Monday, December 27, 2010

True Grit is What We All Want

We don't go to the movies often, preferring to watch them in front of a warm fire at home with a cat on our lap, where we have our own refreshments at hand (and frequent bathroom breaks are not a problem) -- and I don't have to ignore people's cell phones, or their eating ice, or chewing their cud in my ear. But every so often one comes along I simply can't wait the requisite 3-4 months for Netflix to churn out. Such is the case with 'True Grit.'*

I have been a fan of TG since I read the book as a teen. I felt it necessary to read all the works of Charles Portis. He is a fellow Arkansan -- who also graduated from U of A Fayetteville, with a degree in Journalism (though the year I was born). His writing style is like a newspaperman - sparse and clean, with the added delight of a sly wit. But of all his work, TG is by far my favorite.

When the movie came out, I think in '69, when I was a kid, I hadn't read the book yet, but I loved westerns and John Wayne ruled the western movies. I loved John Wayne's acting in it, and Robert DuVall was an excellent Ned Pepper, but I was sorely disappointed with the casting of Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. And Glenn Campbell as the Texas Ranger??! Let's not even go there. To make matters worse they filmed it - god knows, but it sure as hell didn't resemble AR and the Indian territory of OK...as much as I liked the movie, it was a bit of an embarrassment. Then when I read the novella, I felt they didn't do a good job at all, despite making a movie that stands up today. (Wayne's Oscar was a nod to sentiment, but his performance is still a pleasure to watch).

This movie seems to put things to rights. All the actors are amazing. One reviewer in TIME said he couldn't understand Bridges 'growling' as Rooster Cogburn. I don't know what his hearing issues are, but maybe he should clear out the wax. Bridges gives another Bridges brilliant performance, and the young Mattie and Matt Damon as the Ranger are pitch-perfect. All the actors are excellent.

I didn't even miss General Sterling - the cat featured in the first movie. As a fierce lover of all things feline, that's saying something.

* another is 'The King's Speech'

Sunday, December 26, 2010

quick snapshots over the holidays

Parker a.k.a the Cutest Baby in the World, loves to walk in adult shoes, and she does it quite well -- even high heels and her Uncle's boots...walks better than I do! ha...




My nutcracker collection, which grew by one this Christmas. My newest is a gun-slinger with eyes so blue I am calling him Butch. He looks like an old Butch Cassidy...

Some more decorations...doesn't the sunset in the window look like a picture?

Excy and I on our way to a wedding...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Tree story

Things are getting hectic around here with the cutest baby in the world (and her parents) coming in Friday. I will take photos as promised, but won't be getting back to bloggie-land for awhile. Here is the story Excy told for the Christmas 'tales of the south' holiday show. It is also on YouTube if you'd like to hear him: tales of the south on You Tube.

Feeling it might just about be what we needed, I was drawn to the tin Christmas tree in the little shop in Juarez, Mexico, the day before Christmas Eve, 1969. It stood in the middle of a table full of Christmas ornaments already marked down. It was shiny tin, about 2 ½ feet tall, with maybe a couple of dozen branches and a perfect conical shape. There was a candle holder at the tip top and at the tip of each branch. As I moved in to take a closer look at this little wonder, the shop keeper, in her best Tex-Mex, tells me to be very, very careful, and to hold it by its base.

I should have listened.

The day before, I had driven from final exams at Texas Tech to my parents home in El Paso. Although glad to be headed home, holidays at our house could be a bit “iffy,” because my mother was severely bi-polar. Most Christmases were really special, but my heart sank as I drove into the driveway; there were no yard lights and no brightly lit Santa face hanging on the wall, not even so much as a wreath on the door.

I rolled in late but everyone was up to greet me. Dad, not a hugger, gave me a two-handed hand shake, Mom gave me a good hug and a kiss, and so did Mattie, my younger sister, home from school in Phoenix. Mom wasn’t looking so good and quickly and quietly retreated back to her room. Dad told us about Mom’s latest battle with depression and stated it might be best to just kind of skip Christmas this year, and then he retired for the night. Mattie and I stayed up to visit for a while. She had been home a couple of days, and she thought Mom was feeling even a bit worse from the guilt of not doing anything for Christmas.
But the decision had been made: no decorations, gifts, or Christmas church; we just were to enjoy one another’s company.

The next morning Mom was up to fix breakfast. While obviously still depressed, she seemed a little more interested in the idea of Christmas. She kept apologizing for the holiday and that she had not so much as put up a tree.

Mattie and I put our heads together and decided to do at least a little something. We would keep it simple, just a few small gifts, anyone of which would be appropriate for any one of us. We headed off to Juarez, where we would have gone shopping regardless.

Back then, Juarez was a friendly city full of small wonders and delights. Just after crossing the Paso del Norte bridge there was an ornamental iron works shop. You knew when it was open by the Volkswagen beetle parked out front. The entire shell had been removed from the body and replaced with rose vine iron work in the exact shape of the original beetle body. I loved that car.

Further in town was a market with a public plaza. As an architecture student I was always impressed at how such a large open space could seem so intimate. The market area was made up of small shops connected to each other, each with its own barrel-vaulted roof. Going there was always a joy.

Mattie and I started hitting the stalls and had picked up two or three things and then headed into the tin shop. There were all kinds of incredible works in tin: mirror frames, sconces, table tops, even light switch plates. And the little tin Christmas tree.

Following the shopkeeper’s advice, I picked up the tin tree by its base and held it ever-so-carefully. The trunk was twisted wire covered in tin. Each branch grew from the trunk and had a spine made of that heavy wire. To that was soldered a strip of tin an inch or so wide. Then the maker took his snips and cut into both sides of each strip, creating hundreds of little very sharp “pine needles.” I can only imagine what goes through the craftsman’s mind before he created such a thing. At the very least, I was sure he checked to make sure his tetanus shots were current and he had a lot of iodine and Band-Aids.

The shopkeeper secured it in heavy brown wrapping paper, then gave us a few dozen candles, each about ½ inch around and 3” tall. She wishes us Feliz Navidad and added, again, in English, “Be very careful.”

We head back north across the Paso del Norte, our meager Christmas in hand.

That evening, Mattie and I set up our little Christmas on the coffee table: four presents under a 2 ½ foot-tall tin Christmas tree. To avoid scratching the table, we made a skirt from the wrapping paper. Dad, hoping all this was a good idea, nodded his approval, but Mom did seem to brighten up.

Next day, Christmas Eve, went along pretty well. Mom and Mattie fixed a nice brunch and we had some good conversations about school and life and such. Still, Mom spent a good part of the day in her room. But I noticed when anyone walked past that tin Christmas tree, they seemed to hesitate and on their face would be a slight grin.

That night, since there would be no going to church, we decided to have our Christmas. We turned out all the lights and gathered around our shiny little tree. Mattie and I started lighting the candles. Even before they were all lit, it was starting to get pretty warm in there. But when all the candles were lit, it was a sight to behold, almost beyond description. It was bright, very bright; it was as bold and magnificent symbol for Christmas as you could imagine. It was also very warm and not unlike a small forest fire. The dull roar we began to hear was the air being sucked out of the room. The top candle, within moments, had been fully consumed. Then we looked up.

The paint was boiling off the ceiling.
As my sister and I began desperately trying to put out the tree, Dad sprinted off, only half serious, to find the lock box of important documents, just to have it handy in case the house burned to the ground. Mom watched all this in amazement with both a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. Mattie and I managed to blow out all the candles, suffering just a couple of burnt eyebrows. After all the excitement, we all just sat in silence for awhile, then my folks got up and went to bed. The paper skirt proved to be very handy, holding a pool of wax, and we decided to open the other presents after the wax they were covered in had cooled.

Mattie and I watched a movie on late night TV.

Christmas morning, Mattie and I were the first ones up, just like when we were kids. We had agreed to give each other a surprise gift, but one we could not spend any money on, and it could not be too serious. I gave her my very old single shot 22 rifle, something ridiculous to a gal who had a concealed weapon permit. But she won in the absolutely pointless category; she gave me one of her French textbooks from high school.

Mom got up shortly afterwards in a good mood. She, and all of us for that matter, would look at the tin Christmas tree standing in a pool of wax, and just laugh. Then later that day we opened the four little gifts that had been entombed in that wax.

We were all thankful to that tree. It had given us a real thrill. Gave Dad the chance to make jokes on just what to write for the insurance claim on the damaged ceiling. But mostly, for at least a while, it gave us back our mother.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

laughter pushes me forward...

One of the things I'm obsessed about this week is the 'talking kitty' on YouTube. What, you thought I was gonna say the flash-mob singing the 'hallelujah' chorus at the mall? Naw, nothing that highbrow. In fact, Sylvester has quite the potty-mouth.

