Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne 2013

Another year almost gone. Every year has its highs and lows, and 2013 is no different. I choose, however, to reflect on the highs, since most of the lows were out of my control. So before the clock strikes midnight, I raise a glass to:

Charlotte Currin Richeson, born May 21, 2013. Never has there been a happier, smiley-er, chubby-cheekier granddaughter. I love you to the moon. And back. And to the moon again. And back. Infinity.

Girlfriends. You know who you are. Childhood friends, All Saints' women, and other confidantes who love to talk and laugh and eat and drink and talk some more.

A job that lets me travel to wonderful places and meet incredible people - Hong Kong, Philippines, Haiti, Los Angeles, Jackson in 2013. Where to next?

Social media. As angsty as everyone gets about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I love that I can stay in touch with family and friends all over the world. It doesn't isolate me; it enhances my friendships.

New York City. For the great theatre, museums, and parks I've experienced this year. And for the world's most breath-taking skyline, day or night.

Atlanta. You have my heart because you have my family. And thanks for fun at Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Puppetry Arts Center, Legoland, and wherever else Liam Samuel Richeson leads me.

So farewell, 2013. Even with a few sad losses, you've given me great memories. May 2014 bring more adventures, good health, money to cover basic expenses, and a greater resolve to be present in every moment. Happy New Year and may God bless us all!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The 10 Commandments of Being Lazy

All I want to do today is sit around in my pjs (flannel, not shorty), watch old movies, and eat junk food, but the guilt of doing absolutely nothing is ruining it for me. Damn that Puritan work ethic! I can think up all sorts of things I should/could be doing, but, shoot, I only want to have one day of laze. Sigh.

However, I just have to do something, so I have created for you, dear readers, the 10 Commandments of Being Lazy. Whenever you approach your own lazy day, pull these out for inspiration:

  1. Thou shalt not change out of thine flannel pjs, wooly socks, and old sweatshirts into non-lazy raiment, or thou shalt completely defeat the purpose of staying in and being lazy.
  2. Thou shalt ignore particles, specks, yea, even layers of dust covering any object. Neither floor, nor bookcase, nor lamp shade shall cause thy hand to lift a dust rag or push a vacuum cleaner.
  3. Thou shalt not consider indulging in any form of physical exercise, be it walking to the park or lifting any object heavier than a spoon to thine lips.
  4. Thou shalt honor thy comfy chair or sofa by remaining sedentary upon thine honored sitting place throughout the live-long day.
  5. Thou shalt not even consider improving thy mind by darkening the doors of museums, libraries, or theaters. These are activities that completely defeat the purpose of being lazy. Inspiration is dangerous to laziness. Thou can, however, read that tawdry novel sitting on thine night stand, as there is no danger in improving thy mind with it.
  6. Thou shalt remember to stock thine fridge and cabinets with goodies that will prevent thou from even considering getting out and doing something productive or leaving thine comfy sitting place.
  7. Remember Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and thine own stock of DVDs to keep them handy for series-binging. 
  8. Thou shalt ignore thank you notes, bills, and any kind of correspondence that detracts from thine complete laziness. 
  9. Thou shalt feel free to take plenteous naps throughout the day. 
  10. Thou shalt completely, utterly ignore that pesky Puritan work ethic. To thine own laziness be true.
Good luck with your own lazy day. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Her Window in Time

Our family lost a most beloved member yesterday. Nell Rose was an absolutely essential part of our lives, and yet she stood apart. Her story is sort of grafted on to ours - through blood, through experience, through memories.

We thought of her as a young aunt, though in truth, she was our second cousin. She was born four days before the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Her mother died when she was 3, her father a couple of years later. Five-year-old Nell went to live with my grandparents, who had four almost-grown daughters of their own, including my mother. Mother always said that she thought of Nell as her first child because as a teenage she often took charge of the little girl. Nell was our go-to person for the "real" family stories. Of course, she saw things from a small child's perspective, but often, that's the truest viewpoint.

She was a survivor. She had polio when she was 11 - pre-vaccine, when the diagnosis meant either death or being crippled for life - and spent a couple of weeks in an isolation ward at Grady Hospital. She also survived cancer later in life. She was an independent working girl, who worked for Ma Bell (back when there was only one telephone company) from the age of 19 until retirement. Nell staked her independence flag by first transferring from Atlanta to Savannah and then on to Orlando and knew how to live life on her on terms.

