The report from the focus group is in.
They have been scrutinizing Flippism Is The Key in all its aspects- Form, Content, Typography, Target Audience- and the changes will start January 1st. You can expect more of the hard-hitting stories that will make you smile and break your heart. You will have in-depth interviews with the latest teen singing sensations, all the dirt from Hollywood, and papparazzi photos of Lab Munkay with Brad Pitt at their secret Stillwater hideaway! There will be video applets of dancing feral cats, and a list of the six people you will meet in heaven. There will be coupons for half-price airfares and a chance to win a U3 model iPod (One better than a U2 model!) My grizzled visage will be replace by a computer-generated, sexually ambigous cyborg- that sings! The new motto will be: "A party in every posting."
Tune in Sunday for all the latest...
"If you drop your keys in molten lava...just let them go." -Jack HandeyDealing with other people with empathy and compassion has its limits. When your best intentions can't be appreciated, even to the point of making things worse, it is time to step back. When the situation is out of control, run. Maybe you can go back when the lava has cooled off. Maybe not.
The Christmas Crack-Whore
"Tell us a story, Uncle Batty!"
"Well there's all kinds of stories- what kind would you like?"
"A Christmas Story!"
"Very well then, children, I will tell you a story of a Christmas Eve dinner, way back around the turn of the century, was it ought 2 or ought 3? We didn't have any snow that year, it might have been ought 4. Anyway, it doesn't really matter."
"It was Christmas Eve, or pretty close to it, and not a creature was stirring. The feral cats were all in their hidey-holes, the house next door was still vacant, but a light shone from the Batty kitchen. It was a big family get-together, with the boys, some of their cousins, and the bother-in-law, with his new girlfriend, the artist. We always welcomed visitors, and we spared no expense, with fine wines, a fancy meal (walleye almondine) all the trimmings (milk rice, lefse, lingonberries and cloudberries, pies and cookies and of course, the herring cutlets (not necessarily in that order.) We greeted everyone as they came in, and had the beverages flowing and were ready for some pleasant conversation.
"What the f#@* is going on here?"
It was the bother-in-laws girlfriend, maybe a little nervous, (higher than a kite) meeting so many new people. We tried to resume where we left off, but she would have none of it. "@#∞@%√∞$#!!!!" It seems our guest had a little different vocabulary, and like to use it to describe the scene at hand in terms best used in a bordello. "%#!@#!!!" And so on. And on. And on.
She wouldn't shut up. We sat down to eat, maybe the act of eating would quiet her foulsome mouth for a time. She didn't touch her food. NOT ONE BITE! After a while, it became obvious. The bother-in-law's gift to us this year was a Christmas Crack-Whore! Things went downhill from there. The topper was when she returned from the bathroom and gave us her opinion (unfavorable) on the "paper products" that were on the shelf there. Delightful company. The weaver was so revolted she 'retired' for the evening. The boys and I soldiered on, trying to keep her amused (God only knows what would have happened if she got angry!) Finally they left."
"Uncle Batty, can we have a Crack-Whore come to our Christmas dinner someday?"
"Well, my little ones, someday when you are older, you might be that lucky. Don't make a lot of food, though, they don't eat."
Pulling off the freeway, getting ready to turn east across country to make the final leg home, I realized where I was. This was the spot that our youngest first got sick, when he was just 28 months old. We had stopped here, to use the bathroom in a McDonalds, and have a small snack on our trip home. On the was back to the car, our little one threw up. We didn't think much about it, he'd been in the car three hours, he might have been carsick. Besides, little kids throw up occasionally, we'd wait and see how he felt later.
In the next few days he grew listless, he wasn't really running a fever, but he was definitely out of sorts, with a stiff neck and a bluish cast to his lips. After a week of this, we brought him into the clinic. Our regular pediatrican wasn't available (it was a group health plan) and the one we had did the usual checks and said he was "just tired" after a bout with the flu. We went home, and watched and waited. There was still something wrong with our child. We brought him back a few days later, to yet another Doctor, who said the same thing. That weekend, a friend of ours who was a nurse just happened to visit. She took one look at him and said: "Get him to the hospital, he's got meningitis!"
This time, we did see our doctor, who ordered tests.
