Sunday, November 28, 2010

Back to plate-spinning

Today is my last day home after a welcomed break for the holiday. Four days off and I've found my old rhythm of housekeeping and homemaking. In four days organization has begun to return along with all my old enthusiasms.

It's called Being Rested. The past four nights I did not go to bed trying to fit the puzzle pieces of who has to be where and what car will take them and how it will all work around letting out dogs and making sure we all have the proper clothing clean and ready to wear.

Instead, for four glorious nights I knew in the morning would be coffee, then a quick lick around the house, and then the easy dance between hanging out laundry and writing and knitting and cooking and sewing.

The little glitches in the day that normally bring the whole opera to a screeching and tragic halt -- for instance, Dirtman being called into work early -- mean nothing more than perhaps flipping a chore or two. Suddenly words I haven't uttered in a very long time come out of my mouth: "No big deal!" Almost...cheerful.

Tomorrow the circus goes back on the road and I will begin my fabulous plate act, running from spinning plate to spinning plate, making sure they stay moving so they don't fall and break.

I can never think beyond the plates while they're spinning, though. They are useless, but urgent and, frankly, I have to be thankful for the opportunity to perform. Rent must be paid, the lights must stay on, Linguinis must be fed.

But, until Christmas, the plates are all there is.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks for ... the turkey...

It is The Day After Thanksgiving and Dark Garden sends us an e-mail complimenting Dirtman and me on the food we’d had the day before. Because it is The Day after Thanksgiving, I don’t open it until the Day After the Day After Thanksgiving.

The Day After Thanksgiving is the day I stay in bed recuperating from The Week Before Thanksgiving. (Long-time Linguini readers know this involves Turner Classic Movies and a heating pad).

So I get the e-mail and, I have to admit, I’m surprised. I was not particularly impressed with this year’s menu.

The turkey was, as always, very good. Dirtman usually takes care of the turkey with minimal input from me; so, other than resolving each year that Someone Else should carve (someone who is neither Dirtman nor I), the turkey was perfect.

Everything else – meh.

In all fairness, this is the first year I’ve done an all-out Thanksgiving in this house. We had a tiny celebration here the first year and the next year we were at Dark Garden’s house. The kitchen here is very tiny and I’ve had to give away most of my cookware because it didn’t fit in the oven or on the stove. (Ironically, for the first time in my 23 years of marriage, Dirtman was able to find the turkey roaster on Thanksgiving -- but it won't fit into the oven).

I came to realize, though, that in most of the world, huge kitchens with multiple ovens are not seen outside a commercial establishment. If the rest of the world can have their family over for a big meal, well then a good ol’ Yankee girl can certainly do just as well…

…sort of…

…so the praline topping on the sweet potatoes wasn’t crunchy enough…

…and the dressing was too bready (DG would complain about the apples, but he was the only one alarmed at fruit in his stuffing; and maybe John Boy, who doesn’t like vegetables in his cake either…)…

If my job was not away from home (ah, for the good ‘ol days of working from home…), I probably could have solved these problems by doing a whole lot ahead of time. Hindsight being 20/20, I know now what I could have done to prevent side-dish backup.

Did I mention the microwave broke the day before Thanksgiving? No?

So, all-in-all, I think I deserved my TCM and heating pad day – I also spent the day explaining to two 20-somethings how one goes about heating up Thanksgiving leftovers without a microwave…

NOTE: In actuality, the highlight of the day was not the meal at all, but the game of Balderdash that followed (which was actually two games of Balderdash, since Heir 2 made us all go around again until it was after midnight and we were all so tired we couldn't write anymore).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Move on, already...

It's tempting to jump on the "Ah-Hah! See -- it was the bank's fault all along" bandwagon making the rounds this month among foreclosure victims (for lack of a better word).

I have to admit that I've spent an inordinate amount of time giggling at the vacuous expressions on mortgage-provider employees as they try to explain how they came to sign off on thousands of foreclosures barely having the vaguest idea of what a mortgage is.

For those of us who lost everything during the past few years, we're just happy that, for once, we're not being blamed. And if it means throwing those poor slobs under the bus, I've got to admit for a brief moment it meant relief.

Honestly, though, I know it's not those dazed, confused souls trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as they try to justify signing documents stating they work in states they've never been to or witnessed signatures of people they didn't know. But let's face it, we've all had it out for the financial community in general ever since Bear Stearns went belly up. Bernie Madoff had us lighting torches and marching through the village.

For people like me, it's been good to have the banks around to absorb some of the smug self-righteousness of those who are surviving this financial climate. If I had a nickle for every person, pundit or writer that used the phrase, "living in houses they couldn't afford based on money they hadn't yet earned," I would still be a homeowner. Other than that being the ultimate in arrogant statements, I've found that to be the case in most households -- even ones that are not facing foreclosure.

Which is why I've stopped gloating over this current mortgage crisis. Yes, there was and is rampant greed in the financial world that caused varying degrees of malfeasance. But...