Which was why we all landed on her doorstep at one time or another during our teenage years. It was the perfect summer set-up for a pre-driving teen. Nell had an apartment with a pool ('nuff said), plus she worked all day. She trusted us, and it wouldn't have occurred to us to do any damage or cause trouble, anyway. All we did was sleep late, go to the pool, clean up after ourselves, and wait for her to get home in the afternoons. She hated to iron and couldn't sew, so I kept the ironing under control and even made her several dresses for work. Our parents supplemented her income for doing this. We ate out a lot. As I said, one sweet arrangement for a teenager.

Nell was an avid reader and crossword puzzler. She loved Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson  (once, we taped movie magazine pictures of them to the inside of the toilet lid, just to get a laugh out of her). She was a Braves fan. She made great deviled eggs. She gave me my first legal alcoholic drink (a Brandy Alexander).

There's so much more to say, but all of that will have to play itself out as the days and years go by. This wonderful woman helped shape my life in more ways than I can count. Her story is unique in our family. She was her own separate generation, wedged between my mother and her sisters and those of us who were their children. That uniqueness of voice and experience was the gift she gave to me. And love. Always love.

If it's true that people live on through good memories, our Nell will live forever. Rest in ever-lasting peace, rise in glory, and enjoy seeing your mama and daddy, Bully Bartow sisters, and maybe even Frank Sinatra, dear Nell.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My Little Christmas House

I pulled out my Christmas decorations this evening and festooned my tiny apartment as best as I could. I almost gave up before I got started because going through the boxes of decorations breaks my heart a little every year. Every ornament, candle-holder, or festive knick-knack just brings back memories of where they dangled, sat, or hung in my little Atlanta house. And it makes me a bit sad. A lot sad. All right, all right, tear-shedding sad.

Yes, I sold the house at the right moment, right before the housing market went over the cliff.  I mean, there was no way I could've kept it and lived in New York. We tried renting it out, but that was more trouble and cost than it was worth. So, yeah, it had to go when I left town.

But knowing all of that doesn't help as I pull objects from Christmas Past out of their boxes. It's when I feel the loss of that house most keenly. I loved decorating it - the tree, the mantle, the dining room buffet, the front door. But now, I don't have any of those things. No tree, no mantle, no dining room, and just an apartment door.

So most of the decorations stay in their boxes. Waiting for another little house, though I don't think there'll ever be another little house for me. And I wonder if the angels and Santas and glass baubles and bells will ever come out in full force again. That's what makes me sad.  So I have my little Christmas cry, give the dear objects a blessing, and put most of them away for yet another year.

And then I have to put away thoughts of my little Christmas house. It was, after all, just a house, right? Except it wasn't. It was home. And now it's not.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Losing Thanksgiving

Where on earth has Thanksgiving gone?

Every year, it seems to fade a little more, swallowed up completely by Christmas. Retailers get the jump on the season of red and green earlier and earlier each year. We fume about it, but it seems that everyone's buying into it, nonetheless.

Thanksgiving, my friends, is the most wonderful celebration we allow ourselves. It's simply gathering with loved ones to share a meal and talk about what we're thankful for. That's it. No presents to buy. No over the top parties to attend. No fancy clothes (in fact, I recommend the baggier, the better). No cards to send. Simple. Slow. Savoring the process of cooking, gathering, welcoming, eating, thanking, hugging, loving. What's not to love?

Yet, every year we chop a little bit more off this most perfect of holidays. Why? Why are we in such a hurry to shove Thanksgiving out of the way for Christmas? What message are we sending our children? We could all use a bigger dose of gratefulness, and a lot less focus on stuff. At the very least, we need more thankfulness for all the stuff. So why the rush?

Folks have already decorated trees, mantles, and yards. I'm simply stunned. We haven't poked the turkey in the oven, cooled the pumpkin pies, or watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and they've hung their stockings on the mantle. I don't know, maybe they'll be in Europe for Christmas and want to celebrate a little early at home. Or maybe the dog's on her last leg and they want to make sure she doesn't miss the season. I'm grasping for a reason to rush through marvelous Thanksgiving to begin the yuletide celebration.

Now, no one loves Christmas more than yours truly - I watch White Christmas in July and consider Easter the start of Advent. Still, I'm puzzled by the notion of having Christmas lights blinking while you sing "Over the River and Through the Woods."

I, for one, know that Christmas is just around the corner. I can wait. The day after Thanksgiving? All bets are off. It's Christmas all the way. But for tonight and all day tomorrow? My heart and all my senses will be filled with thanksgiving/Thanksgiving. The house is decorated in oranges and yellows, not reds and greens. Turkeys and Pilgrims and Squanto headdresses are showcased, instead of creches and Santas.

