Monday, December 31, 2012

Lang Syne

Well, here it is, the last day of 2012. Remember this time last year? We had such high hopes for the coming twelve months, didn't we? Some of those high hopes were reached (yea for us!) and some were broken apart by unforeseen circumstances or dissipated through sheer neglect. But if you're reading this, you're still around to ring in the new year, and hope springs eternal.

I have wonderful memories of 2012: a reunion with friends from elementary and junior high school, revisiting the family farm and reconnecting with my Frazier relatives, a wedding in Memphis, my first opera at the Met, spending time with Jeannie in Scotland, experiencing energetic faith in South Africa, fabulous theatre (the winner: Peter & the Starcatcher), and the annual Bartow Family Christmas Gathering. Oh, and I lost 15 pounds.

But the best memories of the year center on my family, especially the time I've spent with my little grandson Liam, my daughter Kate, and my son-in-law Greg. Early in the year I got a whole week with Liam all to myself, as his parents took a much-needed vacation. Grandboy and I had a great time at the park and at Fernbank Science Museum, reading stories, and waking up with the birds. I've loved watching him grow and talk and learn. And no one can take away the times he's thrown his little arms around my neck and declared, "I love you so much, GrandMary!" Certainly, no year is bad that offers up that sort of thing, eh?

Still, I want to honor the losses of the past twelve months, too, by remembering and keeping them in my heart and prayers: a childhood friend lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, a young couple lost their baby daughter just as she was entering this world, 20 sweet children and 6 educators lost their lives in senseless violence. Yes, 2012 was a year of loss as well as a year of the wonderful, the loving, the magical. Perhaps 2013 will provide a fresh start for healing those losses.

I look forward to 2013. God willing, it will bring the safe birth of a healthy little granddaughter in May - more love, more memories to come. I look forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, reading never-before-read (by me) books, re-experiencing the seasons, trying new things I never thought I'd try, going places I've never been. New lang syne, in other words.

Here's the thing. We don't just get a fresh start once every January 1. We get a fresh start every single day, every single hour, every single minute. Don't put so much pressure on the calendar or yourself. Spend January 1 nursing your hangover, putting away your Christmas decorations, and eating your black-eyed peas and greens. There are good times ahead.

While you're celebrating auld lang syne, celebrate new lang syne, too. Happy New Lang Syne!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ex Libris . . . Me!

I got fabulous gifts for Christmas, lots of stuff that I love and will use with glee in the coming months. But one gift is a real stand-out. Daughter had her good friend Erin of Rampant Reads design bookplates especially for me.

I know in this age of books via Kindle and iPod (both of which I use religiously, by the way) that amassing hardbacks is hardly the fashion. But I do it. Nothing compares to being surrounded by solid manifestations of good reads. When I read or listen to an electronic version of a book that I really love, I add the hardback to my library.

So these lovely bookplates will come in handy. They came in a "book" box, with the original stamp - so that I can reproduce them as needed - and a fistful of the plates. And they are so me! A suitcase, a Georgia peach, an "A" for University of Alabama, NY, and an Episcopal shield are worked into the design.

Thank you, Erin, for the beautiful work. And thank you, Kate, for knowing exactly the right thing for your book-lovin' mama.

If you need a gift idea for the book-lover in your life, I highly recommend contacting Erin and employing her design talents.

Now, which books get the first run of bookplates? Decisions, decisions.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bowl of Smoking Bishop

“A Merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”
A few years ago I mentioned that I was concocting Smoking Bishop for our Christmas Eve feast. It's festive, has a bit of literary value (see A Christmas Carol), and goes down a treat in the warm glow of Christmas lights. For those of you who would like to duplicate this yuletide treat, here's my recipe:

  • 6 Seville oranges (if Seville oranges aren't available, use 5 sweet oranges and one yellow grapefruit)
  • 36-40 cloves
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 quart strong red wine
  • 1 bottle ruby port
  • cinnamon sticks
Place oranges in a warmed glass or pottery bowl. Stick cloves into each orange. Bake the oranges at 325 degrees F for approximately 20 minutes (until golden brown). Add the sugar and the wine (not the port). Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for at least 24 hours. Cut oranges in half and squeeze them into the wine, then pour through a sieve. To keep, pour into sterilized bottles and seal (omitting the port); to serve immediately, pour orange/wine mixture into a pan, add the port, and heat slowly. Do not boil. Serve in warm mugs with cinnamon sticks.  (Serves 4)

So, if you plan to serve Smoking Bishop Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you need to get on the stick and get those oranges, spices, and wine doing their magic. They need to brew at least 24 hours. Let me know how yours turns out. I'm feeling merry just thinking about it. Cheers!

Great Expectations

From Episcopal Community's Advent booklet, here's my reflection for Friday, December 21:
What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”   Matthew 11:8-10 (New Revised Standard Version)

Great expectations. We all have them, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Our hopes are pinned on whatever image we’ve built up in our minds based on a picture or story or letter. In anticipation, we’ve sorted through all the information and have come up with a preconceived notion of who this person is, what the person looks like, how the person behaves.

And we’re never wrong, are we? Well, of course, we are! All the time. Whatever we’ve been told or chosen to believe before the initial meeting may be all wrong. Or a little wrong and a lot right. Or some twisted combination.

