Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Vague Intentions

I have never been a resolute person. Opinionated? Sure. Passionate? Absolutely. Resolute? Um, not really. Well, let's give Noah* a chance, shall we?

[Busy pause.]

No. He's way too complicated. Oh heck. As long as we've stopped, let's take care of that asterisk right now. All my life, I've been thinking that Daniel Webster wrote the first American dictionary, but it turns out that Noah, called The Father of American Scholarship and Education, became associated with dictionaries because of the modern Merriam-Webster dictionary that was first published in 1828 (but under a difference name).

Roget's Thesaurus will be quicker, and time is important. I mean, this very evening is New Year's Eve so this blog has to be disseminated to the masses by then or the consequences will be unthinkable.

Resolute: determined, purposeful, decisive, firm, steady, constant, fixed, unswerving, unyielding, flat-footed (goodness!), resolved, convinced, strong-willed, decided, steadfast, persevering, persistent, adamant.

The antonyms are more my style: weak, changeable, unsteady, faltering, purposeless, aimless.

You see, then, that New Year's Resolutions would be folly for me, guaranteed failures. That's not to say that I won't scramble up on any bandwagon that'll have me. I was perfectly sincere when I signed up at Curves. I absolutely believed I'd show up and work out three times a week, even if my foot hurt or I had a cold or I was too busy with Christmas preparations, even if I have to pay for it whether I show up or not.

Therefore, I have developed New Year's Vague Intentions, which work much better for me. It's not that I actually institute any changes, of course, but at least I feel better about the whole thing. I'm pretty sure that I let "Intentions" be plural just to march along nicely with "Resolutions," but the truth is that I only declare -- well, mutter, sotto voce -- one. I don't want to feel overwhelmed.

This year's Vague Intention is simply to Eat Breakfast. I want to eat a meal within an hour of rising. I've already been awake for three hours and I've still not eaten. I'm told that my body is, as we speak, preparing for me to wander in the wilderness -- surely aimlessly -- for weeks, so it's conserving energy for that event by slowing down my metabolism to the coma level. I'm helping by moving only from my chair to the couch, so, between us, we've probably burned about four calories so far.

So yeah: Breakfast. Soon.

I mean it.

See you next year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bad Combo

Santa asked for a Wish List from me this year, and I was happy to comply. One of the best pleasures of the season is figuring out what to get my friends for gifts, but in the end, the known preference is probably better than the unknown.

For instance, when my buddy Mike, who shall remain nameless, asked about gifts for his sister, I asked if she'd read the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. She had not, declared my friend. Excellent! There's the gift!

Alas, sister Liz had in fact read at least part of the series. Mike went to the bookstore after Christmas and returned the book. He came back out with a gift card, since Liz doesn't remember if she was at #3 or #4 in the series.

So you see that a list can be very important, if less creative and romantic.

It's like the naming of the streets in St. Petersburg. I was so disappointed when I moved here on July 13, 1985, to discover that, with a sprinkling of exceptions, the streets and avenues are simply named numbers. Here I was in an exotic land with palm trees (They're not trees! They're pithy plants!) and draw bridges and tourists and the most amazing storms and the biggest birds ... and the most mundane street names, er, numbers.

But when I discovered how easy navigation was, I was delighted. You could tell me you lived at 5711 21st Avenue South, and I'd actually know how to get there. I lived on East Main in Rochester, but if you didn't know where that was, you just didn't know, and let's not talk about Monroe Avenue or Genesee Street.

So yay for numbered street grids and yay for Wish Lists!

I wanted a day-by-day calendar of quotes from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. There's one in the bathroom at The Longhouse ( and I always feel better -- uplifted -- when I read it. The wisdom, peace, and compassion that seep into me might last all the way to my car, so imagine how nice I'd be if I had my own daily dose of holiness.

Well, Santa brought it to me. Yay, Santa! Alas, it's from a strange publisher, indeed, a publisher who clearly wanted to give his customers a little something in addition to sacred words of His Holiness, a publisher named Andrews McMeel Publishing, at 1130 Walnut Street, Kansas City, Missouri, 64106. This bonus is in the form of THE DAILY EXTRA on the back of each of three hundred and sixty-five pages. Oh wait. That can't be the right number, because Saturday and Sunday share a page. What the heck?

