Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Streetcar Named Get Me Outta Here

Do what you can, folks. Money's a big help - here's American Red Cross. Or, for all you good Episcopalians out there, here's Episcopal Relief and Development. But don't just sit there - do something.

Riddle me this

Another writing journal find. Several years ago I made a list of questions I'm perpetually asking myself, and I discovered the list a few days ago while browsing an old writing journal. Here are some of the questions that kept surfacing in 2002:
  • How many people have I (truly) made happy?
  • How do I really take control, as opposed to acting like I have control?
  • Is it ever safe to tell someone how you feel?
  • Will I ever get the junk out of the closets and the attic?
  • What does it take to get inspired?
  • Will anybody ever hold my hand again?
  • What time of the day am I most productive?
  • Is anyone glad to see me?
  • Will breathing ever get any easier?
  • Can I just walk away?
  • What will Christmas be like this year?
  • What's the funniest thing I've seen lately?
  • How do I simplify, simplify, simplify?
  • Why do I have to keep asking the same questions over and over?

Well, you get the picture (the journal list is three pages long). All of the questions still flit through my mind occasionally, and I know that they reveal more about me than the answers ever could. Well, anyway, most of the answers change according to the situation or season. Still, it helps to read them over now and then.

Morning quote, from The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje:

The word should be "thinkering." Caravaggio's mind slips into this consideration, another syllable to suggest collecting a thought as one tinkers with a half-completed bicycle.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The cure for the summertime (TV) blues

The hand-wringing over slumping movie box-office receipts is laughable. How stupid are these people (and the media that keep reporting it)? If anyone tried to poll me on it, I'd strap 'em to a comfy chair for a week and force feed 'em Turner Classic Movies. TCM has done a beautiful job this summer demonstrating classic film-making and unsurpassed entertainment. Its "Summer Under the Stars" campaign rolls out gem after gem after gem, from 6 in the morning to well after midnight (and darn it, because I can't stay up that late and I don't have TiVo).

A 30-something friend at work pulls the TCM monthly schedules, highlights what he wants to see, then hands the list to me so that I can make sure he doesn't miss a classic. And I don't mean the usual Casablanca Citizen Kane classics, either (because those are certainly marked). C'mon - everybody needs to see iconic films like Where the Boys Are, The Russians are Coming/The Russians are Coming, The Long, Long Trailer, and The Thin Man series (and I could go on and on).

Watching the critical, as well as the fun or silly, classics, here's what my strapped-to-the-chair-"boohoo-why-isn't-anybody-going-to-movies-anymore" person would recognize for him/herself:

  1. Real movies have stories (plots, scripts, good writing - however you want to say it). If the story ain't there, yo' money is wasted.
  2. Real movies have people who talk to each other, with conversations that move the story along (see above). Nothing makes movie-minutes fly by faster than well-written dialogue. (How many times can we watch Jack Nicholson try to order toast in Five Easy Pieces? A million times. Brilliantly written, brilliantly played. No special-effects needed.)
  3. Real movies are made by craftsmen/women. Directors, actors, writers, Directors of Photography, set design, editing, lighting, sound, wardrobe - every shot, every frame a little work of art. Money has nothing to do with it, since some of the best were made on the cheap or made before bells-and-whistles made things so expensive (though these craftsmen most certainly deserve every penny they earn).
Now, don't think I'm a cinema-luddite. I like an occasional special-effects orgy, but it takes a lot to impress me special-effects-wise now (and I suspect the same is true even for 9-year-old boys). Nothing impresses me more than a well-crafted script, exceptional cinematography, and solid acting. Let the story come to the front and then - wowser! - ya' got me hooked. To Kill a Mockingbird, Alfie (the real one with Michael Caine), The Palm Beach Story, The Women - oh shoot, just pull up the TCM site and plan your TV time.

In these crazy, unsettling times, these films will tell you more about what it means to be an American or a citizen of the world than any politician or news analyst.

Climbing down from soap-box now.

A "recipe" in memory of Mother

Though I'm not a "scientific" person, I love reading the Science section of the New York Times on Tuesdays. A lot of the stuff is complicated gobbledegook to me, but there are always one or two (sometimes more) articles that really hit home in a personal way. Today, it's Dr. Larry Zaroff's "One Last Recipe From Mother, for the Good Death." His mom must've been a real peach. She wasn't allowed to really come into her own until she was 80 when her husband died, and then she flourished - running her husband's real estate business better than he had and becoming the "mainframe" communicator in the family. When she had a massive heart attack that she knew was the beginning of the end for her, she wanted a good death for herself and for her loved ones. Read this article.

My mother died March 14, 2004. She would've been 89 years old today, August 30. Zaroff's little story is a great way to remember my own sweet mama.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Literary salute to the Big Easy

Feelin' some simpatico with our friends in New Orleans suffering through the 'cane Kat? Settle in with a good read set in the Big Easy. I have a few personal favorites. How about The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy? I think you could also get away with Percy's Love in the Ruins, although the setting is a little obscure (but it's very New Orleansy). Or John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, published thanks to Percy and Toole's tenacious mama. Or, shoot, just go ahead and dive into an Anne Rice - you don't have to tell anybody. I think The Witching Hour's her best "New Orleans" book. I found a website that lists books set in New Orleans if you want to explore more, though it leaves off The Moviegoer - and how could that happen?

Cheers, oh brave and drenched New Orleans. Laissez le bon temps roulez - just not today!

We come from the planet Turquoisia, and we come in peace

I was promised wall-walking in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Here's a follow-up to my post about disappointment in 21st fashion and technology (Jane Jetson). Look at this picture. This is what I'm talking about. Is there anything this cool right now? Nooooooo. No futuristic clothes. No jet-packs. No space malls. Who failed us on this? I want names and numbers.