The test for spinal meningitis involves extracting fluid from the spinal cord cavity and analyzing it for bacteria. In other words, a spinal tap. To have to watch your baby recoil in pain as the procedure is performed is tough. Probably tougher on you, for after a minute, it was over and he seemed to be out of pain soon after. The diagnosis was positive, and a week-long series of iv's were administered. He came out of it alright.
Exit 25. The light is green, and I take the turn. The McDonald's recedes in my rear-view mirror. We're going home.
I Know You
I know you.
Not Christ the King.
Not God the Father, instead
Goddess the Mother.
The virgin, giving birth.
A double miracle.
Doing what Jesus could not, and no other woman ever did.
And when all is said and done, your baby, the chosen one,
becomes the reluctant Messiah.
But you are not to be forgotten.
In every schoolgirl's coy smile,
In every young woman's dreams and desires.
You live on.
I can feel your curves, and find delight in your hidden places.
Some would loathe you, but they not understand you,
When they use the name of your son to curse you.
From whence they came, also.
I know you. Your time will come.
And then heaven and earth will rejoice.
Christmas Gift Rituals
Christmas Eve presents?
Only one present Christmas Eve?
Christmas Morning presents?
Christmas Eve/Day spent with which side of the family?
Christmas Eve/Day spent only with immediate family?
Christmas Eve/Day spent drinking and gambling?
Christmas Eve/Day spent at the movies?
Christmas Eve/Day spent at church?
You can't please everyone.
So make the best of it, it only comes once a year...
Today we had the annual OFFICE PARTY at work. Not like the liquor-fueled orgies of years past, but just a table of snacks in the dingy break area (not even a room!) Of course, there were those little weenies, and mystery "meatballs". Every year's celebration brings to mind the year that one of the counter people brought in a 'friend' to help us eat. A shuffling mountain of a woman, we were nevertheless gracious and invited her to sit with us. after all, there was plenty, right?
The exhibition of consumption left us all open-mouthed and speechless. The by now unwelcome visitor wouldn't stop eating. And eating. She took entire platters of prepared food, and ate them all. And then had more. And more. I had never seen such a display of pathological gluttony since Mr. Creosote in Monty Python's Meaning Of Life.
It was funny at first, then sad. The woman was killing herself with food.
Chocolate Or Wait
Just to leave the wintery themes behind for a day...
Summer road trips when I was young always seemed just a little too long, a little too hot (no AC), and never quite as much fun as I had hoped for. It was on a foray into the wilds of western Wisconsin, in search of the fabled Crystal Cave, when we found ourselves a little overheated, a little hungry and a little lost. Finally, dad broke down and pulled into a little roadside store. we went in, and much to our relief, found out that they sold ice cream. I was in the mood for a nice cone, something light to freshen my palate.
"What would ya like, sonny?"
"What kinds do you have?"
"Wull, we've got choclit or wait."
"He said Choclit or wait." My dad was getting impatient.
I really didn't want chocolate, but I didn't want to wait either... (For what? The ice cream truck? Did the guy have to make any other flavors from scratch?)... so I meekly said: "I'll take chocolate."
I got my cone, and went outside, to eat it at a picnic table.
A minute or too later my sister came out with a nice vanilla cone.
"How come you got vanilla? I wanted vanilla!"
"He said chocolate or wait. I choose wait."
I thought every one had gone nuts.
"But you got vanilla, and you didn't have to wait."
"WHITE, dummy. This is a white ice cream cone."
Somehow, in Wisconsin, vanilla was called white. I later learned that all sorts of things in Wisconsin were called by other names, although I never heard "white" for vanilla again.
The thing that bothered me all the way home was that my family called it white too. I sometimes thought I was adopted.
Industrial Strength Jello
Jello- the flavored, colored gelatin-based dessert. Also used as a base for a variety of molded "salads" contents unknown. A full weeks worth of food coloring in every serving. And, the perfect food to play with. Now your Aunt Janet's jello salad is probably a little too fragile for an EXTREME JELLO COMPETITION- you'll be needing INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH JELLO for that- and the best place for that is a Junior High School cafeteria.
