Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Postus Interruptus ...

I keep starting posts, but I don't finish them.

None of them seem post-worthy.

But I should have more sleep under my metaphorical belt tomorrow. Perhaps something will click then.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bread Was Made ...

So, I baked bread.

Four loaves yesterday morning, figuring on two for dinner and one each for my brother's family and my sister-in-law's sister's family. They're not local, so I make it a point to bake extra for them. Everyone else lives nearby. I can bake for them on other days.

And then, last night, upon returning home, I was feeling restless. I didn't want to watch a movie. I didn't want to read a book. I didn't want to sit still. I felt the need to do something. So ... I made more bread.

Embarking upon baking bread at 8 p.m. isn't entirely a bad idea. It's a simple recipe. It goes together quickly. I use quick-rise yeast, so the dough only needs about an hour to rise to the right size. Really, given the shape of the loaves, it doesn't rise so much as spread. Which is kind of poetic, given that that's exactly what it does to my hips, too.

And then it bakes for about 40 minutes, a 10-minute blast at 450 to set the crust, then 25-30 minutes at 350 until it's done.

The only issue, then, was what to do with it when it's done. I couldn't put it away while it was still warm. But I didn't want to leave it out on the cooling rack all night.

So once it was out of the oven, I put it on its cooling rack with two Ziploc bags nearby, and then curled up on the couch under my favorite afghan, knowing full well that I'd fall asleep and wake up an hour or two later, at which point, the bread would be cool, I could slip each loaf into a Ziploc bag, and then go to bed, leaving the slicing of the bread until morning.

Which is exactly what I did.

And the reward for my restless efforts last night was lovely toast this morning. This bread is fine bread as bread, but it is even better as toast. With butter on one slice. And butter and a bit of apricot jam on the other. I think of the buttered slice as my entrée and the jammed slice as dessert. Yes, I'm weird. I know.

Mom came by for toast and coffee. And she brought with her the 25-pound bag of flour she bought the other day for us to share.

Last year, I bought a three-pack of round, translucent, 4-quart food-service storage containers with lids. I was in need of a wine bucket, and one of the containers is the perfect size. But I couldn't just buy one. So I bought the three-pack, used one as a wine bucket, and then wondered what I'd ever do with them otherwise.

Last night, I washed them. This morning, I filled them with flour. I now have 10 pounds of flour on hand. And mom took two containers home to complement what she already has on hand.

Ten pounds of flour won't last long at this time of year. But for the moment, I'm prepared to make more bread. I have plenty of yeast, butter, sugar, salt, water, and milk. The one thing I lack is the Pam for the baking sheet. Who runs out of Pam?

I do, that's who. So if I venture into any retail situation today, it will be the grocery store to buy a can of Pam. When it comes to the mall and Black Friday, I give that madness a wide berth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful ...

Tomorrow morning, I will be baking bread.

(You can make some, too. It's really easy. The recipe is here.)

So I'll write on this Thanksgiving Eve instead.

This year, as in every year, I have so much for which to be thankful.

I start with the basics: I wake up every day. I am able to get out of bed. I have a bed. I have a home. My home has heat. (In the summer months, I am grateful that my home has air.)

I have my health. The occasional creaky back or disagreeable knee, but for the most part, I'm well.

I have the ability to communicate and talent enough to convey my thoughts and feelings to others, spoken, written, or sung. Though I need to sing more and conquer my performance fears.

I have family and friends who love me, who support me, who wish the best for me, who cheer me on. Lately, I am acutely aware of their importance in my life. I cherish them, each and every one.

I have my creative pursuits, the writing, the baking, the singing, the wrapping, the decorating, the sewing, the drawing, the fun. The things that fuel me from inside, the things that capture my attention and focus my mind nearly to the point of obsession. But my friend Rob once advised, "Get obsessed and stay obsessed," and that is good advice.

I am grateful for the joy I find in simple things. Baking bread for Thanksgiving dinner, the pleasure it brings to my family and friends. Baking extra to be sure that my nephews and niece (and their parents, too) have slices to toast the morning after, a little holiday tradition, a memory that will last.

I am grateful for it all, blessed beyond measure.

I hope this finds you all so blessed, too.

Happy Thanksgiving, tomorrow and every day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What Lies Ahead ...

Have you read Paul Krugman's column today in the New York Times?

You need to read it.

