Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008, what a year...

some highlights:
  1. The new year actually started for me on November 5 OBAMA! Nuff said.
  2. My daughter decided she still loves Shrek and began to agonize over how many of her very many boyfriends she could actually marry (she's two months short of five)
  3. We are all going broke (a lowlight, sigh).
  4. I visited New York three times, after an eight-year gap. Don't know about you, but I'm impressed.
  5. My iPhone.
  6. I started blogging and am still at it.
hippy knew jeer. xoxoxo e

The Beaux-arts Ball, Paris, c. 1925. Grandmère is dressed as Marie Antoinette, seated, second row, far right.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

my personal relationship with...

...God? Zeus?

My daughter asked me the other day if I like to go to church. I answered that I like to be in churches, that I love the architecture and the art (we stopped in at the National Cathedral on Christmas afternoon and checked out the stained glass and the crèches from around the world. We lit a few candles. A nice visit.)

That answer satisfied her, and we moved on to where we should go for lunch.

But she raised a topic that I have been giving some thought this holiday season. I have been reading a lot of fiction, mostly set in the middle ages, lately. Probably gearing up for another trip to France or England in the next year or so. At least I hope so. In the Brother Cadfael mysteries the same crimes for gain, glory or lust are committed as they are today. Members of Cadfael's church are like folks everyone knows; some are honest, some more intelligent than others, some are hypocritical bastards. Just like today. The character of Cadfael has chosen the life of the cloister after leading quite an adventurous one in the "outside" world, going on crusade, romancing women, the works. His belief in God is innate, but tempered by his experience, knowledge, and even cynicism about the human race.

The Golden Compass was on cable recently. My daughter loved it and I found it quite entertaining. I have yet to read the books it is based on, but have read about its author, proud atheist Philip Pullman. His belief system isn't the main reason I am interested in the trilogy. I like that he chose a young female protagonist who boldly goes forward in the world, following her instincts. I'm intrigued to read her story.

Where do I fall in these two extremes of belief? It's complicated. As you can tell, for me, everything is tempered by art. That is how I approach life, love, everything. I'm no atheist. I believe in too much. Somewhere between pantheism and polytheism, probably. I pray to the parking gods often, as I do the loop-the-loop round my neighborhood. I pray at night for my loved ones to stay sound in mind, body and spirit. But I don't follow or accept the Christian format (virgin birth? please), although I love the idea of the saints - probably appeals to my polytheist tendencies. Great stories, great myths. I have studied and adored art made to celebrate God, whether it is a depiction of Jesus, Buddha, Aphrodite, etc.

I'm still working it out. But I do know that too many people have died, made others miserable, tried to shut out or make suffer, other people whose belief system varied from their own. Personal belief is fine. Where it gets difficult, even sometimes ugly, is when it is practiced publicly. Organized religion is for the birds. Not for me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

dad and the star

One Christmas Eve, when I was about four and my brother was two, we sat patiently (as patiently as two young kids can) after dinner as we watched Mom and Dad trim the tree. Dad had brought the tree in that evening. Yes, he was one of those who does his Christmas shopping and tree-buying on the Eve.

I remember squirming with excitement as we watched him attach the lights and fuss with them until they all lit up (yay!) And then watched Mom and Dad unwrap, one by one, beautiful glass-blown ornaments, with sparkly, glittery frosting in spots and hang each delicate decoration on the tree. Some came from Dad's family, some from my Mom's. I doubt if we were allowed to even get near them. We were told they were VERY fragile.

Finally, the box was empty, the tinsel was on (we probably got to throw that on) and the tree was done. But wait a minute - where was the star? I remember my mom quietly expressing that maybe we should just skip it, or to be careful, but my dad was going to put the star at the top of the tree no matter what.

He climbed up on a chair. It was a tall tree, our Victorian-era house had high ceilings. He leaned over. He put the star on top. And then. BAM. The whole thing went crashing over, beautiful ornaments shattered, colorful, glittering shards all over the floor.

My brother and I started wailing. Dad and Mom looked at each other, silently. Then he climbed down, went to get his coat and headed out into the night. I think the only shop open after 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve was Woolworth's. He came back in, put the tree back up, more securely this time. Mom swept away the broken ornaments. We all put on the new ornaments, and also what few had survived the crash.

I still have one or two of those Woolworth's treasures left. I also have the same star. I always put it on first, at the very top of the tree and smile and think of Dad.

Monday, December 22, 2008

grandma's list

Here is Grandma's sfincioni shopping list (thanks, P!)

I have another recipe/list somewhere in which she has directions for chopping onions "about the size of a horse's teeth."

I miss Grandma.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I think Grandma would be proud that I am picking up her holiday tradition of making sfincioni. Last year I tried it with a phyllo dough. This year I did two versions - one with a french bread dough, one with a pizza dough. All attempts were quite tasty. I think she would say, "Delicious, dear, but it's not sfincioni..."

What is this elusive delicacy, you might ask? There are many versions, but basically it is a Sicilian cheese pie, served at Christmas. Some say it is the ancient precursor of pizza. It has been called pizza rustica. It can be on the sweet or savory side, depending on what fillings you choose. In Palermo, it is actually sold on the street, the square slices looking like what they call "Sicilian pizza" in the States. Some present it like a calzone. Not sfincioni!

In our family version, Grandma used mozzarella, provolone, and small bits of salami as the base for the filling. Sometimes she would add bits of prosciutto or tiny meatballs as a yummy surprise. We all argue about the dough. The consensus is a brioche-type dough, but so far no one has been able to approximate it exactly. She would make it in a cake pan, putting the filling inside and the dough cover on top, with an egg wash to give it a hard, shiny crust. A recipe for pizza rustica that I saved from the New York Times years ago, adds many eggs as the binder, so it can even be quiche-like (that recipe was an open pie, with a lattice crust - also delicious, but not sfincioni!)

