Friday, November 2, 2012


Just learned that this is the first day of NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. Blogging just for blogging's sake.

As I have been away from blogging since returning from our travels, I decided to give in to the urge to get back to writing. My fear has been that I have nothing of interest about which to write since I live the same day-to-day existence as everyone else. But, I have realized that interesting things happen to everyone every day and even if nothing interesting happens to me, the process of writing something for others to read can be cleansing,creative, rejuvenating and fun.

So here I go. As the description of my blog states I will be musing about life and all of its twists and turns - with a few meal plans and recipes thrown in for good measure.

I hope you will come along for what promises to be a challenging and hopefully at least somewhat intriguing ride. As the High Priestess of Fun, I hope to bring you some inspiration for making your own.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rose Cousins Last Supper

Written as part of an assignment for a course in Food and History that I am taking at USF this fall.

The 11 PM update is just in  from the National Asteroid Center and it looks pretty ominous. Forsaking any last minute fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field, Asteroid  2026-A, numbered to denote its year and position, will hit the mid-Atlantic coast of the US just before midnight tomorrow. Asteroid forecaster Jim Cantore, Jr., bald and reporting from close to the center of  impending disaster just like his dad always was,  keeps reminding us that as the speed of an asteroid increases so does its mass as it nears the earth, projecting 2026-A to rise from a Cat 2 to a 5 as it enters our atmosphere. In short,  we are doomed.

Since hearing of the approaching devastation, the Rose cousins have been doing what we do best, sharing lots of panicked WorldNet messages and gathering for a big meal with everyone making a contribution, The Rose Cousins Last Supper. We  have cleared out our  larders, mine filled with tomatoes, bread-and-butter pickes and pickled beets canned just last summer by an aunt who sadly died two months later taking her recipes with her.  We pulled up the end of summer greens  from our gardens and put them  in a big tub of salt water to soak off the grit. My older male cousins dragged over the big,  heavy, barbecue cooker, actually a large oil drum adapted for the purpose, blackened from use and covered in creosote smoked from wood sometimes a bit too green for its purpose, with a metal grate crusted with grease and bits of burned fat fitted inside, all attached atop a trailer for hauling from backyard to lakeside hooked  up to one of those oversized pickups rigged for “huntin’ and towin.”  Since early this morning, they’ve been stoking a fire of  well-seasoned hickory and oak with a little apple wood added for sweetness. The smoke swirls memories through the air until a bed of coals is just about ready for the meat - memories of past birthdays, anniversaries, 4th of July celebrations, baptisms and even a wedding or two where barbecue was often considered more important than the guest of honor, A few pounds of dried black eyed peas, sorted one by one to remove any gravel, are covered with water in a big  bean pot to soak all night for cooking in the morning.

The asteroid, as measured by the newly orbiting  Hubble replacement, is about 100 miles across and is picking up speed. On the current course, 2026-A will crash into the Atlantic just off  the east coast of the US, stir up a tsunami that could circle the earth for as long as 10 years and destroy all life on the planet.. So much for planned leftovers.
My family, the Roses, hails from Johnston County in the sandhills of southeastern NC where barbecue means pork. Period. No exceptions. Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue was first cooked, back long before our ancestors arrived, by new world settlers who thought tomatoes were poisonous. So, despite our Scottish heritage, Rose barbecue is basted with  “English Catsup, ”a mixture of vinegar and peppers, hold the tomatoes. Usually the whole headless, eviscerated hog minus its trotters is cooked and the meat picked off the bones, often right on the rack of the cooker - definitely not a sight for vegetarians, those who proscribe ingestion of pork for religious or health reasons or the weak of stomach.

 The secret to good barbecue is heat, smoke and time, time which we don‘t have - no time to find a hog and have it properly butchered or even to get the local meat merchant to specially order a whole picnic shoulder, the preferred alternative.  So, several of my favorite cousins and I, after a couple of margaritas to drown our sorrows, raided three nearby superWalmarts (the only large food chain still in business) for all the pork shoulders, Boston butts and picnic hams we could carry. The guys are lugging the various pieces of pig out to the cooker now where it’ll rest in dense smoke all night  until we are ready to feast on the deep, smoky, tangy/sweet results.  Once it’s chopped and mixed together with a little extra sauce no one will know it’s not a whole hog anyway.

The young children, exhausted from chasing lightening bugs and playing post-midnight backyard games by flashlight, fell into a fitful sleep pierced with terrible dreams and frequent tear-filled awakenings  as they clung to each other for solace under antique quilts handmade by great aunts from the remnants of all our past lives . The older males passed cold beer and George Dickel  to younger cousins, some not yet of legal drinking age who quickly mixed the Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey with Sundrop, the highly caffeinated, bright yellow, almost sickeningly sweet carbonated elixir of choice, as they  kept the heat of the smoking fire constant. All the mothers, aunts and older female cousins gathered around the big oak kitchen table telling stories we had heard time and again of our history as a textile family, what is means to be a Scot and a Rose and of how some of the uncles, despite better upbringing, actually wore t-shirts or ties in public emblazoned with the names of politicians like George Wallace, Rick Perry or even the Bush brothers, whose grandsons now hold positions of power and who have no idea what constitutes good barbecue - all while smoking too many NC cigarettes, a family habit passed from generation to generation like the always filled pot of  coffee poured into large glass mugs, each cup sweetened with exactly 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar and just enough cream to “bounce off the bottom” until just the correct caramel color is obtained.

