Monday, December 31, 2012

Brooming Out the 2012 Dust

New Year's Day is more exciting to me than New Year's Eve ever was.  "Huh?!" you say, puzzled. 

It's because I am a forward-thinking person.  I honestly would have to pause and think before I could tell you what I had for lunch last Saturday.  Nope, not a fall on my head, not incoming senility or Alzheimer's.  That's just the way I've always been.  Tomorrow is always going to be a great deal more interesting than whatever yesterday held.  Full speed ahead!  Richie is the one who will wistfully say, "A week ago today, we were in (fill in.)"  He's the sentimental one; I'm the sarcastic one. 

I've had my 2013 calendar since well before Christmas.  I keep a typed page of birthdays, by month and person, in the December section of the previous year's calendar.  They're now ready to be entered for all of 2013.  The most far-flung in time appointment right now is the dental tech on March 11th. 

I also keep a list of deaths and this includes the cats.  Very sadly, this year 10 people that we cared about in varying degrees have died.  RIP to you all.

The old calendar reminds me that we went to Palm Springs twice, Las Vegas once, Dallas once and of course, the wedding in Marseille.  I intend to do better than that in 2013.  I suppose that if you really stretched it, that could be a resolution.  Resolutions are all very well and good, but how many people are still committed to whatever it was on February 1st?  Few.  I say don't let your mouth write checks you can't cover. 

Speaking of marking your calendar, if you know someone who will be 80+ or a couple that has a 50th+ wedding anniversary in 2013, you can write to the white House for a presidential greeting to be sent to the person(s) involved.  The Website said that the Obama White House is reporting delays of up to a month or two, so mail your request accordingly.

Mail to:  Presidential Greeting Card, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20500

Be sure to include the recipients name, address, title (Mr. Ms) and zip code.  Be specific:  "Harry and Maud Smith were married on July 15, 1940; thus July 15th, 2013 is their 73rd wedding anniversary."    Include your own name, address and phone number or e-mail if they have any questions. 

Okay - housework is done, rug is back on the floor.   Bring it on, 2013!  Show me what you got!


Those of you who have not started toasting the New Year yet will recall that yesterday I waxed enthusiastic about champagne.  I wondered aloud how an 83 lb. bottle of champagne is served and vowed to write my nephew, a professional sommelier, on this subject.

Today I got the little smart-aleck's reply:  "They bring in the "World's Strongest Sommelier"! ha ha ha"   

Too late for this year, coal in his stocking next year.  Must make a note - where's my calendar?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Champagne! The Rich Man's Alka-Seltzer!

Dom Perignon famously said after his first sip of champagne, "Come quickly!  I am tasting stars!" and I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

Somehow toasting "new things" such as weddings, births, raises, a new house or apartment and New Year's with champagne  has become an American tradition.  Extensive research didn't tell me why though.  I would like to think it's the energetic effervescence of the drink itself.  Few things sound as cheery to me as the pop! of a bottle of champagne being opened.  It's very nearly a guarantee that good things are just about to happen. 

When we serve it here at the house, the guys present like to open it out on the balcony -- to see how far the cork will fly out into the yard below.  Guys (shake of the head) - It's always a contest, you know?

Heloise the Practical took pen in hand to advise us not to let champagne age; it's a "now" drink.  Amen, Heloise!  She went into sizes of the various bottles -- some of them I didn't even know existed (but well worth looking into.)    Here is Heloise's list:

Split - 18.7 of a centiliter; a centiliter is a 10th of a litre. 
Half bottle - 37.5 centilitres
Bottle = 75.0 centilitres
Magnum = two bottles
Double magnum or Jeroboam = four bottles
Rehoboam = six bottles
Methuselah or Imperial = eight bottles
Salamanazer = 12 bottles
Balthazar = 16 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar = 20 bottles and weighs 83 pounds!  How the hell you'd serve one is beyond me so I hastily e'd my nephew, a professional sommelier, about it.  As he is also a bachelor, he is unlikely to give me an answer before noon on a Sunday, so ... when I find out, you will, too.  I would imagine it's set in a tilting rack of some sort for pouring. printed advice on how to get champagne stains out of clothing, napkins, etc. and frankly, I take issue with that.  Champagne doesn't stain!   And I ought to know, okay?  I am a veteran champagne swigger.  The worst it can do is a light stickiness.  HuffPost says to keep a small bowl of warm water with mild dishwashing soap in it to daub at the sticky spot and then rinse with daubs of clean, warm water. 

Humph - what a bunch of spoilsports!  They'll never taste the stars...poor things.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

When the "Other Woman" in Your Marriage Is ... Your Husband

"Sex Changes, A Memoir of Marriage, Gender and Moving On" by Christine Benvenuto   St. Martin's Press   294 pages   $25.99

Nutshell:  Benvenuta and her husband had been married 20+ years and had three children.  The citizens of their small town in New England (never identified) admired their "perfect" marriage.  And then one night, right after having had sex, he turns to her and says, "I'm thinking constantly of my gender," a prelude to informing her that he now wants to live the rest of his life as a woman.

To say that she reeled in shock is understatement.  The husband becomes a total narcissist, a sea change from being a funny, kind guy who was an excellent father to their children.  All of a sudden, his life was more important and "meaningful" than those of his children.  He began to wear women's underwear under his Dockers and flannel shirts.  He let his hair grow out.  He had his facial hair lasered off.

His therapist, a trans-gender specialist, encouraged him, praising him for his bravery.  His wife, though, was terrified that he would start wearing skirts and dresses in public, the last thing she wanted their kids to see.  They were puzzled enough by his preoccupation with self and his lack of interest in their daily doings.

She makes a point of the attitude of the citizens there by calling their village "The Valley of the Politically Correct."  This translates to:  everyone thought he was a hero, completely ignoring the fact that he was abandoning his wife and three children.  That apparently didn't matter.  They fell over themselves to prove that they were "politically correct" and supportive of him.  So much so, that many of them chided the wife for not being supportive!

They stayed "married" and lived in the family home for two, very long, secret-filled years before getting into a bitter custody battle over the children.

Based on the information given (and there was a lot more than I needed to know about trans-genders and their reasoning and causes of this condition) his father, a rigid, stern, cold man wanted his only son to grow up to be just like him.  The son, terrified of his father, decidedly did not want to be just like his old man.  But ... if he were a woman, he couldn't be!  Simplistic, I know. 

It's an interesting tale and Benvenuda tells it well. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sililcone Kitchen Tools Confuse Me

The above are silicone tools in our kitchen. More on them coming up.

But first, what is it?  It's a largely inert, man-made compound of inorganic silicon plus oxgen with a side group that attaches to the silicon atms.  Okay, we should now know what silicon is, but not having had any chemistry experience at all, I still don't know for sure. 

The advantaes that silicon has:
It doesn't melt easily (although it sure looks like it would) and can withstand temperatures to 400 degrees. 
It's hard to stain.
If something in silicon falls to the floor of the dishwasher while it's running, it won't melt.
Silicon is not porous.  Unlike wood breadboards or wooden spoons, it won't absorb germs.

A disadvantage:  They look and are "floppy" and to our snake brains "Floppy" = "Fragile."  (At least that's what mine is telling me.)