And then assume the crash position.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Simplicity ...

Mom came by yesterday morning to have some egg foo young. That's not the point of this story, but who doesn't love leftover Chinese food for breakfast? And egg foo young is egg-based, and therefore extra ideal for the first meal of the day.

The point is, she was here. And we were gabbing, as we hadn't talked in a couple of days. And the conversation wound its way around to Christmas, with her revealing that she has no idea what she's getting anyone, and I mentioned that I don't really want anything.

Which isn't true. There are always CDs I'd like. There are always movies. There might even been a book.

But "stuff" for stuff's sake? Nope. I feel encumbered by stuff. I want less stuff, not more.

Of course, I have a list a mile long of things I'd like to do and get for the house. But that's about creating my environment not acquiring stuff. Could I make do with the ceiling fan in the family room? Yes. Would I like to replace it? Yup. (I know ceiling fans are anathema to designers, but I like them in certain rooms.)

I would like to get up on Christmas morning and open one or two things, perhaps, just for the tradition of it. But piles of gifts and the ensuing piles of wrapping and ribbon and then the ensuing finding of places for the new stuff? Nah.

The older I get, the more I really do just want to dispense with all the trappings. Not in a "Bah! Humbug!" sort of way, just in a "focusing on what matters" sort of way.

I've done the stressed-out, planning-shopping-baking-wrapping-decorating-shipping-mailing-cooking holidays and by the time Christmas arrives, I'm really too damn tired to care. What's the point in that?

I like giving gifts. I like wrapping presents. I like baking cookies. I like preparing food. I like making people happy. But I want those acts to be a source of – and infused with – love and joy, not obligation to some unattainable holiday ideal.

Mom was telling me about a couple she knows who no longer even put up a Christmas tree. Their children are grown and away and the couple spends the holidays alone together and they just can't be bothered, I guess, to put up a tree or otherwise decorate.

We both find that sad. I told mom that even if I didn't put out another Christmas decoration – and I don't put out many as it is – I'd still put up my tree. I love the glow of a Christmas tree. It soothes me.

In the car the other night, I was thinking about all the holiday hubbub that's about to arrive in earnest and how much I don't want it to come, how much I want to stay on its fringes, not enter the fray. And I thought about the year that my mom and dad gave my niece the Miss Kitty (Hello Kitty for the rest of you) CD player. She was wee then. Four, perhaps? Five? I can't remember, exactly. But she really wanted the music from "The Wizard of Oz." And after we had opened gifts, I walked into my parents' room, and I spied her lying on the floor at the foot of their bed, her little head very near her new Miss Kitty player, the volume very low, and she was singing, very softly to herself, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow."

It was one of the sweetest moments of my life.

That is what I want for Christmas. Memories so dear to me that I cry every time the come to mind. (Yes, like right now.) I can't tell you what I received for Christmas that year. I'm sure it was something nice. But the vision of my niece in her pretty little Christmas dress lying on the floor and singing, almost in a whisper? That I cherish.

She's more grown now, a teenager. But every year, on Christmas Eve, she makes it a point to snuggle into me on the couch in my parents' living room, in front of the fireplace. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don't. We're just together. In the glow of the tree and the warmth of the fire and the chattery din from the next room.

Memories. New memories. That's what I want for Christmas.

And maybe some chip and dip. Mom makes really good dip.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sugar Cookies ...

Such a basic. Such an obvious choice for a go-to cookie. And yet, I hadn't baked sugar cookies in years.

When I want a basic cookie, I go for shortbread. Three ingredients. You can't get more basic than that and still call it a cookie.

But I wasn't in the mood to make any of the usual suspects, so I pulled a couple of cookie books from the cookbook library (which is rather ridiculously extensive, but I like to have them around) and set about finding a proper candidate.

And, inspired by Twitterpal Angelo, who loves him some sugar cookies, I cast my vote.

The dough is simple enough, if gritty from all the sugar. I baked off two sheets and have the other two dozen happy little balls of dough on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, I'll pop 'em into a Ziploc bag to have cookies to bake at will.

The recipe stated that I was not to let the edges brown. So I didn't. The cookies look rather golden-hued in the photo, but that's mostly a function of the lighting, not the egg yolks. Trust me, on the cooling rack, these are pale. I could easily name them Pasty White Pudgy Middle-Aged Guys.