It's Thanksgiving. I'll hang on to it as long as I can.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thankful to Catch Up

I'm behind in my thankful postings because I've been in Haiti for a week. But I'm back now and can play catch-up. I was most definitely thankful every single day I was there, however, internet connection is wonky in Haiti, as you can well imagine. Plus, we were busy from sun-up to way past sun-down, so, yeah, there's that.

I'm so thankful.
  • For a job that pushes me to travel to interesting and, sometimes, hard places. I meet lots of people I'd have never met otherwise and get to witness good work going on all over the place. I love my job and am so thankful for gainful employment.
  • For good health and stamina (so far) to keep up with life in New York and grandbabies in Atlanta. Good health is another one of those things I often take for granted, until something flares up or starts to ache. For being able to get up everyday and keep up with life's pace, I give great thanks.
  • For my own bed, clean sheets, and a featherbed. Whatever the day has brought - good or bad - my good old bed welcomes me every night. No other bed in the whole world is as good as my very own. 
  • For the folks young and old who venture to hard places in the name of Christ to serve God's people, especially the Young Adult Service Corps volunteers and the Volunteers in Mission of the Episcopal Church. I'm privileged to get to see what they do first-hand. I'm so, so thankful for these wonderful people.
  • For the children and staff of St. Vincent's School for the Handicapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Life in that country is hard enough, but the courage and perseverance of these children - blind, deaf, and with other physical disabilities - and the teachers who love and educate them is truly remarkable. I give thanks for their lives and pray they grow into happy, successful adults.
  • For (fairly) reliable public transportation. I really depend on it in New York, and to some extent, in Atlanta. Yes, subways and trains are often crowded and once in a while everyone's surly or impolite, but most of the time folks behave themselves and just mind their own business. But it's great value for the money, and it gets me from point A to point B, C, and D. I'm so grateful that I have access to good public transportation.
So. Now I'm caught up on my November daily thanksgivings. I travel to Atlanta in a couple of hours for a week's vacation and to celebrate the holiday with my family. And I'm very thankful for that.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Darkest Day

The announcement came over the intercom during my 7th period study hall. I was 12 years old. I do not remember the exact words Mr. Bible, our principal, used to tell us that President Kennedy was dead. Did he say that? Or did he say he'd been shot? I just don't remember. But we were sent home immediately. Then everything got weird. And all my sense-memory tells me to this day is that it was dark. Dark.

Presidents just didn't get assassinated in 1963. Yes, we were busy fending off the USSR and ducking-and-covering, but assassinating the President? How John Wilkes Booth-y. I know it's hard for younger folks to understand, but it really was the end of innocence for those of us at the older end of the generation of "Look, Ma, no cavaties!", "Let's Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer," and "Yabba-dabba-do!" After this, anything could happen. Anything.

My enduring image of Friday, November 22, 1963, is that of quiet darkness. As usual, Daddy took us to the Red Food Store on Ringgold Road for our weekly grocery run on a late autumn night. The store was open. Just. There seemed to be fewer street lights, neon signs, and car headlights as we pulled into the parking lot. We were part of only a handful of people out and about that night. I guess we got what we needed and went home.

But fifty years ago tonight, it was dark. So dark.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

For Safe Travel

Tonight I'm thankful for travelling safely from New York to Port au Prince to Cap Haitien. Big jets, tiny prop planes, vans - all made it possible for our safe arrival. I'm also thankful for a good meal with new friends and a cool place to sleep. I feel very welcome in Haiti!

Friday, November 15, 2013

For Hot Tea

For my morning cup of tea and all the cups of tea throughout the day, I am very thankful. Tea is strong enough to keep me awake, yet clear and refreshing. And there's just something so civilized about sipping tea all day. Fabulous bonus: teapots!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

For the Big Apple

I give thanks today for this crazy, crowded, energetic city that has been my home for almost eight years. New York City kicks my butt every day. Negotiating sidewalks, climbing up and down subway stairs, and dodging bicycles and taxis are give a better work-out than any personal trainer. Thank you, fellow subway rider and sidewalk striders for living and let living (for the most part), even when it gets uncomfortably crowded. The best in music and art and theatre are cookin' every hour of every day. Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the New York Public Library offer up their amazing gifts for free. It's a big place with an infinite number of things for which I'm grateful. Thank you, big old city with a big old heart, for amazing me every single day. I Heart NY.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For the Funnies

