Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A NaNo NaNoo Toast

Congratulations to all my blog buddies who have passed the 50,000-word mark in the National Novel Writing Month race to the finish. Since I didn't have it in me to participate this year, I was personal NaNo cheerleader for Pandora and Nobody - both of whom were big winners. (Now, I'm not saying that my NaNo cheerleading prowess had anything to do with their success, but . . .)

We're hours away from the midnight deadline. To those of you still struggling - we're with ya' all the way. You can do it. To those who ran, skipped, or crawled over the finish line - woo-hoo!

Let's all raise an egg to your achievement!

Aside: Does anyone but me remember when Robin Williams looked this young? Dude - Robin! - do you remember being this young, you old coot?

The most popular guy in town

That'd be Santa Claus, of course - at least for the next month.

I promised myself that I wouldn't start my Christmas posts until December 1 - and you might as well know from the start that I am the Christmas Queen - but these three stories about St. Nick pushed me to dive right into the season.

The New York Times reports that we can consult Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus by Jeremy Seal, a book that follows St. Nicholas from his humble beginnings in Turkey to his role as an advertising icon. The author, often with his young daughters in tow, is hot on the trail of the historical Nicholas. The Times review is mixed, but on the up-side it sounds like an interesting read for those of us who still love the jolly old elf:

As the father of two girls who still want to believe, he is shrewd about the sacred Christmas contract. "The children loved him," he writes. "The parents, though they knew Santa had reduced them to toy-buying automatons, loved him for bringing joy to their children."

The advertising icon-Santa, however, is being attacked in Germany, but a Times of London commentator comes to his defense. A German group wants to boycott Santa as a symbol of consumption and return to honoring the life of St. Nicholas (read above-mentioned book to find out more, I guess). But Caitlin Moran is pro-fat guy:

I would board any putative Santa Wa-hey Express. It’s not hard. As P. Diddy would say — particularly if he’d sealed a particularly lucrative merchandising deal with him — Santa’s the man, really. For anyone with a tu’penny ha’penny interest in peddling any concept of spirituality to feckless minors, Santa is a peerless teaching aid. He allows us to convey the concept of a selfish life ultimately being without reward, to the notoriously unmetaphysical demograph of two-year-olds — and while getting rum truffles and a foot-spa for ourselves, to boot.

Given that before Santa was invented, we used to deport bad children to Australia, or cut their heads off — and have no rum truffles at all — this is all, surely, progress.

Amen, Sister! I'll take my Santa Claus any way I can get him - and still maintain a healthy respect for St. Nicholas. Santa Wa-hey, indeed!

But if you wanna see the guy at a local Atlanta mall, you'd better hop on the internet - quick! - to get one of the coveted slots. But even the big guy in the red suit can't control the technological quirkiness of 21st century lap-sitting reservations. Seems our city's most famous and popular Santa Claus at Phipps Plaza had to switch to telephone appointments when:

His Web site, santaatphipps.com, couldn't handle the demand of parents seeking mandatory reservations. When it crashed due to high demand, it left kids from 1 to 92 appointment-impaired since the mall was taking appointments only over the Internet for the first time this year.

Remember the good old days, when you'd just show up at the local department store or church hall and line up in fairly orderly fashion (as I recall) to sit on Santa's lap? Sigh.

Guess we know who's gonna get a stocking full of sweeties and who's gonna get a big ol' lump of coal (though with heating costs soaring, the coal's startin' to sound pretty good).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

We're Number 4! We're Number 4!

I don't know. Just doesn't have the same punch as "We're Number 1!" does it? Anyway, seems Atlanta ranks number four on this year's list of America's Most Literate Cities, according to Dr. John W. Miller at Central Connecticut State University. Here's the 2005 ranking:
  1. Seattle WA
  2. Minneapolis MN
  3. Washington DC
  4. Atlanta GA
  5. San Francisco CA
  6. Denver CO
  7. Boston MA
  8. Pittsburgh PA
  9. Cincinnati OH
  10. St. Paul MN

Oooh, I be feelin' so smart and literate. Umm-um.

The value of a good imagination

Imagination impacts so many things in our lives . . .
('Nuff said, and I ain't namin' names.)

NOW, Voyager! Living in the moment - why is it so hard to do?

A week or so ago Tamar at In and Out of Confidence had a great quote on the importance of living in the moment. I have been consciously struggling with this for a couple of years, though unconsciously struggling with it my whole life, I suspect. The only time I seem to be able to do it is when I'm lost in my writing.

But I want to do it in my day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute living, as well. My mind is always racing ahead to what I need to do or want to do or plan to do. I don't much live in the past, but sometimes that creeps in, too. Is not being able to live in the moment a trait of us A-type personalities? Just too much rattling around in our heads to be completely aware of what's happening at the moment? Constant brain-multitasking?

Living in the moment is extremely important in acting, which is probably why I'm not much good at it, though I do participate in local theatre sometimes. (I sing loud and on key and am willing to do character parts - a completely shameless ham.) But I marvel at real actors who can lose themselves in a role at any given place and time. It's what I can do with writing but can't do when I have to project out of myself to others.

So living in the moment is something I must train myself to do, I reckon. Maybe an acting class would help. Any living-in-the-moment tips from anyone out there? I promise to try to be completely present to whatever you have to tell me!

But now, I must live in the moment of work (though I'll be thinking of fifty other things).

Monday, November 28, 2005

What's the problem? Just get longer needles. . .

OK, this one was too hilarious to pass up. According to MSN, researchers have found that fatter butts require longer needles to deliver the intramuscular drug injections. Well, duh! Per the article:

Standard-sized needles failed to reach the buttock muscle in 23 out of 25 women whose rears were examined after what was supposed to be an intramuscular injection of a drug.

Two-thirds of the 50 patients in the study did not receive the full dosage of the drug, which instead lodged in the fat tissue of their buttocks, researchers from The Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Dublin said in a presentation to the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Seems kinda gender- (and maybe racially-) biased to me. As a proud, card-carrying member of the VLA (Very Large Ass) Society, I'm never gonna be skinny-butted (and who'd want to be?) so just make those needles longer, folks. And after the eating orgy of the last four days, ya' better add a couple more inches, just for good measure.

Still, it boggles the mind that people actually research this stuff. All you'd've had to do was to ask any Joe/Jane walking on the street the question: Since butts are so gi-normous these days, do ya' think needles need to be longer to reach their intended destination? And I reckon 95% of 'em would've answered: Um. Sure.

I have got to think up some obvious thing to "research" and get me some of that grant moola.

Rainy Monday, bratty kids, and the crumbling halls of justice

Monday after Thanksgiving and the Boomtown Rats say it all. Plus, it's rainy and cold here in Atlanta. Bleeeech! I was, however, a very good girl this morning - resuming my 5-6:30am writing time. Why, if I were double-jointed I'd pat myself on the back . . .

Yesterday, the New York Times had a good article about bratty kids. Seems the little darlings are just getting worse and worse (go to any restaurant for proof). I can't stand conservative child behavior columnist John Rosemond (always so smug, and it's always the mother's fault), but author Judith Warner and some of the other experts quoted are believable. The article does bring up what I noticed a few years ago when Kate was going through middle and high school (and when I taught high school myself) - the academic pressure we put on kids today is enormous. I'm convinced that's why Kate left University of Colorado after one year, even though she had good grades. She was just sick and tired of school by the time she graduated from high school - gifted classes, AP classes, a semester in France when she was a sophomore. Shoot, she felt she'd already been to college. From the article:

"These kids are so extremely stressed from the academic load they're carrying and how cloistered they are and how they have to live under the watchful eye of their parents," Dr. Mogel said. "They have no kid space."

Paradoxically, she said, parental over-involvement in their children's lives today often hides a very basic kind of indifference to their children's real need, simply to be kids. "There are all these blurry boundaries," she said. "They need to do fifth-grade-level math in third grade and have every pleasure and indulgence of adulthood in childhood and they act like kids and we get mad."

