Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Buh-bye, 2008

Remember this time last year? When you were wondering where things would be this time this year? Well, here we are. So, what do you think? Better? Worse? About the same? Here's my humble assessment of 2008:

Thumbs Up:

Kate and Greg. It was a beautiful wedding, and we're all happy they are married. Yea! Plus, no more big weddings to plan and pay for. Double-yea!

Matt and Jessica, Colleen and Mark - more family weddings. Both wonderful, joyous events. New blood for the family!

Barack Obama. It feels like there are lots of positive possibilities now. We'll just have to wait to see how it plays out, though. Still - very hopeful.

"Mad Men" and "Damages." You don't know whether to trust Dan Draper (Jon Hamm) or not. But never trust Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). Never. Television worth watching.

Weight Watchers. Thank you for helping me lose those 25 pounds in 2008. I feel much better.

England. Twice. Two-and-a-half weeks in Canterbury for Lambeth in July and another couple of days at a retreat center in Derbyshire in November. Added bonus, dinner with Jo, Chris, David, and Thomas!

Girlfriends hit New York. All four of 'em. All in my tiny apartment for a solid week. But, boy, did we have a blast! From sun-up to well past sundown, we were on the go, doing the town. One for the books! (Also, great visits - both too short - from Daughter and Sis.)

Tina Fey. I mean, really, she has just done wonders for television comedy - 30 Rock and SNL.

University of Alabama Football. The Tide did roll again (except for that little Florida skirmish). On to the Sugar Bowl!

Facebook connections. A lazy person's way to keep up with everybody. And lots of fun!

Thumbs Down:

The economy.

The economy.

The economy.

So long, Winston. Blogging is not the same without him. I think we're all still stunned by his death.

I'm sure I've missed important items in both categories, but on this New Year's Eve as I nurse a cold, I'm looking ahead to 2009 already. How about you?

May you have an abundance of what really matters - love, health, laughter, joy - and enough of the other stuff - money, work, relaxation, chocolate - in 2009. Happy New Year, dear friends!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Family Christmas Picture

One of the joys of Christmas when I was growing up was having the whole wonderful day to explore what Santa Claus left under the tree without having to worry about putting on proper clothes - unless they were new ones you wanted to try on - or get fancied up for visitors. It was satisfying to just be, just hang out, taking interesting games and toys out of their boxes and seeing how they worked, no schedule, no rush to get anywhere. Yep. That's pretty much the way it was.

Except for the "Family Christmas Picture" years. Daddy's boss, Mr. Earl Taylor, was an amateur photographer back when cameras were complicated things. For some reason that was never really explained to us, Mr. Taylor was keen and generous enough to offer to come to our house on Christmas morning to take a Frazier family portrait. I put "keen" first, because I never really thought of it as being "generous" at the time. It was a pain in the butt.

Seemed Mr. Taylor always came by well before noon, so we had to scurry around, cleaning up wrapping paper and ribbon, organizing our gifts well before we wanted them organized (we were still exploring them), and - eeyew! - get out of our comfy pjs and into our Sunday church clothes. It also meant scrubbing down and curling hair and brushing teeth. It all seemed like a big intrusion to me. All for a silly picture. Just to give Mr. Taylor something to do on Christmas morning.

I don't know the real reason Mr. Taylor turned up on our doorstep, camera and tripod in hand, on Christmas morning. He and his wife didn't have children, I seem to remember, so maybe this was a way for him to get a taste of what a chaotic experience Christmas was when four active kids were thrown into the mix. Or maybe he just wanted to hone his photographic portrait skills and the Frazier family was the perfect set of guinea pigs. Or maybe this was his gift to Daddy for a year's good work.

But whatever the reason we are left with Mr. Taylor's good gift as a reminder of a couple of childhood Christmases and a pretty adorable family (in a 1950's kind of way). So I guess having to leave our Santa goodies behind for a while and dress in our Sunday best early on Christmas morning was worth it after all. You be the judge.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A simple "thank you"

I placed an ad on craigslist Friday for a dog-sitter, since my regular one isn't available over Christmas. The response was overwhelming. Over 100 people from all walks of life offered to come over and take care of Bailey while I'm in Atlanta for the holidays.

It's a sign of the economic times, I suppose, as the folks offering to take me up on the not-so-great-paying gig ranged from moms and college students to out-of-work actors and real estate professionals. All need a little cash to tide them over. Boy, can I relate to that (see previous post)!

Anyway, I sorted through the field of prospects and settled on 3 or 4 who seemed best suited for the job (I'm interviewing a couple of them tomorrow). Then I did something that usually doesn't happen on craigslist, or any job search site - I sent each person a "Thank you for offering to help but I've selected someone else" email, just to let them know that I appreciated their time and responses.

Many of the folks have sent emails thanking me for letting them know, as it's not often done. Really. It didn't take me long to do it, since I was using a standard cut-and-paste response, but I did insert the person's name after "Hi," which made it more personal I guess.