The only other person in my family who could make this dish exactly like grandma was UJ (Uncle John.) Sadly, both UJ and Grandma have passed on, so all I can do is continue to try. But it's a tasty problem to solve.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

gonna keep on tryin', 'til I reach the highest ground

Bush has been trying to put some sweeping, terrible legislation in his final hours as head honcho. Luckily, Obama is watching and plans to stop the madness.

Makes you wonder what exactly is going on with W. He has already pissed away most of his "legacy." Anyone remember his plans for social security? Is he just trying to put the last nail in his presidential coffin?

Powers keep on lyin'
While your people keep on dyin'
World keep on turnin'
Cause it wont be too long

I'm so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin'
'Til I reach the highest ground

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

we were on a break

We were talking today about how maybe the Clinton administration was just a break from Bush 1 to Bush 2. Interesting idea. Think about it. We even extended the reigns of Bush squared to a distorted continuation of the Reagan era. Yikes. No wonder we're in such a mess at present. Makes this new Obama presidency more of a breath of fresh air than ever.

Monday, December 15, 2008

crazy book lady...

...or bibliophile. That sounds less compulsive, doesn't it?

I needed to get the books out of my daughter's room, to see if that would effect or improve her allergy situation. Another in a long list of lifestyle adjustments for us both, which has included the exile of my beloved cat of fifteen years to the Virginia suburbs (sigh). But that's another story... back to the books, and boy, there are a lot of them! I was able to get her books into a medium size bookcase and two small storage units for easy access. I also decided to move the three piles of "to-reads" from my bedroom out to the foyer as well, which is now our ersatz library. While I was doing all of this moving around I decided to take a little inventory and see if I could shed some - for donation or trade at my favorite used bookstore. Not a lot of luck. There were a few titles that my daughter was willing to pass on to a baby friend of ours, but not much more. And looking at my books, well, they are divided into quite a few categories, none of which I'm wiling to pare down yet either, if ever:As I was looking at all the books, I started thinking about connections and how one thing leads you to another. Of course my art education has provided a background for my interest in Ancient and European art, culture and history, whether I have pursued this interest through fiction (Christian Jacq's Ramses and Stone of Light series) or non-fiction (Antonia Fraser's Wives of Henry VIII, Death in Ancient Egypt, Love and Hate in Jamestown). But anyway, I find that a movie or a television program like The Tudors led me to read more about the period. Reading about the Tudors made me want to know about the Wars of the Roses, which led me back to the Plantagenets and how it all started. As I read about the English I became more interested in France, as the two separate countries we know today were in those days completely intertwined. This brought back my trip to the Loire Valley, which was part of a tour of northern France. At the time I was not so interested in chateau after chateau, but now I realize that I was walking in the footsteps of Francois Premier, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitatine as I strolled through Chinon and Angers, where I saw the amazing Apocalypse Tapestry. Of course now I want to go back to France and England, armed with my better understanding and reference points. The question is, once there, what will spark my fancy and lead me off on another thread, supplemented of course by books, books, books?

Friday, December 12, 2008

humans is so crazy...

Well, I finally finished Devil's Brood, but is it finished with me? I am still pretty darn interested in this time period (12th century Europe and beyond), this family (the Plantagenets), and all the crazy timeless human emotions. This book was supposed to be the third in a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and their family, but apparently the author, Sharon Kay Penman, isn't quite through with them either, as she is planning to write another focusing on Richard (the Lionheart) and his brother John, which most folks know from the Errrol Flynn Robin Hood classic. Both men were very different from their standard portrayals of hero and villain, so it will be interesting to see what Penman does with them.

What kept haunting me throughout the story was how Henry and Eleanor sacrificed their marriage by stubbornly following their own ambitions or fears. This is hardly a new story. Who hasn't a busted love affair to tell about? What Penman skillfully brought out in their story was that even though they were unable to trust one another, they continued to share a great bond, even at times love for one another, through fifteen years of warring, capture, imprisonment, and heartache, as they watched their sons rebel, die or drift away.

The human heart can be so hard to fathom, especially by its owner. Sometimes the mind leads you on a path away from your heart. Even more often, vice/versa. The question is, after love and heartbreak, and in these peoples' cases, all-out war, can two hearts find their way back again? For Eleanor and Henry, it did, at times, usually through grief, which they could share without all-consuming power and politics in the way.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

a marshmallow world

When you have a kid, you've got to shed some of your coolness factor and embrace the all-day, all-night Xmas music station. At least now that she's old enough to want to hear the music. Don't worry, I'm also passing on my misspent youth - she likes to sing along to Should I Stay or Should I Go.

I have to admit that I am actually enjoying listening to the station this year (but only in the car, not at home - I'm not completely mental.) Most of the fun comes from watching my daughter light up when Rudolph or Frosty plays, or learning what other holiday ditties float her boat, like Jingle Bell Rock. I am also relieved that she can't stand Mannheim Steamroller or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra ("Too sad - I don't like it!") I'm right there with you kid. I think it's sort of creepy music, actually. I prefer vocals. Always.

What I enjoy is not the umpteenth time that White Christmas is played, although it's definitely a classic, but when they play some obscure version of either a traditional song or some weird, forced holiday tune, like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by the Pretenders - I had to use Shazam on my iPhone to find out who was strangling the cat. Unbelievably painful. What was Chrissie Hynde drinking that day? I actually like the song, and the best version is by Judy Garland from the film Meet Me in St. Louis, but James Taylor does a pretty good one, too.The song actually captures what it's like to be away from your loved ones at the holidays and has a poignant wartime reference, whether originally in post-war 1944 or today.