If stress and strain, self-centeredness and competition are the pathogens underlying the rash of rudeness perceived to be endemic among children in America today, then the cure, some experts said, has to be systemic and not topical. Stop blaming the children, they said. Stop focusing on the surface level of behavior and start curing instead the social, educational and parental ills that feed it.

This may mean less "quality" time with children and more time getting them to do things they don't want to do, like sitting for meals, making polite conversation and - Madonna was right - picking their clothes up off the floor.

Kids do need more "kid space." I think everybody's going to hit a high-achievement-burn-out wall pretty soon. Do they have to do "college work" in middle school? Do we have to schedule every waking minute of their lives? And it's not just parents pressuring children; the kids put pressure on themselves to over-participate. Glad Kate is 22 and has found balance in her life - a good job, great place to live (not at my house!), and terrific friends. I can only hope things will have changed by the time my grand-chirrens come along. Whew!

On another note, seems "the crumbling halls of justice" is not just a political metaphor. The Supreme Court building is crumbling, so sez CNN, and you betta' watch out because a big lack-o-justice boulder may land on you any minute. Is God pissed, or what?

Finally, I'll toss you a little book-fanatic bone. The Guardian published its Books of the Year, gleaned from interviews with a lot of British people I never heard of (but I'll take the G's word that they're important artsy-fartsy folks who know their book stuff).

OK, a cuppa tea, then back to work. No really. I mean it.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The last of the cornbread dressing

OK. It's officially over now. The last of the homemade cornbread dressing has been consumed. There's a little bit of turkey left that'll end up in a nice stew, but turkey without the dressing marks the official end of Thanksgiving.

It was a bittersweet holiday - Wednesday and Thursday were wonderful and frantic and everything Thanksgiving should be.

Friday - slug-like behavior, manicure and pedicure notwithstanding - was kinda interesting. It was a lazy day, just reading and drinking tea in front of the fire. But then I got a call from my sister Cindy. We talked for a while about how great Thanksgiving Day was, etc., and then she told me she had some news. Hmm. And the news was something I would've never expected in a million years. Seems she and my brother-in-law Buck will be moving to California sometime next year. He's been made national sales manager for his company (let's face it - quite a coup for someone 53 years old; don't they usually give that stuff to 30-year-olds now?) and since the company consolidated and moved the home office to Anaheim, they want him there.

Now, Cindy and Buck have lived in Atlanta since they graduated from college - of all the people in the world I'd've bet would pull up stakes, it would've never been them. And maybe I wouldn't have been so surprised if they'd've said they were moving to Knoxville or Raleigh. But California? Big, big move for them. It's exciting and quite an opportunity - the children are grown (youngest Lizzie will graduate from University of Georgia in December) and Buck's and our parents are dead, so nothing to hold them here really. Except for years and years of friends and memories. But as I told her, the (metaphorical) gate around Atlanta doesn't slam when they move to California. They can always come back. Or not.

I'm happy for them - and was happy when Cindy told me. But now it's starting to sink in that I won't have my sister around. We're close, but not let's-call-each-other-everyday close. We know we're around when we're needed, especially to vent about something. And family functions - I do Thanksgiving and Easter, she does Christmas and whatever else we want to celebrate, like Mother's Day or Labor Day. It's just going to be weird for a while. And different.

So this might've been the last of the cornbread dressing for real. Not literally, of course, since I make the dressing. But unless they fly back home for the holidays, well, big annual occasions will change drastically. Including Thanksgiving. It'll take some getting used to, that's for sure.

Anyway - back to work tomorrow. Always frantic between Thanksgiving and Christmas, wrapping up year-end stuff - but it's a fun time, too. All sorts of goodies (and I mean the reeeeeeaaaaalllllly fattening kind) land on the office doorstep for the next 3-4 weeks. And we all give in to it - why not? Life's too short!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Blog-tweaking

Still lazy. Still not working on my book (the one I'm writing, not the two I'm reading - those I am working on!). Still picking at left-over turkey.

Thought I'd fiddle with my blog for a bit. I purged my Blogroll list of a few links that I no longer use, or that haven't published in a while, or that have pissed me off in some way. Hey! This ain't a democracy - SPJs is full-out Supreme Ruler of her blog universe.

I'm scouting around for a new blog-skin. I'm terrified to try out a new one - scared I'll lose everything (and then what would you poor souls do, hmm?). I've been too busy to create something new and am afraid it'll turn out to be a process not unlike setting up a new computer - sucking out precious time out of all proportion. I know there are blogskin sites but I can't make heads nor tails of 'em - jump right in if you've gone through this process and can explain it to me. Anyway, I know I need to spiff up my site, but it makes me tired to think of plodding through creating something fabulous right now.

Even the newspapers have been boring the last couple of days, giving me little blog-fodder to spread amongst you. But lookie here. I did find something of interest: New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year. There's still time to say to hell with re-designing my blog and rush out to a bookstore to stock up on notables. Those little wheels in my head are turning as I type.

Mo' later. Enjoy Saturday!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The day after: sleepin' late and eatin' left-overs

Whoooeee! I don't have a scale in my house (why put yourself through it, right?), but I'm guessing a Thanksgiving weight-gain of say 5-8 lbs. Surprisingly, clothes still fit, but I'm moving around like Gilbert Grape's mother. Maybe it's just the turkey and carb overload. So the holiday rates a complete success in my book. Ahhhhhh.

Our gang looked not unlike the Looney Tunes characters in the picture (though I ain't sayin' who's who, if ya' get my drift). The head count was 13, since one of my nephews opted out (sadly). It was a good mix of family and friends, laughs and good conversation all round.

Food? Food, you ask? In addition to my fabulously moist 22-lb bird, supremely outstanding cornbread dressing, Spinach Mornay, and biscuits (the southern American kind) - sister Cindy brought her famous cheese potatoes, a green bean casserole topped with cream cheese (yum!), cranberry relish, and a chocolate pie; Aunt Nell supplied the deviled eggs and a mixed fruit pie (um-hmmm); Garth and his lady Claire brought sweet potato casserole and a most excellent chipotle sweet potato dish (to die for); baby Kate has become quite the mac-and-cheese queen (well done, kiddo!); and Carey, Alexander, and Joanna brought the pumpkin pies. I need to crawl back into bed for a tryptophan nap just thinkin' about it.

After lunch, some of the guys watched football - then dragged themselves outta the den to actually go outside and toss a football around. (I know - wow!) We also have a little tradition of writing what you're thankful for on a notecard and putting it into an overly-festive basket (great job, Joanna!) - then we gather to read the cards and try to guess who wrote what (we don't read our own cards). I use different colored cards every year and keep the old ones, so we find it fun and interesting to read past thanks. We noticed this year that the cards are getting more elaborate and thoughtful - Nell wrote a poem, for example. We figure within a couple of years, the exercise will turn into a full-blown Broadway musical.

Fat and frousy by four in the afternoon, everyone wandered back to their own abodes for naps and movies thankful for the day and the company.

Wanting no part of the after-Thanksgiving Day sales, I slept late, laid a nice fire in the fireplace, read and drank tea all morning. Now I'm off for a manicure and pedicure - much deserved and anticipated.

That's all, folks! (Till tomorrow or whenever)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Over the river and through the woods

OK, not really - I stay put and everyone else has to travel over the river, etc. to me.

Crunch time is upon us - food needs a-fixin', paint supplies need to be put away and everything put back in order, the family china needs to be sorted and readied for the big day. Well, I have a two-page typed To-Do list and I need to get crackin'. I've hired young Joanna to help me out for a couple of hours this afternoon (hey, I'm paying her, so it's not like it's child labor, and anyway, she's very good at nit-picky stuff).

