Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The perfect cup

Fans know that I am a tea-drinker and shun the java stuff, thus saving thousands of dollars that most folks throw at Starbucks. I consume vast quantities of black tea - usually Earl Grey - over the course of a day. A little habit I picked up during my stint in England during the crazy 1970s.

To a tea-drinker, little things matter. The pot. The tea (loose or bag?). The add-ins (sugar? milk?). And, most definitely, the cup. When I'm feeling prissy I have lovely china cups that fit the bill. Usually, however, I need a solid mug that holds a goodly portion of the lovely liquid. But no ordinary clunky mug will do. It needs to have the right balance, the right thickness, the right glaze.

My perfect cup right now is a mug hand-crafted by a dear childhood friend with whom I recently reconnected via Facebook. Susie and I spent nine formative years together at Henry L. Barger Elementary School and Brainerd Jr. High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before going to separate high schools. You lose touch. That's to be expected.

But what a joy to find each other again and catch up on our lives! Then all those slumber parties, school projects, and choir concerts flood right back into the brain. Let's just say that I'm sure Susie gets Shorty PJs' references to spoolies and Noxema.

OK. Back to the perfect cup. Susie is a potter and creates her own usable art at Waterwheel Studio on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Naturally, when I learned this and saw her lovely work on etsy.com, well, I just had to have me some of that action. Two fabulous mugs (one for work, one for home) and a fabulous casserole dish. Beautiful and useful. And made by my friend Susie. The one who knew me when. What's not to love?

The perfect cup? You bet. And now, for one more cuppa tea. Cheers!

All in the head

The whole Natasha Richardson bang-on-the-head/bang-you're-dead episode has me scratching my own oft banged-up head. I mean, a perfectly healthy young (and yeah, 45's young) woman takes a minor spill on a bunny slope, the kind of thing we've all done in some fashion over the years, and within a couple of days the young woman is dead. How can this be? Was it the way she hit her head? Did she hit at exactly the wrong spot - 1mm one way or the other, and she'd've been fine? What separates what happened to Natasha Richardson from all the times I've conked my head?

And you know. I have a tendency to knock my head around. Remember the episode at Tabla last year, when I fell down those hard wooden stairs, banging my head on every single one of them? Ended up with lumps on the top and the back of my head. Yet, here I am, alive and walking around.

In my 20's I took a terrible fall while ice skating at Colony Square Rink in Atlanta. I am (or was, then) a good ice skater, sure-footed and balanced. But on a turn my blades got tangled up in each other, and BAM! I hit the ice with full force and speed, the back of my head hitting the ice with same force and speed. It was a close call. I was woozy. A huge knot grew on the back of my head, and while I didn't bloody the ice, little spots were just under the surface of my head lump. Did I go to a doctor? Nope? Was I sort of dizzy for a few days? Yep. Still, here I am, alive and walking around.

Those are just two examples of how my poor head has been abused by my innate clumsiness over the last half-century. So how is my head (or my luck or my various landings) different from Natasha Richardson's? Was the Cosmos just ready to fold her back into it and that little fall provided the perfect opportunity? Just wondering.

Of course it's of no use to look backward on my head-conking incidents (and they are legion). But the next time I knock my head into something, will it be one bang too many? Or should I just take comfort in the fact that I'm just too damn hard-headed for that sort of catastrophe to befall me?

Perhaps I should always wear a helmet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Where everyone is Irish

New York City. It is wild out there today. This is the first time I've gotten to attend the St. Patrick's Day Parade since moving to New York in 2006. It's New Orleans-crazy on the streets - lots of to-go cups, if you get what I mean. Wink. Wink.

No matter your nationality, everybody's wearin' the green, usually in the form of a wacky hat. (Note to self: design outrageous St. Paddy's Day hat and sell on streets of NYC next year.) The pubs - 99.9% Irish, with Irish wait-staff - are in full-out celebratory mode.

Throngs of people - yes, seems more than the usual throng - are whooping it up on every sidewalk up/down/across the city. In short, it's Partytown, USA/Eire today.

