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32 posts from December 2006

December 12, 2006

The Mysticism of Writing

By Sarah

Manhattan Once again, I am at the end of writing another book. It is twilight in my world, silent and still. After a mad rush of ideas and outlining and writing and revising, here I am - me, my characters and my manuscript - trying to come to terms with what's about to happen next. Pressing that send button and shooting them to Manhattan where they'll come under the cold, sharp eye of my agent and then (unless my agent balks) the weary scrutiny of my editor.

This is what it must be like to put a teenager on the bus to college, I think. Starting with the 2 a.m. awakenings and culminating with the morning fights to get up and go, there have been moments in this long, painful process where - in both child rearing and book writing - I have desperately wanted to be rid of the responsibility. And now I can't say goodbye.

It's odd and, I'm afraid, slightly mad, the way I've come to care for Genie and Hugh and Nick and Patty and Todd and even Connie. (A royal bitch, if there ever was one.) I dream about them, really. I wonder what will happen when the book ends and they go on to lead their various lives, how their own kids (whom they don't yet have) and other life crises will bring them together and, in turn, wrench them apart. What I've done in The Sleeping Beauty Proposal- what all writers do in their books - is barge in on characters lives and then leave. In a way, it's very rude.

Honestly, writing fiction and selling it is, really, the most bizarre profession.

Also, a mystical one.

TAKE A LEFT AT ALBUQUERQUE

Consider, first, the signs. While writing a book I often trip across signs - major or insignificant - that seem to serve as mystical guideposts indicating whether I'm on the right track. I have yet toSigns  figure out if they portend success.

For example, the day I switched a plot element in which a character, a single woman, went from buying a house to buying a condo, was the day I later picked up a magazine heralding how single women were buying condominiums. I invented a character who worked for Henicker Real Estate - a company I completely made up. Went to get my mail and found some junk from Henicker Insurance. On and on. There were signs in BUBBLES UNBOUND and there were signs in SECRET LIVES and, later, THE CINDERELLA PACT. Sure, I might be more attune to my surroundings. I might be looking for signs. But I don't think so. I think something else is going on. I think writing is one way - like painting or composing music or meditating - of tapping into that big, wild ooze of a mystical muse.

THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS MEETS THE SUBCONSCIOUS

The second mystical thing about writing: the subconscious. It's true, the subconscious is working for us all the time. Greg Brady might not have had any success studying for a Spanish test by listening to a record in his sleep, but I swear that long after the computer's off, my brain is mulling over the manuscript. My brain is communicating to my fingers story elements of which I am totally unaware.

Roses_1 That vase of roses Genie received halfway through the book was meant as an innocent diversion, a way to bring in another character and give the character something to do so I could hang a bit of dialogue. Also, to add some intrigue regarding who had sent them. They weren't in the outline. They weren't important. They were merely a device. Two drafts later, they were key to building a whole new relationship. I found that other characters had been discussing roses and I hadn't even noticed. Why, roses were all over the place.

I swear, I had nothing to do with it.

WHY CAN'T I DO IT THE EASY WAY?

Every book is a trip down the yellow brick road, one filled with witches and apple-throwing trees andYellow_brick_road  flying monkeys. And at the end, inevitably, I find all I had to do was click my heels three times and I would have been home. Why is that?

It took me the longest time in the Cinderella Pact to reach the point where my main character, who was writing an advice column under an assumed identity, was forced to take her own advice. Simple. Direct. In the back of my mind all along. But did I write it that way the first time or even the third? No. And then, struggling to make the pieces all fit, it came to me and the thing is, I knew that's what I originally thought when I first conceived of the character. Does that make sense? Probably not. You had to be there.

THERE IS GENIUS, AND THEN THERE'S ME

Divine I've become convinced that there are some artists who channel it. There is no way Shakespeare, a mere mortal, wrote so well the agonies and follies of human beings without the Divine handing him crib notes. I'm not saying Sir Francis Bacon was his ghost writer. I'm saying Shakespeare was drawing it down from something higher. I think this is also true of J.K. Rowling. Yes, she works hard, possibly feverishly. Yet, there's a touch to her work that leads me to believe that, like Shakespeare, Harry Potter is not entirely from an Earthly realm.

