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.