Sometimes I end up liking holiday songs by an artist that I don't like when they do their own material. I find Sarah McLachlan too twee most of the time, but I like the version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen she does with Barenaked Ladies.

While I was sipping hot cocoa at lunch this afternoon with the ubiquitous holiday music playing in the background, I was treated to a Rat Pack Christmas. Most of it was pretty awful, especially from Sinatra, with his "hey youse guys, I can style any song you can trow at me!" delivery. And don't even challenge me on this. I'm from Joisey. But I do have to 'fess up to a fondness for Dino's version of Rudy...

Monday, December 08, 2008


...was established in the 11th century, to assure succession and inheritance by the eldest son. It is a major component of the rivalry between the sons of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England.

I am almost finished with Devil's Brood, and even as the book details all the broken promises and political machinations of England and Aquitaine's first family, I can't help but relate to the inheritance predicament. As a first-born child and the daughter of the family, to boot, I will be shouldering most responsibilities when called to step in and help my aging or ailing mother. It isn't the 11th century, so I am the go-to gal, rather than my younger brother. I'm unsure how much of this is a first-born thing, a mother-daughter thing, or just a personality thing (I'm a problem-solver type.)

When Eleanor and Henry's son Geoffrey, the Duke of Brittany, died unexpectedly as the result of a tournament injury, his young widow was immediately assessed for marriageability, while still pregnant with Geoffrey's unborn son. The kings of France and England (her father-in-law), wrangled for control of her children, and most importantly, their inheritance. She was not consulted about whether she could even consider another marriage (in which she would immediately be supposed to produce another heir), or how she would want her children to be brought up and where. As a single mom who gets to call all the shots (and also do all the work - "Mommy, why are you always working?" she asked me last night), this is unfathomable.

Death in families is always hard, fraught with emotional and financial issues. I hope that there will be no wrangling when the time comes and I will be called on to administer an estate, albeit one not nearly as vast as what was at stake for the heirs of Devil's Brood.

Friday, December 05, 2008

gentlemen prefer...

My daughter is becoming a femme fatale. Today one of her classmate's mothers came over and tapped me on the shoulder and told me, "I just have to let you know that my son Benji is in love with your daughter." This was at the kindergarten orientation meeting for parents.That's right, she's almost five years old. It's kinda cute, but as we walked together back to work after the meeting I recalled some other moms (Ben's, Seth's, etc., etc.) who had also already told me the same thing at different times this year. And it's only December.

What can I say? She's got it. Work it, girl. Except then please put it away for the teenage years (or at least tone it down a bit) and then you can break it out again for your twenties. I'll be too old to worry at that point...

Last night TCM had on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which is an ultimate girl movie. She enjoyed it, especially the music. I love the Marilyn Monroe "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" number that Madonna tried to rip off all those years ago. After it was over, she walked around the house, holding a pretend wedding bouquet, a la Marilyn and Jane Russell. Girls will be girls.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

two shades of pink

I never paid much attention to Pink - not my demographic - but she has two songs that have been getting some airplay, and I have to admit to liking them for different reasons.

So What is the girl anthem, with Pink as the tough, angry girl ready to go out and kick some ass after a break-up. When I first heard So What all I could think of was how Pink might be this generation's Joan Jett, with a better voice and original material. My daughter loves to sing along to this song while we're driving, especially its "nah nah nah nah nah nah" chorus. Pure "girls wanting to be bad" fun.

Who Knew is a song for the sadder moments of the same situation. She really sings this one, and it captures how when people move out of your life, for whatever reason, there is a real void. Pink can sing, and might also have something to say. Who knew?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

holly jolly

Our tree is still in process, but I am very impressed with my daughter's holiday scene/rampage, featuring Shrek, Rudolph and just about anyone else willing to take part in the holiday mayhem (with our recently acquisition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art advent calendar, as a backdrop.)

Ho ho ho!

Look out, Burl Ives's snowman is on the move!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

felix or oscar?

My daughter has inherited my allergies (sorry, kid.)

When I was a kid I loved to watch the Odd Couple on television. In New Jersey it was on a re-run schedule of I think, two episodes in the early evening. I loved both characters, and especially, the setting of New York City, where I hoped to live as an adult (and I did, for about fifteen years.) When I was first watching it I related to Oscar's sports columnist. I liked to write, too, but especially appreciated his ability to come up with the perfect wisecrack for every occasion. I could forgive him his Mets cap versus my beloved Yankees. I could never be as sloppy as Oscar, but surely I could never be as finicky as Felix, right?As I get older and my allergies change, I can hear myself almost honking as Felix would do. I also find myself relating to his fear of mold and dust and whatever else might lurk in Oscar's unbelievably messy bedroom.

The other day we were watching Clean House, which is the "wise-ass" version of many cable if-you-clean-up-your-stuff-you-will-clean-up-your-head shows. Sometimes these people's homes seem fake, as they are just too messy to be real. Except I know someone with a crazy house like that, and I'm afraid that they could use some mental spring cleaning, too. It reminds me of the Odd Couple episode "A Taste of Money" where the guys meet two older men, also roommates. One of the rooms in their apartment has been completely taken over by a gigantic rubber band ball. Felix looks at Oscar and says, "remind you of anyone?" I wish they'd put that show back into syndication...

Felix Unger: Everyone thinks I'm a hypochondriac. It makes me sick.

Oscar Madison: You want brown juice or green juice?
Felix Unger: What's the difference?
Oscar Madison: Three weeks.