As I'm slogging along, sometimes hammering out a manuscript word by word, I think of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It comes easy to Bob, I can tell. Again, not that he doesn't (didn't) work hard, not that he didn't practice or intently study Woody Guthrie, et al. But, like Shakespeare, like Rowling, there's a touch of something higher to his work. Whereas I just know my man Bruce is slogging it out like the rest of us, working his butt off in an attempt to reach the level of his hero Dylan. A level I'm not sure he'll ever achieve.

I guess that's the final, most humbling, lesson about the mystical aspect of writing. For some of us no matter how hard we work at our craft, we will never be more than a Salieri to someone else's Mozart.

As for me, I should be so lucky.

Sarah

(Author's note: Idiot that I am, I orginally had Salieri's name wrong. Thanks to Ursula, my idiocy's been pointed out and I've corrected it. I plead "writer's brain." I don't know if that's an official medical term, but I'm sticking with it - sarah)

December 11, 2006

489 Simple Steps to Building a Gingerbread House

by Michele Martinez

I had this very deep, meaningful, totally intellectual blog planned about how it feels to be half Christian and half Jewish at the holidays.  And half Latina, half Eastern European.  And half author, half lawyer.  Never fully one thing or the other.  That blog even had a picture of Barack Obama -- another halfsie -- in it.

  Couldn't resist -- isn't he cute?

But then I started building my gingerbread house.  I started on Saturday morning, which meant that when the time came to write this blog on Sunday night, I was only 36 hours into the process.  Obviously, not a good time to take one's eyes off the royal icing.  I had two choices.  I could let TLC go dark for a day.  (Didn't seriously consider that one).  Or I could blog about my annual descent into Martha Stewart-esque madness.  So here, in really very few simple steps, is the Michele Martinez Guide to Creating the Edible Holiday Decoration of a Lifetime.

Step One -- If you have to ask why, you shouldn't be doing this. After I warned my seven-year-old for the umpteenth time to get his little hands away from my gingerbread house if he wanted to make it to Christmas morning, he had the audacity to ask, "Mommy, why do people do this?" Friends, you must realize, the process itself IS NOT FUN.  Watch "Gingerbread Genocide" and you'll see how I feel about my gingerbread house most of the time I am working on it.  Do I let these negative feelings stand in my way?  Of course not.  Gingerbread house-building is not for the weak.  If you want to have fun, go buy a kit.

Step Two: Pick a Pattern.  There are many gingerbread house patterns available for free on the internet.  If you're a first-timer, pick something simple.  Even a slight step up in design, like adding a chimney or a gable, can make the assembly process a lot trickier.  Pick a site that posts pictures of the completed house along with each pattern.  Trust me, you'll need those pictures when you're trying to figure out what the hell the pattern means.  I got my pattern this year off this great site called Frankysattic. 

Step Three: purchase ingredients. Here's what you need to build a gingerbread house.

  • Base -- A piece of plywood covered with white felt works just fine.  Consider the dimensions of the house you're planning to build, and be sure your base is big enough to accommodate all the elements of the diorama you plan to create around it.  Paths, trees, stone walls, streams, a water wheel, Santa and his sleigh?  Surroundings don't just happen.  You need to plan for them.
  • Gingerbread -- No reason to make gingerbread from scratch.  This is not about the baking.  If you care how it tastes, gingerbread is the wrong medium for you anyway.  I use Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cake and Cookie mix, with less butter and more flour than they recommend for extra-hard, sturdy walls.  Buy more than you think you'll need -- my house this year required six boxes.
  • Royal Icing -- This stuff is such powerful cement that you could use it to send a mafioso to the bottom of the sea.  ("Gingerbread House Murders" anyone?)  Again, no reason to go to the trouble of making from scratch.  King Arthur Flour has a great white icing mix that has instructions for turning it into royal icing right on the back.
  • Decorations -- This is it.  The big Kahuna.  Where you wrestle your demons, make this thing your own, become a woman.  The whole point of building a gingerbread house is decorating it, people.  You must develop your own voice.  I can't help you.  I can't tell you what to buy. I will reveal that my personal signature is a slate roof made from halves of Nilla wafers, carefully laid out in an offset pattern.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.  But we'll get to decorating later -- hopefully by Tuesday or Wednesday!

Step Four: cut and bake.  For a simple house, you should be able to get away with one day for cutting and baking.  If you're lucky. Here are some tips. 

