Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wishes for the 2012 World

2011 is draggin' its tired old butt toward its death at midnight. A brand new baby year will be born, and like all babies, it carries our hopes and dreams of health and happiness. But as with human babies, years have a tendency to weave their way through ups and downs, the good and the bad.

Still, I offer up three wishes for the world and the new baby 2012. While, of course, I hope for world peace and the end of hunger and human suffering, I'm pragmatic enough to know that all of those things may not happen within the next 12 months, so I'll scale back on the grandiose and wish for the possibles.
  • Common courtesy, civility, better listening and understanding among folks. People are angry, I get that. People - well, mainly politicians - think compromise is weak and winning the day is the central goal (even if it means losing the future). Appalling things are said. Publicly. And spun throughout the media and on social networks, where they reverberate in dangerous, immoral ways. My wish for 2012 is that everyone would think before they speak or bang out something to the internet. Be nice It won't compromise your ideals, it will enhance them.
  • An end to intergenerational squabbling. We're all in this together, people, from the newly-born to the nearly-dead. Each generation is complex; each has its inventors, dictators, artists, and baby-killers. Each has unique struggles and problems to face. (Example, "the Greatest Generation," is a term coined by Tom Brokaw in 1998, not a moniker pre-ordained by God. I seem to recall they were seen as the bad guys, creators of the soul-sucking military-industrial complex, for a few decades. See how fortunes change?) I guess in some sense, every generation "steals" from the next, but it also provides new ways of coping and changing the world for good. Attacking the problems of unemployment, lousy health care and education, and diminishing quality of life benefits should be what we're all working for, across generations. Be nice (see wish #1).
  • An end to anything relating to the Kardashians. Please. I know this can happen because I wished for the same thing to happen to Paris Hilton a few years back. Go. Away. And y'all stop watching and feeding this disgusting display of silliness.
In short, let's be nicer and encourage everyone else (folks on the street, TSA, politicians, CEOs, and our children) to be nicer. If we manage that then the intergenerational pissing and moaning will go away, as will anyone's need to feed the Kardashian machine.

Who knows? Maybe world peace will follow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Days Fly Swiftly By

Time always moves too fast for me this time of year. I love the time between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, but most especially the week leading up to the big day. I arrived in Atlanta early Saturday morning and am trying to be present in every moment, because it will all be over in the blink of an eye.

The schedule has been jam-packed, running errands, partying with the family, lunching with friends, frantically wrapping presents, even managing to get a few hours sleep every night. But even amidst the frenzy (and I mean "frenzy" in a good way), I'm trying to savor each minute. The traditions and memories of this time of year is what winds me up to go forward into the new year. Sounds like a lot of pressure for a few days out of 365, but even when I've encountered a "blue" Christmas or two in my life, enough of the season's spirit works its way into my soul.

Highlights so far:
  • A long, late lunch with daughter Kate on Saturday. Burgers, a bottle of wine, and lots of time to catch up. Best Christmas present ever.
  • The annual Bully Bartow Family Christmas Gathering, this year for the first time in Dalton, Georgia, at niece Ashley's house. Always fun. Always too much yummy food. Always proof-positive that a big, close family is what makes life worth living. Thanks, Ashley, Roger, Hope, Halle, Bryleigh, and Jaxon for being fabulous hosts!
  • Playing with GrandBoy. Everything from hitting a bouncy ball with a cardboard wrapping paper tube, to dancing around to the Thomas the Tank Engine song, reading storybooks, and playing with his huge array of toy cars - laughter and hugs always ensue. (And he can almost say GrandMary!)
Today, we get to take advantage of son-in-law's day off to finish up shopping, gather the gifts for our Angel Tree family, lunch together, and enjoy every special instant. Still, it all seems to be flying by. I wish there was a way to do all that we've been doing, yet have the minutes go more slowly.

Wonder if Einstein had a solution for this dilemma?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Christmastime in the City

I spent yesterday finishing up my Christmas shopping and soaking in the spirit of the season as only New York City can throw at you. It was the Saturday when Santas and their elves hit the streets full force, flash-mobbing all around the town. Here's a taste of the mobs, the lights, the city.

Along 5th Avenue, each store is more audaciously decorated than the next.

I stopped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the tree of angels. Photographs are not allowed in front of the tree, but perhaps you can tell a little about it from this angle. Gorgeous angels and tiny white candles are spaced all over the tree, while around the bottom is the Nativity scene and little village motifs. It really is magnificent.