The point is that folks need a little (or a lot) extra right now and are searching for ways to make ends meet. The least I could do was send along a "Thanks, I appreciate it" to let them know their offers were welcomed. Now, how hard is that, eh?


I'm burning the candle at both ends, and so far, I've managed to survive. How, I don't know, because my day-job is over-the-top busy right now. Three high-profile projects - and all the little pesky have-to-do's - get me into the office early and keep me later than usual.

But it's been an expensive year - weddings, traveling back and forth to Atlanta, higher costs for food/utility/just plain living. In order to make ends meet, I've taking on a few freelance projects.

The good news is that I've actually gotten the freelance projects, since marketing/writing is what I do, and this is New York City, baby - competition's tough. But I've had to be a little inventive when offering my writing services.

First, I lucked out getting a project with hopes of an ongoing retainer for a biometric access company. It's mostly making all the technical stuff more palatable to read and market - from web writing to brochures and product sheets. That I can do. And fortunately the company was open to giving me a little up-front money, with the rest spread over the next couple of months. A life-saver, really.

However, I'm using my writing ability - specifically, my clear, neat handwriting ability - to do such for-hire jobs as addressing birth announcements and writing and addressing wedding thank-you's (the couple typed out the specifics; I just wrote them on the notes). It's good walk-around money and doesn't take much time to do.

And another potential money-making project was thought up by Bro after a recent visit to New York, land of the $5 street pashmina. Yep. I'm sending pashminas down to Georgia for re-sale at a bit of a mark-up. We'll see how they do in those trendy little mountain gift shops.

When things get tough you have to get creative. Yes, it means working after you finish the day-job. But that extra cash really comes in handy. And as long as that day-job doesn't suffer . . .

Have pen. Will write.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Your Ultimate Christmas Movie Guide

As someone who loves both Christmas and movies, it stands to reason that I am completely squishy for Christmas movies. I posted extensively about holiday celluloid gems back in December 2005. Here's the recap:

After re-reading the listings, I wouldn't change anything. Except, I might add Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) with Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart to the pre-1960 list. Great cast, very New York-y, and a cat named Pyewacket. Other than that, nope, I'm happy with what I wrote, lo, those many years ago in 2005.

But just so you don't think I'm shirking my duty here, I do have a brand new resource for you. I found a television listing of all the Christmas movie and holiday specials for this year. This handy-dandy little compilation gives title, network, date, and time of airing. I mean, wow! You can plan your entire Christmas viewing schedule for the next three weeks. (You're welcome.) Mine's already printed and highlighted.

As always, I'm open to additions, corrections - even a disagreement or two (though I'll ignore you, probably, if you disagree with me).

Now, get the popcorn and hot chocolate ready to go, slip into those flannel (shorty) pjs, and spend some time with a few old friends.

I triple-dog dare ya'! Nyaaaaah!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A cure for the midwinter blues

Well, it's official. We're in a recession. Have been since last December. Ya' think?

At this point all we can do is hope for an understanding landlord/mortgage company, forego any new purchases - even for necessities like winter coats (the old one will do for one more year), and moonlight as a cleaning service worker.

It's hard to stay positive, but I think we can all learn a lot from Buddy the Elf and the Elf Code of the North Pole:

1. Treat every day like Christmas.
2. There’s room for everyone on the NICE list.
3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

From henceforth, and as a way to chase away the midwinter goblins, I aim to treat every day like Christmas, just without the presents. I will try to get back to the very core of the season, delighting in the music, the stories, the memories, and move away from the superfluous stuff.

I will try to find the good in everybody, even the ones that test my very last dendrite, and focus on the "nice" and not the "naughty." After all, I'm pretty darn naughty myself.

Well, I always sing loud, so #3 won't be hard. I've been humming carols for two days now, and I think I can spread a lot of Christmas cheer this year.

And taking a cue from Buddy the Elf, I will try to get the minimum daily requirement of the four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. That I think I can do.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oh, Georgia, stop embarrassing me!

I love the state of Georgia. It has the best state song ever, "Georgia On My Mind" (actually written about a woman named Georgia, not the state, rumor has it). Atlanta is a beautiful city, though it tends to knock down anything with a decade's worth of history. Its neighborhoods are the loveliest anywhere, especially those with "Peachtree" in the name (Peachtree Battle, Peachtree Hills, etc.). Savannah's a beautiful, historic city. A lot of golf gets played in Augusta. The north Georgia mountains are spectacular. Yes, I love my state of Georgia.

However, dear Georgia, you are causing me real embarrassment these days on a couple of fronts.

First, "Real Housewives of Atlanta." Though I must admit that I have not watched one complete episode of this trash, I have watched enough to know that: a) they are not real; b) they are not housewives; and c) they are not from Atlanta. I think the City of Atlanta could legitimately sue Bravo Network for defamation of character (and it does take a lot to defame the ATL). The program is touted as showing "what life is like in the most exclusive areas of Atlanta" and that these are examples of "classy Southern women." God help us! No!