The Sil-Pat baking sheet above is used for baking and candy making.  Since you don't have to butter Sil-Pat, you'll have less grease in the finished product.  You'll never have to buy parchment paper again. 

I visited and got opinions from people who bake.  To a person, they said that cookie bottoms crisp up better on parchment paper.  They say they re-use the parchment until the whole batch of cookies is baked. 

They all complained that Sil-Pat felt "slimy."  When I asked Richie (the one who uses it) he said, "They're fine!  No complaints at all." 

The green frogs (above) are pot holders.  When Richie saw Michelle's in France, he had to have some, too.  I never use them.  They seem clumsy.

The purple "cup" is one of the two egg poachers - called "poach pods" by maker Fusion Brands.  To use them, start a pot of water boiling, oil down the inside of the pod and float the pod on the boiling water.  Break an egg into the pod, put the lid on the pan and let cook for six to eight minutes.  When it's done, pick up the pod with a pair of tongs, run a spoon around inside to loosen the egg, invert over the dish and poke the bottom of the pod with an index finger.  The egg should come right out.  There are three little holes around the top so that you can hook them over a diswasher post in the top portion of the dishwasher.

The lemons are a jar lid opener and I bet it will last longer than its predecessor which was raised-welt rubber... still it really does have a slimy feel to it.  Confusingly enough, I know I'm holding something with a slimy feel too it,  but I'm also sure that it will grip hard and really do the job.   "Slimy and grip hard."  Oxymoron to this moron. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

So We Invited Ourselves to Dinner!

Wouldn't you?  This is the classic English Trifle

We have friends from Great Britain and when I read briefly  about their traditional Boxing Day celebration (a national holiday across the land) I wondered what they did to celebrate?  No point in wondering when I had a source that could tell me.  Subsequent e-mails...

Angie - A modest proposal.  If you will allow us into your home to see how Boxing Day is celebrated, I'll bring the dinner.  (sign) How I long to hear the ancient songs and see the celebratory dances...9a

Nina - Sure.  Come ahead.  We may be wearing pajamas, which is a custom on that day.

A - Do guests wear pajamas, too, or only the natives?  I want to do the right thing...9a

9a - It's optional ... but beware, as we are armed with cameras. A

A - Cool for me.  I wear a hooded track suit, but, uh, Richie sleeps in the nude.  He does pull on sweats and slippers to go out and get the newspapers - is that okay?  9a

Nina!  I'm trying to poke a mental needle into my eye to erase that vision!

Come to find out, no one wore pajamas, there were no ancient songs nor celebratory dances unless you count Angie and their two year old daughter gyrating in front of a kids' program on TV.

John's Mom said that Boxing Day is related to the much older St. Stephen's Day or St. Stephen's Feast.  In Ireland, it commemorates the biblical stories of Jesus, a wren and St. Stephen, an early martyr who was stoned to death for heresy.  His tomb wasn't found until 415 AD.  The day itself is celebrated December 26th in Western churches and December 27th in Eastern churches.

The Irish put on old clothes, don straw hats and take a faux dead wren in a little box from door to door, begging for a penny to bury the poor wren.  This dates back to the Middle Ages, but is said to be waning in popularity now, unfortunately.  How cool would it be to have a stranger, dressed like a bum show up at your front door, holding a box with a dead bird in it, asking for pennies to bury their poor  bird!  ("Richie - get the camera quick!")

Boxing Day is a national holiday (12/26) and dates back to the time when great houses had oceans of servants.  Naturally, the servants worked Christmas Day to serve the lords and ladies and their families, but were given the next day off to go visit their own families.  Traditionally, the Master gave them each a box filled with things for said families.

The traditional foods on Boxing Day are Christmas  leftovers in a buffet and a Trifle for dessert.  This is a heavenly light concoction of:  a sponge cake bottom, well marinated in booze, topped by a cream pudding which is then topped with clouds of whipped cream and sparkly, colored sugar.

When we invited ourselves to dinner, we didn't know this would be the dessert.  Thank God we were so rude!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


This may go far to explain why I was too impatient to sort out the Christmas lights... I was busy, dammit!

"Life Is A Gift, the Zen of Tony Bennet" by Tony Bennett  Harper (books)  250 pages   $28.99

The "zen" of this book are little talking points that follow each chapter.  That isn't too "zen-y" to me, but ...  Bennet thanks and praises everyone he apparently met in his long career (he wrote this book at age 86.)   If he's not lying, he is one of the more modest entertainers ever.  Everyone sang better than he did!

As he's able to sing and/or paint every day, he remarks that he doesn't feel he's worked a day in his life. 

"Creole Belle" by James Lee Burke   Simon & Schuster   528 pages (one of his longer books)   $27.99

Burke has started to go south on my reading pleasure of his works.  His villains are always deformed in notable ways.  Tiring.  This book does have fewer weather/landscape details, but 'way too much WW2 history.  Burke will be in the middle of an action scene -- and interrupt himself to pass on Words of Wisdom in the form of comments on wars, quotes from famous warriors.  Tedious.  Still, his magic can prevail.  He described a shot and a beer back so eloquently that for a second, I wanted to try one.  But if an editor takes out all of his "like a" and "as a" in similes, his writing career is finished.   

"Hotels, Hospitals and Jails" by Anthony Swofford   12 (press)  276 pages   $26.99

This is a son's account of his no-account, martinet of a father and their last attempts to bond when they are both well into adulthood.  Swofford remarks that he thought a road trip in Dad's RV would do it, but it took three different trips to come to an understanding. 

Swofford is amusing enough (lots of bad language and used properly, I like that) but his diffident "Ain't I a tough guy -- with a sensitive streak, too!" is too apparent for too long.  The crux of the entire book is their explaining the other's misdeeds to the do-er.  Both are stubborn, both are determined to win.  In the end, death does. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


That's a silicone cup, the purple thing. Set it in boiling water, add your egg to it, cover the pan and cook for 6 or 8 minutes.

Poor Man's Eggs Benedict - English muffin half, toasted and buttered. Ad a squeeze of lemon, chopped cooked bacon and top with the egg. 

Richie did basic training here.  I think he's secretly expecting to see a photo of himself...

I laugh every time I look at this - it covers a wine bottle.

This is a porcelain cheese server!  How cool is that?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bits and Pieces of Christmas Tinsel

They don't a'caroling go in Hungary.  Instead, a group gathers, dons costumes and goes house-to-house re-enacting the nativity scene.  As with carolers, they are rewarded with food and drink.   This custom is called "playing Bethlehem." 

If you're invited for a "Vigil Dinner" in Poland, you can expect to start by sharing a communion wafer and giving one another Christmas greetings.  The festivities (dinner and then presents) start when the first star peeks out of the night sky.

Christmas celebration days are all over the map in Europe.  Due to the 13-day difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars,  Christmas isn't celebrated until January 7th in Russia.  How's that for being patient about tearing into the loot?

All of these countries celebrate on Christmas Eve - Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Iceland and Norway.  On Christmas day, they generally visit friends and family.

Ireland spends the most to celebrate Christmas.  In 2006, they racked up a grand total of 16 billion Euros or 4,000 Euros PER PERSON.   Traditionally, everyone who has a regular or "home pub" goes there for a free drink, courtesy of the house.  Santa's midnight nosh is a glass of Guinness and a mince pie.  None of this milk and cookies nonsense.

