Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fast away the old year passes!

OK, OK. 2009 wasn't all bad. In fact, some wonderful things happened over the course of the last twelve months. Here are a few highlights from my year - again, in no particular order:
  1. Reconnecting with childhood friends through Facebook. I know it's cool to complain about various social networking sites and quake in your boots about the potential dangers, but thanks to Facebook I have rediscovered the folks who "knew me when." I love seeing how life turned out for my elementary school friends. We're all just as cute and smart and good-hearted as we were when we were 7, 10, and 13. That's very comforting to know.
  2. Getting to show my 6th grade teacher around New York City. I never thought Marilyn and Dewey would venture forth, but thanks to their son Bruce's Carnegie Hall concert in April, they left California to spend a few days in this wild and woolly town. The Statue of Liberty, Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, Broadway - a great time with great friends.
  3. Girlfriends' weekend in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Always fun to take time out and spend a few days with my best buds. Bro was a great host, the "cabin" (and I use the term loosely, as it's way bigger than any house I've ever lived in) was perfect, and the talk was refreshing.
  4. Mad Men and Glee. 'Nuff said.
  5. Seeing SuperStation FunTime friend Susie again after all these years. Twice in one year, even! Once in March - a surprise set up by another SSFT-er Jerry, and a second time in August when she came to visit with her son Ben. I love you Susie Baer!
  6. Keeping my job. Lots of people around here lost their jobs in July. I survived the cut, but who knows what the new year will bring? For now, however, I am gainfully employed and am spared the soul-sucking task of hitting the streets with a resume.
  7. Fun with Beth in New York City. Can you tell my year's highlights revolve around friends who come to visit me? I love playing city guide. Friend Beth and I had a great time when she hit town in October - the new High Line Park, the Met, St. John the Divine, just to name a few hot spots. And perfect fall weather!
  8. The blessed week I spend at B&B Wyndbourne in April. Had the place to myself. Read lots of books, tramped through the woods, and ate/drank fabulously with hosts Nancy and Ralph. The perfect getaway.
  9. The weirdly fun MP3 Experiment on Roosevelt Island. Thousands of strangers following orders over their iPods to participate in impromptu square-dancing, acting like robots, and bopping each other with inflatable bats and hammers, much to the confusion of onlookers not in on the joke. What's not memorable about that? (And I still have my inflatable hammer.)
  10. Disneyland! Fifty years after trekking out to California in the family station wagon, Sis and I (and bro-in-law) spent a fabulous day at the park that cause such wonderment all those years ago. I enjoyed the time-warp experience. Thanks, Sis! (And the wine tour was fun, too!)
  11. Dante at the Cathedral on Maundy Thursday. Amazing reading of cantos from Dante's Inferno at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, capped off by bone-shaking organ music. Wow! And free!
  12. And the best for last. *** drumroll **** Grandbaby on the way! Woo-hoo! Daughter and hubby have a bundle of boy-joy set to arrive February 22, 2010. Next year will be fine indeed!
Gathering with family and friends, discovering new places, reading new books, tasting new foods - all make life worth living, whatever winds of fortune howl outside your door. I highly recommend making your own list of 2009 highlights and savoring the memories. Throw the list of awful things into the fire. Happy New Year to all! (More gin, anyone?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year-end Tired

2009 is a year that has just about beat me into submission. All was not doom-and-gloom, certainly, but a shaky economy, political wranglings, and reality television has just worn me out. I'm tired of all of it. No wonder I bury my head in a book or Turner Classic Movies.