Today I'm thankful for all the people who make me laugh. Mark Twain and Jerome K. Jerome, thank you for capturing the humor of the human condition in your books and stories. Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart, thank you for all the hilarity you've brought to me through television and recordings. Thank you friends and co-workers for knowing when to lighten the moment and bring a tear (the good kind) to the eye. Thank you grandson Liam for your silly hijinx that keep me laughing along with you. For everyone past and present, known and unknown, famous and not-so who with a turn of phrase, roll of the eye, or misspoken malapropism causes a laugh to bubble up, I give great thanks.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

For a Warm Place on a Cold Night

I am so thankful that I have a warm place to sleep on this cold autumn night. So many people don't have a safe, dry room to protect them from the elements that I try to remember every single day how fortunate I am to have a place to call my own (well, technically, the landlord's). In my travels, I've seen some pretty iffy abodes - made out of garbage bins, cardboard, plastic bags - but at least those folks had some kind of shelter. Many people don't have even that. May the Lord protect them, whatever the weather.

Monday, November 11, 2013

For Girlfriends

Especially those who've stuck with me for years and years and years (infinity). There is no better therapy than time spent with old friends. So much laughter, so many great memories. And though we all lead very different lives and have traveled separate paths from back then to now, it's no trouble at all to fall right back into that comfortable, familiar place of friendship. So today I give thanks for the women who make it easy to feel like little girls again. (Thanks, Susie, Maureen, and Debbie for such a fun lunch today.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

For Family Meals

Whether it's around the family's kitchen table or in a restaurant booth, the chance to share a meal with my family is what I'm thankful for today. The opportunity to talk, laugh, and wolf down some good chow with folks I love is always grabbed with gusto. Yes, it's chaos mixing little children (who use every attention-getting trick in the book) with mostly deaf elders and crazy-stressed middle aged folks, but there's something solid and timeless in sitting around a table together. It's what's remembered for a lifetime. It's what is duplicated generation to generation. It's the very essence of thanksgiving, small "t" and big "T."

Saturday, November 09, 2013

For Rascally Superheroes

Light sabers and Spiderman suits. Batman super-belts and Optimus Prime. Transformers and RescueBots. Little boys who save the world and protect GrandMarys everywhere. For the creativity and imagination of rascally little boys who take on the world in the guise of famous superheroes, I give thanks. And I'm grateful for their moms who have to warn repeatedly about furniture-jumping, pillow-throwing, and sliding down long hallways. Sometimes even superheroes need a little protection.

Friday, November 08, 2013

For Chicken Soup for the Stomach

I give thanks for homemade chicken soup and corn muffins on this cold autumn night. It steams up my glasses and clears out my head. In short, chicken soup for the stomach equals chicken soup for the soul. I am thankful for daughter Kate who made the soup from scratch, despite a rowdy 3-year-old and a 5-month-old demanding her attention. Yes, for hot soup on a chilly evening, I am most grateful.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

For Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

It took all three to get me from my door in NYC to Kate's in ATL today. As much as we all bitch and moan about mass transit - and I do put today's airline travel in the mass transit category - 9999.999% of the time it gets you where you're going within a fairly reasonable time frame and in one piece. For all the engineering, mechanical, custodial, and professional service effort that goes into getting me from point A to point B and back again, I give great thanks. (And the Steve Martin/John Candy movie's worthy of thanks, too. For all the laughs.)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

For Broadway Babies

Walkin' off their tired feet, poundin' 42nd Street, to be in a shoooowww. Today, and every day, I am thankful for the great American Musical. For all the talented folks who have taught me to look for the silver lining, open a new window/open a new door, or climb every mountain, I honor you. Thank you for reminding me that anyone can whistle, I can defy gravity, and I'll never walk alone. And whether I'm trying to remember the kind of September or the lusty month of May, 's wonderful. All of it. Now, "Sing out, Louise!"

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

For the Right to Vote

Whether punching out chads, using a touch screen, bubbling in a scan sheet, or pulling a great big lever in an old-school voting booth, I'm thankful that I have the right to vote. It's easy to be cynical about candidates and party positions - and Lord knows, they've gone out of their way to earn our cynicism - but there's still something powerful in signing my name at the polls, going into the voting booth, making choices, and turning in my ballot. Whatever the outcome - short-term or long-term - I've had my little, small say in the matter. If nothing else gets me to the polls, it's remembering the folks who have marched and fought and died for the right to vote. On this November election day 2013, I'm grateful for the right to make my mark.