Scotland used to celebrate Christmas pretty much on the down low.  The Church of Scotland was not an enthusiastic supporter of it.  Today, due to the influences of the rest of the United Kingdom, they are loosening up a bit.  But in their hearts, they still prefer to cut loose on "Hogmanay" or New Years Eve.

Christmas must be as weird weather-wise in Australia as it here in Southern California.  It's summer there in December and, as a rule, we generally have sun and temps in the 70s.  Our pastel houses look very strange indeed with the traditional red and green of Christmas decorating them.   To say nothing of palm trees swathed in colored lights. 

The Australians are mad to send cards around and about and the govern,ent encourages it.  Christmas card stamps are cheaper than regular postage, but you have to write "Card Only" on the envelope to get to use them.  

Here at home, I am reminded of my mother's strict admonition for any social gathering:  "Do not discuss politics, religion or how to bring up children."  To these, I would add "gun control."  The evening won't end in genial conviviality, I can promise you.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Local Christmas Scenes

Cats don't get too excited about the holiday; they all have personal shoppers..

I don't  know that I like Santa's proximity to the turkey... especially as he appears to be drunk...

Hey!  There's a cat on my roof!  Supposed to be Santa, isn't it?

The Lady of the House was too indolent to untangle all of the lights...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Writers! The Original Recyclers!

And we've been doing it long before the can and bottle or solar power people got into it.

I would say that a writer's specialty is composting, composting being to save all the bits of onion skin, coffee grounds, potato peels and other vegetable remains in a container (get one with a tight lid) to mellow.  In time, this garbage ripens into a rich additive for your garden.  It turns sickly plants robust in very little time at all.

Writers take bits and pieces of ideas, stow them in our brains to percolate and then, with any luck at all, we get The Idea that creates a piece that will amuse, intrigue or educate others.  Over the centuries, I have no idea how many sickly people we've cured (if any) but if we provided a laulgh or encouraged someone to look into something more fully, then we've done our job.

An example:  On November 21st I ran the title "Thanksgiving Etiquette Tips."  Since many of the writers at the South Bay Writers Workshop have recently gotten the "My Turn" column in the Daily Breeze ( my competitive spirit surged to the fore.  So  I did a little re-write to make it suitable for Christmas since T-Day had passed and submitted it.   Rather immediately, back it came with the editor's message that he liked it well enough to run it, but it was only 330 words and the column needs 600+.

My style is to try to convey an idea in the fewest words necessary and having to go back in and "fatten up" a piece is difficult.  Most writers know when they've said all they want to say on a given subject and I'm the leader of the pack.

However the Butler's Guide came to my rescue with a whole new riff on acceptable manners -- respond to an invitation within two days, etc.  With new material to lead off the old article, I made the 600 word count and it ran this morning.  And the new bits that fattened it up?  I used them for yesterday's blog!

My business card should read, "Nina Murphy, Writer and Composter." 

COMMENT:  "How very true."  d.vermillion

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Be the Best Guest There!

First things first.  If someone is kind enough to invite you into their home, answer their invitation - aye or nay - within two days of getting it.  Your host has to know more than "vaguely" how many people are comoing to insure that there's plenty of food and wassil.

In fact, there are set amounts for which bottle size serves X number of people.  Addtitionally, you probably have a pretty good idea about your friends capacities.

Californians have been irritating me for years with a response like this, "Oh, that sounds like so much fun.  We'll try to pop by."  I do not want to here that you may deign to attend, I want to know if you are going to come or not.  I want you off of my mind, one way or another.  So be forthright when you answer an invitation.

A lot of people do bring wine to a gathering, but don't depend on it.  And, uh, you don't have to drink all of the booze in the house at your event.  I think it's called the Innkeeper's Law and it means that if you let a guest depart, sloshed to the gills and something happens to said guest, you will be held responsible. 

Take care with silverware, guests.  Long ago an excited guest absent-mindedly put a good fork in the trash.  She'd carelessly swiped off her plate and the fork went with it.  And I didn't discover this until long after the trash had been taken out. 

If it's a buffet or family-style dinner with passed serving bowls, try to put the serving spoon back in it's original dish.  The salad tongs don't bring a lot to the candied yams, if you get my drift.

If you have small children, spring for a babysitter!  Don't bring little kids (or the family dog) to an adult party (this means alcohol is involved.)  They're a distraction and have no business being with the grown ups.  They'll age quickly enough and can then hang out with their own age-appropriate friends.

Have a great holiday (and listen for your mother's voice here) "Mind your manners!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Delivers All Right!

This is the first time I've done this, but these are stressful times and a good laugh is called for from all.  Apparently my thoughts as a child were incorrect.  Santa is not a huggable, lovable bowl of cherries.  Or else times have changed.  Probably that (sigh.)

Dear Santa,
How are you?  How is Mrs. Claus?  I hope everyone from the reindeer to the elves is fine. 
Merry Christmas, Timmy Jones

Dear Timmy
Thank you for your letter.  Mrs. Clause, the reindeer and the elves are all fine and thank you for asking about them.

Santa is a little worried at all of the time you spend playing video games and texting.  Santa wouldn't want you to get fat.  Since you have indeed been a good boy, I think I'll bring you something you can go outside and play with.
Merry Christmas, Santa Claus

Mr. Claus:
Seeing that I have fulfilled the "naughty vs. nice" clause, set by you, I might add, I feel confident that you can see your way clear to granting me what I have asked for this year.  I certainly wouldn't want to turn this joyous season into one of litigation.  Also, don't you think that a jibe at my weight coming from an overweight man who goes out once a year a bit unfair?
Respectfully, Tim Jones

Mr. Jones:
While I have acknowledged you have met the "nice" criteria, need I remind you that your Christmas list is a request and in no way is it a guarantee of services to be provided?

Should you wish to pursue legal action, well, that is your right. 

Please know, however, that my attorneys have been on retainer ever since the Burgermeister Meisterburger incident and will be more than eager to take you on in open court.

Additionally the exercise I alluded to will not only improve your health, but also improve your social skills and potentially help clear up a complexion that looks like the bottom of the Burger King fry bin most days.
Very truly yours,
S. Claus

Now look here, Fat Man - I told you what I want and I expect you to bring it.  I was attempting to be polite about this, but you brought my looks and my friends into it.  Now you just be disrespecting me.  I'm about to tweet my boys and we're gonna be waiting for your fat ass and I'm taking my game console, phone and whatever else I may want.

Listen Pizza Face
Seriously???  You think a dude that breaks into every house in the world on one night and never gets caught sweats a little G-banger wannabe?  "He sees you when you're sleeping.  He knows when you're awake."  Sound familiar, genius?

You know what kind of resources I have at my disposal.  I got your stuff wired, Jack.  I go all around the world and see ways to hurt people that if I described them to you right now, you throw up your pizza all over the carpet of your mom's basement. 

You are NOT getting what you asked for, but I'm still stopping by your crib to stomp a mud hole in your ass and then walk it dry.  Chew on that, Petunia.  S Clizzy

Dear Santa,
Bring whatever you see fit.  I'll appreciate anything.