I can live out the rest of my days with renewed energy if I never have to hear another word about (in no particular order):
  1. Massive bonuses for executives of financial institutions shored up by my tax dollars. It's obvious these fat-cats will always find a way to collect big-time, so don't keep telling me about it unless you plan to do something to stop it. I'd rather not know.
  2. "Twilight," or any other lame vampire series with pale-faced, angst-riddled, laughably bad actors. I'll stick with vampire classics starring the likes of  Bela Lugosi and Sarah Michelle Gellar, thank you very much.
  3. Michael Jackson. He's dead. This surprised you? Where have you been for the last 20 years?
  4. Reality shows featuring families with 8 or more children. Stop it. Where are the children's services people? Having lots and lots of babies qualifies you for nothing except a series of classes on birth control.
  5. Reality shows, period. I'm even willing to give up the ones I watch, like Top Chef, to get back to the days of well-written story-driven programs starring actual actors. I believe the decline and fall of civilization will be appropriately placed at the feet of reality TV.
  6. Recession, bankruptcy, foreclosure. For lots of complicated reasons, the economy tanked. No one seems to agree on what happened, who's to blame, or how to learn from it and move forward. I feel sad and scared for folks laid off from work, anyone who had to declare bankruptcy, or people who lost their homes in the mess. There but for the grace of God . . . But I don't want to keep hearing about it.
  7. Talk show pundits. Whether Hannity or Olbermann, just shut up.You make things worse, not better. You do not clarify a thing. You use spurious information and jib-jabber to ramp up the noise, hate, and distrust. You should go the way of reality TV. To the moon!
  8. Priuses and anything by Apple. Ohhhhhh, the smugness of your owners! I can SO do without it. And don't tell me you're smug for good reason. It's only a good reason in your own head.
  9. Anglican Communion wars. Will it split? Won't it split? Blah, blah, blah.
  10. Politicians in general, but specifically: Sarah Palin, Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and, yes, even Barak Obama. I've had it with all y'all. Granted, anything's better than Bush-Cheney, but I'm not a bit impressed by any of you. Stop grand-standing and get to work!
No wonder I'm tired. I promise to reflect on the positive things of 2009 later, but I needed to get the soul-draining stuff out of my system. I'm looking forward to a bright, shiny New Year, where everyone behaves, the economy booms, and we practice a little peace on earth and goodwill, or at least civility and common sense. Gin, anyone?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Three Christmas Wishes

Here's your challenge: name your top three Christmas wishes for 1) your city or community, 2) a family member, and 3) yourself. Notice, I haven't included a Christmas wish for the world - we all want world peace, full employment, health, education, and happiness. Get specific.

I'll go first:

  1. My Christmas wish for Manhattan/New York City (sorry, other boroughs) is a Super Target. Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Sak's, Barneys, Bergdof's, Tiffany's - all wonderful stores, but just-us-folks need a clean, well-lighted, name-brand merchandise, discount store on the island. I think a Target is going into the same complex as Costco a few streets over from me in East Harlem. I pray it opens its doors in 2010. 
  2. For daughter Kate and son-in-law Greg, I wish for baby furniture for soon-to-be GrandBoy. Mama-to-be will not rest easy until the nursery is in place. (So really, I'm wishing for peace of mind for both of them.)
  3. My Christmas wish for me, me, me is a ticket to a Broadway show and renewal of my Metropolitan Museum of Art membership. Life is too short not to include great theatre and art. 
So what are your three Christmas wishes? Do tell.

Merry, Merry Christmas to all! I do truly wish for health and happiness and lack of stress and worry for all of you. Eat lots of good stuff, love your family and friends, read interesting books, do something that fulfills your need to be You.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guilty of licking the spoon

I love Weight Watchers. I like its philosophy and process, and, heck, it works. But between Halloween and New Year, I have to stuff all that WW love in the back of the closet. Because I love holiday food more than I love losing weight. I'm trying to feel guilty about it, but I don't.

First comes all those Halloween treats, and you know how I feel about candy corn. A month later is Thanksgiving, with its turkey, dressing, carb-loaded casseroles, and pumpkin pie. But, ah, Christmas. The universe keeps the best for last - cookies and pastries of every description, wonderful delights made with butter and cinnamon and fruit and cream and butter. And butter. (Julia Child must've loved Christmas.)

And whether it's Spinach Mornay (cream, Swiss cheese, cayenne pepper) or Banana Pudding (cream cheese, pudding mix, creamed cheese), I always do my duty as cook and/or kitchen helper by offering to lick the spoons and mixing bowls. Why is it that the bit of yumminess that hangs on to a mixing bowl is the best few bites of the lot?

