Over the past decade I’ve become something of a Scrooge at heart, never rallying much enthusiasm for Christmas; Thanksgiving is my holiday. This year has been different.

I’ve been attempting to become a kinder, gentler person, one less critical of others and more willing to praise and to share and to enjoy the moment. This new attitude is already paying unexpected dividends: I’m happier than I have been in five years. Couple this new, improved attitude with a surfeit of cash and the result has been a holiday season in which I’ve actually enjoyed giving gifts, have looked forward to doing so. It has been easy to find things to give my family and friends.

It’s a Wonderful Life was one of my favorite films when I was in high school and college, but it’s been several years since I watched it. Kris and I snuggled up on the couch one night last week and watched it together. It was a wonderful. It felt as if I were watching the film for the first time.

Even the Roth family Christmas pleased me this year. We Roth boys see each other every day at Custom Box Service so that seeing each other for Christmas usually feels anticlimactic. But I enjoyed myself on Tuesday night, playing with Tony’s kids, eating pizza, burning the hot fudge, unwrapping Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on DVD.

We spent a relaxing Christmas Day with Joel and Aimee. We lounged around the Christmas tree, reading, chatting, and playing Bohnanza and Dutch Blitz. Their cat, Nine, entertained us by throwing her superball around the room and stalking Hedgie, the hedgehog.

Joel got a whole stack of Patrick O’Brian books. His affliction must be deeper than I had suspected. (I’m one to talk: I haven’t even begun reading the series yet, but already own the first three volumes.)

We had planned to prepare a lamb recipe from Caprial, but the lamb had turned green and blue. We improvised, adapting the recipe for chicken instead. The improvisation worked, thanks largely to the splendid wine-peppercorn sauce (for which we used a bottle of St. Josef’s Cabarnet Sauvignon (1987) that Jeremy and Jennifer had given us for Christmas).

In the evening, the four of us saw Gangs of New York (which one might call Martin Scorsese’s Helms Deep). My three companions hated the film. Aimee, in a fit of generosity, offered to grade it a D because of Daniel Day-Lewis‘ presence. I didn’t dislike the film as much as the others; in fact, I enjoyed the first half. The last hour of the movie is awful, however, an indefensible, convoluted mess. The final twenty minutes are particularly wretched, with an amateurish voice-over reading telegraphed reports of rioting in the streets of New York. Scorsese‘s ambition has got the better of him in Gangs of New York. He tries to tell too many stories, and the film is worse for it. I’d recommend waiting for video if you’ve considered seeing this. (Update: This review of Gangs of New York is spot-on, though the review’s evaluation is ultimately a bit more positive than mine.)

Tonight, Kris and I will have dinner with Paul Carlile and, perhaps, catch another of those films we expect to be in Oscar contention.

Best in show from the gifts received department? Without question, the gift from my parents-in-law: the beautiful, information-packed Atlas of Oregon. Wow!

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