But before I start my pre-feast frenzy, a few "Thanks be to God" highlights:
  • Daughter Kate - independent, self-sufficient, hard-working, fun-loving, good to her mama
  • The continued health of those I love, and my own good health
  • A good job, a roof over my head, enough (often too much) food and other necessities, plus a lot of extras that make life more comfortable
  • A loving, supportive family - sister, brother, cousins, nieces, nephews, in-laws, out-laws, and those who went before - who helped growing up fun and safe and who are helping getting older fun and safe, as well
  • Good news that the 2-year lawsuit surrounding a traffic accident will be settled before Christmas (fingers-crossed) and I'll finally get restitution for the physical and financial crisis it put me through
  • Friends, old and new, because they add the spice to life, really
  • All of the over-worked, full-hearted volunteers who continue to help with the victims of all the world's natural and man-made disasters this year, particularly those helping in the New Orleans/Gulf Coast area - you are our heroes.
  • Good books, a comfortable bed, and a creative spirit
OK, that's the short list. I'll cut it off before it gets too sappy (yeah, yeah - too late, I know).

For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving - have a wonderful, yummy day tomorrow. For those of you who'll be living the popular British film "Thursday We Went to Work as Usual," thanks for sending us your pilgrims so that we could gather with friends and family for a scrumptious meal 385 years later. Cheers, and thanks!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is that a pole in your firehouse, or are you just glad to see me?

stooges

I hesitate to post this, since it only confirms the stupidity of Southerners. Big sigh.

Picture it: a woman at a party in a firehouse. (My suspicions are raised already, and yours?) Takes a little party slide down the firehouse pole. (I'm assuming this is the literal pole and not, well . . . ) Ends up landing hard enough to do $7500-worth of damage to her feet and ankles. (Whew! I thought it was gonna be 3rd degree thigh-burn.)

So now she's suing the Oconee Fire Department and County Commission. That'll teach 'em to give just anybody pole-access. Read the whole story here.

As you can tell, I'm in my after-office-party-funk and capable of only the most menial of tasks. Pass the Jagermeister.

Shorty PJs presents The Annual Thanksgiving Office Pig-Out


We had to take this photo before the vultures descended. The greatest pot-luck dinner ever, here at Perkins+Will.

Outstanding casseroles, salads and breads but many with an ethnic twist (we're a very multicultural group): samosas and vegetable biryani, middle eastern eggplant, good ol' southern squash casserole, salsa/bean salad, Honey-Baked Ham, smoked turkey, and the desserts! Well! Garth's pineapple upside-down cake is divine, by the way.

Yu-um! Now I'm stuffed. Time for the Jagermeister! (See previous post.)

And don't forget the Jagermeister . . .

Here's some news you can really use. This time of year there are reams and reams of well-meaning warnings about ways to avoid over-stuffing oneself. You know and I know they fall on deaf ears. Face it, we're gonna pile the plate full and enjoy every high-calorie bite. I mean, you only get Aunt Cindy's cheese potatoes or Cousin Nell's pumpkin pie once a year, right? Bottom line - we're going to eat, eat, eat and feel like stuffed pigs afterwards, which leads to guilt, which leads to eating to forget how full we are, and so on.

But an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the solution: drink! That's right - you heard it here first (er, second, if you count the AJC article, which I'm sure no one read but me). Many liqueurs, brandies, and other "warm" beverages act as digestives, relaxing your stomach muscles (all tensed up from Uncle Buck's Spinach Mornay) and allowing your innards to do a proper job of - well, you know what they do. According to the newspaper:

Brandies, liqueurs, bitters and sundry bottles of firewater routinely show up at the end of epic European meals in the guise of digestive aids.

Italy offers the greatest lineup of digestivi, from sweetened, syrupy limoncello to clear, fiery grappa. Many Italians swear by the effects of a good shot of amaro, a dark cordial infused with bitter herbs and essences that in themselves are reputed to aid digestion.

The French have an equally varied lineup of digestifs. Brandies — such as cognac and Armagnac — are the classic after-dinner drinks. Fancier people may opt for an eau de vie distilled from raspberries or pears, while the more down-to-earth types go for the clear distillate called marc. In Normandy, there is a charming overeating ritual called the "trou normand" (it means "Norman hole") in which diners take a shot of Calvados apple brandy in the middle of a huge meal so that they'll be able to keep going to the bitter, porked-out end.

In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, a meal ends with a tiny glass of Becherovka — a cordial that tastes like grappa infused with spice cake and cough drops but in a good way.

Hungarians are partial to a dark, ferociously bitter concoction called Zwack Unicum that comes in a spherical bottle with a red cross on it. The flavor is so admonishing you'll regret that third helping of goulash.

Germans produce a famous beverage originally intended as a digestive aid. Know what it is? If you said "J├Ągermeister," you get another piece of pumpkin pie.

Quick! Find me some Zwack Unicum!

Do not give in to the guilt-laden urge to go for a walk or sleep off your holiday meal stupor. Quaff a few restful brews after you eat and that full, bloated feeling will give way to the over-whelming urge to start early on the left-overs. (Yes, yes, I see that this could be viewed as setting up a dangerous eat/drink/eat/drink pattern, but it's only once a year, right?)

Go ahead. Follow Harpo's example and order a tall one after that turkey feast.

I wonder if a little drinkie before the meal would be helpful as well . . . hmmmmm.

Monday, November 21, 2005

My favorite pilgrims

Something for everyone here, I hope - even the non-Thanksgiving celebrating folks (and you know who you are). Ahem, my favorite pilgrims (in no particular order, except that #1 is #1):

1. The Wife of Bath, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Now here's someone you want to go on a pilgrimage with! She'd've cracked ol' Plymouth Rock wide open. Dear Alison (yes, she lets me call her by her first name) kicked ass and took names - way ahead of her time.
2. Eric Clapton's "Pilgrim" (1998). It ain't "Layla" but it is Clapton. Strictly for the Wife of Bath types.
3. The Donner Party. Your typical pioneer-pilgrim story and a feast, to boot! What's not to (cringingly) love about this doom-fated story?
4. James Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). You're scratching your head on this one - I can see you from here! This was the first film in which John Wayne called someone "Pilgrim." He calls the Jimmy Stewart character "Pilgrim" 4 or 5 times during the movie. (Wayne uses "Pilgrim" in several other films, but I don't like those pilgrims as much as I do Stewart.)
5. Priscilla Mullens, Myles Standish, and John Alden. Our favorite American love triangle (outside of the Eddie Fisher-Debbie Reynolds-Elizabeth Taylor one). "Speak for yourself, John Alden."
6. "Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land." Because I like it, that's why. Sing it loud, loud, loud. And a tip o' the hat to the Welsh.
7. Any kid under the age of 10 in a Thanksgiving play. C'mon - you gotta love those funny hats and black clothes. Too cute.
8. The Pilgrim Brewery (UK) - motto: "Your thirst fought everyday" William Bradford would be so proud. Or not.
9. "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan. "The name of the Slough was despond." (Part I, Chapter II) Obviously a famous allegory about Slough, one of England's most glamorous metropoli, and presaging the town's notoriety thanks to Ricky Gervais's "The Office." Next time you're in the UK, take a pilgrimage to lovely Slough.
10. "The Passionate Pilgrim" by William Shakespeare. Seems pilgrims are lustier than we give them credit for (Wife of Bath, Mullins-Standish-Alden trio, et. al.). Bill's all about jealousy, youth vs. age, infidelity, and beauty in this one. Can't imagine any of 'em in pilgrim hats, can you?

Who/what can you add to this?

A little paprika for your stuffing


"A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika."
- Dorothy Parker

Fairies and MacFeng Shui

A great story coming out of St. Fillans, Perthshire - a new housing estate was stopped dead in its tracks . . . by fairies. Just as the bulldozers were revving up, a St. Fillanite came running over shouting that the rock about to go under the machine had fairies living under it. Even the town council went to bat for the fairies:

Jeannie Fox, council chairman, said: “I do believe in fairies but I can’t be sure that they live under that rock. I had been told that the rock had historic importance, that kings were crowned upon it.” Her main objection to moving the rock was based on the fact that it had stood on the hillside for so long: a sort of MacFeng Shui that many in the village subscribe to.