But they probably wouldn't sell well. Then again, I'm not selling them.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Sugar Cookies
(From Better Homes and Gardens The Ultimate Cookie Book, Published Meredith Corporation, 2007)

1/2 C. butter, softened
1/2 C. shortening
2 C. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar
1/8 t. salt
3 egg yolks
1/2 t. vanilla
1 3/4 C. all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300. In a large mixing bowl beat butter and shortening on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until the edges are set. (Do not let edges brown.) Let stand 1 minute on cookie sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Yield: about 48 cookies.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

So Long, 40. Hello, 41! ...

Another year, safely tucked away.

While I'm not one for primping – friends and family can confirm that most of my "wardrobe" is grey – I did pay a visit to J-D on Thursday to allow him and his foils and his magic pots of goo to return my hair to golden-blonde splendor from the frumpiness that had set in. I refused to turn 41 with visible greys.

Each year, I gather with a group of friends for a birthday lunch, either the day before or the day of. This year, we convened the day before at Club Lago, a place that can best be described as a "joint," in the neighborhood for decades, long before River North became the art-gallery and loft-condo neighborhood it is today. It's featured in the film "Mad Dog and Glory" and charms me with its lack of pretension. Get a booth opposite the bar if you can; the tables in back are crammed together, and yes, they have red-and-white checkered tablecloths.

I always get the linguine and white clam sauce, but wherever I am, the birthday lunches really aren't about the food. They're about my friends, and this year's group was perfect, as always. Me and Doreen and Angela and Mike and this year's addition, Sheila.

Two glasses of Cabernet and a cannoli later, I hugged Angela, Sheila, and Mike goodbye, and Doreen and I wandered off to get coffee. I got a double espresso. It had no discernible effect on me. Uh oh. My caffeine tolerance may be a bit too high.

We spied Open Books and wandered inside. What a cool place. A used bookstore/literacy organization. Doreen signed us up to volunteer. I resisted the urge to buy some books. I need to thin my collection again (and donate them to Open Books) before adding more.

We continued to wander but were too early to have a drink at "the dry brownie place," aka Gilt Bar. We headed back to her condo to drop off goods and our steam waned. We loafed and gabbed and she began to thin out her books. I eventually had enough energy to head for home, where I remembered to get into bed left foot first and turn my pillow over.

And so I woke up, so, so, so, so, so early on Saturday, the official day. I opened my second card from Doreen and puttered about until mom and dad came over for coffee and Danish. The rest of the morning threw a bit of a curve into my plans, but I've gotten rather good at rolling with the punches. Or being in Easy World. Which is another post for another time.

Mom came by with flowers. A FedEx guy came by with more, from my cousins in New York. Facebook was abuzz with well wishes, which was very sweet. Why do we wait for a "special" day to let people know how we feel? I vow to let people know more often.

Dinner was, as it always is, lasagna at my folks' house with my brother and his family. In lieu of a cake, I requested Russian Torte, a lovely apricot and walnut and dough and meringue creation that we usually have at Christmas. Delightful stuff.

And then home, to return to my comfy clothes and my couch and the winding down of the day.

And so here I am, 41 and happy for it. Some friends have good-naturedly asked if I turned 29 again. But I'm glad to own my age. I have lost friends and family too soon, too young. I relish every birthday. Every year is a gift.

All my love and thanks to everyone who made the days so special. I look forward to 42.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Flowers! ...

Yay for springy fallish flowers! Thanks, Patty, Barry, and Bun!

Flowers! ...

Aw! Mom had an arrangement made with chartreuse roses because they're both yellow and green, our favorite colors.

Everywhere, Always: The Birthday Disc 2010 ...

The birthday lunch tradition continues, as does the birthday CD/place card hybrid. The birthday lunch has been around since 2002. The place card idea dawned on me in 2005. Blogging about the place card idea started in 2007, and continued on in 2008, and 2009, and here we are again.

The cover of this year's CD reads:

Here? Again? So soon?
The time, where does it go?
Another year, another collection.
Songs that please me.
Some peppy. Some profound.
All that resonate with me in some way.
The past year has brought with it many changes.
Music, as ever, has played an extraordinary part.
It drives my days. It sustains me. As do all of you.
Thank you for being a part of my life.
Turn it on. Turn it up. Sing along. Dance.