Um, as far as I can tell, none - as in zip, nada, none - of these women actually live in Atlanta. They are all OTP (Outside the Perimeter) - 'way outside. No self-respecting Atlantan would claim an OTP-er, however gated their McMansion neighborhoods might be. And "classy"? I'm thinking 'trashy" better describes it. And, yeah, the Orange County and New York housewives are trashy, too, but don't go attaching the women of this show to the flower of Southern womanhood.

Of course, the show's a major hit. Which is the problem. And the embarrassment. Oh, Atlanta. Your phoenix is going up in flames again!

The other really embarrassing thing for Georgia right now is the Senate race. Specifically, that appalling Thanksgiving Greeting ad by Saxby Chambliss, where his grandchildren call him "Big Daddy." I couldn't believe it when I saw it! And it airs constantly on Atlanta television. Big Daddy? What is this? A Tennessee Williams nightmare? Who calls their grandpaw "Big Daddy"? (Though it's totally Southernized as "Big Diddy.") Oh, geez! And this guy's a senator? Talk about setting us back 100 years! Aargh!

Every blogster out there, except for the ultra-right wing ones, is making huge fun of this spot and the South goes right down with it. I am so mortified that we come from the same neck of the woods. Thank goodness the election's over after tomorrow. And I hope we're spared from seeing what ol' Saxby has up his, er, sleeve for Christmas.

Georgia is full of smart, wise, classy people - liberal and conservative - who would never stoop to "Real Housewives" or "Big Diddy" level. At what point do we refuse to promote these backward, trashy yahoos?

Stop it. Stop it right now. Don't make me have to come home from New York to straighten you out, Georgia!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day: Our Cup Runneth Over

For family and friends. For good food made by loving hands. For an over-abundance of love and laughter. I give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving Day 2008.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One day till Thanksgiving: Today I'm thankful for . . . helping hands

The day before Thanksgiving is a busy one for the home hosting the holiday meal. For 15 or 16 years Shorty's house was Turkey Day HQ, and over the course of that many years, you get into a rhythm of preparation. But because I live in the far off land of New York, daughter Kate has stepped up for the past two years and the Thanksgiving torch has been passed to a new generation.

But that doesn't change the fact that the hosting-home must have a thorough house-cleaning and the food for which said host is responsible must start simmering. And there's the china, glassware, table linens. Well, you get the picture.

So on the Wednesday before the Thursday, extra hands are particularly welcome. Today, our four hands were joined by Joanna's to help speed the process along. Joanna, a ripe old 12, has been helping with our Thanksgiving decorating and last-minute cleaning chores since she was six. She's a pro by now, and we had a great day getting things ready for the big day. Yes, we are thankful.

Extra hands, whether a six-year-old's or a 80-year-old's, help get the jobs done faster and better. But the three of us working at Kate's house aren't the only helping hands making the load lighter. Our other Thanksgiving guests are busy, as well. Aunt Nell is making her deviled eggs and sweet potato casserole to add to tomorrow's feast. Sister Cindy is busy with the cranberry dish and riced potato-cheese creation, and Liz, the green bean casserole. Joanna and her mom Carey are preparing two de-lish pumpkin pies. You do not have to be at the host-home to lend a helping hand.

Yes, it takes a village to make a great Thanksgiving - all those helping hands, full of love and experience and tradition. And after the meal, those hands (plus those of the guys, as well) will help with the clean-up and the all-important division of left-overs, as is tradition.

The turkey? Dressing? Macaroni and cheese? Spinach casserole? Well, that's for Kate and me to do, and we do it gladly, lending our hands and our offerings to the bigger occasion. Because the preparation - whether cleaning or cooking - is just as big a part of Thanksgiving as the festive meal.

I am so thankful for all the helpful, loving hands that make our annual Thanksgiving celebration so meaningful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

As long as we're thinking about food . . .

What's your favorite "food" movie? Is there a film that sends you straight to the fridge every time you see it? Do tell.

Mine's Babette's Feast. All that intricate shopping and food preparation for one big blow-out meal. An act of love. Not unlike our own Thanksgiving meal (without the figs, of course).

Two days 'til Thanksgiving, and today I'm thankful for . . . water

We don't think much about it, do we? Turning on a faucet and clean water coming out of it. As much as we want. Hot or cold. Flushing toilets, starting up the dishwasher or washing machine, turning on a garden hose. But there it is, just pouring out at our command.

And we don't give it a second thought, until a pipe freezes or you need some kind of repair work done that shuts off your water for a day. Then, well, then, my friends - that's when we realize how much we depend on the clear, clean stuff showing up on demand. It's kind of like when you injure a thumb or forefinger. You have no idea how much you use those two digits in your daily life and work, but, boy, try functioning without them for a little while. Sheesh. Having to do without water at the turn of a faucet is like that.