Felix Unger: Oh, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

my mom's purse... full of all sorts of things, most of them hard to get a hold of. Her credit cards are kept in a plastic sleeve secured by a rubber band. Her too-small wallet is separate, with a change purse that is difficult to get into. Today at Target we bought her a new wallet, with places for cash, cards, and coins, all in one convenient package. We'll see how it flies.

My mom's brain these days is a bit like her purse. A word that she knows is there, can sometimes be difficult to access. I don't think Target has anything for this. We'll see how it goes.

I hope our new Prez is ready and able to deal with this aging boomer population, each with his or her unique long-term care needs.

A great movie that deals with aging parents is Albert Brooks's Mother. Four words: Cheese in the Freezer. Brilliant.

Author's note: November was NaBloPoMo, national blog posting month, and I made it (after starting on 11/2)! My own additional challenge, if you were following, was to include Obama in some way in each post. I'm not sure I will be able to keep up with the daily posting, but I'll sure try.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

a helluva town...

...the Bronx is up, but will I want to see the new Yankee stadium?

New York gets in your blood, I guess. It's not in the cards for me to live there at the moment, but who knows what the future will bring. It was fun to be back, if just for a few days. But a little surreal, as the city is very different from when I last called it home.

Besides 9/11, New York has become "family friendly," which actually translates to gigantic high-end mall. As we took a quick stroll down 5th this afternoon to check out some holiday store windows, I was appalled to see people lined up to get into the Abercrombie & Fitch store. C'mon people. It's just the Gap. Really. And last time I looked, they had one of these stores in a local mall. But this was the New York store...

Did I mention the other crowd of tourists taking photos of Trump Tower? Why? You got me. Because it was there, I guess.
This is my third New Yawk trip in a year. Wow. Anyway, I have to admit that Times Square still fascinates me. Where I work I am always hearing the fearful predictions of the death of print. I do think that newspapers are on the way out, and magazines probably not so far behind. But we'll still have the IKEA catalog, right? But I digress.

I do both print (primarily) and web graphics to earn my bread, but what this latest trip through Times Square taught me is that yes, digital techniques are changing printing, making paper products, posters, less necessary. I have to admit to being amazed that a digital subway kiosk sign was already proclaiming Twilight as the #1 movie. Quite a far cry from the old out-of-date posters advertising movies tnat bombed or concerts that happened long ago. A digital ad can be updated frequently. Bad news for printers with old-school presses, but good news for designers and others wishing to embrace new technologies.

New York is leading the way. D.C. has a small area in it's Chinatown with a large digital display. In another ten years or so we could all be living like Blade Runner. But what will New York look like then? What will our Obamaworld be?

Friday, November 28, 2008


A lot has changed since I worked here in the 90s. It's not my MoMA anymore, which is OK, but really - Matisse's "Dance" in the stairwell?

I have some real issues with how the art was displayed in the new (to me) digs. Modern art was crowded, as usual, with the greatest hits of Picasso, Miro, Brancusi, etc. all jockeying for position. While upstairs the Pollocks, Rothkos, Beuys's, Hesse's and the rest had plenty of breathing room.

I like all of the above-mentioned artists, but wouldn't it have really been something to see as much wall space around "Broadway Boogie Woogie" as "Lavender Mist?" Now that would have been a novel approach. Show less art so that we can see more. I'm pissed at how "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was so poorly served.

I'll admit I''m prejudiced. I've seen all of these works look better. Working at the museum made me feel proprietary, even after all these years. And to add insult to injury, I spent too much at the gift shop. Tis the season. Probably the only shop we saw today without Obama merchandise.

High points: the Miro show was great. Who knew he did such amazing kick-ass large-scale pastels? So much of art is filtered, that it's always fun to rediscover an artist that you may have dismissed or just assumed did one thing when it turns out there is so much more to see. Also the Pipolotti Rist video environment was fun, mainly for it's aural component which permeated every gallery. Kids had fun jumping on the big donut-shaped couch. The actual images were not so compelling, but sort of creepy. The kids didn't seem to mind or notice...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

thank you very much

...for a great parade, great friends and family, great food and fun, great hopes for our future - simply a great day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ellen's stardust diner

I used to go here when it was further uptown, had canned 50s and 60s music and eccentric wait staff. Now here we are in Times Square singing along to "You're just too good to be true." Tomorrow's turkey (or tofurkey) day. Will there be anything in the parade to celebrate how our whole world will change in two months or just Disney and Broadway characters? We'll see...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

parental controls

As I continue my book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and their family, it is striking how their story is not just about history or politics, but about parenting. If Henry had not tried to hold on so tightly to the reins of his vast realm, which included most of England and France, his family might not have rebelled against him. He chose to crown his son Hal in his lifetime, but only allowed callow Hal to be a king in name only. He tried to control Hal.

Eleanor used Henry's bad parenting choices as an excuse to urge his sons to rebel against him. She tried to control the disposition of her beloved Aquitaine. The rebellion and the family fell apart. Much later, when her favorite son Richard was king, she still tried to influence him, but Richard was less interested in Aquitaine or kingship and more interested in glory, crusades and adventure.

Every day I try to remind myself that I can't control my kid. I can only try to guide (even as I hear myself say "do this" or "don't do that!"

Our new president won't be able to control events, either. Life and politics are full of surprises. Luckily, he seems well equipped to guide, and not interested in control freak politics.

Monday, November 24, 2008

the artist formerly known as prince

Last night we were watching the American Music Awards on television. My daughter enjoyed bouncing around to the mostly insipid performances, while I struggled with having to accept that what was on display was the current state of music. Except it wasn't.