Oh, and you need to know that the planet Earth has been renamed Turquoisia. Spent yesterday afternoon with my 8-year-old bud Joanna, just hangin' out in the park. Lots of silly talk that started with the usual 10-minute naughtiness about Uranus led to the conclusion that - hey - "Earth" isn't such a good name either (though not as hilariously funny as Uranus). All the other planets are named after ancient gods and goddesses, except for Earth and (you guessed it) Uranus. (See how many times I managed to say Uranus? It's addictive, I tell ya'.)

Joanna and I decided we wanted a better name, something that reflects the blue and green of the place. She came up with Turquoisia. It's a little long and hard to spell, but other than that I think it sums things up nicely. Just think: Mother Turquoisia, Turquoisia shoes, turquoisia-bound, moving Heaven and Turquoisia . . .

Actually, we decided Turquoisia would be a temporary moniker until we found a goddess's name worth using. Suggestions?

If you demand the price, you must look at the result

Spent too much money in here, May 2005

A little early morning musing on a passage from Pat Barker's Regeneration, one part of her World War I trilogy. . . I have been immersed in the Great War for the last several months because it is a major part of the book I'm writing. (If you're interested in how that's playing out, you can visit my "serious" blog The Wildgoose Chase .)

Anyway, let me set the scene here. One of the characters, a beautiful, healthy young woman, goes to a war hospital and encounters the worst of the war wounded - men who have been horribly disfigured or maimed:

Simply by being there, by being that inconsequential, infinitely powerful creature: a pretty girl, she'd made everything worse. Her sense of her own helplessness, her being forced to play the role of Medusa when she meant no harm, merged with the anger she was beginning to feel at their being hidden away like that. If the country demanded that price, then it should bloody well be prepared to look at the result. she strode on through the heat, not caring where she was going, furious with herself, the war . . . everything.

Seems to ring true today. Will we ever learn to tell the difference between necessary, honorable wars and the superfluous, hubris-filled ones? Pro'ly not.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Da Shakespeare Code

Forget the Billy-Bob Shakespeare we've all come to know and love. Turns out the guy was down-right subversive and wrote in code. Yup. All those lovely little plays were just chockful of dangerous political messages.

Your alternatives are: 1) Get busy re-reading all Shakey's plays and try to figure out his byzantine network of clues that gives away his strong Catholic loyalties and his fears for drab, Protestant Elizabethan England; or 2) Find yourself a copy of Clare Asquith's new book Shadowplay. (Personally, I think she'd sell more copies if she changed the title to Da Shadowplay and wrote under a less pretentious name like, say, Dan Brown.)

Asquith contends that Elizabethan Blighty was fraught with dangers for Will and all loyal Catholics, so he had to pretend to suck up to the Queen and her new-found religion with plays that sold the current political line. Still he was a good Catholic boy, so he coded the language and images in his plays to get him off the hook, eternally speaking. He was also more edu-ma-cated that previously surmised, sneaking off to Oxford for some real readin' and writin' (not sure about the 'rithmatic).

It was scary times in England:

It is now widely accepted that the era was not a period of political consensus, says Asquith. Instead, it was a time in which opposition voices were banished and censorship meant the burning of illegal pamphlets and printed works.

Whew! Sounds suspiciously like 21st century USA, eh? I really must start coding these blogs. All right, my little Gad-Poor-Alecks, you can read about it in today's The Observer.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

How to avoid the Incredible Shrinking Brain

A few weeks ago Posh Spice - one of the true intellectual giants of our time (snark) - claimed that she'd never read a book. I guess that includes her own "autobiography" (snark II). For those of us who have two or three books going at a time or keep a paperback in our purse "just in case," Posh's statement leaves us wondering if she isn't some alien species dropped to earth solely to have a flash-in-the-pan pop career and marry a really famous soccer/football player. Never read a book. Try to imagine that (cue cold chills and unsightly tic of right eye). Now before I go too far in Posh-condemnation, I think she did admit to reading magazines and the occasional newspaper. Maybe. But she didn't mention children's books - she has three boys, so I can only assume that these little fellers aren't getting any brain-input either. Sigh.

In the midst of that news, The Guardian ran a short blurb about what books - or any sorts of intellectual pursuit - do for the brain. Most all of it I already knew, but it's good to have a review every now and then. In short, the brain shrinks as we age - and before you 20-year-olds start rolling your eyes, the shrinking starts around your age, my little kudzu vines. The brain needs to be exposed to new information constantly. Reading is an important way to keep the brain facile as it shrinks away to a dried up little pea (no, no - I don't think it goes that far). The good news for Posh is that there's really no diff between books, magazines, or ads posted to the subway wall, and - here's where she'll luck out, the silly little twit - physical activity counts as well.

Now, I don't care one way or another whether Posh and Becks read (though I do hope someone will learn to read well enough to give their boys a bedtime story now and then). My amazement comes from someone who proudly declares that she hasn't read a book.

She may have all the money in the world, but she certainly isn't rich.

It's a beautiful morning here in Atlanta, finally cooling down to the 70s. The remnants of hurricanes won't blow through until next week. Enjoy your Saturday, wherever you are.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Is that. . . ? Can it possible be? It's so bright! It's. . . it's THE WEEKEND!

Time's up. Crawl outta your cubicles, cubbyholes, and hovels. Look! Daylight! (Unless you're in Florida - then it's "Look! Hurricane!") That's right, my little gin blossoms - cast off the shackles and pull yo' party-self together. Restore, refresh, renew!

Hold on to your dogs and office chairs . . .

The oh, so lovable boss from Slough - David Brent

Harlan Pepper loves his hound. Pine nut, hickory nut, pistashio nut . . .