A game we enjoyed when we were of the age was "altitude". Those rubbery blocks were served on a small plate. The object was to covertly flip the jello cube, from the plate, as high as you could (a sixteen foot maximum) and catch it intact on the way down. The master was our friend "Andy" who could float that baby within a few inches of the acoustic tile, then land it, in one piece, on the 4 inch saucer. His greatest trick was the time he lofted it squarely onto the ceiling and it stuck. Just as the lunchroom monitor came up. She didn't see it go up, so we all had to act innocent as we were grilled by the stern math teacher, while the jello-cube of Damocles hung directly over her head. Just after she turned to walk away, the cube fell. Andy caught it cleanly, and it remained whole. The table would have erupted in pandemonium, were it not for the close proximity of our overseer. Andy was the lunchroom hero after that, and he owed it all to INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH JELLO.
Q & A
"What would make this Christmas good for you?"
A tough question. Everyone is healthy, everyone will be home, I guess that is enough. What could make it better? Gifts? I'm at the "slippers and a new bathrobe" stage. I could give more to others I suppose, I've certainly been given a lot by others this year. But the things I've cherished most are the intangibles- the smile on a long-lost friend's face, the happiness of my children, and of course, my lifepartner. This year has been different, however. My personal growth has been great, thanks to many 'strangers' who have been so generous in letting me look into their hearts and minds. My professional life has been, for the first time, in somewhat of a downward spiral. Resolving that situation will be the story of 2006, I'm afraid. If it turns around, great. If not, well, one does what one can do, and hope for the best.
So. I think the answer will be: "To live in the moment, enjoy what we have, and let tomorrow's problems be dealt with tomorrow."
In the mythic, dream-state of my childhood memories, there was one family in our neighborhood that was thought by us to be "bad". They had a million kids, one was a boy about my age. He was the scourge of the block, yet somehow I ended up spending a lot of time with him. Learning things like how to smoke a cigarette. What his little sister looked like with her pants pulled down. What the "bloody 99's" were. But he wasn't the worst of the lot. One of his older sisters took off with a hoodlum one day- on a multistate crime spree- stealing cars, robbing gas stations, etc. I remember seeing it on the news. We moved away not long after that, and the 'bad' family soon faded out of my awareness.
So the other day as I was perusing the "sports pages"(obituaries), I spied the unique name of my old nemesis. His younger brother had died, and from the obit I surmised that several of his sisters and his father had also. I called my older sister, the only person I know who would remember them, and asked if my memory of his sister was correct. She confirmed it, although she said that the sister had reformed after that escapade, and was still among the living. My old "buddy" was still alive, too. I wouldn't recognize him if I saw him.
I passed on the memorial.
"Pass the lefse."
"That soup is hot."
"Lettuce is dry."
"Don't reach- ask for it to be passed."
"I can't stand to eat my own cooking."
"Is there another wheat bun down at that end?"
"Is it fit to eat?"
"I'm eatin' it, aint I?"
World Of Yarn
Living with a weaver has its peculiarities. Besides the looms and all the strange wooden contraptions for wrangling wool, silk and linen, is the yarn. Lots and lots of yarn...
I'm not complaining, I buy most of it myself (at the thrift store). When I am feeling house-bound and bored I sometimes wander into the weaving room to examine the skeins and balls and bags of yarn there, and the labels they have from faraway places and exotic creatures and plants.
Swedish, Irish and Scottish linens, tough strings for delicate runners and place mats. Some outrageous pink-n-black tweed wool from France. A few balls of Norwegian wool here and there, and, of course, all that Icelandic Lopi for knitting. Some færie-like mohair from England is nestled between a bag of Brazilian Santos and a lonely ball of merino wool/possum fur from New Zealand. There is some Peruvian alpaca somewhere, I just can't put my finger on it...The weaver is trying to get me hooked on looms, or maybe some 'nittin'...I dunno, is this old dog up to learning some new tricks?
Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
I sent my brother the URL to my page on MySpace, a popular online community, because I assumed I had filtered everything out that could potentially get me in trouble with the Mother(she worries about sexual predators attacking me after retrieving my personal information on the internet). However, I forgot that under religion I had labelled myself a "Wiccan." He noticed and I unexpectedly reached another milestone in my short, but meaningful existence.