Most of the performances were lame Madonna-MTV-video-staged rip-offs. And either the sound system was completely out of wack, or most of the performers couldn't sing in tune live, from Coldplay to the Disney Jonas brats. I'm afraid I tend towards the latter, as Miley Cyrus and Beyonce sounded fine.

But when the Pussycat Dolls hit the stage all I could think of was Prince and his revolving door of babes through the years that sang or danced their way through his performances and videos. At least the Prince girls were trashy and fun. The Dolls were neither dolls nor fun. Just loud, fast and trashy.

And what ever happened to the Purple One? Well, appparently he has ditched Minneappolis for L.A. and is proseltyzing door-to-door. A recent interview with The New Yorker proves that Prince is just as strange and mysterious as always. But not necessarily in a good, crazy rock star way. The description of his "pad" versus the religiosity of his sound bytes doesn't mesh at all. I'm not sure our new president (or anyone in Washington, Democrat or Republican) would understand Prince's take on politics. Sigh.

At least we'll always have Raspberry Beret (insert you favorite tune here.) I'm not sure how he reconciles songs like Gett Off or Cream with his belief system. Of course he does have purple thrones, platform flip flops and a hot tub. God bless him, he's a dinosaur.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ho ho ho?

One of the local radio stations started playing Xmas music - all day, all the time, last Friday. What? It's not even Thanksgiving yet.

I understand the retail impulse to start inundating us with Santa merchandise right after Halloween. I hate that, but can dismiss it as crass, greedy and unavoidable. But if you start playing the holiday tunes before it's even Thanksgiving, that's just too much. How can anyone even try to contemplate what they might be thankful for if they are already being forced to worry about if they can afford to get everyone (anyone) presents this year?

I'm impatient for January 20 and our new president, but I can even wait for that. Isn't anticipation half the fun of most of the really good things in life?

I love the Ray Charles rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but I can wait until November 28 or even later to hear it. Tis the season, sigh...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

the worst baby name EVER

I have curtailed a lot of my celebrity gossip site perusal, both to upgrade the content that I'm exposed to, be a grown-up, and most importantly, who has time to keep track of La Winehouse? But every once in a while something from my Google reader trickles through.

I'm not a strict traditionalist. I like unusual or meaningful names. Barack has a nice ring to it. But celebrities are notorious at trying to maintain their hipness through the unusual naming of their children. When a Zowie Bowie is old enough, he changes his name to Joey. Of course for every Zowie there's a Leaf - Phoenix, that is, who changed his name to - Joaquin. Hmmm...

But this latest baby name makes Apple and Kal-El sound like good ideas. It's a crazy amalgam of Disney and stupid. Oh well. Maybe little Bronx will take his revenge in the tell-all...

Friday, November 21, 2008

the old man...'s his birthday today. If he was still around he'd probably want to go see a movie. Is there anything with Meryl Streep or Bill Murray playing right now?

He died in 1993. When he was alive he'd sometimes drive me nuts, inspiring me to intone, "My dad, wrong or wrong!" And I unfortunately seem to have inherited his temper. I'm working on that. But I also inherited his sense of humor, movie buff-ness, interest in art, science and history, and a penchant for getting into a particular subject and then wanting to read everything about it. With me right now, it's the world of Eleanor of Aquitaine. My dad, at different times, had Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson, Cripple Creek, Colorado and the poetry of Wallace Stevens as his enthusiasms, to name a few. We all, if we were listening, learned along with him, because along with the temper there comes a genetic tendency to pontificate, or as we call it in our family, breathe.

And did I mention the Yankees? We were indoctrinated an early age, much like my dad must have been by his dad. My dad's favorite Yankee when he was a kid was Joe DiMaggio, natch. I probably did so well in geometry in high school (the only math I did well) because I had been scoring and watching baseball with the old man for years. Think about it.

Another important fact about my dad was that he was a newspaperman. I don't say journalist, because that term has become meaningless. Dad was a political reporter for various Jersey papers including the Newark News and The Daily Observer, until he had his own weekly, The Hometown News. I remember watching a convention on TV with him, and trying to draw caricatures of some of the politicians. I was actually emulating my artist mom, whose caricature of my dad was used for his column in the Observer. He always presented an unbiased opinion in his pieces, which would sometimes drive the local politicians who befriended him crazy, as they weren't sure if he was a Republican or Democrat. He stuck to that principle at least once, by not voting in a primary, so he didn't have to declare his party and just voted in the general election. I realize now that I'm not sure, but I just assumed, that he was a registered Independent.

What would my dad think of the news media today and the imminent death of print (at least newspapers and magazines)? He'd probably be horrified as we all are at the level of competency displayed by today's "journalists." But the scientist in him would be fascinated by the internet and how news and politics have changed with the ever-growing computer culture. He'd be pretty jazzed about the election as well, and Obama, although like me, he might say, maybe now the Italian-Americans will get a chance! I hope he'd be happy to see that his daughter is political and articulate (sometimes) and interested in the world around her.

Happy birthday, pop. xoxoxo e

Thursday, November 20, 2008

remembering buffy

All the buzz a new vampire flick is getting made me think about Buffy and how she is truly missed. I didn't start watching the show regularly until the famous, mostly silent, "Hush" episode, and came in through the back door, sort of - I watched Angel first.

The Buffyverse, as the fictional world created by Joss Whedon is called, was full of great characters, lots of Brit-inspired wit, pop culture references and good old teenage angst, which most of the time made for great TV and has led to comic books, endless fanfic and hopes for a reappearance of one (or any) of the characters in some form.