Okay. Let's skip the numbers and just get down to the problem. Here's the Dalai Lama for Friday, July 16: Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.

Fine. That's not so very very profound, but it's okay. But what ho! on the back of the page is THE DAILY EXTRA: Match the Artist with the Song.

  1. Summer Breeze
  2. Summer Wind
  3. Summer in the City
  4. Boys of Summer
  5. Girls in Their Summer Clothes

  1. Lovin' Spoonful
  2. Bruce Springsteen
  3. Seals and Crofts
  4. Frank Sinatra
  5. Don Henley

Still thinking about that honorable life, are you?

Here's October 6, with apologies to David Rogachefsky and Olga, born on that day: Mistakenly apprehending inherent existence in all phenomena serves as the root of all other delusions. And THE DAILY EXTRA: Cool But Disgusting Fact. "Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour -- about 1.5 pounds a year. By 70 years of age, an average person will have lost 105 pounds of skin."

Okay. Maybe thinking about rogue skin is easier than trying to understand what the heck was going on with that quote, but you get my point.

One more and I swear I'll quit. Says His Holiness: If you fulfill the value of a human lifetime through engaging in religious practice, then there is no point in worrying about death. THE DAILY EXTRA: Household Hint. "Old nylon stockings, cut lengthwise, make great ties for tomato plants. They won't cut into the stalk, are weather resistant, and are very strong."

Have mercy!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Camels Are Lowing

Today's long-awaited blog will be a mishmash of Christmas images and thoughts, starting with the traditional Mahon Camel Cookies. Saudi Arabia is dear to this family's collective heart (and the family is dear to mine), so I started making molasses camels for them. I had trouble this year. I used the wrong recipe (from The Joy of Cooking), and produced a dough as stiff as pasta dough, which Olga tells me is as tough as the dog biscuit dough I'll be making for Benji later on. I let Mike test-drive the camel, and it came up substandard for both taste and texture, so I herded the rest into the trash and went back to the tried and true Ms. Crocker. As you can imagine, the dough sometimes gets stuck in those hooves, so we have to pretend that some of the camels are sitting down.

These festive bells are made with The Joy of Cooking's Rich Sugar Cookie recipe, substituting 100% of the vanilla with 150% of maple extract. Yum. Meee. For the paint, I beat an egg yolk with another drop or two of the maple, some water, and some food coloring.

Moving out of the kitchen into the living room, behold this package from a dear friend in The Land of Several Lakes. It was a tight fit in my mailbox, so I had to yank it out, and when I did, it fell to the ground and was hoisted, sort of, on its own acorn. As you can see, that acorn is really in there. I'm counting it as a Christmas Miracle, right up there with the fact that I was able to use Photoshop to erase enough of my friend's address to render him or her anonymous.

Now let's go outside to the Fallen Santa. I raved enough about this last year, but nothing exceeds like excess. Really, in the daytime, it looks as if hordes of barbarians entered the village and slaughtered all the brightly dressed townspeople. Or maybe the Florida sun melted all of Santa's helpers and then the cooler evening hardened them again. And again. I mean, it's cheerful in its own way, but gee, the same could have been said about my grandmother's funeral procession (sixty miles from Kane to Oil City, PA, at 40mph, the teenagers and mid-twenties in the last cars, laughing and singing with the radio, carrying on as if death had no sting).

Down a couple more blocks, though, you'll see this holiday-heavy lawn. These people keep the decorations inflated -- and aloft! -- all day and all night.

I sure hope the Santa Pilot stays clear of all that Spanish moss, which, by the way, was used to stuff furniture, like sofas and mattresses, in the Olden Days. This is on René's street. Further up 49th (maybe around 5th Avenue North), but sadly without a photo here, is a house with five trees in row, each in a rainbow color (=). [The preceding is not a ridiculous emoticon of a surprised person with vertical eyes, which would be surprising, indeed, but the equal sign, indicating the desire for equality under the law for non-heterosexual people, too.]

And look at this inclusive setup, on 58th Street: a dreidel and a manger. I can't tell if the dreidel is looking curiously at the manger or if it's acting in a menacing fashion, but it doesn't matter: They're together.

In checking the spelling of dreidel, I found out that it's a game of chance involving pennies or, preferably, chocolate money. Really now. A religion featuring chocolate and money? How bad could that be?