Someone in my family finally knows that I'm not a Christian. I always assumed that I'd tell him first, since he's much more open-minded and doesn't base everything on tradition. Surprisingly enough, he didn't make fun of me for being a "tree-hugging hippie" as much as I initially assumed he would. I feel quite a bit of relief to say the very least. I have to sing at the annual Presbyterian Christmas Concert (no rehearsals, I just show up...marvelous), and I'll feel better knowing he's going to be there.
Red Zinger Tea
Once upon a time, there lived a young bachelor, somewhere in the vast North American prairie. A co-worker was moving, and being an agreeable sort, he volunteered his help. There wasn't a great deal to move, it only took a few hours. As the other people who were helping left, one by one, the young man started to pick up his jacket, which he had removed when he became hot from climbing stairs. "Don't go yet," the co-worker whispered; "stay and we can have some tea...It's Red Zinger!"
The bachelor, who really wasn't much of a tea drinker, stayed, if for no other reason than to try a drink named "Red Zinger".
Finally, everyone was gone, excepting the two co-workers. The tea was made, it was spicy, and warmed and relaxed the young man. When the two put their clothes back on three hours later, they both realized that their office relationship had changed for the better. The tea was good, also.
Moral: Tea for two can get one into more hot water than one originally intended.
"Plunk your magic twanger Froggy!" -Andy Devine
Much of childhood is spent in absorbing reality, making sense of it, finding meaningful patterns to help us survive as organisms. When a large percentage of childhood is spend watching TV, that pseudo-reality has just as much impact as the 'real' world.
Which is why I find myself reliving episodes of "Andy's Gang" from time to time. This show was on television in the early to mid fifties. It featured Andy Devine, a gravel-voiced, scary-looking character actor from movies of the thirties and forties. It consisted of a few sketches, 'storytime' (a movie serial repackaged for the show), and a few genial homilies from Andy as he bade us farewell each week.
The regulars included a stuffed motorized cat- "Midnight" who played the violin (badly - but hey! It was only a cat. A dead cat!), "Squeaky" the mouse (who played a harmonica in a little sailor's otfit. Also dead.), and of course, "Froggy" the gremlin frog, who managed to "ruin" the show with his mischievous antics. The show also had a clip (just one) of stock footage of children laughing in a theatre.
What if I had spent that time learning to whittle? Or solving world hunger? Or any one of a number of things? Wouldn't I be a better person for it? Perhaps. But you know, that frog was pretty funny.
Find 30 stirring stalwarts.
Almost let you and I have cream.
If a store has it: responsibility.
Terminal coat watching.
Are mountains illegal?
Go to bed.
The Big Meal
The season of feasting has come again. There is often a fair amount of stress attached to these occasions; sometimes, if you are the primary host, there is a great deal. Why would this be so? Usually you are having people over that you know well, or those who are family. Sniping about the food may be one cause, although we really should be glad that we can get together, rather than worrying about the freshness of the salad, or the moistness of the turkey. Performance anxiety? Certainly - some people cringe at being the center of attention. Perhaps you just don't like some of the people coming over (guess who's coming to dinner?)
Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with a memory of a special meal. A meal you had once as a child, a meal where everything was 'just so' and you had plenty of delicious food. Sunday dinner, perhaps, and then pie. And ICE CREAM. And everyone was happy, and people were laughing, and you wished the day could go on forever. And afterwards the children played games in a bedroom, with the adults making small talk in the living room, and nobody was crying, or yelling. And then you bundled up and got into the cold car for a ride home through the winter's night. You drew faces in the frost on the car window. And then, after you got home, a cup of hot cocoa before bed.
And now, when you realize that you can't recapture those feelings for yourself, you try to overcompensate for your perceived loss. But still, it is worth it. And there will be laughter, and companionship, and if the sense of magic has shriveled in your imagination, it still can burn brightly in the childrens'.
until we meet again...
"...all that matters is the now, and the tomorrow, and what we do until then to try to keep ourselves together..." ~RS
...goodbye for now, my unknowable friend. I would catch a glimpse of you in a well-crafted phrase, a blurry photograph, a reference here or there, a poem, and all those words. Is it a break, a hiatus or sabbatical? Or, as is the case of most of the rest of us, is it life, getting in the way?
