my parents made one of my favorite things to eat - shao bing jia rou (烧饼夹肉) - and delivered some to me early this afternoon for lunch. it's pretty much a crispy bread with a pocket stuffed with braised beef and some scallion strips. just those three simple ingredients can take me to an epicurean bliss. i had enough for dinner as well and eagerly waited for evening to arrive.

shao bing jia rou would have to wait another day when julie asked if i wanted to grab some dinner at the porter exchange japanese food court. we met there at 6:30, one of the rare times where i've actually walked anywhere since the snowstorms. we decided to try ittyo after julie read a good review recently in the newspaper. they were busy and we had to wait, but by the time we ordered what we wanted from the menu, there was a table ready for us. julie had some delicious looking udon noodle soup while i went with a sukiyaki boxed dinner special. i'm somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to boxed meals. i had no complaint with ittyo's box dinner, it was better than average, although not the best i've ever had. deduct points for using one of the box compartments for rice - a good box lunch/dinner has the rice separate. a good box lunch/dinner also depends on the details - i like the sesame on the rice with some strips of pickled radish, as well as a sprinkle of red ginger on the sukiyaki. i also enjoyed the potato tonkatsu and the two shrimp wraps, never had them before. living just 10 minute walking distance away from the porter exchange, i never understand why i don't come here more often. i'm just fortunate i live so close to all these various food sources.

later we visited the small lesley university art gallery inside of the porter exchange. there was an art sale of student and faculty works. maybe the good stuff were already sold, because we weren't too impressed by much of what we saw. the curator sat at a desk by the entrance, checking her e-mails until the museum closed at 8pm.

afterwards julie and i walked back to davis square to get her car so we could drive around somerville checking out the christmas lights. although it pretty much the same every year (we've seen it in 2005 and 2006), it never gets old for me. i'm attracted to glittering colored lights like a moth to a flame. this year especially, since i have my own christmas lights (although nowhere as grand in comparison), i feel a particular kinship with these people who spend so much time decorating their homes with the embodiments of holiday cheer.

this house on magnus avenue was a new one for us. it was the only house on the entire street that was decorated, and decorated with the glitziness of a las vegas casino. it was so bright, neighbors digging out their snow-buried cars could probably used the illumination to see. though julie said she never saw it before, we noticed a lot of chairs in empty parking spots, local residents reserving their hard-earned spaces (many a fight in boston have been started over winter parking spots). we also saw a meter maid going around ticketing cars; julie said in somerville you can be fined if you don't dig your car out of the snow with a certain time period. that apparently is not the case in cambridge where i have neighbors with cars buried underneath 3 separate snowstorms.

i couldn't have gotten these photos without julie's help. since i don't have a car, originally i was just going to walk around the neighborhood. it's easy to find these houses because they're the ones that's glowing. however, with a car, i can definitely cover more ground. we went everywhere, from davis square to union square to winter hill to east somerville. the snow definitely made things difficult. already narrow streets became even more so, and empty parking spots were far and few in between. for the most part, julie stayed in the car while i quickly ran out to snap a few photos before getting back in the vehicle.

i love the fusion of the religious with the secular and the commercial. some houses are so gaudy in their hodge podge of various holiday symbolism that it's an absolute feast for the eyes as well as the mind as i try to decipher their interpretation of christmas. you got your manger scene, and then you have your standard issue santa claus. there are the winter motifs, like snowmen and snowflakes, and the holiday decorations, like candy canes and gingerbread men. then you have elements from christmas stories or songs, like the little drummer boy. added to that the commercial components, like the disney characters. even gungho patriotism sneaks in there, with dedications to our troops and much banner waving. there's just something so american about all these different kinds of christmas presentation, a real melting pot of the best and worst of christmas.

a major concern for me was getting the right colors. none of the preset white balances truly captured the look, made everything look too orange. when i tried a quick custom white balance it was better but skewed everything blue. it's something i'll have to play with, i've got another week of shooting before folks start taking down their christmas decorations.

within the manger scene there are many different variations, even though everyone seems to buy the figurines from the same company because they're all the same. i remember hearing stories about people getting creative with the manger scene, using stuffed animals to represent the various participants. if i had the space to set up my own christmas manger scene, i'd definitely go crazy. although it's a religious setup and there's an aura of seriousness about the manger, i'd love to recreate the scene using robots, like a futuristic birth of christ. or maybe more animatronics - i've never seen an animated manger before.

we past a few houses that seemed to have a lot of decorations but none of the lights were turned on. for instance, the infamous homemade animatronic house on central street was disappointingly dark and silent. it seems strange, so close to christmas, that these homes should remain unlit. but with christmas happening next tuesday, it's probable that some families have taken an extended long weekend - particularly if they're doing any kind of long distance traveling - so it's a good chance nobody's home (nevertheless - haven't they heard of automatic timers?).

back at home, i took a hot bath to unwind from a busy week (not!). later i moved to my bedroom, enjoying the comforts of the space heater.