Beat the Winter Blues: Theme Party Edition

Last week, Smalerie mentioned that we’d be doing a series on how to stick it to Old Man Winter and actually get some enjoyment out of a season that, here in New England anyway, can be best summed up as “grey.” Sometimes the outdoors is a frozen wasteland, other times it’s warm but muddy, but no matter the temperature and precipitation, winter can just seem a bit ho-hum. Once the holidays are over, there’s just a lot of staying indoors, dreaming of warmer, drier days. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. The depths of winter are scientifically* proven to be the best time for a theme party. Plus, planning a party fits in well with several of Smalerie’s blues-busting tips, including starting a project and having accountability. And hey, if you host, you don’t need to actually leave the house!

We’ve had a few posts on this subject before, but here are a few we haven’t yet shared that you might consider specifically for shaking the winter doldrums.

Stalingrad, 1942

Granted, this particular theme appeals to a slightly morbid sense of humor – unsurprising, given that my husband, Mr. Menace, was responsible for dreaming it up. When the snow is thick on the ground and the air is frigid, what can be better than a reenactment of the Soviets surrounding the Germans at Stalingrad?

We were fortunate to have this party hosted at the home of our dear friends, who have a spectacular fire pit in their backyard, which allowed us to create a hard-core bonfire. If you are not so lucky, even a small fire pit will add the right amount of flare and sell the idea that you are huddling for warmth on the front. (We were also aided by the fact that this party took place in the February 2015 – winter where the Boston area saw about 8 feet of snow pile up on itself in rapid succession, followed by a deep freeze. Authentic!)

Cheap fur hats from the party store are also a must. Here the goal is less about authenticity, and more about a sense of fun and staying warm.

The Red Menace and Tiny Doom stayed in the warmth, mostly.

As for the most important part of any theme party, the food, this is your chance to put out an assortment of hard meats, cheese, and vodka, and call it good. At our hosts’ request, I also made piroshki, which are Russian buns filled with meat and onions.

Tasty meat and onion buns.

Meat, cheese, vodka, and hats – a recipe for pulling anyone out of a slump.

Vikings

The Red Menace and Tiny Doom as Glamour Vikings.

The very next winter, our friends with the fire pit hosted another vaguely historically themed party – a Viking raid! This was a ton of fun to figure out costuming for – and a great excuse to break out the fur and cape from my Red Sonja costume from a Halloween party long past.

To host a good Viking party, consider offering mead, more of that wonderful meat and cheese, and an assortment of dried fish, if you’re feeling fancy. Horned helmets are not historically accurate, but if you change the theme a tad, you can host a 19th-century Romanticist opera revival party and the helmets are totally on brand.

Giants

The giant seeks her chicken.

Our latest party was a long time coming, and one of my favorites to date. For years, Tiny Doom has dreamed of hosting a “giant” party. The concept was that everything at the party would actually be extremely tiny – thus allowing the party participants to feel like giants. (Tiny Doom is, as her name suggests, pretty small herself, so getting to be big is a novelty.) For years, we discussed this party – what food we would serve, the tiny plates we could use, the props that we’d have – and we kept not hosting the actual party. Finally, after nearly half a decade, I decided to make it the theme of my annual New Year’s Eve gathering. 2017 was a pretty tough year all around, so I thought we could all use an excuse to feel bigger.

Tiny Doom devours a whole baked potato in one bite!

This party was heavily centered around two things – the food, and the table-scape. What’s great about this theme is that many appetizers are already small, bite-sized versions of regular food. You just have to make sure to play up that similarity – so cocktail weenies aren’t served in sauce, they’re lovingly encased in tiny buns. Sliders are regular burgers, a Cornish game hen is a whole roasted chicken, and so on.

The Burger Patrol serves the giants.

Mr. Menace helped with the decor by getting two different sizes of figures – 1/6 scale GI Joes and 1/16 scale Star Wars figures – and strategically placing them around the food. The result was a sort of Lilliput-England-Brobdingnag vibe with the Star Wars guys as Lilliputians, the Joes as the humans, and us as the Brobdingnagians. It was pretty darn magical, and shockingly simple to pull off.

Guarding the forest of pie.