What really took the show above and beyond the average fantasy (or any genre) television show was the gradual reveal of the show's mythology, which deepened (much like the hellmouth) and grew over the course of the series. Also taking a pithy, simple metaphor like "high school is hell" and literally and creatively bringing it to undead life. But especially great was the dialogue:
Buffy: "Cordelia, your mouth is open, sound is coming from it. This is never good."

Buffy: "I haven't processed everything yet. My brain isn't really functioning on the higher levels. It's pretty much fire bad; tree pretty"

Spike: "If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock"

Spike: "We like to talk big... vampires do. "I'm going to destroy the world." That's just tough-guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I _like_ this world. You've racing, Manchester united. And you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real... passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Good-bye, Picadilly. Farewell, Leicester-bloody-Square."

Xander: "You are one crazy troll! I'm not choosing between my girlfriend and my best friend. That's insane troll logic."

Giles: Demons after money? Whatever happened to the still beating heart of a virgin. No one has any standards any more"

Angel; "She made me feel like a human being. That's not the kind of thing you just forgive"

Cordelia: Oh please. I don't mean to interrupt your downward mobility, but I just wanted to tell you that you won't be meeting Coach Foster, the woman with the chest hair, because gym was cancelled due to the extreme dead guy in the locker."

Willow: "Well, I like you. You're nice, and you're funny, and you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but...that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month, I'm not much fun to be around either"
I was standing on line at the grocery store the other day and one of the grab and go items was a "Spike" dvd, a compilation of some of the best Buffy episodes to feature that zany vamp. I'm not sure whether I would just prefer to revisit the show via dvd, or to actually see some of these characters again in new adventures. I do know that in Buffy, it was mostly a whitebread world. Angel tried to remedy that a little with the character of Gunn. If Whedon were ever to resurrect Buffy he would need to reflect the Obamaverse.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

staying alert

O. K., not a typical dropping off of the kid at pre-school this morning. I mean, like most days, I was running behind and needed to get her in and settled before I raced off to park the car and get to the office. But today, the museum building which houses her preschool was getting a visit from the President.

"Rocko Bama?" No, not yet, kid.

"This is the current president. He probably wants to visit the museum."

I think the president's behind us now. I'm afraid!" I couldn't help it, I had to look. Just a line-up of SUVs and limos along the sidewalk.

"Not yet."

The entire museum was in lock-down mode in preparation for the visit. If you didn't get in by a certain time you couldn't until noon. If you didn't get out by a certain time, you were stuck there. As I walked down the street after dropping her off, I could see that security had doubled since we had entered ten minutes earlier. I understand the need. I just wonder what it must be like to live with that level of "alert," both for the protectors and the protected.

As a city dweller I probably live with a more heightened sense of paranoia, compared to a suburb dweller. Maybe not. As a mom, my fear level has definitely increased. But I am looking forward to a lessening in the politics of fear. I've thought about this before, but I am wondering again, how President Obama will be able to appear more accessible and friendly than his predecesssor. It will be a great challenge.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"hey kid, stop jumping on my furniture!"

"It's not your furniture."

"Yes it is. I paid for it, it's mine. I just let you sit on it."

Ok. It's official. I am my dad. Yikes.

As I try to manage not losing my temper, invoking the Sicilan part of my heritage, a thought pops into my head. What would Barack Obama do? He always seems so calm, cool and collected. Will he roar at his girls if they one day, full of kid energy, tear through the Lincoln bedroom and start jumping on the heirloom historic artifacts? Will Barack lose his cool and yell, "Hey girls get off that furniture"?

It could happen to any parent.

Monday, November 17, 2008

powerful women

I'm at the part in the book I'm reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine where her husband, King Henry II of England has taken her captive, as a punishment for her urging her sons to rebel against him. Eleanor was an unusual woman for her time, and an unusual queen for any age.

Most royal marriages were arranged to bring wealth and land to the kingdom. That was definitely the case in Eleanor, who was the Duchess of Aquitaine, a vast land which comprised most of what is now modern southern France. What makes Eleanor different from other queens, was her desire to still maintain her control over the lands that were her birthright, and the fact that both her husband (before her betrayal) and her son, Richard the Lionheart, at various times in their reigns left Eleanor in charge.

I haven't seen the Lion in Winter since I was a kid. I've got to check that out again...

There are lots of interviews happening with the next first family, and one of the most consistent questions of Michelle Obama, is "what else" the First Lady might do, besides being, well, the First Lady. It will be interesting to see if Michelle, once she gets her girls settled in to White House life and Washington, picks a First Lady "project' or gets more deeply involved in national policy. We'll see...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

get that song out of heavy rotation

I have finally hooked up the iPhone to the car stereo, which is great. But from time to time I still like to listen to the radio, to see if there's something new or old that I might be interested in. So I was surprised to hear this song (which I truly can't stand) getting airplay. While Mayer and his friends were sitting around waiting, the rest of us were changing the world.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

here come the brides and grooms

My friend Steven had a very interesting post on Prop 8 recently. Like him, I have always been ambivalent about the institution of marriage. My parents had a rocky one, and when my mom left after the nest emptied, it was a tough one for all concerned. I'm sure divorce is hard on small children, but let me tell you, it isn't any easier on 21-year-olds, either.

I've been reading a lot about Eleanor of Aquitaine recently. I like to go back and forth between actual histories and good historical fiction, like the trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman. The fiction gets me into the period, and the non-fiction gives me the facts and figures. Eleanor was one of history's strongest women, with the vast lands of Aquitaine as her birthright. Her marriages to two kings, Louis Capet of France and Henry II of England, played out as battles to hold onto those lands, and later, to try to secure them for her favorite son, Richard (of Lionheart fame.)

