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!