Ultimately, that simplicity makes this a perfect winter project – you don’t need to dress up or get too fussy with the decor to create a good time for your friends and help snap everyone out of a funk. After all, everyone needs to feel big sometimes.

These cakes were beautiful but less edible than one might want.

Finally, it’s important to note that while we did this party on New Year’s Eve, it works on any random winter night equally well. How about you all – any other whimsical ways to punch Old Man Winter in the face?

*The science is extremely limited.

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Beating the Winter Blues: LOC-style

Wow, just wow. No matter how tough we New Englanders are, our insane winters always find a way to surprise and challenge us. This winter has already proven to be no exception. So, the question on my mind is: Is there a way to actually enjoy the winter as opposed to just surviving it?

In the interest of sharing more than just my methods, I reached out to my fellow ladies to get some of their ways of beating the winter blues. They should be following up during their weeks.

Disclaimer: I feel that it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t take a moment to acknowledge that both depression and seasonal depression are very real things. The methods we discuss here are meant to be fun and might be helpful to some, but are by no means designed to replace a doctor’s or therapist’s guidance.

Part 1: Smalerie

Last year I wrote an article about focusing on self-care when the weather gets you down.  This still rings true, but when I really start to feel the winter blues, I actually require a bit more structure and frankly a bit of a push. So for my part of this article, I’m going to write a little about pushing these ideas a bit further.

  1. Goal Setting and New Skills:

Beyond just wacky projects, winter is a time when I actually benefit most from sitting down, creating a plan, and developing a new skill. Sometimes, frosting cookies to look like Muppets just isn’t enough. Instead, I need to stretch my brain, test myself, and strive for that sweet sweet feeling of accomplishment.

This winter, I’m taking a page from The Red Menace’s book and attempting some real bread making. There’s a lot to be said for the experience of kneading dough (meditative and stress reducing) and trust me when I say that baking fresh bread is great for the ego since it really impresses the friends and neighbors. When you think about how few ingredients you need to make bread, it’s really incredible. Not to mention how comforting a warm oven is on a frigid day. Seriously, if bread making interests you in the slightest – do. the. thing!

In fact, let us even point you to a great beginner’s recipe.

inCollage_20180103_091734792

Yes, it took more than one attempt to make something a human might actually want to eat…but man, did I feel proud.

 

2. Join a thing and make yourself accountable:

During the winter, I can find it even harder than usual to follow up on things. It’s easy to tell a friend that you’re not up to heading out to brunch because it’s too cold or you just can’t seem to motivate yourself to change out of your flannel pj’s. When I start letting this happen, that’s when I know that I’m in trouble and can start to lose momentum. And then after a certain amount of time, the winter blues can really start to settle in for me.

I battle this by adding accountability to my activities. That’s right, I give myself someone or something to answer to. This can be as simple as buying tickets for things like movies in advance or even planning more events with timed tickets. I promise you, if I’m already in $20+ for that ticket, the weather is going to have to be pretty severe to stop me. Otherwise, I feel like I’m throwing money away.

bedlampic

Trust me, you’re gonna want to keep those fancy-pants theater tickets!

Another method of accountability I use is leaning on the kindness of my friends and family. This might not work or even be necessary for everyone, but I will flat out ask people to push me and stop me from flaking out on things. Does this mean that people have shown up at my house unannounced and lured me out with promises of tater tots or even provided a bit of tough love via text message? Absolutely, but if it’s something I respond to, that’s exactly what I needed to battle the blues. And then once I’m out and about, I rarely regret going.

This week’s accountable activity is the Ladies’ first ever D&D campaign. We started last month and even if the weather is not great, I know that I must bravely fight my way to the castle beyond the goblin city to take back the…I mean, it’s going to be a lot harder for my team to finish up without me. So I will be there, and will even bring snacks. Hey, it’s the right thing to do.

So yeah, take that Old Man Winter! We’re not going to take your guff lying down. We’re gonna fight back!
Shameless plug: Looking for a way to punch Winter in the face? Like us on Facebook and sign up for our mailing list. We have a whole year of fun stuff coming your way. Join us and let Winter know that you mean business!