The songs are ordered very particularly, for flow from one track to the next. Try to listen along in your head. So then, the songs and my reason for choosing each:

1. Run Runaway, Slade
The drum and guitar intro makes me happy. It's one of those songs that hooked me the first time I heard it and hasn't let go, and sets the tone for an assortment of older cuts that pop up throughout the disc.

2. Who Loves You, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
All those "Jersey Boys" commercials got to me. But seriously, what an infectious tune! Does anyone not smile when they hear it?

3. Little Secrets, Passion Pit
Boppy, peppy, happy fun! With some pretty strong bass baked right in, so you can be that person when driving down the street, the one everyone hears coming.

4. Talking In Your Sleep, The Romantics
Ah, I remember owning this album on cassette. Remember cassettes? 'Twas a great song then, 'tis a great song now.

5. High Speed, Coldplay
Taking the tempo down for a track here. I love this cut from "Parachutes," the band's first effort. It's not "typical" Coldplay. It's more moody, dreamlike.

6. Coming Back To Life, Pink Floyd
Continuing with the mellow for a little while longer. For a few verses, anyway. I've owned The Division Bell for years, so I'm sure I'd heard this song before, but recently, when it shuffled up, it was like I was hearing it for the first time. It resonated deeply with a moment in my life and became an instant favorite.

7. Like The Way I Do, Melissa Etheridge
Ah, Melissa. I've always liked her music, but having finally seen her live, I have a much greater appreciation for her as an artist. This is a hugely powerful cut.

8. Wouldn't It Be Nice, The Beach Boys
Earlier this year, I had the startling realization that my iTunes was entirely devoid of tunes by The Beach Boys. What?! How could that be? I rectified the situation as quickly as possible – which, in this digital age, was pretty quickly – and appreciate the contrast of this sweet tune coming off of Melissa's driving demand of her lover.

9. Wide Eyes, Local Natives
New to me, this band. Love the rhythm. Love the vocal.

10. Sister Golden Hair, America
Right? When's the last time you heard this song? It's so great! And hey, my hair is pretty golden these days, thanks to J-D!

11. Fallen, Vib Gyor
Sort of a U2-Coldplay hybrid, this tune. Why this band isn't equally known, I have no idea.

12. You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want), Joe Jackson
Were truer words ever spoken?

13. This Way Up, Brian Ray
This is the title track of Brian's new album, a rockin' good time, both the cut and the disc! Check it out!

14. All Or Nothin' At All, Bruce Springsteen
Because it wouldn't be a birthday disc without The Boss.

15. Blinded By The Light, Manfred Mann's Earth Band
Yup, I followed a Bruce cut with a Bruce cover. But oh, what a cover.

16. Turning Japanese, The Vapors
Need I explain?

17. With A Little Help From My Friends, Joe Cocker
Had to include it. My friends ... oh, my friends. They make my life rich in so many ways.

18. The End, Kings of Leon
The band has a cut titled "Birthday," so you'd think that would have been the logical choice. But "The End" has one of the best basslines ever. The clear choice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Words By Which To Live (aka A Variation On The Well-Known Phrase Which, Unfortunately, Ends With A Preposition) ...

Yesterday, I went to see Jon-David, my hair architect.

It had been too long since I'd seen him last and there was no way I was going to embark on the next year of my life with that much grey showing. Nuh uh.

So I went.

Given that it'd been quite a while since he'd last cut my hair, it had gotten rather long. Longer than my usual long, and so I told him to lop off three or four inches, not just give it its usual trim.

He may have cut off more, but I really love this length. It's perfect, really. (The whole cut-and-color combo is fabulous. Truly, the man's a genius.)

Once he had cut the length and the corresponding layers, he looked at me in the mirror and asked if he should cut channels into my hair, explaining the process, explaining that the overall look would be the same but that there would be more movement in my hair. He was making a very good case and I trust him implicitly, so I was just about to give him the go-ahead when he shrugged in his cute little way and said, "Let's just do it."

Which made us laugh. Really, there was no consultation going on. He was going to do what he wanted to do, and he knew that it would have been fine with me. I've been going to him for nearly 20 years. I've never left his chair disappointed.

But it's nice that he puts forth the illusion of letting his clients have input.

I told him that I was going to make his phrase my new mantra: "Let's just do it."

I love it. No wavering. No waffling. No what-ifs. No "Maybe later" or "I have to think about it."

Let's just do it.

See what happens.

After all, we can always then do something else.