My Lenny talks as much. You'll be walking down the hall, and he'll be strolling the other way, and I'll say in passing "Hey dude what's up?" and will always get a response. His chirps are the last things I hear at night and the sounds that wake me up in the morning. Blather, blather, blather. I love it.

You'd think he was Siamese other than a black kitty. He and Sylvester look a lot alike down to the white patches on their tummy. Separated at birth. You can tell Sylvester is sweet by his body language and the way he's kneading his paws while he looks at his person. But the plots have him 'with attitude' and I have gotten in the habit of 'talking' like him sometimes when Excy asks me some question, which he finds funny.

"Nooooooooo.........." "Stoooppppppppp thatttttt..." Never fails to make Excy laugh. Which is always a goal. Being a ham, and making him laugh during the day, is just something I've always done, and one of the reasons I think he was attracted to me in the first place. Who doesn't like to be around someone who makes them smile? He once told me I was a combination of Lucille Ball and Myrna Loy (my favorite actress, I will post on her some time). Excellent combination.

We have a Christmas tree in the LR! We usually wait until the 16th but his kids are arriving next Friday for an early visit and I want everything to be ready by then. The branches haven't dropped down enough to decorate yet. It's Excy's job to string the lights - he does it in such a way they appear to twinkle as you walk around it. My job is all the rest of the decorating. I relish taking my ornaments out and fussing with the tree, a holiday movie in the background. It takes me a long time to get it the way I want it and I usually have to make adjustments later. The ornament collection stalled last year. With all his medical drama, I didn't get to shop sales after the holiday and pick up any fabulous ornaments at a bargain. But this year, I couldn't resist buying a raccoon and a Santa ornament. I decided I'd start buying Parker, the grand-princess, an ornament a year based on the interests in her life, so that when she is on her own she'll have a good start on her tree. And she was fascinated with our raccoons this summer when they visited, so I bought her one, too. And a container to put her ornaments in, that I need to decorate this week. I'm making her a stocking that should be ready by her BD in June. I figure it'll be good timing because she will be 3 next Christmas and beginning to 'clue' in to stuff like that, though she'll still be young...

Mom and dad have stopped putting up a tree. It's gotten to be a bit much. They only like live trees, as do we, but dad doesn't want the hassle, and they won't let anyone put it up for them. They are decorating their ficus with white lights and buying a half-dozen poinsettias as they did last year. I hope they will let me go through their ornaments some day. I'd like the ones I remember from childhood, and I am crazy for vintage. (Being an antique myself).

One of the time-consuming things I do on our tree is wrap a 'red berry' glass ball at the end of the branches, which saves special ornaments from slipping off, and making the branch look 'finished.' When the tree's done and the decorations are finished I'll take some pictures. Our holly bushes are popping with berries, luckily, so I will take branches from them for the table for Excy's surprise party the 22nd. I'm going to try to make the last horrid Christmas a distant memory.
Excy's remote-control helicopter came today for his BD. (He never reads this blog). It looks like a lot of fun.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Survival Guide

Like everyone else these days, I find my 'to-do' list growing to include extra shopping, holiday decorating and baking, sending holiday greetings, on top of preparing the house for visitors and holiday meals. In this ongoing rush of hurry-up-and preparations, finding time to savor the fleeting joy of the season can be difficult. It's hard not to feel extra pressure to make a great holiday, thinking back to where we were a year ago, when Excy ended up in the doctors offices on his BD the 22nd and having ER surgery Christmas Eve. It felt extra hard last year, zooming from the hospital and back, taking care of the house and animals while worrying about Excy and fretting about his 89-yr-old dad visiting from out of town. Being in the hospital can be alienating in itself. I know, having spent several holidays in hospitals out of state.

And that makes me think of the special difficulties friends and loved ones are going through this season, struggling with their own surgeries and illnesses; in particular the loss of loved ones. This year my SIL is having her second surgery in as many months, yet insists on hosting Christmas day at their house as usual, determined that the kid's will find comfort in the routine. It's too much pressure. I know. I constantly put those kinds of pressures on myself (see above). I'm not sure why we're so hard on ourselves.

For those of you struggling with physically and emotionally painful situations right now, please allow yourself the time and space to get through the holidays on your own terms. It's a well known fact that time heals - and when you don't have time to heal and the world marches on with holidays, try to find ways to be kind to yourself by having plans and back-up plans.

Don't feel you have to do the same old things because of 'family tradition' or the guilt of 'spoiling' everyone's holiday -- in a crisis, you need to do what's best for you in the situation. Christmas and New Year's Eve comes around every year. If you don't feel like celebrating this year or you can't, give yourself permission not to.

Your true friends and family will understand. Even if you don't feel like canceling altogether, maybe you can do something different that takes some of the pressure off -- go out to dinner, or see a holiday movie together instead of staging a big dinner. Some people see the holiday ritual as a way to survive tough times, others need some time to grieve and not 'be normal.' There's no right or wrong way to act -- and no one can tell you what you should or shouldn't do.

Be gentle with yourself and don't do more than you want to or can take on. Don't keep emotions bottled up. Your family and friends aren't mind-readers. You need to communicate your feelings, without apology. You may be surprised at their response and find yourself having eye-opening conversations. Most people don't openly discuss their feelings for fear of hurting others, and you may be pleasantly surprised by their response.

And give yourself permission to change your mind. If you committed to something, and at the last minute you feel you can't go through with it, don't. It's not going to be the end of the world.

The holidays can be the toughest times in the world for people going through pain. Remember: grief is a rite of passage. Only you can find an authentic way to navigate stormy weather.

Friday, December 3, 2010

variety is the spice of life

A few things to add to your diet, if you haven't yet...as for me, any excuse will do...

cocoa or dark chocolate -- these can lower blood pressure and help dilate blood vessels, plus, both made you feel good emotionally!

cranberries -- can't seem to get enough of them when they're in season, and find ways to sneak them into everything -- when they aren't in season I use the dried ones. I use them because with only 1/4th of a kidney I get a lot of nasty infections and they are well known for warding off urinary tract infections (UTIs). It was thought the cranberry juice was only marginally effective for UTIs, but new research is reporting it blocks off a strain of bacteria that comes from staph infections which can range from minor things like skin rashes to serious problems like MRSA - the staph infection that hasn't responded to most antibiotics.

cinnamon -- specifically a cinnamon extract. A study led by the USDA suggests that it contains antioxidant compounds that could help reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease. While more studies are needed, it's plain that adding a little more spice to your life couldn't hurt.

In general, I've been using a lot more spices to my meat and vegetable dishes in an effort to make them more flavorful without using a lot of salt and pepper and butter.


Update on 'Cokie' -- we didn't see him tonight -- it's been three days. The wildlife rehabilitators we've contacted have basically said 'Yeah, good luck with that.' The Zoo isn't helpful. Tomorrow we are going to put together a wire cage we've used for composting that has three sides and a 'door,' and if he shows up we will try to lure him in there. If we can get him a bit sedated with a crushed pill in something to eat, we may get him to the vet, who can gass him and then get that can off its foot...I hope not seeing him tonight isn't a bad sign...fooling around with this coon is the last thing I want to do, but I feel so badly for him.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanks - giving

This wonderful national holiday that revolves around food.

If you're lucky enough to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor, it's a truly great holiday. Or if you enjoy cooking. I do like to cook, though honestly this year I have done more of it than ever before, and am a bit tired of it.

We have the biggest dining table in the family, and it's one of my favorite family treasures. It's made from a single cherry tree that died on Burnside, Excy's family's former estate in MD. It must have been gigantic, because we have three inserts, and fully extended will sit 16, 14 more easily. Thanksgiving became 'my' holiday because of the table, and because my SIL felt it too difficult to pack up the kids and all their gear when they were small. They're 14 and 17 now, but she won't give up or alternate the holiday, which is slightly annoying. But I've had years to adjust. I don't mind it much; it's an easy enough meal to make, and my mom and a family friend as close as a sister contribute some. A few years back, my SIL and I finally figured out that (duh) they really didn't need to eat two huge meals in one day, so they come over later for dessert, coffee, and conversation.

We like to eat around 5 p.m., which leaves plenty of time for my traditions: watching Macy's Parade (I'm such a corn-ball, and usually something gets me teary-eyed). By the time Miracle on 34th Street comes on, I am a whirling dervish of activity with last-minute silver-polishing or whipping up the mashed potatoes, but that movie always gets me in a sentimental holiday mood.

