Sunday, November 29, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving is not even cold in its grave. Leftovers are still in the refrigerator. It's not even December. Yet my first Christmas card was in my mailbox yesterday. It was from my sister-in-law ... er, that is, my brother and his wife. I know she loves most holidays, so her eagerness to get started on Christmas is no surprise. In truth, the fact that she's a recent, first-time grandmother is probably what prompted the early cards. There's a photo of the little angel inside the card.

I have no doubt that this woman would call herself a Christian (heck, she may be one for all I know), but I further doubt she celebrates the birth of Christ at Christmas. I imagine she celebrates her joy in her family, and the special feeling of excitement that Christmas brings -- and who cares if it's simply residual childhood hysteria or the mob rule of gift-buying or the thrill of making special foods and putting up special decorations, the thrill of tradition-building or tradition-confirmation or tradition-breaking? Who cares what the source is? Christmastime feels good.

I think Christmastime feels good to Jews in America and Muslims (if they've been here long enough to get swept up in it) and whatever else we've got here. Hindus? Taoists? Is that even a religion? Who knows? Who cares? Christmastime is fun and warm and fuzzy.

One year, I celebrated the Chinese New Year with a small Hispanic family in Bogotá, Colombia. I got swept up. I twirled around, clanging my bag of money over my head, screaming and yelling with the best of them, making enough noise to chase away the bad spirits, as directed. I backed up into the celebrants behind me, all of us yelling and tumbling and laughing, to make way for the giant dragon roaring and swaying its way through the crowd. I felt exultant as I walked through the mist of lavender water the Buddhist priests sprayed on me as I left the celebration.

Did I believe the Blessing of the Money ceremony actually blessed my money? Hmm ... Since it was Colombian money and I returned home the next day, I'd have to say no. Was I now a Buddhist because I bought a candle and paid for it to be lit and placed in a room with hundreds and hundreds of other burning candles? Uh, no, but I'm glad I got to feel the astonishing heat of all those candles. I felt my hair move in the heat waves from so many tiny flames. Talk about the power of numbers! Years and miles and cultures away, I walked into the Mint Room at the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company in Boulder, Colorado, and felt the stunning yet exhilarating opposite sensation: Cold so cold it felt like my eyes were breathing frosty air ... except it wasn't cold at all. It was merely minty -- minty twenty feet tall and fresh from a workout.

The point is, I just don't think the motive behind the good feelings matters so much. As you know if you've been paying attention (and you know who you are), I don't have a television and I don't read the papers or listen to the news on the radio. Even so, I know there's fuss about the Obama family having a "holiday" tree instead of a "Christmas" tree. I love it that the Christians who object don't seem to know that the word holiday means holy day. They're so ready to be riled.

A tree by any other name would smell as piney.

Let's take a moment and look up yule, okay? Oh wow. This is fun. The word is taken from the Old(e) English word for the pagan midwinter festival, but after the 12th century, it means, ah, Christmas.

I got all fussy a week ago about the term African American. I was told that it's the politically correct version. I'm pretty sure that the PC versions of anything are just to shut up the real rabble-rousers, the squeaky wheels. The rest of the population doesn't much give a hoot. I'm that way with the term woman. I'm not a chick -- and certainly not a chic, which I'm seeing way too much on Facebook -- or a girl or a gal. I'm a woman. Hear me screech. But I'm finally, after too many decades, getting it that woman is just the PC term and most of that population -- women (and you know who you are) -- either don't care or prefer the term girl. I'm making a leap and suggesting that African Americans are the same way. They're probably just fine with being black. I grew up with them being colored, then black, then Afro hyphen American, and now African American.

Of course, I want to say, in a pouty, defensive tone, "Well, then, why aren't I called an Italian-American?" but then my mother's side, the Huckabone side, leaps up and adds Irish and Swedish and god knows what all. The wordsmith finally takes its head out of a book long enough to remark, "Africa's a continent, not a country," so at least I can make my whining easier: "Well, then, why aren't I called a European-American instead of a white person?"

I don't even know what we're trying to define here. I mean, if the guy's black, I can tell just by looking. If he's white, ditto. Those basic colors -- which, by the way, go together really well (cf your traditional wedding) -- don't describe the actual skin tones of Negroes or Caucasians, so we know that's not it.

Not to mention: We're all from Africa anyway, so what's all this noise? Furthermore, what's that got to do with Kwanzaa, er, Christmas?

I have a friend (who shall remain nameless) who loves to give gifts and loves to get gifts but hates Christmas because it's expected that he should give and get gifts. My thoughtful, compassionate response is: tough noogies. Get out there and enjoy the lights and the corny music and the good cheer. Yes. Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My first impulse when I need something from the hardware store is to think I need something from Home Depot, so congratulations to their PR firm. I'm trying to work my way out of that, though, so when Sven (Anne's Volvo, remember) needed new nuts, I went to the Gulfport Hardware Store. The man didn't have an exact match in terms of style, but he gave me self-locking nuts, which is a phrase I never thought I'd use. Ever. I don't even like saying they're "nuts." It just doesn't make sense to me, but "washers" doesn't make sense, either. Is it possible that a self-locking nut doesn't need a washer? If so, washers should be called lockers.