  • Use a pizza cutter to get straight edges.
  • If the edges round during baking, wait until the gingerbread is really, really hard, and sand them straight again using a lemon zester. 
  • Label your baked pieces so you know where they fit in the pattern. Otherwise, once they're cooked, your components will all look the same and assembly will be a bitch.
  • Let the pieces sit out to harden for at least 12 hours before attempting assembly.  Be prepared for some of them to break anyway, thus requiring re-baking.

Step Five: assemble.  This part is the nightmare.  You'll need all the help you can get when it comes time to put the little bugger together.  My advice -- be really nice to your husband for days beforehand and enlist his services.  If he's not a good carpenter (fortunately, mine is!), try your general contractor instead.  But be warned: money alone will not be sufficient inducement.

I am pleased to report that Michele's Gingerbread House 2006 has now made it through Step Five.  Here are some photos below.  Now you fess up:  What's your holiday obsession?

Dsc03352_1 Dsc03354_1 Dsc03355_1

December 10, 2006

Lowbrow Link of the Week

Have we ever claimed to be classy, brilliant or cultured?  No. 

Here's our link of the week.

Yes, it's stupid. And as un-Christmasy as you can get. So . . . can anyone explain why it's so damn satisfying?

December 09, 2006

Heart of Tartness Book Club Alert!

Heart of Tartness Online Cookie Exchage

Yes, we are doing it. We had such fun sharing Thanksgiving recipes that we're going to do the same with cookies. It'll be like a regular cookie exchange except you can eat every one you make, instead of having to share them.

Need some ideas? The Food Network has all ranges from anyone can do it to be ready to channel Julia Child. Here's one to check out from the 'almost homemade' collection:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_29372,00.html

Sorry I can't do it the nice way - Typepad is being ornery this morning.

In the meantime, get yourself to Trader Joe's and pick up the limited edition holiday Joe Joe cookies - they have little bits of candy canes in the middle - wow - are they good.

So dig out those recipes and be ready to share - we'll be doing it next weekend - December 16th.

Yum!

December 08, 2006

Margie's Holiday Dating Tips

Margie’s Holiday Dating Tips

By me, Margie, who has lots of them.

Blog_christmas_romance_1
Well, its that time of year where everybody needs a date for some damn thing. Office parties; Aunt Bertha’s annual buffet/embarrass the single people extravaganza; and the mother of all date nightmares – New Years’ Eve.

First off, the Aunt Bertha shindig. You know she’s going to try to embarrass you by asking when you’re going to get married/settle down/have babies/limit yourself to one man at a time. Not that she knows – she’s just fishing, so don’t give her any more ammo. If she gets your Nana involved, it’ll be a big mess so just nod and smile and keep your yapper shut. Especially about the threesomes. There is just no way your grandma is going to get that. Ever. If the nod and the smile don’t work, you may have to take out the big guns. Here’s an award winner from my cousin Patty. It was Thanksgiving. Both Aunt Bertha and Aunt Beatrice (the twin terrors) had been badgering Patty all evening. She stayed nice and quiet (for once), but they just wouldn’t let it go. So they asked one too many times – right at the table with everybody listening: “Patty, honey, when are you finally going to pick one man and stick with him?” Patty says (still trying, but grinding her teeth): “You know, that’s none of your business.” The Aunts: “Of course it is, honey, we’re family. Everything is our business.” Uh-oh. You know what’s coming right? So did I, so I got up to drag Patty away from the table, but not before she lets loose with this: “So, Aunt B – you won’t mind telling us when you had your last orgasm.” Whoa. Those weren’t her exact words either. I love that girl. Took her right to the neighborhood bar for beer and pumpkin pie. It’s all good. Oh – the dating tip for these things: Don’t. Just don’t. Unless you’re trying to dump someone. Then you won’t have to – they’ll run screaming into the night.

For the office party, take someone nice who won’t get hammered and break stuff, or heaven forbid try to pick up one of the bosses. This year I am taking my gay friend Dick, since all my bosses are women. Plus Dick is getting manscaped that day and he’ll still be pretty mellow from all the meds. You never want to take anyone really hot to the office party. A couple too many drinks, and you’re looking for an empty office with a lock, or a closet and if you knock over one of those supply shelves, it makes a big racket and people come looking to see what happened. Not that I would really know, I’m just guessing because I think I read that somewhere. Or worse, some bimbo hits on your hot date, and then you have to decide whether to apply a simple bitch-slap or drag the tramp outside to leave a real mark. Once again, people ask questions, cops can be called, and what if they’re cops you don’t know and you have to get ID out of your purse and other stuff falls out and – it’s just not worth it.

