Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Day . . . and beyond

This is not among my favorite holidays. All that forced celebration is almost too maniacal; the pessimist in me knows that, in spite of the "New" moniker, we are also mourning a year that's gone.

I rarely hear anyone wrap up Dec. 31 by saying, "Wow! That was a great year!" It's always something along the line of "Good riddance!"

I won't belabor the fact that you have the same assurance of a fresh run of 365 new days on June 30 as you do on Dec. 31. We love milestones and that new challenge of remembering to change the number at the end of the date every time you write a check. And -- hey -- any excuse to run a 40 percent off sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

My mother used to make a big fuss over New Year's Eve and even New Year's Day. I think it was her attempt to extend the holiday season as much as possible and I wonder, in retrospect, if she didn't suffer a bit from Seasonal Affective Disorder -- I do remember her sighing sadly once and mentioning, "Now comes the post-holiday blues." I don't recall her ever acting depressed, but hers was a generation that wouldn't have "acted out" their feelings.

I will admit that January is sort of a blank time these days. There is nothing to anticipate -- even gardeners are relegated to merely perusing seed catalogs. We're not preparing for anything or anticipating anything but the end of it. Even beastly February at least features Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day white sales and mattress discounts, and Lent (okay, Lent is probably not an eagerly anticipated event and one that, when I was a Catholic schoolgirl, I never quite "got." I knew I had to give something up, so I usually chose something I didn't really like to begin with -- like liver...or kale). You have to travel to experience Mardi Gras and, frankly, every day in the South is Fat Tuesday.

January, though, is 31 days of a blank slate. To me, that's terrific. I have 31 days for which nothing is expected; 31 days where whatever I do is gravy. I can get in some groundwork for times when I will have an obligation...or not. Mostly, I can pick my project and my deadline. So much power!

I remember saying last year that 2009 had been so horrible, I was glad it was over. I was ready to say the same thing about 2010. But, ya know...even though both years held their terrors, they also held a certain beauty of painful, but necessary, growth and poignant moments that only gut-wrenching misery can manifest. I doubt I would have ever witnessed my children's strength and compassion or my brothers' fierce loyalty had this year not happened.

So, thank you, 2010, for what you brought. And I'll even welcome you, 2011 -- in my own, quiet way.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cookbooks and Candy

My family knows me...

...and they like to eat.

After a brief 24-hour break from cooking so we could whittle back some of the Christmas leftovers, I couldn't wait to get back into the kitchen today to play with the new toys I got for Christmas.

Today it was the Cranberry Apple Cake from Ina Garten's book (or "In the Garden," if you're my brother...). I kind of owed this cake to Dirtman, since I'd put cranberries in the freezer to make for Thanksgiving and then promptly forgot them. Dirtman loves cranberries and the rest of us love apples, cinnamon and orange*.'s cake -- it won't see a new day.

This went together very easily -- perfect for a day I had three loads to hang on the clothes line to catch up on laundry. The wind gusts are pretty strong, which is good for drying clothes as long as you anchor them good and tight. I have nightmares of my bras flying about the neighborhood, causing traffic pile-ups.

*Yes, Heir 1, the cake is for us, not for the Dog People. (Heir 1 claims whenever I make something good, it's always for a kennel club function.)

Not for The Dog People

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just wait until next year...

Well, true to form, my ambitions for the holiday kick in about a month too late. Let's see...what was I doing a month ago? Oh, that's right -- apologizing for not properly preparing for Thanksgiving.

At least I've waited until three days before Christmas before berating myself for the stuff I didn't get done. There was I time when I began writing off this year's holiday on December 1.

Those were the days when I'd plan all sorts of handmade fabulousness, from a hand-sculpted Advent wreath to a set of matching hand knit sweaters for the entire family. I still hang on to a cross-stitch pattern for an Advent calendar in 22-ct. gauge (that's teeny-tiny) -- I still tell myself I'm going to get it done (keep in mind, the Heirs are now in their twenties -- not the age where they jump out of bed with excitement each morning to see a picture of sheep behind door number 14...).

All this planning usually happens the day after Christmas when I swear, "Next year will be better. I'll start" I may even go so far as buying the supplies.

Then New Year's Eve comes and goes and I'm so over Christmas I have to leave the house while Dirtman deals with the dismal job of undoing and packing away all the glitter and glamor that seemed such a good idea at the time. By January 1, I want to think of nothing but the coming spring. Hand-sculpted Advent wreath? Plenty of time; right now I'm all about pastels and minimalist decor' accented with fresh flowers.

I know this, yet even now, as I'm typing this, I'm saying to myself, "Yeah, well, NEXT year really WILL be better. NEXT year I will be disciplined, organized and energetic."