Monday, November 04, 2013

For Co-laborers in the Vineyard

I am so thankful for the folks I work amongst every day. These good people work to carry out God's mission in the world (as directed by the governance of The Episcopal Church) with grace, good humor, and professionalism. I learn so much from them every single day and truly cherish the experience of working side by side with my co-workers. For the staff of The Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church, I give thanks.

This picture, by the way, is of a bowling outing the Office of Communication took a couple of years ago. We rarely get out of the office together, so this was pretty special. Don't know where the rest of the team was (at the snack bar?).

Sunday, November 03, 2013

For All the Saints

On this All Saints Sunday, I give great thanks for my All Saints' Atlanta family. For 33 years these good saints have nurtured, encouraged, and mentored me in my faith. They have lovingly shoved me into roles of responsibility, stayed close during dark days, and understood my questions and doubts. This community supported me every step of the way when I was raising Kate, and for that I am truly thankful. For All Saints/All Sorts/All Sports, for your faith and mission and love, I give thanks.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

A Month of Thanksgivings

First, let me salute everyone writing their hearts out for National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. I tried it a couple of years ago and failed miserably, though I did last about 6 days and made a little headway with a story I've been toying with for years. Go forth and write. May you last 30 days and 50,000 words.

In lieu of my writing the Great American Novel this month, I will concentrate on thankfulness. I won't hold myself to 50,000 words about what I'm thankful for and my thanksgivings won't be in any sort of order. No, just random things - the great and the small - that make me grateful for living every day.

I see I'm a day behind and should've started this list yesterday. Let's blame it on Halloween-hangover. So I'll catch up with two big thanks today.

First:  I am so very thankful that I can read. I take it for granted, never giving it a second thought. But, oh, how much joy reading gives me! Beyond the necessary task of reading just to function in the world, reading lets me think, dream, imagine, wonder about worlds I know and worlds I don't know. That learning ABCs can lead to complex, creative thought and feeling is miraculous. For books and stories and treatises and articles, whether bound or electronic, for authors and dream-weavers and storytellers and truth-tellers, for the basic, magical ability to read - I give thanks.

Second: I give thanks for the colors of autumn. Nature transforms herself in every season, but the last hurrah of the year is just glorious. The leaves are beautiful in the bright sunlight, as well as in the dark rain. As a warning to my family and friends, I hope that the colors of autumn are a metaphor for life, and that I become more brilliantly colorful as I approach the end. And now, I shall go out on this beautiful day and celebrate the colors of autumn, giving thanks all along the way.

Life is good. I'm thankful.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Confessions of a Siam Princess

Happy Halloween to one and all! I'm cheating this year by reposting something I wrote way back in 2005 as a newbie blogger about how I felt about Halloween as a child. Reading it again brought back wonderful memories, so I'm plagiarizing myself with 'nary a qualm. The pictures, by the way, aren't of me. To my knowledge, we don't have any Halloween costume pictures from the 50's or 60s. Sad. Anyway, welcome to my memories:

When I was a little girl, I could never get to sleep the night before Halloween. It was a couple of notches down from the keyed-up restlessness of Christmas Eve - after all, I didn't have to listen for reindeer on the roof or a big ol' red-suited elf falling down the chimney into my living room - but the butterflies-in-stomach excitement was there all the same.

What kept me awake, I wonder? Was candy such a big deal? Was dressing up as someone or something else worth losing sleep over? I really can't remember what had me in such a dither the night before Halloween.

My mother - my Southern Baptist, right-of-Attila-the-Hun mother - loved Halloween. (This is how I know that all the anti-Halloween right-wing stuff is pure crap.) She dangled the shiny idea of "tricks-and-treats" over our heads the entire month of October. She enjoyed helping us with our costumes and had fun giving out candy to the kids who came to the door. My costume was usually homemade - seems like I was always a gypsy - except for when I was 8 and 9 years old.

One year for some reason Daddy sprung for a Siam Princess costume from the dime store. I think it cost a whopping $2.98, and I remember choosing it. Siam Princess? I liked the mask and the shiny yellow and bright pink coverall with some sort of intricate (to an 8-year-old) sparkly design. Notice I chose a princess who could wear pants, not a fluffy skirt. I got two Halloweens'-worth of wear out of it, so when you amortorize the cost, well - practically free. (Yes, it was a little big the first year and a little small the second.)