Don't worry - our home has plenty of flowing water, hot and cold. But for some reason I've been keenly aware of how blessed we are to have plentiful, healthy water for the necessary and not-so-necessary things of life. Many places don't have it, and it impacts everything from health (disease, crops, medical care) to education for girls (who have to forego schooling to tote water across many miles every single day). And yet, we never really think about it.

Just for today, try to be aware of all those toilet flushes and long showers (guilty!). I'm not asking you to give them up - this isn't a soapbox post. Rather, be grateful for what is so readily available, every minute of every day. Life-giving, life-pampering water.

And now I must put water to its ultimate use: making a good cup of tea. I am supremely thankful today for good ol' H2O.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Today I'm thankful for a little peace and quiet

Like most folks, I lead a pretty hectic life. Possibly those of us living in New York City have an edge on "hectic" just because of the pace of the city, but times are stressful and sphincter-tightening (or ST, as I like to call it) all over these days. The economy alone is enough to cause you to wake in the middle of the night feeling like an elephant's sitting on your chest. We're not only worrying about the problem; we're worrying whether or not the cure will be worse than the disease. How/who will sort this out? Yeah. That's enough to make your heart race and your brain jittery.

And the economy's just one of the loud, honking "look at me!" stresses in our lives. Work is stressful. Families are stressful. Large, looming deadlines are stressful. Shoot, even deciding what to wear every morning is stressful (for some of us, anyway).

But this week I'm doing my best to push all of that aside. I'm away from most of my day-to-day stressors - out of New York, away from work and the landlord, no subways or bank lines. I'm spending the week with my feet up in front of the fire and the television. I'm reading a good book. Drinking lots of tea, and the occasional hot cider with a tot of rum. I'm helping out around the house when needed, and staying out of the way when not. Sleeping late. No trains running under my window here on Peachtree Hills Avenue. No car alarms or sirens to keep me awake.

Peace and quiet. Well, not all quiet, but a lot of peace - the blessed chance to recharge the old engine, feed the soul, and replenish the body with good old fashioned rest and relaxation. Ahhhh.

So today I'm truly thankful for simple days, a chance to slow down and do nothing, and indulging in gentler rhythms of life.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today I'm thankful for . . . leaves to rake

I've always enjoyed raking leaves. I come by it naturally, I suppose, because my mother liked doing it, too. It's work, but not hard work. It's good exercise with a positive end result (in addition to upping the old heart rate), unlike running on a treadmill. I love the smell of dried autumn leaves and the way the yard looks newly-raked.

Alas, I don't have much opportunity to rake leaves now that I'm no longer a home/yard-owner. I suppose I could offer my services to the Central Park Conservancy, do a little park-raking once in a while. But that's not quite the same as raking a yard for a home that you love.

Today was a sunny and cool, but not cold, day in Atlanta. It was an ideal day for lots of things - trying out the new breadmaker (yes, Bro, we caught on so quickly that we've made two loaves already), cooking a pot of outstandingly good chili, and - yes - raking leaves. While the bread was baking and the chili simmering, Daughter, Son-in-Law, and I gathered up rakes, brooms, and tall leaf bags and headed outside to the small front yard.

Why people use leaf-blowers, I'll never understand. They're loud and inefficient creatures that disturb peaceful Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. Ah, but raking, well, there's pure joy in that. Quiet. Effective. Great exercise. And such a sense of accomplishment once it's done!

So for the opportunity to be outside on a beautiful fall day, smelling the purely autumnal aroma of fallen leaves, enjoying the company of my family, and working off a few calories - yes, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Countdown: Today I'm thankful for . . . newlyweds

We've had three weddings in our family within the last six weeks. Daughter Kate and her Greg kicked off the bridal season on October 18 in Atlanta, followed soon thereafter by niece Colleen and her Mark on November 8 in North Plainfield, New Jersey, and nephew Matt and his Jessica (seen here) today in Athens, Georgia.

Each wedding was unique to the couple. Each was joyous and touching. Each reception was filled with good food, conversation, and laughter. And now, we have three new people (and their families) added to our family.

These six brave souls have reminded us of the importance of families and loving relationships. We are now all connected in new ways. These unions will have different and unforeseen consequences - mostly good, we predict - for every member of each of the families in the new connection. It's the way families grow and change and move forward, adding wonderful ingredients to the big stew o' kin pot.

Here's to Kate and Greg and Colleen and Mark and Matt and Jessica - thank you for bringing us new people to love and reminding us of how remarkable families are. Cheers!

Friday, November 21, 2008

I'm even thankful for . . . Delta

Today, Delta Airlines got me from New York to Atlanta safely and quickly. Added bonus: an aisle seat on a row all to myself.
Delta is my hometown airline (HQ in Atlanta), and I'm as loyal a customer as I can be. Now, it's certainly not what it used to be - what airline is? - but, overall, it is as clean and efficient an air carrier as you'll find these days. Let's face it - gone are the white-glove travel days of pampering the customer. Still, Delta gets me where I'm going at a reasonable price.