Regardless, I will still think of you, and if I don't check your link every day, I will at least weekly, or monthly, or...
...my now includes all those little bits of you, even if you have gone away.
The Difficult Gift
Holiday shopping is enjoyed by many, tolerated by others, and is feared by some. If your family or other 'gifting circle' draws names, it reduces the size of the list, but when you are stuck with a not-too-close a relation, say, a niece's husband (a nephew-in-law?) that you've only met about four times and you really haven't a clue as to what he may enjoy- well then, aren't you in a fine pickle. Clothes? You probably already have enough clothes in your closet that were gifts, that you just can't bring yourself to wear. Booze? How vulgar. And is he/she a casual drinker, or a raging alky? Better not, just to be safe. Of course there is the ultimate disconnect- "A gift has been made in your name to the (fill in charity name)..." The added benefit to that ploy is that then the recipient is on their mailing list, along with a few dozen others- "The gift that keeps on giving." Once in a while I used to get the name of a pubescent female relation, but any ideas I would have ("oh wouldn't little missy look great in that gold lame blouse?") would quickly get vetoed by a more rational family member.
But this year: a brainstorm. Why not just give a copy of the best book you have read in the previous year? If he/she doesn't like it, that only shows their lack of taste, not yours.
My late mother seldom spoke of her childhood. Times were hard during the great depression, and her life on the farm must have had its share of difficulties. One story she did tell me was the night of the northern lights. In our part of the world, (Minnesota) the Aurora Borealis shines brightly several times a year, depending on solar activity. Cloud cover and the illumination of cities decreases the opportunities to see it, but usually we can catch some in late summer or early fall.
One night, when my mother was a child, she witnessed a fantastic display, where the Northern Lights radiated downward from a point straight overhead, to all points of the compass.
She never saw another like it again, and was deeply impressed by it. Tonight we had a similar show, and I can see why she remembered it. I first noticed the lights on the western horizon, looking like pencil-thin spotlights, about six beams piercing the night sky. I thought perhaps the neighboring town had an opening or holiday show. And then I looked east, and saw broad bands of light glowing silently there. Then I looked up, and there it was, the point of emanation, lights arrayed in a 360˚ panorama. I felt as if some flaming meteorite would come crashing down upon my head. And of course my mother's story came to mind. And I could see how, coming from a somewhat drab childhood, my mother would remember that moment to share with her child.
UPDATE: The light display was caused by ice crystals in the air! There was an explanation in the paper today. That is even stranger than the Aurora- I've seen that many times, but I've never seen the likes of this!
Grandmother's Sugar Cookies
In response to popular demand, and because I am baking these today, here is my sainted grandmother's sugar cookie recipe:
blend in a mixer:
1/2 cup shortening (125ml)
1/2 cup butter, softened (125ml)
1 cup sugar (250ml)
3 tablespoons milk (45ml)
1 teaspoon vanilla (5ml)
3 cups flour (750ml)
1 teaspoon soda (5ml)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (5ml)
1/2 teaspoon salt (2.5ml)
fold flour mixture into mixer ingredients, then chill
roll into balls on cookie sheet, then flatten with a sugared glass bottom or Teflon spatula (dough will be quite sticky),
bake at 400˚F (hot oven) till lightly brown on bottom edge
please note: if you want to wreck these with frosting, sprinkles, etc., go ahead, but you will miss the point of the sublime, almost zen-like, minimalism of these treats. They are not very sweet.
I have a feeling that she just got this recipe from a magazine somewhere, although I've never tasted anyone else's quite like these. Perhaps the recipe came over from the old country (Sweden) with her mother?
In The Mood
oh yeah, baby i'm ready, com'on tear my shirt and scratch my back and watch the river flow, it's been too long and there's no turning back now, the world can wait, our own little world is just big enough for two, and it is waiting, baby, baby can't you hear my heartbeat? friday night i've worked hard all week and now it's time to play, com'on an' be my party doll, and i'll make love to you.
...by an angel! And as I felt the heavenly glow suffuse through my soul, I knew then that God is Real and that Jesus is my own personal savior!
Or am I just plain touched?
The fever should subside in 24 hours.