I'm thinking hand-needlepoint Christmas stockings for Dirtman and the Heirs and hand-sewn cushions for all the dogs and cats...

Friday, December 17, 2010

For Dirtman

I've been waiting a long time to post this video. I found it way back in June and almost posted it then.

This is for Dirtman, in particular -- our resident bowl of mush. But, honestly (swear you won't tell anyone), I can't get through it without gritting my teeth and draping my arm somewhere, trying to look casual and blase'.

What amazes me is how long this commercial is. With the 15-second commercials flashing in front of us, an ad this long is almost an info-mercial.

So, make sure you are at maximum tissuage or can easily blame your watering eyes on allergies.

Merry Christmas, Sparkey. I saved the best for you.

*Oh, God...I just realized (I haven't seen this commercial since the 80s) the little boy's name is "Charley," the name of my oldest son. Forget everything I said about looking cool and blase'.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Razzleberry Dressing

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol was not our favorite version of the Dickens classic, but it was requisite and quoted extensively.

Mr. Magoo in his natural state was ...well ... very politically incorrect. Basically, it was a cartoon making fun of an almost-blind old man. To make things worse, Mr. Magoo had a Chinese houseboy named Charley, complete with buck teeth, pigtail and "l" and "r" speech confusion ("Mistah Ma-gloo!")*.

There is no Charley in Magoo's Christmas Carol (not even in the "set up" song, "Great to be Back on Broadway"). And there is very little of Magoo's vision problems -- mistaking a coat rack for a visitor and, of course, the butcher's belly for the giant turkey Scrooge sends to the Cratchitts ("bwoot, bwoot").

So, Merry Christmas, John Boy and Dark Garden. May it be filled with razzleberry dressing.

*This led to a particular embarrassing moment for my mother. I had adopted "Charley's" version of saying "hello" and used it for everyone: "Heh-roh!" We moved to Maryland during this time period and I needed to change pediatricians. My mother was mortified when I greeted my new doctor -- Dr. Yim, a Chinese-American -- with a hearty "Heh-roh!"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A brief respite from being dragged down Memory Lane

By now everyone has seen the flash mob Hallelujah Chorus, so I'm not going to imbed it here. Follow the link if you haven't seen it.

Oh, and make sure you are at maximum tissuage*.

A few things that struck me after watching it a (ahem) few times. I wonder how many people we see singing aren't the ones who practiced for the event. I, myself, could have sung any of the parts, having worked out a simplified, four-part version for kazoo that was to be performed one Christmas Eve a very VERY long time ago that never came to pass because of the refusal on the part of Dark Garden some people not to practice and the inability to find someone to play bass kazoo.

Anyway, this time of year, every church tries to whip its choir into shape enough to wow the Christmas Eve crowd with a passable version of the Handel classic and, thereby, inspire the once-a-year folks to sign on for the duration. So I figure there had to be a few church choir members in the food court crowd who, upon seeing the spontaneous outbreak of a piece they knew, stood and joined the singing.

Then there is the standing thing. I've seen a lot of comments on the internet about how rude it was that so many people didn't stand. Standing during the Hallelujah Chorus is a tradition, not a sacred rite. If this had occurred at my local mall, the lack of standing would have been the same. Most men don't around here don't bother to remove their hats during the Star Spangled Banner either.

It made me laugh to see the people in the background actually fleeing the area, as if they were terrified they'd be charged for listening to Handel without having to choke up a "love offering."

What did touch me, though, were the parents with children. I got a little weepy watching parents make some gesture or sign to their children telling them to pay attention -- "this is special; this is a moment." Watch how many parents reach out and touch their children in some way; they're so aware that this mundane shopping day suddenly became a gift that would never leave either memories.

I have to admit, if this were to occur in our local mall, while Dirtman and I would enjoy the performance, just about every other Linguini would be heading for the door. John Boy would be afraid a sing-along was about to break out. Dark Garden would balk at the idea of sacred music being inflicted upon him while he was doing a chore he hated in the first place. As for the Small Assorted Cratchits (which is what we call the Heirs and the Twins this time of year), duct tape over their mouths might be be wisest course of action.

In stark contrast to the organized and grand version of this perennial classic that is sweeping the web, I offer this older, more rustic version by the Roches (whose Christmas performance in Northern Virginia I swear I will attend one day when I grow up). It's not quite as full-bodied as a mall full of singers, but mesmerizing by its own merit.

*"Tissuage is a word because I say it is.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Those holiday specials were...ummm...special

Here is my dilema: There are certain things I love but I'm not sure I love them for what they are or for the memory they induce.