Some of the more uber-religious Southern evangelical cousins among us have gathered in the living room to pray, hands held high, that this may be the Rapture for which they have all prepared and to wonder what will become of those of us who, rather than being lifted to the heaven, will be subject to the ravages created by the meteor’s crash. Sadly, the only thing we all know for sure is that our family’s traditions, beliefs, customs and rituals will not survive to be passed on and further molded by another generation.

Dawn came much too early and brighter than expected, not a cloud in the sky to foretell the impending disaster. Shortly after we awoke, I carefully placed whole sweet potatoes in the coals beneath the roasting pork while someone else chopped cabbage and mixed it with some of the barbecue sauce to marinate all day for barbecue slaw.  My sister grated more cabbage very finely and stirred in mayonnaise, a little sugar and some vinegar poured off a jar of pickle relish to make sweet slaw for those that might prefer it.

Some of the younger cousins spent the morning sectioning oranges, tossing out the bitter peel, then squeezing all the juice from the remaining fan-shaped membranes over the supremes of fruit they  mixed with sweetened coconut tinged pink by the red dye from added maraschino cherries. This desert cum salad, our uncles’ favorite ambrosia, was made from oranges transported from California in large trucks and is only slightly reminiscent of the juicy Florida valencias, navels and oh-so-sweet tangerines shipped up each winter in large green mesh bags by our grandparents while they fished the St. John’s River near Deland. We’d suck out the juice from a hole in the peel and then turn the whole fruit inside out to eat every luscious bit of those special seasonal snacks.

About an hour ago, the black-eyed peas were rinsed and covered with clean water and now those little gray and black pearls of goodness are simmering with seasoning of equal parts garlic, sugar and cider vinegar using our Best Ever Plain Ol’ Peas recipe that somebody found once in a Southern Living magazine.  The washed collard greens have been coarsely chopped and  boiled for several hours this morning, water gurgling around a big ham hock. Just a few minutes ago the ham was lifted out, chopped a bit and added back to the pot with the dark, bitter greens, now turned soft and almost sweet. We’ll serve a little hot pepper vinegar and some chopped sweet onions on the side for those who want to add them.

I sliced up some sticky okra pods and tossed them in cornmeal just like I was taught by our black housekeeper when I was a teenager.  The sticky seeds ooze around the edges clinging to the breading  and when the oil is hot and ready the okra is dropped in and fried until golden and crispy. When sprinkled with coarse salt, this okra will taste better than even the most perfectly cooked pommes frites, crunchy on the outside and soft, almost gooey inside, each piece popped into our mouths with our fingers.

The sweet potatoes, skins parched  and rippled  are moved from the smoker to a  large platter and opened with a fork to loosen all the steamy goodness. The caramelized, orange, stringy insides are pulling away from the peels and butter is spooned around to melt,  reminding me of my mother’s stories of taking baked sweet potatoes from her grandma’s warming oven and savoring them like candy treats.

Lumpy cornbread batter is mixed and poured into treasured hot cast iron skillets seasoned by years of cooking and now glistening with the drippings from a little fried fat back and melted butter. When removed from the oven, the resulting tender sweet innards surrounded by a crunchy brown crust will make the perfect accompaniment to our meal.

Using big wooden paddles my uncles designed just for the purpose, it takes two strong guys to lift the barbecue  from the smoker and place it on the long  wooden picnic table that has been covered with brown parchment paper. Large hunks of flesh and fat are pulled apart and then pushed aside to where a cleaver rocks back and forth until all the meat is chopped and  the outer crunchy brown, almost burned, bits are mixed with moist, tender chucks of meat and soft fat, then doused with a little more sauce as it is all tossed together. Like I said before, no one will know the difference. Our few family vegetarians are standing off to one side with strained looks on their faces, and I almost laugh. At a good Southern meal there are always enough vegetables to satisfy even the most committed non-meat eaters.

My youngest cousin dumps freshly shucked oysters from a bowl into a stew of cream, milk and crumbled bacon with yellow melted butter floating on top. He tastes it and adds a bit more fresh cracked black pepper before ladling some soup into each of the bowls placed at the opposite end of the table from the meat.  Over the years we’ve lost the taste for adding a little oyster liquor to the barbecue sauce as our ancestors did.  There’s a basket of saltines set down next to the bowls  for crumbling into the stew, no dainty oyster crackers for us.

