Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fast away the old year passes!

OK, OK. 2009 wasn't all bad. In fact, some wonderful things happened over the course of the last twelve months. Here are a few highlights from my year - again, in no particular order:
  1. Reconnecting with childhood friends through Facebook. I know it's cool to complain about various social networking sites and quake in your boots about the potential dangers, but thanks to Facebook I have rediscovered the folks who "knew me when." I love seeing how life turned out for my elementary school friends. We're all just as cute and smart and good-hearted as we were when we were 7, 10, and 13. That's very comforting to know.
  2. Getting to show my 6th grade teacher around New York City. I never thought Marilyn and Dewey would venture forth, but thanks to their son Bruce's Carnegie Hall concert in April, they left California to spend a few days in this wild and woolly town. The Statue of Liberty, Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, Broadway - a great time with great friends.
  3. Girlfriends' weekend in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Always fun to take time out and spend a few days with my best buds. Bro was a great host, the "cabin" (and I use the term loosely, as it's way bigger than any house I've ever lived in) was perfect, and the talk was refreshing.
  4. Mad Men and Glee. 'Nuff said.
  5. Seeing SuperStation FunTime friend Susie again after all these years. Twice in one year, even! Once in March - a surprise set up by another SSFT-er Jerry, and a second time in August when she came to visit with her son Ben. I love you Susie Baer!
  6. Keeping my job. Lots of people around here lost their jobs in July. I survived the cut, but who knows what the new year will bring? For now, however, I am gainfully employed and am spared the soul-sucking task of hitting the streets with a resume.
  7. Fun with Beth in New York City. Can you tell my year's highlights revolve around friends who come to visit me? I love playing city guide. Friend Beth and I had a great time when she hit town in October - the new High Line Park, the Met, St. John the Divine, just to name a few hot spots. And perfect fall weather!
  8. The blessed week I spend at B&B Wyndbourne in April. Had the place to myself. Read lots of books, tramped through the woods, and ate/drank fabulously with hosts Nancy and Ralph. The perfect getaway.
  9. The weirdly fun MP3 Experiment on Roosevelt Island. Thousands of strangers following orders over their iPods to participate in impromptu square-dancing, acting like robots, and bopping each other with inflatable bats and hammers, much to the confusion of onlookers not in on the joke. What's not memorable about that? (And I still have my inflatable hammer.)
  10. Disneyland! Fifty years after trekking out to California in the family station wagon, Sis and I (and bro-in-law) spent a fabulous day at the park that cause such wonderment all those years ago. I enjoyed the time-warp experience. Thanks, Sis! (And the wine tour was fun, too!)
  11. Dante at the Cathedral on Maundy Thursday. Amazing reading of cantos from Dante's Inferno at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, capped off by bone-shaking organ music. Wow! And free!
  12. And the best for last. *** drumroll **** Grandbaby on the way! Woo-hoo! Daughter and hubby have a bundle of boy-joy set to arrive February 22, 2010. Next year will be fine indeed!
Gathering with family and friends, discovering new places, reading new books, tasting new foods - all make life worth living, whatever winds of fortune howl outside your door. I highly recommend making your own list of 2009 highlights and savoring the memories. Throw the list of awful things into the fire. Happy New Year to all! (More gin, anyone?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year-end Tired

2009 is a year that has just about beat me into submission. All was not doom-and-gloom, certainly, but a shaky economy, political wranglings, and reality television has just worn me out. I'm tired of all of it. No wonder I bury my head in a book or Turner Classic Movies.