That's what I thought, you little not tough enough to take on Santa.

Author Unknown

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Butler Did It!

"The Butler's Guide To Running the Home and Other Graces" by Stanley Ager and Fiona St. Aubyn   Clarkson-Potter Publishers   205 pages   $21.99

Mr. Ager, as he was known downstairs; simply "Ager" to the upstairs, moved up from starting as a hallboy (errand runner) at age 14 in 1922 to a career of 53 years "in service" as it was called then.  He had advanced steadily up the masthead, so to speak, in various great houses.

A butler was the CEO of the household, followed by the head housekeeper (always a female) and then the cook.  Some of these great homes had a staffof 40 people encompassing all sorts of jobs from dairymaid to ironer to valet to the master of the house or lady's maid to the lead female.  Upper and lower staff were expected to conduct their business and be silent about it.

At the butler's level, they could be choosy about where they chose to serve.  The ideal was an owner who had a London house (for amusements on their day off,) another in the country and who traveled extensively.  The butler wanted to see the world, too!

The lower staff worked like donkeys for very low wages, but they considered themselves lucky.  They were warm, well-fed and housed, comforts that not every uneducated person might have.

Times have changed in lots of little details.  Ager cursed the person that insisted on copper pots and pans for the kitchen.  He politely said that daily polishing of them was a pain in the arse.  "In the old days," he said, "when our people were away and we had time on our hands, we polished the bindings of the books in the library" and then proceeds to tell us how to do it!  He marveled that they used sea salt in bulk for various cleaning jobs because it was cheap but  today is considered a valuable addition to the dinner table!

Servants were not meek people who docilely did what they were told.  They had their means of revenge, too.  When the house hosted a jerk who ran them rudely around on pointless errands (to show off)  why then at the nightly polishing they would cut every other stitch holding the sole onto the shoe.  Days later and miles away, the sole would come off of the shoe and they were never suspected.

Butlers could be rude with impunity.  Ager was seeing to the comforts of a guest.  He came into the guest's room to find he had simply strewn his clothes all over the floor.  Haughtily, Ager told the guest, "You made this mess; you pick it up for I am not going to do it," spun on his heel and departed.

Living in an atmosphere of "class hath privileges" must have been an interesting experience.  Ager remarked more than once that it was a good system.  Everyone knew their place in the scheme of things and there was no confusion about who did what.

Would never work today, sadly.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

And That's That

I was trying to think like an actuary (the people that predict numbers vs. accidents by type among other things.)  I am not gifted at maths.  You've been warned.

The US population recently numbered 314, 395, 013 souls.  Which was said to be a delight to nerds as it equals Pi times 100 million.  Good for them!

Now, if we assume that one-third of the population is babies and numbers 103,750,035; another third is people too old to handle a weapon then one-third of the population is left.
The people that are the right age to commit shootings.  If we remove .05% of that population as barking mad/ clinically insane, then we have 51,875,175 potential assasins. 

Since apparently any wing nut can buy a gun, all we can do is settle back and wait for the next massacre.  Welcome to life in America. 

But...   it's just such a pity that they don't shoot themselves FIRST.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Columbine, CO - NRA 13, Columbine O
Aurora, CO - NRA 12, Aurora O
Tucson, AZ - NRA 5, Tucson O
Newton, CN - NRA 28, Newton O

When will the gun laws be changed?

Aren't Foreigners Funny?

We all know what we do to celebrate the holiday season which might be Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanza depending on the household celebrating.  Suddenly curious I wondered what's going on in the rest of the world while we're busy ripping into packages and digging in stocking toes.  Wikipedia to the rescue!

I'm not sure this is the real Christmas spirit somehow... In Nigeria the financially comfortable leave their smart cities to descend on their poor relations in the villages and on the farms.  They are eagerly awaited and given a day to get over any rigors of the trip.  Then the locals pounce!   "Help me out here!" They want money! 

The very comfortable financially make a point of calling a family gathering and then toss money into the air while laughing at the ensuing scramble for the money.  This strikes me as rather mean spirited.  Still it makes for a diversion for the rich so someone gets something good out of it. 

India has proclaimed Christmas a national holiday despite the fact that only 2.3 per cent of the population are Christians!  That old hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" comes to mind...

Due to the fact that many of us are greedy, the name for this holiday in many countries is "Big Day" or "Great Day."  Clearly fireworks, sumptious meals and presents we didn't pay for are very influential in calling a spade a spade.

Pakistan wriggled not to have to call it "Christmas" and celebrated accordingly.  Since one of the country's founders - Jinneh - was born December 25th (or was he?) they celebrate that fact.   

Sri Lankans call Christmas "Nattala" for natal or birth.  Impatiently, they start celebrating December 1st which is nearly as bad as our habit of starting Christmas right after Halloween.  Here in the South Bay, you could buy your tree November 28th.  And good luck keeping it fresh until January 6th. 

There are so few Christians in China that they tend to celebrate privately, behind closed doors, despite the fact that greeting cards are exchanged and Christmas trees are a favorite decorative item in the big city malls.  Hong Kong calls it a national holiday and to their cash registers, I don't doubt for a moment that it is. 

A 1970s ad campaign in Japan was so successful that to this day it is a tradition to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken for a meal at this  time of year!   I wonder if they eat the chicken with fingers or chop sticks? 

For overly enthusiastic Christmas fans I think that the Philippines has to be the hands-down winner.  Christmas begins September 1st there! 

December 7th is the Day of the Candles in Columbia, much like the candles stuck in sand in paper sacks in Santa Fe, NM.  A beautiful sight if something of a fire hazard.  On December 16th, the many Catholics in Columbia start the Christmas novena which ends on the 24th with midnight mass before an enormous feast where the presents are opened.  Nothing much happens on the 25th, apparently it is a Recovery Day. 

In Venezuela, churchs and neighborhoods hold "patinatas," a gathering for children to try out that new bike or skateboard or roller skates. 

The Czechs are a superstitious lot.  At this time of year, to predict the events of the coming year, an apple is cut in half.  If the pattern of the core is a perfect star, good for you!  Prosperity lies ahead.  If the star is badly-formed...not so much.  Worst of all, if it forms a cross, You Are Doomed.  This seems a little harsh for a day that is supposed to celebrate a birth.   Unmarried women toss a shoe over their shoulder.  If it lands with the toe pointing at a door, they will be married soon.  It is considered cheating, I would imagine, to stand with your back against the door and slide the shoe down your back,  toe first. 

Christmas in other parts of the world proved to be fascinating and there's still Europe to go.  In Sweden the girls set their hair on fire... just kidding.  They wear wreathes with lit candles!  Don't get all excited.    We have our ways; others have theirs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"At Home" II

What follows is all too interesting not to share.

Bryson has moved on to the bathroom.  Talking about cleanliness and how the Brits hated water until 1702, he remarks that, "The ancient Greeks were devoted bathers.  They loved to get naked - gymnasium means "the naked place."   Which came as news to this writer.

Noted diarist, Samuel Pepys remarked about sea bathing at Bath or Buxted, "Methinks it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water."

By the time Europeans began to visit what would become America, the resident Indians marveled at how badly they smelled!

