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 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 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.