We open an old rusted folding table and cover it with a white cloth to hold each of the side dishes being carried gingerly from the kitchen, many still in the pots or pans in which they were cooked.  In the center of the table, I place my cherished heirloom relish dish  filled with beets and pickles from my pantry and  chow chow and corn relish contributed by some of my cousins.  A large banana pudding  is brought from the refrigerator, creamy and pale yellow, with now soggy vanilla wafers layered around soft bananas, crunchy cookie edges poking out of the secret recipe custard. One young cousin sneaks an empty bowl from beside the oyster stew and, remembering how often he has encountered a dish emptied of this gooey, sweet treat when he returns for a serving after the main meal is finished,  he fills the bowl with pudding before reaching for a dinner plate.

A deep male voice begins to sing, “Bless this house, oh Lord, we pray,“ and we all join in,  the verses memorized in childhood as we sang them at every family gathering. We hold hands and look around as though we are trying to create a permanent picture in our minds of this scene that will never again be repeated.  As the singing ends, someone echoes the grace of an uncle long passed,  “Good food, Good family, Good God, Let’s Eat.”

And we do.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I sure hope my friends and family don’t mind naked….

One month until we leave Edinburgh and as David is ultra-organized  (thank goodness one of us is or we would still be sitting in a train station somewhere in France trying to figure out how to negotiate the eurail-debacle and appease the Blonde British Border Bitch ) we are beginning to pack. Toby’s room is spic-n-span and David has laid out each of our hugemongous suitcases so that we may begin to put things in them that we aren’t planning to use before we go.  Problem is, I am planning to use everything before we go so nothing seems to be moving toward the suitcases.

Please keep in mind that all l I have with me is clothes, shoes, some jewelry, makeup and toiletries, a corkscrew and several framed photographs of T&T (and a drawing of Madison)  I guess I can pack the pictures - definitely not the corkscrew as the one provided in the flat may the worst corkscrew I have ever encountered.  Since arriving here I have acquired a tiara, a wonderful pen and a small pin, a scarf and a few articles of clothing form a thrift store.  I might need to wear the tiara again before June 15; one often  never knows a bout those things until the last minute. We will leave behind the Scottish guidebooks just as we left the French ones in France and the Mexican ones in Mexico  along with a great Rick Bayless cookbook that I thought would be of more use to the next residents of the casita than to me.  Once I make a dish I rarely consult the recipe again but tend to improvise based on memory and taste - well, except for Jane’s Pork Tenderloin which I can never seem to remember and always have to call and ask how to make and oh yes, the corn pudding, also.

We sent a duffle filled with formal wear back to the States with a friend after the QM2 crossing and it now resides in a closet in West Virginia. I left things to donate in London and tossed a few things in France. When we left Florida in October we stashed two bags of summer clothes with David’s sister in Tallahassee.  Hence the naked issue.

Today I look really cute in a  black burnt-out velvet skirt, double layered shirts black over white, black tights, a drapey black Donna Karan wrap thingie and scrunchy short suede boots.  Perfect for the 48* weather with rain predicted later.  However, no matter how cute,  this will not do in 80*+ NC and FL June weather.  I know. I know, everyone is complaining that it has really cooled off there today but we all know that this is a tease and the heat and humidity will return before anyone is ready for it again. Unless of course they have beach reservations.

So I have with me -- one short khaki skirt, one jean skirt, two linen shirts and a pair of flip-flops.  Otherwise everything is either wool, cashmere, long sleeve or corduroy.  All my shoes are black and clearly designed for winter or boots - which people wear in Scotland year round but would look pretty stupid on the beach. And I plan to leave a lot of stuff here that  I am just sick of looking at.  There is a great Cat Rescue thrift shop just downstairs.

So I will wear one of my two outfits (actually they are not even outfits but with some jewelry I think I can make it work although I won‘t look as totally cute as usual)) with each different group of people I see once we arrive back in the good ole USofA.  However, vanity prevents me from wearing the same thing twice with anyone within a week’s time and since my mother would be the first to complain about such a faux pas and she is the person likely to see me most often while I am in NC, it is the elderly residents and their visitors at Carillon Assisted Living who are most likely to see my naked body first.  Yippee for me!  That may be one of the few places on earth where I will have fewer wrinkles and less cellulite than the people staring at my naked sagging tushy and perky reconstructed ta-tas.

So here’s the warning.  If  between June 15 and 22, you have seen me twice since my arrival in the Old North State you may want to avoid seeing me again until my next visit. Understand?   Wink wink.  I’ll do laundry and then David and I will have two days in St Petersburg before we will be required to drive to Tallahassee to liberate my remaining summer clothing.  As we leave the condo,  I’ll wrap my naked self in a blanket to get down the elevator to the car for fear of someone seeing me in what I was wearing the day before.  There are entirely too many 20-something tight tushys and flat tummys there for me to waddle around sans culottes.

Monday, May 3, 2010

How Beltane got me to thinking about death

Warning:  If reading about death or funerals gives you the heebie-jeebies, you might want to skip this post.