Eleanor's status as a woman prevented her from physically or legally fighting for her own rights. She was unable to give Louis a male heir, which resulted in the end of that marriage. She wasn't allowed to see the two daughters she bore him once the marriage ended. She instigated her sons by Henry to defy their father with disastrous results. Marriage in the 12th and 13th century was beneficial primarily for the man, whether king or commoner.

The question is, with the "women's movement," have things improved all that much? Do women get equal pay or equal consideration as their male counterparts in the workplace? Sometimes. Do women with children get treated differently than their childless female co-workers? You better believe it. As a single mom, I'm the head of household, chief cook, bottle-washer and breadwinner. I guess I have more of a say over my destiny than the great Quean Eleanor did. So that's something.

I don't believe that marriage (no offense to President-elect Obama) is a matter to do with religion. I hate to tell the bible thumpers who seem the most up in arms about this issue, but medieval folks were a lot more devout than we are today, and marriage was still viewed primarily as a legal contract. It was important to legally document the heirs to an estate. A child born out of wedlock could not inherit, no exceptions. Where is God in all this?

I want all people to have the same rights and opportunities in our modern world. I don't want government to keep getting entangled in personal rights, whether it be who can marry whom, who can adopt a child, Roe v. Wade, etc. I find it interesting that marriage, an institution that has seemed on the wane, is getting so much attention. It will be interesting to see how our new president deals this issue while trying to drag us all into the new millenium.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I had already seen Obama is Beautiful World, but the rest of these songs are really fantastic, too. Thanks to Judith for passing these along. But can I get Barack Obollywood on iTunes?

My faves:


VIVA OBAMA - Mexican


RESPONDELE A OBAMA - I really like this one




OUI, ON PEUT (YES WE CAN) - Where can I get some of that Gumbobama?

And the list goes on: OBAMA-Extra Golden - Kenya, BLAKK RASTA - Ghana, DANCE OBAMA - Cote d'Ivoire, OBAMA PRAISE - West African, LATINOS FOR OBAMA, PODEMOS COM OBAMA, VOTE OBAMA - to the tune of La Bamba, OBAMA E O MULATO - Brazilian MPB, BARACK THE MAGNIFICENT - The Mighty Sparrow, OBAMA YOU MAKE US PROUD - Red Ride, BARACK OBAMA - Coco Tea, BARACK OBAMA - Steel Pulse, RISE & SHINE FOR OBAMA, GET READY - Ziggy Marley, I'VE GOT A CRUSH ON OBAMA - Obama Girl, REGGAETON OBAMA - Reggaeton

Thursday, November 13, 2008

men in black

Last night D.C. traffic was at a standstill, for one of its usual and particular reasons - a presidential motorcade. As the cars went by and I explained to my daughter what exactly a motorcade was, she got excited - "It's Rocko Bama!"

Not yet, honey, but soon.

As I waited for the motorcycle cops to file past, I thought back to the Clinton era, when I first lived here. I saw Old Bill many times. He was always in the third car, and always smiling, waving out the window. The Bush era was very different, in the wake of 9/11, but I imagine they still would have opted for tinted glass and agents hanging out of the SUV windows, weapons just out of sight, with Bush impossible to spot. Sort of like a Wild West stagecoach.

The Obama era will pose new problems and probably heightened security. As much as I'm sure that he will be more friendly and visible than Bush to the masses, the security level will most likely be extremely high. Somehow the scene from Men in Black where K shows J the weapons keeps playing in my head. I'm hardly a member of the NRA, but I will be happy to know that someone like Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones will be watching our president's back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

how do you solve a problem like Sarah?

Some folks can't get enough of her. Most others can't stand her. But Sarah Palin is here to stay. Yes, Libs, Dems and other Obama-voting cross-overs. Just because the election is over, doesn't mean she's through with us yet. Don't be fooled by the newly flattened hair. Pull your head out of the sand, Hollywood. We need your help.

It's clear Palin has her heart set on superstardom. Her last attempt was politics, so she's still trying for that path. Witness the endless inappropriate sound bytes. But we shouldn't breathe a collective sigh of relief and pretend that she and her wack-a-doodle religious army has retreated to Alaska or the background for the next four years.

We need to get proactive. Sarah and Todd want to be superstars, so let's help them.

There have been mentions of her getting a spot on Fox News as a pundit. No, no, no, that's not enough for this couple. They need a reality show, stat. She needs to get recurring guest spots on Law and Order - someone get her a SAG card. She needs to be on Trump's Apprentice show (if it hasn't been canceled?) The whole family should go on the Amazing Race, so that she can finally get all those passport stamps that she's missing. Make her a television superstar and feed her need, so that politics will seem a lame second career.

C'mon Alec Baldwin. You know some folks out there. Hollywood needs to put its liberal money where it's mouth is and get this lady a deal.

Oh, and sorry Bristol, Piper and the rest...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the nicest kids in town

My daughter's (current) favorite movie is Hairspray. She loves, loves, loves Tracy and Link (although I'll take Corny Collins, thank you) and all the music, and the opportunities to get up and dance. She always has to ask me when it's on, why Amber's mom doesn't want the black and white kids to dance together. I tell her that some people used to try to separate other people, just because their skin was a darker color. That doesn't make much sense to her, so she shrugs and keeps on dancing.

After her umpteenth viewing last night she asked me, "Could we watch Barack Obama now?"


"Because I want to hear what he has to say."

She's 4 1/2.

It's really gonna be all right, people.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"the sheriff is near!"