Part of the Santa flash-mob at Grand Central Terminal. They were a friendly, fun bunch.

One of the Bergdorf-Goodman windows.

"The Tree." The Rockefeller Center tree is just beautiful this year. It always takes the breath away, but this one does seem to out-do past trees.

It's a great time to be in New York!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why We Need a Postal Service

These are dark times for the US Postal Service. It's billions of dollars in the red. Post offices are closing left and right, and not just rural ones; several in Manhattan are closing, as well. First-class postage will now take a minimum of two days, not one (even just across town?). The elimination of Saturday delivery is a real possibility. Postage rates are going up.

And, let's face it, "going postal" should apply more to the customer than the postal worker. Every time you walk into a post office you find long lines with only one or two folks at the counter, while 14 other postal workers stroll through the back, look at the crowds, make a few jokes, maybe shift a package, then saunter back to the break room.

No matter how much grousing and grumbling those of us in line do for the 45 minutes we're standing there, it's darn certain that at least one of those two folks behind the counter will be scheduled for lunch/bathroom/grocery shopping, put up a "Window Closed" sign, and leave the counter. Not one of the 14 saunterers will come to take his/her place, either. And the line of customers just gets longer. So it's a wonder the folks in line aren't the ones going postal. It's outrageous.

And yet, I'm here to defend this noble, wounded institution. Why? Because:
  1. In this age of email and instant messaging, there is nothing better than going to the mailbox and finding a hand-addressed card, note, or letter from a friend, acquaintance, or family member. The card or stationery, the stamp, the signature and note all took thought and care, even if the handwriting is barely readable. It's special in a way that email and texting can never be.
  2. Wedding invitations, thank you notes, birth announcements, party invitations (I always do real ones + e-vite ones to cover all bases), and Christmas and birthday cards should always come via snail-mail. They are special. They are personal. They demand a little extra effort because they are keepsakes. Electronic versions of all of these get deleted and disappear into air, but real, actual cards are things to enjoy for years. I keep all of my birthday and Christmas cards. I love going through them each year. Can't/won't do that with email, even the lovely Jacquie Lawson e-cards.
  3. Have you sent anything via UPS or FedEx recently? If so, you've got a lot more disposable income than I have. You may as well hand-deliver those wedding invitations and Christmas cards. Airfare to 96 locations is cheaper than sending them individually by FedEx/UPS. Go to their websites and try to get a quick rate quote. Good luck. And yet, for well under $1, you can send a card or letter through the US Postal Service, and it pretty much always gets to where it's going within a couple of days. (By the way, if the check really was in the mail, you'd have it by now.)
  4. Stamps. I love stamps. I love commemorative stamps. No need to stand in the "going postal" line to get them. I order mine online directly from USPS, and they get to me within two days. Plus, you can design your own stamps now. Very cool. UPS and FedEx = no wonderful stamps, just boring informational stuff. Shoot, I say, raise the rate of a first class stamp to $1 (which should include delivery insurance). Still way, way cheaper than a delivery service.
  5. No need to arrange special pick-ups or get out of your jammies to go to a special store to get your missed delivery or mail a fist-full of cards. Mail comes right to your home and office! How convenient is that? Plus, you can dump all those cards in conveniently-located blue mail boxes. They're all over the place.
  6. Flat-rate boxes. Love 'em. If you can fit whatever you're shipping into a USPS small, medium, or large box, it goes out for one flat advertised price. If that 40-lb brick fits into a small flat-rate box? $4.95 (a little cheaper if you pay and print out your label online). It's a real money-saver for our little Elegant Scribbles business, where we often have to ship back and forth. Plus, they usually arrive at the destination within three days.
Yes, the post office needs to clean up its business. My suggestion is to start with the surly, incompetent folks who work in post offices (take fewer breaks; if there are more than three people in line, add more counter help; pay attention to the customer). Go ahead and up the postage rate to $1. And, yes, if need be, do away with Saturday service.

But keep the stamps coming. Stick with those flat-rate mailers. Keep using that cute little guy in your commercials. Keep putting wonderful cards and notes in my own little mailbox. Make Benjamin Franklin proud!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fail . . . Pass. Perspective

I chalked up a massive Fail last week. In an effort to jump-start one of my personal writing projects, I signed on to the infamous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is that between November 1st and 30th, hopeful writers will churn out a 50,000-word novel. And I was hopeful.