Here's my Irish quote o' the day:
"An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold onto one blade of grass and not fall off the face of the earth." - Irish proverb

Here's hoping some of the folks walking around Manhattan right now can find a blade of grass to grab on to.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all!

Monday, March 16, 2009

There's always money for books

One of the first lessons I taught my daughter was that whatever the economic situation, you could always scrounge up enough money to buy books. Maybe not a first edition or a new hardback but something to feed soul and mind on the $1 rack – always.

Food and shelter are true necessities and certainly must be dealt with every single day. Fortunately, we always had enough pennies to cover those two basics. But if we hadn’t I could’ve always stood on the street corner holding a “Will work for food” sign. There are, after all, safety nets in the public and private sector that – though not easy or ideal – accommodate the need for food and shelter. I’m not sure holding a sign that reads “Will work for books” would get me any takers.

At the lowest financial ebb, walking into a bookstore or up to a box of books at a yard sale can give you the strength to carry on. The main thing it does, I think, is infuse you with a feeling of impeding possibility where none might have existed before. Somewhere amidst all that written-down stuff is the very thing you need to move on, move up. A story you’ve never heard before. A fantasy character that shows you a way to soar again. A turn of phrase that changes your defeat into the possibility of success. A description of something you want to attain. Such opportunity and hope in a load of books!

Yes, a library can do the same thing, sort of, but sooner or later – if you’re a good library patron – you have to give the book back. There’s something about owning the book that increases the soul-feeding possibilities, I believe. I don’t want to give the book back. Once I read it, it becomes a part of me – of my options, goals, action-plan, and I need to own it.

Yep, there’s always money for books. There has to be.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Re-visiting Snow Jam '82

Far and away my most popular blog-post is the one I did a couple of years ago about Atlanta’s infamous “Snow Jam ’82.” The event looms large in the psyche of any Atlantan who experienced a 6-hour/3-mile drive, bunking in with co-workers, or who really did walk five miles in the snow - not barefoot, maybe, but certainly without the benefit of snow-boots.

In celebration of yesterday’s snowfall across the Southland, I deem it highly appropriate to share several of the Snow Jam ’82 stories added to my original post via comments. Maybe these tall tales will spark a few memories of your own.

From jcb: “This is when I started using the catchphrase "City Paralyzed!" in response to any snow whatsoever. Walked to and from TBS twice during that (just under 2 miles then.) Remember typing winter storm crawls for local (as opposed to satellite) and just kinda arbitrarily putting them on. There is a great edited tape from snowjam that still makes the rounds.”

From Anonymous: “I grew up in Roswell and remember just about everything about Snow Jam. As a background, Atlanta had been peppered with ice storms for several winters in the late 70's and early 80's that had brought down power lines, felled trees, iced roads, etc., so TPTB were very cautious with any winter weather. Plus the ATL at the time was much smaller than it is now so the infrastructure was less developed and the resources of the DOT were not as deep . . .

The forecast the next day was not bad. I think for Tuesday morning was in the 20's. However, there was a real possibility of snow at some point during the day. So guess what ... school systems that had egg on the faces from the previous day made the early call cancel school for Tuesday. The day was cold but not too cold and pretty nice.

After lunch the sky turned grey and then with much disbelief it started snowing - I remember it starting in Roswell about 3-ish. Ironic (?) because we would have been out of school by the time it actually had started snowing. It snowed pretty hard the rest of the day and night.

My Dad worked for an Ad Agency at North Ave & Peachtree and since that was long before the days of the wider and extended 400, he had a long slog home. I think he waited until after 6 to leave but he made the trek up 75 to 285, around the Perimeter and up 400 to Holcomb Bridge before 9 PM. He got a good laugh about traffic and the panic since he learned to drive the in snowy hills of Ohio.

We were out of school the rest of the week. It snowed until about midday on Wednesday and stayed around until the weekend. A quick second follow-up snowstorm came on Friday but it was all gone by Monday. A sequel to Snow Jam came a year later in 1983 but it was not as big or as long. The TV station tried to keep the Snow Jam brand alive for a couple of more years, but we never really had anything like it again.