For instance: There is a song in my Playlist by Julius LaRosa called "Eh, Cumpare." Bluntly, Placido Domingo will not be performing it anytime soon at the Met. It's a campy song, but I love it. I love it because I have a very specific memory from when I was five or six of that song coming on and my mother, grandmother and two aunts singing and miming along and laughing so hard they couldn't breath. I'm pretty sure there had to be Old Fashioneds and Martinis preceding the performance (for everyone but my mother, who didn't drink but had no problem acting like she had). From then on whenever that song was played, the entire Linguini assembly would begin singing and miming and laughing. (This was obviously not only a Linguini thing -- if you watch Godfather III, they have a similar -- though certainly more organized -- reaction to the song).

So, for what it's worth, growing up I absolutely loved Christmas specials. Not just the ones for kids, though. During the Christmas season, I was permitted to stay up past my 8 o'clock bedtime (that's right -- through my sophomore year in high school I had to go to bed at 8 o'clock...) and see all the Christmas shows that ran throughout December; and everyone had one -- Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Red Skelton (who ran the same one every year -- Greer Garson; I loved it), Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and any other celebrity who had a "variety show" (TV Guide designation) on the air at the time.

I see clips of them now and part of me cringes. The writing was horrible, the "special effects" were embarrassing (and not even done ironically) and the music was canned. But -- what was it? I couldn't look away.

Well, of course it was that I was warm and comfy on the sofa surrounded by relatives (oh brother, was I surrounded by relatives...), safe, secure and convinced that this whole "living" thing was a breeze. And, of course, there were cookies.

To this day, I hear Bing Crosby sing and my whole stress level drops.

And, so, for those of you who have forgotten how wonderfully horrible they were or for those who have not experienced the "specialness" of the 1960s Christmas Special:

Or, of course, you could just go to Branson...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How many more sleeps 'til Christmas?

It's pretty safe to say that every Linguini can quote most of Dickens' A Christmas Carol from memory. Bits and pieces of it creep into our lexicon this time of year, but each line has it's own particular source depending on the situation, speaker and gravity of what we are really trying to say.

John Boy, Dark Garden and I grew up with six versions: two records (one featuring no less than Laurence Olivier), the 1951 movie with Alastair Sim and the 1938 version with Reginald Owen, the musical version from the 70s and the rather bizarre version starring Mr. Magoo (more on that at a later date). Dark Garden was quite young when the musical movie came out and he probably has the fondest memories of that -- seeing it at Radio City Music Hall at Christmas time was our reward that year for good report cards in the first semester (I wore my very fashionable maxi-coat that was gray and John Boy said made me look like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes -- but I digress...).

Since then, there has been a flood of Christmas Carols (and I'm not counting every sitcom's obligatory Christmas episode that always seems to be a really stupid variation) and each with it's own merit. We have our personal favorites of course, though I like different ones for different reasons -- sometimes just for one line.

It stands to reason that a little of this would rub off on the Heirs and I wondered which of version they would take to heart. I figured the musical version if just for Albert Finney's muttered one-liners or maybe even the Patrick Stewart version because it's Capt. Picard from Star Trek.

But, no. This is the Heirs' favorite version of the Christmas Carol. I have fond memories of the two of them cuddled around me while we watched this.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I never cried over commercials until...

Christmas commercials don't make me cry anymore. I doubt they make anyone cry. They're loud and crass or, worse, deliberately and heavy-handedly sentimental. Jewelry commercials are the worst and don't get me started on car commercials that even hint that a car is an appropriate Christmas present.

I was never a weepy person. Oh, the opening of Lassie always had me swallowing hard, but that was about it. I had a friend who always exited gooey movies in tears and I'd be rolling my eyes.

Then life happened -- I had kids and troubles and turmoil and that all changed. Now I cry over everything. Heir 2 can't leave for college or come home from college that I'm not I'm blubbering in the driveway. I just have to hear a dog whimper and I tear up. I even found myself crying while watching Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid.

When I was a teenager, though, I was a rock; except when this commercial came on. I was fine until the veeeeeeeery end -- the kid's'll see what I mean.

See? See? Am I right?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

With apologies to modern animation...

I get sucked into a sentimental vortex during the Christmas season, so you will have to bear with me while I drag family members kicking and screaming down memory lane.

Happily, just in case you thought that some childhood holiday trauma memories have been permanently lost with the decay of time, there is always some kindred victim soul who managed to preserve it for you.

And so we have today's first offering. Thanks to YouTube, my brothers and I are seeing this for the first time in color.

When I found it and watched it, I was surprised at how much of this cartoon was ingrained in my head -- we used to do Grampy's "Hmmm.....hmmmm.....hmmm....I got it!" all the time (when we were little, I mean -- it would be silly to do it now...). And that song; I'd forgotten where it had come from.