Three pretty darn good stories lie fallow on my computer. Once in a while I drag out one or the other of them, flesh out a little more, and make some headway. Then the real world of getting day-to-day things done intrudes, and the story stays safely tucked away in its own little Word file until the writing bug nibbles again. Sigh.

So, yes, I was NaNoWriMo-hopeful. I started out well enough. At least for the first two or three days. But even knocking myself out to write 1600+ words a day - either getting up early or staying up late to do it - proved beyond me. I got so far behind that I realized I'd never get anywhere close to 50,000 words as the days ticked away. Massive fail. Sigh.

All was not lost, thankfully. Those few NaNoWritMo days pushed me to move my story forward and rethink the characters and plot. Perhaps if I start gearing up mentally for next November's event in, say, August, I can pass the test of finishing one of my stories. Until then, I'll have to mark the effort a big ol' "Fail."

On a more successful note, I passed my colonoscopy with flying colors. Perspective, friends. Perspective.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Out-of-Season Thinking

I've been tinkering with a reflection I agreed to write for a Lenten meditation booklet, and tomorrow's the deadline. My little piece is almost finished, but I think it lacks a "soul," mainly because I'm not in the mood for Lent. I'm in the mood for Advent and Christmas. These things are always written well in advance - not unlike the way we used to create Christmas commercials during the summertime when I was in the TV biz, so I'm forced to think about the privations of 40 days/40 nights rather than give in to my wintertime festive feelings.

It's hard to pull away from Advent and bring some new insight to Lent. I'm not good at Lent, anyway. I'm always in Advent-mode, always waiting for Christmas instead of Easter. I guess that makes me a bad Christian, but, well, there it is. Resurrection is phenomenal, miraculous, but way beyond my understanding. But a baby born in a manger, with angels and shepherds all around? Why, I can write about that till the cows come home.

Folks often compare Advent and Lent since they are, by tradition, periods of self-reflection and anticipation of bigger moments to come. But let's face it, Advent is happier, more hopeful, plus, we tend to indulge instead of deny during this season, which is a lot more fun. Lent is just - well - long. And depressing. And nobody wants to go out to eat or do anything jolly because they've given it up for Lent.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm bad at self-reflection, despite being in desperate need of it, obviously. Here's my brand of self-reflection: "Well, that was a stupid thing to do; don't do that again." Then I move on. And I'm a really bad meditator. I start out OK but eventually drift into thinking about all the stuff I should be doing while I'm just sitting and meditating. So I get up and do whatever it is I need to do. Being quiet and still, like one is supposed to be during these things, is not one of my gifts. I do quiet and still when I'm asleep, though even then I toss and turn and talk. So, no. Not good at quiet reflection and meditation. 

But I figure God made me this way and gave me other ways to sort out the answers to big questions about myself and the world. You quiet meditators out there will just have to accept that about me. But this post is moving me no closer to the Lenten meditation finish line, so I'll sign off and hope for the desert-like feeling of Lent to descend upon me.

I will, however, have one eye on the little Christmas tree in the corner of my office. Sigh.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Our Cups (and Plates) Overfloweth

On this Thanksgiving Day I realize how supremely blessed I am, surrounded by family and friends, way too much excellent food, good health, laughter, and love.

All the planning and preparation for the annual feast culminated in a crowded table, prayer, moments of silence as we inhaled our food, remembering those who aren't able to be with us, and lively discussion.

In the midst of political cynicism and deep philosophical divide, it's a wondrous thing to stop, think about all we do have, and give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Over the River and Through the Air

. . . to GrandBoy's house I go. Even though Thanksgiving is a week away, I head for Atlanta tomorrow morning. I can't wait. Work has been brutal of late, and it will be good to be in a different place and atmosphere. I want to be with my family, eat Southern food, lunch with friends, maybe take in a movie - you know, life-stuff. And it's all wrapped up in what Thanksgiving should be.

I love, love, love being with my family and friends around the Thanksgiving table. I love that everyone has a special dish(es) they bring to the feast - dishes that, were they not to appear on the table, would somehow lessen the holiday. Deviled eggs and sweet potato casserole. Pumpkin pies. Cheesy potato casserole. Cranberry salad. And of course, turkey with cornbread dressing. Yeah, it's a lot of food. But that food represents more than nourishment. It represents love and tradition. All of it is "soul" food.

Anticipating next Thursday's gathering and the quality time between now and then, my Grinch-ness is disappearing, and I'm feeling warm and toasty inside. I look forward to recharging my spirit and energy. It's just the beginning of being truly thankful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Autumn in the City

I spent the afternoon strolling around Madison Square Park and Gramercy Park this afternoon, just to get one more look at the leaves. Since I leave for a little Thanksgiving break in Atlanta next Friday, I expect "fall" to have occurred by the time I get back to New York the Saturday after Turkey Day. In spite of the Halloween snows, the trees still have lovely muted colors. It is such a beautiful time of the year, these weeks leading into Thanksgiving and Christmas. Gorgeous!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Thank you to all who have served to protect our Constitution and our freedoms over the years. Thank you to those who served in that awful war leading up to the first Armistice celebration in 1918. It's a good day to watch "All Quiet on the Western Front," read some of the Great War poets, and say thank you to everyone who has served in uniform over the years. In honor of all veterans, here are pictures of my daddy and mother, who both served in the US Navy during World War II.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

November Run

No not me. I don't run. I walk really fast, but I don't run. But I do like to cheer others on, and that's what I did for a little while this afternoon. I stood on 5th Avenue and lent my meager support to the runners in the New York City Marathon. By the time they get to the top end of Central Park, their 26.2 mile hustle through all five boroughs is almost at an end. Some are running strong. Some are walking. Some are obviously in pain and just limping along.

To all the marathoners, I salute you! Now, I'm going to settle back in my easy chair, eat some homemade vegetable soup with cornbread, and rest up from all the cheering I did.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween, y'all

My favorite Halloween picture ever (until this year, of course). Last year's costume for GrandBoy: Unhappy Monkey. Oh, the humiliation! Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Halloween Carol

A Halloween Carol
(to the tune of White Christmas)

I'm living through a white Halloween,
Unlike the ones I've ever known.
Where the ghouls and goblins
Go apple bobblin'
Amidst snowballs being thrown.
(mwah-ha, mwah-ha, mwah-ha-ha)

I'm living through a white Halloween,
With every Boris Karloff flick.
May your treats out-number
Your tricks.
But let's save the snow for St. Nick.

Yes, the Winter Storms Began

Well, the gates to the Conservatory Garden were locked, but I think it's safe to say that it doesn't look much like it did last weekend. What an odd storm.

E're the Winter Storms Begin

A Nor'easter's due to blow through sometime this evening. Before we're lashed with wind, rain, and snow, I thought I'd show you what Central Park's Conservatory Garden looked like last weekend. The flowers were gorgeous. Not sure they'll make it through this weekend's weather, though.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Horror Hits: Week of October 23

Double your pleasure, double your fun. For this week leading up to October 31, let me suggest a few seasonal pairings (plus one tripling) to help you ward off the evil spirits well into the night. Pull your chair a little closer to the warm glow of your computer screen or 60" plasma TV and stock up on popcorn and "fun size" Snicker bars. Here we go.

The Shining (1980) and The Shinning (1994). One stars Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, the other stars Bart and Homer Simpson. Nicholson's a nutcase and Shelly needs to wash her hair. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Shivery stuff. Until you watch the Simpsons' version. Memorable line: "Usually the blood gets off at the second floor." My suggestion is to watch the scary one first, then enjoy the parody. Bart and Homer really take the edge off Nicholson.

Halloween (1978) and Carrie (1976). Jamie Lee Curtis in one, Sissy Spacek in the other, P.J. Soles in both. Do not mess with high school girls. Trouble seems to follows these little darlin's wherever they go. The teenage boys don't stand a chance - they are all doomed from the start. Pumpkins, predators, periods, and proms - terrifying stuff. Totally.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Gods and Monsters (1998). And if you want a real film-fest, toss in Young Frankenstein (1974). If you can only watch one James Whale Frankenstein movie, go for Bride. It's got everything you need to get the gist of Gods and Monsters, Young Frankenstein, and any good Carol Burnett sketch. Elsa Lanchester's coif alone is worthy of timeless honor and praise, but Bride is loaded with iconic images and quotes that ripple through the other two films. "To a new world of gods and monsters!"

Now go make friends - or do I mean, "fiends"? - with crazy cabin-fevered writers, knife-wielding teenage girls, and monsters with fabulous hair.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Bind

I'm fresh out of reading material - actual books, virtual books, audio books - and so I turn again to you, dear blog-buddies, for suggestions.

Here's what I don't want:  I'm not in the mood for non-fiction, unless it's a rip-roaring read (like, oh, say, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and I don't need anything that's going to tax my brain at this particular time of year, so no existentialistic, uber-cerebral junk. Oh, and no romance crapola, either. In short, I'm looking for a plain, ol' good story.

So, I put it to you, friends: What's the last good book you read, the one that you didn't want to put down?

I'll even contribute to the conversation. A few weeks ago I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a book I'd put off reading for a while. Well, little Shorties, I couldn't read the thing fast enough! I highly recommend it if you've been putting off reading it, too.

Don't feel compelled to write a book review; a title and author are sufficient. Raves and book reviews are always welcome, however.

Please, please send me something that will make me read late, late into the night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Klutz Day

Ever have one of those days where you run into things, trip over invisible objects, and drop everything you pick up? Sure you have. And so have I. Today.

I dropped everything from brushes to pens to a bowl of spinach (which I managed to catch just before it hit the floor - whew)!. Stuff just slid through my fingers all day long. But that's not the worst of it.

The worst of it was running full-speed-ahead into a whacking great iron air-conditioner cage on my way to work. These may just be New York head-bangers. No one in my 'hood wants their street-level a/c stolen from the window, so they encase them in thick iron-barred cages that protrude a couple of feet from the side of buildings. At least, that's how it works in Spanish Harlem.

Anyway, I was walking - which, if you know me, means a marathoner's running speed - head down, so I wouldn't trip over something on the sidewalk, when - bam! One of these a/c iron-barred cages slapped me upside the head. My first thought was "Who hit me with a shovel?" The corner of the thing bit me right at my forehead and hairline. Bit is not strong enough, unless the bite is coming from a Great White Shark.

Color me one stunned klutz. A single trickle of blood made its way down my forehead, but I had no idea how bad it was. I was close enough to my apartment to stagger back to survey the damage. Fortunately, the cut was minor, but I do have a lump the size of, oh, somewhere between a golf ball and tennis ball. Yeah, big. And, yeah, I put ice on it immediately.

Even knowing that it was my Klutz Day, I went on to work. I needed folks to keep an eye on me, in case I went to sleep and didn't wake up. Ibuprofen helped. A lot. And it was a fairly productive day, despite all the time spent picking up stuff I'd dropped.

Here's hoping tomorrow is my Graceful Day. I can't afford another lump on my head. I'm fuzzy-brained enough, as it is.

Halloween Horror Hits, Week of October 16

Another October week has passed, and though I spent four of the last seven days at a conference in Colorado, I managed to view some pretty good scary movies via my trusty netbook. I'm dying to see PT's suggestion of "Dead of Night," but it's not offered on Netflix or Hulu. I'm on the look-out and will find it before Halloween. It's obviously a classic I've missed along the way.

Here are this week's suggestions:

The Fog (1980) - A John Carpenter film with Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman. Better than I thought it would be (why am I suspicious of Adrienne Barbeau movies?), in fact it was darn good. Not John Carpenter/Jamie Lee Curtis/Halloween good, but scary just the same. Weird revengeful-zombie-filled fog takes over a Northern California fishing town. Choose this one, not the 2005 remake. I mean, wouldn't you rather watch Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis?

Knife Edge (2009) - Standard busy-professionals-move-to-big-creepy-county-house thing, but I kinda like standard busy-professionals-move-to-big-creepy-county-house things, so it held my interest. Took me a while to figure out who the baddie was (I thought it was the Joan Plowright character for a while), so it held my interest. If you like standard busy-professionals-move-to-big-creepy-county-house things, too, you might like it.

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962) - Lousy title for a pretty good little movie. Professor who teaches about psychological effects superstitions finds his wife engaging in various forms of voodoo and witchcraft, claiming to do it to protect her husband from jealous colleagues. A few twists and turns, plus a giant stone eagle comes to life. A nice cozy little black-and-white movie, perfect for the season of Halloween.

Move that bowl of candy corn a little closer, and be prepared to be . . . mwah-ha-ha . . .spooked!