Well, yesterday -- Thanksgiving Eve Day -- I faced a car-painting crisis which involved taking off about a third of the paint that was already on Sven. That called for mineral spirits, in addition to burning a Jesus candle from the Hispanic section of Sweetbay and burying a Hot Wheels car upside down in my backyard. I ran off to the Gulfport Hardware Store, wearing my painting clothes because that's okay when you're staying local.

My painting clothes consist of bike pants for their non-restrictive qualities, and an over-sized tee shirt (which is my size), usually from my days of major blood-donation. They're all covered with paint, but I keep washing them and using them. Lately I've been turning them around and cutting a slit in the collar for a more fashionable v-neck style.

Note that my painting clothes don't include a bra. In my earlier years (if not yours), that might have been something to wiggle your eyebrows about. In these years, let's all just turn our heads aside and think of something pleasant.

Well, dang. I got there at two:forty-five and they had closed at two:thirty. I cursed my luck. Now I'd have to go back home and change my clothes in order to go to Home Depot. That's not local, you see. What ho! There's some sort of hardware store on Ninth Avenue, in that odd little jog between 58th and Tyrone. Aker's True Value, maybe. Something like that. I'll go there!

I went. The place looked closed -- it always does -- but it was open. Mineral spirits were the first thing I saw. The shelves were more than half-empty -- and I don't mean half-full. I don't remember if the floors were uneven boards, but it's the kind of place that should be floored that way, with squeaks.

The old man behind the counter made me and the customer behind me wait while he brought a handful of bills and checks to the back room. I entertained myself by reading a notice and wondering what it meant. "A donation of 50 cents is appreciated, to keep this service available. Progress Energy." Hmm. Progress Energy is the old Florida Progress which is the old Florida Power which is the old ... well, it probably goes on for another half dozen names. At least -- so far -- it still employs actual words, unlike, say, Wachovia, and it isn't a torment like Fifth Third Bank. Wait a minute. Maybe only banks have nonsense names. Hmm ...

Anyway, when the man returned, I asked about the notice. He may as well have told me it was a fifth third from Wachovia, but I think the notice meant if you pay your electric bill at this hardware store, please consider adding a fifty-cent tip.

That four-dollar can of solvent cost twice what it should have because I had to stop down the block and get a jug of Farm Store eggnog.

Well, I got back home and could not open that can. I was almost weeping with frustration when I decided I'd simply have to go back to Aker's and have them open the damned can. But then -- because my mother lives on? -- I knew I'd have to change clothes including, this time, underwear appropriate to a middle-aged woman. The old man was outside smoking. He tried but couldn't get it open. He told me to get pljdih, which I thought might be the other clerk's name. He was talking around the cigarette, using both hands to give himself a hernia over that cap.

I went inside and waited while the other clerk chatted up the customer, who did not want to buy a ten-dollar flashlight. "Batteries are included!" the clerk said. He asked if the man had a knife. He did not, but I did, so he was able to open the flashlight package. In the meantime, I found the smallest toy solider I've ever seen. It might have been half an inch tall. He was next to a penny. I put the soldier on top of the cash register and said, "This is a stick-up," but no one paid attention to me.

Finally it was my turn. The fortysomething clerk patiently explained to me that you've got to push down while you turn. Oh, gosh. What an idiot I am. It's probably from having worn a bra too long. I kept my mouth shut, though, because I knew the guy wouldn't be able to open that can. I was right. He got a pair of pliers and that did the trick.

I own a pair of pliers, by the way, but it's not natural for me to think about tools. If I can't do it with my own hands, I bring it to someone with bigger hands. It simply doesn't occur to me that the right tool might make my hands stronger. I can think of a hammer, but that's it. Well, perhaps my tool-consciousness has been raised.

I love marching into the ever-masculine Home Depot, going directly to the aisle with the mailboxes or the blue painters' tape. I love acting like I belong there amongst all the bearded, ball-capped men with their trolleys of 2x4s and heavy buckets of ... of ... of whatever comes in those huge tubs. But I really do prefer the intimacy of the little hardware stores. I wonder, though, what I'd be thinking if Aker's had also closed early because of the holiday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Cookie Blog

I apologize, once again, for the awful photographs. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong. One of you (and you know who you are) should take pity on me and help me.

In addition to apparently mishandling a camera, I'm also at a loss when it comes to processing the pix once I've taken them. Since I got my new computer, my old system is, I don't know, floating around in cyber space, yearning to come home. Now I can't figure out how to delete photos from the camera. It gets heavier every day.

But that's not why we're here! We're here to look at these cookies.

They're just sugar cookies, using maple extract instead of vanilla, and painted with egg-yolk colors, which the extract made darker, giving them a more autumnal look. But the leaf is hard to cut out. Dough's always getting stuck in the crannies, and the cookies are too big anyhow. Okay. I'll bring them to Mike's parents for Thanksgiving.