Don't you love "MacFeng Shui"? I guess in Ireland it would be O'Feng Shui, Germany - Feng von Shui, etc. At any rate - and before I beat a dead horse here - the property company had to redesign the layout. You can relax; the fairies are safe. Read the rest of the story here.

Have a magical MacMonday morning.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Painted- and Pottered-out

Painting's done - at least, as done as it's going to be before Thanksgiving. Wish I'd have had more time to putter around with the crown molding, chair rail, and baseboard, but I had to call it quits or things won't get put back in place. There's still so much to do - but, well, it'll happen. I shall put the paint and brushes away until after the first of the year.

The theatre benefit Friday night was great fun, though I don't know how much we made on it. I got a couple of silent auction deals - a $25 gift certificate at a local restaurant for $10 and a gift basket with a one hour massage coupon, chocolates, bubble bath, and tea (all of which will come in handy) for $55. I stayed to clean up after the event and didn't leave the theatre until almost 1am. Slept in on Saturday, of course, before I finished up the painting.

And finally, finally got to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this afternoon with three 14-year-old boys. The film's very dark and scary - particularly the mid-teen funk of the title character, et. al. - shriek! - but it packed a lot into two-and-a-half hours or so. The only complaint from my companions was in regard to all the stuff that was left out of the film. I had to remind them that if everything had gone in, the running time would've been about 76 hours. Still, they liked it ("The girls are cuter in this one." Hmmm.)

The lesson I tried to teach them was that no film can completely replicate its book - different mediums/media, etc. - so it will behoove them to never skip a reading assignment by watching the film version and hoping it'll be the same. "Just keep repeating 'Harry Potter,' 'Harry Potter,' 'Harry Potter' next time you're tempted to watch the movie versions of Moby Dick or Silas Marner." Yeah - that went in three ears and out three others.

The thing I love about the Potter films is watching all the kids grow up (I know, such a girlie-thing) - not only Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but the others as well: Neville, Draco, Jenny, Fred and George. I can't put it into words - it's just an interesting thing to watch. I still love the first two movies when they were all little kids. Kinda comforting and nostalgically sad at the same time. Ah, me.

Anyway, as for the weekend: Mischief managed! On to Monday -

Friday, November 18, 2005

Whistle's blowing early, Dears

Dahlings. Big theatre fund-raiser tonight, and I need several hours to make myself presentable. Till I return from my silent-auction-bidding stupor, hunt down some of the Thanksgiving movies and let me know what you think.

For my non-Thanksgiving-celebrating (Thanksgiving-non-celebrating?) British friends, PT of Now What Happens? sent a smart-ass comment that I'd left off the perennial British Thanksgiving movie favorite (or favourite): "The Thursday We All Went to Work as Usual." Ha and ha - banging two turkey legs together to show my Henry VIII-style approval! (Go forth and produce this film, PT, and I'll add it to my list for next year.)

Now, Tallulah and I must be off (and you can take that any way ya' want).

More turkeys for your Thanksgiving movie enjoyment

The most popular blog page in my brief blog-career has been my post on Thanksgiving movies, which tells me that people are hungry (get it - hungry . . .) for something seasonal to watch on the run-up to next Thursday's grace-saying-pig-out fest. Well, I gave it my best shot here, but I do have a few additions, though I've only seen half of these:

1. Alice's Restaurant (1969) - It's been a long time, but I remember it's about a "Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat," Arlo and Woodie Guthrie, hippies, Vietnam. Many people consider this a Thanksgiving movie must-see. I'm going in search of it now to refresh my rapidly flaking grey-matter.

2. The Myth of Fingerprints (1997) - This one I haven't seen, so maybe a fan can fill in the details. According to the review it's in the family-angst-around-the-dinner-table genre and stars Noah Wylie, Julianne Moore, Hope Davis, Blythe Danner.

3. The House of Yes (1997) - This is a weird one, but if you're crazy about Parker Posey (and who isn't?), you need to see it (just ignore the Tori Spelling parts). Thanksgiving is sort of oh-by-the-way in this one. Let's see - sibling obsession-compulsion, Jackie Kennedy fixation, Catherine Deneuve as the mother. Not for the faint-hearted. But c'mon - Parker Posey!

4. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) - Ah, the good old days. Woody and Mia BSY (before Soon-Ye). Another family Thanksgiving flick - well-written, well-directed, well-acted - what more do you want. Shot in Mia's apartment. In addition to Mia and Woody, you get Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow, Julie Kavner, Joanna Gleason, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

5. What's Cooking (2000) - Another one I haven't seen, but it really piques my interest. It tells how four different ethnic families (and aren't we all ethnic? but you know what I mean) celebrate Thanksgiving: Hispanic, Vietnamese, Jewish, and African-American, with a cast that includes Alfre Woodard (don't you love her?), Mercedes Ruehl, Joan Chen, Kyra Sedgwick (don't you love her, too?), Juliana Margulies, Lainie Kazan. OK, I'm sold. Where can I find this?

I'm leaving off the TBS original National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Reunion since every review called it a dog - woof! - but feel free to check it out and report back.

My segue movie between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always Miracle on 34th Street (the Natalie Wood one, natch). One of my most sacred Thanksgiving traditions is donning the flannel pjs (shorty? you ask?), filling a tray with fabulous left-overs, and plopping in front of the TV to watch a 1940's version of the Macy's parade with Maureen O'Hara in charge of it all. Ahhhhhhh!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"The Producers" "Rent" due

My little Broadway heart is all a-pitter-patter in anticipation of upcoming movie musicals of Great White Way hits "The Producers" and "Rent."

"Rent" comes due first - hitting screens Nov. 23. Alas, I'll be elbow-deep in turkey innards and cornbread dressing so I can't sneak out Wednesday night to see it, but it's on my Thanksgiving weekend list (and the list gets longer by the day). I didn't see "Rent" on Broadway; I had to settle for a tour show at Atlanta's Fox Theater on my daughter's 16th birthday (she's 22 now, so you do the math). The film will be a real treat since producers were smart enough to use almost the entire original Broadway cast, including "Wicked" Idina Menzel and her adorable real-life husband Taye Diggs (Yu-um! Pass the spoon, please!). Fortunately, we don't have to wait 525,600 minutes . . .

And boy-oh-boy, we get a big old Christmas present with "The Producers." Let's see, a movie made from a Broadway musical made from a movie . . . well, go figure. Now this one I was lucky enough to see on Broadway - in previews, even - with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broaderick, and the entire original cast. And the big fat cherry on top? Mel Brooks came on stage to do his one recorded line "Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi Party" during the "Springtime for Hitler" number. The audience went completely wild - woo and hoo! Check out the trailer on Sony's UK site here. Go watch Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and - natch - the original The Producers with Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel to get in a Mel Brooks-mood.

Looking forward to kids' stuff

Amazing what tea, chicken soup, and a day's sleep'll do for a bad cold. I'm up and at 'em now, ready for a full day's work (plus one, since I'll have to make up for yesterday's lost time). Onward!

Still in need of comfort food (books, movies), I'll stick to kid-themed stuff this morning.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall won this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Well, ya' gotta love the title alone. Looks like a great potential Christmas gift - for me!

I don't give a fig about criticisms aimed at either Harry Potter or his creater J.K. Rowling, I still love the books and the movies. So I can hardly wait to sit my butt in a movie seat this weekend with my bud Alexander and revel in the latest Potter film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Woo-hoo! Even at 14 Alexander wants to keep the tradition of our Potter movie dates, started when he was 10. Joanna saw the previews when we did our Gromit/Corpse Bride movie-fest last month and has decided to pass, yet again, on the latest Potter flick. She's always just one step behind them as they ratchet up the fear factor with each film. Mmm. Feelin' warm and cozy anticipation . . .