For all sorts of reasons - my Mother’s failing health, the fact that I fell on Friday night and hit my head on a rock, all the weird health issues we both confront every day, attendance at a huge ancient and very spiritual Celtic/pagan ritual that had us both thinking about our heritage, and other things - David and I were discussing our personal funeral preferences on Saturday night.  Weird I  know.

 It wasn’t morbid in any way, but a desire that someone understand each of our personal ideas about transition, death, and funerals so that whoever has the responsibility  might try to implement them in the best way possible.  Sort of funny when you think about it since neither of us holds a traditional Christian belief in the after-life or resurrection or any of that nonsense (yes, I called it nonsense for that it was I believe it is - no more factual than the belief of some cultures that I might come back as a cat or even more farcical that there is some great being that actually has the time and desire with all the vast universe out there to care what actually happens to little ol’ insignificant, dot of dust in the cosmos, me.)

Both of our most recent close experiences with death ritual, my father’s and David’s mother‘s funerals, were troubling, unsatisfactory and definitely not comforting for either of us.  Well, except for David finally having an opportunity to say in public during his mother’s eulogy that she once threw a plate of spaghetti at him and then became angry when it hit the wall instead of his head and to tell the story of how she was braless in the photo of her high school softball team. Both good sharings of stories of her life and neither dwelling on whether her death had meaning and if so, what it was.  Oh, but there was a lot of that on either side of the eulogy.   It was like a visit to Southern Baptist heaven - definitely not a place  I would want to spend eternity. 

 As we talked about it we both realized that the best funerals, if you will, that we had ever attended were celebrations with good memories, lots of laughter, sharing, caring, meaningful music ( which generally means music that had been meaningful to the person we were remembering) - in short, about our loved one rather than those left behind to mourn or about religious myths or beliefs that may or may not be shared  by everyone sharing the death experience or concentration on what’s next other than wonderful memories, or anything like that.  Certainly the lost friend or family member will be missed but wasn’t it great when they were around?  Hey, do you remember when….?  Those are the things that bring about true resurrection of the soul - those times that were shared that will be forever memories.

Our discussion  got me to thinking about my Dad’s funeral and doing that always puts a knot in my stomach.  I miss him very much and I think about him often.  I haven’t had a desire to talk to  him since I don’t believe there is anyone to talk to and I definitely don‘t want to go to the cemetery where his rotting body is entombed in concrete and some kind of once beautiful wood with brass handles that by now are certainly green.  But I do often ask myself what his thoughts or advice would have been during his life. When I think back on his funeral all I remember is how very uncomfortable I was during the entire experience --  People filing past the flesh and bone casing that had held his soul, his energy, his spirit, looking down at that pasty, makeup covered face not knowing that beneath his clothes were bare spaces where bone and tissue had been removed, the only parts of his body we were able to donate, his organs too badly damaged by his stroke.  People I had known all my life touching me in mourning , talking to my mother who was too confused to comprehend fully what was going on, most there because they truly respected my Dad , some there out of responsibility, some there from curiosity having heard stories of how emotionally difficult things had been in our family in the past few years.  I hated it all.  Nothing of what I think, feel or believe was represented in what for me was a grotesque ritual that did nothing to provide any true comfort to the living and sure as hell ain’t doin’ nothing’ for the already dead.

In fairness, there was one good point, the eulogy provided by the minister of the small church where I grew up, a church where my great-grandfather had been a stalwart member, where my dad still attended and where the board of trustees at the time was probably wondering what they were going to do to replace Dad’s rather substantial monetary contributions.  The minister had been a friend of both my sister and me in college and she (what a hoot it was when dad found out he was going to have at one time not only a female minister, but a Black superintendent and a female Bishop.  He must have felt that his soul was totally exposed to whatever forces of evil he might have believed were out there because he surely believed that none of those three second class citizens could do much to help him, being the superior Southern white male that he was.)

Despite that, the minister and Dad had developed a good relationship over time, often joking at coffee on a  Thursday afternoon that having seen her he needn’t show up at services on Sunday to which she would remind him that would be OK if he just gave her his offering plate contribution then and there.  Their relationship was not so unlike the one he had with me. Strong women, particularly if they had any direct intersection with his perceived perfect existence, made him nuts!  I never doubted that he loved me dearly and that he would always be there for me if needed, but we had difficulty sitting in the same room without arguing, sometimes changing sides in the midst of things, just to keep from agreeing I think.

Anyway, at his funeral, the minister gave a wonderful description of my Dad.  It was clear that she truly loved and respected him, as did so many others, and those words she said about him didn’t necessarily give me comfort, but made me proud to have had him in my life and helped me feel the sadness that he was gone.  But that was all.  Nothing about the scripture or the hokey, though beautiful, song about the streets of gold that my nephew sang made me anything but angry.  I looked around and most everyone else seemed to be buying into what was going on - a celebration of my Dad’s ascension into heaven.  All I wanted to do was get out of there as soon as possible.

