Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The American Experience

Last night, in the wasteland that is cable television, Satan and I lucked up on a gem. The latest installment in the PBS Series, The American Experience, on RFK.

I've spent most of my life fascinated by all things JFK-related probably because my birth and his assassination happened only a few months apart. I'm all too familiar with all the details of the events of November 22, 1963.

I'm a little hazy on the days and years that followed the assassination. Last night's program really brought home RFK's struggle first with the grief and devastation that came as the result of the loss of his brother and best friend and then the further monumental struggle he went through to be transformed from a right-hand behind-the-scenes man to being a out-front leader and visionary in his own right.

What really struck me, perhaps because it further reinforces a belief I've come to have over these last years, is RFK's ability to be thoughtful. To take responsibility. To change his mind, to become, to evolve, in a word, to LEARN.

It's a quality that seems to be in short supply in our country's current leadership (if you can call it that) today. Everyone is so sure they are right, that they have all the answers now. Today. No one, it seems, is willing to concede that they might have been wrong, ever, and to be open to a new paradigm or a better idea.

When RFK finally came out against the Vietnam war, along with suggesting a new course of action besides the endless slaughter of American troops, he took reponsibility for the role he played, during the JFK administration, in starting that war. He had learned, he had moved on, and realized there was a better way and wasn't afraid to say it.

There are lots of qualities that make a great leader. But I really think the most important quality in a leader is the ability to learn. Really absorb the lessons that life teaches and change tactics and even one's mind entirely if that's what the situation calls for.

To be fluid. To be open. To be thoughtful. To have the courage to change. Even when you're the guy (or woman) in charge.

Last night's special really brought it home to Tom and I what was lost in the Ambassador Hotel that day in the summer of 1968. The hope for an end to that terrible war, and racism and poverty. A leader who cared about all these things who had been through the fire of loss and self doubt, and having suffered himself, was ready to address the suffering of others.

A leader who wasn't afraid to change, to do the right thing.

Have we ever really recovered?


He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
-Aeschylus
(Inscribed on RFK's tombstone.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving: The Recap

I had a lovely Thanksgiving and hope you did too. I cooked this year, because I enjoy doing it and because we finally, thankfully, have a place large enough to host more than a couple of people at a time.

I took and would post pictures, but I’m having a HECK of a time with my computer. It has ceased to function normally and has somehow downloaded some new operating system (or something) and keeps having pop-ups about “phishing” whatever the hell THAT is. I am fighting the urge to chuck the whole damn machine out the guest room window so I can watch it land with a satisfying deadly crash on top of the giant semi trailer that is still parked in our back yard.

Anyway.

My favorite new recipe to come out of this year’s dinner has to be Caramel Pecan Pie. It is delicious, decadent, and as my Mother put while enjoying a piece for T-giving dessert, “Sweet enough to make you swoon.” It is from my friends at Southern Living, the only people I trust enough to make use of an untried recipe at perhaps the most important dinner of the year. As usual, they didn’t let me down (I also made, for the first time, their Candied Sweet Potatoes—delicious, which came from a “Best of Southern Living” cookbook I received for my b-day from Christa—Thanks Christa!).

Here’s the pie recipe:

Caramel-Pecan Pie

Prep: 20 min., Bake: 38 min., Cook: 7 min.

1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts
28 caramels
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted Chocolate-Dipped Pecans (optional) Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick bottom and sides of piecrust with a fork.

Bake piecrust at 400° for 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned; cool on wire rack.

Combine caramels, butter, and 1/4 cup water in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, 5 to 7 minutes or until caramels and butter are melted; remove from heat. Stir together sugar and next 3 ingredients. Stir into caramel mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in pecans. Pour into prepared crust. Bake pie at 400° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°, and bake 20 more minutes, shielding edges of crust with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove pie to a wire rack to cool. Top with Chocolate-Dipped Pecans, if desired.

***

After our guests moved on, Satan and I enjoyed a leisurely viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” during which we debated the merits of Joan Fontain versus Olivia DeHavilland (they were sisters) and speculated on the supposed sexual orientation of Mrs. Danvers (we both concluded that she was crazy, not gay).

On Friday, I had plotted a secret mission with my friend, Julie, to procure, for the first time in my married life (ten years if you’re counting), a flocked Christmas tree. And here I suppose I should interject some back-story. At the time I married Satan, I had a lovely fake but VERY REALISTIC (mind you) Christmas tree that had served me perfectly well for several years.

Shortly after we moved in together, Satan and I—well really just Satan, decided we should have a (I shudder at the very phrase) “yard sale” in order to get rid of the overflow that resulted from combining our two households. My perfectly lovely and serviceable, but ultimately defenseless, Christmas tree was packed away in its storage box and parked in a dark corner of the garage with items that were DECIDEDLY NOT for sale.