Who doesn't love Goodnight, Moon? It looks so harmless but something about it can lull even the crustiest insomniac to sleep. But did you ever notice that the picture of illustrator Clement Hurd had him holding a cigarette? Run - go get your copy and check it out. But hang on to that book because from now on, Hurd's photo will be sans smoke, thanks to a little PhotoShopping. Read about it here.

It's crisp and sunny in Atlanta. Hope it stays this way for Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What condition my condition is in

Not good. The cold has turned into a cough, which decided to settle in my chest last night. This cannot be allowed to happen - too much work on my plate. But better now than next Wednesday, eh? So I'm home poppin' pills and downing as much hot tea and chicken soup as possible. I'm on my way back to bed, but I did find these little nuggets before caving in completely to consumption:

The British Whitbread literary shortlist has been announced. No Julian Barnes or Ian McEwan or - gasp - Zadie Smith. Nick Hornby and Salmon Rusdie are kickin' it, though.

The judicial blogger of Underneath Their Robes has been outed. Gonna make facing those judges he made fun of pretty - um - unjudicial. Seems all along everyone thought "he" was a "she." Another blog-lesson learned, right?

Sometimes - most of the time, in fact - kids teach us all we really need to know. Nice little tale on CNN/CareerBuilder about lessons learned from one job seeker's six year old son.

That's it from me - cough! cough! hack! hack! And don't think that dining room's not screaming "If you're home you should be painting me!" right now. Sniff. Putting pillow over head and rolling over . . .

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Great Thanksgiving Countdown

Nine days and counting. A week from Thursday my little house will have the most wonderful smells wafting through it. Mmmmm.

I have reclaimed my morning writing space, thanks to diligent effort reshelving the books in the living room and getting things back in order. Aaaaaaahhhh. This morning's writing effort was so productive in my new buttery yellow, white-trimmed space. Next!

Since 15 people will be turning up on my doorstep for Thanksgiving, there'll be no lolly-gaggin' around with getting the dining room painted. It will be fast, furious, and fabulous. Or else. Hell hath no fury like Thanksgiving guests without a clear space to sit and stuff themselves.

Not quite in the Thanksgiving mood? (It has really slammed into us this year, eh?) Wish I could post the Top 10 Thanksgiving Pop Songs or Funniest Thanksgiving Costumes, but it just ain't that kind of holiday. It simply involves giving thanks (an ethereal, spiritual thing that doesn't lend itself to rock and roll), eating ourselves into a stupor (which is kinda rock and roll-y, so that makes ya' wonder . . .), and passing out in front of a football game on TV. Still, these may help get you feeling festive:

The U.S. Census Bureau has a great online fact sheet about Turkey Day, including many little Turkey McNuggets you can use to entertain your holiday guests. An estimated 256 million turkeys were raised in the U.S. in 2005, and we managed to consume an average of 13.7 pounds of the white (or dark) stuff each. Anyone want to guess on how many places in the United States are named Plymouth? How about Pilgrim?

C'mon, you know you love it - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! Hungry for a little history of the event? Check here. My favorite balloon - hands down - Underdog (but didn't he break loose and kill somebody a few years ago?). Second place, Bullwinkle.

And you can always review my list of Thanksgiving movies, posted here. Feel free to add to it.

Stay tuned for a "My Favorite Pilgrim" tally.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Green-eyed monster Monday

I know none of you suffer from from the deadly sin of envy, but here are a few things that might lead you astray:

Remember when I gave a heads-up about Penguin putting its 1,082-book library on sale for $8K? Well, here's one lucky family who took 'em up on the deal. My eyes are aglow with a bright green light . . .

How many times have you dreamed of having a feature story written about you in the New York Times? (And I mean for something worthwhile, not for being caught in an unfortunate situation with a politician of a wing of another persuasion?) Let's give it up for our bud, Grace Davis, she of I'm Dr. Laura's Worst Nightmare, who (along with many other fine folks) put her volunteerism where her mouth is and made a real difference with the blog Hurricane Katrina Direct Relief! Great article about how the internet made things happen when our guv'mint couldn't. Yes, I'm green with envy, but proud as punch - yea, Grace!

OK, I'm not jealous of these women - I just want to slap 'em. Finished with their Christmas shopping, indeed! None seem to be women with day/night-jobs, and they're obviously not into the NaNo writing thing. I'll bet they all wear those silly Christmas sweaters, too. One year I did all my shopping on Christmas Eve - low prices, picked-over inventory (so no dilly-dallying about what to buy - just whatever's left), no big crowds. And now with online shopping, what's the prob? Let's try to get through Thanksgiving first, hmm, ladies?

I'm most jealous of anyone who has all of their books put away just-so on their shelves. I will get that done tonight!

Mouse-vember

They're baaaaack! My little rodent friends who love to spread cheer behind the stove, refrigerator and wherever they want to roam have returned for their annual holiday visit.

This problem really had me pulling my hair out last year. I keep everything so clean and neat - how dare they run amok in my kitchen! And these critters can get into anything - anything! Only metal containers will keep them out, and even then they give it a go because I'd find little teeth marks on the metal.

But I found a great way to foil (and by foil, I mean kill) the little darlings last year after searching the internet for the best "mouse-trap." It's called Rat-Zapper, and boy, does it do the job. I never have to see the dead rodent. A light blinks when the box has something in it. I pick up the box, dump it in the trash, put a few more dog food nuggets in it, and switch it back on.

The Rat-Zapper under the sink was blinking last night for the first time since January, and I had to empty it this morning, as well. So high rat season has started, I suppose. But this gizmo nips 'em in the bud, before they get out into my kitchen to do their dirty work.

Such pleasant Monday morning conversation, eh?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Extreme bookshelf makeover

I knew this would happen. The minute I unloaded the bookshelves in my living room so that I could paint, I knew that I'd have a tough time putting them back when the time came. And, yes, I have farted around all weekend - doing all sorts of little picky, anal jobs just to avoid the elephant(s) not in my living room.

Non-fiction, fiction/literature, fiction/best-sellers (and are they mutually exclusive, literature and best-sellers?), mysteries, Christmas mysteries (don't ask), reference, travel - well, shit. I'm over-whelmed.

Do I put all the paperbacks to the back (yes, I double-shelve, doesn't everyone?), or just the old stuff I don't really care about anymore but for some reason want to hang on to?

And what's the best way to shelve/stack over-sized books (they have to go on top without toppling over, of course)?

How do I put the books back without getting side-tracked looking through them, remembering stories or assignments, holidays, airports, bookstores. Stop me!

As for the 1973 set of Encyclopaedia Britannicas - I just stuck 'em back where they've always been. Like beloved boat anchors. Big sigh. This is why I don't paint more often.

The room, however, looks fabulous - on to the dining room (if I ever get the books re-shelved, that is)!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hit the gong, Chuck. I'm outta here.

I'd call it sneaking out early except it's broad (though sinking) daylight and everybody wants me gone since I've been coughing all day. Go read a good book, (like the Chronicles of Narnia in the right order) or something.

Goooooooong!

Friday pearls o' poo

Of course, June Cleaver would never wear pearls of poo, silly - and doesn't she look nice? But
I've been hit with a Grade-A, Biosafety Level-4 cold and feel like barely warmed-over poo meself, so the pearls I'm blowing your way may seem somewhat poo-like. Just lookie what I've found:

Some folks think that Beatrix Potter is kids' stuff, but her illustrations are amazing. Here's one modern-day writer/illustrator's take on "Hairy" Potter.

So what's an ecological book-lover to do? Yes, we want to save ancient forests, but we do love our books fresh off the press. Join the discussion here.

What's a "literary Darwinist"? The Times of London will fill you in. How do we explain the basic human need to ingest stories?