Our menu is usually set but every once in awhile I'll make something that sounds too wonderful to resist an experiment. We eat way too many carbs and starches, and to make matters worse we go back for seconds before the desserts. Combined with the left-overs we devour the next day, and then turkey and cranberry sandwiches after that, we consume more in three days than the rest of the year.

To assuage some of the guilt I feel from over-indulging, I donate during Thanksgiving and Christmas to the AR Food Bank to ensure a hearty meal for everyone. It's not just the young who have a hard time. Six million Americans 60+ suffer from hunger and not enough reliable food sources.

p.s. What a mess. I went out to feed six 'coons hanging around the terrace because it's cold and rainy, and one has a Coke can stuck on his front paw! I heard this clanking...he's charging around on it so it's pretty far up his arm...Poor thing...I hope he figures out how to extract his paw...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

thanksgiving meditation on gratitude...

"Both ancient teachings and modern medical research agree that one of the quickest, most direct routes to restoring harmony and balance in our lives is to foster gratitude and appreciation. The moment you shift from a mindstate of negativity or judgment to one of appreciation, there are immediate effects at many levels of your being: brain function becomes more balanced, harmonized, and supple; your heart begins to pump in a much more coherent and harmoniously balanced rhythm; and biochemical changes trigger a host of healthful balancing reactions throughout your body.

In the healing ways of indigenous people, the restorative power of gratitude was well understood. Giving thanks was the first step for many indigenous communities to any meeting, celebration, or gathering. A heart filled with gratitude generates actions and prayers that complete the circle between the gift offered to us, the receiver of the gift, and the sacred source of the gift. To offer prayers of thanksgiving is a gesture of rejoicing in discovering the many gifts that life brings us.

Here is a practice we often teach as a way to dwell in gratitude and thanksgiving. It has been shared by many circles of friends, families, and communities around the world at times of Thanksgiving:

Reach up and touch your heart and smile with a tender sense of deep connection and deep reflection. Allow your mindful awareness to blend with the natural rhythm of your breathing and settle into this state of openness and flow. As you become more fully present, open your heart and call to mind every one and everything in your life that you are grateful for. As you inhale, gather these people or aspects of your life into your heart one by one and reflect upon your thanks and gratitude for them. Breathing out, let your heartfelt gratitude flow to them and through them. Continue for as long as you like, letting each breath bring to heart a loved one, a friend, someone who has been kind to you, someone who is teaching you patience or how to forgive, or something or aspect of your life for which you are grateful. Allow each breath to shine from the depths of your being through the depths of their being in order to light up their life with your love. Taking your eyes, your ears, your hands, your intelligence to heart, bless them in a similar way with the heartfelt radiance of your gratitude and appreciation. Whoever or whatever comes to mind, gather them into your heart, one at a time or all together. Taking these many gifts to heart, complete and affirm the circle with gratitude, assuring that the stream of blessings in your life and in the universe will be unbroken."

-- Excerpted from Joel & Michelle Leveys' books, Luminous Mind: Meditation and Mind Fitness, - and - Wisdom at Work.


Happy Thanksgiving to you all -- I thank you for your friendship and comments, and look forward to continuing our friendship in the future......peace.....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Call It Superior Sexy

I'm gonna take a page from Arkansas Patty's book and talk a bit about something that annoyed me highly last week when I picked up a copy of People magazine (oh, yes, I read this drivel -- cover to cover -- such a font of information...though I am starting to 'age out,' as the personalities they keep featuring I a) don't know OR b) care nothing about...especially those 'celebrities' who are famous for being famous reality 'stars' -- sheesh gimme a break...).

The new 'Sexiest Man Alive,' Ryan Reynolds, is, to borrow a phrase from my friend Toni, an 'embryo.' I know, I know, I saw him with his shirt off in The Proposal too, (my friend Vance could not stop gasping and ta-dah, there went his infatuation with Brad Pitt). But come on folks. He's barely got stubble on his face. (Ryan, not Vance -- who could pass for CoCo O'Brien). I'd feel like a cradle-snatcher.

But I have always preferred older men. More experienced. More seasoned. More mature (so I can be less mature, I guess...). Nope, AR Patty is right: I'll take Sam Elliott. Even with his 'crumb-catcher' -- which on him looks downright wicked:





Or Robert Redford:




Or Mr Darcy -- err -- Colin Firth:


Or James Bond -- err Connery -- forever Bond in my Book:

Let's not forget Tom Selleck,either, and of course there are the real men in my life. But I don't want to make ya'll too jealous. Or track them down ;)


PS: Amy's Awesome Whole Cranberry Sauce
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if I didn't make this cranberry sauce, which is also awesome with ham and chicken...Enjoy!

1 lb. fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 t. fine grated lime zest
1.4 c. fresh lime juice
1 t. fine grated orange zest
1/4 c. fresh orange juice
1/2 c. water
Combine ingredients in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes, until berries pop open. Skim foam off surface. Don't overcook. Cool to room temperature. (I make ahead and refrigerate). Serves 12.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Time & Lennon

I meant to write something on John Lennon's BD, which was October 9, when he would/should have turned 70. Good Lord. I choose to commemorate his BD and not the anniversary of the great one's death, which I remember all too well. Time got the upper hand and I didn't get around to it, but it still stuck with me enough to think about it some more...

In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life:
IT GOES ON.

Wish I could take the credit for that one, but it's our estimable poet Robert Frost.

'Anthem'
Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything;
that's how the light gets in.
--Leonard Cohen.
Also a brilliant guy, in my book.

Lennon, as long-time readers of this blog know, was my favorite Beatle, then George. I am not ashamed to say I love their music more than anything and usually listen to something every day while piddling about the house.

Excy lived in the Dakota for awhile on the condition that he cleaned up the condo so a friend could sell it. His friend had moved back to Texas, and the previous tenant she sub-let it to had been a PIG and it needed a lot of work. Excy had broke his back and had to close his architecture practice in Austin that fall, was newly divorced, and a bit at odds, so the timing was excellent.

His friend's condo was directly above John and Yoko's condo. In fact, the friend had a plumbing problem once and water had dripped onto their piano. THE white piano. This being NYC, Yoko proceeded to contact lawyers to deal with the issue of paying to have the piano fixed. Excy's friend is a lawyer. And she's a nice person. (Sometimes that isn't an oxymoron). One day riding down in the elevator, Yoko got on the next floor, and the friend proceeded to introduce herself and tell her how sorry she was about the leak and how upsetting it was and of course she intended to pay...and started to cry she was so worked up... by the time they arrived in the lobby, they were friends and the matter was resolved without further legal proceedings. All it takes is communication, usually.

Anyway. On the first anniversary of John's death, Excy was riding in the elevator when Yoko got on. She noticed his sketchbook and asked if he was going to the park. He said yes and she asked if he would mind escorting her across the street to Strawberry Fields, as there were a lot of people gathering around the building. So that's how he squired her to the park. He said they didn't talk much.

The Dakota is a pretty neat old Victorian building. I can't really say what style it is; they seemed to have thrown everything at it. It was used to film 'Rosemary's Baby' and has all these queer servant halls and entries. Other residents Excy met while there include Arthur Cantor, the Broadway producer. The guy in the 'Mad Max' movies who flew the airplane (goofy looking guy). Rowan Atkinson before he was well known in the states. And, he heard the distinctive foghorn (or whiskey and cigarettes) voice of Lauren Bacall chewing out the doorman, and said he just had to look.

Excy didn't have much money, so after tossing out tons of garbage he walked to a futon shop to buy a bed and a frame that converted into a couch. It wouldn't fit a cab so he said he tossed it over his shoulder and walked back to the Dakota. The doorman said it was the first and only time a condo in that building would be furnished with a futon! He made arrangements for the frame to be delivered.

Alas, I hadn't met Excy then, so never got to lurk around the halls of the Dakota myself, but I always enjoy his stories.

Back to Lennon: It is forever a shame we lost a musical genius and brilliant light and spirit in this world to an evil wacko. We have far too many wackos and not enough love and brilliance in the world.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

AGL on YouTube

Here is my 'Tales of the South' performance on YouTube. The audio is 'off' but it's all there...




http://www.youtube.com/user/talesfromthesouth

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some Wild Horses (And All Old Men) Can't be Tamed

Here's my story for the Tuesday show...I will put up a link when it's archived for anyone who wants to listen to all the stories...

"Amy, you're not going to believe what I just read about." My husband Excy was standing in front of me in our kitchen, Western Horseman open in his well-worn hands. I dried my hands on a dishtowel and turned to listen. The excitement in his voice bounced around the room. "It's a new competition in Ft. Worth to promote mustangs called Extreme Mustang Makeover..."

I knew there was no way he was not going to be involved.