So here’s Jesus, confronted with the question (and I paraphrase), “Are you the one we’ve been looking for all these years, or should we just, you know, wait for another guy?” We don’t know the tone in which the question was asked. Sincere? Sneering? Incredulous? We do tend to assume that, “You sure don’t look like a Messiah!” is implied. Jesus responds, “Yep, it’s me all right,” and goes on to support his answer with examples of what he’s been up to—giving sight to the blind, healing to the lame and lepers, hearing to the deaf, good news to the poor.

Then he asks the crowd, “What on earth were you expecting? Fine clothes and a palace? A couple of new cars in the driveway? My own reality show Prophesying to the Stars?” Obviously, he did not stack up to the Messiah image folks had been building up over time. Managing other people’s expectations is a tough job, even for Jesus, but he did just that, plus gave credit to John for preparing the way, to boot. I picture folks dispersing, nodding their heads and saying, “OK, yeah, I get it now.” I’m sure they did not walk away disappointed.

During this season of preparation and waiting, try to keep a check on your expectations—of the people you love, of colleagues, of strangers, of the holiday, of the Christ Child. Keep your heart and mind open to glories you cannot even expect or imagine. You will not walk away disappointed.

Praise and honor to you living God for John the Baptist, and for all those voices crying in the wilderness who prepare your way. May we listen when a prophet speaks your word, and   obey. Amen. (from A New Zealand Prayer Book)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Can't Beat Home Sweet Home

To me, the highlight of the Christmas season is our annual Bartow Family Christmas Gathering. The locations shifts from year to year, as someone(s) bravely offers to host. The crowd varies a little from year to year, depending on who has to work or honor other obligations. But believe it or not, most of us show up, assigned dish in hand, ready to talk real loud and reconnect.

This year, we made our way up to cousins Steve and Kittie's farm in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was pouring rain, so a hayride was not on, but the weather did not stop the fun. And there was more gold crowded into that kitchen than ever was discovered in the surrounding Georgia hills.

The little kids kept themselves busy running around, up and down the stairs and out the front door to the porch swing, finding and hoarding candy and cookies. It's a wonder they weren't all pea-green and throwing up by the end of the event, but they somehow managed to ingest massive quantities of sugar and churn it around without any dire consequences. Ah, youth! Most of the guys stayed glued to the Falcons-Giants game on TV, while the preteens stayed glued to their smart phones. The rest of us settled first one place, then another, catching up on life over the past year.

And the food! You could've made a meal of the appetizers alone - cheesy dips, layered scrumptious concoctions, bite-sized tomato/mozzarella bits, and more. But, no. We don't do anything by halves. Chicken, ham, and a fabulous smoked pork loin, plus casseroles galore, were too, too tempting, even if we'd filled up on the pre-lunch cheesy stuff. And dare I mention the desserts? A fabulous multi-layered, artistically decorated cake, scrumptious cookies, and bowls of candy could not be passed up, either. And the wine and sweet tea flowed.

Let's talk about those bowls of candy. Several weeks before the event, Kittie, the party-planning Queen, had asked those of us of a certain age to let her know our favorite childhood candy. To our delight - and the delight of small children decades removed from our own childhoods - the bowls were full of those little wax bottles, Zero candy bars, Bit-o-Honey (my personal fav), and Double-Bubble. Of course, that got the subsequent generations talking about Laffy Taffy and Jolly Ranchers, as we all dipped into the candy bowls.

But the thing about these annual gatherings isn't the food or the weather or the location. It's the love and the laughter. It's remembering those Bully Bartow sisters (my mother and my aunts) who ran the show for most of our lives. It's knowing that we do, truly, have each other, no matter what. Yes, the weather kept us inside most of the day, but we never ran out of things to talk and laugh about.

The rain did let up every now and then. At one of these breaks, GrandBoy and I took a little walk down the road to see if we could find any cows out and about. We made it down to the gate across from the big red barn, and there, across the field taking shelter under some trees, were the cows. It delighted Liam to no end.

Yes, that's memorable. But the whole day was memorable. For the holidays, you can't beat home sweet home!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Loud and Deep

I honestly do not know how to write about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. When the story first broke, I followed it closely on the internet, watching live reports and President Obama's first response. But as the news piled in, it became more than I could take. As a parent and grandparent, I just can't get my head around it. I certainly can't get my heart around it.

So I stopped watching. And I stopped reading. I want to pray, but I can't. I just don't know what to pray for. Yes, I could pray for the loved ones of the children and teachers lost - for their comfort, for their peace, for their release from pain - and I did that in the beginning.

But as the reality of those little lives and the lives of their teachers sank in, those prayers didn't seem to cover it. Briefly, very briefly, I tried to put myself in the place of the parents who lost their babies. Too, too painful, if you go beyond the surface. I had to back off. So prayers about comfort and peace can't begin cover it. I'm struggling with that. And so, my friends of faith, please do not inundate me with prayer suggestions. Whatever's working for you - great. Keep doin' it. As for me, I must find a way to get back to a prayer-place on my own.