We are all so cavalier about air travel these days. There's a lot to gripe about - getting through an airport is sheer torture, then you're squeezed into a big tin can with screaming children and adults hacking up a lung. But when you think about it, it really is amazing that we can get from point A to point B - no matter how far apart they are - at incredible speed. I flew from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, in a couple of hours' time. I did not have to walk, ride a horse or stagecoach, take a bus, or drive a car. I flew. Hm. Pretty awesome, when you stop to think about it (and can ignore the screaming kid or the guy next to you with the flu).

Delta is at the top of my thankful list today for getting me home for one more glorious wedding (Matt and Jessica's tomorrow) and Thanksgiving. Thank you, Delta, for being ready when I am. Hello, ATL!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today I am thankful for . . . the New York Times

The New York Times is the last real newspaper standing. That said, it's on shaky legs. Yeah, yeah, I know it's ripped for being ultra-liberal and that liberalism comes out on the editorial page, though a couple of righties have regular columns, as well. And the paper has had its share of embarrassing bogus stories from bogus reporters over the years.

But day in, day out, there is not another newspaper that actually covers national and international news like NYT. Not convinced? Compare the websites for yourselves:
New York Times - so newsy, it looks absolutely dull, though right now it's featuring a photo of Axl Rose - must be the Murdoch influence; give it ten minutes and the photo will change to starving children or the Iraqi war; lives up to its "Gray Lady" reputation
Los Angeles Times - well, showbiz is news in Los Angeles, so I guess we can forgive them for parsing out only a couple of key spots for news that affects the rest of the world
Washington Post - #2 on the news-scale, but it still along way from the news-heft of NYT
The Times/London - all Madonna and "Strictly Come Dancing," all the time (well, that's what you get with Murdoch at the helm)
The Guardian UK - showin' the love for Madonna and Michael Jackson right on the front
The Telegraph UK - fairly newsy at the moment, though it replaced its Madonna story with an old picture of the Queen in bell-bottoms (that's pretty newsworthy, I think)

When I taught Advanced Placement Government and Politics, I had the NYT delivered to the classroom. My students were overwhelmingly conservative and were very wary of the paper until they started using it. Even though many of them heartily disagreed with everything on the editorial page, they became dependent on all the news sections. I had a student come back to see me after he'd graduated to tell me that the best thing I ever taught him was to read the New York Times (and he was one of my most conservative students).

But news reporting is only one reason I'm thankful for NYT. I mean, the crossword puzzle alone is worthy of thankfulness. And the Sunday Magazine. And the NYT Best Seller list. The paper features a great Science section on Tuesdays. The Arts, Fashion, Politics - all superior to any other newspaper. It is one gorgeous hunk o' newspaper, even with its "Gray Lady" style. So I am thankful for "all the news that's fit to print," because obviously the whole Madonna-Guy, Britney, Paris, Come Dancing stuff isn't (fit to print), but a damn fine crossword is.

Thanks for the news, you buncha' rascals.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Countdown: I am thankful for . . . macaroni and cheese

It's a bitterly cold day here in New York. As temps drop and layers of clothing increase, thoughts turn to the warmth and comfort of macaroni and cheese.

Yes, I am thankful for whoever dreamed up tossing cheese over elbow macaroni and baking it to a fine lump of gooey scrumptiousness with a crispy top. I am thankful for the that first bite - and subsequent bites - when the cheesy warmth slides into my belly and radiates out to my extremities.

I'm thankful that the ingredients for mac n' cheese are pretty cheap. I'm thankful that it's easy to make. And I'm thankful that it doesn't take all day to cook. (I'm talking homemade mac n' cheese not Kraft in a box, though, I like Kraft mac just fine. Seriously.)

I know that diet gurus tell us not to base everything on food, but, you know what? Sometimes food nourishes more than the stomach, especially on a cold day or when eaten with friends and family. There are deep-seated emotional reasons why warm, homemade food gives us comfort. There are probably even some scientific reasons for it. But I do not care. I do care that something steamy and cheesy on a cold day makes everything all right in the world for that space in time. Remember, you cannot say anything ugly or start a war with your mouth stuffed full of macaroni and cheese.

Peace. And mac n' cheese. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: I am Thankful for . . . the Chrysler Building

With Thanksgiving a little over a week away, I thought I'd make an effort to come up for air and concentrate on the things that make life worth living. Today, I am thankful for the Chrysler Building.

Every morning, I come up from the subway basement of the Chrysler Building, through the Moroccan marble lobby, and out the revolving doors onto E. 43rd to head up to my office on Second Avenue. Every square inch of the place is Art Deco beautiful - from the tiniest detail on the stair railings to its automobile-inspired steeple. Something about the place lifts my spirits, no matter how much of the weight of the world I'm carrying on my shoulders.