An enterprising Philadelphian installed a shower in his garden, but his wife refused to try it for nearly a year.  Her excuse?  Never having been wet all over at once for 28 years.

Queen Anne finally turned the tide of the public's fear of water after she claimed that a visit to Bath's waters had helped her gout.  Bryson indicates that it wasn't gout, but her glutinous appetite.

Benjamin Franklin practiced "air baths" wherein he basked, stark naked in front of an open window.  It didn't seem to harm him although he was just as dirty after as before.  Imagine what the neighbors said?

People bathed naked at the sea.  Only the modest covered themselves in robes or blankets which did nothing to improve their swimming skills and many drowned.  The Prince of Wales disliked having his subjects see him naked in the sea, so he had built for him a private bath, filled with sea water. 

But people were slow to accept the idea of "being clean."  In 1861, an English doctor published a book entitled "Baths and How To Take Them." 

Bryson believes that the Victorians had a penchant for self-punishment.  An early version of a shower was so powerful that users had to don protective head gear "lest they be beaten senseless by their own plumbing."  Bryson is a masterfully-phrased writer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Digressionist

"At Home - A Short History of Private Life" by Bill Bryson   Doubleday   497 pages   $28.95

Bryson is the kind of guy that you should be warned NOT to ask him, "What time is it?" because he will tell you the history of keeping time, how to make a watch, why Swiss watches are better made than any other country's, what the most durable metal is for the case as well as a dissertation on the merits of a leather vs. a metal band. 

"At Home" is an examination of the Victorian parsonage in Norfolk, Great Britain, in which he and his wife live.  He describes the rooms, the functions assigned to each and from that springboard leaps rather high above the information pool with  information about  agriculture, the invention of electric lights, bat guano and more.  Today I am reading about Jefferson's Monticello and Lincoln's Mount Vernon which are rather far afield from Norfolk. 

Some tidbits gleaned:  Having a well-kept lawn told passers-by that you were well off enough to have a lawn (pretty) and didn't need to conserve that space for a vegetable garden for the family dining table (practical use of space.) 

In medieval times, the only source of heat was an open hearth.  The heat was disseminated in all directions and people could sit on the surrounding rim.  A major disadvantage was the smoke that wreathed the ceilings and drifted below them. 

Fireplaces had been brought to England by the Normans, but the natives didn't like them.  Only one side of the fire was hot; there wasn't nearly as much light from a fireplace as from an open hearth.  People muttered that it was healthier to be "well kippered in wood smoke."

Bryson wrote that had we seen a typical drawing room in the mid-1700s we would have thought we were in a doctor's waiting room.  Chairs were pressed up against the walls.  If company arrived, the number of chairs necessary to seat them were drawn into a circle, everyone sat down and conversation became stilted because, essentially, if you opened your mouth, you were "on." 

It's quite an interesting book for as knowledgeable as it is.  Many "let me explain this to you" books are monumentally, stiflingly boring, but Bryson has a light touch.  He describes the area around his parsonage as ""Where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped."

Monday, December 10, 2012

At the Jazz Club

The Welded Belt Buckles danced up a storm
Lou and Bernie

The club is very proud of our resident dancers, Polly and Jerry

Double Saxophones!

My younger sister and this lovely woman could be twins.  Uncanny resemblance.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Impressions At a Funeral II

When the blessings got sorted out and people were back in their seats, we rose once again for the coffin's passage back up the aisle, sharp left, out the double doors and into the back of a cream-colored hearse.  We were given the option of dropping out then or accompanying the casket to the graveside.  I muttered to Richie, "In for a penny, in for a pound" and strode off toward our car in the vast parking lot.

I think everyone present had driven there in separate cars; the line following the hearse was so long that a groundskeeper in a golf cart had to come back to lead the rest of us to the right place. 

I walked in the street as far as it was possible to do, then grabbed Richie's arm and off we stepped into the lumpy grass with open holes in the ground for vases.  I am not used to wearing "heels (or shoes for that matter; Uggs in winter and boat shoes in summer are exactly like going barefoot) so it was a treachery-fraught journey for me.  To be truthful, I spent that ceremony standing on Oscar Padillo's flat grave marker.  (Thanks, Oscar!)

I looked around with interest and discovered that we had a different priest officiating.  Apparently the facility has Indoor and Outdoor Priests which is rather lavish on their part.

The new one had a golf course tan and a boyish look, but then I noticed that his hands were those of an old person (and I had only to look down at my own to confirm this.)

His gray hair was cut neatly, with a side part and one little forehead strand cunningly combed in the reverse direction of the rest of it.  Gentlemen, a free tip for obtaining the boyish look. 

At the end of the graveside service, we were invited to stay for the actual placement of the coffin in the hole.  I said to Richie, "Let's go watch from the car so I can sit down, these shoes (2 in. heels) are killing me!"  He grinned and said, 'Go ahead - in for a penny, in for a pound!" and sauntered off for a good spot from which to see everything.

As I sat, I reviewed all that I had just seen.  Indoor Priest had liberally sprinkled the coffin with (presumably) holy water as did Outdoor Priest.  Neither one of them though had swug the censor for which I was intensely grateful.  I remembered my mother-in-law's service where the priet was so enthusiastic that he nearly gassed out the first three rows of pews.   It was so ghastly that prior to my father-in-law's funeral, we all begged the funeral director to tell the officiating priest not to be that into it.  I'm not kidding - great clouds of incense which took quite awhile to disperse.  Every asthmatic in the place was gasping in desperation.

Richie returned to the car and we drove back to the facility for the Reception.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Impressions At A Funeral

The mortuary's printed program was:  Viewing 10 a.m., Funeral Mass at 1 p.m., Reception 2:30 p.m.

So we prepared accordingly, shooting for 12:30 p.m.  It wasn't as far as we'd thought it would be so there we were at 12 noon.  At the Viewing Room door, a lady usher told us that the Rosary had begun, but we could go inside anyhow.  (Rosary?  What Rosary?  The program hadn't mentioned it.)  The door was thick, the voices inside had been inaudible out in the silent hall and the other side of the door was a shock.  The room was packed!  I haven't seen that many people in one place since the Dairy-Queen gave out full-size samples back in 1967.

We huddled by the door trying to either climb inside the frame or into the wall.  And still more people came in groups of three, five... By the time they hit the third Mystery, I was ready to bail.  If you have not said nor heard it, the Rosary could be described as fairly repetitious.  I got my chance when only a moment later, the door swung open and four more people edged their way in.  Seizing this opportunity, I went out the door into the lobby.  I told the woman at the door that I was giving up my place in favor of family members; that we were there only as good friends of the deceased's son. 

Here I sat down, quietly writing these notes until the usher, who had been listening at a crack in the door, urgently waved to me and said, "They're starting the eulogies now!"  I came willingly, but I was greatly puzzled -- the Rosary hadn't been announced and now this sudden segue from the Rosary into listening to the eulogy seem rather abrupt.  Not that I would know.

It must be said that my only frame of reference for Catholic funerals were the Masses for my mother-in-law and later father-in-law.  Looking back on these events of 20 years ago, I don't remember the Rosary being read nor any eulogies from the pulpit or at graveside.  "Must be they do it differently out here," I thought and squeezed back into my allotted 2 sq. in. of space. 

