Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tale of the Gingerbread Man and His Wife

Once upon a time in a snowy village in the High country of Bergen, there lived a kindly gingerbread man and his wife. They had a lovely cottage which Ginger Man had built himself, hauling the wood from a bountiful land called Brooklyn. Ginger Lady had carefully planted flowers and decorated the house with Christmas garlands in anticipation of the festive season that would soon be upon them.

GingerMan greeting his neighbor, Santa

Christmas was wonderful, although not everyone could come.  The Ginger's son was imprisoned out West on the island fortress of the evil sorcerer Al of Catraz.  The clever son was able to escape by plying the guards with veal cutlet and sugar pie and plunging into the icy waters to swim to safety. The Ginger Lady's brother and his family were also in a perilous situation, held captive by the evil Princess Di R.Rhea in the land beyond the Tappan Zee. Luckily, the Princess got bored after 24 hours and released them, but it was too late to go over the river and through the woods to arrive on time.

Laughter rang out and echoed in the woods around the little house, as presents were opened. There were wonderful gifts like enchanted clocks that captured the woodland birds chirping every hour and homemade delicacies from the faraway lands of Brooklyn.  Miniature trees, computer marvels, scarves of wondrous colors, panini grills, shiny black cuff links, and an inspirational book about a rock 'n roll drug lord were met with happy smiles.  When the Ginger Lady declared "Let the games begin," the cards flew and raucous laughter ensued.

The two day celebration continued at the King and Queen's castle nearby. The food was sumptuous, more guests arrived from the forest hills and the windsor kingdom and more games were played.

By the third day, weary but happy guests returned to their homes and the Ginger Man and Lady settled into their house, snug and warm.  That's when strange things started happening.  At first, it was just small items disappearing from the house-- the window garland, the Christmas tree, the roof lights.

But then things got serious. A gash appeared in the roof, allowing snow to drift down into the house.  Santa was puzzled.

Ginger Man eyed Santa suspiciously, but said nothing. Later, he asked his wife if she noticed anything unusual about Santa--his growing size, for example.  "Not at all," replied Ginger Lady. "Don't tell me you're accusing Santa! Why, he's the Spirit of Christmas. That's crazy talk."  But things only got worse. During the night strange creatures were heard, hideous hyena-like laughter pierced the chill air. And the next day more destruction rained down on the poor Ginger family.

Finally Ginger Lady took a long and dangerous journey to Westfield, where she bartered for a special device from the Wizard of Electronics.  She returned home and with Ginger Man set up the webcam.  That night the noises were ferocious, but the camera found the true culprit:

It was none other than the insatiable Laughing Dog aka Buffy the Sugar Slayer! That explained the hideous laughter they'd heard during the previous nights. Although their house was ruined, the Ginger Man and Lady knew they would be safe now because the entire demon pack of laughing dogs was spotted rolling out of the woods, off to another neighborhood in search of sweets. 

The Gingers prepared to salvage the remains and start anew. 

They were not worried because not only were they quite skilled and handy, but the Spirit of Christmas had grown so large in their hearts that they knew they could do anything,

The End.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's resolutions

My good friend Rita suggested that New Year's resolutions are passe. Instead, she suggested, you should pick a theme for the upcoming year, such as "Reaching out to old friends" or "Taking care of yourself". 

I like that idea and I'm thinking about possible themes. Mine are more like Travelling to all 50 states or Reading a book a day. My brother Peter, always a trend setter, started a theme in 2010 with picking the top 500 songs of his life. A more cynical person might choose a theme like "Weeding out old friends who never call" or "Top Grudges to maintain".

Wrapping up 2010 I did reexamine my resolutions, one of which was to "do a quad."  No, I haven't taken up competitive figure skating. The inspiration came last December when I went to the 16 plex theatre and saw the feel bad movie of the year-Precious- followed by the feel good movie--Blind Side.  I enjoyed both movies, but the real fun was simply walking from one screening room to the next on the same ticket.  I could have easily added a third movie, and considered  Twilight, the vampire movie, but opted for dinner instead.

The challenge materialized before me, as I rode home from the mall--one day, preferably Tuesday Movie Day, one ticket, four movies.  It had to be 4 because 3 seemed so easy to do and with an average length of 2 hours, 4 movies would add up to a perfect 8 hour work day.

As with most resolutions, I can't believe it is now the last week of December and I have yet to accomplish the quad. I've got the tactical plan:

FOOD--Make my one appearance at the snack bar and carefully choose from the menu-- a drink is probably best.  Too many appearances in the main snack bar area which is right next to the ticketing may raise suspicion even among the most jaded teenage employee. 

Jaded teenage employee:
Lady, I'm not counting, but isn't this your fourth bag of popcorn?
No, no, that was my twin sister the other times.

I'm also considering packing a large handbag with granola bars, pb&j, fruit and a bottle of water.

TIME:  Start with the first show of the day, usually 11 a.m. and mission accomplished by 8pm. Must study the movie start times and running times to produce optimal viewing schedule. Try to avoid theatres 1 and 2 which necessitates crossing the lobby, where jaded teenagers work. Best to stick to the long corridor for screens 3-16.

CLOTHING: Dress in  nondescript, drab color clothes to blend with the crowd. Mission Impossible theme playing in my bedroom as I suit up would be a nice touch. Consider all in black with optional ski mask, but that just might defeat the purpose.

MOVIES:This is actually the toughest piece of the puzzle.  Are there 4 movies out at one time that you actually want to sit through?  This is the ideal week, as holidays bring a raft of new movies and best chance for a pleasant, satisfying "work" day.  But all this 3-D stuff. When do they give you the glasses? What if you sneak in without them and are forced to watch an entire movie with blurry images?

WEATHER: this snowstorm was an unexpected development, but I'm confident that all will be back to normal tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I know, I know.. you just heard from me yesterday, but this is a short one.