Excy loves doing anything “off the back of a horse.” And he’s really, really, good at it. So when we adopted wild mustangs to keep them out of the hands of a killer buyer, people kept asking, “Well, what does he do with them?” I kept replying, “He doesn’t do anything – he just lets them be.”
I jokingly called them moving statuary, until Excy told me it sounded disrespectful to the horses.

The competition pairs you with a wild horse. You pick it up, and have 90 days to tame and train the beast. Unfortunately, we could not use any already out in pasture.

Now, let me explain a bit of our complicated life. We don’t have much fun. Don’t get me wrong. We have fun, but it’s just the simple, everyday kind of fun. Once or twice a year, I’m in cancer treatment or off having surgery. So our life in the interim isn’t jetting off to Paris, or even motoring to Montana. Every big-ass decision we weigh is wedged between what medical drama is looming in the near-distance. So typically, this decision of his was fraught with drama from the get-go, and getting the horse was a logistical squeeze between another surgery and recovery.

Excy’s dad, nicknamed ‘Be,’ also a lover of ‘all things horse,’ made plans to fly from Santa Fe and ride with Excy to Fort Worth for the competition. I’d follow a day later with a girlfriend. Afterwards we’d put Be on a plane from Dallas. This would be a father-son bonding experience.

When Excy unloaded the big, beautiful, muscular horse, I named him Othello on the spot. Little did we realize how apt that was. To say this horse had trust issues is putting it mildly. You couldn’t get near him. His sole intent in life was to kill my husband. Which he nearly did, several times. Every few hours, I’d walk across the street and peer into the working corrals just to make sure Excy was still on his feet. They were two old, stubborn, warriors circling each other warily.

Finally, by living in the corral 24/7 (did I mention this was in the summer when the horse flies and mosquitoes and gnats were at their worst?), Excy was able to begin training. Time was coming down to the wire.

Be arrived the week we were to leave. Now’s the time to mention that Be, god-love him, is also ‘high-maintenance.’ At that time he was 88; deaf as a post, even with his hearing aids on. His wife had recently left him at age 90, explaining she “didn’t have much time left and wanted to enjoy life.”

Tuesday afternoon, Be discovers his wallet missing. After thorough searches of the house, guest room, his clothes, the truck, car, and the driveway, we realize Be’s lost wallet could be a very bad thing. In this post 9/11 world, there is no way Be can board a plane without an ID. Last he remembers, he had it at security in Albuquerque.

Here is what he had in his wallet: $400 cash, credit cards, driver’s license, several blank checks, his VA card, and his social security card. (Sigh). A thief’s bonanza.

A charge has been made on one card for gas. Be still doesn’t comprehend his wallet has been stolen. When things begin to get more complicated with money matters, I’m right there with Be, so Excy takes over, spending hours making rounds of calls – credit companies, the bank manager, social security offices, credit unions…between answering and re-answering and answering again Be’s interminable questions, waiting endlessly on hold, being transferred wrong, again and again trying to reach the right numbers, the right people…honestly, I marveled at his patience, and would have understood completely if he had a melt-down.

Now we had two precious days left, and dozens of chores to do before leaving. Instead we are suspended in this fresh hell, trying to calm Be down.

I start to worry we will be driving him home (maybe he can board a bus? No, we can’t do that, no knowing where he’d end up). A neighbor breaks into his house and looks for some ID to be sent Fed Ex so he can get a photo ID; he doesn’t have a valid passport. Because Excy has to leave early on Thursday, Be must now ride in my tiny car with Carol and me.

Thursday morning, Excy leaves with Othello in the trailer, Fed Ex delivers, and Carol arrives. She volunteers to take Be to the DMV so I can clean the house for the sitter. Be asks if he needs to take the materials from Fed Ex. It takes three hours to get his license. It had to be approved and apparently those people were in ‘meetings.’

To make room for a 6’4” man in the backseat of my car, an insulated chest, trashcan, and container holding wipes, paper towels, flashlights, and other items must be removed. Later down the road, as any of these things become necessary, Carol tells me whenever she travels, she has (insert) necessary item here. And I realize we have taken off without the folding chairs, ice chest, and other necessities for the exhibition.


Thirty minutes down the road, Be has to eat. Carol insists we grab fast food and eat in the car. I know what will happen next, but my Oxycontin has kicked in by then, and I just don’t care. Sure enough before we are out of the parking lot, Be has spilled a 2 quart cup of Coke on the floor, and says he’s sure glad the lid was on and it didn’t spill. I glance back to see his size-14 boots swimming in inches of brown liquid; I point this out. “That’s okay honey, it won’t ruin these boots.” I toss back a towel. In the next instant, the Coke Carol has set on the console spills on my new purse. Of course it does.

Hours later, we are in Fort Worth, trying to find the motel in the dark, with Be helpfully shouting nonsensical directions from the back seat as we maneuver through traffic.

Be’s room is on the second floor; there is no elevator. Carol drags his suitcase in and sets it up. It’s ‘wrong,’ so must be set up again. She collapses into her room and disappears for the night. I discover that every room but ours has a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker. I guess it’s because it’s a handicap room. Yeah, it makes that much sense to me, too. I also collapse for the night.

There is a reason I opted not to have children. The rest of the weekend reminds me of this. From Thursday through Sunday I see Excy maybe all of 15 minutes. The majority of the time is spent babysitting Be. Be asks us to phone him when he’d like to get up. We discover the room phone rings three times and kicks over to voice mail. Without his hearing aids he never hears it or the incessant knocking on his door. After arriving late to the cocktail reception at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (he mumbled something about a plumbing problem), I’ve had just about all I can take.

Excy and the sponsors decide the best thing to do is scratch Othello from being shown. A local vet must write up a certificate for him after he’s adopted. All this guy needed to do was stand outside the stall, write down his freeze brand, and hand Excy the certificate. Even though Excy explained how dangerous Othello was, the vet goes into the stall and yanks his mouth open. So Othello did the only thing he could: kicked the crap out of him. Then he broke out of the stall and scattered spectators in the aisles until Excy wrestled him back inside.

Throughout the weekend until he managed to load Othello into the trailer that would carry him west, Excy continued juggling calls from Be’s banker, then running into the stands to ask Be if such-and-such a charge was legitimate. Finally, it was all over. The trip had been snake-bit from the start. But as we watched Be safely board the plane and he turned, saying with a smile how much fun he had, I thought back to Excy’s philosophy of dealing with the wild ones: he doesn’t do anything. He just let’s them be.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ricci and Rocko

I have had a cold and sore throat since Saturday. The only good thing about that are the hot toddies Excy makes before bed (keep them coming, Excellent...). I am no longer a menace to be around, so went out yesterday for a trial run, because tonight we have tickets to 'Wicked.' I have longed to see this play since I read the book, knowing it would be excellent on stage. I wanted to see it on Broadway. I bided my time as the touring productions came closer, and closer...finally it's here! And nothing's going to keep me from going!! Excy finally had the round-up of the 'wild ones' yesterday where he gave them all their shots and had them tested for the year, and the only thing I warned him about was if he got hurt, I would be going tonight. The end. (How's that for a supportive wife? I even tried to get him to change the day...fortunately other than bruises and sore backs, no one was hurt). Anyway back to Wicked: The two leads have gotten excellent reviews. Interestingly enough, they are two best friends in real life, playing best friends on stage.

I need my voice back by Tuesday. I am recording one of my stories for 'Tales of the South,' a radio show on our local NPR which is being syndicated soon. These evenings are fun -- it's at a neat restaurant, where we eat, listen to music, and then the authors record in front of a live audience. The producer said the last six shows have been SRO. Excy and his son Corey (sans cat-hat, see Halloween post below), and my mom will be there, and a few friends are joining the audience. The show airs the fourth Thursday of the month on KUAR FM. I'll post a link so you can listen to the show once it's archived, and I'll also put the story out here so you can read it if you don't care to listen.

The Tale of R&R:



These are not my photos. I wanted to show a flying squirrel gliding and then just how small they really are.

Six summers ago, two flying squirrels that live in the woods around the house decided to leave their tree house and venture out to a new spot. They were young and had just hooked up, having left their parents at age five or six weeks to find a mate.

The first spot they chose seemed excellent at first. Wary of predators, (mainly owls and raccoons) they need some place very high and sheltered. This spot was 10 feet in the air, had a roof, and actually had some screening, which provided protection from the elements and a way to climb around. (Because they don't really 'fly' they glide from high places).

Because flying squirrels are nocturnal, they would be asleep during the day and needed a quiet, dark, protected home. They each brought up one large dried leaf and a few pine needles for their bed, and nestled on opposite ends of the beam. It was an excellent spot.