I can live out the rest of my days with renewed energy if I never have to hear another word about (in no particular order):
  1. Massive bonuses for executives of financial institutions shored up by my tax dollars. It's obvious these fat-cats will always find a way to collect big-time, so don't keep telling me about it unless you plan to do something to stop it. I'd rather not know.
  2. "Twilight," or any other lame vampire series with pale-faced, angst-riddled, laughably bad actors. I'll stick with vampire classics starring the likes of  Bela Lugosi and Sarah Michelle Gellar, thank you very much.
  3. Michael Jackson. He's dead. This surprised you? Where have you been for the last 20 years?
  4. Reality shows featuring families with 8 or more children. Stop it. Where are the children's services people? Having lots and lots of babies qualifies you for nothing except a series of classes on birth control.
  5. Reality shows, period. I'm even willing to give up the ones I watch, like Top Chef, to get back to the days of well-written story-driven programs starring actual actors. I believe the decline and fall of civilization will be appropriately placed at the feet of reality TV.
  6. Recession, bankruptcy, foreclosure. For lots of complicated reasons, the economy tanked. No one seems to agree on what happened, who's to blame, or how to learn from it and move forward. I feel sad and scared for folks laid off from work, anyone who had to declare bankruptcy, or people who lost their homes in the mess. There but for the grace of God . . . But I don't want to keep hearing about it.
  7. Talk show pundits. Whether Hannity or Olbermann, just shut up.You make things worse, not better. You do not clarify a thing. You use spurious information and jib-jabber to ramp up the noise, hate, and distrust. You should go the way of reality TV. To the moon!
  8. Priuses and anything by Apple. Ohhhhhh, the smugness of your owners! I can SO do without it. And don't tell me you're smug for good reason. It's only a good reason in your own head.
  9. Anglican Communion wars. Will it split? Won't it split? Blah, blah, blah.
  10. Politicians in general, but specifically: Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and, yes, even Barak Obama. I've had it with all y'all. Granted, anything's better than Bush-Cheney, but I'm not a bit impressed by any of you. Stop grand-standing and get to work!
No wonder I'm tired. I promise to reflect on the positive things of 2009 later, but I needed to get the soul-draining stuff out of my system. I'm looking forward to a bright, shiny New Year, where everyone behaves, the economy booms, and we practice a little peace on earth and goodwill, or at least civility and common sense. Gin, anyone?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Three Christmas Wishes

Here's your challenge: name your top three Christmas wishes for 1) your city or community, 2) a family member, and 3) yourself. Notice, I haven't included a Christmas wish for the world - we all want world peace, full employment, health, education, and happiness. Get specific.

I'll go first:

  1. My Christmas wish for Manhattan/New York City (sorry, other boroughs) is a Super Target. Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Sak's, Barneys, Bergdof's, Tiffany's - all wonderful stores, but just-us-folks need a clean, well-lighted, name-brand merchandise, discount store on the island. I think a Target is going into the same complex as Costco a few streets over from me in East Harlem. I pray it opens its doors in 2010. 
  2. For daughter Kate and son-in-law Greg, I wish for baby furniture for soon-to-be GrandBoy. Mama-to-be will not rest easy until the nursery is in place. (So really, I'm wishing for peace of mind for both of them.)
  3. My Christmas wish for me, me, me is a ticket to a Broadway show and renewal of my Metropolitan Museum of Art membership. Life is too short not to include great theatre and art. 
So what are your three Christmas wishes? Do tell.

Merry, Merry Christmas to all! I do truly wish for health and happiness and lack of stress and worry for all of you. Eat lots of good stuff, love your family and friends, read interesting books, do something that fulfills your need to be You.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guilty of licking the spoon

I love Weight Watchers. I like its philosophy and process, and, heck, it works. But between Halloween and New Year, I have to stuff all that WW love in the back of the closet. Because I love holiday food more than I love losing weight. I'm trying to feel guilty about it, but I don't.

First comes all those Halloween treats, and you know how I feel about candy corn. A month later is Thanksgiving, with its turkey, dressing, carb-loaded casseroles, and pumpkin pie. But, ah, Christmas. The universe keeps the best for last - cookies and pastries of every description, wonderful delights made with butter and cinnamon and fruit and cream and butter. And butter. (Julia Child must've loved Christmas.)

And whether it's Spinach Mornay (cream, Swiss cheese, cayenne pepper) or Banana Pudding (cream cheese, pudding mix, creamed cheese), I always do my duty as cook and/or kitchen helper by offering to lick the spoons and mixing bowls. Why is it that the bit of yumminess that hangs on to a mixing bowl is the best few bites of the lot?

I'll pull Weight Watchers back out in January. But for now, I plan to lick the spoons and mixing bowls, have a wedge of that rum cake, and eat another Christmas cookie. Or three. Go find your own bowl to lick!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary Christmas

One actress plays two of my favorite characters in a couple of can't-miss Christmas movies. The late great Mary Wickes, character actor extraordinaire, adds her genius to the roles of Nurse Preen in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and Emma in White Christmas (1954).

The Man Who Came to Dinner is rapidly becoming one of my top 5 Christmas films. Hilarious story, Bette Davis and Monty Woolley, penguins and an octopus - what's not to love? But Mary Wickes as poor, put-upon Nurse Preen is the whipped cream on top. This was her first major film role and it set the stage (fortunately or unfortunately) for her on-screen persona throughout her career. I love her gangly physicality and droll delivery. Especially when being chased by penguins or insulted by the great Sheridan Whiteside.