For those of you who don't remember, Grampy used to show up in Betty Boop cartoons.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

I travel it twice a day, five -- sometimes six -- times a week and I've been doing it for a year and a half. You'd think I'd be numb to it by now.

The road between my house and the farm where I work is so phenomenally beautiful you would think it was deliberately laid out just for aesthetic purposes; like someone directed, "Put the mountain here and that little foothill there, a broken down barn right on the road, sprinkle a few sheep there and there and -- oh -- have that light come in from the east at just this angle to light up this, but not that...and a cow -- there must be a cow!"

Actually, it is never the same day to day or even hour to hour. The seasons change, the weather changes, the light changes and even the residents initiate change. Yet there is consistency also. The housing boom and subsequent bust had very little affect on this road -- there is only one vast empty field accessed through an elaborate stone archway festooned with now-tattered flags announcing, "Homes!" "Lots for Sale!" The sign with contact information has been knocked over and broken in the ditch for over a year now.

Naturally there is other evidence of the housing crisis cropping up here and there; but there is an overall stability also that speaks of a privilege peculiar to this part of the country -- properties are not sold, so much as passed down to relatives. There is a lack of foreclosures along this road because few of them carried mortgages.

So it is comforting to know that there is a rhythm on this road that I can count on; the plowing in spring; the foraging trails of deer during the winter that on any other road would be a catastrophe; sheep shearing; calving; and even skunk mating season that results in a minefield of putrid-smelling roadkill.

It isn't all boring regularity, though. There are those bizarre little minor events not important enough to remember to relate at the dinner table, but that are funny in their rural, bucolic context. For instance, there are several poultry farms near here and one day someone must have left their turkey pen open. Driving into town to make a bank deposit I saw about a dozen turkeys on the side of the road, apparently conferring with each other over which direction to take. On my way back, maybe 20 minutes later, they were still there. I decided they were waiting for a bus.*

I'm rather proprietary about life along this road, as if my mere presence ensures that life will continue. If a tree falls along Back Road will it make a noise if Sisiggy isn't driving by to hear it? I think not. I am convinced that on my days off the little man who takes a walk everyday just to the end of his vast property and back stays indoors and the lady who walks her Beagle just ties him up in the backyard and sleeps in.

On a sharp curve is a huge, tidy farm with sheep and cattle. Many times when I drive by in the early morning the owner (at least I assume he is) is on his front lawn with his cup of coffee, surveying his good work. Two border collies sit obediently at his feet, awaiting their orders. I wave to him and his return wave is practically a salute. There is no sign of a female presence on the property; no flowers appear on the porch in the spring, nor any other decorative indication that one season is any different from another. The only vehicle in the driveway is the immaculate early-model farm truck. The outside of the house if devoid of a single bush or border and the white paint is renewed regularly. He is in control of his land; a tight, iron-grip of control.

I have decided I like this man but, like the ex-wife I've conjured for him, doubt anyone could ever live with him. By now he's convinced himself he likes it better this way and, were he a talker -- which he is not -- he would tell you so in a firm tone that would prevent your disagreement.

I have built stories like this for each of the houses I pass. The ramshackle farmhouse where a little old lady regularly hangs out her laundry, rain or shine; she's a little addled, but she makes due with regular visits from old friends. There is the young family who live next to a tiny country store; I'm positive the oldest boys is recruited to make regular trips next door for milk and, in my mind, he's always barefoot and in need of a haircut. I've made up an entire medical history for the little man who walks to the end of his property each day.

Even the mountains have a story and I try to picture what this valley looked like when those mountains were as big and craggy as the Rockies and here I am, a tiny speck driving through in my little Subaru Anachronism.

My very favorite thing is finding old road beds and trying to conjure what this area looked like before this nice, convenient road cut off the maze of small country lanes. You can still see the shadows of the old paths, especially when you come across a very old house that has been modified so that its back is now its front.

I get a little annoyed when I meet up with another vehicle on what I consider "my road," especially when they pull behind me and want me to drive over the limit because they're in a hurry. Their heads usually have that sideways tilt, letting me know they're on their cell phone because, you know, it's been an entire three minutes since they dropped off little Finster and his his status may have changed. (What is it with people who can no longer drive without a cell phone attached to their ear? Are their families that inept?)

Sometimes...more times than I like to drive is the best part of the day...unless, of course, there's something good on TCM...

*Don't worry -- since I was unable to determine which farm the turkeys were from, I called the sheriff's department, which had already been informed (several times over) of the wayward turkeys and were dealing with the problem at that very moment. I considered heading back to the site to watch the turkey round-up, but decided to leave the sheriff's department with their dignity intact.