I'll pull Weight Watchers back out in January. But for now, I plan to lick the spoons and mixing bowls, have a wedge of that rum cake, and eat another Christmas cookie. Or three. Go find your own bowl to lick!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary Christmas

One actress plays two of my favorite characters in a couple of can't-miss Christmas movies. The late great Mary Wickes, character actor extraordinaire, adds her genius to the roles of Nurse Preen in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and Emma in White Christmas (1954).

The Man Who Came to Dinner is rapidly becoming one of my top 5 Christmas films. Hilarious story, Bette Davis and Monty Woolley, penguins and an octopus - what's not to love? But Mary Wickes as poor, put-upon Nurse Preen is the whipped cream on top. This was her first major film role and it set the stage (fortunately or unfortunately) for her on-screen persona throughout her career. I love her gangly physicality and droll delivery. Especially when being chased by penguins or insulted by the great Sheridan Whiteside.

And who taught us to steam open envelopes? Why, that nosey old biddie Emma Allen in White Christmas! Who needs an ex-general at the inn when you have Emma to run things? She's a lovable, sarcastic, gossip - and she works a pretty good kiss in there, too.

So for brightening up a couple of my holiday favorites, Mary Christmas, Mary Wickes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let me eat cake

Usually, I can take or leave cake. I'm a pie girl myself. But I may change my mind after reading a recent article in the New York Times about Southern layer cakes.

Now, I'm a proud Southerner, but I've never heard of these 15-layer cakes that are all the rage in lower Alabama (or, L.A., as we call it down South). Granted the layers are thin, but it speaks to my need for less cake/more frosting, if you know what I mean.

Other Southern "stars" include the Lane cake, poundcake, fruit cake, and coconut cake. I'm a connoisseur of all of those, but this 15-layer job intrigues me. Hmm. How can I get a taste of this? The author of the article seems to be under the misguided assumption that all Southerners know how to bake. Well, not me. Rather, I don't bake well enough to try a 15-layer cake with boiled icing.

If someone out there wants to give it a try and send me a piece, I'd be much obliged.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

As seen in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman

The great thing about New York City is that you don't have to be wealthy to have very rich experiences - especially at Christmastime. Store windows, ususally over-the-top anyway, become colorful, intriguing peep shows on the city sidewalks. Macy's, Sak's, and a few others have such amazing, techno-wonder scenes in their windows that the areas in front are cordoned off to accommodate the long lines of people waiting to see the extravaganzas.

But I found the windows at Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue packed with so many glorious things in such eye-catching ways that I took a few pictures. Try to look beyond the glare of the glass - most of what you're seeing is actually in the windows. I particularly love the one that looks down on the Red Queen, cards, and chess pieses. A Compendium of Curiousities, indeed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Toy Generation Gap

Ever since I saw the commercial on TV the other night, I have been wanting a Crayola Crayon Maker. Anything involving crayons appeals to me. A box of 64 and a new coloring book - what's better than that? But this Crayon Maker thing calls to me as did those toys of my youth - Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, Vac-U-Form, and Give-a-Show Projector. Each was creative and high-tech (for the early 1960s), but the high-tech part was secondary to the creative for me.

I know for a fact that I can find hours of entertainment in an Etch-a-Sketch (thanks to blog-pal, Elsie, who supplied me with one a couple of years ago) and suspect a Spirograph and Vac-U-Form would amuse, as well. Not so sure the Give-a-Show could still rivet me, though it'd be fun to see some of those old Flintstone story strips again.

Now, I'm not a complete old fogey. Even I have spent endless hours with various computer and video games, though I've never tried Wii. The thing is that after a period of time - a week, a month, a summer - I leave them behind for either some hot new electronic gizmo or spend the time with an old fashioned book (the paper kind). I never return to those older computer/video games once I bid them farewell.

But stick crayons and coloring book, Spirograph, or Etch-a-Sketch under my nose, and I can amuse myself for hours.Nothing boring about any of those. Too bad Vac-U-Form is considered dangerous (that metal plate did get awfully hot . . . ), because I'd love to mold me some plastic junk again. Ah, the smell of melting plastic!