And who taught us to steam open envelopes? Why, that nosey old biddie Emma Allen in White Christmas! Who needs an ex-general at the inn when you have Emma to run things? She's a lovable, sarcastic, gossip - and she works a pretty good kiss in there, too.

So for brightening up a couple of my holiday favorites, Mary Christmas, Mary Wickes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let me eat cake

Usually, I can take or leave cake. I'm a pie girl myself. But I may change my mind after reading a recent article in the New York Times about Southern layer cakes.

Now, I'm a proud Southerner, but I've never heard of these 15-layer cakes that are all the rage in lower Alabama (or, L.A., as we call it down South). Granted the layers are thin, but it speaks to my need for less cake/more frosting, if you know what I mean.

Other Southern "stars" include the Lane cake, poundcake, fruit cake, and coconut cake. I'm a connoisseur of all of those, but this 15-layer job intrigues me. Hmm. How can I get a taste of this? The author of the article seems to be under the misguided assumption that all Southerners know how to bake. Well, not me. Rather, I don't bake well enough to try a 15-layer cake with boiled icing.

If someone out there wants to give it a try and send me a piece, I'd be much obliged.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

As seen in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman

The great thing about New York City is that you don't have to be wealthy to have very rich experiences - especially at Christmastime. Store windows, ususally over-the-top anyway, become colorful, intriguing peep shows on the city sidewalks. Macy's, Sak's, and a few others have such amazing, techno-wonder scenes in their windows that the areas in front are cordoned off to accommodate the long lines of people waiting to see the extravaganzas.

But I found the windows at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue packed with so many glorious things in such eye-catching ways that I took a few pictures. Try to look beyond the glare of the glass - most of what you're seeing is actually in the windows. I particularly love the one that looks down on the Red Queen, cards, and chess pieses. A Compendium of Curiousities, indeed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Toy Generation Gap

Ever since I saw the commercial on TV the other night, I have been wanting a Crayola Crayon Maker. Anything involving crayons appeals to me. A box of 64 and a new coloring book - what's better than that? But this Crayon Maker thing calls to me as did those toys of my youth - Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, Vac-U-Form, and Give-a-Show Projector. Each was creative and high-tech (for the early 1960s), but the high-tech part was secondary to the creative for me.

I know for a fact that I can find hours of entertainment in an Etch-a-Sketch (thanks to blog-pal, Elsie, who supplied me with one a couple of years ago) and suspect a Spirograph and Vac-U-Form would amuse, as well. Not so sure the Give-a-Show could still rivet me, though it'd be fun to see some of those old Flintstone story strips again.

Now, I'm not a complete old fogey. Even I have spent endless hours with various computer and video games, though I've never tried Wii. The thing is that after a period of time - a week, a month, a summer - I leave them behind for either some hot new electronic gizmo or spend the time with an old fashioned book (the paper kind). I never return to those older computer/video games once I bid them farewell.

But stick crayons and coloring book, Spirograph, or Etch-a-Sketch under my nose, and I can amuse myself for hours.Nothing boring about any of those. Too bad Vac-U-Form is considered dangerous (that metal plate did get awfully hot . . . ), because I'd love to mold me some plastic junk again. Ah, the smell of melting plastic!

Well, there's a nostalgic feel about the Crayon Maker to me. It seems very Vac-U-Form-y/Easy Bake Oven-y, and therein lies the attraction. Create new colors and crayons out of my old crayon pieces? Whoa! I can't imagine ever getting tired of doing that. Why, I can see that still being fun when I'm in assisted living.

I wonder, however, if anyone under the age of 45 has a childhood toy that they never tire of (and I'm not talking dolls, block, and trains - I mean the "hot" items of the day). Are there adults who still can't get enough of Space Invaders or Pac Man, or are those just too boring now? What is the GenX, GenY equivalent of Etch-a-Sketch or Vac-U-Form?

Is there a toy generation gap? And is Santa listening? I've been an awful girl this year. I mean, an awful good girl this year.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Right this very minute! Part II

I love Christmas decorations. Not before Thanksgiving, of course, but as soon as we've put away the turkey platters, I say bring on the Christmas bling! Back in my pre-New York City olden days, I decorated every room in our house. Yep, green garlands around the bathroom mirror and everything. I loved my little house at Christmas. So it breaks my Christmas-lovin' heart that I no longer have an outlet for my annual house-trickin'-out urge.

My Spanish Harlem apartment is tiny. No room for a tree. A fresh tree is outrageously expensive in NYC, anyway. Plus, I spend the holidays in Atlanta - what's the point? I do have a box or two of my tree decorations up here (couldn't bear for them to moulder away in a storage unit) and try my best to sprinkle them around my little place, if only to keep me tied to my traditions.