Tuesday night was the lunar light spectacular, which I rose at 2:45 am to witness. After all, although lunar eclipses are common, (there will be two next year) the fine print reveals that they wont be visible from the US or they're only partial eclipses.  And this one was a triple zinger: total lunar eclipse, full moon, winter solstice. Wow. It was going to be awesome.

I bundled up in fleece pants and top, down jacket, gloves and hat and slipped out to the back deck. The moon was very high in the sky, but still didn't clear the treetops surrounding the house.  Binoculars gave a better view, but, like Santa on the firetruck, pictures were sub-optimal. Apparently more than a Canon Power shot is required, since my photo revealed the moon as the size of a pinhead among ghostly branches.

Full moon over NJ 3 AM 12/21/10

I missed the pac-man like chomping of the moon which started around 1:30 a.m., as the shadow of the earth took progressively bigger bites of the moon. But, I did get a view through the binocs of the pink-orange hued moon, reflecting the indirect sunlight still being filtered through the earth's atmosphere and causing the moonglow. Where was Koki, our Costa Rican birdwatching guide, when I needed him to line up his telescope for a better view?

I loved the feeling of creeping around the house at 3 a.m., although tripping on a sprinkler head nearly sent me sprawling on the driveway. Back into the house with freezing fingers, I dozed back to sleep in Eric's old room, which had a pretty good view out the window.

As NASA described it: "the moon's holiday gift to us"


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Lights

Santa drove by our house on Sunday night on top of the town's fire engine, waving and giving candy to children. I went out on our steps, alone, (cue the music:  "I'll be home for Christmas"), plugged in our Christmas lights and waved back.
Santa in the burbs--it might as well be Grovers Corners!

Christmas lights give you that warm inner glow, too.  I remember as a kid driving home on Christmas night, a long circuitous route from our cousins', who only lived down the hill from us. We detoured down all the side streets to see the lights, though none could compare to our own house.

My father was very proud of our decorations-- a giant candy cane suspended from the porch ceiling was flanked by three foot high candles on the railings. Dad had fashioned the candy cane out of flexible steel tubing, covered it in white plastic and painted on the red stripes. The candles, too, were a product of his cellar workshop. We had an illuminated creche scene hanging just above the candy cane and a white star in the attic window. My mother's contribution was white plastic candles and red wreaths in each window. The wreaths were ancient and shed a dusting of red fibers on the windowsills. 

We used to have a life sized cutout of Santa that stood on the porch next to the mailbox, but it blew over one windy year and was never the same. Sadly, he was replaced with a lit plastic K-Mart Santa who was a pygmy in comparison--maybe 3 feet tall. We were so disappointed with Midget Santa that my father strapped him to a high backed stool and then covered the bottom of the stool with a red vinyl skirt and that helped a little. Ah, memories...

Well, I dug through some photos and found this picture of our house.
Don't be confused by the two figures in red: the one on the left is Midget Santa and the one on the right is my little brother circa 1965.(And, yes, that's Buffy's brown house in the background!)  You may be as surprised as I am that Midget Santa has escaped from his high, red-skirted stool by the door and advanced to the coveted middle pillar with the vanquished candy cane nowhere in sight. 

Here's another view, so you can see my Mom's wreaths and candles.
Careful observers will note the smug look on Midget Santa's face and that he appears to be anchored by a triangular rope contraption, one of my father's specialties. And whither the candy cane?

It's a Christmas mystery.

One final note: We'd need a wider view to see the creche and the star above the porch, but it all seems pretty modest compared to today's light extravaganzas. If we were the best in the neighborhood, what did everyone else do?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DIY - Part Deux

We had such a productive home improvement weekend that Gary requested a retraction of the previous post. No way. Apparently humorous musings on the state of our home, accompanied by embarrassing photos, motivates better than nagging ever could.

I did promise him an update and you will be amazed! Sidewalk lights were all checked and tightened and now 2 out of the 8 work.  The compactor rests in the Recycling Center Yard with other forlorn hulks of rusty water heaters and abandoned appliances. We are awaiting new cabinet delivery any day now. The skylight has been winterized in a unique and slightly pathetic way and even though it looks like a white blob creeping through the glass, the family room temperature is now only a few degrees colder than the rest of the house. My handyman cousin down the shore has been dispatched to rework the toilet.

Bonus round: Gary hooked up the CD player (I know, we're old school) to the sound system, so I can play my Christmas music.  Finally, on Eric's prodding, we secured a common nut (cost 5 cents) from the hardware store and replaced the missing wheel on the handtruck. It only took 20 years.

Collateral damage for all these projects was minimal: one cut finger, one sprained wrist and one irritated eye from the insulation dust.

And yes, our most successful project:

You hardly even notice that the angel's head is practically riveted to the ceiling and you can't even see the scrape marks!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

DIY for the non-DIYer

What ever possessed me to think I could consider myself a DIYer? Just because I'm home, have projects crying out for attention and live near a Home Depot is no reason to jump-- no, leap-- to the conclusion that DIY (do it yourself) is easy, fun and part of our patriotic duty as good citizens.

Too late for excuses now. I'm currently looking at four unfinished (some might say unstarted) DIY projects.  

Outside I have a new, neatly lined up row of attractive, burnished copper LED landscape lights. Flip the switch and not one of them lights up.

In the kitchen, where I used to have a GE trash compactor, there is a gaping hole, with the round white bin from the old compactor, sitting forlornly in the wide space. To compact, we now use the old fashioned method: insert one foot into can and stomp down. The old compactor rests on a hand truck in the middle of the garage between our two parked cars.

It's not that hard maneuvering around it, even though one of the handtruck's wheels has fallen off. An unintentional brush against the handtruck and the compactor sways uncertainly, tipping downward and threatening to lurch forward into one of the cars. It's unfortunate that the DPW does not pick up trash compactors at the curb, but it should be an easy matter to roll the compactor up a ramp into the car and drive it to the recycling center. I believe it's on the list of acceptable appliances, but, if not, there is always the cover of darkness to help with a dump and run trip.