It makes me proud to be human. A human being (William Van Alen) designed this gorgeous piece of functional art. Human beings built it and maintain it. Is it a monument to greed (Walter Chrysler's)? Well, yeah, that's human, too, but when I look at the building, I don't think "greed," I think "Wow!"

And on those walks from the office to Grand Central on winter evenings, I'm rewarded with an amazing view of the spire of the Chrysler Building lit up like, well, like the Chrysler Building. It never fails to take my breath away. For just a moment the problems of the day evaporate. I mean, look! Look what we are capable of doing, achieving! So, press on, knowing that though human, perhaps even little me can contribute something (nothing on the level of the Chrysler Building, of course).

So today, and for all those glorious mornings and dark winter evenings, I am thankful for the Chrysler Building.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On this Veterans Day: A salute to World War I Movies

I'm World War I aficianado, so I am drawn to movies and novels set during that time. "Futility of war" seems to be the main theme in artistic works about the Great War of 1914-18. In honor of the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, here's a list of 10 movies with a WWI theme:

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front. 1930. Classic book by Erich Maria Remarque, classic movie by Carl Laemmle, Jr. and Universal Pictures. Who can forget that butterfly?

  2. Paths of Glory. 1957. Stanley Kubrick + Kirk Douglas. Hero Douglas tries to save his men from the certain-death orders of a crazy general.

  3. Sergeant York. 1941. Pacifist Southern boy Alvin York (Gary Cooper) has to put aside his conscientious objector feelings and ends up single-handedly killing 25 German soldiers and capturing 125 prisoners, becoming the most decorated (American) hero of WWI.

  4. Grand Illusion. 1937. Filmaker Jean Renoir portrays the futility of war through the eyes of French prisoners of war. Usually shows up on any list of greatest movies ever made.

  5. The Dawn Patrol . 1938. A remake of the 1930 version, Errol Flynn and David Niven star in this tribute to the fighter pilots of WWI.

  6. Joyeux Noel. 2005. A beautiful French film about the famous Christmas Truce of 1914. If only they'd just been allowed to keep playing soccer . . .

  7. Gallipoli. 1981. Talk about the futility of war! Aaargh! Those damn whistles sending the boys over the top. Always makes me want to hit somebody. Hard.

  8. A Very Long Engagement. 2004. Just a taste of what soldiers did to get away from the trenches

  9. Oh, What a Lovely War. 1969. An interesting, weird film that captures the interesting weirdness of the war itself. And every top British actor shows up in the Richard Attenborough movie - Olivier, Gielgud, Smith (Maggie), 3 Redgraves, among many others.

  10. A Farewell to Arms. 1932. I'm voting for the early version with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, rather than the 50's version with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. I do have my standards, after all. Hemingway well done. Er, done well.
I wish someone would make a better film of Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. I've seen one from 1997 that can't begin to do justice to the book. Anyway, feel free to add to the list of films.

A salute to all service people and veterans on this Veterans Day 2008.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Golden Time

The light in New York this morning was filtered through red, gold, and orange leaves, giving a lovely glow to everything. I love autumn, anyway, but this year is especially sweet. The sugar catalyst has been three weddings in the family – daughter Kate’s in October, niece Colleen’s (yesterday), and nephew Matt’s (coming up in a couple of weeks).

Weddings do more than bring a couple together. They bring families together. Those relations you don’t see often or have lost touch with completely are suddenly gathered round, honoring the couple during the ceremony and celebrating during whatever kind of reception follows.

And this is what’s happened over the past few months. Wedding showers, rehearsal dinners, church services, and receptions have repeatedly brought loved ones together, giving us all lots of chances to laugh and cry (happily) and eat and dance and pontificate and smile for photos. The air has been filled with good wishes for each of the newlyweds, for the ever-expanding family, and for the possibilities that all this family-blending hold for the future.

We’ve been triple-blessed this fall, thanks to Greg and Kate (see- it’s not always “Kate and Greg,” Greg!), Colleen and Mark, and Matt and Jessica. And aunts and uncles and grandmas and cousins, nieces and nephews and third cousins twice removed – all given precious time to re-tie and double-knot family ties, not just on one day, but spread generously over the course of three celebrations. Even the brilliance of the fall leaves can't out-shine these blessings.

Three joyous events, one golden autumn.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And history is made.

It's 5:25am here in England. I haven't been to bed. I'm so thankful for streaming online video that lets me watch CNN and MSNBC live on my laptop (there's no TV in my conference room).

Everybody here at the conference has been asking what I thought would happen with the election. I told them I believed it would be a real blow-out for Obama, and I'm glad I was right. Can't wait to walk into breakfast triumphant in a couple of hours! Everyone here was really pulling for Obama but truly believed that somehow he'd be cheated out of the win. I'm glad there is no question this time, and we've proven we can do things so very right.