But this year, I really, really wanted a tree - or something to decorate. So I got creative. Still not sure whether my idea was brilliant or tacky.

I looked around to see if I could figure out something plentiful,  stackable, and decoratable. What I have the most of is books - and there you have it. I stacked 'em up from big to small, ran a string of lights around the tower, hung a few ornaments, and plopped an angel on top. What do you think?

Well, never mind. I need a little Christmas. Right this very minute!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Right this very minute!

Advent, Schmadvent.

At the risk of having my “Good Little Episcopalian” credentials revoked (if I ever had any to begin with), I find Advent a tiresome downer. Oh, I’m fine with colorful Advent calendars and the wreaths with the candles; at least there’s a little twinkle of fun found there. But the insular, reflective, “ooh-isn’t-this-waiting-stuff-spiritual?” part does not work for me.

I’m convinced that Advent was created by and for introverts. All that soul-digging anticipation is perfect for folks who thrive at exploring their thoughts and feelings all by themselves.

But for us extroverts (I know you’re surprised to find out that Shorty PJs is an extrovert), hard-core Advent just sucks the energy out of this joyous time of year. Oh, wait. I’m not supposed to be joyous yet, am I? Must wait until 12:00am December 25, right?

Now, it’s plain as all git-out that Christmas was divinely inspired by and for extroverts. Think about it - angels/shepherds/wise men gathered in joy and praise, carol-singing, parties, family gatherings, even shopping – people, people, people everywhere. Personally, I reflect better with other people to, er, reflect off of/with, so the wonderful, wild celebration that is Christmas suits me to a T. It’s a birthday, for goodness’ sake!

I do not need a period of waiting. I’ve waited all year, casting an expectant eye toward this blessed season throughout glorious springs and long, hot summers. I am no less aware that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and of how that birth impacts my life than I would be if I tried to spend four long weeks contemplating it without Christmas trees, carols, and gatherings with family and friends. Shoot, life can be gloomy and soul-searching enough without imposing the stuff on those of us ready to celebrate something marvelous.

So, go ahead, all you theologian/clergy-types – slam me for eschewing four weeks of solemn reflection in quiet solitude without the glow of Christmas lights. I am not one bit bothered. The little tree in my office is all a-twinkle, and it gladdens my weary heart every time I look at it.

In the words of the great Auntie Mame (and Jerry Herman): “We need a little Christmas! Right this very minute!”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cooking Therapy

There is something in the act of cooking - especially cooking to share with others - that heals a weary soul. It hit me yesterday, as we were trying to get a head-count and dish-count for today's Thanksgiving Day meal. The act of buying the ingredients and carefully preparing our specialties (and the occasional new recipe) is a sort of holy ritual, an offering to the family, friends, and strangers who grace our table on this special day.

Ours is a pot-luck (emphasis on "luck" - luck for those of us who get to eat it) meal, with everyone bringing special casseroles, appetizers, and desserts to add to the turkey and dressing. I sometimes wonder if our 80-year-old aunt who brings deviled eggs and sweet potato casserole or the friends who bring the pumpkin pies would like to be let off the hook for a year, or forever. What if we all just went to a restaurant one year? Would it be the same?

Not for me. As I prepare my traditional dishes, I also prepare myself to share, savor, and remember the things for which I'm most thankful. It is a ritual, a liturgy of sorts, that allows me to offer just a little something of myself (and the kitchen) to those around our table. I, for one, would miss that if a stranger prepared the meal for us.

As crazy as the kitchen gets - with the oven and refrigerator opening and closing a bazillion times, dishes piling up in the sink, and last minute trips to the grocery store eating up precious time, preparing a common meal allows us all to concentrate on pulling this together one more time. You have to let go of the everyday cares and woes to make it happen. And that is a blessed thing.

On this Thanksgiving Day 2009, I'm thankful for all the loving hands and hearts who made our meal possible. I hope each of you found it as wonderfully therapeutic as I did. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chicken Soup Kind of Day

It's steaming and bubbling on the stove as I write, the glorious smell of what happens when you combine chicken, onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, collard greens, and a dash of tumeric filling my tiny apartment. A blustery, rainy New York Saturday and the accumulation of too much life-stress begs for the curative powers of homemade chicken soup. And cornbread.

Things have been tough lately. Let's just leave it at that. With so many blessings in my life, it's silly to get down about what's swirling around me, but - hey, it happens. Two steps forward, eighteen steps back. One does tend to get discouraged, even amidst the blessings. So this weekend is the perfect opportunitiy to unplug the stress machine, relax, count blessings, watch good Thanksgiving-themed movies, and eat chicken soup with freshly-made cornbread.