In honor of today's Barack and Dubya White House meet and greet:

Sunday, November 09, 2008

back in Oz

I spent the day watching a bunch of 4- and 5-year olds in Wizard of Oz costumes chasing each other around, laughing, crying, fighting - generally having a 4- and 5-year old blast. It could have been a nightmare, I guess, but it was really fun. For the older folks, too.
  1. Was it the beautiful fall day?
  2. The nature of probably the greatest American movie?
  3. The general community spirit of goodwill that is permeating the country at the moment?
  4. A combination of all of the above?
Well as to the first, at least in the greater DC area, the weather has been gorgeous and looks to stay that way. Score one for a mild climate (and hopefully not global warming.)

The Wizard of Oz, per the second question, has been delighting children, adults and probably even small animals since it came out in 1939. There is something about the music and the fantasy and the iconic display of friendship that has never been equaled. There are so many stories about the making of the film, from interesting trivia to the semi-scandalous. The cyclone, the Wicked Witch, the flying monkeys - I could go on and on. And well, there's no place like home.

My brother and I grew up with a B&W television. We had seen the movie several times on TV and loved it. One summer, while we were living in Manasquan, NJ, the local movie theater booked the film. My mom insisted that we go see it. My brother and I were up for a treat, but weren't that excited - we'd seen it before. She quietly insisted and off we went. The movie started and it was great to see it on a large screen, so we were enjoying ourselves. Judy Garland sang, the cyclone hit, the house spun around and around and then bang, it landed. Dorothy picked up Toto and went to open the door and...we SCREAMED! The Technicolor was amazing. Oz was amazing. My mom was amazing, for keeping that secret so well, so that we could enjoy the surprise when it happened. I don't know if anyone else in the theater noticed the two kids with the enormous grins on their faces, but we loved that movie that day. And I still catch my breath, every time she opens that door, when I see it today. We all need a little magic in our lives.

And about the third item, well, I think we're painting the Beltway an attractive shade of yellow brick for January. Can't wait.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

get happy

I recently read an article from The Atlantic about personality and the quest for happiness.

Such contradictions arise all the time. If you ask people which makes them happier, work or vacation, they will remind you that they work for money and spend the money on vacations. But if you give them a beeper that goes off at random times, and ask them to record their activity and mood each time they hear a beep, you’ll likely find that they are happier at work. Work is often engaging and social; vacations are often boring and stressful. Similarly, if you ask people about their greatest happiness in life, more than a third mention their children or grandchildren, but when they use a diary to record their happiness, it turns out that taking care of the kids is a downer—parenting ranks just a bit higher than housework, and falls below sex, socializing with friends, watching TV, praying, eating, and cooking.

I don't really think it was a great article, but the paragraph above has really stayed with me. Basically, it really pissed me off. I'm not sure who the writer Paul Bloom spoke to, but I'm sorry, I'm not happier at work. There are moments when work can be satisfying, challenging and other positive adjectives. But my real life, thoughts, dreams, take place outside of work. And I truly wish the balance of time was more even. I spend way too much of my time under fluorescents. And the similar crap above about parenting. Yes, it can be a major pain in the ass sometimes - more so than I ever imagined when I dreamt of having a baby. But it is also wonderful and surprising. And by the by, how many ecstatically happy single people do you know?

I guess what really bugs me about all of this happy talk is just that - why is happiness the ultimate goal? Is life supposed to be happy, all the time? Aren't the good moments, just like laughter, chocolate, great sex, mental realization, supposed to be peak moments?

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty darn happy right now, especially about the recent election. But I would say that an average day for me has its shares of laughs, frustrations, downright anger, and happy times too. Most fairy tales and movies end with that Frozen Happy Moment, as if the characters lives will continue in that state perpetually. I'm not trying to impose a happiness goal on myself, but rather, I am looking more for those little moments of happiness, that I can try to create, or be surprised by, in my day-to-day life.

Friday, November 07, 2008


It's a brave new world and it changed in an instant.

Oh yeah, Obama, too.

But I'm talking about the whole facebook-twitter-blogoverse. I'm always late to the party, so I am a newbie to most of these features. But once I was in, I was off and running, wanting to get more and more connected. In an excerpt from the New York Times article by Clive Thompson referenced above, he describes the term "ambient awarenes"

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.

Facebook and Twitter allow little glimpses into your "friends" lives - things you may or may not want to know. This past week, everyone that I am friends with on Facebook was pretty political, but as people updated their status, or "groups" that they had joined, there were also a few surprises. It's up to the user how personal they want to get in these running real-time life updates. I actually joined Facebook after a group at work was formed, as an attempt to get people more web-savvy and "Web 2.0" our workplace. But truthfully, apart from a few work "friends" who are also friends, Facebook has been actually more invaluable to me as a way to get back in touch with friends from my past, who I had lost touch with, to keep up with friends & family who live far away, or get to know new friends better.

Twitter seemed pointless to me at first, because I'm a visual person, and if I'm working on my computer, and want to share something, Facebook seemed the way to go. Until I tried to tweet on my iPhone. Then it all made sense, even more than SMS or trying to access Facebook through the phone. And where I really crossed over and got into Twitter was on Election Day. I was mesmerized as I watched the Election Day tweets scroll by endlessly. All of this interaction may have added to the more participatory election results. Who knows? But somehow, the big, scary Internet seems a little more accessible with these services. Now I'm not naive. Advertising is a huge feature, and a person who posts intimate details of his or her life does, well, just that. It's the opposite of private. But in such a huge, sometimes lonely, world, it is nice to be able to sign in and see that a friend across the country just woke up to make coffee or some equally mundane task (and posted about it). They wouldn't call you to tell you that, but somehow, reading their little snippets keeps you connected, in a new way. Ambient awareness. This century's virtual reality.