Movies and Books to Look Forward to in 2018

The new year has arrived, bringing with it the usual vows of self-improvement, opportunity for fresh starts, and hope that the coming twelve months will be better than the previous. It’s a traditional time for optimism.

Unfortunately, New Year’s Day 2018 doesn’t find me full of anticipation for the new year. Aside from the bigger problems of the world that haven’t disappeared with the 2017 calendars, my husband and I are both sick. We’re also still recovering from the emotional drain of the holidays. And temperatures aren’t venturing above 30 degrees. Don’t get me wrong; my life is good and I’m still grateful for what I do have.

Still, it can be tough to find enthusiasm for the new year when I’m more inclined to curl up in a blanket with my dogs to stay warm. However, I’d like to feel that sense of a fresh start and anticipating the new. So I am focusing on something I am definitely looking forward to in 2018. I’ve asked the other Ladies what they are looking forward to as well so click through to find out what we can’t wait for. Continue reading

Reign is Better Than You Think

Hey all! Hope you all survived the rollercoaster of the holidays. After making it through this past week you deserve some time to veg out. Perhaps a hardcore binge watching session is in order and you are looking for something you don’t have to work to hard on?  In that case, might I suggest Reign…and before you think I am still hitting the holiday punch, hear me out.

It’s good to be the Queen. Copyright CW

It’s well documented that I love a costumed drama. And yeah, that what’s Reign is. It’s oh-so-loosely based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, her ladies in waiting, Catherine de Medici, and Elizabeth I. It’s also a CW show so it’s about as historically accurate as a Baz Luhrmann movie, or A Knights Tale (and yes, I like that movie). It’s fan fiction of the time, or what you day-dream the Elizabethan period is like. Clean, glamorous, everyone has good teeth and hair, and clearly there is indoor plumbing hidden somewhere. Additionally, there is some good old-fashioned CW drama, including but not limited to sexy Nostradamus, castle ghosts, and weird but network TV safe sex stuff.

But underneath all that gloss and manufactured drama, what Reign does really well is present a compelling cast of women, whose characters are in powerful positions. The relationships among these women are complex, but largely center around friendship and support rather than competition. How refreshing! Politics and social mores supply enough external pressure on these women and it’s nice to see a show that realizes that. They may be Queens, or other royalty but that doesn’t exempt them from the need for strategic marriages, and other political alliances. These plays for power make them vulnerable enough. Having friendships and allies is key in a society that has given women power via a monarchy, but still hopes they will merely be figureheads or puppets.

Making the best of it. Copyright CW

Over the 4 seasons of this show we watch the relationships among the women shift in the way friendships do as life changes. And when someone falls from power, Reign manages to work in some modern sensibilities so these women rarely become victims….or at least are not victims for long. Also, the women stay the center of the story. While there are always men in each story line, it’s the women who remain the protagonists. They are who drive the narrative, unlike some other recent shows that promised me a female driven western…I’m looking at you Godless, but that’s another post.  Characters, especially Mary, Catherine and Elizabeth are fully formed with strengths and weaknesses. They aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, sometimes their passions drive them, other times we watch them wrestle with and ultimately make difficult decisions for the good of country. As the show goes into later seasons it’s these characterizations that seem to drive the show more than the love triangles of earlier seasons. and hence, for me, it’s the later seasons that are more interesting, more mature. 

So if you are looking for something to entertain you while you dig out from the holidays, maybe try bingeing Reign, in the very least you’ll get some great fashion idea for the next cosplay ball you attend. 

The Red Menace’s Top Five Books of 2017

By all accounts, 2017 has been a difficult year, one plagued by natural disasters, tragedy, and a polarizing political climate. Yet, in spite of it all, or in some cases even because of it, we’ve been privy to some incredible stories this year – books that challenge, enlighten, inform and inspire. Here are a few of my favorites – some I’ve reviewed here before, some I haven’t. All of them are written by women.
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Smalerie Reads Christmas Comics: The Return

While it’s very possible that I’m the only one getting a kick out of these seasonal comic creations, this year I decided to revisit the ghosts of blog posts past and share some more holiday themed comics with you all.