I'm clawing my way toward next Friday, when I head home to Atlanta for ten days, with Thanksgiving mixed in there somewhere. I need family. I need old friends. I need some Southern. It's been six months, and I'm ready for it. And new life will be all around me, with daughter Kate 5 months along (I haven't seen her since she's been pregnant!) and niece Jessica ready to pop with baby Liliana. Yes, I need some "home."

But for today, I'll enjoy the wonderful old New York that's outside my window, a few festive films, bowls of steaming chicken soup, and several well-buttered wedges of jalapeno cornbread. 

Next up in the DVD-player: The Ice Storm, with soup and cornbread on the side.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Other Thanksgiving Day in November

A young soldier boarded the #6 train today at 68th Street heading, I suppose, to 23rd/Madison Square Park to take part in New York's Veterans Day Parade. He was wearing his camouflage gear with beret and boots, looking very, very young to me. As I worked my way toward the subway car door at the Grand Central stop, I caught his eye and said "Thank you." He smiled, nodding his "You're welcome," and I got off the train.

Today we honor our men and women who have served, and are serving, in the military. The day will be marked by parades with marching bands, phalanxes of servicepeople keeping step, and flags flying. This is fun stuff when there's not a lot of action going on in the world. It's easy to get caught up in the spectacle and patriotism.

But it's a hard time for those currently serving in the military and their families and friends. Iraq seems to be petering out, as Afghanistan heads in the other direction. Many of these young men and women are on their second and third (sometimes fourth) tour of duty, something no other generation of servicepeople has had to face. And then, last week's horrific event at Ft. Hood.

However you feel about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the men and women who serve this country deserve to be in our thoughts and prayers daily. Make a point to find out who's serving from your neighborhood or workplace. It has to be made personal on some level, or it loses meaning for us.

So look out for that soldier on the train, the sailor, marine, or national guardsman in the airport., and say thank you. Not just on Veterans Day. Every day.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

November in the Park

Happy first day of November, All Saints Day. I waited until all but a few stragglers finished the New York Marathon before venturing over to Central Park, just before sundown. Here are a few joyous photos from Harlem Meer and Conservatory Garden.

Ain't Fall grand? Welcome to November!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Fine Art of Trick-orTreating

1. Know who has the good stuff.

2. Ring doorbell, say "Trick or Treat!," wait patiently as treats are handed out, and ALWAYS say "Thank you."

3. Know which houses and neighborhoods to avoid.
(They're probably only giving out pencils and toothbrushes, anyway.)

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Great Halloween Candy Control Conspiracy

World domination is so much easier than I ever dreamed it could be.

It started out innocently enough. When the calendar turned to October, I set up my office Halloween decorations and filled my little pumpkin pots with candy corn. Just regular old Brach's candy corn, nothing added. A little food coloring and a lot of corn syrup (candy corn syrup, I'm betting) - that's it. I didn't soak them in LSD or lace them with Oxycontin. Out of the bag, into the buckets. Girl Scout's honor.

After a few days I noticed something interesting. All sorts of folks came to visit me in my office on some pretense or another. A little chatter, plus a dip or two or three into the candy corn pot. Some picked at the goodies unconsciously; some admitted outright that they came for the corn.

It didn't take long for my buckets to empty, so I made another Duane Reade candy corn run and replenished the supply. In all, I topped up the pots four times.

This week has been particularly stressful, so the corn level hit bottom early yesterday morning. By the afternoon, panicked people were popping into my office only to discover - oh, no! - no candy corn. I was even accused of plotting complete control of my co-workers by stringing them along with the goodies, then suddenly taking away the candy corn, causing the staff to willingly sell their souls to the Candy Corn Queen just for a nibble.

"Well, that was easy," I said to myself. No cunning plan. No fancy weapons. Anyone, anywhere can be controlled by whoever holds the candy corn. Now that I know this, I plan to use it to bring peace on earth and extreme personal wealth for myself. I think that's fair, don't you?

Alas, I fear this particular form of total human domination will fade at midnight October 31. Which sets me thinking - hmmmmmm. How can I keep everyone under my power in November, eh?

By the way, the candy corn is again spilling over the top, dear co-workers. Why don't you drop by? Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaah!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Movie Checklist

The leaves have turned, it's dark and rainy, and bags of candy corn and bite-sized Butterfingers fill store shelves. That's right. It's time for - oooooh! - Halloween. Since I'm too old to go trick-or-treating, as is my dear child, I must be content to celebrate the season glued to my favorite horror films and Halloween specials.