Harland Pepper and David Brent are making a movie together! The Guardian is reporting that, yes indeedy, Ricky Gervais (AKA Brent/The Office) is joining the usual Christopher Guest (AKA Pepper/Best In Show) faux-documentary suspects like Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, et. al., in a new film called For Your Consideration. Well, one can hardly contain one's bladder on this one. Christopher Guest and crew are brilliant in everything they touch - Waiting for Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and - of course, the classic - This is Spinal Tap. Now throw in the genius of The Office and Extras - and goodness gracious me! Here is a boatload of people who can think (imagine that!) and be funny and successful all at the same time. The combination is so rare that I think I'm going to have to sit down for a minute.

Needless Markup has gone to the dogs (and rightly so)

Well, here's one that'll leave you shakin' your head and wanting to bitch-slap the next self-righteous desperate housewife in a gas-guzzling tank. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that some lame-brain left two poodles in a behemoth SUV in the Lenox Square parking lot here in Atlanta. Let me set the scene for ya' - it has been hot here. Not regular Southern hot - I mean oven-roasted turkey hot. Awful! So, anyway, a Neiman-Marcus employee comes out, sees the dogs, and tries to rescue them from being baked alive:

I walked out the door, saw the dogs, went back into the store and got the phone number for Fulton County Animal Control and wrote down the tag number," she said. "I went out a second time and checked the doors and they were locked."

Cheatham went back inside and picked up a little paper bowl and a bottle of water.

"I'm 5-2," she said. "I took my shoes off and got on the hood."

That's when everything went to the dogs. By the time she was in a position to reach down through the sunroof, the car owner "came out and called me fat and ugly," Cheatham said. "She was just screaming." Cheatham said Ramona Lindsey screamed for her to get off the "$80,000 car."

According to Cheatham, Lindsey also said: "I hope you're somebody because I'm going to have your job."

Lindsey, of Peachtree City, declined comment, saying twice Thursday that her attorney would contact the newspaper, but he didn't.

The next day, Neiman-Marcus fires the woman who tried to save the dogs! Say, wha'? Now, I don't know what this employee had done in the past that would warrant dismissal, but this, this shouldn't have pushed it over the edge. Are you with me here? In fact the owner of the dogs and the god-awful SUV shoulda' been taken to jail immediately and the car sold to help support the troops (don'cha' just know there was a big yellow ribbon slapped on the back of the car?). I mean, she needs to be taken off the streets because she's too stupid to drive, too stupid to own dogs, too stupid to shop - well, you get my drift. She's endangering the population, both human and canine.

OK, that's my vent for the day. And woo-hoo! It's Friday!

Eat, eat so you don't go mad

Another little history-mystery blurb this morning from the London Times, regarding the cause of King George III's porphyria (the cause of his mental instability). Seems it had to do with his preference for boiled eggs instead of rich, lavish banquet-food. The newly-discovered protein that causes porphyria is called PGC-1a. When the protein becomes over-active in the liver - usually due to fasting or malnutrition - the disease kicks in. Seems our choice is madness or obesity. So eat, eat, my little darlin's!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The note in the middle

A Bloomsbury Bookstore on a Sunday Morning in May (2005)

My writing journal not only gives me a place to scribble ideas for stories and articles, but it's also where I keep favorite passages from books I'm reading. Here's a great line from The Thinking Reed by Rebecca West:

"There was nothing casual about life in France; it demanded perpetually that one should hit the note in the middle."

Don't you find that - much too often - we are called upon to do the very tedious work of hitting the middle note, over and over? It takes such concentration and energy to stay on the dead-center of things - at work, at home, with people with love, with people we don't. As one who has a hard time staying on the middle note, often running up and down the keyboard, jumping up on the black keys, generally causing a ruckus - I think of West's words when I'm forced to contain myself.

I love Rebecca West, but I can't fly through one of her books. Her writing is so brilliant, that I have to savor every line.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A twist on Robin Hood: stealing from the mean and, well, keeping it

Oh, those nasty old rich celebrities! The London Times reports that "housemaid to the stars" Lucyna Turyk-Wawrynowicz (try saying that five times fast) has been stealing from her famous employers, but - she contends - only the mean ones. (Is that a defense, I wonder?) Who are the meanies, you ask? According to "Lucy," Candace Bergen, Robert De Niro, and Faith Popcorn, among others. But she never stole from Isabella Rosselini because she treated her with respect (or maybe because she didn't have as much credit available on the old Gold Card). Miss Lucy's been dubbed the "dastardly domestic." (I'm presuming by Candy, Bobby and Faith, not Izzy.)

Thank God I'm not a celebrity (though I can be mean sometimes). I'm looking around trying to find something worth stealing. The rickety old computer with the very unhip, whacking great boat-anchor of a monitor? Um, probably not. The 15-year-old TV? Nope. There are a couple of nice art pieces, but I've cleverly mixed them in with the crap, so uhn-uh. Same with my first editions - all higgledy-piggledy in the bookshelves. And don't even think about the credit cards - best of luck with those, you dastardly domestic. (Steal my identity - please!) So I'm safe for now, I suppose. Ah, the rich have so many problems that we just can't imagine, eh?

Penguin Books - makin' a list and checkin' it twice

Great story on All Things Considered about Penguin Books pulling together 1000 classic titles and offering them in bulk (just under $8000) - delivery free.

Following are 20 of the top-selling Penguin Classics on that are part of the new collection:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Odyssey by Homer

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Illiad by Homer

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Candide by Francois Voltaire

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

OK, we believe it. You can pull up the complete listing of the 1082 titles from the link above. (But "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" probably isn't on it.) Enjoy!

Revisiting a writing journal

I pulled out a writing journal last night to read some of the stuff I'd written over the past few years. This is not a regular daybook kind of journal that I use to document or reflect on the day's activities. No, this is a place to write snatches of things that I intend to develop later - usually it's just phrases, paragraphs, one single idea, a list, etc. Sometimes the fragments become something more - a short story, a personal reflection, a feature article of some kind. I like to go back and read the notebook - or notebooks, I should say, since I have several - because I am always amazed at how many fairly passable ideas I do have. It's a good place to go when the well is running dry, if you know what I mean.