And you always thought that Daphne de Maurier was the second Mrs. DeWinter, but you be wrong-o, according to this little revelation. Seems the Daphy dame was really more like Rebecca her own bad self. OK, but who was the real Mrs. Danvers, is what I want to know.

Here's a British blog list that everyone probably knows about but me. It's a great place to get lost. Is there an American one I'm missing?

And in keeping with my Armistice Day salute: While I knew that the whole poppy thing came from the John McCrae poem "In Flanders Fields," I didn't know that the idea for wearing poppies in commemoration of the war dead came from a good ol' Walton County, Georgia girl in 1918. Give it up for Moina Michael.

Now, if I can just put my head on my desk and look like I'm working until 5pm . . .

Hour, day, and month


At 11:00:00 on 11/11/1918, this particular madness came to an end. I'm sure the guys in the trenches thought it would still be going on in 1950, as in this Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon.

You can find my World War I reading list here, though I left off Tommy by Richard Holmes and the book I'm currently reading, 1914 by Lyn MacDonald.

Honoring Walter Wildgoose, 1st Lincolnshire (1908-1915, 1921-1930) and Machine Gun Corps (1915-1821).

In memory of Herbert (Bert) Eustace Wildgoose (1889-1915) who died at the Battle of Aubers Ridge 9 Mary 1915.

Just couldn't let the day, month, hour go by without remembering. I know Wilfred Owen's famous "Dulce et Decorum est" is considered cliche now (though how it could be, I'll never understand), but I'll close this with the final lines of the poem"

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
--My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Dulce et Decorum est: The phrase "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" is a Latin phrase from Horace, and translates literally something like "Sweet and proper it is for your country (fatherland) to die." The poem was originally intended to be addressed to an author who had written war poems for children)

The Chronicles of Narnia: by publication date or chronologically?

I didn't know this was an issue until last night. After enjoying Joanna (she of Turquoisia fame) in a musical version of Aesop's Fables at her elementary school, I joined the family for a cup of tea afterwards. We got on the topic of upcoming films, and of course "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" came up.

Joanna's 14-year-old brother Alexander got huffy and said he was mad because they made LWW before the first book. So I sez, "What first book? I thought LWW was the first book." "No there's one before it (The Magician's Nephew)." So a discussion ensued about whether MN was a "pre-quel" like the Star Wars movies of late.

Well, nothing was settled at that time, but I did come home and Google the thing. Turns out that Alexander and I were both right. LWW was indeed the first book written in the series (1950) - in fact, C.S. Lewis intended the book to be a stand-alone, not realizing that he'd find a way to return to the story again and again. He wrote MN in 1955, but the book takes place before LWW and gives backstory, as it were.

Now Lewis aficianados are having the great debate over whether to read the books as written or in chronological order, putting MN before LWW. The "MN 1st" group says that chronological order makes more sense; the "LWW 1st" group says by doing that, the magic of LWW in particular and the series in general is dissipated. C.S. Lewis seemed to favor the chronological order, based on a letter written to a young reader, but he admits that he never meant for LWW to lead to a series and that books can be read in any order.

What do you think? It's been years since I read either LWW or MN, though I remember LWW much better than the other. So. By publication, or chronologically?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oh, the places you'll write about!

I've put the story-writing part of my book aside for a moment to concentrate on character backstories and setting descriptions. (I'm not NaNo writing, so I can take 40 years to do this if I want.) It's an interesting exercise and helps me focus on the trees instead of the forest, which is what I need to do right now.

Whether the character studies are drawn from Walter's descriptions or wholly created by me, I have more control over my characters (though sometimes their actions have a life of their own!) than I do the descriptions of the places. For the people in the story, I can determine hair color, habits, professions, anxieties, fears, strengths, etc., as I see fit. But the places where the action (or inaction) takes place need some research.

For example, an in-depth description of Ivy Cottage, the workhouse children's home where Walter and his brother Bert lived, requires my knowing what sort of flooring and beds and bath facilities were available in this sort of institution in 1904. Did they have linoleum? Were they still using gaslight or was the house (built in 1888) wired for electricity by the time Walter arrived? What were the kitchen facilities like? I'm assuming the fireplaces burned coal not wood - but I need to double-check. The place housed 20 boys (hardly a cottage in my mind, but there you are), what were the sleeping arrangements? How many boys, how many rooms? And so on. Every facility (house, tea shop, school, police station, military barracks, et. al.) needs research if I'm to feel comfortable having my characters show up there.

The larger settings - Sheffield, Aldershot, Liverpool, Mortlake, Valparaiso, Le Havre, Mons, Dinapore, Basra, Khartoum (Walter got around, thanks to the English army) - need research as well. What were these places like in 1895? 1905? 1911? 1914? 1930? What would the characters have seen and experienced in the locations, aside from the action?

I'm enjoying the exercise and believe both the character backstories and setting descriptions are adding to both the foundation and the feel of the story.

How do the other writers out there get a handle on locations and settings? Any tricks of the trade you want to share?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Put your trinkets on and celebrate autumn


The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;

The berry's cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I should be old-fashioned,

I'll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson

(Don't be) Talkin' (bad) 'bout my generation

OK, folks - I've had it. Everyone seems to be singing the praises of the Newsweek cover story about Baby Boomers. Haven't read it yet - have read some excerpts - but people are bloggin' all over the place about it, and boy, do I have some bones to pick.

Where the hell are they diggin' up all these supposed B2's who want to stay young forever and have plastic surgery until they resemble something created by a Vac-U-Form? I know no one - NO one - in my age group who has plopped down one red cent for Botox, tummy tucks, liposuction.

Yeah, I'm sure they're out there and that you have the stats to prove it, but all the fine ladies I know with stretched out faces are members of the noble "Silent Generation" (the ones wedged between the GG's and the BB's) OR are rock/film stars. And most of the publicity I've seen on boob and nose jobs concerns women in their teens and twenties.

We have no more fear of getting old or losing our independence and good looks than any other generation. Don't make me pull out a list, people! Granted, we have more access to plastic surgery than the film stars of old; I assume that will increase as time goes on. (Oh, you lucky GenXr's!) So sue us!

Is it wrong to exercise, eat right, take care of our teeth - just, well, because that's what we were brought up to do? Is that "wanting to say young forever," or just wanting to be as healthy as we can be going into our silver (there, I said it: SILVER) years.? We were a part of JFK's "Vigor" campaign and Crest's "Look Ma, no cavities!" Why don't we, as a generation, just sit down, let our hair go yellow-white and our teeth rot? Seems if we do otherwise, we're deemed "self-involved."

Forgive us for being born (speak to the GG's about humpin' like rabbits after WWII, why don'cha?).

Forgive us for believing that life doesn't end at 60.

Forgive us for wanting to stay healthy and look as good as we can for as long as we can.

Forgive us for wanting to find out the why's and wherefores of things - how relationships work, what we believe, where we fit.

Forgive us for being the guinea pigs for advertising and entertainment powers for 60 years. Sorry that our "dreadful" music is still kickin' ass (though to be fair, rock-and-roll was foisted on the masses by the Silent Gens, not us - we just kept it going). Forgive us for Etch-a-Sketches, The Flintstones, mini-skirts, blue jeans, disco, Cabbage Patch dolls, minivans, and computers. Not that we invented any of these - we just kept them economically viable.

Forgive us for having the opportunity to get a college education and then working hard and volunteering even harder.

Forgive us for living long enough to become a burden on the healthcare system. Ya' shoulda killed more of us in Vietnam or at Kent State, I reckon.

Forgive us for loving both our parents and our children enough (to the 10th power) to be caught in the middle - and yet finding the love, patience, and money to handle everything without collapsing under the weight of it all.

Right place. Right time. What can I say? We were - and are - lucky, lucky, lucky, but I don't know anyone in my age group who doesn't know this and thank God everyday for it. Even on the days when our knees don't work so well.