Yes, yes. I've posted about this before (check out October 2005, 2006, etc). I'm very picky about which scary movies I consider Halloween-fare (no Alfred Hitchcock, for example), so it's time to review my Halloween Must-Sees to find out how I'm doing. Because Halloween won't come if I haven't seen the following by midnight Saturday:

1. The Haunting (1963) - Nope. Turner Classic Movies has it scheduled during the late night hours on a week night. Do I stay up, or not?

2. Hocus Pocus (1993) - Check.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Check.

4. Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) - Check.

5. Worst Witch (1986) - Nope. This one's hard to find, but daughter has my DVD, so unless some TV network decides to reach way back in its vault, I guess I won't be following the trials and tribs of Mildred Hubble.

7. The Uninvited (1944) - Nope. Hoping TCM has it on the schedule this week.

8. It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) - Soon-to-be-Check. Airs tonight, I think.

9. Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (all o' dem) - Partial check. Have seen about 6 years' worth so far. Looking for the early ones.

10. Rosanne Halloween Episodes (all o' dem) - Partial check. Hoping TV Land gives me a Rosanne Halloween marathon before Saturday.

11. Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) - Nope. Again, hoping Turner Classic Movies has them on the schedule.

12. The House on Haunted Hill (1959) - Nope. Still looking.

13. Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Nope. Looking.

14. Rosemary's Baby (1969) - Check.

15. Halloween (1978) - Yup. Big check.

16. Carrie (1976) - Soon-to-be-Check. I'll watch it on pay-per-view if it doesn't come on one of the freebies.

Hmm. So it seems Halloween may not come this year. There are a lot of non-checks on this list. Ever hopeful, I will stock up on candy corn and cider, just waiting to be creeped out by one of these gems. (Don't even talk to me about remakes . . .)

What cinematic wonder(s) do you need to get you through Halloween?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Death Becomes Them

In the spirit(s) of the season, I hopped the N train for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and spent the day tromping around its rolling hills, searching out the graves of the famous and infamous, and attending a book event with the author of Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious.The sky was blue-blue and the leaves were a blast of color.

Someone once wrote about the cemetery (founded in 1838) that "it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood".The tree-filled hills and valleys are crowded with ornate mausoleums, statuary, and gravestones most suitable for all those Fifth Avenue toffs.

Broadway babies Leonard Bernstein and Fred Ebb are buried at Green-Wood. So are the Tiffany clan, inventors Elias Howe and Samuel Morse, Henry Steinway, Margaret Sanger, and Boss Tweed. To name a few.

The reading by author Alix Strauss took place in the ornate Chapel (lousy acoustics, by the way). The author discovered that no one had ever written a book about famous suicides and jumped right on it. She had a great sense of humor and she shared lots of juicy, interesting details about a couple of the folks in her book. She even gave away little bottles of Vincent Van Gogh Vodka and Death By Chocolate bars with every book purchased! I opted for chocolate-flavored vodka, thereby covering both bases.

Cemeteries are always fascinating, whether it's Halloween or midsummer, whether the rich and famous are buried there or not, and whether a lovely incentive like a reading about well-known suicides is dangled before you. Spending a few hours with folks who have "crossed over" is time well-spent. Death does, indeed, become them.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fewer posts, less time

One of my biggest grammatical pet peeves is the rampant misuse of "fewer" and "less." I am not an English teacher, but I had superior, picky junior high and high school teachers who instilled in my teenage brain basic rules of grammar. It seems that people avoid the word "fewer" at all cost. "10 Items or Less." "Less than 2,000 showed up for the show." "The team has less chances to win without the star quarterback." Yeah. I've seen/heard all of these over the past few days.

As I said, I'm not an English teacher, so I can't properly explain the difference to you (it's ingrained in me, so I just know when to use it - like "effect" and "affect"). It has to do with numbers - singles or bulk. One source explains it this way:

"Just remember that if the noun can be preceded by a number (one person, three dogs, six of us, nineteen problems), it should be modified with fewer."

A few years back the grocery store Publix in Atlanta changed those infamous "10 Items or Less" to "10 Items or Fewer." Yes! Thank you, Publix, for leading the grammatical way for the poor schlubs who don't know any better. Now, Public, watch and learn.

Thank you Keener, Sumner, Jacoway, Babcock, Moore, Johnson, Walker, and Smallwood. Yeah, we did a lot of eye-rolling over diagramming sentences and nit-picky red grammar marks on otherwise fabulous themes, but your outstanding teaching paid off for at least one (and I hope more) of your students.