As my friend Rick says, start where you are.

Update, per Tom:

This photo doesn't do J-D's work justice, but it'll have to suffice. And Tom, I have no "Before" photo. Quite on purpose. But as you can see, Einstein approves.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What Weighs On Me ...

Saturday was bad.

Saturday was good because I had plans with Doreen and it was a lovely day to poke around the city, hitting a warehouse sale for one of her favorite home-furnishing stores, grabbing lunch at Epic Burger (where seating is always at a premium so we were happy to share a table with a lovely 60-something couple from Oak Park who were Epic Burgering for the first time), making a quick loop through West Elm and then another store next door to a store I'd been meaning to check out that is no longer there. But that store owner had his dog with him and both Doreen and I took turns with Annabelle playing fetch. And we ended our day of meandering with a late-afternoon viewing of "Red."

But before all of that, Saturday was bad.

Since I had to leave the house, I had to put on presentable clothes. I don't really leave the house too often. I go for walks in the morning, but working from home affords me to stay in yoga pants and sweatshirts most of the time, so whatever I walk in is often what I stay in for the balance of the day.

But Saturday, I had to leave the house which required me to put on presentable clothes, and the jeans I got out of the dryer? Wow, did they shrink.

Except, of course, that they hadn't. They were dryer-sized, yes, slightly stiffer and less loose.

But I've gained weight. Which I've known, despite my not owning a scale. But I hadn't realized that I'd gained that much weight. Yikes.

Luckily, I had another pair of jeans to pull on, but even they were snug, and the snugness was a reminder all day long of where I've come from where I've been. And the direction is most definitely the wrong way.

And this has happened before, of course, because most people who struggle with their weight struggle for a lifetime. Most people gain and the lose and then gain again. And each time is more damning, because each time brings with it a compounded "I can't believe I let this happen again." Oprah knows. She did a cover about it. There she was before, svelte but more importantly fit, baring her midriff, of all things, and then there she was after, fuller and rounder and more buttoned up. Or zipped, rather. Her midriff was covered is my point.

Five years ago, when I was dating G, I was just shy of where I wanted to be with my weight. This morning, in fact, I was remembering one morning when I caught a glimpse of myself in his mirrored closet door. I was wearing oh-so-sexy flannel PJ pants and a thermal tee, but I was taken with my reflection for how thin was the woman staring back at me. That disconnect again. It had happened before.

And the weight crept up a little after G and I broke up. But not a lot. And I was fine with where I was. And then it crept up a little more and I got it off, short stints on the yo-yo dieting string. Hell, I started working with a trainer. I'm much more likely to show up and work out if I'm accountable to someone. But when I lost my last job, Mr. Hunky Trainer was one of the first expenses to go. And just as the holidays were arriving. Uh oh.

After the new year arrived, as I got to better know a man named David who then asked me out, I was feeling OK about where I was, wanting to be thinner but knowing I was more or less OK.

And then L.A. Dave died. And I stopped caring. I was sad. I was more than sad. I was stricken. So if I wanted pizza, I ate pizza. And if I wanted chips, I ate chips. And it was winter. And I wasn't working. And there were stretches of days when I had no inclination to leave my home, so I didn't.

When I was dating David, I was more mindful of my weight, but when things ended between us, that's when the pizza-and-chips abandon really set in. And as everyone who's ever struggled with their weight knows, once you slip on that downward spiral, it's damn near impossible to stop. You feel bad. So you eat. But then you feel bad because you've eaten. So you eat more. And so it goes, down and down and down.

Until you arrive at a day like Saturday when you go to pull on jeans and realize that there's no way they're going to fit.

So you resolve to do better. Again. And you do. But there's the gremlin in the back of your mind that leaves you wondering how long it will last this time, even as you know that it's all always in your control.

Except that it's not. It's not that easy. Because if it were that easy, it would never be a problem at all. You would just never eat that pizza or that cheesecake or those fries. You would walk away and mean it, not slink back to the kitchen five minutes later and cave.

It's so much more insidious than that. It's so much more complex. It's not a matter of just saying "No." It's a tangle of emotions and physiological responses that don't take very kindly to gimmicks.

Because, believe me, I've tried pretty much everything there is to try. And I'm hopeful every time. And some have worked better than others, but none of them are the magic they promise to be, the magic in which we all want to believe.