I love watching the faces in the crowd and on stage at Grant Park in Chicago. This is who we are - all ages, colors, socio-economic groups - waving our flags and being proud of what we've accomplished. Good for us. Good for U.S.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Voting for the "United" States

Finally. I thought November 4, 2008 would never get here. Let's get this president elected already. It's time to move on.

Since I'm in England at a conference, I voted via absentee ballot three weeks ago. So please stop sending me "Remember to vote tomorrow!" reminders. It's a done deal as far as I'm concerned. Those of you who want to vote, find a way by hook or by crook, go out and do so. Those of you who don't, well, no amount of encouragement by me at this point will get you off your butts.

My suggestion to everyone is to simma' down. Here are a few election truths as I see them:

  1. Remember that whatever side of the fence you're on for this election, there are probably folks you know, love, and respect on the other side of that fence. I believe with all my soul that McCain supporters have the best interest of the country at heart every bit as much as Obama supporters (and vice versa). People vote the way they do for many reasons, and just because I just can't see why someone would vote for Candidate Jones rather than Candidate Smith, it doesn't mean that that person is voting without correct information or has some evil, twisted agenda. Don't be a vota' hata'.

  2. Both Obama and McCain are politicians. Both of them. They wouldn't be at the top of their tickets if they weren't. In other words, neither of them is a messiah, pure of heart, or bigger than life heroes. I'm not cynical, but I am pragmatic. I've had my hopes dashed too many times in politics, and it usually all comes down to endowing candidates with more than they are humanly capable of being or achieving. Whoever wins will make a few colossal mistakes (and we hope just a few) but will also make some worthy decisions. Some politicians are wiser than others. Some are more successful than others. Some make good presidents. But they will not lead you into the promised land. Stop throwing your panties at these guys. Be joyful if you candidate wins - but keep an eye on him.

  3. 3. Whatever the outcome, we are still the United States of America. I know that's hard to realize sometimes, but it's true. We made it through Franklin Pierce (who?), the Gilded Age, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, the Great Depression, cars with big tail fins, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, mall bangs, and George W. Bush. We can withstand anything thrown at us. It's not always pretty, and lives are often lost. But in the end we hang together (or we'll hang separately, as the saying goes). The Constitution will stand. The government will continue. We'll sing "America the Beautiful" with tears in our eyes - all of us, Democrat and Republican. O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. Now remember that, and know that we'll still be standing after the election, because all of these candidates love this country. It will all work out. Trust me.

So vote for whoever you want tomorrow knowing that you are voting for all of us. Even those of us who disagree with you. We'll still love you. You'll still love us. We're all voting for the same thing, really. The people of United States of America.

Friday, October 31, 2008


What are you most afraid of? I mean other than losing a loved one or financial catastrophe? My top three are:

  1. Being buried alive. Stories or films about someone being buried alive are the most terrifying to me. As a kid, just the ads for "House of Usher" promoting the character "Buried Alive!" sent me running from the room. Ooh! And that Emory coed who was kidnapped and buried alive for ransom money back in the late 1960's - brrr. Just kill me please. Don't bury me alive!

  2. Accidentally killing a loved one. Well, accidentally killing anyone, really, but killing a child or parent would be devastating. Lil Sis had a friend in junior high who was killed when his father ran over him. The boy was sunbathing in the driveway, and the dad didn't see him when he pulled out. How do you live with that? And a few years ago a friend I worked with in PTA at the elementary school was killed in a car wreck while her newly-licensed daughter was driving. So, yeah. That's a horrible, scary thing.

  3. Being falsely accused of a crime or mental illness, convicted, and locked away. It would be like being buried alive, sort of, with added humiliation and injustice. Lots of movies give this kind of thing a happy ending, with the truth finally coming out. But I suspect locking up the wrong person happens more often than we'd like to think.
What scares you most on this Happiest of Halloweens? Boo!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dead Inns

Would you spend the night in the hotel room where Janis Joplin died? What about the room in which Lizzie Borden's stepmother was hacked to death? Fancy 40 winks at the hotel that was home to Legionnaires' disease?

Yeah? Well, I've got good news for you. You have a veritable smorgasbord of choices when it comes to vacationing in haunted hotels, according to an MSNBC story. From New York's Hotel Chelsea, where Sid Vicious killed his Nancy and Dylan Thomas died (different dates and rooms, of course) to Raffles Hotel, Singapore, where 300 Japanese officers committed mass suicide after Japan's surrender in 1945, you can pay to stay in some of the creepiest places known to haints the world over.

Travel+Leisure is pushing haunted holidays, as well, listing some of the same spots but adding a few new ones to the roster. Seems Marilyn Monroe slinks around the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood and Cal Neva Resort at Lake Tahoe. She really gets around. And Elvis pops up now and then at - well, lots of places, actually, but also - the Las Vegas Hilton.