And, yes, my blog has fewer posts of late, because I have less time. Hope to correct that soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading till the cows come home

A couple of days ago, the New York Times had a story about a woman who decided to read a book a day for a year and blog about it. Think of it as a book-version of the Julie & Julia thing, where the woman cooked her way through Julia Child's cookbook for a year. Not as tasty, but a whole lot cheaper and less work.

Nina Sandovitch started last October 28, so she's almost completed her effort. It's an interesting endeavor, but I feel conflicted about the project - happy she had the time and energy to finish a book and blog every single day, but wondering how enjoyable the exercise was for her (or would be for me), racing through books instead of savoring them.

And who has the time to read all day? Well, maybe if I didn't goof off so much - you know, with work and eating and dealing with families and all - and really put my mind to it, I could manage it. But then to blog about each book when finished? Yikes! Such discipline (as one can tell I lack with my infrequent posts).

Reading through her blog I notice that I've never heard of most of the books she's read. Maybe if I'd get my nose out of mysteries for a while, I'd have more diversity of reading matter.

What do you think? Admirable? Impossible? Enlightening? Frustrating?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Walking through East Harlem the other day, I happened upon a once-iconic New York scene that has mostly disappeared in recent years - clothes hanging out to dry on lines strung between apartment buildings. Thank goodness I had my camera with me and could document the clothes flapping in a cool autumn breeze.

You don't see clotheslines much anymore. England's about the only place I've seen "working" clotheslines in recent years. English-mum Jeannie always hung clothes outside to dry, no matter the temperature. Only a dowsing rain would cause her to use her clothes dryer. But I never see clothes a-wave on lines in the United States. Not in New York. Or Atlanta. The closest we come to fresh-air drying anything is a wet towel thrown over a hotel railing at the beach.

Growing up, we had a clothesline that spanned our backyard (which was pretty wide). There was a wooden pole used to prop it up in the middle so the wet clothes wouldn't drag the ground. A nostalgic sight - the various materials flapping back and forth.

A few months ago, Bro sent an email with basic clothesline rules. Thought I'd share:

1. Wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes - walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth.

2. Hang the clothes in a certain order; always hang "whites" with "whites," and hang them first.

3. Never hang a shirt by the shoulders - always by the tail! What will the neighbors think?

4. Wash day on a Monday . . . Never hang clothes on the weekend, or Sunday, for Heaven's sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines to hide your "unmentionables" in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y'know!)

6. It doesn't matter if it is sub-zero weather . . . Clothes will "freeze-dry."

7. Always gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes. Pins left on the lines are "tacky."

8. Line the clothes up so that each item shares one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.

9. Make sure the clothes are off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?! Well, that's a whole 'nother subject!

Still, I wouldn't trade a clothes dryer for an outdoor clothesline. The dryer just asks me to dump the clothes in and set a timer, then delivers fresh, warm, fluffy clothes in a matter of minutes. A clothesline requires a lot more time and energy. The clothesline is a romantic notion for painters, photographers, and nostalgic types. But in the real, work-a-day world? No thanks.

Do you still use an outdoor clothesline?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Let's hear it for Shock-tober!

Well, it's finally here. The month I longed for back in August.

It's turned right cool here in New York City. The leaves are slowly dissolving from green to yellow/red/orange. Those that have already dropped are blowing dryly across sidewalks and park paths. Halloween decorations are everywhere, including in my own tiny "tenement." Chilies and stews are on full boil. College football reigns supreme. Ahh, autumn!

What I love about October - at the heart of it - are the memories of years past and the anticipation of the festivities that will fill out the rest of the year. This month we honor early memories of school carnivals and childhood Halloweens, as well as the first anniversary of daughter Kate and son-in-law Greg and other family anniversaries and birthdays.

October's celebrations morph into a November full of birthdays and anniversaries, culminating in a most splendiferous Thanksgiving. (Can you smell the turkey and pumpkin pie?) And no sooner will we finish giving thanks than the fun-filled wildness and holy celebration of Christmas will be upon us. Bam-bam-bam. All in a row. Wonderful!

Need a little help getting into the October holiday spirit? I've offered plenty of suggestions over the past four years. Links to some of my posts about scary movies, songs, stories, and whatnot can be found here. Enjoy!

Bundle up, kick some leaves, give some treats (or tricks), and get ready for the year-end holiday fun-fest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meet the Gumpertzs

Last week, I got to know a couple of New York families - the Gumpertzs and the Baldizzis. I visited their homes and saw where they ate, slept, lived. I looked at pictures of parents and grandparents, listened to some of their favorite music, and saw the street-view from their front room windows. Last week, I visited the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street.