So I don't understand who these B2s are that the media and whippersnapper advertising young 'uns and folks over 60 keep complaining about. You're all being sold a bill o' goods.

Why, I'm looking forward to my batty old geezer-lady days: Madras Depends (cuz it'll be so cool when they "bleed" - we'll pee on purpose!), personal scooter vehicles that'll top 50 mph, mass "hip-ins" replacement surgeries as a result of the Thursday evening Twist Parties.

But, hon, my hair's only gonna get higher and redder as the years go by. How else will this self-involved B2 stand out in a crowd without it?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Autumn evening

Kicking my way through the leaves on my driveway, cracking acorns (there are plenty of 'em this year) and crushing the brown carpet underfoot -
The red and orange and bright yellow leaves have yet to come full-color and drop.
But it's not the color.
It's the smell.
Dry, nutty leaves.
Good dirt.
Bark and shrubs and ground cover bathed in glorious earthy perfume.
And it smells like walking home in the third grade, pushing the leaves ahead of us making trails that would soon be covered up by more falling leaves.
It smells like great piles of leaves raked by Mother and Daddy, just so we could run and jump, and run and jump again.
Forget snow angels. We had Autumn leaves angels.
It smells like the smoky fires we used to have in the backyard (no longer allowed).
It smells like vague excitement, knowing that soon it will be Thanksgiving.
And then, and then! Christmas.
But not yet.
It smells like a sixth grade project on Rome, or memorizing a Longfellow poem in the fourth grade.
It smells like dinner waiting - maybe fried chicken, or pot pie.
It's an elementary school smell.
A smell that all things are possible.
And I have a warm, loving place to be in the thick of a golden autumn evening.

Not a poem. Just thoughts that hit me as I worked my way to the front door. Thank you Mother, Daddy, Billy, David, and Cindy for a loving memorable childhood, a happy autumn family.

Morning rant: Get these scratchy labels outta my clothes!

First let me say that I look adorable today. Very Sally Rogers-1960s-comedy-writer in my single-pleated tweedy skirt, black sweater, and sling-backs.

But, damn, if I haven't clawed the back of my neck until it's raw because of the scratchy sweater label. Why don't I just cut the damn things out as soon as I buy an article of clothing? I'll never learn. T-shirts, sweaters, underwear - stiff labels sewn on with scratchy plastic thread. What are these clothes-folks thinking? Can't manufacturers just print the label info on the inside (like they've started doing for men's underwear, and some women's underwear)? Aaarrrggh!

'scuse me while I run to the restroom and cut the label outta this (precious) sweater before I draw blood from all the scratching.

Your stomach's a rat fink

You've been waiting all week for this, I know: "Better Living Through Science" Tuesday. Take notes, now.

Next time you're in for a polygraph (you buncha felons!), you need to be more concerned about your stomach giving you away than your heart rate. A researcher at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB - one of our very favorite clients at P+W and Graphics Lab, by the way) has found that there's more correlation between lying and stomach changes than lying and heart changes. Yo' goose is cooked once the polygraph folks figure this out.

And while we're on the subject of food, there's a guy in England who's spent years developing a bean that won't make you so gassy. He came up with a "Flatometer" to measure how much gas beans produce (don't ask about how this works) and went on from there to breed a more digestible bean. I love beans. You love beans. We all love beans. Now everyone around us will love beans while we're eating them. (Although it kinda takes the fun out of it, eh?)

Here's some heartening news. Evangelical Christians are coming around to the fact that a clean environment is biblical, and they're starting to put pressure on legislators to pass laws reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I'm glad they finally found all the passages about good stewardship of the earth that are heaped around the one or two verses condemning gays. If this is true - the evangelical environmental movement - it is good news for all of us.

Synchronicity. Humans are just full of it. When given the chance we act in unison. That's what was behind (across?) the infamous swaying Millennium Bridge in London. Pedestrians felt a slight sway in the bridge (nothing dangerous about it, though), adjusted their walking patterns that became synchronized with everyone else crossing the bridge, making the bridge sway even more. Hey, I gotta admit that I was sorely disappointed when I walked across that bridge in May and it didn't sway (I'm a lover of swinging bridges. Yes, I'm the one who always jumped her way across . . .) "C'mon people now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together . . ."

Time to put the test-tubes and Bunsen burners away and head for the office. Try not to blow anything up.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Does my day job stifle my early-morning writing?

Don't worry, I'm not about to quit my day job. But.

I've spent a lot of time lately writing abstracts for presentation submissions, and I'm beginning to wonder if the style parameters of that are spilling over into my real writing. Writing in a certain format all day long becomes a habit that is difficult for me to break in the 'tween times.

The other side of the argument is that by having clamped-down writing all day, I should positively burst forth with pent-up creativity when I'm off the clock. Would that it were so.

So tell me. Are you stifled or freed when you switch to your creative style from a more exacting one? If you're freed - how do you make the transition without sounding forced?

I know. More tea. Or gin. No, more tea. I'm still at work. Back to those abstracts . . .

Beach Blanket Britain

I don't even know where to begin with this one.
They left themselves wide open here. But you can see from Camilla's fixed smile that she's having extreme hat-envy. (Damn those Americans! They told me not to wear my big hats here!) Watch for a London version of this chapeau to appear at the next Royal event.

More later, my little transvestites. Lots of work to do.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blog referrals, because I gotta finish painting

"Now, you can go to the blog on Route 4, or take the one on Route 12. As for me, I'm stayin' in Peyton Place."

As predicted, a glorious All Saints' Sunday at All Saints' Church. Music - an awesome requiem (by Douglas Major, organist and choirmaster at the National Cathedral, world premiere was held at All Saints' Oct. 28), fall flowers, berries, wheat sheaves, gourds - stunning, the tolling of the bell for the saints we lost this year, plus daughter Kate and boyfriend Greg showed up. Bonus - brunch at Buckhead Diner afterwards.

But now I must slap on the last coat of living room paint, plus the molding and baseboards, so I can't do one of my usual pithy posts. Do, however, let me direct you to a few of my favorites from others in BlogWorld:

Need a good rugelach recipe (and who doesn't)? Get thee to Pratie Place for one tried and true.

Are we creative types always neurotic in some hidden and not-so-hidden ways? The Open Mind posts about interesting research at University of Melbourne. (We also bonded over "The Producers.")

With some of the burdens placed on innocent children, ya' gotta wonder how folks ever make it to a functioning adulthood. Tamar(ika) shares her story at In and Out of Confidence.

And for those of us who are anal retentive editors - which often gets in the way of my writing, as you well know - Paperback Writer has some pithy suggestions on 12 Step Editing (though I'm not sure it's recognized by AA).

Lots more good stuff out there, but I must hie to the store for dogfood or old Bailey will never let me paint in peace. Chow, baby (Bailey can speak, but not spell, Italian). Some dog!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Remember, Remember the 5th of November: 400 years of Guy Fawkes

Four hundred years ago today a bunch of guys (and one Guy) tried to blow up the English Parliament. They had a beef with James I about restoring Catholicism to Protestant England - it's more complicated than that, but you can find out more about it here.

Religious unrest, terror attacks - hmmm, sounds suspiciously 21st century. The Guardian has an article on recent books published about the plot, and the Telegraph tells us that Guy had way too much gunpowder (what a thorough man). There's also a nice comment in The Guardian about what happens when a community experiences fear/suspicion of faith. Fireworks all 'round.

To all my English family and readers - toss something on the bonfire and sling back a gin-and-tonic for me. I'm celebrating the day the American way - painting my living room! (Please God, nothing blows up.)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Ancient knowledge

Quick! What in the hell do I do with a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1973 ed.? I've spent the evening unloading the bookshelves in the living room so that I can paint tomorrow, and every time I have to do this I come across books that are too good to toss in the dumpster but are - like old computers - fairly worthless.