Now, the big kahuna. New Years’ Eve. This is only an issue if you’re not already dating someone. And you know this, but I’m going to remind you anyway – now is not the time to start dating someone marginal just to have guaranteed holiday dates. That is just bad karma. What if the guy decides you’re The One and he tells you that it’s just the two of you going out to a movie but then he takes you to his mother’s house for some fancy dinner and the next thing you know he’s on one friggin knee, and his aunts are all teary-eyed and you have to pretend you just had an allergic reaction to whatever you just ate so you can get the hell out without making the guy look like a total goon in front of his family and it’s really not something you want to do, okay?

So if you’re not dating anyone, and you know not to make the stretch for someone you wouldn’t normally date because I just told you not to, now what? You get your single friends and you plan something. Pick a bar and plan to meet there. Or go to someone’s house. Or chip in for a limo and go on a pub crawl. But you’d better call for that limo now. Because I just called and got the last white one. I like white because it’s easier not to run into at night. That hurts and can leave a bruise that you can’t figure out for awhile.

See, that sounds fun – except for the bruising part, unless, you know, that’s your thing, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Here’s what is not fun – spending five or six hours with a bad date, even with the beer goggles. This is not – I mean not – the night for a blind date or a first date, or even a second date. Too much time involved – it’s like a death march. Don’t chance it. Trust me on this.

Blog_spray_on_condom
And the most important thing – don’t forget to pick up the safety nets. Keep your boys and girls in their own house. The new Spray-On condoms? No way. Zero. Let some other wiggler try that out. Because unless it’s plumber’s caulk, that stuff isn’t sealing anything you need it to seal. Let’s be careful out there. No one wants to spend January in a panic.

Anyone else have anything to add?

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December 07, 2006

Annual Christmas Letter

by Nancy's cousin Delphine           

Dear Friends---It's been another blessed year in our household, and I know you can hardly wait to hear about our family "doings" this holiday season!  Every week at our marital counseling session with Reverend Peabody, Fred and I thank our lucky stars we have friends like you to lean on! So let's get straight to the news!

  Yes, our "little girl" is all set to graduate from high school this spring! As you know, Ashley was on track to be her class valedictorian, but the day she got her braces off and insisted we buy a tanning bed and those hair extensions--well, it was a New Beginning for Ashley. Right away, she made the cheerleading squad! Soon she had to give up some of her time-consuming activities like Honor Society and Youth Group at our church to make time for dance lessons at Kick It Up a Notch Studio, but she made us see that being the president of the Abstinence Until Marriage Club for two years looked just as good on her college applications as three years, so she gave that up, too. Now she certainly has a lot of "study partners" keeping her busy--and they're all boys!  She's also made us see the wisdom of her plan to skip Harvard and go to the community college instead.--She's so wonderful to be concerned about Fred and me saving for our Golden Years. (She even has us looking at real estate ads in sunny Burbank, California!) And you'll be glad to know she's overcome that pesky eating disorder. She's really putting on the pounds now!  Reverend Peabody seems very concerned, bless his heart, but Ashley is as happy as a pig in mud!

  Fred Junior was sorry to leave his job at Home Depot when "cutbacks" forced that mean boss of his to let Fred Junior go. Now he was plenty of free time to "hang with his homeys" down at the Brew Pub and play football pool--especially now that he doesn't have to wear that big ankle bracelet anymore. We were surprised when he started parking a brand new Hummer in front of the house, but he says it's a "perk" for applying for a job as a pharmaceutical rep.  See, all those years of Ritalin have finally paid off now that our son is entering the "drug trade!"

  You'll be pleased to hear that my dear little brother Davy is still living in our basement apartment. Even better, he now has a job! Who knew selling stuff on eBay could be so lucrative? We could hardly believe he was willing to part with his Star Wars action figures, but we wanted to support his desire to travel. How exciting to see him come back from Thailand with a new friend! As soon as Tony learns a little more English, we hope to find out if he's a boy or a girl.  And maybe he or she can help me find my missing Hummel collection and Ashley's vintage Cabbage Patch dolls.