 

The Last Christmas – Story by Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, Art by Rick Remender

last christmas

Image: Image Comics

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Geeky Self-Care: Holiday Edition

The winter holidays can be a wonderful time filled with fun and surprises and time spent with people you love.  However, it also has the potential to be a total turducken of stress: family tensions wrapped up in shopping insanity all stuffed inside of diminishing hours of sunlight. And you may well get the latest sickness that’s going around too.

It can be tough to focus on self care at a time of year that’s often geared towards thinking of others. But you do need to include yourself in the kindness you’re spreading as the year comes to an end. My fellow lady Smalerie has already shared some general winter self care tips. If you need some additional ideas, read on.

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Conversation Helper: What Superpower Would You Want?

Felix Felicis- copyright J.K Rowling

So, I am guessing we all survived Thanksgiving? Perhaps a little over-indulging occurred, but hopefully we all had a generally nice time? That said, as we look down the barrel to the December holidays, it’s a reminder that one of the more stressful parts of the holidays can be getting folks with different political leanings together and having them share a prolonged meal or gathering. You can only talk about how good the yams were for so long (I made the yams and they were good). It’s never a bad idea to have a stash of safe conversational topics that you can use when talk starts to shift from “crazy weather we’re having” to “here are my thoughts about climate change.” There are still a lot of potential gatherings to get through, so perhaps consider a discussion on what super power you would like to have.

 

That hair though. (Longshot- Copyright Marvel)

I know the usual question about powers is flight or invisibility. And while that can spark an interesting conversation as well as give you a look into your companions’ inner psyche, neither of those powers really appeal to me. I’m not a risk taker nor do I really care about sneaking around places.  My fave superpower and the one I would want is the power to manipulate probability. There are several representations of this power out there, and many genre shows do an episode featuring a “luck” power. Some examples of this power are Longshot (Marvel Comics), Domino (Marvel Comics) Luck Virus (Red Dwarf), Felix Felicis (Harry Potter), Lucky Rabbit’s Foot (Supernatural).

I’ll be the first to admit on that if you were to look at this choice on a deeper level, this is the power a control freak would want. The ability to have incidents of chance come out the way you want them, for better or for worse? Yeah, that’s one of those abilities that has a good chance of turning the user into a super villain, fast. That’s why much of the time this power has a shadow side or time limit. For example, Longshot’s ability to use his probability powers is tied to positive usage. Should he use his powers to hurt people or with ill intent, it reverses and has a negative effect on him. Or in Supernatural, once the user loses the lucky rabbit’s foot, her luck turns bad to such a degree that it usually results in imminent death.

The Flash- copyright CW

As much as I love this power I was disappointed in its recent portrayal in The Flash episode Luck be a Lady. At one point Barry gets stuck in his own power-negating handcuffs asking “how did this even happen?!” Indeed. There has to be some reasonable probability of a thing happening in the first place in order for the portrayal of this power to be effective, believable, and fun. In another scene, while being an unloaded from a truck, a barrel of marbles is dropped, spilling marbles all over the street…the street that The Flash is running down. Maybe this was some kind of homage to Home Alone but if you find yourself asking, why does a barrel of marbles even exist, then I’m not sure the writers are working with probability, so much as a series of unrelated bummers.

So, what power would you want? If you aren’t sure, start thinking now so that next time someone shows up for dinner in a MAGA hat, you will be armed with the ability to avoid the impending screaming match, which is perhaps a super power in itself.

PS- Our once a year snowglobe workshop is in a few days. Get your tickets now!

Review: She Makes Comics

At Comicazi Book Club last week, we had a new member stop by (we LOVE new members, so if you’re local to Somerville, MA – come sees us!), and we were discussing other books we’d read recently. Elfquest came up as an example of a rare book so massive we needed to break it up into two meetings – since we’d read volume one of the “Complete” edition, it was 720 pages of story. At the mention of the book, Honorary Lady Bill mentioned that he’d recently watched a documentary on Netflix that had featured Elfquest creator Wendy Pini, albeit more for her groundbreaking Red Sonja cosplay than for her comics. A documentary about women making comics? And me without a post? It was a match made in heaven. The Toyman and I sat down and watched the other night – what did we think?
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Netflix Hidden Gem: April and the Extraordinary World

The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.

And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.

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