The mask was one of those molded plastic jobs with the thin elastic strap to keep it over my face. And I'm sure if anyone had struck a match within 20 yards of me, I would have gone up in a flash. But nobody worried about such things then. (Which make ya' wonder how all of us made it through such dangerous childhoods to a place where folks have their diapers in a wad wondering how they'll take care of us in our old age. Well, just dress me as a Siam Princess and set me on fire, I say!)

I think one thing that kept me awake was the anticipation of being allowed to go door to door, never knowing who'd give you what, trying to set a goal of how many houses you could get to or how big a paper sack you'd be able to fill. We always took paper bags to collect candy - no plastic pumpkins or trendy little totes - except for the big kids (and you really weren't supposed to trick-or-treat over the age of 12 - but some boys pushed it to 14), who carried pillowcases. The idea of collecting candy, or whatever - because you were just as likely to get apples or homemade cookies - was exciting. That stuff just wasn't as readily available to us on a day to day basis. Candy, cookies, Coca-Cola - those were all for special occasions. Like Halloween.

I don't remember getting much chocolate; it was mostly hard candy or wax lips or bubble gum. I well remember the excitement of getting home and dumping it all in the middle of the floor, pooling our resources, trading this or that, with big brother David coming in at the end with a bulging pillowcase (or two) to add to the loot.

As we got too old for trick-or-treating, there were usually parties or the coming-of-age thrill of getting to answer the door and hand out candy.

I tried to provide the same good Halloween memories for Kate when she was growing up, and I think I did. Her costumes were more elaborate, though we did have several rag-bag homemade ones, and the decorations grew well beyond a simple carved pumpkin, though not to the level of many houses today. I don't know whether or not Kate could sleep the night before Halloween - I'll have to ask her.

And tonight? Well, I think I'll sleep tonight without difficulty. The jack o'lantern's carved, the house decorated inside and out, the treats are over-flowing the special Halloween tray. I won't dress up tomorrow night - I have done on occasion, but I will love seeing the little cuties come to the door - some in awe of the whole thing, standing there dumb-founded, some shouting "trick or treat!" so loud they blow out all the candles in the house, the princesses and the clowns and the Batmen and the Harry Potters.

Still, if I lie in bed tonight and try to dredge up the feeling of being an 8-year-old Siam Princess again, who knows? Maybe I won't get much sleep after all.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Be Ye Kind

One of the first Bible verses I learned as a tiny child was "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another." I was not always kind as a child, and I'll admit that I've not always been kind as an adult. Unkindness usually rears its ugly head as a result of my bone-deep impatience, something I fight against all the time. (Yes, I'm impatient with my impatience.) Still, I'm not comfortable with unkindness in myself or in others. Just as I'm uncomfortable with conflict (it's a middle child thing, I've been told), unkindness is a big boat-rocker for me, and I do like life to run as smoothly as possible.

Unkindness seems to be rampant these days. Basic civility, which in the past helped check rude, mean, insensitive behavior, has flown out the window. There are no barriers to saying whatever one's thinking or acting on individual foibles and prejudices. As important as individual rights of speech and action are (within the law), those rights do nothing to contribute to a more civil society if the individual loses compassion and the ability to see oneself as part of a bigger community.

Maybe kindness seems more elusive now than in the past simply because we are bombarded with human wretchedness 24/7. Yet, it seems too easy to blame the internet and media outlets, though both certainly spread cynicism, anger, and the urge to get revenge on whoever/whatever rubs us the wrong way. I think it runs deeper than that, but I'm at a loss as to an answer.

Nothing I've said is news. and, honestly, I can't do anything about anyone but myself. While I'm certainly free to say whatever I want or act on whatever skewed feelings I may have, I don't have to do either. I can make an effort to check words and actions I may later regret. It's not only about avoiding unkindness; it's about being actively kind.

So, as we head into the season of thankfulness and celebration, I plan to be more intentionally kind. I will do my best to avoid petty arguments over politics, lifestyles, or sports teams and look for ways to a pay a compliment, relieve a burden, or create a pleasant surprise. I will try to remember the words I learned as a little child, "Be ye kind." It's worth a try.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Halloween Monster Rankings

Not all monsters are equal in my book. Some have a full range of incredible powers. Some have ancient histories and have haunted the human race across the sands of time. Some are scary; some are downright lovable. At this Halloween season o' scare, I've run various monster species through the tried-and-true Shorty PJs Monster-O-Meter to see how our favorite supernatural hair-raisers rank. Here are the results, starting at the top.