One thing we’ll have to remember is to brace the compactor/hand truck once it’s in the trunk. I seem to remember a similar escapade where a lawn mower crashed through the rear window of a Volvo station wagon when someone was driving it uphill to the repair shop. 

In the family room sits the unstarted project--insulating the skylight.  On the floor in the corner is an unopened  box labeled Window Insulation Kit-- clear vinyl and double-sided tape which is to be applied when the temperature is over 50 degrees. Hmm, it may warm up again? Next to it is a roll of insulation which someone from California thought could be neatly tucked in behind the skylight's shade with no fuss or bother. "Hey, Mama, no problem."

Finally, in my mother's house, the pieces of  a new kit replacing the inner workings of the toilet are arranged artistically on the bedspread. The shiny black plastic assemblage and  instruction sheet in four languages snuggles into the folds of the pink gingham checked comforter, a modern day still life. Sorry, no picture! The toilet is unused, with the water turned off. (at least I hope it's still turned off....)

I feel quite enriched from these undertakings. Life, after all,  is not just book learning. So far I have learned that:
  1. Tools are very important.  Attempting to reach a 12 foot high skylight with a short, unsteady ladder can be hazardous to your health. Also, the two arms of a wrench should be tightly secured by the bolt that joins them and should not wiggle back and forth in your hand.
  2. Some knowledge and skill in using said tools is required, despite assurances from the man at the local hardware store, who insists it is easy to do, even while he watches you drop your keys, fumble with the latch on your handbag, spill change out of your wallet and finally dig out the money to pay him. "Yes, it's easy to do," he lies.
  3. The general public refers to that big orange store as the Home Depot, but we insiders, who visit at least three times a week, know it is really store #904. 
  4. You never actually save money doing it yourself and you may end up not speaking to your husband, at least temporarily.
  5. The phone number of a reliable handy man is essential.
This weekend we are attempting yet one more project, but one I think we’ll accomplish. It may seem minor to some, but at least we’ll experience the thrill and pride of actually doing it all by ourselves.  The task: buying and putting up the Christmas tree – a real one!  Yeah, we can do that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Don't you just love made-up words? Usually they reflect our new technological society- blogosphere, technocrat, yuppies, IM, texting, sexting...  Scanxiety is a combo of scan and anxiety and, as every metastatic breast cancer patient knows, scans, which are usually repeated every three months, are definitely anxiety- inducing exercises.

No matter how much you tell yourself that it's just another test, it's amazing how the anxiety builds up. I couldn't sleep Sunday night, awaiting my first PET scan (alas, nothing to do with Homer or pets). I had been doing CATscans (again, nothing to do with pets, but somehow this strikes me now as sinister) and Nuclear Bone scans.   The advantage of the PET was greater sensitivity, measuring metabolic activity, instead of tumor images.You were injected with radioactive glucose, waited quietly for 45 minutes while it spread throughout your body and then were slowly scanned over the course of an hour from your "kneecaps to your eyeballs"(as the tech explained it).

I had heard from a friend that too much activity prior to the scan would cause the PET to light up, giving a false positive. For example, she knew someone who spent her 45 minute quiet time writing Christmas cards and her arm lit up like a Christmas tree on the scan.

My PET scan tech scoffed at this story but I was determined to minimize my movement, just in case. I settled into the chair and carefully used my pinky finger to turn the pages of my book from the bottom, very slowly. What if i got an itch, was annoyed by a pesky fly or had to blow my nose? My stomach rumbled, crying out for food and I wondered how movements along the digestive tract registered?  What if I started burbing or got the hiccups? The anxiety meter ticked up a few notches. My eye did start to itch and I had to scratch it- once, twice, three times. Man, I could already see me written up in the medical journals, the only bc patient with weird metastases to the right eyeball.

The scan itself was uneventful, but I didn't drift off to sleep. The pallet seemed a bit narrow and as I was progressively moved into the tube, I had to first hold my arms out like I was flapping them like chicken wings and then put them all the way over my head. The tube ceiling was a pleasant six inches above my head, unlike the Nuclear bone scan which involves a flat panel descending to within an inch of your face. I always used to watch that panel as it slowly dropped, feeling like the character in a Stephen King story who was completely paralyzed but alive, lying on an autopsy table, unable to scream as the pathologist's scalpel descended.  At least I would be able to scream if the machine didn't stop. After that moment of sheer terror, I would close my eyes. You had to or you'd go cross-eyed and claustrophobic.  Compared to the bone scan, this PETscan was a piece of cake.

When the test was over, the smiling tech sent me off with these parting words: "Don't go near children or pregnant women for the rest of today and drink lots of water to wash out the isotope."  Suddenly, I was Homer Simpson leaving the nuclear power plant with a glowing green rod stuck in my back pocket. Did anyone worry about the net effect of all this radiation?!  Yes, Virginia, your cancer is under control, but you seem to be developing a third eye and I don't mean the yoga kind.

Now the real anxiety began--waiting for the results to determine if the cancer had spread (bad), was stable (good), decreased (very good) or NED (excellent!)

Ah, the elusive NED. When I first joined the cancer message boards, I was full of admiration for this guy NED. He really got around.
TexasCowGrrl: "Dancing with NED for the last 6 months and it's heavenly." 
PinkHotMama: "I've been dancing with NED for 3 months now and couldn't agree more."

Uh oh, was this going to turn into a nasty catfight? Who was this mystery man? He seemed like a bit of a cad--did he think he was as smooth as James Bond, as handsome as George Clooney, as fluid on his feet as Fred Astaire?

MarksGrandma: "Everyone deserves a whirl around the dance floor with NED."