That said, I am fed up with people saying that the reason this happened is that God has been taken out of schools. Really? Oh, ye of little faith. I believe that God is everywhere, even in the midst of Sandy Hook last Friday morning. If you choose to believe that God is not present within our secular society, perhaps you need to re-examine your own faith. Prayer in schools has not been outlawed. If you believe, pray. If you don't believe, don't pray. I choose to believe that God was right there with the children and their teachers.

I will find a way to work through this, knowing I can never make sense of it. One thing I can pray for is that my country finds a way to stop or slow down this madness. We have so many gifts to offer a hurting world, but we continue to set the worst example imaginable when these mass killings take place with such regularity. Yeah, I can pray for that.

One of my favorite Christmas carols was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the middle of the Civil War. I suggest you read the original poem for yourself, because some folks have found it necessary to re-write some of the verses to suit their own views. But two of the original verses strike home to me right now:

And in despair I bowed my head; 
"There is no peace on earth," I said; 
    "For hate is strong, 
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
    The Wrong shall fail, 
    The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Now, there's another something I can pray for. May God have mercy.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Dolce Domum

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. In "Dolce Domum," Mole and Rat are trying to make their way back to River Bank in a fierce, mid-December  snowstorm. They're hungry and tired and a little lost. Mole - he of superior nose - is sniffing out the way, when he catches a whiff of something else. Home.

Mole had abandoned his old underground home, Mole End, to live in the upper world with his good friends Rat, Badger, and Toad. But struggling through the snowstorm, the familiar scent of his own home proves too much for him. After a heart-wrenching struggle and some tears, Rat realizes that Mole needs to get back to his home, if just for this night.

You'll have to read the story for yourself (and I suggest you do, especially if you only know the Mr. Toad part of the book), but it involves everything that home means to the heart and the senses. Everything that is the special pull of home. The stone, the wood, the doorknob, the floorboards. The chair that fits just you. And, of course, the memories.

I feel that way whenever I pass Strathmore Drive in Atlanta. I've only turned down the street a couple of times since I sold my little house in 2006, but I feel the pull every time I drive down Lindbergh and pass the street sign. I really thought that the only way I'd leave the house was feet-first, but the call to work in New York came out of the blue and so quickly, that I didn't have time to think about what I was leaving behind. Which, of course, was a good thing and the absolute right decision. I love New York, and I love my job. No regrets whatsoever. Just like Mole, who left his underground home to live in the upper world, his version of New York City.

But places that mean home to us - and "home" can mean more than one place throughout a lifetime - still claim a part of us. Sometimes we can go back for a visit. Usually, not. Mole is given a special gift that night, being able to return to Mole End, warm the place up, invite the field mouse carolers in for food and drink, and finally, sleep in his own little bed, all the while knowing that he will leave the place and return to his new, thoroughly enjoyable life in the upper world.
But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
 Do you have a home that calls to you, pulls you?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Holiday Mug

For 11 whole months you hide like a slug,
Collecting dust and a weird dried up bug.
But when December rolls ‘round,
From your shelf you’re brought down,
O wonderful holiday mug.

Like holiday sweaters, your style may be risky,
With Santas and snowmen and reindeer so frisky.
But for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa cheer,
There’s no cup so dear
For our coffee or tea or wee drop o’ whiskey.

Short-lived is your glory, a brief time for smugness.
We’ll dust out your innards and toss out the bug-ness.
To your festive appearance
For one month each year-ance -
Three cheers to Your Holiday Mug-ness!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Haul Out the Holly

One of the hardest things about living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan is figuring out how to make the place look festive without a Christmas tree. Before moving from Atlanta, I had always gone all out with decorating the tree (sometimes more than one), stringing lights, and covering every flat surface in the house with Christmas frippery. But now, I’ve no space for a tree - even a little one - plus, I go home to Atlanta for Christmas, and I suppose there’s no reason to drag a tree in and out of the place.

So I have to make do with other ways to festoon my living space. Usually, this involves stringing lights around book cases and treading them through the blinds, setting out a few favorite ornaments, lighting a candles that evoke Christmas aromas, and hanging a wreath on my door. A few years back I created my famous book-tree, but as charming as it was, it’s a poor substitute for a wonderfully-scented evergreen. Sigh.

I miss my Christmas tree, so fresh and welcoming and such a thrill to the senses when the lights are plugged in. Each tree different from year to year - some tall and thin, some short and fat, almost all with a side best suited for facing the wall. With every ornament holding memories of past-times, a tree provides endless opportunity for reflection and remembrance throughout the season. I miss all of these things.

But the time has come to trick out my SpaHa abode as best I can, without a tree. Let’s see what I come up with this year. It’s time to haul out the holly and get this season started!

The Pregnant Season

A woman in her last month of pregnancy knows more about the waiting game than anyone on earth. She's been through the first few months of morning sickness, grown into walking/sitting/working/sleeping with an ever-increasing bundle resting underneath her heart and smack on her bladder, and finally arrives at the big countdown. Waiting, waiting for the first twinges that announce the big event is about to happen.