Over the years, I've become a devotee of Mark's Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint. In a nutshell, Mark advocates living like our earliest ancestors, which, dietarily, mostly means cutting out grains. Grains didn't become part of the human diet until about 10,000 years ago, and we haven't evolved to process them properly.

Of course, if you think about what contains grains – including corn – you think of, oh, pretty much the entire grocery store. The center of it. The periphery is mostly safe, if you steer clear of the frozen food section and all of its horrid delicacies.

The trick is cutting out grains. I've been in love with them for the better part of 40 years. But I've cut them out over time – I used to have a honkin' bagel every morning and I quit practice that years ago – and I feel so much better when I do. And the results show up quickly. I did a primal stint when I worked with Brandon, the trainer, and walked into the gym after not having seen him for four days, and he said, "What are you doing differently?!"

So I know what I need to do. I just need to do it. That's the difficult part. Turns out, the act of buying a diet program or book or DVD doesn't suffice. I actually have to do the work, make the changes, get up and move.

Which I've started doing again. Even as winter begins to set in, even as the mornings are dark and cold. Even when all I want to do is stay in bed, warm and happy under the covers. I get up, lace up, and go.

Speaking of which ...

Monday, November 08, 2010

'The Eclipse' ...

Team Edward, turn away.

I'm not writing about Twilight. I wrote about Twilight. Once. I was not kind.

No, no, this film is the product of Conor McPherson, about whom I've also written, in part, and the lovely Ciarán Hinds, who has worked with Conor in the past and who I am happy to call a friend.

So, yes, I'm biased. But this film is intriguing. For starters, it's beautifully shot. Conor uses chiaroscuro to excellent effect. Ordinary locations are unexpectedly dark, with light only in the distance, setting up silhouettes of the actors or making you strain to see their faces when they're lit with a hint of light.

This film is billed as a ghost story, so there are also moments that are meant to up the tension – and they do – but the beauty of the lighting remains. To wit:

And there are beautiful location shots, breathtaking views and sites dripping with age. Even simple scenes are stunning:

Ciarán plays a widower doing his best to keep it all together, raising his two kids, trying to be in more than one place at once. Aidan Quinn succeeds in being a complete asshole – there's really no other word for his character – and Iben Hjejle, who you may know from many roles but who I recognized from "High Fidelity," plays a writer who is as lovely as Quinn's character is not.

There are some decidedly McPhersonesque moments in the film which called to mind another of his plays, and while I did indeed enjoy the film, I'd like to have seen this played as a straight drama. The dynamics are compelling. The ghostly bits almost feel superfluous.

But it is worth your time. The cinematography is beautiful. The score is effective and unexpected. And the performances, including a small but pivotal stint by Jim Norton (who won a Tony for his portrayal as Richard in "The Seafarer" alongside Ciarán), are top notch.

It's available instantly or to rent on Netflix, or find it elsewhere.

By the by, the movie poster at the top of this post was one of two I saw for this film. That one, decidedly more theatrical, calls to mind M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable." But I prefer this version for its simplicity. The film really is more about relationships than anything paranormal. Although, paranormally speaking, it's nice to contemplate that those we've lost are still nearby.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Snow ...

It's November 6th, people.

I still get giddy when I wake to the first snow of the year, even a dusting such as this.

But it's November 6th. Long winter ahead.

Friday, November 05, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

You should take a few minutes to read "The Love Experiment" from Whole Living, both because the sentiment is lovely – asking those closest to us, "Please tell me how I can love you better" – and because it is written engagingly.

A favorite moment: "More words of wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh: 'When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.' I sometimes blame the lettuce."

"I sometimes blame the lettuce." I adore that sentence.

Election Night Thoughts ...

Here's where my brain has landed:

There's really no point in writing much of anything about election night, a) because what's done is done, and b) because much of why what was done was done was because people either didn't know the facts about what's been accomplished in the past two years, or they didn't care.

So nothing I say is going to unring the bell. Congress is as Congress is now, for two years, anyway. If people didn't believe things on Tuesday, they're not going to believe them now.