The oldest son eulogized their mother and then three of the nieces rose up from the front rows and, to a favorite Hawiian song, began a dance to celebrate the deceased in the space just in front of the coffin.  They were very graceful and moved as one person.  It was my first hula at a funeral, but our friend had said that it would be an "island funeral."

With barely a five minute respite, we were ushered into the chapel from the Viewing room where pews with heavenly-comfortable long cushions awaited us.  It was considerably bigger than the prervious room and everyone spread out accordingly.  

The order of the service:  welcoming the casket by the priest at the top of the aisle while a soloist sang "Amazing Grace."  Then, safely back in his pulpit, the casket parked in front of him, the priest issued a sort of multi-purpose absolution of all present with a general forgiveness thrown in for all.  Then a bit of Scripture, followed by a duet.

The priest has a breathy, whispery voice - like Jackie Kennedy.  He kind of creeped me out at the welcoming of the casket.  This breathy little voice was going on about how the coffin coverlet (from the altar - and they take it back at the end of the funeral) is "like a warm blanket for her; she is comfortable now."  I didn't think mentioning "warmth" around a dead person was very tactful.  Nor that he was doing the grieving any good by suggesting that she's still alive inside there and all she needed was a blanket. 

The next funny thing the priest did was this:  during his telling of the Mary and Martha and Jesus story, he acted out the voices!  Martha was high-pitched; Jesus was a calming baritone.   

He troubled me further in his Mass of Saints.  His insider knowledge was that "everyone you know that has died is with us here and now."  He then launched into "Jesus is coming to all who are troubled" with zest and then he gave a sort of General Absolution and moved on to the gifts. 

Two family members were sent up the aisle to the back of the chapel, returning with a small, wrapped gift each.  The soloist sang "Ave Maria"with the priest kind of moo-ing along with her.  At first I couldn't figure out what or who was making that noise, but then the fat lady with the big hat in front of me shifted and I could see that it was him. 

Possibly enrvated by his moo-through of "Ave Maria, he enthusiastically offered to bless us with the Eucarist "Even if you haven't made your Confession in some time, just come up here and stand with your hand over your heart to show you love Jesus and I will bless you with the Eucharist!" he shouted, maniacally waving around a communion wafer.  Much of the audience surged forth while the soloist sang "Come Home."  I was reminded of a genteel sort of revival. 

And, despite it being a Catholic service, the Jews got shout-outs by his several mentions of "the Passover dinner" with a couple of "Shalom!"s thrown in for good measure.  All very inter-faith and welcome for that.

To Be Continued.  I'm not done with this thing yet. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Paula Deen Talks Funny

She's a mighty famous cook what lives down there in Savannah?  She don't put no "g"s on the ends of her adverbs ner verbs. 

And she writes funny, too.  In this sixth book of hers she mentions that she dictates books and the tapes are transcribed by someone else.

"Well kick me runnin'" is an expression I'd not heard.  Of her dog, Otis, "His head is harder than my arteries." 

Her cooking, billed as Southern Plantation, is difficult to describe in this respect.  Not one of the recipes in the book that I've come across is what I'd call "healthy."  She puts cream cheese in her lasagna!

She calls this "Sawmill Gravy" but I'd call it "Death Wish Personified"

1 lb. ground sausage (and I don't reckon she's talkin' none of that turkey ner tofu sausage neither)
4 slices thick-cut bacon  She doesn't say to, but I'd cut it in smaller strips
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T all-purpose flour
1 teas. salt
2 teas. black pepper
2 cups half-and-half
2 T butter

Saute the meats, onions and garlic together; add the flour and seasonings and cook for one minute, stirrin' constantly.  Gradually stir in the half-and-half, still stirrin' constantly till the gravy thickens.  Stir in the butter and serve it over biscuits.   

Nine ingredients and five of them are bad for you.

She frequently mentions "House Seasoning" which is:  1 cup salt, 1/4 cup black pepper and 1/4 cup garlic powder.

Instead of going to go read a scary novel about a psycopathic murderer, I'm going to go Google the menu for "The Lady & Sons restaurant, Savanna, GA."  I can feel the frissons of terror even now!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Road Trip Report

As far as "road trip" goes, it wasn't much of a trip - 50 miles one way, but we did have plenty of roads.  The 105 Freeway east to the 605 north to the 10 east and then several surface roads in Claremont.  It was 55 minutes going and by using the 210 to the 605 south, we shaved off another five minutes on the way home.

Claremont is a pretty little town with avenues of elm trees.  Point-of-fact, Claremont's trees have never been exposed to Dutch elm disese which has killed most of the rest of the elms in California.

Despite the number of higher learning institutions found here, the population in 2010 was only 34,926.  Many of the residents are professors at the various schools and/or retired from teaching. 

Claremont is called "The City of Trees and PhDs."  Forbes named it one of the five best places to live in the United States not long ago.  Usually air quality in northeast Los Angeles is poor due to the fact that the mountains ringing the city hold in the pollution and smog, but apparently Claremont has so many trees that it's not a problem here. 

Most of the buildings are short, not more than two stories tall.  Many of the houses are clearly old with Victorians and 1905-style bungalows.  Wood shingles are a popular house covering as are '30s style big front porchs. 

Teaching and big retirement facilities are the main industries.  One of the senior housing projects, Claremont Manor, employs 230 people.  Because Bob and Pat live there, they know the details.  Tipping is strictly forbidden.  Instead, residents pay $1 a day for the days they were in residence for the year.  A full year would equal $365.  This money is pooled and then divided among the employees based on the length of their services there.  The old-times get more than the new hires which is a good way to motivate new employees to stay and to keep the ones already on hand.

We took a tour of the Village (bank and post office) and I noticed that passers-by on the sidewalks always smiled and many of them said, "Hello."  Pat says even the children are polite.  She takes little walks and said that the kids always stop, smile and say hello and that it is charming.

Claremont does have a charm of its own; the Village has iconic little shops, very little traffic and, of course, all of those tree-lined streets and broad avenues.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Road Trip Today!

Going to Claremont, CA, to see Bob and Pat.  If Richie ever gets out of the shower so that I can get in, that is...Highlights, details and any good gossip tomorrow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Rude Awakening to a Sad Truth

I am old.  And the odds are pretty good that you are, too.  Nevermind you went skydiving over the weekend or did a Century bike ride.  You're old anyhow because if you were born before 1960, we are living in a completely different world than the one we grew up in.

See if you can identify with this pre-1960 life:  Daddy went to work, taking the family car; Mother stayed home to watch the kids, do housework and cook.  Those newfangled television sets?  Let's not rush into buying one...

Saturdays the parents ran errands because the car was home again.  We routinely went to church and came home to a more lavish lunch than weekdays.  We enjoyed Fred Allen or Jack Benny on the radio.  In retrospect, it was a calm life because everyone knew what was expected of them.

Today?   Not so much. 

When and why did I realize this horrifying fact? (The Age Thing.)  It's my lamentable habit to read the Letters to the Editor columns in the newspapers, magazines and online columns in the pathetic delusion that this further research gives me insight into "what the people really want." 

Boy was I wrong!  The Presidential election proved to me beyond the possibility of any doubt that I was wrong.  Letter after letter vilified the sitting President.  He won.