BIG HONKIN' BUT... that still doesn't excuse our national obsession with buying, wanting, lusting after and judging by Stuff. Focusing on the financial world's contributions to our economic woes may be satisfying, but it gets us nowhere. I heard the fashionable response when someone makes dire economic predictions based on what's happening now is to slough off the whole economic downturn on "a dip in the cycle;" in other words, no need to worry -- this is just what happens sometimes and we'll be back to business as usual again in no time.

Well, yeah...that's why it's cyclical; it's also known as insanity -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

We all know that the world was slightly insane, right? And Financial Experts (credentials, please!) claim the key to getting the economy running again is to get money into the hands of the consumer so they can buy more Stuff. And it's probably true -- it really will get us back to where we were, again and again and again.

I am not so naive to think this event was going to change the economic tide of the universe. But there may be out there...and you know who you are...people who recognize this financial upheaval for the gift it is -- albeit a very, very hard gift to accept. It's like getting a big, humongous girdle for Christmas from a really skinny friend and when you look at it you swear it's way too big but then it turns out that it not only fits you, but also makes you look really, really terrific -- you hate to admit that it's a perfect fit and that you needed it all along, but there's no getting around the fact that you need it because you are too damn bloated.

kind of gift.

Someday I will write of my Journey to the Center of the Socio-economic Earth Sector, where my only armor was my race and my willingness to grovel, neither of which I'm particularly proud. That's for another day.

The point is, I'm glad I know now what I didn't know in my insulated middle class existence. And that's what I think of when I see people grasping at straws to stay in the homes they can't possibly maintain the payments on or refusing to accept that they are in over their heads and are, instead, victims of the hapless banking system.

I want to tell them, Let it go. Admit it: unethical and illegal banking practices aside, you were drowning. Accept it, learn from it and, for your own sake, move on.

Then, maybe, the things will go back to the way it was for everyone; and, for some of us, it will be even better.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

But wait! There's more!

Picture this: 14-year-old Sisiggy, sitting on the couch: striped denim jeans, red tank top, loooong brown hair (NO HEAD BAND because Sisiggy wasn't allowed to wear a headband because her mother said that would make her look like a hippie whore. So she only wore a headband one timewhen her mother, in response to 13-year-old Sisiggy referring to the household as "the Third Reich," threw up her hands and said, "That's it! I give up! Do whatever you want! You want to go around like a putana, go around looking like a putana," resulting in 13-year-old Sisiggy going to her friend's house dressed in the aforementioned outfit, only this time with a 3-inch suede band -- that was actually a choker necklace -- tied around her forehead; something which she never did again since the suede caused her forehead to break out so much that it was a week before she could appear in public without her bangs covering her face). So don't picture the headband.

But, in case this escapes you, I was still dressed cool. Of course there were no witnesses to confirm this other than, perhaps, Dark Garden, who probably doesn't remember, and John Boy, who wouldn't have noticed.

Still, I insist that in 1972, I had my cool moments, brief as they were...

So there I

On the television comes an advertisement: Time Life Records. They're hawking the Sound of the Big Band Era. It's hilarious. Old people songs; "Remastered!" Glenn Miller plays while photos, c. 1940s, flash on the screen. It's so campy. They've even wheeled out some of the ancient musicians to give musical credibility to artists who hadn't been heard from for over 30 years. It was kind of sad, really, that these people who were once at the top of the music field, were now hawking these nostalgic compilations during the cheapest advertising slots on local TV.

I am laughing. John Boy comes in and joins me in laughing. Dark Garden comes in and joins us in laughing (though, because he's only 6, he's not quite sure why). We are making fun of the fact that old people like my parents might be interested in all this campy music and that it would conjure memories of all those silly photos flashing before our faces.

You know where this is going...

So today, picture this: 53-year-old Sisiggy, sitting on the couch: baggy pants, over-sized shirt, looong brown hair (who's got money for a haircut?) -- not cool. Not cool and not caring a flying flip that it's not cool; because there is nothing cool about 53 years old, baggy pants, over-sized shirts, looong brown gray-flecked hair, and not caring a flying flip about it.

So there I am...not cool.

And there they are: Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley from America hawking Sound of the 70s, which is basically every single I had in my hot pink 45-rpm record carrying case (adorned with yellow smiley-face stickers) -- along with campy photos of people who looked way cooler than I ever did. Let me repeat that with a different perspective: Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley from America hawking music by Bread. If you are over 50, that's one of those Things That Make You Go, "Hmmm..."

I had a brief moment of nostalgia, during which I thought, "Well, it was nice to hear those again............................................................once."

Except, perhaps for Hotel California. That song should just stay retired.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fleeting trends we're glad have passed

One of the pleasures of watching old movies is seeing the fashions and trends of the day that were either being reflected or encouraged at the time the movie was made. I'm not talking about ideology here; that's a subject I wouldn't attempt to tackle in a blog entry. I'm talking about the day-to-day stuff that people encounter that can sometimes tell you not only what era this film was made in, but pinpoint the precise year.