I am not good at regular journaling, but I admire those who are. I figure the point would be to write down exactly what I think and feel about a person or event, but my mama taught me never to put anything (like that) in writing. What if I dropped dead and everybody got their hands on my journal - feelings hurt or boosted out of context, my wicked thoughts revealed to the people I most care about? Nope. And if I don't write those kind of things in a journal, it just turns out to be a laundry list of "what I did today."

But my writing journal is different, although there is a lot of private angst revealed throughout. If it gets too personal/specific, I usually end up tearing those pages out and burning them. A couple of years ago I went through a string of horrible events that caused me to crawl 'way, 'way back into my shell (which is totally out of character for me - shell? what shell?) to see if I could find out who I really was. In the writing journal I documented several months of distress in a sort of "Psalms from a Broken Woman." I was specific about my pain, but not about the people or events, so I saved these pages. Even reading over them three years later, they are a pretty well-written account of pain and despair. I don't read them often - geez, no - but they are a reminder of what I got through and beyond, and that's not a little thing.

Just needed to get that off my chest. I'll write something funny later on - cheers!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

And speaking of books, how about this idea for an online lending library?

Interesting article in The Guardian about an online lending library in the UK called My Book, Your Book that sounds like a cross between Book-Crossing and Netflix. Readers pay an annual fee and pledge to share 10 of their own paperbacks in return for access to titles owned by the rest of the MBYB community. You add your books to the comprehensive availability list. When you see a book you want to borrow, you send the owner a self-addressed/stamped/padded envelope and that person sends you the book. When you finish (you can have it up to 5 weeks), you send it on to the next person who wants it.

It's a cool idea - anyone want to help me launch one here in the States?


Any suggestions? I'm still plowing through Rutherfurd's Dublin (called Princes of Ireland in the US). The first few sections just flew by, but now I'm in a kinda dull part and really have to push myself to get through a few pages a night. I'm still interested enough to find out what's going to happen, I just don't look forward to my reading time as much. I remember going through a similar thing with Iain Pear's An Instance of the Fingerpost. Each part of that was crucial to the end - but one of the sections took me forever to get through.

Well, if I get too bogged down, I can just check out some of the book lists online. There's a pretty comprehensive one called The Booklist Center that lists every genre and links to applicable reading lists.

Monday, August 22, 2005

If wondering who the real Jack the Ripper was is keeping you up nights . . .

I'm always up for a good history-mystery. What did happen to Jimmy Hoffa? What's the story behind the Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Was Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen," really a virgin? (Well, OK, I think that mystery was solved a long time ago.)

Two oldie-but-goodies (oldies-but-goody?) have cropped up within the last week. Mystery/crime writer Patricia Cornwell is positively convinced that she has solved the Jack the Ripper identity. No, it's not Prince Albert Victor or Sir William Gull (the doctor) or Senator Bill Frist (the other doctor). Cornwell has spent almost $4 million of her own money using modern methods of investigation and research to uncover one Walter Sickert, a painter - the artistic kind - in Victorian London. Alas, many Ripper experts say "Pish and tosh" to Cornwell's theory. Any thoughts from your end? Here's a little story about it in The Guardian.

The number two history-mystery story to come back to the surface is that of the forever-missing Judge Crater. Last week The New York Times reported that new evidence had come to light (BIG "maybe," here). The cuprits may have been a police officer and his brother, who murdered the gad-about judge, then buried him under the Coney Island boardwalk.

Well, it's obvious to me that Judge Crater and Jack the Ripper were one and the same. Crater. Ripper. Get it? Ripper leaves London and jaunts over to New York, where he becomes a fancy-pants judge. But his past catches up with him on August 6, 1930, and badda-boom, he's eatin' sand and pushin' up barnacles at Coney Island. You're welcome, and that didn't even cost me a dime. (Nyah-nyah Patricia Cornwell!)

All this kinda makes your missing car keys pale in comparison, eh?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

March out and see March of the Penguins

Wow! Go see this film. The cinematography is awesome, and the story of the circle of life for the emperor penquins is heart-warming. Be forewarned that nature's cruelties and power are shown - several little kids got upset, especially when all the adult penquins leave their children behind. I was with an 8-year-old, who liked it, but tempered her review with "It was so sad!" Go, go, go! Kinda makes humans look like big, lazy slobs, though.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Find your grail

Best way to get through Saturday chores is to put on a fabulous Broadway musical extravaganza soundtrack. Spamalot, Spamalot - how I love it! Saw it in previews in March - Liza Minelli (and boy-toy entourage) sat 10 seats down the row from me. Don'cha love NYC? Anyway, a couple of life-lessons from the show:

  1. "Find your grail" (still looking, as you know)
  2. "You cannot be on Broadway if you don't have any Jews" ( that was also a theme in The Producers)
  3. "Always look on the bright side of life"
Always thought the world divided into two groups: those who get Monty Python and those who don't. I'll still love you if you don't get it but, well, we just won't laugh as hard together. So there's my plug for the Knights of the Round Table and the amazingly wonderful Lady of the Lake (best Broadway voice since Merman - honestly).

What puzzles you?

I've always been a big fan of crossword puzzles, mainly because of my love of words and a demonic curse of self-competition. (Who cares about besting others? Beating yourself - that's what's important! OK, that sounds kind of twisted now that I look at it.) Anyway, over the last 10 years or so I've come to believe (whether true or not) that if I can make a decent stab at a respectable crossword (so the ones in People or TV Guide don't count) everyday, it will go a long way to stave off impending mental degeneration.