Satan, being, well, Satan, and believing that fake Christmas trees are a sin against nature, dragged out my defenseless fake tree during a time when I was away cringing in the house from sheer embarrassment (I spent a lot of time doing that while perfect strangers pawed through my crusty old junk in the driveway) and sold the tree to one of our first customers FOR A DOLLAR.

One Dollar.

It’s been downhill from there as far as the Christmas tree goes.

It’s generally a struggle every year to agree on the type/size/and d├ęcor of the tree. According to Satan it must be a) REAL and b) NOT FLOCKED. Last year, in one of my worst Christmas tree defeats EVER, he finally wore me down, convincing me that it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to decorate the spindly branches of a live Norfolk Pine houseplant we have.

Ya’ll. It was ugly.

I resolved at that time to do better this year and, to that end, had conspired with my friend Julie to take a trip out to a local nursery and order up a BEAUTIFUL tree and have it flocked, festooned with lights, and delivered. Our plan was to meet up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and head out to the nursery together to pick out The Perfect Tree.

As it happened, on the Saturday in question, Satan and I had just gotten in from a lovely long walk to the river and back when it came time for me to head out to the nursery. As those who know me well know, Satan almost never accompanies me on outings with my friends and so, when he asked where I was going, I didn’t give it a second thought and told him.

Evidently, his evil satan senses were working overtime, because this time, of ALL TIMES, he decided he’d just come along.

Which is how I found myself at the nursery, with Satan, my friend Julie, and my friend (and nursery employee), Sherry, surrounded by beautiful Douglas Firs as far as the eye could see with Satan loudly proclaiming to everyone in the vicinity that, should he find a flocked tree in his house, he would, “throw it off the balcony”.

At which point, I had no choice but to turn to my friend Sherry and say,

“Obviously, he’s just determined not to get flocked this holiday season.”

To which she replied,

“I see that.”

The good news is that I picked out a beautiful three that will arrive on Friday. Hopefully by then I’ll be able to post a photo.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Be Prepared

Last night at the Wal-Mart Pharmacy, the lady in line behind me had the cutest Cairn Terrier EVER in her cart. The dog was very patiently standing in the belly of the cart wearing a stylish multi-colored sweater and a matching pink rhinestone collar with a pink leash attached.

I couldn’t resist asking her if I could pet the dog. She said yes, and I launched into my “pretty girl” talk in my ridiculous doggy voice while giving the puppy an enthusiastic (and much appreciated) petting.


I first mistook the dog for a silky terrier, but her owner corrected me saying the dog was in fact a cairn. “Like To-To!”, I commented still scratching the puppy under her chin.

“Yes,” she said “like To-To. Not many people know that.”

I smiled.

The owner continued, “Well, like To-To except for she’s blonde,” the owner added.

“I’ll be she has more fun than To-To,” I said.

She laughed. She’s actually watched The Wizard of Oz a couple of times,” she said, gesturing at the dog.

“Oh yah?” I said, “What did she think of it?”

The owner shrugged, “Eh. Not much.”

This made me giggle.

I looked more closely at the woman. I guessed her in her mid-fifties, thin, no make-up, with a kind face. She had on a knitted sock cap. There was nothing in her cart besides the dog and a small doggie dish with water in it in case she got thirsty. The dog was standing on a cart-sized square of cardboard.

I suppose the woman mistakenly thought I wanted an explanation (I was actually thinking how nice it was to see a dog in Wal-Mart) so she told me, “I can bring her in here because she’s working on becoming a certified therapy dog.”

“How nice,” I said.

The woman went on, “She used to be just a plain old pet until this happened.” She drew back her knitted cap to reveal a completely bald head. On the left side of her scalp was a huge c-shaped open gash at least two inches wide at its widest point.

“She must be a huge help to you,” I said looking back down at the dog that I was still reflexively petting.

“Oh, YES,” the woman said, “I don’t know what I would have done without her. Sometimes I have seizures and she can actually detect one coming on.”

“I’ve read about that,” I told her.

She asked me if I had a dog and I told her about FurGirl. She was in the midst of telling me about how Retrievers make great therapy dogs when it got to be my turn in line. I turned away from her, took care of my business, and when I turned back she was gone.

I couldn’t get her off my mind as I walked to my car. And then I thought about her all the way to my next destination. Finally, I realized: I should have invited her to Thanksgiving dinner.

Because maybe? Maybe she has a husband and three kids and two grandchildren and four invitations for Thanksgiving? But, somehow I doubt it. And if she does, it’s always nice to have another invitation, right? Also, I never learned the woman’s name or the name of her dog.