Waiting, waiting is a lot of what we do in December. Advent tells us to wait, expect, hope, get things in order for the big event, specifically the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. I try to set aside time to wait and expect every day. But it's hard to wait. And I'm impatient, just like a pregnant woman at the end of her 9th month. I'm ready for the birth, ready for the celebration. Let's get this show on the road, as my daddy used to say.

So like a nesting mama, I decorate, lay in supplies, send out announcements and greetings. I can prepare and celebrate, as well as wait and hope. I can appreciate the rich, deep blue of Advent and the bright red, green, and gold of Christmas. I can count down the days by following Advent meditations and reflections, but I can also watch my favorite Christmas movies and hum carols.

Advent is a very pregnant season. Full up. Expectant. Joyous. Bulging with stories of then and now and what's to be. So put your feet up and have a little snack. You'll need all your energy for what's to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

All Blessings Great and Small

The turkey's roasting in the oven. The pumpkins pies are chillin' in the fridge. The smells wafting through the house draw out deep, timeless sensory memories of past Thanksgivings.

Daughter and Son-in-Law are hosting our annual feast. Pumpkins and dried corn decorate their home. A couple of rather beaten up pilgrims adorn the mantle, just as they did for years at our house on Strathmore Drive. A turkey in the shape of a small hand holds pride of place on the mantle, as well. GrandBoy's list of thanks includes Tripps (his dog) and chicken, by the way. All that's missing is a floor scattered with Lincoln log houses and funny Pilgrim hats.

It is a day to pause and give thanks for blessings bestowed by the grace of God and blessings earned by our own hard work, creative spirit, and humanity.

For me, the top three on my Thanksgiving list - family, good health, meaningful employment - never change. I know that those huge blessings will not always be granted to me, but I hope to remember - when one or all are no more - that for a great span of my life,  I had the great good fortune of love, health, and vocation.

I give thanks for the tiny, everyday little blessings that come my way, too. The synchronicity of a swipe of my MTA card and the arrival of the train. A good cuppa tea. A not-so-bad hair day. Hearing a dear lady tell me during the Peace at church that she'd been thinking of me.

Lest you think I'm a Pollyanna, I realize the world is full of trials and tribulations. Anger, frustration, loneliness, and fear can eat us up if we're not careful. Realities must be dealt with, and those realities can break, or nearly break, us. But today, I choose to focus on my blessings and leave the prickly stuff for tomorrow. Or next week. OK, now I'm sounding more like Scarlett than Pollyanna. Still.

So, thank you, Pilgrims and Indians. Thank you, Plymouth Rock, Schoolhouse Rock, and Rock and Roll. Thank you, United States of America, Atlanta, and New York City. Thank you, Fraziers, Greshams, and Bartows. Thank you, God.

Happy Thanksgiving. Wait. Is that roast turkey I smell?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Autumn is splendid in Atlanta this year. As my flight from Amsterdam came in for a landing Saturday, the brilliant reds, oranges, and golds of the trees surrounding the city were shot through with late afternoon sunlight. There was an audible gasp from the weary travelers inside our big old jet when they first caught a glimpse of the city ringed with fall colors. Well done, Atlanta! And God!

With the trees kitted out in the finery of leaves gasping their brilliant last breaths, I knew there was one tree in particular I needed to see. It is the most beautiful tree in the world, and while I haven't actually seen every single tree on this earth, I believe that roaming the planet in search of one more gorgeous would be an act of futility.

The most beautiful tree in the world is a huge ginkgo lording over a small park-like island in the middle of Peachtree Battle Avenue at the corner of Peachtree Road, just across from E. Rivers Elementary School. There are actually two ginkgos there side by side, one huge, one not so huge, and their branches reach into each other to form a massive gold canopy. You might say it's the ultimate golden parachute.

Photographers and families line up for the opportunity to make the tree and its gold carpet of fallen leaves the backdrop for family pictures. When I was PTA president at E. Rivers, we briefly discussed ways the school could take advantage of this situation (selling hot chocolate and donuts? frames for the pictures? commemorative leaf bookmarks?), but we could never settle on anything appropriate. Driving by the tree on Sunday - yes, there they were, photographers, children, dogs, you name it, lined up for the chance to make a golden memory.

I have my own photos of Kate at various ages, wearing wonderful fall finery and posing under the tree. Old dog Bailey is even in several of them. Yesterday, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to click a few pics of GrandBoy under the wonderful tree. I loved the look on his little face as he stood right under the tree and looked up into the ceiling of bright gold leaves. Like everyone else who's ever seen the tree, he found it worthy of delight.

Autumn is my very favorite season. Atlanta, dressed in her most brilliant finery, has reminded me why. It's golden.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Still catching up, so this hurricane business is old news, but I wanted to get it down before I completely forget the experience.

Disclaimer: Let me say upfront, that I really didn’t have much Sandy-experience, so you may want to seek out blogs from folks who still don’t have power/water two weeks later. Just needed to give you that opportunity.

Winds really started kicking up mid-afternoon on Sunday, October 28. Then came the rain, the blowing sideways kind of rain. Then came the wind with the rain. Mostly I knew this from looking out of my windows, but as a resident of the top floor of my apartment building, I was aware of the windy whistling that comes through my kitchen and bath vents. But really, I was safe and warm. I had electricity and water. Plus, I still had cable/internet/wifi service.