What a guy! But where did MarksGrandpa weigh in on the NED issue? Did he approve?

I finally figured it out when GroovyChica posted:
"My dance with NED ended this week with my latest scan showing progression to the liver." 
Damn and it had all seemed so much fun.

A quick Google explained that NED is No Evidence of Disease, but you have to love that carefree image of women celebrating a break in the disease with a swirling, twirling, tangoing around the ballroom floor, their celebrity spin a la Dancing with the Stars.

I've not had the privilege yet of Dancing with NED. I'm still in the trenches--"wrestling the alligator."  This one was not so hard to figure out, except i was thrown off because the first post was from GatorGal.
GG: "Had a tough week, wrestling the alligator."
Hmm, maybe she really was an alligator wrestler?  You used to see those signs for authentic Seminole Indian alligator wrestlers at Alligator World somewhere in South Carolina, Georgia or Northern Fla, if you ever took the long Spring Break drive to Fla. But, no, according to the posts, there seemed to be alligator wrestlers all over the country and I didn't think there was a sudden explosion of carny freak shows with the alligator wrestlers next to the bearded lady and the sword swallower.

Yesterday ended well for me: anxiety dispelled, cancer under control, me right in there with the other alligator wrestlers. A sad note: Elizabeth Edwards is at the end of her struggle--not quite 4 years.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The truth about dogs

Just for shock value I posted this picture as my new profile shot on FB. Most of you know I am not a "dog" person.

No time now for pussyfooting (ouch) around, it's time to talk turkey (double ouch) on the truth about dogs.

I was raised in a non-dog, non-pet household, unless you count my brother's mini turtles from Woolworth's that lived about a month before they got moldy with white gunk and died.  Our next door neighbors had a mutt named "Buffy", a small, golden colored dog with a large, high pitched bark.

On nice days, they would attach Buffy's leash to the clothesline (no clothes), giving him the run of the yard. For you youngsters out there, a clothesline was a piece of rope threaded through a pulley and forming an elongated, circulating system where you could reel in your shirts and sheets when the sun and wind had dried them.(somewhat embarrassing to display your undies for the whole neighborhood to see.) Since we had no fences between yards, the system worked equally well for a pooch, confining the area of his travel to a rectangular patch, slightly larger than the clothesline itself.

credit: thesocietypages.org

Every night when my father Charlie drove into our driveway, Buffy pricked up his ears, ran full tilt to the edge of our property,strained at his leash and barked incessantly as my father got out of the car.  My father would yell at him and shake his fist before entering our house and slamming the kitchen door. Same ritual every night.

At supper my father would regale us with tales of how he would get even with Buffy.  My favorite was his suggestion to mine the property line, so that one unfortunate day, Buffy would lean just a little too hard against the leather leash and put one paw on our side.  Bye-bye, Buffy---flying into the air like a Road Runner-Wiley Coyote cartoon.  I imagined that the next day, like Wiley, Buffy would return with blackened fur and a bandaged head, pushing a little cannon or lighting dynamite sticks to hurl our way. The Charlie-Buffy Wars had just begun.

So, how did I get from there to a picture with a cute black fluffball dog on my lap?  Homer (hmm, another cartoon character) belongs to my brother's family and was a Thanksgiving guest at our house.  He's a little excitable, but they say a dog mirrors his owners, although I never saw my brother jump up and down and leap furniture in a single bound when company arrived.

Homer began as a tiny, timid puffball. He's bigger now and much feistier, but still lightweight-- you can feel his bones through the layer of twisted, fuzzy fur and unlike many dogs, he doesn't have that alarming heft and substance when he jumps up on you.  He's not a crotch sniffer, which automatically moves him up several spots on my list of favorite animals. (yes, it's a short list). Once he's calmed down, he's good company and likes to have his tummy scratched.

The funniest moment was when his "mom", my sister-in-law, went outside without him. Like an abandoned toddler, he raced from one window to another, up on his hind legs, head moving from side to side searching for her. When he thought he heard a noise, he returned to the doorway where she'd disappeared and began a mournful yelp. Nothing comforted him. Such joy when she re-emerged! Celebration and crazy jumping.

How many people get that reaction from their family or friends--every day, every time?  It's downright heart warming.

Now here's the dark side.  Homer doesn't like everyone.  Some people are labeled Charlies in his mind and his barking and snapping can be as ferocious as Buffy's was years ago.  Wearing a hat puts you on Homer's enemy list, as does wearing fake fur trimmed coats or being a boy aged 9-12.  Was he harrassed by boys in a former life, or even in this one?  That's one for the doggie psychologist or the dog whisperer. In the meantime, sorry Dad, but I've become a Homer fan and the Buffy vs Charlie family tradition is dying on my watch.  Maybe, like baldness, the gene will be passed to the next generation to resume the feud.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Brooklyn bound

My basement tenant is moving to Brooklyn, which, as any 70's Welcome Back, Kotter fan knows, is the 4th largest city in the US...or would be, if it weren't part of NYC. 

Speaking of the 70's, here's a great Brooklyn song, recorded by the Whizz on Capital records in 1973:

Shine a light.....or I'll never get back to Brooklyn

Catchy tune, but I think I'll need more than someone shining a light for me to find Brooklyn. Cars, trains, subways, bridges, tunnels--how do you get to Brooklyn?

According to my son, it's not that hard! From Northern Jersey on public transit, take the NJ transit train, (switch at Secaucus), walk to Herald Square at 34th St., F train for a quick 26 minute ride. Who knew? Driving and parking may be another story all together.