I've always shied away from number puzzles because, well, see, they involve numbers. However - for you number-phobics and number-philes alike - the current fad of sudoku sweeping the world has gotten under my skin. I discovered the puzzles about four months ago in The London Times, but you can find them in most newspapers now, I think. The great thing about sudoku is that it involves NO math! Numbers, yes. Math, no. It's really a logic-arrangement thing that I suspect works another part of the brain. (See, I'm still trying to ward off flaking grey matter.)

Here's a simple explanation of how it works (from The Economist):

The game's appeal is that its rules are as simple as its solution is complex. On a board of nine-by-nine squares, most of them empty, players must fill in each square with a number so that each row (left to right), column (top to bottom) and block (in bold lines) contains 1 to 9. Advanced versions use bigger boards or add letters from the alphabet.

I print them off from wherever I can find them (see Times link above) and stuff them in my purse to noodle over whenever I get the chance - restaurants, waiting rooms, etc. Oh, and I also carry a pencil, too. Even though I work crosswords in - ahem - ink, there's a lot more trial and error involved in sudoku puzzles. Give 'em a try - you could become addicted.

It's Saturday and I'm off to run errands and do those lovely chores. Go have some fun and try to hold those brain cells together!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Here's to Friday afternoon!

Saw a Georgia Tech student on MARTA this afternoon wearing a t-shirt that said: Easily Distracted. Ah, I think I've found what I want on my tombstone. (If I were gonna have a tombstone, which since I'm being cremated and buried in the garden of my midtown church, I'm not.) Still, maybe it can be worked into the funeral liturgy. "Mary 'Easily Distracted' Brennan. . .wonder if God has her attention now? Hm?"

That said (and with Round-up Rodeo Day behind us), chicas, go have some fun. Enjoy the weekend - sleep, read, go out with friends, embarrass your children (my personal favorite), have a big ol' slab o'meat, and laugh, laugh, laugh! You've done an outstanding job this week - kisses and cheers, Sweetie, Dahling!

Polly put the kettle on

For me, drinking tea is a passion. A hot cuppa does more than shake my brain cells awake or warm me when I'm cold (which is a rare occurence for this old hot-natured cow) - there's something comforting, restorative about hot tea. As for coffee - well, if it only tasted as good as it smells. I want coffee to taste like chocolate, and it just doesn't. But tea is just supposed to taste like tea - though it does come in flavors, of course (but I can't imagine chocolate would be one of them.). I'm a black tea person myself. Not much for herbals unless I'm sick or feeling guilty about something.

One essential element in good tea-brewing is a fabulous kettle. In fact, I contend that a kettle is one of the more necessary kitchen items - yes, even in the face of microwave water-heating ability. I don't know - water should be boiled in a kettle, not in a microwave - that's just not natural. Anyway, I know that I am in a kettle-loving minority. I had to buy a kettle for my brother's mountain cabin because I got tired (and burned) of boiling my tea water on the stove in a saucepan. My cousin's mountain home? Nope, 'nary a kettle. My own condo-owning daughter doesn't have a kettle (but she's getting one from Santa this Christmas)!

Kettles are cool and interesting and fun. The really cool designer ones are expensive, but they're the perfect art-form for me - function + design. Architect Michael Graves is a noted designer who enjoys the challenge of reshaping and reinventing the look of the humble kettle. BusinessWeek has an interview with Graves that goes into depth about his famous Alessi kettle with the little bird-shaped whistle and his design philosophy.

Though the unassuming little kettle is obviously on the endangered essential-life-object species list, it's gratifying to know that someone somewhere is looking out for it. And I really want one of those Graves-Alessi kettles, dammit. Mo' tea, mo' tea.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Sugar and Spice

Hey, there. Hi, there. Ho, there. First Carrie then Rosemary's Baby - I figure I'd better put something up a little less gruesome or folks will think this is a horror-goth blog. Here ya' go, dolls. What could be sweeter than this? And remember - tomorrow's Round-up Rodeo Day!
Saddle your pony, here we go down to the talent rodeo.
Gather up Susie, Jack and Joe, join the talent round-up.
Round 'em up, bring 'em in, everybody's sure to win.
Step right up, here we go. Oh, what a rodeo!

(So does Annette cancel out Sissy and Mia?)

Like a Candle in the Wind, or A Shocking Disclosure

My pod-mate and co-worker-in-crime Garth Johnson has a wonderfully edgy blog call Extreme Craft. (Just visit it and you'll see what I mean.) A little while ago he turns to me and says, "Check out Extreme Craft," with a bit of devilment in his voice, if you know what I mean. So I stop my very important work for the day and pull up his website, only to find a story on, ah-hem, tampon art. But rather than register shock and pass out in my Aeron chair, I proceeded to tell him that I was doing tampon art 'way before now.

Picture this: small Christian college in Tennessee, late 60s-early 70s, not much to do but figure out ways to disgust each other, broke (financially, I mean), desperate for candles. To alleviate the candle-drought, my suite-mates and I used to turn out the most creative little tapers using cardboard tampon tubes, strings, and shaved crayons or candle-dregs. We did (I do hope) rinse out the tubes, place the string in, then melt the crayons/dregs in a metal spoon and pour into the tubes. Let them harden, peel off the cardboard tube, and - voila! - a whole mess o' 5-6" candles. If you made them with red wax, they looked kinda like used tampons (this is where the disgusting part comes in, and that's all I'm going to say about that).

The scary thing is that making tampon-candles was problably the least vile thing we did. Shoot, I had to transfer to the much-larger University of Alabama to keep from falling to the very bottom of the disgusting-sin-pit. And when I had a daughter of my own, she was strictly forbidden to go to any small Christian college. Who knew tampon art would make it into the extreme mainstream in 2005?

Your name here!

If you're the highest bidder, this could be you!