From Anonymous #2: “I remember Snow Jam very well also. I was in a Decatur classroom taking a test for a job with several others. I noticed that it began to snow, but went on with the exam. As the snow fell heavier & heavier, I asked the person giving the test if we we're going to be allowed to leave. She went & checked with other classes & found that we were the only ones left in the building!

As I was driving down Memorial Dr., up ahead I could see that big hill by Dekalb Co. police
station. And while I was watching from the bottom of the hill, I saw cars sliding every which way. I knew I'd never make it, so I pulled into the parking lot of a liquor store (yes, I made a purchase while I was there), & used their phone to call a cab. All lines were busy, so I set out on foot, walking up Memorial Dr. toward the interstate. A guy in a 4x4 gave me a ride to the interstate ramp & I was walking down the entrance ramp when a woman who had just picked up her daughter from daycare stopped to give me a ride. She took me all the way to my house & refused any money I tried to give her. So don't ever let anyone tell you that there aren't any good people here.”

From Anonymous #3: “Thank you, thank you, thank you for remembering this storm! I'll NEVER forget it! There were no real warnings or anything! I was at work in a meeting and saw this icy snow falling and became a little jittery. My boss allowed some staff to leave but wouldn't allow those in my meeting to go home until we completed our business.

Finally, at about 3:30 PM, we were the last to leave. It was unbelievable! I was on Northside Dr. creeping along on my way to my home in East Point & giving young men from the projects a dollar here and there to push my car up the hills. I think the kids made a lot of money that day! The ice was just plain dangerous! Cars were sliding all over the place because it was heavy icy snow! Three men approached my car and asked for a ride & for the first time in my life I said "what the hell," told them I hoped they weren't rapists and let them in. Thank God I did...they were security guards and helped me navigate the ice until I was close to home. It took me 5 hours to get there! My usual drive home took 30 minutes.

I must say though that it was exciting even with abandoned cars, people filling up every motel and hotel in the city and everyone told their stories for weeks on end! "Snow Jam" started 1982
off with a big bang & is an apt description of the worst storm I'd ever driven through in my life
and I'm from Cleveland, OH!!!”

Oh, those Snow Jam stories! Since I last posted on the event, a blog devoted solely to Snow Jam has cropped up at http://www.snowjam82.com/ . It lists some other resources that should bring a warm glow. I credit Bybee Web for the photos here. Now, go have a cup of cocoa and remember when.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Most Dangerous Spot in East Harlem

It looks so innocent from the outside. The clean brown-and-white striped awning (a dash of Henri Bendel?) is inviting, amongst the hodge-podge of shops surrounding it and begs the passerby to push open its door to see what's inside. But don't be fooled, my friends. SpaHa Cafe is East Harlem's most dangerous spot.

SpaHa (SPAnish HArlem, get it?) is not your typical Spanish Harlem establishment. As much as I love my 'hood, do we really need one more junky cheap luggage store or flea-ridden bodega? Thankfully, the cafe's business is booming. And why not? New Year's diets and Lenten disciplines be damned. SpaHa will bring you to your knees. And the staff is friendly and helpful (yeah, they'll help you right into the next bigger size jeans).

SpaHa Cafe is chock full of the most glorious assortment of breads, pastries, and sandwiches you've ever encountered. I can never resist buying a loaf of raisin-walnut bread (with almost as many raisins and walnuts as bread) or picking up a chocolate croissant (flaky, flaky pastry with a generous slab of chocolate smack in the middle - oooh!). Sometimes I just let the great folks behind the counter choose for me: "I'm in the mood for something chocolatey/fruity/nutty - what do you suggest?" And they always give me a lovely treat.

These wonders of delight are delivered fresh to the cafe from well-known and loved establishments like Balthazar and Artopolis, so no need to travel down to SoHo or over to Astoria to sample these fine confections. Nope, just swing by after exiting the #6 at 116th, then trudge on home. Almost a little too convenient, if you get my drift.

Superior food and agreeable folks - unheard of! And dangerous. Stay away! It is impossible to walk out empty-handed or empty-bellied. Resolutions cannot be kept with this menace to society in the neighborhood. Thank goodness!

Hit me one more time - with a loaf of raisin-walnut bread. Bam!