#1 The Witch. Really. Nothing comes close, even though the witch is technically not a monster. And I didn't even include the warlock, or she/he would've been totally off the charts. Witches have it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether you prefer the Witch of Salem, Eastwick, Endor, Oz (East or West), MacBeth, Hazel, or the apartment upstairs, she is a constant surprise. Witches are not boring, my main monster-criteria. Why, they can brew, fly, cast spells, change shapes, foretell happenings - an endless list. Warts (or not) and all, I love 'em.

#2  The Ghost. Also not boring. I mean, you never know whooooooooo's going to turn up, right? Maybe it'll appear as a transparent spectre, complete with a chilly cold spot. Or maybe, it'll turn up as a sheet with two eye-holes. Perhaps it's Julius Caesar, Hamlet's daddio, the Flying Dutchman, the Ghost of Christmas Past, dear Casper, or your great-uncle Ned. Never a dull moment with a ghost.

#3 The Vampire. I have to admit that vampires have lost a bit of credibility with me in the midst of the soppy Twilight schlock. However, when I return to classic Dracula funsters, the 1960s-70s B-movie sexy vamps, and Buffy's blood-suckers, the Vampire manages to hold on to third place. Vamps are mysterious, sexy, and slightly humorous. Eschew Twilight and chew Bela, Christopher, and Spike and Drusilla.

#4 The Ghoul. Not to be confused with our friends, the ghosts, these creepies are living creatures who feed off buried folks. Naturally (or un- ), they hang out in graveyards looking for the next big feast. Evil shape-shifters with endless terror-possibilities, so what's not to love? And one of the main reasons I plan to be cremated.

#5 Frankenstein's Monster. Granted, there's only one of these. Well, two, counting The Bride of. But I'll include any put-together-from-dead-parts monster in this category. He's so attractive, especially the neck-bolts. And her hair - well! Awesomeness. You never know how these two will react. One minute all grunts and groans, the next weeping over a flower or a violin tune. (And that's Frankensteen.)

#6 The Mummy. Ancient, ancient, ancient. Was this guy or gal really dead before wrapped, sealed in a fancy box, and buried deep under desert sands or pyramids of stone? Maybe yes, maybe no. But you can bet your bottom hieroglyph that each mummy has an intricate backstory, even the non-Egyptian ones.

#7 The Werewolf. What I love about these furry creatures is that they're usually nice guys in human form, at least according to the film-world. Not sure why sweetie pies are targeted for the werewolf curse, but they are, so it's hard not to find them kinda dreamy. Darn those full moons!

#8 The Zombie. Sorry. I don't care how popular they are right now, I find zombies the most boring of all the monster-world. They are so one-dimensional. They're dead. They look dead. They walk around. Just obliterate their brain, and they're goners. They hardly register a .0001 on my Monster-O-Meter. Yawn.

Other pesky scary things - poltergeists, rat/lizard/seaweed-people, congressmen - are also-rans, at least when fed through the Shorty PJs Monster-O-Meter. Light your jack-o'lantern and save your monster-honor for the superstars - witches, ghosts, and vampires.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Donald Analysis

While watching The Donald on TV last night, I found myself trying to figure out what makes him tick. Why is he so mean? Why is he always working against the welfare of his community? If he suddenly became the "good guy," would he be as interesting? You know, of course, that I'm talking about Donald Duck, right? (There is no hope in trying to figure out the other Donald, so fuggitabahtit.)

OK, so I'm rared back watching that great Halloween cartoon where Donald goes up against "nephews" Huey, Dewey, and Louie and the incomparable Witch Hazel, and the thought comes to me, hey, wait a minute, how are H,D, & L really related to Donald?

Yeah, I know. It's just a cartoon. All made-up stuff from the mind of "Uncle" Walt. (Really? Why do we think of him as "uncle?" - but that's for another day.) Still, you have to admit there's seemingly no familial relationship between Donald and his "nephews." Are they the ducklings of The Donald's sister? Brother? Why don't we ever see Donald's siblings then, even a quickie shot of them dropping off/picking up H,D, & L at their "uncle's" house?

The more I thought about it - you see how my brain works here? - I think I have the solution. Donald isn't the biological uncle of Huey, Dewey, and Louie. No, there's a deeper secret here. H, D, & L are actually Daisy's sons from a previous relationship (perhaps with the Ugly Duckling?); thus Donald, as in all blended relationships, is known as "Uncle Donald." Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, you know what I mean , Being stuck with Daisy's brats while she's off doing God-knows-what with various drakes and ganders in Disneyville could explain why Donald is always in such a foul/fowl mood. Think about it.