The worst of it blew through between 8pm-10pm. A couple of times, my floor seemed to slide around a little bit, and I started wondering whether I should stay in my 5th floor apartment or see if the landlord would let me camp out in the lower basement. It also crossed my mind to worry about identified/unidentified flying objects coming through my windows. But, nah. I was comfortable in my chair, pretty confident that I was going to be OK. Foolhardy? Rational? Who knows? Bottom line, nothing destructive happened. I did finally lose cable/internet/wifi, but thank goodness for the DVD player and a handful of great Halloween movies. Yeah, I was fine.

Tuesday morning, I ventured outside to assess damage in SpaHa. OK, well, truthfully, I went out to do my laundry (fingers-crossed, the laundromat had power) before I was to head to UK/South Africa/ATL on Thursday. First good sign: our elevators were up and running (they’d been shut down during the worst of the storm). And yes, the laundromat was cookin’ full steam. Plus, its cable was working there, so I could watch the news and get updates on the storm. Useful information learned: all subways out of service. Doh!

Wednesday morning, headed for work. No subways, but buses were trying to take up the slack for the few million subway riders. Ugh. Took awhile to squeeze onto a bus - maybe the fifth one that passed took me on. I should have walked. I got on at 115th/2nd Avenue and headed to Midtown. One hour and 45 minutes later, we’d made it to 71st Street. Couldn’t stand it anymore, so I got off and walked to the office at 43rd in about 15 minutes. Forgot it was Halloween (my second most favorite holiday, btw).

As you can imagine, there weren’t many of us in the office. It was a slow day - mainly trying to touch base with all of our colleagues to make sure they were OK. I also had a lot of last-minute things to do before leaving the country the next day and was thankful for internet service. And, yeah, I’ll admit taking my lunch hour and going for a mani-pedi. I mean, necessities are necessities, hurricane or no hurricane.

The real nightmare set in when it was time to leave work around 5pm. I considered myself lucky when a bus opened its door for me. “Do you go up to 116th?” I asked. A weary bus driver looked and me and said, “If you don’t mind getting there by tomorrow morning.” (What your English teacher would call “foreshadowing.”) I hopped on and found a great seat - one of the singletons - and settled in for the ride uptown. OK, well, over an hour later, we’d made it three blocks. OK, now I get what the driver meant. Oy.

I was in no mood to walk 68 blocks in the dark on Halloween but figured that possibly cutting over to Madison and walking uptown a little, the traffic might thin out. When did I get to be such a dreamer? Um, no, though the traffic wasn’t as heavy as it was Third Avenue. Bus after bus after bus passed me, either too full to take on more riders, or all those B and Q buses that go who-knows-where (Hello? M buses, where were you that night?). So I kept walking.

Things started to thin out on Madison around 76th, so I stood at a bus-stop and hoped for the best. After about 30 minutes of those darn B/Q/X-town buses, finally, finally a good old uptown-heading M bus came my way. Had to stand for a while, but the traffic was no longer stop-and-go. Made it back home just after 8pm.

And those are the only hurricane horror stories I have. Very, very weak and boring in comparison to so many who lost so much. My neck of the woods got our subway service back on Thursday (at least as far down as Grand Central), and JFK was up and running by the time my flight left that night. No delays at all.

Now I’m tormented by extreme Hurricane Sandy guilt for a) not suffering much at all from its impact, and b) for ditching New York and heading to my conference in England, leaving it all behind. It was indeed the Frankenstorm predicted and will take some time for many folks to recover. All I can offer is to make donations for clean-up and future preparations.

And prayers. I can always offer prayers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Catching Up

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. I wish I could be someone who can stop in the midst of crazy busyness to set down for myself and the world what’s going on around me. Alas, no (and the main reason I’m not a diarist). I write lots of blogs in my head throughout the day, but until someone invents a way to stream my thoughts onto the computer, my thought-blogs are just puffs of air. So I - and you, dear readers - have to be content with playing catch-up during particularly frenetic times.

What better time to catch up than during a 12-hour flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town, eh? The length (short) of the following entries bears no resemblance to their individual importance, fun, or joy. Heck, I’m just saving a little time and space. OK, here goes.

Bucket List Item FulfilledThe Marriage of Figaro at the Met, Lincoln Center, New York (pre-Hurricane Sandy). I was well-schooled on the story, characters, and musical themes before I dared set foot in this hallowed hall of opera. For that, I thank my friend and colleague, Neva Rae, who joined me for my Night At The Opera. The event surpassed all expectations. The opera house is glorious, our seats were fabulous (and comfy), the sets and costumes splendid, and the music - well, the music was out of this world. It was a walking-on-air evening. Next time I scrape up enough money to return, I will do so.

A Better Scary Walking Tour:  I ventured out for another walking tour, “Spooks, Scandals, and Scoundrels,” this time with the same guide I had for the “Irish in New York” tour over the summer. Much, much better than the scary walking tour I took in the pouring rain back in September. The tour guide makes all the difference, and Linda knows her stuff. Her stories were better, even though I’d heard a couple of them on the first spooky tour, plus she has pictures and old newspaper clippings to help boost what she’s saying. Trust me, stick with Linda on MeetUp.