And then I had a conversation with a friend who is 91.  She was lamenting child care today and remarked that one of her great-grandchildren has logged more air miles at a young age than she has in old age!  I chimed in with having a live-in nanny until until the child is school age when the nanny is dismissed.  Although this could be said to be a healthy lesson to teach the child  about the impermancnce of people...  Another friend, a university professor, remarked that a third of his class members pass their time with him texting away on their smart phones.

I thought, "Boy, it wasn't like that in my day!" and then, suddenly I realized that this isn't my day any longer.  It's "their" day and the best thing for me to do is to sit back and see what happens next.  Keep a prudent eye on my money, be more flexible in general and just relax.  A new day deserves new thinking, after all. 

Oh! And to turn my cell phone on when I carry it. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Too Many Goodbyes

Today I'd like to pause and ask for your good thoughts to be sent to the following ...

The family of Joyce Peterson, who died age 94.
Bob and Pat Brodsky on the death of their oldest son Bobby, 60.
Tony Israel whose mother died this past Wednesday.
Wayne Vermillion whose Kathy, his wife of nearly 50 years just died of cancer started by a melanoma. 

                                                               Godspeed All.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pondering the Craziness of the Very, Very Rich

"W" magazine sent along a copy of their gift guide with this month's issue.  In an excess of the cutes, each page has a different theme.  "Show Me The Money" deals with emeralds, glittery clothing - a pair of gold lame hot pants for $795 for not enough material to cover your front and back at the same time, black diamond mascara.  "Tech Support" is black, white and silver items including a chair for $1,659. "All that Glitters" advertises a Chanel dress for $42,300. (not a typo - $42,300.)

They thoughtfully  have provided items for the kids on your list with "Wild Child" a page that includes a pair of baby-sized Diesel jeans for $89; a True Religion t-shirt for your three year old for $44 and Gucci velcro-fastened shoes for the one year old who is learning to walk and tie his shoes - $295. 

To encourage a future career as a rock star, "W" thoughtfullyincluded a junior drum set for $220 and shortbread cookies that look like miniature guitars for $58 a dozen!  For cookies!  I can just hear a woman on the phone, "Oh, three boxes - Micah doesn't have anything to take to the nursery school Let's All Celebrate! party." 

In my world, it goes like this:  a summer baby wears a diaper and a t-shirt; a winter baby wears Target sweats.  It is pointless to try to spiff up a baby.  They don't have the bodies for designer clothes.  You may be quite svelte again after giving birth, but let's face it - the minute babies are born, they begin eating and there goes a light birth weight and a slender figure.  Better to buy something nice for yourself.  Almost every baby I'e ever seen has fat little arms and legs and more than something of a belly.  No Gucci shoes or Diesel jeans are going to change that.

Such is the craze for dressing your kids up that there is a Web site with photos of celebrities and their children.  The captions are (supposedly) written by young Suri Cruise, off-spring of Tom and Katie Holmes.  It's called "Suri's Burn Book" and the tagline is "Just because you don't have a Ferrigamo handbag doesn't mean you can behave like a child. (I'm looking at you, Shiloh")  Shiloh Jollie-Pitt dresses in a very boyish way in case you're not all that much into fashion or kids.   Frankly, neither am I.  And certainly not at those prices!

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Get It, But I Don't Really Get It

"LudoBites - Recipes and Stories from the Pop-up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebvre" with JJ Goode and Krissy Lefebvre   Harper Collins Publishers   373 pages   $24.99 

Pop-up restaurants occur when a chef has lost his own kitchen (restaurant) but is able to borrow another's on a short lease; hence his restaurant "pops-up."  They are advertised by word-of-mouth and Twitter.   It's a gypsy-style life. 

Lefebvre is young, clearly talented (has trained in some of the fanciest restos around) and in fact is listed as one of the 50 Best Chefs in America.  I'm old-fashioned and I don't "get" using agar-agar, sheet after sheet of gelatin or a PolyScience smoking gun (instant smoked taste) a sous-vide or immersion blenders. 

He specializes, he says, in keeping the same flavors but in new forms for classic dishes.  That would help explain his Bouillabaise Milk Shake (his wife wouldn't even taste it) or adding Gruyere marshmallows to the classic bread soup.  He never hesitates to mix meat with sweet as in his "Chocolate Cupcakes with Fois Gras Chantilly Cream and Maple-bacon Coulis, Carmelized dragees and Balsamic-maple syrup." 

He is passionately fond of using ice cream as a garnish.  He handmakes his own.  I noted that his "mustard ice cream" called for only 1/4 teas. of tumeric and no other mustard at all. 
His cauliflower ice cream was created to go with a roast, I believe. 

His other go-to favorite is fois gras.  Now that California has banned the sale and use of it, I bet he just about tore out his hair. 

His cooking style is interesting, certainly, but I'm not so sure how "meaningful" it is in the sense that he really is breaking new ground or just a passing fad.  Time and Twitter will tell.   

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No Eagles Were Harmed in This Experiment

"They're so tight they can make an eagle scream" is an expression used to describe someone who is so reluctant to spend money that they can make the eagle on a quarter scream in pain when it's pried from their hand.

Despite what this may sound like to you as it unfolds, I can assure you in front of God and two other responsible witnesses that the eagle on the quarter in my change purse never let out a peep.  Not from July 10th to yesterday, a time span of four months.

My long-term windfall began innocently enough.  Richie and I decided to go to La Vegas for three days, beginning July 10th.  To fund my gambling, I withdrew five $20s from my account and stowed all but one of them in the back of my checkbook (which is an excellent hiding place, by the way.)

I lost $4 at video poker at the Rio and I exerted so much effort winning it back that I really didn't have the stomach to dip into my fund and gamble more.

Once home, the money languished in my calendar until we flew to Marseilles for that wedding.  I wanted some walking around money and Richie wanted to cash in some traveler's checks.  We walked into the nearst bank and were politely told, "Oh, no, we do not accept American money -- and, Monsieur, no one in France will take your traveler's checks."

Richie is rather stubborn and he tried three other banks to no avail.  So my $100 had a free tour of France.  Again it languished unspent through September.

On October 11th, I took $40 with me to the jazz club and bought the first pitcher of beer ($14 with $26 leftover)  At the end of October, we hit a couple library book sales, but the grand total for that was maybe $6.50.  I remember a couple of runs into the supermarket and paying cash for such as two sandwich rolls or a pound of hambuger or a can of corn.  I paid $7 cash for a prescription drug.

Yesterday I was finally down to a dollar bill and a dollar's worth of change.  Make no mistake, I can spend like a drunken sailor when I'm using a credit card (and, sadly, often have) but it takes me a long time to spend it when it's cash.  I mean, cash is worth something, right?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Flocked Christmas Trees Are an Insult to God!

Not that I feel strongly about flocked Christmas trees or anything...

Despite the fact that today is November 28th, our two local Christmas tree yards, both in Hermosa Beach, are up and doing business.  The Kiwanis lot at Pier and Pacific Coast Highway is selling - to the best of my recollection - all green trees, or "trees au natural" if you will. 