So, now, we were discussing our own burials and I can’t seem to wrap my head around anything concrete - except that I know for sure that I DO NOT want what is left of my body placed in a concrete vault six feet under ground.  I have not nor do I  plan on committing any crimes  that might require my exhumation for criminal analysis purposes and that is the only reason I can figure for that man-made cave.  Nor do I want to be embalmed.  After that it gets fuzzy. 

David knows that he wants to be cremated and preferably have his ashes scattered on Doune Hill in Scotland.  If that isn’t possible he wants his ashes sailed out into the Gulf Stream somewhere and left to float there until a big storm comes and the boat carrying them sinks.  (Actually he wants a Viking funeral like in that movie with Burt Lancaster and McCauley Culkin where the kids shoot  arrows to ignite a boat carrying the body, the flames turning it to ash as the boat sinks slowly on the horizon -  but neither of our boys is very good at archery so I think the fire will have to come first)

As I work through my own ideas I keep coming back to one very troubling point.  I know that my sister and the rest of my family will want a funeral for my Mom very similar to the one for my Dad - and I want no part of it, no part of it at all.  It is already difficult as we lose Mom bit by bit to dementia but the thought of having her embalmed and laid out for people to stare at and then pretending that she is somewhere out there a whole person again makes me ill.  I do not want to be there but I am not sure I am strong enough to endure the criticism and bad feelings I will create if I am not.  Hopefully, I will have a lot more time to visit her in life before I have to deal with the death thing.

And, I’m thinking maybe I  want to give my body for research at a medical school. Heaven knows (pun intended), that there is enough medically going on with me to make it interesting.  Oh, I know the stories about how badly med students treat cadavers but it is only a shell, the energy that comprised my consciousness will have already merged back into the universe. Oh, and I want people to dance around a bonfire in both a clockwise and a counter-clockwise direction while having one hell of a good party.  Getting naked and painting your bodies vibrant colors is optional.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Toby's Spring

Toby is sleeping in the other room and like the mother of  a newborn I keep quietly opening the door to check on him.  I guess, really, to just look at him and take comfort that he is there.  He leaves tomorrow, very early and I am trembling at the thought.

 He and David will get up at 4 AM for the airport bus to arrive in time for the two-hour check-in required before an 8AM international  flight.  There is a 4 hour layover in Dublin before Toby re-boards with all the Irish folk returning from a visit to  the homeland or headed to the US to see long-lost cousins or grandchildren not seen in at least a year.  He is most excited about the layover and plans to have a couple of pints of Guinness for breakfast.  The idea of drinking Guinness in Dublin inspires him as it would most 20 somethings - or his father.  I almost wish David could travel along to share the experience except that I will probably be a slobbering mess when they leave and will be happy when David returns to the flat to keep me company.

 Tavish, having studied in Dublin for a semester, has most certainly already had Guinness for breakfast, lunch, dinner and about any other time he could break away for one.  Within hours of first arriving at the college there, the students were taken on a bus to the distillery for tours and tastes, most likely in an ill-conceived plan to get the desire out of their systems.  I suspect it only threw gas on an already burning fire.

From Dublin, Toby will fly directly to Chicago where he  already understands all the twists and turns of the El and should easily, if not so quickly, make his way to the apartment on the north side of the city that he will share with  5 friends, all actors or students.  He has a job to get started while he looks for something a bit better and has already arranged for some standup gigs.  He is well on his way.  And I am sitting here bursting at the seams with pride, filled with excitement for his adventure and feeling like I will collapse into tears at any minute.

I feel all soft inside like the first time I held either of the boys.  It is strange to feel this way having said goodbyes with both of them so often over the years - summer camp, boarding school, college, travels.  Of course, I cried each of those times, usually big gasping sobs, but only always after I was out of their sight fearing that seeing their Mom in such a state night make them homesick. It was a silly worry as they each seemed to embrace  every new experience with gusto.  Oh, there were occasional difficult or teary times, of course, but many fewer than the norm I think.  My boys are resilient, inquisitive and if nothing else, fearfully independent.

 But somehow this is different.

This time I know Toby is going out on his own and  will never again live with us as our “little one” which I have always called him even though Tavish is much smaller.  Toby is the youngest and therefore by default perceived to be the most fragile, Mama’s little boy.  He is neither of those things.
 These six months, despite our almost constant disagreements, have been a gift.  I have watched him continue to grow and change in ways I didn’t expect.  And I have watched as he gained about 20 pounds, filled out, grew a beard and now looks much more like a man than a boy.  Fortunately he still gives me hugs without which I would surely collapse.  Perhaps that is what I most fear - losing the goodnight hugs, knowing he is safely home.  I will never have that again.  He is most surely now responsible for himself in ways I was not prepared to accept for another few years.