Brooklyn is smaller geographically than Queens, but it's still a big borough (population = 2.5 million) with lots of neighborhoods and miles of shoreline.
Brooklyn neighborhoods

Scott will be hanging with the yuppies in Cobble Hill, northwest Brooklyn, not too many stops from Manhattan. Stray Boots has their office in DUMBO and I'm wondering why they don't consider a Brooklyn scavenger hunt. Consider this:

There's the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Museum, one of the oldest art museums in the US, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Brooklyn Heights.  Brooklyn is the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers who left in 1957 after winning the World Series in 1955 and the future home of the NJ Nets, scheduled to move to the Atlantic Yards in 2012. Many famous people hailed from Brooklyn including TV characters (the Huxtables),sports legends (Jackie Robinson, Vince Lombard), rappers (Jay-Z), Nobel laureates (Milton Freidman), writers (Norman Mailer), poets (Walt Whitman), politicians (Rudy Giuliani), gangsters (Al Capone) and comedians (the 3 Stooges).

I'll have to update Stray Boots, as I discover the sites and neighborhoods!

Monday, November 22, 2010


I was at St.Luke's elementary school when the good sister introduced us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. He was a Victorian Catholic poet (of course!), a Jesuit,  whose works were published in 1918, 29 years after his death. He is heralded by some as one of the first modern poets, inventing his own"sprung" rhythm, a precursor of free verse.

Sister Rose of Lima would be shocked at Wikipedia's casual descriptions of Hopkin's possible bipolar personality disorder and his unresolved anguish over his sexuality, but what I remember of his poem "Pied Beauty" are the brilliant images and the words that sent me scurrying to the dictionary...the brinded cow and the stipple on the trout..  Definitely was an awakening for me to a world of poetry and words that went beyond the strict Catholic school curriculum of the early 60's.

I don't  remember how the class responded, sitting in straight rows, 35 in a class, the girls in white blouses with green jumpers, the boys in white shirts and ties. They were probably collectively bored and puzzled by the way the words tripped up your tongue, by Sister's enthusiasm, by the strange, contrary theme of praising nature that is freckled and imperfect, sweet and sour, adazzle and dim, yet somehow right and wondrous. Do I remember the words because we had to memorize them? Maybe...

But, I'd like to think the phrases of this beautiful poem stuck in my mind because they resonate with the wonders of nature, especially in this season of thanks. And let's face it---what pre-teen could forget a phrase like "rose-moles all in stipple"? (I believe I had some rose-moles of my own that I worried about at the time.) Please read and enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving. (whether you buy into the God part or not).

PIED BEAUTY by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Return of Tuesday Movie Day

Hurray! This week heralded the return of Tuesday Movie Day (TMD)  after a long hiatus. I've made the mistake of booking Tuesday afternoon activities when I know that time should be sacrosanct.

If you're unfamiliar with TMD, here are the origins:

Claridge Cinema circa 2005
Lucky holders of Optimum Online Rewards Card know that  movies are free on Tuesdays at Clearview Cinemas with a simple swipe of your card. I began frequenting Clearview Claridge Cinema in Montclair  two years ago, while I was still working in nearby Nutley. Claridge, the Mecca,  (see picture) is an art theatre, specializing in foreign (love to read those subtitles!) and independent films that are usually not widely disseminated. Okay so I’m a bit of a snob—the kind of person who’s proud to say they’ve seen every movie nominated for Best Foreign Language Film or Best Documentary and who has to sneak into the big tenplex and wear a disguise if they cave and want to see the latest blockbuster. (I have a reputation to protect.)
But Tuesday Movie Day is not just about film reviews, elitism, multiculturalism or distinguishing yourself from the great unwashed, popcorn gorging, Coke guzzling masses.  When I was working, it was the thrill of sneaking out of work at 4 o’clock on Tuesday, rushing into the darkened theatre with four or five other souls and immersing yourself in the moviemaker’s world, all the while elated that you’re playing hooky.  It’s the realization that at least once a week you should do something completely selfish and satisfying and forget about project deadlines, interim milestones, staff meetings, grocery lists, household chores and making dinner as soon as you get home.  It celebrates the spontaneous and simple pleasures and reminds us not to let life pass us by.  It’s your inner child jumping up and down and yelling “Yay, it’s Tuesday Movie Day!”, like you did when you were promised a day at the amusement park or a trip to Carvel’s for an ice cream sundae.   It can be savored alone or shared with a special friend who aspires to the Tuesday Movie Day philosophy.
As you know, I am no longer employed. No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  TMD did not cause me to lose my job. If anything, it probably made me more productive, knowing I had a special 4 PM weekly meeting that could not be missed for any reason.  I was always a focused, disciplined, hard working employee who needed to blow off steam once a week or I’d be a total drudge. Really.  No, I was just a casualty of corporate merger and am now a happy member of the ranks of the unemployed/early retired.

Dulce Candy, Montclair

You would think I have all the time in the world, but somehow I don't. My volunteer work has become my new job and I've resolved for 2011 to put that more in balance.  In the meantime, the holidays are coming which is always problematic for TMD, but  I will persevere and can't wait until next week when my son Eric arrives for a visit.  I may have to introduce him to the joy of TMD (with a stop at the Dulce Candy store next to the theatre for some old time penny candy--maryjanes, BB bats, red licorice shoelaces.)

By the way, the movie this week was Fair Game, the Valerie Plame - Joe Wilson story, a political thriller interweaved with the domestic drama. The title comes from Karl Rove's quote that in the media battle to justify the Iraq war despite no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, Valerie, an undercover CIA agent, was "fair game."  I admit I was a little tired in the beginning and may have dozed off a tiny bit, but I did get caught up in the action and was angry at George W and company all over again by the time I left.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I get the urge for going...

Saw and spoke to Tom Rush in concert last night at Bergen Community College.  He's an old 60's folkie who introduced many of Joni Mitchell's songs and had a profound influence on James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Garth Brooks among others. I first saw him at Cornell back in 1969 or 70. (He loved being reminded of how long he's been playing and how old he is. ha!)

Just have to share the lyrics to the song, "I get the urge to going," which is so poetic and appropriate for this time of year:

And I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky and gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go
And I get the urge for going when the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down winter's closing in...