Favorite Evening Out - Old Friend, Great Food:  A hundred years ago (or maybe about 30 years ago), I produced a cable TV cooking show. Yes, yes, I was the most unlikely person to produce a cooking show, but there it is. It wasn’t hard, though, because the show’s expert was Merijoy Lantz Rucker. After our cooking show days, she catered many a crew meal during my Turner-time, but I hadn’t seen her for maybe 15 years. Somehow, she knew I was in NYC and emailed that she was coming for a visit and could I spare any time for a meal. Hell, yeah. We met at La Ripaille in the Village. I chose it strictly by it’s reviews and, let’s face it, reasonable price. Fabulous, do go if you get a chance. Lovely ambiance and you don’t have to shout to have a conversation. Of course, catching up with Merijoy was even better than the food. I look forward to more visits from her!

OK. All of the above happened the weekend before Hurricane Sandy. Friday - opera, Saturday afternoon - spooky walking tour, Saturday night - dinner with Merijoy. Sunday pre-hurricane, I spent getting a haircut and preparing for a worst-case-scenario storm. I socked in water and food stuffs not requiring refrigeration. I kept all electronic devices - phones, netbook, etc., - plugged in and charging. I settled in and waited for whatever it was that was going to happen.

Next installment: Hurricane Sandy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Monumental Perspective

Coffee table objet d'art at its finest.

Imagine you live in an 800-square foot apartment with 16' ceilings in New York City. Yeah, that's pretty hard to imagine on an average salary. Anyway, let's just pretend. And your apartment is so cool that you have fabulous views of Central Park, Midtown Manhattan, and Columbus Circle. And in the center of your coffee table is a 13-ft statue of Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo, to his friends). Fortunately, you can pretend all you like, thanks to Public Art Fund's latest installation, Tatzu Nishi's Discovering Columbus.

What Nishi has done is to encase the Columbus statue in Columbus Circle with scaffolding and stairs leading right to the top of the column. A trendy NYC apartment was built around the statue itself, complete with sofas, chairs, and a big screen television. Smack in the middle of the room, he's built a coffee table around the base of Columbus and scattered magazines on the table. Ho hum. Just another dust-collector in the living room, eh?

Except this is a unique experience to get a very up-close-and-personal look at a statue that most of us only see from a distance with our necks craned and eyes shielded against the sun. Think about it. Think about all the statues placed way on top of columns and towers that none of us really get a chance to examine (Nelson's Column, anyone?). Here, Nishi has given us the opportunity to see what the birds and a few photographers have seen. And really, I don't think the birds care one way or another.

I had to reserve my ticket ahead of time (it's free!), and I'd opted for a Sunday morning slot. Seemed like a worthy idea at the time. My fellow ticket-holders and I gathered at the base of the column and waited to be passed in by the ticket-takers. Then we climbed up six stories and entered the "apartment." The climb was not as bad as I anticipated. I even had breath left over when I reached the top.

So. Perspective.

Perspective of the statue meant a chance to walk around big old Columbus and see the detail of his shoes, his robes, his eyes.

Perspective from the top of the Columbus column afforded fabulous views of a great city on a beautiful autumn day.

Perspective about the real Christopher Columbus? Well, you'll have to sort that out for yourself.

This exhibit isn't about Columbus the man but Columbus the statue atop a column in Columbus Circle, New York City. And from that perspective, it is awesome. Awesome to be given the opportunity to get so close to an historic monument, to be able to see it at eye-level.

If you don't mind climbing up six flights of stairs and paying absolutely nothing to get cozy with a New York monument, I highly recommend Discovering Columbus.  You'll gain perspective on all sorts of things in that little sky top apartment at the southwest corner of Central Park.

Now, sitting in my own little NYC apartment, it's become painfully clear to me that should someone offer me the Columbus statue for my own home, I'd have to cut it off at the knees. It'd make a helluva coat rack, though.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'Twas a Dark and Stormy Night

No, really it was. It was 9:30pm and pouring down rain when we gathered on West 3rd just south of Washington Square for a 90-minute Ghosts of New York walking tour. I'd picked up a discount ticket online several months ago, and as the expiration date neared, I cashed it in for the tour "Edgar Allan Poe and His Ghostly Neighbors of Greenwich Village."

I'm a lover of walking tours. Have been ever since a friend and I signed up for a London Pub Crawl Tour back in 1977. We only survived two pubs. But that's a story for another day. Anyway, back to the present. New York is a perfect walking town and has more history than you can shake a very large booty at, so I'm in. Though if I did a New York Pub Crawl Tour, I'd still probably only make it through two pubs.

Our tour guide was decked out in a sort Bestoink Dooley-ish outfit (sorry, only Atlantans of a certain age will know who that is) in a top hat, black cape, frilly shirt.There were about 20 of us, mostly couples, plus 4-5 NYU students that crashed the tour for about an hour. Everyone one was friendly and looking forward to hearing stories and getting a little spooked.

We did hear a couple of stories about Poe in New York (I was expecting more) and about various murders and suicides in the area. (Did I mention it was pissing down rain, with thunder and lightening?) The guide tromped us through puddles and mud to Washington Square, which started out as a big ol' burial ground and site of many a hangin' before it got a lovely fountain, massive arch, and ubiquitous chess tables. Dem bones, dem bones.