This is Toby’s spring.  The air, nature, even the length of the days are drenched in hope for his future.  I am in the late summer or perhaps even early fall of my own life - leaves a little droopy, too tired somedays to feel like doing very much other than just sitting and feeling the warm moist air around me.  Toby is like a new bud popping out of the ground, looking around and screaming, “Yippee!!  Look at all that room around me to grow into.  Wow, smell that air.  Hey, roots, let go.  I’ve got things to do.”  As Leo Tolstoy once wrote , he is “…a plant that has just opened and spread its leaves among all the other plants and is going to grow up simply, peacefully and joyfully…”  Well, that is what I hope for him.  There are sure to be some trials.

“Make way for this wonderful plant that is filling out its buds and growing in the spring”  Look out world,  her comes Toby. He is loved, and supported and will be missed terribly - but  he’s got a lot of living to do!

"You should always be excited about the next chapter of your existence" 

                               --- Toby McMullen

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dear Banana - or birthday advice to a 15-year-old that a lot of us could use too

A few weeks ago, the Princess to whom I am Fairy godmother, celebrated her fifteenth birthday.  I sent her a tiara.  It is time for her to learn to wear one properly.  Besides I spent nearly a year in Mexico watching many, many 15 year old girls celebrate their quincenearas and I learned a lot about the importance of a fifteenth birthday, and the tiara.

In Mexico and many Latin cultures, the fifteenth birthday is a celebration of a young girl’s continuing growth from childhood to maturity.  If only the young girls waited that long in the US.  During a quincineara celebration, the father removes his daughter’s flat ballet-style slippers as replaces them with high heels in a symbolic gesture of her growing up.  Unfortunately for my tastes, I’ve seen way too many twelve-year-olds already in high heels for the transition to have much American meaning.

The celebration includes religious customs, usually a church service, and extols the virtues of family traditions and social responsibility. highlighting God, family, friends, music, food and dance.  The Quincineara is surrounded by a Court of Honor of her closest  girlfriends and usually 8 boys, her Chambela’n or Escorte.  In San Miguel de Allende, we would often see them all lined up for pictures on the church steps in their formal wear, the birthday girl looking like a bride, flowers and family all around just before climbing into limousines for the drive to the venue selected for the big party.

There was no religious component to the Princess’s celebration , for which I was exceedingly glad (even though I was thousands of miles away at the time).  I held her for her Christening 15 years ago after the  priest, in his role as representative of the Church, had accepted my involvement as a non-Catholic.  At that time, I personally accepted my role as her Godmother during the ceremony.  However, as the years have passed my discomfort with the Church has increased and finally when the news broke about the Pope’s personal involvement in the sexual abuse scandal I felt I could no longer condone my involvement, implicitly or explicitly, in the Princess’s association with such a misogynistic, greedy, misdirected and blatantly un-Christian organization as the Catholic Church. 

So I resigned  as the Princess’s Godmother. 

Whew! That really pissed off her Mom, my BFF and I definitely “had some ‘splainin’ to do” But as I said then, I can no longer in good conscience, or as an honest example, accept a role of encouraging the Princess to be part of the Church even if that is her parents’ wish, but I will always be her Fairy godmother (lower case ‘g’) with all rights, privileges and responsibilities thereto assigned.

In other words, I gotta help her grow up right.  And that includes how and when to wear a tiara --- and a lot of other things, as well.  I will only talk about that church thing if she brings it up. That is my compromise with her mother because I really want to tell her  all the reasons for my action.  That will come in time.  Anyway, all she really cares about at fifteen is the presents I send ( though invariably late), the summer vacation with me and that I am someone she can bitch to about her parents and know I won’t tell.  I hope she also feels that way about talking to me about boys.

I think as part of this growing up process it is time I begin to impart some wisdom.  There will certainly be more throughout the years and some of what is here falls more into the think- about it, or plan-for-it realm than the do-it- now phase.  More importantly, I want these to be some of the things we talk about while she is visiting in Florida this summer.  Well, that and a lot of BASEBALL!!!!

Oh ,and there is no rational order of these tidbits of wisdom and advice.  Just how things popped into my head.  Comments are welcome.

Dear Banana,

Happy birthday, again.  Here are some things I want you to think about.

You live in a man’s world and unless things change a  whole hell of a lot over the next few decades, which certainly has not been the case over the past millennia, you will continue to do so.  Just get over it.  Men, for the most part, are not very bright when facing a cute woman so, if necessary, make him think it was his idea, but never hesitate to get what you want.  As Maureen Down said, “I succeed in a man’s world  living by man’s rules but  I never forget that a woman’s first role is selecting the right shade of lipstick” (or something like that)

Always own at least one tiara, and never be afraid to wear it.

Always have your own money.

Save at least 10% of every single dollar that comes your way.  Starting today! Get a piggy-bank and always put all your coins in it. (Coins do not count as part of the 10%, they are “gimmes”)

Wear gloves.  Warm ones to keep your hands from getting chapped and classic ones on other occasions.

Develop a personal style - classic, bohemian, preppy, fashionista, outdoorsy, girly, dressed-up, dressed-down - but NEVER only dress in that style.  It is good to shake things up once in a while.