Beautiful, huh? ... and when we're really facing winter, here's the last verse:

I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
And I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay just another month or so
She's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

The song was written by Joni Mitchell and picked up by WBZ in Boston, where it was a "turntable hit" and got considerable play time before it was finally released as a single.

Here's a you-tube version:

Here's Tom Rush website: http://tomrush.com/

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Legacy of the South

Many people have asked what it felt like to be in the Deep South with its legacy of slavery, racism and segregation.  We Northern liberals can be comfortably condescending when it comes to race relations, but, on the one hand, it didn't feel all that different from home.  After all, we're on the tourist trail, just passing through and not living here. You'd walk into a Starbuck's or a music place and black and white kids waited on you and joked around as co-workers.  Just like the North.

Memphis, outside of the tourist areas, is a very poor city. We were directed by our hotel concierge to take a route to Stax Studios that would avoid the "inner city", but boarded up buildings abounded- not unlike Paterson, Newark or a hundred other cities in the North. 

There was rural poverty, too. Tunica County, MS was the second poorest county in the US a few years ago before the introduction of riverboat gambling, our Big Pink host informed us.  "Now, they're rolling in money and jobs and have low taxes."  Being familiar with Atlantic City, we questioned this rosy economic picture and wondered if Harrah's and Bally's profits really filtered down to the poor folk. On the other hand, we played golf at Tunica National and teed off right before a black league of businessmen- successfully middle class.

Confederate flags still fly and just walking through the civil rights sites and museums is sobering.  We think we live in turbulent times now, until you re-live the struggle and sacrifices people made then.  Visiting the NPS center at Central High School in Little Rock was a moving experience, both when you saw the videos of the nine students enduring harrassment and hatred from the crowds and when you looked around the now all black neighborhood and school and wondered how far we've really come. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis laid out the entire civil rights struggle and provided Martin Luther King's powerful and emotional speeches in the context of the events, as if I was hearing them the first time, not as cliched phrases, but as convictions and calls to action. You realized the enormity of the sacrifices made for basic rights of living and voting, against the irony of the low voter turnouts today.

I'm glad we took this trip, which gave me to time to reflect on our history and renewed my appreciation for what's good about America and sharpened my perspective of what still needs to be accomplished.

Here's the amazing speech that MLK gave on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated:
"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All 50 states

One of Gary's goals is to visit all 50 states, as his parents did, so no surprise that this trip chalked up some new states for us: Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and for me-Tennessee.

Memphis sits on the Mississippi, a short ride across the bridge to Arkansas. At first, we were just going to cross over, get out of the car so our feet touched soil and then return. But, is this really in the definition of "visiting" a state? Does that fulfill the rules? (who writes these rules?)

Next thing I knew the trip planner had us driving to Little Rock ( a mere 150 miles -- like driving up to Schenectady) and Hot Springs--why not, it was just a little further.  This was our biggest mileage day--400 miles, but well worth it.

After visiting Little Rock Central High School and Hot Springs National Park, we ended our day back on the Mississippi Delta Trail.

Gary also has a goal of visiting all 393 sites under the National Park system which includes 58 National Parks, 100 National Monuments, as well as National Historic Sites. Not quite sure what the visit tally is on that list, but here are some of the other great places we visited that I haven't mentioned in my previous post:
  • World War II Museum in New Orleans - Why this museum in New Orleans? The Higgins boat, used in D-Day invasion and throughout the Pacific campaign, was a product of New Orleans and based on the shallow, bayou boat design. 
  • Beauvoir, Biloxi, MS - Jefferson Davis' house where he wrote his memoirs. House was damaged extensively in Katrina, but has been restored. Site also includes the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library....and when was he president?! One woman in our tour group asked about the "presidential china."
  • Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail - commemorating the three day voting rights march in 1965 and Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
  • Tuskegee Institute - the agricultural and technical institute founded by Booker T. Washington with George Washington Carver as its most famous professor and researcher.
  • Tuskegee Airmen Museum - at Moton Field - The place where the first all black airmen unit that served in WWII in the still segregated Armed Forces began their training.
  • Horseshoe Bend National Historic Site - where Andrew Jackson massacred the Creek Indians
  • Elvis birthplace in Tupelo - a two room house on the wrong side of the tracks.
  • Natchez Trace Parkway in Tupelo - preserving the old Natchez trail, where in the 1800's before steam ship travel, the Caintucks (from Kentucky) sent riverboats with goods down the Mississippi and then walked back the Natchez Trace to return North.
  • Shiloh Battlefield - a bloody victory for General Grant over the rebels in a two day battle that marked the beginning of the campaign to secure the railway lines that would eventually split the confederacy
  • Tupelo Battlefield in Corinth, Ms-- Confederates pulled back from Shiloh to Corinth to fight again four months later
  • the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail -  we played 2 of the 15 courses , including Fighting Joe Wheeler Course (named after a Confederate commander) in Muscle Shoals and Grand National in Opelika.
Final thoughts on visiting the Deep South tomorrow...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hey, y'all..we're back

Yes, Ma'am, we're back from the sunny South. You have to love the veneer of Southern civility, hospitality and friendliness, even if it's just a pose for tourists. All those smiles and ma'ams leave you feeling happier and, yes, a bit older. Nothing like a six foot tall bouncer at a blues bar, patting your arm and saying "y'all have a good time now, ma'am" to make you feel like it's seniors night, grannies out on the town.

Gary in a Glenn car.
It was a really fun trip. Gary had cooked up an itinerary (not for the faint-hearted) that mixed golf, history, and music over 1600 miles and 9 days. Luckily, I was the navigator, assisting our British GPS lady who spoke in slightly annoyed, crisp syllables and admonished us often with "recalculating", when we ignored her sometimes goofy advice. 