Well, there's a nostalgic feel about the Crayon Maker to me. It seems very Vac-U-Form-y/Easy Bake Oven-y, and therein lies the attraction. Create new colors and crayons out of my old crayon pieces? Whoa! I can't imagine ever getting tired of doing that. Why, I can see that still being fun when I'm in assisted living.

I wonder, however, if anyone under the age of 45 has a childhood toy that they never tire of (and I'm not talking dolls, block, and trains - I mean the "hot" items of the day). Are there adults who still can't get enough of Space Invaders or Pac Man, or are those just too boring now? What is the GenX, GenY equivalent of Etch-a-Sketch or Vac-U-Form?

Is there a toy generation gap? And is Santa listening? I've been an awful girl this year. I mean, an awful good girl this year.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Right this very minute! Part II

I love Christmas decorations. Not before Thanksgiving, of course, but as soon as we've put away the turkey platters, I say bring on the Christmas bling! Back in my pre-New York City olden days, I decorated every room in our house. Yep, green garlands around the bathroom mirror and everything. I loved my little house at Christmas. So it breaks my Christmas-lovin' heart that I no longer have an outlet for my annual house-trickin'-out urge.

My Spanish Harlem apartment is tiny. No room for a tree. A fresh tree is outrageously expensive in NYC, anyway. Plus, I spend the holidays in Atlanta - what's the point? I do have a box or two of my tree decorations up here (couldn't bear for them to moulder away in a storage unit) and try my best to sprinkle them around my little place, if only to keep me tied to my traditions.

But this year, I really, really wanted a tree - or something to decorate. So I got creative. Still not sure whether my idea was brilliant or tacky.

I looked around to see if I could figure out something plentiful,  stackable, and decoratable. What I have the most of is books - and there you have it. I stacked 'em up from big to small, ran a string of lights around the tower, hung a few ornaments, and plopped an angel on top. What do you think?

Well, never mind. I need a little Christmas. Right this very minute!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Right this very minute!

Advent, Schmadvent.

At the risk of having my “Good Little Episcopalian” credentials revoked (if I ever had any to begin with), I find Advent a tiresome downer. Oh, I’m fine with colorful Advent calendars and the wreaths with the candles; at least there’s a little twinkle of fun found there. But the insular, reflective, “ooh-isn’t-this-waiting-stuff-spiritual?” part does not work for me.

I’m convinced that Advent was created by and for introverts. All that soul-digging anticipation is perfect for folks who thrive at exploring their thoughts and feelings all by themselves.

But for us extroverts (I know you’re surprised to find out that Shorty PJs is an extrovert), hard-core Advent just sucks the energy out of this joyous time of year. Oh, wait. I’m not supposed to be joyous yet, am I? Must wait until 12:00am December 25, right?

Now, it’s plain as all git-out that Christmas was divinely inspired by and for extroverts. Think about it - angels/shepherds/wise men gathered in joy and praise, carol-singing, parties, family gatherings, even shopping – people, people, people everywhere. Personally, I reflect better with other people to, er, reflect off of/with, so the wonderful, wild celebration that is Christmas suits me to a T. It’s a birthday, for goodness’ sake!

I do not need a period of waiting. I’ve waited all year, casting an expectant eye toward this blessed season throughout glorious springs and long, hot summers. I am no less aware that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and of how that birth impacts my life than I would be if I tried to spend four long weeks contemplating it without Christmas trees, carols, and gatherings with family and friends. Shoot, life can be gloomy and soul-searching enough without imposing the stuff on those of us ready to celebrate something marvelous.

So, go ahead, all you theologian/clergy-types – slam me for eschewing four weeks of solemn reflection in quiet solitude without the glow of Christmas lights. I am not one bit bothered. The little tree in my office is all a-twinkle, and it gladdens my weary heart every time I look at it.

In the words of the great Auntie Mame (and Jerry Herman): “We need a little Christmas! Right this very minute!”