I made a bunch of little cookies and intended to color them like autumn leaves, hoping to convince Jill's other guests on Friday that, indeed, some Northern leaves are circular in shape, with scalloped edges. However, I started messing with the paint brushes -- surely influenced by Stillwagon on Saturday -- and look what happened. I made Korean fortune cookies!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Messy, Messy!

I was outside just now, fighting the wind as I painted the roof of Sven, Anne's 1998 silver Volvo S70. Benji was helping by thrashing around in a dirt puddle, chewing stickers off his dirty feet with an equally dirty mouth (see photo above). After his bath, I passed my computer and saw that I had a new email from a high school classmate. I read it, burst into flames, and spent a few furious moments learning how to block someone from my gmail. I'm usually a compleat idiot with things technological, but I was so very motivated that I whipped through the process as if I'd invented it myself.

Then I took a shower, needing no hot water at all.

The email has text first:
The devastation and ignorance being caused by this
Catastrophic occurrence will forever destroy the
Fiber and character of a once great nation
With little hope for correction or rebuilding
At the present rate of duplicity and complacence
Being displayed by the American public.
Then there was a painting called The Gathering Storm. There were human faces painted into the storm clouds. Now, I've never been familiar with famous faces. I'm usually reduced to saying things like, "Oh, you know -- that French Connection guy." I hadn't even laid eyes on a picture of David Letterman until a friend made me watch the Tenth Anniversary Show. Nope. I'd never seen him before. So I don't recognize all the people in the painting, but the main one is this black guy who would look just like President Obama except that he seems to have a bit of a moustache. A not-quite Hilary is next to him, and it looks like McCain on the other side, so it must be Biden (that was an earlier blog). And others.

These peopled clouds are squatting oppressively over a small town that looks like it's from the Depression Era, and the subtitle says -- unbelievably -- We're from the government ... and we're here for your guns.

The wit who arranged the email added: And your healthcare, taxes and your personal choice.

As if all that weren't graphically pleasing enough, there's the latest monstrosity from emoticons, the inventor of which should be made to read by blogs for the rest of his life. Not content with a winking, blinking, colorful Smiley Face, my, um, friend from high school added a big-eyed, orange-haired little girl swinging her legs (and one shoe lace has come undone -- awww!), clutching a teddy bear. The girl, unfortunately, is rather more demonic than endearing, with eyes like that Chucky person who was not in The French Connection.

Well, I became instantly incensed, of course. Obama is here to remove my personal choice. What does that even mean? Isn't that usually about abortion or gay marriage or something?

Well, one personal choice that's still available to me is what kind of junk I get in my emails. I hit REPLY and said, "No right wing stuff for me, please and thank you." I added more, then deleted it, then wrote something else instead, then deleted it. Reason, oddly, prevailed.

She wrote back immediately and said, "LOL - you liberals have no sense of humor! I won't send you any more truth."

Hah! If I thought I was furious before, that was nothing compared to my reaction to the LOL. But I've had a shower now and I'm sipping a soothing cup of coffee. I've turned the AC on and soon I'll have some lovely chicken kebab leftovers from the Pasadena Steak House, so all is not horrible in my world. But let me get this straight. I object to devastation and ignorance, duplicity and complacence, so I have no sense of humor? I object to calling the election of Obama a catastrophy, and someone thinks I should be LOLing instead?

That's when I figured out how to block her.

So here's the deal, then. I celebrate some diversity. I'm all about culinary diversity, racial diversity, sexual diversity (as long as the involved people are smiling). Give me cultural diversity and literary, musical, and visual diversity. Yay for religious diversity. Well, and go ahead and have your political diversity, just don't burden me with it.

No one has ever changed my mind about politics by sending me an email. I don't expect that to change. Look, one time I sent all of you in my Blog Group an email from Amnesty International. There was special action to be taken to try to, gosh, stop torture. One of you (and you know who you are) wrote back and told me to leave you out of my political mailings. And so I have. I did not write back and taunt him for being pro-torture (despite all evidence that proves it doesn't work, ahem). I didn't accuse him of losing his sense of humor (believe me! torture's a great topic for humor!). I just quit sending him political things.

I want my classmate to act like me. Is that so much to ask?

I see a woman every couple of weeks who sort of wastes the group's time by telling us, over and over, how her feelings have recently been hurt. She's had nearly thirty years of active self-improvement, so I'm always baffled by this annoying behavior on her part. "Grow some ova!" I want to shout. But today I was thinking that I'm just like her, except I don't tell you about it. I am so thin-skinned and so very tender and easily wounded that I can't stand to engage in political debate. I hear "you liberals," and my throat closes up. Tossing out my television and refusing to read newspapers, while certainly a sign of spiritual superiority, is nothing more than or less than self-protection. And that's what blocking Brenda McNulty, who shall remain nameless, is.

On a lighter note (yay!), I took the first of five painting classes with Keith Stillwagon. What a delightful mess his paints are! He's a frowning, muttering man who is nonetheless a total charmer. He somehow managed to make most of us begin some pretty good paintings. I have every faith that I won't be ashamed to hang my painting right in front of everyone before it's all over. Of course, not all that much shames me ... and "right in front of everyone" might include the crawl space in my new house (about which I continue to hear nothing).