up my garland.  I bought some red carnations and put them in a vase in the bathroom

and then a red bow for the wreath outside.

But the tree was a puzzle:  How on earth was I going to fit an entire TREE into my living room without major disruption of the feng shui?  It would have to be a small tree so that it could fit into the corner by the yellow chair.

"Small" was a concept that the Boy Scouts down the street couldn't quite grasp:  "Here's one -- I think it's only a six footer!"  So I headed over to Home Depot where I found an entire section of trees between two and four feet tall.  I inspected three and took the winner to the check-out stand.  I knew I'd chosen well when it fit end-to-end in the trunk of my car.

Once home, I called Lady and set up shop on the balcony for the light-stringing ritual.  I took stock of my inventory of tiny white Christmas lights and sized up my tree:  I had four 100-light strings and approximately four feet of tree.  According to the article by interior decorator Colin Cowie in this month's Elle Decor, that was the right ratio.  But Mr. Cowie hadn't been raised by Lady and is therefore used to trees that cannot be seen from space:  "Eight strings," she said, "you're going to need eight strings."  She hadn't even seen the tree.

But, of course, she was right.  By the time I'd used up the fourth string, I was only about two thirds of the way through the tree.  With hypothermia setting in, I wasn't too keen on running back to Home Depot for more lights, so I tried rejiggering the lower strings to make them go further.  Then I tried plugging them in to see if the tree was passable or completely ugly.  That's when I discovered that talking on the phone and stringing lights might be one task too many:  I'd somehow managed to connect the wrong ends, so that there was no way to actually plug in the dang thing!

These were sitting at the top of the treee
The plug snafu provided further opportunity to adjust the distribution of lights and, once I managed to plug the tree in, I decided that it would have to do.  It helps that I have lots of shiny (and now glittery) silver and white ornaments -- they have a way of adding to the brightness of the tree.  How merry!  (And look -- my lamp problem is solved until January!)

The new sparkly snowflakes are a great addition: