Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Retrospective

Instead of posting the usual resolutions for the upcoming year (okay, okay: lose weight, get back up to at least 5 miles at a time on my runs, get back into knitting and playing the guitar, finish the novel--which I now have promised Jeff I will have a draft of on April 1...), I thought it would be nice to revisit some of the stuff Jeff and I and all and sundry of friends and family did this year by posting some of my favorite photos of this year, along with some commentary about them. So here goes:

Rachel graduated from the University of Texas School of Communications in May, and we all converged on Austin for her convocation and graduation ceremonies. Hijinks ensued.

In July, my Mom celebrated her 88th birthday with her sister-in-law and other family members in Vallejo, California. I couldn't be there, but I sent flowers and a card--I think she is just the cutest thing in the world in this photo. I sure hope I inherited her longevity and sassy spryness genes!

Also in July, Jeff and I traveled to Marfa, Texas, to visit Rachel. See entries on Marfa and the trip in the July archives! I snapped this photo as Jeff and I were wandering the streets of Marfa near the Brown Recluse Coffee House where we were due to meet Rachel for breakfast one morning. I found the shapes of the cactus and the single flower to be lovely and evocative of the beauty of West Texas, even amidst all the stark desert.

Although we put the front bathroom reno on hold for yet another year (let's see how we're fixed after the first quarter of 2007 to decide if this is the year or not...), I managed to make a couple of small improvements. After looking for just the right piece at the right price for several years, I finally found a perfect china cabinet at the Village Treasure House in Glenview. As you can see, we can now display our vintage Cambridge Caprice crystal, our various trophies amassed from Barb and Charlie's foolish parties over the years, my share of Mom's salt and pepper collection, and various other glassware and pottery in one spot!

Also, after searching for just the right fabric to recover my frayed but classy round chairs (purchased for $5 each at the Mission Thrift Town in SF more than 20 years ago, and dear to my heart), I came across this bottle green paisley chenille. It fits the bill nicely, don't you think? I also became the proud owner of Ox, my favorite Ugly Doll, as you can see. (At Christmas, Ox was joined by my second fave, Moxy. Yea!)

In September, Jeff and I joined our work colleagues and friends Nancy and Paul and a whole passel of other folks for a last blast of summer weekend in Michigan (again, check out the September archives for more on that jaunt). Fall put in an early appearance in 2006, making for less than optimum beach weather, but man, did we get a nice show on the lake.

In October, I headed south to my hometown of Waynesboro, Virginia, to attend my 33rd high school reunion and the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival Art Show. You can read all about these doings in the blog--merely consult the archives for October.

My pal Barb Lawson (see links to the right) had her cartoon art on display. She did quite well! And I purchased a lovely painting by her mom, Patsy Spilman. I'm in the process of finding the perfect frame for the piece, and when I do, I will feature it with pictures of the other watercolors of hers that grace my walls.

Time marches on, and soon autumn gives way to winter and the holiday season. This is the tree that grows outside our sunroom window--you can still see the traces of our late fall snow storm. We haven't had any snow since! I'm sure we're in for it, though. Just give it a few weeks. Today it's foggy and 45 degrees, though. Go figure.

December brought a trip to Racine and environs in search of antiques and cameraderie. You can read more about it in the entry directly preceding this one. Still I thought I'd regale you with a couple more photos...

These weird and scary hulking Santa ornaments are a craft better left to... I don't even know to whom! Yikes!

But this! This I fell in love with, and Laurie and Mary managed to spirit it away and buy it for me right under my nose!

We hosted Greg and Rachel on Christmas Eve--although it may be the last one in a while when we see them both together on that day. Rachel lives so far away now that it's not easy for her to get the time off from her job to make the trek. We're happy she was able to do it this year!

Shelly loves Christmas--lots of paper for her to chase and tear, and she gets to recline under the tree and imagine for the slightest of moments that she is the intrepid huntress of her dreams.

Here's a parting look at the tree...the holidays are nearly over. Wah.

Here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy, successful New Year. Let's hope we can put an end to this ill-begotten war and start repairing this great nation, both inside and out.

Welcome, 2007!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Yeah, I know. Original title for a blog entry on December 25, but hey--it fits!

We're on leg two of our traditional Christmas celebration at our luxury lakeside condo (heh!), as Christmas Eve is always spent hosting the stepkids. We had a great time hanging out, watching a DVD of early episodes of "Arrested Development" courtesy of Greg and taking in that classic Christmas movie Shaolin Soccer, courtesy of a guy Jeff works with. Many sweet things were consumed as well as the traditional Christmas Eve make-it-yourself pizzas. We were so stuffed that we had to pack the pies (vegan pecan for Rachel and French silk for Greg) for the kids to take back to their mom's house.

This morning Jeff and I awoke to open our presents to each other (books, CDs, DVDs, a Sonicare toothbrush for me to maintain good dental hygiene during my current bout of orthodondia, among other cools stuff), and in a few minutes we'll head upstairs to our neighbors' unit to have Christmas dinner. We usually just cook ourselves a small ham and veg all day, but it's always nice to be sociable on Christmas, huh?

So... let's talk Christmas traditions. One thing that my friend Laurie and I are trying to establish as a holiday tradition is an antiquing trip up to Racine and environs. We first did this a couple of years ago--we took the train up to Kenosha, where our Racine friend Mary picked us up and squired us around to such wonderful places as School Days Antique Mall and The Castle Antique Mall in Sturdevant, Wisconsin. We found many wonderful things on that trip--then we returned to Mary's lovely Victorian home in Racine for dinner. Just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and situated on a street still paved in bricks, Mary and her husband's place is a work in progress--but such a wonderful home.

This year, we headed up there two weeks before Christmas. Alas--we found that the Castle had closed a mere two weeks before, after having been there for 14 years! Wah! The proprietor of the coin shop that shared the building said that he (as the building owner) was negotiating a lease for another antique mall in the space, so fingers crossed. That left us with more time at School Days, though, and we used it well!

School Days takes up most of an old school house, and the halls and classrooms and gym are chock-a-block with treasures. They were decked out in Christmas finery! This particular booth had tons of very cool Christmas-belia, but it was way, way overpriced. Drat. Still, the place has something for everyone!

Here's a basket of sleeping beauties to entice the doll collector.

Just the title for a nice, cozy, Christmas of reading.

For the salt and pepper enthusiast, what could be better than this engaging couple?

And this pair are just the thing for your retro bathroom redo--I would have scooped them up, but I already purchased a chalkware Mary here a couple of years ago for my bathroom redo (I swear--it will happen one day!), and even I can't flank the Blessed Virgin with a couple of outsized fish!

And here's another couple sure to warm anyone's heart--as long as they are old enough to identify good ol' Ike and Mamie.

Are you a Moolah fan? This cardboard Shriner fan is just the item for you, then, although it is a tad overpriced at $11.00!

Some caveats to certain booth owners, though. First, this is an amusing look, but not one that really draws folks in to browse:

Kind of scary, really.

Then there are those dealers who just don't get why people come to these places. It is not to buy scary stuff like this:

Or, worse, like this assemblage of nightmare inducers:

Although THIS scary thing actuall DOES work, kind of:

And this scary thing, out of the tres expensive booth mentioned earlier, actually won my heart... I had one of these when I was a kid. Still, I was not about to pay $35 for the thing. I love it, though!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Decorating

How I love to have a nice sparkly Christmas tree set up in the sunroom!

How I hate to put the damned thing up each year!

When I was a kid, my mom would only allow one type of Christmas tree in the house: a balsam fir. It was the type of tree her family had every year when she was little, and nothing else would do. One year, when I was 9 or 10, we waited a tad too long to purchase the tree, and the local lot was out of balsams. My dad, being a practical sort, figure it would be okay for us to have a scotch pine just this once. Oh no. Mom made him return the tree (not sure how he managed that--I've never attempted a Christmas tree return myself), and he ended up driving all the way to Staunton (before the Interstate) to hunt out an honest-to-god balsam. And, like my mom, it's my favorite type of Christmas tree.

Unlike my mom in days of yore, however, I don't insist on it or nothing.

In fact, about five years ago Jeff and I made the tough decision to buy a fake tree. Our condo is an old, long unit with a 30-foot-long hall between the living room and the dining room, and condo rules and regs say that you have to bring Christmas trees in the back door. The best place for the tree, however, is in the very front of the unit, in the sunroom. I'm not sure how many feet it is from the center of the sunroom to the hall, or how many feet lie between the place where the hallway enters the dining room to the back door (the kitchen intervenes), but we're talking more than 50 feet between the point at which a "live" tree enters the unit and the spot where it is finally set up. And then there's the trip out, once the holidays have ended. Let's just say we got tired of having the soles of our feet impaled by evergreen needles in July--after at least half a year of regular vacuuming on the hall runner.

So we bought the fake tree on sale about a week before Christmas, way back then. We didn't get one of the prelit trees, because I like to use the C7 bulbs for vintage appeal. And we didn't get one of those ones you just take out of the box and shake and voila! You've got yourself a tree ready for the trimming! Those weren't on sale. Nope. We bought a nice and, I think you will agree, very natural-looking tree... but it was in pieces. You have to put up the "trunk" and then insert color-coded "branches" of graduated lengths into the "trunk" to build the tree. I also put the lights on each tier as I assemble, so putting the tree up takes the better part of an evening--and then trimming it takes another.

But I have to say: all the time and backaches and shoulder aches and weird rashes and teeny paper cuts are worth it in the long run--we have a tree up! Yea!

So... check out some of the pretty ornaments and junk:

The little plastic canary is from my childhood--and my guess is that it goes way, way, way back to around the time my parents were married, right after WW2. The lantern to the left is not from my stash of family ornaments--I bought it at an antique store out around Touhy and Harlem--but it is exactly the same as some of the ornaments that graced my childhood tree. And I just love the comets and stars and planets Christmas ball--I always pick those up when I find them in junk and antique shops.

We call this ornament "Tycho Brahe," even though it is really Humpty Dumpty. I bought this my first Christmas in Chicago, as a present for Jeff. I thought he would appreciate its weirdness--on the side you can see, it's all nice and happy, but on the OTHER side, it has another face all scrunched up and pissed off. Unfortunately, the ornament only remained intact for that one Christmas. As we (well, as I) was taking ornaments off the tree, it slipped out of my grip and fell. The nose on the pissed-off Humpty broke off, leaving a gaping hole. Hence, the name. Although we have not yet gotten around to fashioning a golden (or silver or copper, depending on whom you consult) nose for the poor guy.

This is Jeff's ornament, a nod to his devotion to Bob and the Church of the Subgenius.

And this picture just makes me happy. The silly but cool Christmas cat and the way-old-fashioned metallic yet plastic red cage ornament. I don't think you can really see it, but a camel reclines inside the cage!

Of course, you realize that the hell of taking down the tree will comprise its own post as well, right?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Metalmouth! (and More)

Well, the deed is done. I now have braces on my upper teeth and a retainer (for nightly use) for my lower teeth. It feels as if I have a big honkin' wire and crap in my mouth. No, wait! I DO!

It isn't as bad as it could be. After all, "metalmouth" is kind of a misnomer nowadays, as the brackets are mostly ceramic (with a bit of metal embedded), and they are affixed directly to the front of your teeth--no unsightly metal bands. There is still the main wire across the front, though. Getting the brackets glued on was not the most pleasant experience in the world--they pull your lips and cheeks away from your teeth with some kind of plastic torture device... but that was not all that bad, really. But the thingy that stabilizes your tongue? It had some sharp edges that were periodically digging into my lower jaw. Ow yeow. I was stoic, though. Eight or nine months from now, I'll have my nice, straight, evenly spaced smile again.

Of course, there's the infamous list of Things One Must Not Eat to be dealt with, including hard candy, corn on the cob (NO!), nuts (NO!), hard cookies (?), corn chips, hard pizza crust, pens, pencils, fingernails (huh?), licorice (no prob there), taffy, caramel, milk duds, tootsie rolls, chewing gum... and they advise against acidic food such as curries and red wine (NO!), because they stain the ceramic. The tech actually suggested I switch to white wine for the next three quarters of a year. Wah! It's not exactly an even exchange, now, is it--white (feh) for red (ahh)?

And why did I get braces at the ripe old age of 51? (Sorry, all you Poptarts fans! I meant 46.)

So that I don't end up looking like this:

Of course, those who know me well know that I am anything BUT a "God Warrior" who would eschew the "dork side," but the gap between my front teeth was widening at what, in my humble opinion, was an alarming rate.

But wait... there's more.

I'm going to follow up with a post sometime this week about one of the primary pains of adulthood: putting up the tree and other attendant Christmas decorating tasks, but I just want to get this particular item out of my system: After finally getting the tree up and trimmed, the tzotchkes on the mantle beribboned, and the balcony planter boxes bedecked with tasteful fake greenery and reddery and a variation on white icicle lights, we got a call from the condo president, who lives downstairs. He made a lighted star decoration. Can he come up and put it on our balcony? (We have the only balcony in the 6-flat: it is essentially the roof of the entry foyer.)

Oh, sure. Why not? A smallish lighted star might be a nice complement to the greenery and icicle lights.

Except when he showed up at our door, he was carrying a star so big that he had to slant it to get it through the jamb! Made out of a light wood frame wound with tiny white Christmas lights, this star is at least 6.5 feet wide and 7 feet tall! Well, he had obviously spent a lot of time working on it...I didn't have the heart to tell him it was way too big and garrish. So now the thing is affixed to the front of the building thanks to our balcony and some architectural embellishments on the front facade. It obscures all the greenery and reddery and even most of the icicle lights. Sigh.

Maybe a big storm will blow in off the lake and rip it to shreds. Now THERE's the Christmas spirit, huh?!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Christmas Classic of Corn

But a big favorite of mine...

My pal Lee posted something last week about the relatively early onslaught of Christmas movies and specials crowding their way onto TV, and, in general, I agree with him. If it starts before Thanksgiving, it's going to get way beyond old by Epiphany. But I have to admit that last weekend--only the first weekend in December--one of my favorite holiday movies came on, and I watched it from beginning to end, tearing up at appropriate times. That movie is about as cornball as they come, but it's a classic as far as I'm concerned:

White Christmas.

Now, a lot of my affection for this movie is due to nostalgia. From junior high on up through high school, my best friend Barb and I (and, for a while, until she drifted away from our then trio of friends, our third musketeer, Chibbie) used to gather at one or the other's home for a sleepover the night White Christmas came on TV. We loved it, yes. But it was more than that. We loved to make fun of it too. It was, well... there's no getting around it... it was corny. But beautiful. Enticing, saturated technicolor. Crazy dance numbers. Songs that, for the most part, transcended their disadvantage of being from our parents' trove of Christmas albums and such.

The film was formative.

For one thing, over the years, Barb and I perfected our own version of the Haynes Sisters' song and dance number entitled--you guessed it!--"Sisters."

Now Barb and her sister Beth do the number, as they have many more opportunities than Barb and I at this point in time, but back in the day, we wowed 'em at the Junior Variety Show!

Another thing that has always fascinated me about the film is the very, very, very skinny Vera-Ellen--the one who plays the younger Haynes sister, the one who falls for Danny Kaye. Even in the sixties when Twiggy was the ideal, this gal needed to get some meat on her bones.

I mean, look at that waist (if the picture isn't too small--these thumbnails pixilate all too easily). Did she have a couple of ribs removed or something? (Actually, while trying to find some pictures online, I ran into a fan site that said she was anorexic when this movie filmed, and that, if you notice, all of her costumes have high necklines to hide the loose skin that resulted from her excessive weight loss. Sad, really. But in all my years of watching the movie over and over and over, I never copped to the neckline thing.)

No, the thing that stuck with me year in and year out was her tap-dancing on the extremely corny "art" piece, "Choreography." First, check out Danny Kaye, looking quite light in the loafers. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...):

But the REAL star of the number is Vera-Ellen's toe. I had never seen anyone with such control over a digit. She descends from the ceiling, toe pointed stageward, and the moment said toe hits the boards, it's tapping out a staccato so swift that it might as well be automatic weapon fire. Even before I took tap classes (inspired, in no small part, by Vera-Ellen's virtuousity), I knew that this had to be pretty damned hard to do. Is it even possible? Is this really nothing more than Hermes Pan (or some other tapper or Foley artist) producing the amazing tap sounds in a studio somewhere far from the White Christmas soundstage? Could be. But I cling to the belief that it's all her. Alas, I could not find a picture of her toe in all its glory, but I did find a publicity shot of the number itself, with her in it:

I also recall thinking, back in the day, how mean the directors/producers/casting agents were to pair poor, bovine Rosemary Clooney with Miss "I'm missing a rib or two" Vera-Ellen. I remember thinking that Rosemary was fat. Through the years, though, upon repeated viewings and my own foray into middle age (and middle-aged spread), I have come to realize that she is NOT fat. Not by a longshot:

In fact, I wouldn't mind being so zaftig... Although if you know the movie and the song she's singing in the still above ("Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me"), you know that the problem most likely wasn't that love sent a "Joe with winter and snow in his heart" to her, but that love sent four lithe boys to dance around her and give each other the eye as she sang about how cold they were. (Not that there's anything wrong with that....)

At any rate, I love this movie, corny as it is. Last weekend found me glued to the set, marveling at Vera-Ellen's toe, weeping as the troops march in to honor the old general, and gasping at the snowy finale, even though I've seen the thing so many times that I know just about every line.

And, since I now OWN it, I can watch it several more times during the holiday season, which, along with my repeated watchings of Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol is guaranteed to drive Jeff nuts. But what the hey--he'll love me all the more for it, right?

After all, Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister, and Lord help the sister who comes between me and my MAN!

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Made It!

I logged in at just over my goal of 30,000 words on the 29th. I had planned to write another 1,400-1,500 words yesterday, just to finish big, as it were, but when I sat down last night to write (after a hellish day of rewriting really, really stinky sixth-grade social studies copy), I just couldn't bear to put fingers on keys. But no matter--I'm now about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft, and I've established some pretty good writing habits. I don't think I'm going to finish it by year's end (although I do have Christmas week off, so who knows?), but I'll be close. Really close.

It was an interesting exercise, because I had only outlined it so far, and in all the years I had worked on it in my on-again, off-again fashion, I had worked my way up to just about the place where the outline degenerated into a list called "Things That Have to Happen." At first, I used it as a rough guide for proceeding in a chronological manner, crafting in-betweens to get me from one Thing That Has to Happen to the next. And that worked for a while. It even led me to a couple of new scenes that just up and presented themselves--fortuitously, I think. I hope. But after a while, that strategy just ground to a halt. I was losing interest in yet another evening of in-betweening. So... I started working on the remainder of the Things That Have to Happen. And that got me tapping the keys eagerly again.

I have Jeff to thank for that new strategy. It was a method he employed earlier this year, when he churned out a hefty first draft in a matter of a very few months. He didn't write chronologically. He came up with scenes and then fit them together, doing most of the in-betweening after he'd crafted and recrafted the major attractions.

Well, I still have a couple of Things That Have to Happen to write: the climax (the very BIGGEST of Things That Have to Happen) and the denouement. I'm going to save those, though, until I've done all the required in-betweening to get to where they occur. I'm going to add them chronologically.

It's been fun. It's been good practice. It's helped me acquire some much needed discipline.

Who knows? Maybe next year I'll have a second novel in the works... and I'll actually do the OFFICIAL NaNoWriMo thang!