The site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire curiously has very little ghostly phenomena on record. I hope it's because the souls of those girls went straightaway to Heaven and had no reason to roam the earth thereafter.

Sanford White, Harry Thaw, and Evelyn Nesbit haunt several locations around Greenwich Village. Sex, murder, money. Well, I would hope these three still roam the area. Also, Aaron Burr has one or two haunting haunts in the Village. Must be feeling a little guilty over killing Alexander Hamilton.

Well, lots of little stories and worth the tour. I must say I was a little disappointed that it wasn't - I don't know - scarier. The guide was pleasant enough, though he sometimes seemed to be grasping for more stuff to tell, but I was expecting a tour de force ghost walk. With all the out of work actors in this town, you'd think there'd be a better ghoulish tour guide. Ah, well.

The rain stopped a few minutes before the tour ended, which made hoofing through the Village and Washington Square to get to my subway station a little easier. In fact, heading to the #6 was the scariest part of the night.

Ever made your way through Greenwich Village near midnight on a Saturday? Oooooooooooo!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where the Boys (and Girls) Are

Picture it: Mulberry Street, New York City, The Feast of San Gennaro (Saturday). Connie Francis music blarring (yes, blarring) from loudspeakers at the corner of Grand and Mulberry. Little Italy at its best.

Amazingly tantalizing smells from sausages, onions, and peppers smoking on grills. Pastry vendors, Kiss Me I'm Italian badges, carnival games and rides. And Connie Francis singing her heart out over the whole scene. Everybody's somebody's fool.

I saw my venture as an opportunity to grab a perfectly smoked hot Italian sausage on a roll and pick up a block of made-in-Little-Italy torrone, the nougat and almond delicacy that's indescribably yummy. Yeah, it's always about the food with me, stupid cupid.

Added bonuses: great street view of the San Gennaro parade - complete with the famed statue, marching bands, and Connie Francis herself riding in a red convertible. (OK, now I get why the Connie Francis songs were cranked up.)

Oh, yes, and I nabbed a perfect strawberry gelato, too. It is all about the food. Who's sorry now (that you weren't there)?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Hope from the Bright Side

Between Honey Boo Boo and the political conventions, the entire country seems to be swirling in some weird, wound-up vortex of, well, I don't know what. Bad taste? Boredom? Anger? Exhaustion? Help me out here. Or, no. Don't. I really don't want to hear your opinion. I'm fed up with opinions.

I'm on the look-out for the fun. The joyful. The uplifting. Honey Boo Boo ain't it. I suggest looking on the bright side for a while. Let's start here:

The vast expanse of intersteller space. I may be showing my age here, but space exploration is still the most intriguing thing earthlings are doing. What/who is out there? Why are we here? Fortunately, there's a lot of great stuff happening right now. The Mars rover is busy exploring that planet on our behalf.  Voyager I, launched 35 years ago, is set to leave our solar system and show us what's happening beyond. Is there anything cooler than that? No, there is not. And during this exciting time, we pause to honor the life and achievements of the first man to plant a foot on our moon, Neil Armstrong. He's seeing a whole different side of the moon now. My point is, if you're discouraged with some of the slime hitting you from all sides here on earth, just look up. The possibilities and inspiration are limitless.

Impending autumnal awesomeness. For me, Autumn is the season of hope. Cooler weather, new beginnings, Halloween, colorful trees, sweaters and corduroy, the smell of dry leaves, Thanksgiving. Humidity and heat give way to crisp, breathable air that clears away summer's lazy sluggishness. It's a time of energy, clear thinking, creativity. Suddenly, I have the gumption to attack my lengthy to-do list. Buh-bye sticky Summer. Hello, awesome Autumn! You can't get here fast enough for me.

Great books in a million different ways. My little summer reading self-challenge has led to my discovery of some wonderful, weird, challenging books available for my reading (via old school real live book or Kindle) and listening (thanks, New York Public Library, for free audiobooks!) pleasure. I've fallen in love with biographies and autobiographies again. I've rediscovered non-fiction, at least the kind that is well-written, non-academic. I've gotten great recommendations from friends, both in real time and via Goodreads. Friends, there is some great stuff out there. Stay away from the political, but seek out something that will pique an old interest or spark a new one. You don't need reality TV or battling news commentators. Life is so much bigger than that.

Food. In general. Preferably with Family and Friends. Beef stew. A smoothie of fresh fruits and berries. Lobster roll. The perfect hamburger. Apples (in any form). Grilled cheese sandwich. Pie (in any form). Well, I could go on and on. Insert your favorite food here. Yeah, yeah. Obesity, blah-blah. Shouldn't live to eat, etc. And I am not advocating constant, unhealthy pigging out. But, oh rational souls, you know the thrill of a first bite of premium ice cream or a loaded baked potato. Especially if you're sharing your food-fix with loved ones. It gives hope that all things are possible. Life can continue. Why use reality TV as a guilty pleasure? That's what chocolate is for. Need ideas? Get thee to Pinterest.

