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:

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

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...

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.