Yes, a lot of the information in the EBs is still good, but knowledge changes, expands, reverses itself over time, and I suspect much has changed since 1973. (Lord knows, I have.)

The books are beautifully bound and have some wonderful photos and illustrations. I'd donate them somewhere, but nobody wants 'em (I checked around the last time I had to move them for a paint job).

Do I keep them for old times' sake? Maybe I'll have time to flip through them in my dotage. The book-lover in me could never dump them. But they take up valuable space that I could use for new books. (Yum!)

So tell me - What did you do with your old set of encyclopedias?

Weekends are a girl's best friend

Off I slink for a weekend of nursing a sore throat, painting (the interior wall kind, not the Picasso kind), making headway on the novel, and appreciating home sweet home for a few days.

Do whatever you do to unwind and renew. Cheers, my little workaholics!

Seven deadly words

George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV" is one of the classics of American comedy. The New York Times has a good article today on Carlin and his refusal to rest on his comedic laurels - something fresh and relevant all the time with this guy.

So what are your seven deadly words - for television or otherwise? Here's a list of words and phrases (only 7 - don't think I don't have a whole pocketful of 'em) that I would like to see banned from the earth as we know it:
  1. Paradigm - Who doesn't want to see this one sink into a bottomless bog?
  2. Spin and/or spin-doctor - Spinning used to be such a noble profession. It's a shame the politicians threw shit all over the word.
  3. Baby Boomer - No, no, no! I'm sick of it! "Very cool and smart people" is a much better phrase. ;-)
  4. Basically - Basically, I hate that it's basically stuck into everything, basically.
  5. Sucks - Just unpleasant. Find a more creative way to say you hate something.
  6. Synergy - 1980's flashback.
  7. Proactive - Because so much of what we do is Conactive . . .
Come on. What do you want to add to the list?

Friday blog-droppings

Well, Mouseketeers, Friday is Talent Round-Up Day, and I've gathered a few interesting bits and bobs for your reading, watching, and listening pleasure(s).

Let's start off with the biggest news in the world today, which is the premiere of Broadway's revival of Sweeney Todd. It was always a creepy show - Angela Lansbury's eye makeup alone left me sleepless for years - but from all accounts this new rendition with Michael Cerveris and Patty LuPone is sparse, intimate, and scarier than the original. Michael Cerveris (I saw him in Assassins last year) looks not unlike Uncle Fester Addams, and Patty LuPone has always been kinda scary-looking, so I don't doubt the stars plus the German Expressionist treatment of the sets and costumes have upped the creep-factor exponentially. "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd . . ." Priorities is priorities, after all.

What's not to love about a good cookbook? Even when I'm not in a cooking mood, I enjoy flipping through cookbooks or Bon Appetit/Gourmet-type magazines. Well, reader - meet Heaven. NYU's Fales Library has amassed (and continues to amass) a comprehensive 20th century American collection of "cookbook, chefs' letters, and other artifacts of eating," according to the New York Times. (And who doesn't want to get their hands on "Cooking for Orgies and Other Large Parties," hmmmm?)

Seems the great Marlene was a poet who left behind quite a body of work, according the The Times of London. Marlene "Legs" Dietrich spent out her reclusive years battling insomnia by churning out poetry, much of it directed at directors, stars, writers, and old flames. Pounded out on Noel Coward's old portable typewriter, the poems let in a little light on the last years of the legend. So pull on that fedora and man's suit, and dive in -

The most popular girl in the class this year appears to be Penelope, Odysseus' wife. (See, if you wait long enough, you get to the A-list.) Much has been made of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, a view of the famous Odyssey as seen through the eyes of the wife stuck at home. But children's novelist Adele Geras has also published a grown-up-people's tome about Penny called Ithaka. The Guardian has an interesting story about Geras' attempt to contact Atwood to discuss the books. Ah, Penelope! They also serve who only stay home and take care of everything while the guy's off galavanting with Sirens.

And one more fun, little thing making the internet rounds right now. The turkey version of "I Will Survive." It's hilarious (and that turkey's butt looks remarkably like my own . . .).

That's gotta be it for now. I'm nursing a sore throat and all this typing is making it worse. If only I could learn to type without talking to myself . . . Get out there and round up some talent of your own!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Thanksgiving movies: Is there a reason the pickins are slim?

You knew it was coming, didn't you? I made such a big whoop-de-doo over movies during October that you probably guessed I'd trot out a list of Thanksgiving-themed flicks. (Just wait'll next month!)

It's interesting that in contrast to innocently scary Halloween films and overly-saccharine but can't-do-without Christmas ones, there just aren't a lot of Thanksgiving movies out there. And the ones that are - well, they're kinda edgy. Must be the pressure of getting the family together and just sharing a meal, as opposed to covering up the problems with a lot of presents and candy canes.

At any rate, I've gathered together - and not only to ask the Lord's blessing - the few Turkey Day offerings available. You'll need to ration them for yourself this month, since there aren't enough to last from now to the big feast day.

1. Home for the Holidays (1995) - Directed by Jodie Foster and starring a whole lot of cool people - Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Durning, Geraldine Chaplin, well the list goes on. Folks looking for a feel-good film do not like this one; believe me, it is not the Thanksgiving equivalent of White Christmas. Kate and I thought it was hilarious when we saw it ten years ago, and I still try to catch it when it runs on TV. The turkey mishap with prissy Cynthia Stevenson's character is memorable. It comes to mind whenever I'm wrestling the turkey (the family Thanksgiving's always at my house) into submission. The Home family is not at all like my own - we're disfunctional, but not at Thanksgiving as our mouths are too full and our belts too tight to fight about anything - but it's fun to watch other families implode. Hee-hee.

2. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) - Steve Martin and John Candy have to share all sorts of things, including transportation and beds, just to make it home for Thanksgiving during a blizzard. You can see the jokes coming from a mile away, but so what? It's Steve and John. Just be thankful you're home safe and warm.

3. Pieces of April (2003) - I rather enjoyed this little independent film when I first saw it, but now with the creepy Katie Holmes/Tom Cruise thing happening I'm afraid it's ruined for me. Katie's character goes to great lengths to cook a Thanksgiving meal in her teeny apartment for her visiting family. Patricia Clarkson as the mom dying of cancer, is great - as always. Such an underrated actor, in my book. It's another disfunctional family movie. Anyway, if you can hold your nose on the Katie Holmes front, you can get through this one.

4. The Ice Storm (1997) - Wow! One of my favorite films, no matter the season. Ang Lee directs an incredible cast that includes Joan Allen (another vastly underrated actor), Kevin Kline (ditto), Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and - wait for it - Katie Holmes. (I know - what's that about?) Ice Storm takes place during the 1973 Thanksgiving holidays. Ah, the good old days - key-exchange parties, funky clothes, power outages. Not a lot of turkey happenings, though - just a warning.

5. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973, just a different 1973 than The Ice Storm) - I know it's just a television show but too bad, I'm gonna keep including Charlie Brown movies on my holiday film lists. Lord, we have to have something uplifting on this list, don't we? The toast-and-popcorn feast is great (except for carb-haters). Grab a little cup of cider and settle in for 20 minutes or so of real Thanksgiving spirit.

There are other films that include Thanksgiving scenes in them, for example Holiday Inn and Miracle on 34th Street, among others.

But there's only one movie about the honest-to-goodness Pilgrims - The Plymouth Adventure, starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, and Van Johnson - that comes to mind. Wonder why? Why aren't there more Pilgrim movies? Ooooh - I smell a screenplay opportunity for somebody. A musical would be fun. All that maze . . .

Well, I guess Thanksgiving's really just about watching football and getting the jump on Christmas movies, rather than highlighting the day at hand. Still, you gotta wonder what film-makers have against Thanksgiving. Must have something to do with ingesting tryptophan and canned pumpkin. As always, feel free to add to the list.