I like the choices. Do I choose to stay in a room where someone died or was brutally murdered? Or do I stay in a room that's just haunted now and then by a deceased star? Oh, the dilemma! So many dead celebrities and fabulous accommodations, so little time and money.

Still, that Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast is mighty tempting, I must say.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When bad things happen to taste real good

Yea! It's Halloween! Time for some of my favorite treats that are really, really bad for me (and bad for you, too, so don't look so smug). You can have high-priced chocolates and gourmet cookies year round, but only Halloween and autumn offer up seasonal yummies like:

  1. Popcorn balls. Popcorn + caramel all smooched into a ball. What's not to love?

  2. Caramel apples. Apples + caramel coating stuck on a popsicle stick. Sounds healthy to me.

  3. Candy apples. Apples + hard red candy coating, guaranteed to pull out at least one tooth per serving. I know because that's what happened to me when I was 6 and 7 years old. Another healthy treat (the apple, remember).

  4. Rice Krispies treats. Rice Krispies + melted butter + melted marshmallows. Shoot, just eat the gunk right outta the pot.

  5. Candy corn. Sugar + buttery flavoring + orange and yellow food coloring and shaped like little teeth of corn. Pass the bag, please. I'll finish 'em off for ya'.

All of these goodies are perfect munchies for slasher-teen movies and The Simpsons Halloween show, so I'd better stock up before watching my favorite Halloween flicks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What it is is football

The weirdest thing has happened to me this year. I care about college football (American football, not soccer football). I'm sure it's just my little psychotic way of escaping all the wedding folderol, the world financial collapse, and the presidential election, but it seems to be working.

Andy Griffith (pre-Mayberry and Matlock) skyrocketed to fame in 1953 with his stand-up routine "What It Was Was Football," describing what the game looked like to someone without a football-clue. Here's the YouTube rendition, complete with illustrations that ran in Mad Magazine in the late 1950s. Big Orange, indeed.

Anyway, in addition to thinking the Griffith routine was funny when I was little, I enjoyed going to football games in junior high and high school. But really only for social aspect of it and the after-game meals or slumber parties afterwards. Fortunately, somewhere along the line I took in the rules of the game, so I understood what was going on. And I graduated from the University of Alabama when Bear Bryant was still the head football coach. 'Nuff said there.

But for the past 35 years I've pretty much ignored college football (and I never followed the pros - no heart in it). I never cared whether Alabama was in the Top 10 or bottom 5, or whether Tennessee was up or down. I guess I haven't needed the college football pacifier for three decades, but this year? Yeah. I need it.

Alabama's ranked No. 2 right now. Tomorrow's the Alabama-Tennessee game, which I've always considered a win-win for me, since I'm a fan of both. I'd like to see Bama win tomorrow (and Texas lose) to keep them ranked. Whatever happens, college football will keep my mind off of all the other weird world events that keep popping up.

But if all this wrestlin' over a punkin' keeps me sane right now, I'm all for it, whoever wins.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How to stay sane. And/or happy.

The Times (London, not New York) reported today that scientists have come up with five simple things you can do to maintain your sanity throughout your life. Well, at least that what the paper called the article. The actual list, however, was "Steps to Happiness:"

Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support

Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness

Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you

Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence

Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding

I have no qualms with this list, except for the "fixing a bike" part, which I believe would send me over the edge. However, I do find a couple of interesting points. First, the apparent equating of "sane" with "happy." Perhaps the reporter just got a little carried away in these times of financial insanity and hoped that the reference to "sane" would draw people in faster than "happy" or "fulfillment." (Hey, it worked on me, right?) The second thing I find interesting in reading the reader comments are the discussions about God (mostly from U.S. readers) and the bigger question of happiness being the be-all/end-all.

Staying connected, active, and curious (boy, am I curious), giving to others, and life-long learning are surely ways to live a happy, even sane, life. Each of these is subject to interpretation, of course (my unhappiness with bike-fixing, for example). For those of us who do believe in God/Allah/Supreme Being, that belief threads itself through each of the five categories, just as non-belief doesn't threaten any of the steps listed. In other words, that the study didn't mention a belief in God specifically doesn't trouble me - I get what's being said and can work my own belief system into it. No conflict.

Here are my questions for you:
1. Does sanity = happiness/happiness = sanity?
2. Is being "happy" (not slappy/sappy/happy, just mostly contented with a good dash of "joy") what we ultimately strive for?
3. Would you add something to the list? Take something out?

OK, OK. A few more wedding pictures.

Thanks for all your kind comments about Kate's wedding photos. Here are a few more. The real scoop lives on The MoBster Diaries.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The day after the Big Day: a day of rest

After all the wonderful wedding hoopla, today has been a day of rest. While I only have the few pictures I managed to snap yesterday (all the really good ones will start rolling in any day now), here are a couple just to let you know that everything went off without a hitch - er, except that the couple did get hitched. I return to NYC tomorrow. Snappy, sassy Shorty PJs will return to the regular blogging world very soon!