  Fred Senior and I continue to "work" on our marriage after that little episode I had with credit cards last Christmas. The bank wasn't very understanding.  (I still had checks in my checkbook!) But Reverend Peabody helped us "make peace." I was so happy Fred agreed to give up all those late nite hours he used to spend on the computer (he needed to "unwind" after the body shop went belly up) that I started going to Jenny Craig at last.  What a great decision! Okay, so Fred has been so busy with his fantasy football league and all those teenage girls who keep showing up at our doorstep looking for "Derek" that he hasn't noticed I've lost 83 pounds yet. But Reverend Peabody has been a real Godsend, especially after he took that massage therapy course at the community college when his congregation told him to "take a hike" after so many years of selfless service to The Lord. (Who do you think got Ashley so excited about going to the community college???) Between Jenny Craig and Reverend Peabody's massage therapy, I am a New Woman! Why, even that nice man who runs the "gentleman's club" next to Curves has inquired about employing me!!

  On a sad note, Grandma has gone to Mexico with her Spiritual Advisor, Mel (they met at AA, so they have plenty in common!) in hopes of finding a cure for her "liver ailment." (We are taking care of her 11 cats, so if you need a "kitty" for Christmas, give us a shout!) And Grandpa wandered off from his 85th birthday party and hasn't been seen since--except that one time on the convenience store video tape--but we have hope he'll come home soon--to pick up his teeth, if nothing else.

  Also, we're sorry to report that Sparky is no longer with us. (In his later years, maybe you fondly knew him--like we did--as "Farty.") After watching that bump on his belly get bigger and bigger, Fred finally took our "faithful friend" to live out the rest of his days on a farm in the country. At least, that's what we told Ashley.

  We know some people find these annual Christmas letters pretty tacky.  Hey, who wants to hear a lot of crowing about succcessful kids and fancy vacations while struggling through life's everyday "hassles?" And most folks spend more time choosing the color and design of the paper the letter is printed on than the actual content.  But I figure this is better than a typed signature at the bottom of a printed card, right?  And I know you are anxious to hear about our various "good tidings"--even if Fred says this is the last year for our little "missive" because postage is too high. Do let me know if you'd like to receive one next year. You can always reach me through Reverend Peabody.

  Oh, and we're thinking of you, too!  Happy holidays!

Delphine               

December 06, 2006

Mothers and Daughters

By Elaine Viets

"My mother will be at dinner," my friend Emily said.

"Good," I said. "I want to meet her."

There was a slight hesitation. "My mom likes to talk."

"She has the gift of gab," I said.

"It’s a gift that keeps on giving," Emily said, and sighed. "I hope she won’t be a trial."

Emily’s mother was napping when we arrived. She made a grand entrance, coming down the stairs slowly, holding her audience. She was an elegant woman on the shady side of seventy, very thin and straight-backed. The first view of her was startling. It was like looking at a picture of Emily that had been artificially aged.

A talking picture. Emily is a quiet person. Her mother regaled us with stories of her life in the arts and the theater. She talked nonstop, but she was entertaining. She wasn’t loud or drunk. But I could tell Emily was upset.

I went into the kitchen to help Emily. She was in an agony of embarrassment. She fussed over the sweet potato casserole and lost the serving spoons.

"No one can get a word in edgewise," she whispered. "Look at that. Mary hasn’t had a chance to say anything. Neither has Don."

"We enjoy her," I said. "We’re listening."

"You can’t do anything else when Mother’s here," Emily said.

During dinner, Emily tried valiantly to turn the conversation back to her other guests, but her mother deftly wrested each topic away from them and turned it back to herself.

I was enjoying the struggle. Emily was not. Midway through dinner, she jumped up and said, "I forgot the salad."

"Emily makes the best salads," her mother said. "I used to, before I had to work."

Emily fled to the kitchen. I followed with a stack of dirty plates.

"She’s telling the story now about how she went to work when we didn’t have any money," Emily said through gritted teeth. "I’ve heard it a thousand times."

"We haven’t," I said. "It’s an interesting story. Your mother was very clever. It was hard for women to get good jobs back then."

"I know. I know. I just wish . . ."

"Emily," I said. "It’s OK."

"It’s not OK," Emily said. "She monopolizes every conversation."

"She’s entertaining," I said. "And we get to listen to the stories without years of old baggage. Go sit down, and enjoy her like we do."

Emily tried. But she had a haunted look. I’d seen it before on good daughters’ faces when their beloved mothers started a political lecture, asked an embarrassing question or took over the conversation.

Fathers and sons are natural enemies, the saying goes. But mothers and daughters often become allies once they get through the difficult teen years.

That’s when you hear the refrain, "I love my mother, but . . ." I’ll hear it a lot more during the holiday season, when I visit my friends’ homes. I’ll see that stricken look when Mom pulls out a cigarette in the nonsmoking kitchen, or starts talking about dear departed drunken uncle Horace, or asks, "When are you two getting married?" or "When are you giving me grandchildren?"

The mothers are exercising the privileges of old age, which allow frank (and nonstop) talk. The daughters will react like Emily.

Emily loves her mother like a good daughter. She wants her to be perfect. Poor Emily will never understand that it is her mother’s imperfections that make her so fascinating.

Until Emily herself is on the shady side of seventy, and terrorizing her daughter.

December 05, 2006

The War for Christmas City

By Sarah

I was about eight growing up in the Christmas City of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when I first noticed my mother slipping off late at night after she put me to bed.Christmas_presents

"Where's she going?" I'd ask my father who, per usual, was half asleep in his chair.

"To church," he'd say. Nothing more. Always "to church."

I thought it pretty odd that my mother was zipping off at ten p.m., shifting furiously in the driveway and burning rubber through the neighborhood to go to church when other kids mothers were ironing or watching TV or sleeping. Connie's mother was Presbyterian and she didn't do this, though Lisa's mother, a Catholic, did. Then again, she had five kids and grabbed any opportunity to flee the house. Was this just some weird Roman-related activity? Or was something else afoot?

It wasn't until several years later that I discovered my mother's late-night trips to Almart were but one step in a fiercely fought war to insure we had the Best Christmas Ever! - an annual battle she waged against my father, the one true living Grinch.

Like clockwork on the first Sunday of Advent, my mother, and my mother alone, hauled five boxes of decorations from the attic including special snow globes assigned to each child, porcelain angels, Artificial_tree red candles that, magically, never seemed to burn down, electric candles for our windows, a box for each child containing special Christmas-related books and other stuff, all manor of artificial wreaths and of course the artificial tree.

The artificial tree was my father's returning salvo. His excuse was, having suffered through a fire in the Great Depression, he couldn't bear to have anything so flammable under his roof as a real tree. Therefore, while other families were out stomping through snowy woods or, at least, meandering through muddy tree lots, our ritual consisted of putting slot A into slot B and fluffing out the plastic needles.

Since my brother and I have back-to-back birthdays in the middle of December, the rule was that the artificial tree would not be ceremonially snapped together until December 17th, my birthday. This gave us exactly one week to enjoy the faux pine bliss and another chance for my mother to execute her primary attack against my father: tree trimming.

The fight that erupted on my birthday never failed to be explosive as my mother turned up the carols, brought out the boxes and proceeded to hang lights, tinsel, the works, while my father refused to so much as lift a finger. When his folded arms didn't defeat the troops, he proceeded to complain that Christmas was a) overrated b) caused want and hardship in lower middle class to indigent families c) was a waste of perfectly good something and d) was never celebrated when he was a kid in the orphanage during the Depression so good luck arguing against that one.

Mom usually lost the tree trimming battle, but she still had her secret weapon: cookies. Tons of them. Some were complicated and not worth the effort or time. German anise cookies that had to be stored in tins and never were ended up so hard we used them as hockey pucks on our garageCookies  floor. Slightly nauseating rum balls. Several kinds of wafers and breads involving red and green cherries that were always the last to be eaten. Snickerdoodles. Gingerbread men. Almond crescents. Macaroons. And, course, your classic cutouts. Only hers were individually frosted and decorated.

But wait, that's not all. Because she was a housewife in the 1960s, there were always a few "experimental" varieties thrown in. Cookies that bore an eerie familiarity to the cover of that month's Women's Day. Peppermint cane twists. (A big thumbs down.) Cookies with chocolate and coconut. Stuff with gooey centers. Molasses sponge candy.

All were fired at my father who, like the Titanic, quickly began to take on water. His final shot was to invite Uncle Joe to Christmas dinner and, granted, it was a powerful weapon. Uncle Joe was a foreman at the Steel who sported a crew cut and didn't like foreign cars (we owned a Volkswagen), hippies (my brothers both had hair to their shoulders) or Protestants. (Mom.)

So while Joe sat in my father's Harvard chair griping about Democrats and how lazy kids were today Roast_beef and how everyone was on drugs and women needed to talk less, clean more, my mother trotted back and forth laying out the roast beef, the Yorkshire pudding, brussel sprouts and any other food that screamed "English Protestant!" while humming Good King Wenceslas at the top of her voice.

If that didn't do it, she returned with her nuclear bomb: the famous Stucklyn Christmas bread with almond filling. It wasn't English, but it was German. German like Martin Luther, if you get my point.

It amazed me to learn later that not all families waged this war, that some fathers actually liked and participated in Christmas. That they did not give their wives the same five gifts that my father gave my mother: A pair of leather driving gloves, boots with suede protectant, a pair of earrings, a negligee and a membership to AAA. That they actually wrapped the gifts themselves! (This was my job.)

And it can't have been any accident that I married a man who has the same birthday and loves Christmas even more than I do.

Which I guess means that in the end, my mother may have lost her battles (anise cookies) but won the war. (Charlie.)

Happy holidays!

Sarah

December 04, 2006

Bad TV

BAD TV
By Harley

I meant to discuss some droll topic this week, like the Iraq summit, but then something Really Important occurred. My Wednesday night writers group took the night off and I caught a double feature:

America’s Next Top Model and The Biggest Loser.

I discovered ANTM in a hotel room last year and sat through five back-to-back episodes. It was an America’s Next Top Model marathon, a harmonic convergence that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let me change channels. Weeks later, I discovered The Biggest Loser.

For the uninformed, ANTM is a bunch of really skinny girls passionately working to perfect their walk and hair in order to win a modeling contract. LOSER is a bunch of really overweight people doing a lot of aerobic activity and shrinking. Both shows feature contestants living together and saying things on camera that are so not-in-their-best-interest you have to wonder if they’ve ever watched reality TV. Both shows feature crying.

The Models have challenges like being beautiful while riding elephants and getting stuffed in phone booths. The Losers have challenges like sprinting through football stadiums doing The Wave.

The Models are not intrinsically interesting, because they have no life experience and no aspirations beyond finding a good waterproof mascara. There’s no back-story. The Losers have back-stories. They have families they miss (the Models have families too, but close contact with Tyra Banks presumably compensates for that loss) and real jobs and children and they’re always on the edge of tears, due to chocolate cravings or an abundance of endorphins. The models live on the verge of tears too, also weak from hunger, but they have the added stress of being ridiculed for their knobby knees, their inability to look relaxed while suffering from food poisoning during a photo shoot and their lack of personality. Or excess of personality. Or wrong personality. They are one snide comment away from a nervous breakdown.

The snide comments are delivered by judges, people who are either themselves Top Models, albeit—how to put this delicately?—elderly. Or they’re designers, photographers and stylists, exuding fashion sans compassion. Except for Twiggy, who’s turned into someone you could envision gorging on crumpets with, and Tyra herself, who delivers the Bad News (you will NOT be America’s Next Top Model, Tiffania”) in a sad, yet firm, “I’m telling you this for your own good, you’re just too damn short” voice. These are not people you’d want around you.

The Losers, on the other hand, get enormous emotional support. They’ve been airlifted out of real life, where the world has ridiculed their love handles, and dropped into Happy Ranch, where personal trainers cheerfully turn them into Marines.

And while they do vote each other off the ranch, they always cry about it. Plus, there’s a mathematical angle, something about total body mass percentage, so that Barney, at 469 pounds and Clarissa, at a mere 238, have the same chance each week at being the Biggest Loser. Weigh-ins take place in a Fellini-esque ceremony on a huge platform stage, with a scale display like a Vegas roulette wheel.

Well, that’s it, actually. Writers Group is back in session this week, so I can’t see the season finales. Nor have I any social commentary to offer. In this, I remain a mystery to myself.

I do see two possibilities. Feel free to uh, weigh in:

____ Harley, you’re experiencing the dialectic of your inner Fat/Thin being played out in a public arena, making the Existential Loneliness of Life less searing.
____ Harley, you have a taste for the cultural equivalent of marshmallow fluff.
____ Other

Happy Monday!
Harley

December 03, 2006

Tibetan Link of the Week

Yes, the holidays can be stressful.  For a little serenity, check out our

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