C'mon. Admit it. You'd love to see your name pop up as a character in a Stephen King novel (unless your name's Carrie or Redrum, and in that case - well - it already has). How much is it worth to you? Sixteen authors are giving readers the opportunity to have their names appear in forthcoming books - for a price - thanks to an e-Bay auction between September 1-25 to benefit The First Amendment Project.

Each author will specify how the name will be used, so you don't have control over that. Author Peter Straub warns that potential bidders "should be advised that the fictional person who winds up bearing his or her name may be of dubious moral character." Well, I should hope so! The more morally dubious, the better, I say. Read about it here, then prepare to fork out the bucks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"The History of . . . " Uh?

Last night as I was flipping through the extremely meager television offerings, I landed on The History Channel. Here's what was on: The History of Poker. The History of Poker! Wha'?? As a former history major and a once-and-future history buff, I have so many complaints against The (So-Called) History Channel, that I hardly know where to begin. But, really, The History of Poker?

I mean, it's one thing if THC had covered all the interesting, exciting history the world has offered up since before written civilization and they had simply run out of things to do "The History of . . . ", but - trust me - no. Unh-uh. If you take out all of the channel's World War II programming (constant) and the multitudinous airings of Modern Marvels, you're left with very little indeed. Another chunk of the programs should technically be on The Science Channel/Discovery Channel - meteors, UFOs, tsunamis. Again, if THC had run out of true historical stuff to cover, then perhaps this stuff could be justified.

Even if THC does focus solely on military history (which it mostly does), could it maybe, once in a while, on occasion, look at World War I? Boer War? Boxer Rebellion? War of the Roses? (I could go on and on and on, regrettably.)

What about a look at early civilizations? There's enough blood and gore to keep the guys interested and a lot of information that could shed some light on how that stuff impacts us today (and where the Middle East is concerned - it most surely does).

Did the Renaissance or Reformation ever happen? Early Chinese dynasties? Anything ever happen in the history of the world in, say, South America? Africa? Did women ever exist in the history of the world? Guess we've just been sitting around on our asses all this time.

OK, that's it. I'm spent. Pass this along to the 12-year-olds in charge of programming at The History Channel. Now, go out and make some history of your own!

Maybe Jamie Lee started something . . .

I noticed a Dove ad in this month's More magazine that featured women of different sizes and types in their underwear. I thought, "Huh. Interesting. Wonder where else this natural-woman thing will run/air?" Well, it seems more and more companies are ditching the anorexic-waif model for women of substance - real women, with real bodies. According to this article, Madison Avenue is - for the moment - enamored with us. And Baby Boom women aren't the only ones driving this. According to the article, younger women are sick of the unrealistic icons, as well.

I think Jamie Lee Curtis might've started the trend when she came out a couple of years ago in More au natural (shown here). Now, doesn't this look more like us?

Wish the moisturizer/hair color folks would get the message. Isn't it a riot how all those 24-year-olds on television have to smooth out their wrinkles and cover their grey?

Why doesn't the "future" look as cool as it used to?

Yeah, yeah, I know. We have computers everywhere, phones that take pictures, lots of fancy whiz-bang medical equipment strewn across the land, so why are we still dressed like 1971?

The 21st century was supposed to look like the Jetsons - what happened?

I am sorely disappointed. Why, in 1961 I'd have sworn that by 2005 we'd've been swooping through the air to space-malls and my clothes would be cool spacey-licious. Um, no. Just look around.

Clothes, cars, buildings were more futuristic-looking in 1960 than they are today. We just look dumpy. Where are the designers? Where are the artists? I want my Jane Jetson-look, dammit, and I want it now! Get me off this crazy thing!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Thinking of launching your own business?

Sure, we're full of ideas and dreams and God knows what else (what was in that burrito?), but too often we think we've missed the boat to turn those ideas into realities. Nay, my friend. "You're Never Too Old to Launch a Business" just might change your mind about starting a business if you're over 50. Now, you may not have an MBA from Wharton but you do have lots of savvy and solid experience (and I'm sure some of you do have an MBA from Wharton). Go take a walk and think about this. Call some friends and bounce ideas off them. Put pen to paper, pros/cons, brainstorm. You just might surprise yourself. (And let us know how you're doing. Can we help?)

Forget the hotel wake-up call

Those of us who travel for business can relate to this problem. You put in a hard day at work, jump through all the hoops at a couple of airports, reach your hotel at 10:35pm, and try to gather your thoughts (and hand-outs) for a meeting the next morning. The day will start early for you, so you go to the night table to set the alarm for 5:30am - only to be confronted with a machine with hundreds of buttons on the top, sides, and back. None of them actually say "alarm set" or anything that can be remotely construed in anyone's logic as a way to set a wake-up buzzer. You're left wondering where you could pick up a reliable rooster at midnight in New York City or San Francisco.

So, you give in, call the desk for a wake-up call, and pray it actually happens.

Well, my fellow travelers, according to this story on CNN, hotels have finally gotten the message that their alarm clock/radio/multi-disk player/bread slicers are just a little too complex to figure out at the end of a hard day. Simpler, user-friendly alarm clocks. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Monday, August 15, 2005

More great news - Gossip is good for you!

First fat thighs, now gossip. Wow! Could we have asked for better news on a Monday? Scientists have concluded that gossip has more pros than cons in group situations across the board - school, work, community. Well, I'll be. Don't believe me? This article in the New York Times science section will back me up on it. Why, oh why didn't they call me in to help with the research. I am always up for some pure, grade-A gossip. Do you think the scientists had as much fun with this as we would've had? Darn.

Let's see, with all the guilt erased from fat thighs and gossip in one fell-swoop on a single day, I need to start work on researching the benefits of, say, absolutely no exercise whatsoever, Cheez-Whiz, and never taking the car in for servicing. Who wants to help? (Bet we could get a government grant . . .)