Gary: "I can see the New Orleans Hilton straight ahead of us." 
Me:  "No, the Voice said to turn right, then left and left again."
Gary: "But that would put us back on the same street!" 

We wised up after that and often relied on our printed out Google directions (old school) or gut feeling.  The best part of navigating is the possibility of the delicious afternoon nap, lulled by the road and a fat lunch of fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried peanut butter and banana sandwich (Elvis favorite) after a morning of golf. So much fun to wake up in a new state! I played golf three times, while Gary did five rounds.

In Memphis we visited Sun Records, where Elvis got his start, recording
a speeded up version of an old blues tune: "It's alright, Momma".
Sun Records Studio, Memphis

Elvis impersonator

 Also checked out Stax records, the home of soul and the first label for Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave and many others. 

No trip to Memphis would be complete without the requisite visit to Graceland.

Graceland front entrance

View from living room into music room. Elvis loved the color blue.

Gold records and gold studded jumpsuits

We hit Beale Street on Saturday of Halloween weekend and enjoyed the crazy costumes parading up and down to the sounds of rockin' blues.  Here I am with the Transformer guy, who was hands down most popular:

We thought this guy with a buttoned down collared shirt, black porkpie hat, and religious sign was very creative, posing as a religious fanatic, until he set up his folding stepstool, propped up this sign and quite seriously asked us what we believed about Jesus: Lord, Liar or Lunatic?

I backed slowly away, sure now who was the lunatic, but Gary was already half way down the street, quite fascinated with the turquoise Lady Gaga outfits that several young ladies were sporting even though it was a chilly night for that much skin exposure!  Hmm...sorry no picture snapped on that one.

Our favorite B&B was the Big Pink in Clarksdale, Ms, although the General's Quarters in Shiloh was a close second. The manager of Pink was named Pal Casey and Pal was full of great stories about the owner of the place who had dated Elvis when she was 16, about Morgan Freeman who owned a restaurant and blues club in town and about writer Eudora Welty drinking Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner under the table. "The lady liked her bourbon."  (We stayed in the Eudora Welty room)

More favorites:
Delta Donuts in Clarksdale at the Crossroads (where the Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil and the blues was born). freshly baked, although I swear there was a bit of cigarette ash on my glazed cinnamon twist from our lovely server.

tie between Chris' Famous Hotdogs in Montgomery--Gary had a double chili dog, with Southern fried peach pie for dessert and 16 oz of soda, a free refill and a traveler when we left. Wow-that's 48 oz of soda!


Johnnie's Drive Inn in Tupelo, MS -- I sat by accident in Elvis' booth right under his picture, where I chose the AM cheeseburger (all meat) over the ever popular doughboy (mixed with flour).  Gary had bbq with fried hushpuppies.

Morgan Freeman's Madidi Restaurant in Clarksdale (He didn't make an appearance, so I had to be content with his life size cardboard cutout smiling at me from behind cool shades). 

Favorite museums:
history: National Civil Rights Museum which incorporated Lorraine Motel where MLK was assassinated and the boarding house across the street from which James Earl Ray fired the fatal shot. We spent hours here -comprehensive history of the movement and very affecting video.
music: toss up between Sun and Stax Studios, although we had a very funny guide at Sun. The Smithsonian Rock and Soul museum was also excellent.
most unusual: The Cotton Museum - we were killing time because our flight was delayed, so stumbled upon this history of cotton, set up in the old Cotton Exchange building in Memphis.

Best quotes:
Gary to waitress in Greenville, AL: "What do you mean there's no alcohol served on Sundays?"

Ginny: "How many holes are left to play?!"

Waitress to Gary: "Gravy with that, sir?" 
Gary to waitress: "Yes, ma'am." (He never met a fried food he didn't like starting with beignets in New Orleans and ending with fried pickles in Memphis)

Ginny: "How can this be called history, when we remember living through it?"

more thoughts tomorrow....and Arkansas!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The adventure continues...the Southern Swing

It's a chilly, brilliant autumn day here, but I will soon be basking in 80 degree weather down South.  Gary and I are off on yet another adventure. This one is 10 days, 1000+ miles, 5 rounds of golf, 8 historical sites (civil war and civil rights), and  4 music meccas (Elvis and Mississippi Delta Blues Trail)

We had invited Gary's sister and her husband, who wisely declined.  "Not our kind of vacation," they said. "We like to go to a resort, play golf, relax, eat a nice dinner and then get up the next day and do it all over again."  I can see their point. Who wants to play golf at 7:30am and then jump in the car to ride 150 miles, so you can arrive at the next historic site before closing time? 

Relax?  What does that have to do with vacation?

If we want to relax, we can just sit at home on the deck!

I'm not complaining, really. (but it always makes a better story if you do!)  I've always liked our sense of adventure, starting with our European honeymoon which was originally booked for 3 cities: Paris, Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  After the first five glorious days in Paris, we started looking at the map and noticed that Switzerland was awfully close, Germany beckoned and Norway with its wondrous fjords was a quick boat ride away.  We ended up with 7 countries in 18 days. Not quite like the 1969 movie "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium", but you've gotta love that title.
Bell bottom blues in Amsterdam 1973

Suspicious looking guy on the train to Versailles

So we arrive tonight in New Orleans and then continue on Sunday to Mississippi, Alabama and Memphis, Tennnesse, with a quick jaunt over to Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas before snaking our way up the Mississippi Delta trail and returning to Memphis. 

