Portraits

Around Christmas, I turn into one of those annoying people who thinks everything is a little better just because it’s holiday time. But for a lot of people, this time of year can lead to depression and isolation. This week’s profile knows the pain of those dark days and now spends a good deal of his time helping others. He poured his story out in his autobiography, “Happiness.”

’Tis the season to be jolly. I don’t know about you, but I love the sounds and smells of the season. I get excited the first time I see the twinkling lights go up at Dilworth Plaza and as I walk through the Christmas Village. Catching the “Charlie Brown” soundtrack as I flip through the dials also gets me in the spirit.

I even get a few flutters seeing the promos for the Nutcracker at the Academy of Music. It’s become a yearly tradition to start the season by watching the amazing dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet fly through the air with their annual spectacular performance. I’ve had the pleasure to profile many of them here in this column. This year I got some fun inside information from the ballet’s company manager, Emily Pratt.

Thekitchn.com suggests that you throw away your spices after one to four years, depending on the type, which means I’m probably about eight years behind. Luckily there’s a place that can help me restock with the freshest herbs and spices around: The Spice Rack in Chestnut Hill.

Do you have someone on your gift list who already seems to have everything? Chances are, you could find something they don’t have — or never even heard of — at ILLExotics, a new specialty store in South Philadelphia.

How about a beautiful Oophaga pumilio? Or a dramatic-looking Hemitheconyx caudicinctus? The otherworldly axolotyl? Or choose a Monstera deliciosa, which sounds like something from a Harry Potter movie but is actually a lovely piece of fauna. The rest are, respectively, an exotic dart frog, an African fat-tail gecko and a salamander known as the Mexican walking fish.

Chris Urban, half of the ILLExotics duo, is a man of many trades. In addition to opening the business with partner Franco Franchina, Urban moonlights as a bartender, DJ, choreographer, dancer and teacher.

When Judy Bridges transitioned at her job in a manufacturing plant, the response was eye-opening in that no one batted an eye. Since then, Judy has joined the board of Live Open — an LGBT employee-resource group at Saint-Gobain, a company that “encourages employees and supporters of the LGBTQ community to be fully open and honest about who they are as individuals.”

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