Debbie and Jeff's Christmas trees on the corner of 21st and Pacific Coast Highway has several small trees, painted in aggressive pastels; a rather fluorescent pink; finger paint blue and a sorta neon white.  Our route home from the gym passes Debbie and Jeff's and this morning the flocked trees were nowhere in sight and I thought, "Thank God, I don't have to see them!" until I realized that the tarp-covered short bundles next to a shed were probably those very trees.  We're supposed to have rain today which would undoubtedly improve their looks...But old Debs and the Jeff-ster have them protected. 

Why this unrelenting rage against a poor 'lil ole flocked tree?  Okay, it's convoluted.  See if you can follow along with the mad reasoning of a seriously-deranged person. (That would be me, of course)  Christmas is celebrated to honor the birth of a man, born in extremely humble circumstances - and I've always wondered how Mary managed to give birth in a manger which is a feeding trough to me, usually located about four feet off of the barn floor. 

Anyhow, where was I?  The newborn's parents were sehltering in the manger in the desert around a burg called "Bethlehem."

This particular birth is simplicity itself.  There were no hotel rooms with gold faucet taps or an available spa.  There were no flocked trees in the manger's lobby 'cause there wasn't even a lobby.

Moving on.  God is credited with creating everything in the world - oceans, mainlands, deserts, mountains and furnishing them with shores, cliffs and forests.  God made several varieties of trees - some bear nuts, others vegetables or fuits and some just sit there, looking pretty in groups or alone.  You could say that posing is their job.

My point is:  if these trees "as is" were/are beautiful to God, who are we to come along gild the lily?  I knew you'd see it my way. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Boxing Day cont'd

Now I'm thinking "food."  It needs to be substantial because no dinner offered; it has to be winter appropriate so no pastis or salsa and chips...

Leafing through a cookbook, I came across these... mini Reuben sandwiches on party rye -- corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.  Nope, too messy.   I considered Won Tons, but too labor intensive.   All of the meat kabobs were out as we don't have an outdoor grill and I'm not really crazy about using Broil on the oven. 

There was a recipe, called "Onion-buttered Tidbits" which was pita pockets cup open slathered with Lipton's Onion Soup Mix and butter, then cut into triangles and baked in a 325 oven.  Do you know how much salt onion dip mixes have? 

No, I think I'll stay with the tried and true.   Things people have actually devoured.  To my amazement, one of those things is quesadillas!  I get the medium-size tortilla --- the ones the size of tablecloths would make more of them at once, but I don't think I have a pan large enough to cook them. 

QUESADILLAS - flour tortilla, chopped Swiss cheese (lovely buttery flavor) and that's it.  Fold the tortilla in half, butter the top side and fry the "dry" side in butter, peek and flip them onto the buttered side and finish.  Cut them into slices with a pizza cutter, plate them and have fresh salsa sitting beside that plate. 

They're labor intensive, but I love them.  Pigs in Blankets  (doesn't date me too much!  I think these were a '50s hottie...)  
Tube of Crescent rolls, dough spread out flat on a cutting board.  "Butter" with Coleman's mustard and orange marmalade.  Now cut them into strips and wind them around mini-Lil Smokies or hot dogs and bake at whatever heat the roll package says to use.

 I also like a bunch of the frozen appetizers -- mushroom and Brie pastries,  shrimp won tons with various sauces beside them;  Bacon-wrapped scallops, Mac and Cheese balls - surprisingly supple...quiches that can be cut in thin slices...  Brace yourself, Trader Joe, I'm going to be inbound!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tah Dah! (Yet) Another Holiday to Celebrate!

From my voracious reading, I'm familiar with English writers and their mentions of "Boxing Day."

You may not be, so to explain, it's the day in Great Britain set aside for giving servants and tradespeople a "Christmas box" of money, treats or goods.  It's a national holiday there and in many other countries, pretty much, just not America. 

It could be compared to our (loathsome) "Black Fridays."

We used to have a Christmas Eve Open House from 3 to 7 p.m. and the idea was that if you were going somewhere else, take time to pop into our house for a drink and a bite and be on your merry way.  If you didn't have anything else to do, well, come early and stay late!

Christmas day parties (and I only tried  it once) don't really work out.  Most people have set routines with family and/or friends.

But most of our friends are older and I don't like to think of them driving in the dark which now arrives around 4:30 p.m.

So I thought, what about a Boxing Day party from 1 to 4 p.m., same rules as for Christmas Eve?  Since none of us have servants, I thought it might be fun to trade off any White Elephants received for Christmas.  Some light-hearted horse trading would be tremendous fun!

For this kind of event, you need to offer substantial appetizers because it's not a sit-down dinner.  I bought a three-dish heating tray from Target last year ($27) and it works perfectly because the lids are clear, you can see what you're about to stumble onto and the hostess can pass the table and see at a glance what needs to be replenished.

And I can tell you now with no hesitation whatsoever that the food I'd serve would be as far away from "holiday food" as you can get!  We just pushed back from Thanksiving and a three day turkey-thon.  I'm good for a whole year of no more turkey and trimmings. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"She's a Fascist!" "She sleeps with Nazis!" "My dear, she worked in a Chinese brothel and (whisper, whisper)"

"That Woman: the Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor" by Anne Sebba   St. Martin's Press   344 pages   $27.99

The Queen Mother is the one who never referred to her in any other way than "That Woman."  In return David and Wallis called her "Cooky" because she (to them) looked and acted like a cook. 

Yes, adoration on both sides.

This book finally discloses the real reason Simpson was so reviled in the British press when the affair was discovered.  It wasn't because this common, Yankee woman was determined to steal the heir to  the throne.   It wasn't because she was said to have led a very "interesting" life.  It was because she had not one, but TWO living ex-husbands! 

In the '30s, divorces in England were hard to get.  In fact, the pleader had to essentially go through divorce proceedings twice.  The first to establish adultery (the only grounds at that time) and wait for the judge to mull over the circumstances for a decree nisi and then go back for a second hearing to get the final, permanent divorce.  And there was no guarantee that the judge would grant it.  If he did not, hey, baby - that's it.  You're joined for life!

Moreover, the greater population of England - East Enders to the highest peerages and positions were (more or less) devout Christians and the King is the titular representative of the Church of England.  That was the source of the raging uproar of indignation. 

The King was stupidly stubborn, too.  He refused to marry her and then keep her hidden in the shadows of a morganic marriage.  He wanted her on his arm, afforded the exact same courtesies as were given to him.  For the rest of his life he fought to have her recognized as royal.  And Cooky turned up her nose and laughed.

I was always curous about Ernest Simpson.  Why did he knowingly allow her to cuckold him without making scenes about it?  Because she told him that David would soon lose interest in her and at the end of this affair, they would have improved what today we would call "name recognition."  But the King turned into The Joker and at the end, the joke was on her.  He flatly refused to give her up!  I'll abdicate!  I'll kill myself!

She was obsessed about money (never having had a lot of it) and during the abdication scenes urged him to make sure that he/they got a substantial allowance.  (Remittance money, actually.)  This despite being covered in glorious gems.  Apparently it never occurred to her that in case of desperate need, she could sell a piece or two.  But she never relinquished what she felt was hers and hers alone.

It's a sad cautionary tale about two very selfish and shallow people.