Wish us luck!  I'll try to keep you posted, but I'm not bringing the laptop. Then I had a radical idea--should we go "off the grid" for 10 days?  It's not something anyone does anymore and it just might be fun to be lost in America. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Memories like the corners of my mind…

Barbra sang it. I live it. Everyday. No, not the poignant, water-colored memories of The Way We Were, but the prosaic, fleeting, forgetful memories of everyday living, a half remembered phrase, someone’s name on the tip of my tongue.  A letter usually comes to me—is my mind’s filing cabinet better organized than my cluttered office? Her name was... started with an S and had an L in it? Or did it start with an L and have an S in it? I go through the alphabet, as if doing a crossword.  Sally, SaraLee,  Selma, Shayla, Shiloh,  Sharleen,  Shirley. That’s it!  Whew! Shirley, Shirley bo-perly, banana fanana fo-perly,fee fi mo-merly. Shirley

Sometimes I start a sentence and I see a word, like a horse in the Kentucky Derby, rounding the far clubhouse turn and pounding the turf to cross the finish the sentence line in time. The mud is flying, other words moving up threatening to obscure the finish and steal the ending for my word.  Did you notice I speak in longer sentences these days?

She: It’s a long story, I just don’t like her.
Me:  So maybe you don’t like her because of her background; she didn’t come from money, but wants it now. She’s just a ____ ______(hooves are thundering, but still at the final turn). So I improvise: You know, someone who is ambitious, wants more, wants to move up the ladder, join the in crowd, be in society, be a --ta da-- SOCIAL CLIMBER.

I shout it out like I’ve just buzzed into Jeopardy and I’m beating out ___ _______, that little blonde guy who won a million dollars, my mom loved him,  he was from Oklahoma, worked in I.T.  KEN JENNINGS!

Won $25.Million and has a blog now, too: http://ken-jennings.com/blog
It’ s most embarrassing when it’s a simple word that eludes you like plunger or scooter.  It gets you thinking about the existential nature of that object.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound? If you can’t identify a simple plunger, does that diminish the plungerosity of that simple tool?  OK, maybe too early in the morning for this discussion.
Misplacing objects is a whole other scenario.  My normal multitasking day goes like this: Morning breakfast, reading the paper the old fashioned way, sun coming in the window, enjoying my coffee, nice and relaxed. Then it starts:  Where is my phone, my keys, my sunglasses. Track down the usual suspects, phone in handbag, on charging stand, dresser, car or left in the pocket of whatever I wore yesterday. And that was…what? Which jeans, jacket, sweater, gym clothes?
Simplify! If you have less stuff, you’ll lose less stuff and have less stuff to go through to find your lost stuff. So if you see me in the same jeans, sweatshirt and jacket every single day, don’t be alarmed. I’m not homeless, just putting the new system  in place.

Sticky Notes:  little reminders everywhere so I know what  I have to do today and checklist for going out the door.  The only problem with sticky notes is they proliferate, reminding me of that old commercial for that labeling system with the cute name where you could easily print out labels and actor has them all over his body and  face—the label maker…. P-TOUCH!  A friend suggested using a notebook instead, so I carry a little book, but sometimes I lose that, too.

The silver lining is I’m not alone in this.  Gary and I sometimes play the alphabet litany/jeopardy search game together, piecing together our separate memory fragments to get to the Eureka moment of the right word,  place, movie, book or name.  I commiserated recently with two good friends over dinner. What had happened to us? I was glad it wasn’t just a side effect of my chemo treatments, aka “chemo brain”. It afflicted us all, so seemed to be more a consequence of  “aging”—such a nasty word.

What about our parents’ generation?   Did they have this much trouble?  Have we been duped into thinking we could really multitask and now our brains are rebelling and paying us back?
Back to basics: what about that game you played as a kid—pat your head and rub your stomach, then switch and rub your head and pat your stomach. It took a lot of concentration and  I remember collapsing in  laughter.
For now I’m limiting my multitasking to walking and chewing gum and that seems to be working. Now let me just find my keys and I'm out the door...

Friday, October 8, 2010

As autumn follows summer

Welcome to the Autumn of Ginny, the sequel to my successful Summer of Eric 2010 blog. Many people told me how much they enjoyed SOE2010, so I decided to plunge in and continue. The SOE reported my 9 day, 4000 mile cross country trip from New Jersey to San Francisco via North Dakota with my sons. Now a trip like that is bound to be interesting and made for great blog material. As for this blog about my life and musings-- maybe not so much. We'll see how it goes!

Not the K's I know

The other night at dinner, husband Gary and I discussed a most unlikely topic: that other K family, the Kardashians. While waiting for a haircut, with no Sports Illustrated or Golf magazine in sight, Gary had picked up US magazine and was now a fount of information on Kim, Khloe and Kourtney.  (How about that nice alliteration and fanciful spelling?)

Did you know, I questioned my daughter later that night, that:
  • Me:   Their father was O.J. Simpson's lawyer?
  • Beth: Yes
  • Me:   Their stepfather is Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic Decathalete?                     
  • Beth: Yes
  • Me:   They've been on the air an incredible 3 years and have set records for most watched show? 
  • Beth: Yes, Mom, where have you been?
Apparently, not following one of the most popular reality shows. The idea of becoming immersed in the lives and high times of these tv made celebrities is appalling to me. Who cares what they do? Whereas, I'm sure all readers will be fascinated by every detail of my life. Should I start with my unfortunate sex tape that launched my career, my appearance on Dancing with the Stars, my rumored plastic surgery and botox, my dabbling in tatoos or my clothing boutiques?  Oh, wait a minute, that's all about that other K woman. 

Seriously, I'll probably start with Tuesday Movie Day, my passion for reading (two reading groups!), my involvement with a terrific non profit breast cancer org, with a few chosen rants on medical care and always a celebration of life in the slow lane.  You're fortunate that I have no grandchildren--yet.   So, is blogging about your own mundane life even more appalling?  I choose not to take an instant poll on that one.

Moral of the story: Before you get on your high horse, all huffy and self righteous about celebrity seeking junkies, examine your own motivation!

I've examined mine and Andy Warhol may have really been onto something when he said "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."   Note the uncanny resemblance in these pictures, especially the eyes, nose and mouth.  Imagine me with dark eyebrows:

Andy Warhol and me circa 1977