There. That's enough to get me on the road to the Bright Side. It might work for you, too. Add in some family love and faith in whoever your Creator may be, and you're on your way.  Eschew (see how I work that word in once in a while?) the soul-sucking and opt for the life-lifting. Give it a try. Eschew. Opt.

And always look on the bright side of life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


The year is 2012. We've had the 24/7 news cycle for over 30 years. Most of us have access to hundreds of TV channels, video games, plus an internet with infinite edu-tainment capabilities. And thanks to a convoluted primary system, presidential nominees are selected months ahead of Election Day by a handful of scantily-populated states.

So here's what has me puzzled: Why do our two political parties spend millions on week-long conventions, speechifing, wearing silly hats, and subjecting us all to overly-emotional, slickly produced videos of the presidential and vice presidential candidates [cue patriotic music] in this day and time? And tell me why network television feels the need to cover the whole rootin' tootin' business.

Who's watching? Who's listening? Why? You know who the nominees are going to be. You've heard the keynote speakers of both parties before. Do you watch both the Democratic and Republican America the Beautiful patriotic tributes, or just the one for your particular party? (You can probably download it from the party website, by the way, and be done with it. Just a suggestion.) The only reason I can see for tuning in to these creaky events is to see who's wearing the silliest elephant or donkey hat. And, ya' know, that has limited attention value these days.

Reality check, oh great party leaders. Gone are the days where you could hold a nation in suspense about who your presidential nominee would be. The time has passed for the roll call of states to mean anything since your candidates have already been selected. "The great state of (fill in the blank) pledges its 74 delegates to Estes Kefauver!" just ain't ever going to happen again. Mainly because Kefauver's dead, but you get my point.

Now, if the two parties want to have a little 2-day, rally-round-the-candidates, let's-hold-hands-and-wave-the-flag to-do just to light a fire under the party faithful, well, I say, let 'em have it. Have a short party, slap each other on the butt (or across the face), and get back to explaining why you should sit in the Oval Office. Don't you all have better things to do with your time and money?

Certainly, the conventions provide lots of temporary jobs for waiters, bartenders, and strippers in the two cities where they're held. But I can't help thinking that even more jobs - permanent ones - could be created with the dough spent on the two parties' parties.

Once upon a time the conventions held the possibility of a dark horse candidate coming out of nowhere, at least for the vice-presidential nominee. Ah, for the days of smoke-filled rooms and behind-the-scenes bargaining sessions! Make no mistake, the conventions were still dull as dishwater, and seemed to last forever on black-and-white television back in the day.  But now, they're so predictable. Scripted. Slick.

Maybe if they added a final challenge, like Survivor or The Bachelor or Biggest Loser. Or, even better, forced the candidates to compete on a Japanese game show obstacle course. OK, then I would definitely tune in. And seriously, could that be any less dignified than the current conventions and campaigns? Hardly.

But since some sort of ultimate smack-off seems unlikely, I'll limit my convention-viewing time to the bare essentials and throw my support to Netflix. Not even your silly donkey and elephant hats will pull me in.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Don't Wanna Hear It

OK, y'all. Let's get one thing straight right up front. I support everybody's 1st - 27th Amendment Rights. You have the right to say whatever you want to say, think whatever you want to think, stockpile weapons, a fair and speedy trial, due process, and clear on through the rules about when congressional salaries take affect. And publish whatever you want all over the internet.

But I am tired of hearing about it. All sides are are just screaming at each other right now, and nobody is changing anybody's mind. I don't care what the polls say about presidential candidates, chicken sandwiches, or gun control, I do not believe there is any middle ground right now. Forget "independent" voters. They do not exist. Anyone claiming to be a middle-grounder-independent is just yanking the pollsters around. There are only two camps on every single issue at this moment in time, and each side is just throwing hissy-fits. It reminds me of Dr. Seuss's Butter Battle Book. But the Cold War had nothing on the form of mutually assured destruction we're going through now.

So while I support your right to fling out your particular viewpoint on immigration or the legality of jumbo-sized sugary drinks, I also support my right to not listen to all the fussing and fighting. Unless some unforeseeable event happens, I believe we're stuck where we're stuck. Like 99.99% of the population, I already know who I'm going to vote for. I know where I stand on the chicken issue, immigration, education, and out-sourcing.

And if you know me at all, you probably know where I stand on those things. And I know where you stand. If we're on opposing sides, you won't change my mind, and I won't change yours. So I'm begging you to stop trying to convince the other side. Or tone it down. Anyone left with an open mind can make up his/her mind without all the loud, angry opposing viewpoints.

Let's call a truce. I love/like you wherever you stand on the issues of the day. There's a whole lot of things we do agree on. About most of what life has to offer, we can share laughter, tears, and awe. I love seeing pictures of your crazy night out, your exotic vacation, those precious grandbabies and family weddings. I love when you recommend a book or a concert or a restaurant. But I do not love being hit by political hate bombs every time I check Facebook and Twitter. As the old song goes: I don't wanna hear it, no more fussin' and-a fightin', baby. And I don't.

But I'm always up for a good joke or a vacation picture. Or an update on how many times you went to Starbuck's today. Peace, y'all.