Menopause the Musical

Well, this is next on my to-do list. Everyone says it's a riot (here's a review). I mean, the title alone should get your foot tappin'. It's here in Atlanta until mid-September. Any word on it out there?

Catastrophic Expectations

So I'm reading this article on "How to Say No" - though I don't know why since I've become damned good at it over the last few years - when I come across this hilarious phrase "catastrophic expectations." In the article the term was referring to weighing the negative consequences of something (like, say, lending your favorite records to a friend for a party - records? Lord, when was this written?) But I find the idea of a "catastrophic expectation" so funny in any number of ways, I believe I have just found my new favorite phrase. I can see it being applied to work, home, family, church, the local theatre board on which I serve, well - I'm going to start tossing it out right and left.

In fact, next time somebody asks me to do something, I'll just have to tell them that the situation is just too, too fraught with catastrophic expectations, though if they try me another day, I might be in the mood for a good catastrophe. Never give up!

Oh. Here's another good article "Learn to Say No, Save Time, Get Tasks Finished" if you need help in that area. (But it doesn't say anything about catastrophic expectations. You'll just have to expect those on your own, I guess.)

Good news for Monday morning - fat thighs not so bad

Sometimes it's hard to drag yourself outta bed on a Monday morning. Looking ahead at the week, there might be some things you look forward to (dinner with friends, theatre tickets, a visit from someone you love), some things you don't (a deadline, presentation, interview). And of course, always in the back of your mind - Is my house clean enough? Should I make that dentist appointment? Are my thighs too fat?

Well, mark that last one off your list - for now, anyway. University of Colorado researchers report that for most post-menopausal women, being "bottom-heavy" might be a good thing. Read about it here. (The down-side is that you still need to keep working on those sit-ups.)

Now, go out there and get 'em!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Restaurant Vent

What in the world is going on with restaurants these days? If they're not yelling at you as you walk in the door (a blog for another time), the waitrons are trying to become your new best friend.

Yesterday, daughter Kate and I were having lunch a local steakhouse. It's the second time we've been to this restaurant - great food but a bit of a service problem. Anyway, the waiter comes up, tell us his name (OK, they've been doing that for years), then asks our names. 'Scuse me? Why? Why ask our names? Now, this happened the first time we ate there, but we thought, well, must be a one-off. Oh, no. So (as the first time), we both ignored the question. It's none of the waiter's business what our names are.

Unh-uh - this guy was having none of it.

"No really, what are your names?" "Betty and Wilma." "No, you're making those up." Finally, poor Kate broke down and told him our names just to get him to shut up. Then this waiter proceeded to call us by our first names every time he came to the table (which was about every 13 seconds), constantly interrupting our conversation. To top it off, the manager came up and did the same thing, plus left his business card! His business card? What was that about?

Geez, all we wanted was a nice bit of red meat and a chance to catch up with each other. Guess we'll need to find another steakhouse. Ah, me. (Do people who meditate find these things irritating too, or are they able to just rise above it all?)

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Lately, I've come back to the idea that maybe I wouldn't feel so scattered and unfocused if I could learn to meditate. You know - long deep breaths, clearing the mind, replenishing the aura, that sort of thing. But I have to tell you, I lack the meditation-gene. Not only do I lack the meditation-gene, the rest of my genes stand on guard against any little protozoa-meditation gene trying to rise from the primordial muck that is my brain. My whole being fights against it, and that is not good.

A long time ago I took a yoga class with a friend. My daughter was about 4 years old, so I had to spring for a sitter. Well, it became apparent pretty quickly that I was not cut out for either yoga or meditation. Yoga - well, I found the positions screamingly funny and my laughter seemed to distract the rest of the class (sheesh!). Who thought those things up, anyway? And as for meditation. . . I'd try to clear my mind, but it kept drifting to things like "Did I remember to put that load of clothes in the dryer?" or "If I can be the first out of this class and out of the parking lot, I might have time to pick up a few groceries before relieving the baby-sitter." When we'd have to think of a meditation word, I usually chose something I needed to remember - "juice-box" or "laundry."

So I thought, well look, I'm a single mother, I have too much on my brain, I'll come back to this later. And every few years I give it a go, and you know what? Nope, still meditating on words like "deadline" or "brochure" or - even better - "chocolate muffin." Also, I find I can concentrate and repeat a word or phrase while the rest of my brain is off somewhere else figuring what color to paint the living room.

The untrained brain. That's what I have. It's either on full blast, or off completely (and I'm asleep). I've tried to find good information on the internet about bringing some meditation discipline to my head, but it all seems very sappy-licious. I'm looking for hilarious meditation. Laughter meditation. Chocolate muffin meditation. Is there anything like that out there, I wonder?

For now, I'm off trying to keep the weekend balance of chores/relaxation. I'll be meditating on "paint" (I'm painting the trim in a bedroom) or "Pam" (I need to remember to pick some up at the store). Cheers!

Friday, August 12, 2005

Enjoy the weekend, girls. You've earned it!

It's time to stop returning those business calls and emails, put your feet up, and let the week's work roll off your shoulders. For all of you teachers out there - crankin' the school year back up - I salute you, noble women! For everyone out there with fabulous and/or meaningful jobs you love - cheers! For the searchers - keep looking, it's out there somewhere.

Now, go play!

How are your career list-making skills?