Have one trademark item that if left at a crime scene would immediately implicate you
- eyeglasses, a pen, a pin. a piece of jewelry, a hairclip, your gloves, a beautiful notebook, your phone, your wallet, a linen hanky you always carry - you’ll think of something.

Know what colors are flattering to you and don’t bother buying anything else.  This  makes shopping easier and keeps you from standing in front of the mirror for hours in that really cute top that just doesn’t look right for some reason.  Choose a basic “background” color and build around it  -like black, brown, navy, ecru, white.

Never wear white next to your face unless your teeth are at least as white as whatever you are wearing.

Less makeup is always more.

Whenever you leave the house - even if just for a quick errand - wear lip gloss and perfume.

Choose two personal scents - one for every day and one for more dressed up.  And be sure to re-evaluate every few years as your scent should grow up as you do.

Take care of your hair.  Don’t over process it and never change anything about it unless you are in a very good mood at the time.

Take advantage of every learning opportunity you are given - school, theatre, music, lectures, travel - whatever - Soak it in!

Never get bored and, even  more importantly, never ACT bored.  It is unbecoming.


Find an activity that you enjoy and can do throughout your whole life -  tennis, chess, backgammon, squash, cards, sewing, knitting, painting, drawing, photography, bird-watching……

Have at least one interesting topic of conversation for someone to whom you have just been introduced, your parents‘ friends or your friends’ parents.

Swear only when you intend to and make it count. And always use good grammar unless you are making a point.

If you don’t know how, learn how to play with kids.

Don’t  get drunk in public.  A little tipsy can be charming but drunk is just ugly - and dangerous.  Remember what Dorothy Parker said” One martini is nice, two at the very most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host.”

ALWAYS have a glass of water after each drink before you start the next.  This will allow you to “keep up with your friends” without getting sloppy or sick.  And if you really do this you may never have a hangover.

Never drink a lot of sweet alcoholic drinks of any type.  Stick with beer or wine to be safe. One shot is safe - after that it gets sketchy.

Get as much sleep as possible.

Develop a good skincare regimen and never ever go to bed without cleaning your face.

Wear comfortable shoes.  They don’t have to be ugly.  Remember no matter how cute a pair of shoes may be if you can’t stand up in them for an hour or walk comfortably for several blocks DO NOT BUY THEM.

Buy trendy clothes in trendy inexpensive shops.  Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops - especially for day-to-day things or the one- time wear stuff.   Save the big bucks for investment purchases.

If you shop wisely and take care of handbags and shoes they will last for years!!!

Know how to do your own manicure and pedicure but pay for one when you can.

If your budget permits choose waxing over shaving and laser over waxing.

Get your eyebrows shaped by a very good professional.

Eat your vegetables.  Skip bread and dessert whenever possible.  Women have eaten that way for centuries and stayed thin.

Get over over-consuming.  Want and waste is a bad model to set for your self and even worse for the world.  The less you can live with the more you can enjoy life.  Really, Trust me on this one.

Always have at least one outfit, a hairstyle and quick makeup routine that will have you dressed and looking cute in a flash.  A famous designer once said that  the difference between true beauty and just too-high-maintenance was the ability to get drop dead gorgeous in less than 15 minutes.

Don’t have sex until you are ready.  That means the first time should not happen just because everything gets hot and heavy and you are convinced he is the love of your life or definitely not because he tells you that is how to prove you love him (tell that guy to fuck off!)  When you feel like you can’t stand it unless it happens right now, STOP!  If you wake up tomorrow and still feel the same way then the two of you should plan a perfect time and place.

As soon as you even start thinking that you might  be gonna have sex get on birth control.    Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Your fairy godmother has been pregnant 4 times and these were the ONLY times I did it without birth control and your mother got pregnant on her honeymoon.  This is not something you should mess around with.  Being smart should never be embarrassing. Ask me for help if you need it.

Always, always, always use a condom.  Get together with your friends and practice putting one on a banana.  Seriously. If he won’t use one - lose him!

Do not do drugs.  Period.  They make you stupid and vulnerable.
Also, understand that I do not consider marijuana a drug.  It does however reduce your inhibitions so be very careful when, where and how if you choose to use it.

NEVER NEVER get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking, smoking weed or doing drugs.  This includes family members and yourself.

Keep your “space” - room, desk, handbag, book bag, whatever - neat and orderly.  It reduces stress in your life in so many ways,

Learn to meditate.  Seriously.  Look for a teacher.

Learn to appreciate different kinds of music and art. Study it.  Read about it.

Learn to dance both popularly and properly.

Look people in the eye and speak up!

Stand up straight.  Nothing exudes confidence more than good posture.  And this includes sitting properly too.

Learn how to properly use a fork and knife and what the other utensils are for.

Avoid any group or activity that purports to make you more popular.  It is always bullshit. No exceptions.  Popularity is over-rated anyway.  I mean, do you even like those people that everyone is trying to be like?  You are so much nicer as yourself.

Depend on your parents.  They are your allies and always have your best interests at heart.