But I'll make a few points:

1. In almost every mid-term election since early in the 20th Century, the party not in power has made gains. This year's gains were not unprecedented, though they were indeed large. But they could have been larger, given the level of unrest in the country at the moment. We can thank the Tea Party for stemming the losses. Harry Reid should have been a political goner. But the Tea Party, as I read somewhere the other day, managed to find the one candidate Harry Reid could beat. Angle was so extreme that folks who have no love for Harry Reid and wanted him out of office thought, "Well, hell, I can't vote for that woman." And Mike Castle surely would have won Joe Biden's seat in Delaware. Everyone said so, the blues and the reds. But the Tea Party made professional candidate Christine O'Donnell the Republican nominee and now Delaware can breathe a sigh of relief that Senator-elect Coons is headed to Washington.

2. Most people don't seem to know it, but taxes have gone down under Obama. So the Tea Party folks who keep screaming about their taxes? Um, guys? You're paying less. In fact, when you filed this year's tax return, you paid the least amount of taxes you've paid in decades. Yes, really. Honest. It's a verifiable fact. And exactly the kind of information you won't hear on FOX News.

3. Yes, it seemed counterintuitive to pump more money into the economy when we surely didn't seem to have more to spend, but the economy was heading for the cliff, folks. A Great Depression was imminent, thanks in large part to Wall Street. (By the way, as Republicans are yelling about repealing everything Obama and Congress have accomplished in the past two years, including Wall Street reform, the folks on Wall Street will be taking home record bonuses again this year. Think about that the next time you're not sure how you're going to pay your next bill.) In fact, we needed to pump more money into the economy, not less. The "less" got us to where we are today: sluggish recovery and a pissed-off populace. And now the Fed has announced that it's releasing $600 billion. As Robert Reich said on Twitter, that won't create recovery, that will create a bubble. Like we need another one of those.

4. The Republicans still have no incentive to work with Obama. In fact, just the opposite. If the Republicans can keep the economy in the toilet for the next two years, they think voters will easily oust Obama out of office. Mitch McConnell has said that the GOP's number-one goal is to make sure Obama is a one-term president. That's the GOP's number-one goal, not fixing the economy, not putting people back to work, not addressing climate change (many GOPers flat-out deny it's even an issue; one says it's sun spots or something; because, surely, having industrialized the planet and using more fossil fuels than ever before couldn't possibly affect anything; it's all just some crazy coincidence), or any other pressing issue. No, the GOP's stated goal is to quash Obama. And replace him with who? Sarah Palin? Because she's the front-runner right now, kids. We tried the "folksy" president for eight years with Bush. That worked out well, huh? Two wars (totaling 17 years and counting), massive job losses, record deficits. Sign me up for more of that! You betcha!

5. We just saw our fifth consecutive quarter of growth. The private sector is adding jobs. We've started down the path to healthcare reform. Spare me the "government-run healthcare!" argument. That's what many of us wanted: a public option, Medicare for all, if you will. It's hugely efficient. (Also a verifiable fact.) Instead, our government passed legislation that will hand 31 million new customers to private insurance companies. And we're being Socialist how? Obama's signed equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation, which is kind of a big deal if, you know, you're a woman who's been getting screwed for years just because you don't have a penis. And there a host of other examples of the good that's been accomplished for this country since he took office, as hard as it might be for some people to face.

Has the White House done a poor job at messaging? You bet it has. The fact that most people don't know that tax cuts were part of the stimulus bill is ridiculous. And so the fine folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue need to get better at talking about their accomplishments.

But we the people also need to think for ourselves. Anyone who relies on FOX News for its information is an idiot. And I'm writing that knowing that I'm insulting some of my family and friends. But please, once and for all: FOX News is an arm of the Republican party. "Fair and Balanced" is a catchy phrase, but it in no way describes FOX's coverage. Legitimate news organizations do not host candidates for de facto fundraisers. Legitimate news organizations do not make million-dollar contributions to political groups. And then keep that information from viewers. Legitimate news organizations do not allow someone as unhinged as Glenn Beck on the air to spew lies and vitriol and incite people to violence. They just don't. Period. There is no way to defend FOX News as a news organization. It is not one.

Please, get your information from a variety of sources. Think for yourself. Do not listen to Michele Bachmann ranting about Obama's trip to India costing $200 million a day. That number came from an anonymous source in an Indian newspaper. Stop to ask yourself, "How would that anonymous person know?" The White House doesn't release that information in advance of trips. So the answer is: The anonymous source made it up. So elected officials and the rest of the right-wingers are in a tizzy over a fabrication. How responsible of them to continue to cite it as a fact.