But after a week, someone spied them sleeping away during the day, and they were pointed out to others. And even though the tall, mostly hairless things seemed to respect their privacy and couldn't peer any closer because they were perched much higher in their nests, Ricci and Rocko were disturbed by the activity and noise. But they decided to stick it out. Things were okay for about a week longer.

But soon, the people were making even more noise, and doing alarming things like banging on wood and dragging things closer to their area. Then they started putting up more screens, making walls were no walls had been. Ricci and Rocko were all for screens, but they didn't want to be 'fenced in!' They knew they'd have to leave and find another place fast.

Ricci went back to the woods. Rocko thought he had found another place nearby, though -- a little wooden box on a pole raccoons and snakes couldn't climb up. He just needed to make the hole bigger...after gnawing a larger entry to his satisfaction, he lived there a few weeks until he was startled from a deep sleep during the day by the face of a monster gaping at him...the thing had opened up one of the walls to check on the house, which was intended for bluebirds.

Thoroughly unnerved, Rocko didn't give up, and a few nights later he discovered another perfect spot. Affixed to a column on the front porch of the house was an empty roosting pocket just perfect for curling into. It was covered with wisteria vine and sheltered by a wood and wire roof to make quick escapes if necessary, and protection from the wind and rain. The best thing of all was the room service! When the monster found out Rocko was now living there, it would leave little food offerings among the vines. Now this was class.

He lived there all summer, until the comings and goings of the family got to be a bit much. One time he stuck his head out and scolded them for making too much noise -- they were running some machine over the grass too close to his home -- during the day! Can you imagine?! So he moved back into the woods were it's quieter and less confusing, but he still likes to hang out by the house at night, where there are treats and easily accessible fruits and nuts to eat.

When the benign monsters come out of the house in the evening he squeaks a greeting so they know he's around and so they'll hustle to throw out some stuff to eat he can't find in the woods. He has them trained pretty well.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Halloween WOW

It was my year to host the Halloween WOW (Witches of Wye). I also invited some 'town witches' (guests), so that made 13 of us (a coven??). Trolling the Halloween store, I noticed the trend this year was zombie children. There were no fewer than five life-sized tots in crouching positions leering up at me with yellow teeth and red eyes, drooling with anticipation at chomping into my flesh. Then I saw one little tyke walking alone before me (he was moving, and had normal coloring, so I assumed he was still 'one of us.'). He was scared stiff, moving s-l-o-w-l-y and cautiously among the 'children.' When his mom called to him from another aisle, he lit out pretty quickly. I'm pretty sure he had nightmares that night.

I've collected lots of Halloween decorations over the years when we held an annual party, but I didn't put a lot out this year. I wasn't spending a week digging a 'graveyard' in the front yard. I do like to decorate though...

I was a gruesome witch. Excy wouldn't even take my picture or kiss me goodnight (warlocks not allowed at a WOW). We had another witch, of course, and a student from Hogwarts, but for the most part the girls didn't dress up this year.



I like my witch and ghoul pumpkins, and you can't really see the severed body parts, bugs, and spiders and cobwebs around the porch...



I took black plastic trash bags and shredded them, stringing them in rows above the entry.



I made a wreath by spray-painting a grape vine wreath black and entwining snakes and bugs around it, also painted black.



My zombie digs out from the earth every year. I put a kerosine lamp and lighted pumpkins on the walk to illuminate him and added snakes slithering up the drive.



Some of my vintage-inspired decorations, like the little cat band and the 'conductor.' The ghosts I found at flea markets. That's Leatherhead lighting up the mantle.



One of my many witches with her roses full of bugs...



Celebrating Lynne's October birthday with a Mickey's cake -- they're the best...



I made the ghosts by spray-painting butternut squash and painting them. We painted the tombstones and the boys did a wonderful job, I wish you could see them more clearly. Surrounded the arrangement with spanish moss and spare eyeballs. Put out pumpkins full of chocolate and candy corn.



A few of the witches solving the problems of the world...



And finally, the best costume of all -- Excy's son Corey wearing his cat Dixie as a hat. She stays as still as he likes to do this...You have heard of the Cat in the Hat? This is another take altogether...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Watch that Snake!

Tonight one of the best screwball comedies ever made is on TCM.

I have watched every screwball comedy classified from the AFI and other lists, and I know whereof I speak, having made the 'Golden Age of Hollywood' something of a passion.

One of my bucket-list dreams is attending the TCM Film Festival in LA some day soon.

Not only does The Lady Eve star Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, but it features a solid cast of character actors who, if you don't recognize the names here, you probably will when you see their faces: Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, and William Demarest. All they needed was Edward Everett Horton to make my viewing complete (he was probably tied up in a Fred Astair-Ginger Rogers vehicle).

Directed by the brilliant Preston Sturges, the one-time white-hot director who burned out too quickly, (his best movies beside this one being Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story, two other must-sees),this 1941 film has Stanwyck doing what she does best - playing a smart woman several steps ahead of everyone else - in this case, she's a con artist who tries to hoodwink - and then of course falls for - wealthy Fonda, a slightly dim-witted, affable guy who is looked after by his 'right hand man' Demarest (Uncle Charlie for those of you who grew up watching My Three Sons).

Watch it for the witty repartee, the gorgeous gowns, and the old passage-liner crossings. They really don't make them like this any more, and more's the pity.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gray Matter



I went to a high school reunion party two weekends ago featuring classes from 1971 to 1977 (I'm class of '76, perfect since we were the Patriots). I was only the second girl in our class who has 'let her hair go' -- parlance for not coloring it anymore. The other person has lovely salt-and-pepper coloring...

As much as my old classmates and friends, all now in their early 50s to 60s, oohed and awed over my gray, to a one they all said they would not look good with gray hair. In fact, as the night wore on, my girlfriends decided my hair was not gray at all, but 'Platinum' (I don't think so...). I think they just hated calling it gray.

I really am 'Gray Light' like my name, and I have been for many years now. I began turning gray in my late 20s but wasn't ready for it so colored until my mid-40s. My hair was auburn but photographed very dark. Dad's hair was black and by the time he was in his early 30s it was salt-and-pepper. His mother had snow-white hair by the time she was 40. I guess I could deal, but I'm glad mine hasn't gone white on me. I lived in DC during the Bush years (Sr) and keep remembering how First Lady Barbara looked like his mother, although they insisted on calling her the 'silver fox.'

When choosing to grow out your gray, it's a universal fact no one looks good at first. You just have to suck it up for awhile. But there are tips to help the process. The gray begins at the roots, obviously, and your part begins to resemble what I call a 'skunk stripe.' Unless you like looking like Cruella D'Ville or Mortitia Munster, you'll want to add highlights that help blend the shades together, which look rather startling until they transition. Blondes and red heads have an easier time of it. But you also need the transition highlights to avoid looking washed out and dull. Just because you don't want to color doesn't mean you've given up and don't care for appearances.

Being in the pool 3 to 4 times a week, I put a clear gloss on my hair every 3rd month or so to keep it from getting brassy looking. If you don't like your gray or feel it needs to look more glam, you can add silvery highlights that help it along. I haven't done this yet because the reason I stopped coloring in the first place was to get away from the tyranny and expense of coloring, and because I didn't want my hair to look like cotton candy after decades of abuse. Now that I don't color anymore it has grown soft and shiny again on its own. My stylist says if people do add highlights they won't need to do it often.

The length is another thing altogether. As long-time readers know, I toyed with a bob, and my parents think I should cut it, but after considering it I guess the underlying reason I haven't is I've had three brain surgeries that have shorn my hair, and with the possibility of surgery in the future, I've decided to keep it long until I can't. And Excy likes it long. He'd like it longer, but I don't want to get all Pentecostal or anything. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Going gray is a highly personal decision. One of my closest friends hates it. I think it reminds her we're old. I've never been mistaken for a younger person with this color, that's for sure. And you have to watch certain colors and change some makeup if you use it.

But I'm used to it and it's authentically who I am.

I do think it odd younger kids are coloring their hair gray, though. I'd never have willingly done that at their age.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What am I Saving These For??

Let me run my freak flag up the pole a bit and tell you what I've been saving for several years now:

Cat whiskers. (I call them 'whiskey's for some reason). So now I joke to Excy I have DNA on our deceased 'kids' when cloning is less expensive...but seriously, I don't know why I save them.

I keep them in an old breath-mint tin with a picture of Lucy and Ethel stuffing those bonbons in their mouths.

It's amazing how many one finds when you keep your eyes out for them. I've simply thought they were too special-looking to toss out or vacuum away. Togo's in particular are white and long and very curly. Reminds me of walrus whiskers.

I met an artist a few years back who lives on the mountain and she's offered to teach me how to weave baskets with horse hair. I figure when I take her up on it, we can use the whiskies to top off the horse mane baskets.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fox Drama

Those new to this blog may want to check out my posts from June and July discussing Francis and Mr Fox, who have raised a family of kits under our tack room. Francis and three of the kits remain and if they are hanging around, come up for dog food once or twice a day...


Last week I glanced out the bedroom window to see two of the kits in the back yard waiting for a handout. When I went out on the terrace to throw them some dog food, to my horror one came scooting forward on her two front legs. Her hind legs were useless and seemed paralyzed behind her. Still, she acted normally and ate a lot, just extra-nervous because of her vulnerability. Her sibling kept close-by and trotted after her when she went into the woods.

I googled information and the contact of a wildlife rehabilitator, but unfortunately my em came back a few hours later. Excy and I discussed the possibility of trying to put her out of her misery if we needed to. We didn't want her to suffer.

We didn't see her the next day. But the day after that, she showed up as hungry as before, and still scooting around on her front legs. But this time, she stood on all fours to eat. A few days after that, she came walking up but very wobbly. I am amazed at her tenacity and spirit of recovery, and so glad we didn't make any hasty decisions!

This morning she was sunning herself on the 'Fox Rock,' a flat table-like rock I had a neighbor move from the woods with his forklift to our bamboo grove. Some of our late, beloved animal companions are buried in a ring around it. Francis Fox and the Mr began using it so often over the summer we named it Fox Rock. I could tell it was Shaky Fox on the rock (Excy likes to call her Draggen' Lady). Suddenly I noticed a tuxedo cat under a nearby tree watching squirrels eating seeds under the bird tree. It took off in pursuit of the squirrels and swaggered back when it didn't catch one, and not until it was four yards away did it notice the fox.

That cat has balls of steel.

His tail puffed up, he walked right up to the fox, who was standing up by now, her ears pinned back. The fox pointedly didn't look at the cat and the cat finally moved on. I guess looking at it would've meant engaging in a fight. The cat finally headed towards our nearest neighbor, who lives in a trailer with a billion yappy dogs.

Excy got up and threw out some dog food for the Shaky fox who seemed to be moving around better. When she runs too fast her legs tend to splay out from under her, though. We weren't able to grab the camera for a picture before it was all over. We haven't seen Francis for days. I guess she's on walk-about.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

All Your Daily Vegetables in One Serving

Dang. This isn't a cooking blog, I promise. But several have asked about this soup, too, and not only was it easy it was delicious. It was in the Kroger recipe book in case it looks familiar. Enjoy...

White Bean Soup with Vegetables
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
clove garlic, minced
2 med. carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
1 med. Yukon Gold potato, chopped
1 med. zucchini, diced
3-4 sprigs parsley, minced
1/4 tsp. fresh rosemary AND thyme (or 1/8th each dried)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups white beans soaked and cooked (or 2 cans organic white beans)
1 T. unsalted butter
Fresh ground black pepper and salt, to taste

Heat a medium Dutch oven or stockpot over med. high heat. Add olive oil and then add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and potato. Saute until vegetables are tender. Stir in parsley, rosemary and thyme. Then add zucchini, stock and beans. Cook 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper. Cook an additional 5 minutes. Freezes nicely if you have left-overs.
Serves 4

Monday, October 11, 2010

This Skull's for You

Someone asked to see the buffalo skull so here it is:

Excy and I love Native American stuff. Nine years ago he saw a skull in a magazine that was exquisitely painted by an Indian artist. He thought he'd like to do that. I assured him that was fine, but I didn't want dead animals on my walls, and it'd have to go down in the studio.

He is extremely difficult to surprise with presents. One of those irritating people who always correctly guess what the gift is. So a year after this conversation, I looked up some ads in the back of Western Horseman and found a buffalo skull and had it sent to the p's so he wouldn't even see the box (good thing, as it was HUGE). When he saw it wrapped under the tree, he thought it contained horse blankets, since he had mentioned those, too. I got him this time. He was very surprised when he unwrapped this gift! As you can see, it still isn't decorated, but for Halloween I string lights inside, which makes it look slightly demonic.

For all you soup-lovers, here is the recipe for the Roasted Squash and Apple Soup -- enjoy! I am making White Bean and Carrot soup this afternoon...

Roasted Squash and Apple Soup -- serves six
1T. unsalted butter, melted
1T. olive oil
1 med. yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic (or two spoonfuls of minced garlic from a jar)
1 lb. butternut squash peeled and cubed one inch pieces (I used two)
2 granny smith apples peeled and cubed (if making garnish, reserve half an apple)
1 mcintosh or gala (sweet) apple peeled and cubed
1T. rosemary, chopped
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t pepper
4 c. chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 sprig thyme plus more for garnish
cream or milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl toss together the onion, garlic, squash, apples, rosemary, salt and pepper with the butter and oil. Spread out onto a rimmed baking sheet and cook 30 minutes, turning or rotating after 15 min. so veggies cook evenly. They should be brown and soft. Scrape veggies into a soup pot, and if any have carmelized and stuck to the sheet, add some broth or stock to scrape it up and into the pot.

Add remaining stock or broth and sprig of thyme and simmer partially covered for 10 min. Remove thyme sprig and use your immersion blender (LOVE THIS), or puree in a blender. (If using blender, go out and buy a immersion blender to save yourself a lot of trouble. Okay, for now, if using a blender, let the soup cool and do in batches making sure the blender isn't too full). Soup needs to be smooth.

Reheat and taste and then add cream or milk and more broth to desired consistency and season to taste. I always end up adding more Ms Dash salt and pepper

If serving for a party or just wanting it to look pretty -- For garnish: saute some apple chunks in butter until brown and tender. Spoon in the center of each bowl and finish with a spig of thyme.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What I Did Today

I made roasted apple-butternut squash for our supper. I will post or email the soup recipe to anyone who wants it.


I made a Sour cream bundt cake, and put a lemon glaze on it. If anyone wants the recipe I will be happy to post it or email it.

I repotted this aloe vera today. It was given to me by a master-gardener friend who died a few years ago. It has out-grown two pots so far. Since it is easily breakable I put it in a BIG pot so it can grow there for a long time, but since it outgrew the first pot that was much bigger than it was last summer, I'll be interested to see how it goes. The friend was dear to me, and I want to nurture the plant a long time.




I mixed up another batch of a home remedy to keep the coons (and other critters) out of my plants. The stuff works like a charm! In two quarts of water, add one tablespoon cayenne pepper, one chopped yellow onion, and one chopped jalapeno pepper. Boil 20 minutes then cool. Strain and pour in a spray bottle. Use every three days or whenever it rains.

Tomorrow I will work on some halloween decorations. I'll post the results.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Revelations Challenge

Inspired by the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair, I have compiled some Q&A's -- how you answer them changes from day to day, but on this day, here are my answers...I challenge you to take the quiz on your blog...

Quickly name a unique item you have in your house.
A buffalo skull over the mantle.
What are two of your favorite names?
Elwood. Lenny.
What do you consider a necessary luxury?
Pedicures.
What car would you like to drive?A real Woody.
What is your favorite color and has it changed over the years?
Blue. No. Just the shades.
What quality do you most admire in a man?
The ability to make me laugh. And the ability to pick up the check.
In a woman? Loyality. Humor.
What is something you long for?
Z Chocolat from France.
If money were no object what would you buy yourself?
A new wardrobe.
What charity would you donate a million dollars to? Animal charities.
What book have you just finished reading?
Olive Kitteridge.
Name one book that made an impact and why? To Kill a Mockingbird. It's held up so well over the years and it brings racisim and bigotry to a level every person can understand.
Name one liquid always in your refrigerator? Orange Juice.
Name one food item always in your refrigerator? Cottage cheese.
What could you eat everyday:
An avacado.
Everyday I drink: Tea.
TV guilty pleasure: 'The Real Housewives...' (all but the Atlanta wives).
TV show I don't miss: 'Burn Notice'. 'The Closer'.
Name a favorite fictional character from a book:
Elizabeth Bennet.
From a movie:
Elwood P Dodd ('Harvey'). Lisa ('Rear Window').
What phrase or motto do I overuse: This to shall pass. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
I own a lot of: Greeting and note cards.
I collect: Animal Fetishes.
I try to avoid: Negative people. Traffic.
One thing I know: Life is what you make it.
Everyday I: Read.
The last time I wrote a note or letter and mailed it was:
Yesterday (I mail at least 3 a week).
Dog or cat? Meow.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

There is Superstition...

I was going to make love to Excy last night, but I couldn't find my Power Balance bracelet.
Geez.

Of course, you've ordered your PB bracelet by now, right??

The PB bracelets have taken the sports world by storm, and athletes believe they keep them in optimal physical shape and improve their overall performance. Many world champs won't compete without them. I understand baseball players -- they've always been a superstitious lot -- but Shaquille O'Neal, surfer Andy Irons, formula one winner Rubens Barrichello, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, among others?

The bracelet is touted as "reacting positively with your body's natural energy field." The company that sells them didn't exist three years ago and today has sold more than 2.5 million worldwide in the past 18 months, at between $30 to $50 a pop.

The thing is, they don't work. It's all psychosomatic. There is no scientific evidence these bracelets do anything. A clinical researcher and chairperson of the American Board of Sport Psychology says "Between 15% and 30% of any population or group will have what's known as high-range hypnotic susceptibility, which makes them inclined to look for outside answers, search for improvement and be vulvernable to those giving them simple answers to what they're striving for."

Lots of people think the placebo effect is fine. After all, if wearing the thing makes you feel you perform well or better, who cares? But let's not go overboard.

Monday, October 4, 2010

House Work Is Wonderful - well, let's not go that far...

I was interested to read an article about mindfully cleaning. Not just tackling housework, but purposefully and thoroughly giving yourself up to the task at hand. OKKKaaaayyyyyyy........So I have been slowly and Zen-fully (for lack of a better term) putting myself into my household tasks. After all, one spends so much time repeatedly cleaning and doing laundry, finding a way to turn it into meditative practice can help your peace of mind.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, author of We Plan, God Laughs says if your space is clear, you function better and your mind is open. Every week before Sabbath, she says observant Jews clean their house in preparation of Passover. Talk about getting your house in order.

I know I function better in a clean environment. Truthfully I'd prefer not to clean it myself, but I have learned through the years I do a better job than someone I've hired. I guess it's a matter of caring about it more.

A Zen proverb encourages you to find meaning and enlightenment in everyday tasks by chanting: before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. (I think my chant would be Thank God I don't have to chop wood, carry water. But I get the idea).

The endless repetition of housework mimics the endless cycle of life itself. Don't get me wrong: I will never pick vacuuming over going to a movie with friends. And my favorite part of housework is when it's finished and the house is clean and feels cozier to me - but I prefer cleanliness and order to chaos and dust. As long as I have to do it, I may as well do it gratefully and mindfully.

But if someone wants to help me iron, I will really be grateful.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Viva la Barbie

I was born in 1958. Barbie was introduced to the world by Mattel in 1959. Although her extreme beauty and fantastic proportions introduced girls early on to the insecurity of setting standards of beauty no girl could possibly achieve growing up, Barbie became an immediate sensation. My Barbie dolls from the '60s and '70s aren't worthy as collector's items - they have been far too active, having lived lives full of adventure. My Barbies lived hard, surviving as many adventures as the Perils of Pauline. Their hair being shorn is the least of their problems, though I noticed every single one has a bad haircut. They've been run over, kidnapped, drowned, dragged behind runaway horses, buried in avalanches, shot out of rockets; one poor girl parachuted from the sky into an active volcano.

Ken was always just her sidekick. Too effeminate to be taken seriously as a boyfriend, my girls were always attracted to G.I. Joe; real men, who managed to rescue her from pygmies or a failed space-station, or would be her covert-op during one of her many spy adventures. (I was spy-obsessed, never missing an episode of I SPY, Get Smart, The Avengers, Man from U.N.C.L.E., or a James Bond movie. I loved playing a spy, and resuscitated an old brief case of dad's for my attache case full of the latest weaponry).

If Barbie were life-size, she would be 5'6" and weigh 110 pounds. So far so good. However, her measurements would be 39-18-33. Yikes. I'm 5'8" -- the last time I weighed 110 lbs I was 33 years old. My waist was 18 only when I was 15 yrs old. But, I choose to focus on the positives of emulating Barbie. She was my one-and-only 'adult' doll, and taught me that using your head (as long as it didn't pop out of your neck for a quick replacement), along with feminine wiles, could be a powerful combination. (All you feminists can recoil in horror now).

My Barbie was always as smart as a rocket scientist (hey, a girl can dream). And even though she was a tomboy like me, she sported a fabulous wardrobe. (In fact, Barbie has 20 million dresses, many by big-name designers, making Mattel the world's largest fashion manufacturer). Some of my favorite clothes were handmade by my grand moms, though.

Barbie began her many careers as a model, but by the '60s she had become an astronaut, a flight attendant (this seems quite a come-down from astronaut), travel agency owner, doctor. Rock star, TV personality, Olympic finalist, and in '86, an astronaut again. What I liked best about Barbie was the effortless way she incorporated the fantasies and dreams of her owners, who had far more varied professions for her than that. (Equestrian high jumper, anyone?)

Barbie has always had fabulous homes -- penthouses, vacation homes, 'dream' houses. She has owned a Ferrari (cherry red), Corvette (pink), Jeep (white, I think), as well as other cars, and a Vespa.

Her best friend is Midge (always hated that name), she remains close with her little sister, Skipper, and she's always been an animal lover. She's had five horses, a poodle, afghan hound, two puppies, a cat, and a parrot. She even befriended a giraffe while on a safari in 1989.

Barbie remains ageless, 18 forever, unlike her many admirers. My childish dreams where she was the heroine and catalyst of many fantasies helped shape my dreams. Maybe certain feminists disagree, but I say long live Barbie. She was always a fun girlfriend. And despite her voluptuous proportions, she looks healthier than those slightly anemic-looking Bratz dolls, who remind me uncomfortably of the big sad-eyed children in the pictures that were so popular in the '70s.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Seeking the Beauty in Imperfection

I had this in my head to write about for days and then I saw an article written up in Whole Living magazine, which used to be called body+soul. I suppose in these times, the aesthetic is a timely one...

Even before I knew there was a name for it, I've preferred my things a little wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese term for things a little off-kilter. It's a way of seeing beauty in the simple, the transient, the imperfect and the modest. Not in shabby or dirty things, but perhaps seeing it in a beautiful burnished bowl that is a bit misshapen or has a subtle crack in it. We mix our contemporary pieces with family antiques that show their age and wear. Our silver curios are apt to be dulled. I don't mind a beautiful piece that's slightly dinged. Perfection in life isn't real or possible. To me, things are more interesting when you aren't striving to achieve perfection but allow for life's imperfections. I think Leonard Cohen had a line in a song about not minding a crack, that was how light shone through, but I'm paraphrasing.

One reason I quit writing for design magazines was because I hated writing up McMansions. It was difficult to write with glowing enthusiasm about big obnoxious houses with cheap building materials you knew wouldn't wear well, with rooms obviously staged and seldom used by the inhabitants. You could almost see the velvet rope strung across the threshold to keep the kids off-limits. One white elephant gave pride-of-place to a vast collection of Franklin Mint items -- those pricy reproductions. Why not invest in real artwork, not a reproduction of Merlin's wand?

Once I complimented an interviewee on her vast and charming display of framed ancestors scattered among her library shelves. She shrugged and said she didn't know any of them; her interior designer had gone to a flea market and then framed interesting photos. The leather-bound books were chosen to compliment the colors in the room. Brrrrrrr.

I guess we all have stories about people who chose their artwork like the rock star in Hannah and Her Sisters, who wanted "a picture to go with the couch in his living room." It's hard not to see them as philistines.

It's so much more interesting to write up a house that has been thoughtfully and personally decorated -- rather, a home, not a house -- where every piece is selected personally, and the artwork is chosen for a reason, definitely not just for its color or how it enhances a room.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Real Burning Bed

A dear friend confided to me -- thirty years after the fact -- that her long-time steady BF all through high school and into their 20s had been physically abusive, finally getting to the point he actually attempted to choke her to death. Her 'crime' was dancing with a group of their friends at a wedding party. She was saved by his room mate unexpectedly returning home, and she ran into the night, walking several miles home until being picked up by a Good Samaritan who turned out to be a counselor who sat in the car for hours and persuaded her she could not return to her BF no matter what remorse he showed later. She never did. He did go on to marry -- and no doubt abuse -- his wife before dying young.

Another friend from high school told me she had been raped at a party by a 'BMOC.' She told him to stop and he refused, telling her afterwards he "didn't believe her," "she got what she wanted," and "no one would believe her."

Yet another confided she was sexually abused as a teen by the adult manager of the store she worked in through her school years. He told her that her job and benefits were at risk if she told anyone, and he would tell everyone she was a "slut."

During my college years, I saw crazed behavior at a frat party that was getting into scary territory to the point my intuition screamed for me to get out. During a blind date that turned very sour, I was able to bluff my way out of danger by being deliberately calm and doing things I knew would turn a narcissist off; in the other circumstance, someone literally stepped in and stopped the frenzied pack mentality.

I knew girls in college who hadn't been so lucky.

Unfortunately, misogyny and abuse abounds, and I know more stories from young women through the years. What every girl shared from these incidents was the fact they were young, sexually inexperienced, and naive - and preyed upon by loathsome teens and men. They were impressionable and made to feel embarrassed and culpable - like it had been their fault the abuse occurred in the first place.

I know for a fact two who have really never gotten over it. They stuffed it inside, tried to forget about it, or it was the catalyst for some wild behavior they now regret. One woman has never gotten close enough to another man to enjoy a long-time relationship, let alone get married.

I know this kind of abuse occurs every day. I am thankful it is being exposed more and more, and as people are educated to the dark horrors of this behavior, more laws and help is offered to innocent women, children, animals, and yes, men, who are ensnared in an insidious web of domestic abuse.

If you suspect anyone of living with this horror, reach out and offer your help. You may be saving a life, or a lifetime of a bad memory or regret. Many are so emotionally downtrodden they're no longer aware they don't have to live that way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

If you're wondering how to be of help to someone who has had a death in the family...

maybe you can be a point person -- writing emails, and calling people, so they don't have to discuss the same story over and over...maybe you can pick up stationery for notes or even help write the notes...I wrote an obit column for a magazine, so I have written 7 obits for friends over the years so their family didn't have that to deal with.

Think of how you would feel someone could be useful to you -- then you will have your answer of how you can help. Think outside the box. It also could be as simple as a bouquet of flowers or a plant they can keep to remind them of the beauty of life and how it continues, or a really great bag of coffee or chocolates to pamper them a bit, nice massage oil or bath salts, or something unique to you or your friend you share between each other.

Don't write or tell someone 'if there's anything I can do, please let me know.' That is well-meaning, but frankly, it's pretty useless. It's not up to the person to tell you -- even the closest of friends can hesitate to ask for something. Asking for things is difficult.

If you are afraid of writing for fear of saying something wrong, simply write how sorry you are for their loss, and how they are in your thoughts and/or prayers, and that you'll call and email soon to see what you can do - and for them to be thinking of how you can help.

Remember, nothing's more important than knowing their loved one was important to others. Hearing how their loved one had a positive impact or recalling a funny story or piece of advice is something they will treasure, and keep or remember.

What's painful is when they can't mention their loved one. People fear bringing up their name or memory will be painful and they try not to mention them, but what can make them sadder is having people not mention the huge void in their life. They crave talking about their loved one, and want to keep their memories alive as time goes by.

There are many ways to create 'living legacies' -- donate in their name to a charity or something they were invested in or loved. Plant a tree. Or just live in a way that honors their life or way of living. You don't have to go "Newman's Own" big -- you could change a habit for the better and tell the family how their loved one inspired you to make the change. Or tell them you had a medical test because of their experience.

Any act of consideration and kindness is appreciated and makes the world a little kinder than before...we are all connected.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Helping Out

Caretaking, particularly when it's long-term, can be tiring. But it's important to take time off for yourself to recharge. It's trite but true that if you're worn down, you won't be any good for your patient. That's where family and friends come in. Some suggestions and ways to show your support:

Volunteer an hour or so of your time and sit with the patient while the caregiver gets out for a walk, a massage, or trip to the salon, or movie. It's important for them to get out of the house and into the 'real world' to feel grounded.

Drop off a meal. Be sure to call ahead to discuss any dietary restrictons. After surgery, most patients don't have their appetite or taste buds back to normal, so simple meals of soups, fruit salads, etc. are great. It's not necessary to cook - there are plenty of catered options and ready-made meals to pick up at the store. Don't forget one of my most important rules--use disposable containers or containers you don't want returned, and make sure to tell them that. As great as it is to have meals given to us, we now have a bench full of pots, pans, and containers to return, which is just another thing that now needs to be done. I know I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth but still, avoid this problem and you'll doubly appreciated.

Running errands while you're already out and about is easy for you and helpful for them. Tell them when you have to run to the grocery or drugstore, or post office or cleaners, and see what you can pick up...

Drop off some books or magazines. Or a plant or flowers -- nice to see some natural beauty.

Walk the dog, vaccume the rug, rake their leaves, take the kids for ice-cream...you get the idea...

part two-if there is a death

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Show One Loves to Hate (Or, My Guilty Pleasure)

In case you don't read Vanity Fair, with apologizes to those who do, I am going to reprint something James Wolcott wrote about The Real Housewives of New Jersey. He wrote about all the NJ shows - including the upcoming Boardwalk Empire (dang, I wish we got HBO). His column is hysterical -- I recommend it highly for the laughs.

Excy has been dismayed by my attraction to the Real Housewives series, with the exceptions of Atlanta (too ghetto) and DC (too boring). I've struggled to explain it. Frankly, it's difficult to justify loving trash when you know the glitter and tin-foil is cheap and a time-suck, and there are so many worthwhile things I could/should be doing otherwise -- or at least watching or reading...But it occupies my attention, and like a bad drug, I am hooked and keep going back for a fix every week. And I relish the lameness. I've even reasoned that if this is my biggest vice, I'm doing okay. Whatever, Amy.

NJ debuted in 2009 and was an immediate success. These girls don't play. These drama queens/big spenders live in Franklin Heights, NJ, which is apparently the mecca of big-hair, skin-tight leggings, anything animal print, and bat-wing eyeliner. You must wear flash, and sport false-tipped square nails, like the Orange County crowd. Your 'girls' (called bubbies here) must be hiked-up and over-the-top, and if you're lacking in that dept., you must have augmentation. (However, if yours are real, you must tout this fact loudly to all). I'll go into the home decor after re-printing Wolcott here:

Barbarians at The Shore (0ct. 2010)
...Residing in the palatial estates of Franklin Heights, NJ, these housewives with no housework but high-maintenance requirements take luxury living to its hideous extreme. 'Money doesn't talk, it swears,' Bob Dylan famously sang, and the money here screeches. The message of The Real Housewives is assuring to snobs and voyeurs: All the expenditure in the world can't buy you a genuine ounce of class. A recent episode featured a baby christening which may have been the most horrific since the multiple-homicide christening that climaxed The Godfather, this one staged on the scale of a royal wedding or a Steve Schwartzman Bar Mitzvah. At the after-party (christenings have after parties?) a young, ivory-wigged woman dolled up as Marie Antoinette served sushi * -- the perfect image for the Versailles excess and vanity of America's McAristocracy; we got so much money to blow** on ourselves we can hire Marie Antoinette as a serving wench!***** But where the lack of class makes its greatest cymbal crash is in the staged Dynasty cat-fights between rival divas. Danielle Staub (who is like a Witches of Eastwick co-sister to Mercedes Ruhl's jealousy-crazed wife in Married to the Mob).*** Season one thrilled the YouTube nation with Teresa Guidice's ****She-Hulk table flip, and season two graced us with the profane projectile cursing of Kim G., who tore off her disguise as a Lady of Leisure Who Lunches to go full-metal viper, calling Danielle "Franken-square tits" and telling Jacqueline, who was holding her baby at the time, that Danielle could go "f-ing scratch my ass." I grew up next to a military base, and I never heard the sort of language that makes for spirited repartee among these gentry. With its choreographed showdowns and f-bomb brio, The Real...NJ suggests a Quentin Tarantino film flying like a bat out of hell from the day spa....allowing audiences to spend quality time with the demonically possessed...

I don't watch Jersey Shore, (I can't bring myself to sink that low -- you can't avoid 'The Situation' or 'Snooky,' but God, I try)...but I have seen The Sopranos, Married to the Mob, Good Fellas, and the Godfather movies, and it seems they hit every cliche with the NJ girls. Excy's off the hook for awhile (he doesn't stay in the room but it's hard not to listen to the hysteria and caustic voices), until season three. I know he's hoping my interest will wane but like a train wreck, I know I will want to look. Oh, and their 'decorating' prowness? These ladies - I use the term very loosely -- reside in a world where everything is so eye-poppingly over the top and lurid it's as if John Waters sneaked in their house overnight for some interior desecration...


*on the tiers of her dress, no less
** this couple filed bankruptcy for $11 million in debt 2 weeks later
***really giving her too much credit -- she dresses and acts like walking the streets is her profession
****a gorilla is more evolved
*****and those dresses Theresa tricked her little girls out in (that were custom-designed and no doubt horrifically expensive) were beyond repulsive Bo-Beep type numbers...I expected to see the hats and staffs...