Friend Beth was in town for a few days, so we pounded the pavement visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the new High Line Park, Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Trinity Wall Street, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. But one place I'd never been was the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Beth's visit gave me the opportunity to see this treasure for the first time.

I've always been curious about it. I mean, how interesting could visiting a tenement be? "And here's a really tiny room where 14 people slept. Over here's is the coal stove. Notice there's no running water or toilet." Really. Seen one poverty-stricken apartment, seen 'em all.

But the Tenement Museum's tours are based on the stories of real people who lived at 97 Orchard Street over time - from the 1860's to the 1930's. Each family has been researched through immigration and court records, oral histories, and the things they left behind, enabling tour guides to pull visitors into the lives of the families who lived in the building.

Several tours are available, giving a slice-of-time look at how the tenement dwellers coped with local and global events that shaped their lives. We took "Getting By," where we experienced how the Gumpertz family coped with the Panic of 1973 (um, pretty much exactly what we're going through today) and the Baldizzis made it through the Great Depression. Other tours focus on the garment industry, one Irish family's experience, the life of a Sephardic-Jewish teen, and a neighborhood walking tour. Each tour cost $20, which is kinda pricey, but you really get your money's worth.

Immigration is a touchy issue, I know, but in hearing these stories, I was struck by how similar the arguments then are to the arguments now. "There's no excuse for hard-working people not to have enough money to pay for food, housing, education, medicine." "Only people born here deserve jobs and benefits." "If we let these people in, we'll no longer be Americans, but Irish. . .German . . . Polish . . . Italian . . . " No one could possibly dispute that the vast majority of immigrants coming to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries were hard working, imaginative folks who mostly blended in (though some never did). It takes hearing stories of real people to bring that message home.

The other thing that struck me, living in a tiny NYC apartment of my own, was "Wow! A little paint, a new hardwood floor, a private bath, and you could rent this 'tenement' for $1800-2000/month these days." The tour was a great history of apartment-living in the city and how what was required of landlords changed over time. The biggest breakthrough was when the powers-that-be determined that every New York apartment-dweller had the right to air (thanks for the air shafts, guys!), water (at least cold running water), and light (a window in every room).

When I scrape up enough money, I hope to take the other tours and meet more New York families. I highly recommend spending time with the Gumpertzs and the Baldizzis.

Monday, September 28, 2009

When men wore hats and women wore gloves

When did we stop dressing like grown-ups? With every episode of Mad Men, I find myself longing for men in suits, ties, and those great hats that our daddies used to wear and women in shapely dresses, suits, and gloves.

Adults dressed like grown-ups for the first 12-14 years of my life, then it all went to hell in a hand basket. While leaving behind the classic late 50's/early 60's fashion, we never moved forward enough to coolness of The Jetsons, opting instead for dowdy fashion statements like platform shoes and drab pantsuits. Nehru jackets and lime-green polyester leisure suits sounded the death-knell of smart, chic fashion for men and women, I think.

President Kennedy is credited for single-handedly killing the men's hat industry, because he didn't wear one at his Inauguration. Even I know that's false, since he wore a top-hat for the occasion. OK, so we can't blame JFK for men shunning those lovely grey fedoras of a bygone era. Still, I would love to see them make a come-back. Guys, put away those baseball caps (unless you're actually playing baseball) and grab a real man's hat.

I don't know when women stopped wearing gloves, usually white ones, whenever they went out. I love the idea of gloves year-round. I am at the mercy of public transport and hate putting my bare-naked hands on handles, poles, and stairway railings. Yes, it's true, those white gloves would be mighty dirty by the end of the day, but I would feel so much safer having a bit of fabric between me and whatever's lurking on door-railings. Plus, they look adorable. But not with dowdy pantsuits.

Looking around the subway car this morning, I noticed very few people dressed for business - a few men in suits/ties, a couple of women in nice dresses, but beyond that it was sloppy, dress-for-comfort stuff. We all looked run-down and sad. Let's face it - if the people of New York City aren't wearing classic, neat styles, then nobody is.

I think we could change this sad state of fashion by bringing back men's felt hats and women's white gloves. I do not, however, advocate bringing back stiff girdles, garter belts and stockings - uncomfortable and a pain in the rear.

OK, I hear you all moaning out there, dressed in your sweatpants and running shoes. But I'd give anything to bring the Don Draper-Joan Holloway look back to the workplace.

Think I could pick up some white gloves at Bloomingdale's or Lord & Taylor?