As with past political posts, I'm turning off the comments. Those who agree with me will agree with me. Those who don't, won't. I have no inclination to get into a pissing match in the comments. Have something to say? Start a blog. Hire a skywriter. Write with a stick in the dirt. Whatever. My blog. My thoughts. Thus spake Beth.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Election Night ...

No, I'm not shying away from writing about last night. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it all. I'll write something when something gels in my brain.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of a bunny.

[ Cue "The Girl From Ipanema" hold music ... ]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Tuesday ...

I went to my polling place and voted. And then I went to the store and I bought what I needed. And then I came home. And then I made this. And then I gave most of it away.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Wabi Sabi ...

My first thought was of wasabi. And of sushi, I am no fan.

But wasabi is not a hybrid of wabi sabi. Wabi sabi is amorphous, but its essence is this: "... the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental," as defined by Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.

That definition comes from an article in Whole Living, an article that Doreen included in one of her recent Doreen-o-grams.

And surely, I am the kind of person who can stand to read an article about taking things down a notch. Perfectionism is a bitch, an immobilizing bitch.

Wabi sabi came to me this weekend, though I had not yet read the article and so I did not yet know the phrase. I was making pumpkin cookies for the first time, a recipe a Twitterpal had posted that had me intrigued.

The recipe called for heaping tablespoonsful of dough, the idea being to use two spoons to plop little dough piles onto cookie sheets, as so many cookies are made.

But not mine. Oh, no. Never mind that this cookie dough is sticky. Never mind that, at room temperature anyway, it will not be rolled without ending up like pumpkin-colored burrs. Oh, no, I know my way around that peskiness. So I wet my hands and blotted off most of the moisture and proceeded to roll tidy balls of dough that proceeded to bake into perfect mounds.

And they looked entirely wrong.

Because these cookies are rustic cookies. They are meant to be irregular in shape. They are not meant to conform to my snickerdoodle standard of uniformity. They are meant to be blobs.

I had already bent three cookie sheets worth of cookies to my will, but for the remaining three, I used two spoons to portion dough and the cookies baked up just like the picture online. I think they tasted better, too.

Unwittingly, I've been embracing wabi sabi in my home all along. "A wabi sabi home is full of rustic character, charm, and things that are uniquely yours, says Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House, to be published next spring," the article reads. That's my home. Which isn't to say that I never buy anything new. But I like that most everything I own has a story behind it, and that story is not, "Everything in this room is from Pottery Barn."

Come to think of it, I don't think I own anything from Pottery Barn. I am like Phoebe that way, with her apothecary-table disdain once she discovers that the piece Rachel bought was modern and mass-market, not from "yore," which she discovers because Ross has one, too.

I like the mirror by my front door. I like that the finish is worn, that the silver has darkened, that the joints are no longer pristine. I like that this mirror had a life before it came to me. It hung in someone's home. It reflected someone's story. And now it reflects mine. And I spent all of $15 on it.

"Think about a color palette that mimics what's found in nature: greens, grays, earth tones, and rusts," the article suggests. Check, check, check, and check.

I'm staring at a green throw pillow right now, a few feet away from rust-colored curtains, though I like to think of them as the color of cinnamon instead.

I feel uneasy in primary-colored homes. They don't feel real to me. They feel like someone's interpretation of what an "artful" home should be. To each his own, certainly. Perhaps those colors energize those who live there. Perhaps my affinity for muted colors and worn finishes would strike others as boring and old. Perhaps they are more wasabi, the spicy, green condiment, and I am more wabi sabi, the imperfect and impermanent.

The same goes for my face. I wasn't raised with makeup. In fact, I had to fight for the right to wear any. Mom was right in not allowing me to wear it just because my friends were allowed. But we learn by example and mom never wore much, so I didn't grow up with the inclination to paint my face. Even now, I'm hopeless when it comes to applying eye shadow. So I don't. I've had my makeup done, and I've bought some of the products, because that's what you're supposed to do, but I don't use most of them. I think I've plopped down close to $100 for the two foundations in my closet. One is far too orange, if you ask me. I'd end up looking like John Boehner. And the other one is more sheer and appropriately colored, but I don't use it because, well, because I don't use it. I've never used foundation. And I'm 40 (nearly 41). So why start now? I think I look fake when I wear it. So I don't.

I'm very glad to now know the phrase. There is such ease in wabi sabi, such appreciation, such acceptance. I need to practice it more.