Ok, I know I said I was drowning in lists yesterday (nothing's changed - still drowning), but I came across a terrific article in Business Week about career-changing that offers an excellent list-making exercise to help you sort out what you want to be when you grow up (which is what I'm trying to sort out right now, remember). Do read the whole article, but it comes down to this:

  1. List every job you've ever had, no matter how unimportant, and under each entry list three things you enjoyed about the job.
  2. Make a list of how you spend your discretionary income. This will point out what is important to you.
  3. List all the dreams and ambitions you had/have that have gotten sidetracked over the years because of the real world (mortgage, car, kid's college fund, etc.).
Now, I don't know about you, but this is going to take lots of thought and time, especially the job list. My first pay-check job was at a really low-rent discount store in Chattanooga, Tennessee called Raylass (my mother knew the manager and that's how I got the job - network, network, network). It was so depressing - I was working the month of December (senior year of high school) and through the Christmas holidays. I even had to work until midnight on Christmas Eve - woe was me! I'll have to think hard about 3 things I liked about that one, although I do remember getting some really cute underwear at a discount outta the deal.

So, when I'm not painting this weekend (not the glamourous-artsy-kind, the room-trim-kind), I'll grab a gin-and-tonic and start my list. I suspect it will be very revealing!

Larger print - it's about time!

Frustrated with tiny type size but too vain/proud/embarrassed to head for the Large Print section of the bookstore? Seems publishers are taking notice that a huge segment of the book-buying public requires a bit of a change as it gets older, as reported today in the New York Times. They're experimenting with increasing the size of the standard mass paperback (the pocketbook-sized ones, not the larger trade paperbacks which are already easier on the eyes) - making them a bit taller and allowing for larger type-face and more line spacing. Voila! Much easier for people of "a certain age" to read, thank you very much.

Now, if they could just do something about the .01 font size in phone books . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Birth of Venus

That's the name of the book I couldn't think of this morning. It's by Sarah Dunant, and if you're interested in a gutsy woman at a strange time of transition in Florence (Italy, not Alabama), I highly recommend it. Another good book about Florence is The Sixteen Pleasures. Enjoy.

Now, let's all go out to dinner with friends and chill.

Looking for something good to read?

Short of Good Reading Material?

I'm always on the look-out for something good to read. If you're stumped (or will be as soon as you finish the latest bodice-ripping, self-help book), there's help online. The long-list for the Booker Prize has been published for those looking for serious, elite, but very satisfying reading - keep scrolling through the article, you'll see the list after the Rushdie stuff. (Ready for your next cocktail party: "Dahling, I've just finished the latest Zadie Smith - up for a Booker, don'cha know.") I doubt any of these are available in paperback in the US right now, but you can always grab a hardcover or hang on to the list until the paperbacks come out.

The New York Times bestseller lists are helpful, if you've hit a brick wall.

The best books, however, are usually those recommended by friends. I've read a couple of duds over the summer, but some of the better reads (in addition to Dream of the Walled City mentioned in my first post) have been The Secret Life of Bees and Lunch at the Piccadilly (two good Southern stories), Forgotten Voices of the Great War and Tommy (good for WWI buffs), and of course Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (oh, come on - I love reading about those snarky teenage wizards). There's another terrific novel that takes place on the cusp of the reformation in Florence and centers on a strong female character, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the book. I'll check it at home tonight and post it tomorrow.

I'm currently reading Edward Rutherfurd's Dublin that I picked up when I was in London in May (a UK edition) but have discovered that it's published in the US under the title The Princes of Ireland. It's the first in a two-part saga - lots of Celtic, Viking, St. Patrick, Brian Boru stuff going on. Rutherfurd likes sagas - Sarum and London were his others I've read.

By the way, for book reviews or whatever, I'll try my best to link to real reviews instead of those published by people trying to sell you something (Amazon, B&N, etc.). But sometimes that can't be helped. I'm not trying to sell anything, just trying to tell you about the book, so ignore the sales pitch.

Only 400 more pages to go in Dublin so I'll be on the look-out soon!

I used to be good at these two games...

So what happened? I find it very hard to keep my mind on one thing for more than a couple of minutes. It's not just a scatterbrain-thing - ideas keeping popping off like old camera flashbulbs, interrupting whatever task is at hand. I do take the time to jot down whatever I've thought of, but now I'm drowning in lists! Ah me, I'm becoming a believer in adult-A.D.D. - though a friend has reminded me that adult-A.D.D. is really just adult-getting-O.L.D.! Feel free to comment - what's on your mind?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Start Yakkin'

Want to add your comments or share ideas about great resources, books/movies/events, how to keep your head when those about you are losing theirs? Here's what you do:

  • Click on "Comments" at the lower right of one of the posts.
  • Type whatever you want to say in the block provided (don't worry about the HTML instructions unless you want to bold or italicize something).
  • Under "Choose an identity," click Other and sign your name or make up a name or whatever makes you comfortable.
  • Preview your post, if you want, then publish. I think you do have to register with, but you don't have to start your own blog or anything.

Do let me know if this seems too convoluted. It'll have to do, though, until I get the Shorty PJs website up and running. I hope to keep blogging, but also have a forum, which works better for these things, I think.

Don't Let Me See You Dancing on TV

Flipping through the channels last night, I passed through a couple of the PBS stations doing those Motown 60s Retro concert things. Those shows just embarrass the hell out of me - not because of the aging performers clinging to their moments of fame (hey, they gotta make a livin'), but the shots of the audience swaying and singing and jumping around to the music.

Let me be brutal - this audience is not a pretty sight. They're too old to be caught in public (not to mention spread across national TV) doing these things - they're dressed like old people, they move like old people. It makes me sad to see 'em. And yes, I know I'm talkin' 'bout my generation, but it just sends a chill up my spine to see this kind of thing. I'm not advocating hiding under a rock once you reach a certain age - nobody likes to dance and party more than I do - just don't do it front of television cameras. Ye gods! Goodness knows, we have enough to humiliating things over which we have no control - no need to publicly humiliate a whole generation by choice.

I know. I'm so petty.

Oh - ran across a great article from The Wall Street Journal about changing careers that doesn't completely focus on people under 30. Of course the best ideas come from people who've managed to make a change. Several first-hand stories can be found in this article on the Third Age website. Feel free to comment and add suggestions.