Do risky stuff like drinking or smoking weed with you sister and/or brother first.  They will look out for you.  They will also laugh at you if you over do and never let you forget it.

Learn to plan an amazing party.  I am EXCELLENT at this.

Learn to cook.  I mean really learn to cook.  It is fun and everyone always appreciates it.

Read good books - not just junk fiction (although junk fiction is also good too, just not as the only thing you read)

Read a newspaper every day  - and on Sundays, meet some friends at Starbucks and share the New York Times.

Learn how to properly order a drink, a beer and most importantly wine.  You can drink legally at 16 in many European countries and it is awful to look like either a stupid American or an unsophisticated clod.

Learn to read menus in French, Spanish and Italian - and ,of course, English.

Travel everywhere you can.  Each new place will teach you something about the world and something about yourself.

More will come as the time goes by.  I love you.

Your Fairy godmother

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Should Be an Upper Class Brit…..

I love hats.

Haves you ever seen a good British, or better yet, Scottish, wedding?  ALL the women wear hats whether or not they are in the bridal party.  Of course, the bridesmaids will all be wearing head coverings ranging from huge and patently absurd to small and dainty depending on the location and the time of day.  Like in many American weddings, shoes will be died to match dresses which will be matched in color with hats.

Stand outside the church, hotel or hall and observe the guests as they exit the venue to stand around waiting for the bride and groom.  Yes, stand and observe, it is part of the custom.  The wedding is like a well orchestrated show for all to see, even those that weren’t invited.  Feel free to gawk, make quiet comments or even snap a few pictures.  I think this is all the result of  years of practice observing royals do various things.

As the guests emerge it looks like a box of crayons -all brightly hued, mostly solids, in jewel tones.  Even the female guests are dressed in ensembles of matching shoes, frocks and hats, standing in contrast to the dark suits or dinner jackets of the men. Often , the hats are HUGE, with veils or other embellishments as though at Ascot or a Derby party where a prize will be given  for best chapeau.  One wonders if these hats will be worn only once as they are so striking as to be noticeable should they reappear at the next function.  Perhaps there is a “Great Hat Exchange” that I have yet to stumble upon.  In any case, the guests create the peacock’s plumage around the bride dressed in white or ecru ,a meringue of tulle and lace or yards and yards of soft flowing embroidered silk, wearing a tiara and elaborate full, fluffy veil or a graceful hat cocked to one side to which a veil is attached.

Only at a full Scottish wedding is there competition  - from the groom and his men in kilts with proper cravats and  chalk striped morning coats or  short black Prince Charlie coatees with silver buttons catching the light.  Even the bride can sometimes pale by comparison.

Once back from the honeymoon the bride and groom take up residence in their new home. Although more often than not these days they would have been living there together for months or even years prior to the wedding.  Each will have his or her own room and this is where I think upper class Brits have really got it right.

David and I have often discussed the relative merits of separate bedrooms.  Now let’s be realistic people.  We have been married for almost 30 years and are way past the fucking like rabbits stage, so sleep is the goal here.  It is easy enough when planning sex to decide in whose room it should take place - if not on the kitchen table any  longer.   We do like to cuddle or spoon but inevitably as soon as one of us begins to drift off, the other moves  away and rolls to the other side facing away.

We have friends who never had a particular side of the bed on which each slept.  They had been married for years and each night whichever got to the bed first just took the side that seemed most comfortable.  I think that is weird!  This couple is now divorced and I have to believe that this is at least part of the reason.  I mean if you haven’t even staked out your side of the bed how in the world can you negotiate anything else in the relationship?

But I ramble…

I sleep on the left side of the bed (right if you are  facing from the foot) even when I sleep alone.  If  I am on my left side I expect to be facing the wall or door. On my right, I either have a vast expanse of bed available to me, if alone, which is rare. or I can feel David’s breath on my face.

Now here’s the rub.  He snores.

I know lots of people snore and lots of others sleep though it  but I am a well-tuned Mama-Machine and since the birth of my first child 25 years ago I startle at the slightest noise during the night.  And after the 1:30 AM call from Detective Fazio of the New York City Police Department while Toby was living alone in NYC when he was 17, it has only gotten worse.  So every time David huffs, or snorts, or blows out a long sigh, I wake and have to try again to sleep. Last night I did not sleep at all.  That tends to happen at least once a week these days.

At this age sleep evades most women on a regular basis.  We do not need the added disruption of a snoring bedmate to disturb our precious, coveted ZZZZZZs.  So when David and I arrive at the comfortable 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo in Florida that our dear, wonderful, amazingly generous, awesome, spectacular (you get the point) friends are letting us use from late June through November, I will be claiming one of the bedroom as my own.  David can choose the other room or the sofa, whichever he prefers.  If this works out, where we go next will be required to have two bedrooms.  A second bath is optional - I like double showers.  Besides it saves water.

Oh, and Madison will be sleeping with me.  I actually prefer not to sleep alone and, like a good, well-bred, upper class, wee thing,  she doesn’t snore.