Naturally you get a big heaping eyeful of the fads that defined the time. But, more interestingly, you'll get a glimpse of trends that were popular for the blink of an eye or that never quite caught on.

For instance, one of my favorite movies is Laura starring Gene Tierney*, an elegant film noir in which Tierney plays a classy career woman who is sought after by every man she meets, including the detective assigned to solve her murder (trust me -- this makes perfect sense if you've seen the movie). At any rate, Gene Tierney is a beautiful woman playing a beautiful woman. And then they put her in this:

Okay, so one fashion faux pas in a movie is no big deal. And then, further along in the movie, this:

Even Gene is not quite sure what she had draped on her head...

Just about every actress (except Grace Kelly) has had her share of incredibly poor fashion choices now documented for eternity in some movie or other. Even Katharine Hepburn had her off days. And we won't even mention some of the hats Doris Day attempted to pull off in the early 60s...

Food trends, though, are a little harder to spot. I remember in the 1960s the dish that was considered most elegant was crepe suzette (remember -- "Cathy adores a minuet, the Ballet Russes and crepe Suzette...") and it pops up in a number of movies.

I find it sort of amusing when Cary Grant serves Quiche Lorraine with great ceremony in To Catch a Thief. Quiche Lorraine is one of those end-of-the-month dishes around here because there are always bits of bacon and swiss cheese around and eggs are a nice, cheap protein.

Another example of this occurred in a movie whose name I can't recall (I suppose I could find out, but I'm too lazy and it doesn't matter) but had George Sanders at a nightclub with some woman and another man who had approached their table. In front of him are two large tulip glasses with a white ball in each. He pours champagne over the white balls and, while sitting there delivering dry, witty lines, uses a spoon to flip the balls around in the glass. I looked at the other two characters to see if, perhaps, this was an indication of some mental problem with George's character. But -- no -- they were perfectly fine with what he was doing.

I didn't think anything of it and made a mental note to Google this next time I was at my computer, which I naturally forgot all about within five minutes...

...until a few days later when I was watching another movie I forget the name of and the woman character came upon some fresh peaches, which she proceeded to peel and place in a champagne glass -- one of those wide, flat versions they used to use before flutes became popular. She then poured champagne over the peach, she and her guests toasted and everyone somehow managed to get a mouthful of champagne before the peach flipped out of the shallow glass.

Clearly, I thought, this was a trend that, thankfully, did not catch on. Well, that -- and someone discovered using peach schnapps didn't look quite so silly when drinking a Bellini.

This time I did remember to Google and found this little article, for all you foodies out there who care...

The most disturbing food trend seems to have begun during the thirties. In Dinner at Eight there is a kerfuffle over a lion-shaped aspic that has to be substituted by crab meat. In Alice Adams, Katharine Hepburn laments to Fred McMurray that her mother has served him a heavy roast beef dinner in a heat wave instead of "something iced and jellied." (You may have missed the line, because the scene stealer at this point is Hattie McDaniel and her maid's outfit.)

Now, I like Jello just as much as the next person. I have even, on occasion, indulged in Jello salads (Jello molds are, according to John Boy, a Protestant phenomenon. We never saw Jello molds until we had married Protestants and attended their group functions. Catholics don't do Jello molds, you see.).

However, I can't wrap my mind around a savory gelatin dish. Every now and then someone tries to have aspic make a comeback, but it never quite catches on. It's one of those things that looks like it should be delicious, but then you realize it's something like tomato soup...only it's cold...and solid...sort of...and, well...slimy. And suddenly your throwing up in your mouth a little.

Then there is this tantalizing snippet from The Women: Norma Shearer wants to serve her husband a dish they both love: Pancakes Barbara. It's said as if everyone knows what Pancakes Barbara is and all we are told is that it will make her husband fat. This is another one of those items it took me forever to remember to Google. So, thanks to IMBD:
Almost as theatrical and certainly as decadent as flaming crêpes Suzette, pancakes Barbara are pancakes smothered with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, blanched walnuts, and hot chocolate sauce. Just hearing about them can put on five pounds. In another version: pancakes Barbara are blackberry pancakes served with brandy sauce and named for Barbara La Marr, a beautiful silent screen star. The dessert was on the menu at the MGM commissary in the 1930s, and was a favorite of studio boss Louis B. Mayer.
And this is where I will close since Heir 2 was looking over my shoulder as I looked this up and has now suddenly developed a 1939 craving for Pancakes Barbara...

*I don't know if I loved the movie or if I loved the movie because I loved watching it with my father back in the day. Legend has it that my father wanted to name me Laura, but my mother nixed the idea (strangely, my first doll was named Laura). So instead I was named "after Ma," though her name wasn't Jean, it was Eugenia -- everyone called her "Jean." So I was named "Jean" and everyone was happy. Years later, long after my mother's death, my father said that he agreed to the Jean because of Gene Tierney and that, if I had noticed (I hadn't), he always called me "Jean" (i.e., Gene) and not "Jeanne" like everyone else.