I wish I had.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Don’t miss your opportunities this holiday season. I’ve resolved to be ready the next time the universe presents me with one
.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Succulent Sunday Cont'd

So! Blogger continues to annoy the hell out of me by being contankerous about allowing me to post photos. Today, it allowed me to post the previous photo, but then--annoyingly!--would not allow me to post any text (without then disappearing the photo).

I've overcome the problem by posting this here text in a new entry. Just pretend they're all together. Because, indeed, I did pot the little succulent garden pictured in the last entry just this morning. You probably can't tell by the photo, but the carmel colored container (alliteration points!) I used is very shallow and is, in fact, the bottom component to what was my ceramic water fountain earlier this year in my balconey garden. When the pump stopped working, I resolved to pot it with succulents. Fortuitiously, I came across a succulent sale last night at Lowe's, where the plants ranged from a mere dollar to fifty cents in price. I have three other plants that I did not pot, and I'm already scouting the house for charming shallow ceramic dishes to transform. This whole succulent thing plays into not only my love for plants but also into my obsession with all things tiny and thus I'm wondering if I could possibly quit my job and become a miniature succulent farmer/potter?

Yah, probably not.

Otherwise, I am FINALLY getting around to reading Running With Scissors. The universe has, luckily, made sure I didn't miss this fantastic, hilarious, and disturbing book. In a literary world rife with memiors about dysfunctional childhood (i.e., "The Glass Castle" and "The Tender Bar", and let's not forget the original, "Angela's Ashes" to name a few), "Running with Scissors" has to take the proverbial dysfunction cake. Augusten Borroughs tells the story of how he, after growing halfway up with an alcoholic father and mentally disturbed drama queen mother (who enjoys cigarette butt and smoked oyster sandwiches), is then shuttled to the bazaar home of his mother's therapist to live. The place really defies description. Please read the book. It left me laughing out loud three seperate times. And that's just this morning. (You can read it next, Mom!) But, you need to get a move-on, the movie release is upon us.

Let's hope they don't screw it up.

Succulent Sunday

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Something in the Air....


I know.

I've been away a REALLY long time. SO long, in fact, that someone actually e-mailed me to request a blog post.

So! Here I am.

Has this been a week or what?

Don Rumsfeld...GONE! House...BLUE! Senate...BLUE! Pelosi...SPEAKER! President...eating sh--!

It's been so long since I've had hope for this country? That I almost forgot what it felt like. And actually? It feels wonderful. But, to be honest, a little scary.

Also? I can't stop writing. Short. Staccato. Sentences.

I blame the Toad Hollow Chardonnay. Which? I highly recommend. If you don't mind. A little brevity. Also? Sounding a little? Like. William Shatner.

Bones!

Anyway. The Toad Hollow? After much research over some really delicious spaghetti? We discovered it wasn't aged in oak and therefore does not taste smokey. WHICH? Is a really good thing. We speculated that, perhaps? It is aged in Tupperware.

Not that there's anything. Wrong with that.

In other, hopefully less staccato and question mark ridden news, a friend of mine and sometime blog reader (La Donna) has a daughter (Stephanie) who along with her friend (William Sledd) has made just about the CUTEST YouTube video EVER. It's called "Ask a Gay Man about Denim" and it's getting quite alot of attention. IN FACT, along with receiving a bunch of designer jeans...FREE...they have been contacted by WARNER BROTHERS and will be transported to California to produce yet another YouTube video about an up and coming rock band (I'm not sure which).

So when my friend (La Donna) told me that her daughter (Stephanie) wasn't mentioning her new found fame and fortune much around town I was all, "WHAT? Well, then, I'll just have to post on my blog about it and I DON'T EVEN KNOW THE GIRL (Stephanie)".

And it totally doesn't matter if the previous two paragraphs are too convoluted to understand. The point is: GO WATCH THE VIDEO.

And then go buy yourself some long and leans.

(Have I noticed this entry is WITHOUT PHOTOS? Yes. Am I pissed about it? Yes. It's this thing Blogger does sometimes. WTF?!)

(Edited the next day to add: The Toad Hollow Chardonnay? Is actually aged in stainless steel. Who knew? Also? It's made by Robin William's brother. We DID know that much last night. And? Despite having now sobered up. The staccato thing [not to mention the annoying question marks] are still with me. And? You're probably wondering? Why I'm not being more specific about my Big Outing last night [yes, I was out until NINE P.M. I am a Party Monster]. I'm not being specific about certain out-of-town friends because. Because the whole thing is a SECRET and cannot be discussed at this time.)