And don't even get me started on Mickey's "nephews" Morty and Ferdie, Daisy's "nieces" April, May, and June, or Minnie's "nieces" Millie and Melody. How does Scrooge McDuck fit into the picture?  I think there's more to all of this than meets the eye. Sayin'. Such complex family relationships these mice and ducks have in the mind of "Uncle" Walt!

Now, if I could only figure out why Donald talks in his scrabbly voice while Daisy speaks like a human, I think we could get to the heart of The Donald's crankiness.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

In Search of: A "Real" New York Dining Experience

I'm never sure of what friends visiting from out-of- town want when they say, "Let's go to dinner! I want a real New York City dining experience." Well, hm.

See now, I think I know what they're after. Probably something out of a 1940's Thin Man movie or maybe a hip Sex and the City place, but I have to admit that after living here for 7 1/2 years (has it been that long?), I haven't found those places, either. Or, more likely, I don't travel in those circles.

But trust me, friends, when I tell you that a "real" New York dining experience isn't either of those two scenarios. Want a real New York dining experience? Then grab a slice from the corner pizza dive. Plain cheese is only $1-$2, and the slices are the size of half a medium pizza anywhere else on the planet.

Or grab an environmentally-unfriendly container over the steam tables at a local deli and fill it up with - funnily enough - mostly Chinese food (you really have to search out a Jewish deli these days) and salads. Be mindful of "heavy" foods, because you'll pay anything from $6.99+ per pound at checkout. Live here long enough, and you'll know how to keep your container under a pound.

Or step outside, walk around the block, and see what food trucks are pulled up to a convenient curb. Hot dogs, Halal gyros and lamb platters, tacos, mac-and-cheese, and every kind of waffle/ice cream/doughnut concoction you can imagine are at your beck and call. Pretty much all of it well under $10 and most under $5.

So, yeah. Those are the real New York dining experiences. Somehow, I don't think that's what friends have in mind, though. Do they really want old-school Katz Deli, Sardi's, or the Russian Tea Room? The latest Daniel Boulud/April Bloomfield/Mario Batali venture or something in Chinatown or Little Italy? I'm at a loss.

And Atlanta, where most of the friends are coming from, is a great foodie town in its own right. I always have to think, "Can they have the same experience at an Atlanta restaurant? How is this different from a place back home?" Sigh.

What comes to mind when you think "real New York dining experience" (besides expensive)? Where would you like to eat in the City That Doesn't Sleep?

And I need to know by Wednesday so I can get reservations for Friday night. Thanks!

Monday, September 16, 2013

And Now for the Good News

My goodness, there seems to be a lot of bad news flying around these days. Biblical weather systems, massacres, global flare-ups, Miley Cyrus. Shit seems to be hitting the fan faster than we can wipe down the walls. All I can do is pray for those affected. No small thing, prayer, but it's hard to keep up with all the disasters.

So I propose turning off the poo-spewing fan and following the advice of Monty Python: Always look on the bright side of life. Instead of keeping up with the news, I will over-indulge in my family and good books and celebrate:

Voyager I! I mean, how 'bout that little thing crossing over into, well, who knows what? Launched in 1977 (just like "Annie Hall," "Star Wars," and "Saturday Night Fever"), this little teakettle is farther from the earth than the Sun and Pluto. Much farther. Just tickin' away into interstellar space, with its 70's technology, sending back sounds and pictures. I suggest that whenever the urge strikes to watch the news, just track Voyager I & II. More relaxing. Less violent. 'Way cooler.

Bob Newhart wins his first Emmy! How it took 50 years for this guy to win an Emmy, I'll never know. He is still screamingly funny (as demonstrated with his winning performance on Big Bang Theory) and always brings his A-game. In this age of horror and despair, I recommend a healthy dose of Bob Newhart. Watch his old TV shows. Listen to his classic recordings. You can find his great routines on YouTube. That's right. Turn off the news and turn on Bob.

Autumn! “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” - George Eliot. Cooler weather. Colorful trees. Corduroy. Caramel apples. Popcorn balls. Candy corn. Fall carnivals. Halloween. Then Thanksgiving. What's not to love? Instead of watching the news, start planning your Halloween costume, make some pumpkin bread, do something creative with autumn leaves.

Yes, I realize this is the ostrich approach to current events, but I believe it's the only way to save my sanity and blood pressure. Prayers will continue, but they may become less specific and more big-picture, as I track Voyager, laugh with Bob Newhart, and kick through colorful leaves.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing!