Happy New Year!

I don’t have a lovely photoshopped New Year’s picture of Richard Armitage for you but I send you all my best wishes.  I holidayed like a mad woman for the past week and half to make up for a bad start to the season, and actually made the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  While on the way home happily contemplating my excesses, I observed a churlish conductor on the train who gave a disabled couple a hard time.   He seemed determined to spread his unhappiness around, which only compounded his problem because of the disapproving passenger witnesses.  He went so far as to call security on the couple but that backfired.

I wondered about the source of his unhappiness and the situation he’d created on the train to justify his surliness and thought about my own situation.  With a distressing job and depression behind me, the world lays open before me.  But just as the conductor created his own pocket of unhappiness on the train, I must remember that it’s up to me to find and nurture my own happiness in the coming year.

When the train pulled into the station, the snow was still coming down.  I snagged a cab and we fishtailed down a street.  A woman stood on a corner trying to flag the cab, but the driver shouted that it was taken.  The street appeared so desolate with no bus, cab or any other car in sight, that I agreed to share the cab with her and she joyfully hopped in.  We agreed I’d get dropped off first, then the driver would take her to work.  When we arrived at my door, I had “ATM Syndrome,” (no change for a $20 bill) and so did the driver.  To my surprise, the lady said, “I’ll pay for it.  Thank you so much for sharing the ride.”   We all beamed at each other and wished each other Happy New Year.

Nice start to the year, yes?

May your year bring peace, health, and happiness.

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Merry Christmas Eve

Home

8:30PM

I lie back on the couch patting my stuffed belly and gazing contentedly at my two chums, Elsa and Trinalin.   Santa Trinalin passes out the presents from under the twinkling tree.  Fake embers glow not too unconvincingly in the fireplace.  O Holy Night plays from speakers on the mantle.  Patty lies on the rug, watching us fling wrapping about.  A scrap falls across her nose.

Elsa hums to the music. “Have we heard this before?”

I shoot her a look.  “Maybe…”

I open a packet containing a collector’s edition of Rolling Stone’s magazine with Thorin on the cover.  Entertainment Weekly with Thorin.  The Hobbit storybook – more Thorin.  I sense a pattern and smirk at Trina.

Trinalin grins.  “It’s so good to feed your fandom for once, Judi.”

I feel a slight cringe and am not sure why.  They both know that I blog and about whom. What’s the problem? My inner trio, id Jodi, supergo Jada, and ego Quiet One, all chuckle.

Jada sighs and rolls her eyes.

Jodi whispers. “Fangurrrrrrrrrrl.”

Quiet One giggles.

Elsa seems to read my mind, smiling knowingly.

The playlist offers up a another version of O Holy Night.  Uh oh.

Trina smirks. “I’m pretty sure we’ve heard this before.”

I blithely ignore her.  More wrapping paper flies.  It’s a 5 inch Thorin action figure.  My 50+ year old self is ridiculously pleased.  I rip him out of the packaging and play with his little Orcrist and dagger.

Jada inspects it.  “Oh, all his parts move!”

Jodi guffaws. “All?  Are you sure? He’s kind of small. Is he fully functional?”

Quiet One giggles.  “Hey, his cloak moves too.”

I can’t help myself.  I’m 9 years old again, playing with my Skipper dolly.  I furtively lift the cloak and peer under.

Trina catches me and laughs.  BUSTED.  She snaps my picture and tweets it.  Me and my little Thorin doll.  Sigh.

O Holy Night dials up a third time.  Damnit.

Both Elsa and Trina pounce. “So, got any other Christmas music or what?”

I protest.  “Look, I only had about 36 versions when I checked.  Last year.”

Jodi is ever observant.  “Say, we’re missing Rudolph in here.”

Jada nods. “Yes, you haven’t had him sing this year.”

Quiet One chuckles.

I fetch Rudolph from the den.  He’s an animated red-nosed reindeer that sings tunes from the beloved Christmas special from my childhood.  I activate the singing by squeezing his ear.

Rudolph suddenly sings in a deep baritone. “Are you going to laugh at my nose too?”

We all blink at the not so childlike sounding little reindeer.  His batteries have run down.

Trina shrugs.  “Well, guess his balls have dropped.”

I gape at Trina.  “What! You’ve just ruined my childhood!”

Everybody bursts into laughter.

***

Merry Christmas Eve, all.

Here is an excerpt from the special.  Enjoy.

 

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2012 New Year’s Non-Resolutions

Of course, you’ve all read, made, or discussed New Year’s resolution lists for the coming year.

Have no fear, this is not one of them. I’ve given up that nonsense.

Year after year, I lemming-like would draw up a list of resolutions.  Usually they involved becoming more thin, smart, compassionate, sociable and thrifty, and less selfish, judgmental,  isolated, cynical and snarky.  Each year I would fail miserable, having promptly forgotten most of them by the next day, only to remember finally when time to draw up new resolutions for the following year.

So, instead of concerted efforts of self-improvement, I simply seize the opportunities as they arise.  My depression pudge will diminish with Winston properly coraled; I’ll be able to get out more, meet more people and expand my horizons.  If a book seems interesting, I’ll download it.  If a situation arises, I’ll look at both sides of the conflict.  If I feel moved by a charitable effort, I’ll give.  The point is not to tie myself to lists or tests to pass or fail, but improve life as it happens.  I’ve found that I actually do get things done if I view them as an opportunities, rather than obligations.

Looking back on this past year I worked on getting Winston under control, journeyed to London alone, met new people, gave more to charity, started this blog, and explored my creativity all because the opportunities presented themselves.  They might be small, but they still feel like accomplishments.  This year, I won’t resolve to do more of the same.

But I’ll stay snarky.

Happy Turkey Day!

Ah, Thanksgiving, the day when we pause to commemorate the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians breaking fish and maize together, and give thanks for all we have -on some other blog.  On my blog, I believe in getting down to what really matters – the FOOD.

For most of my childhood and adolescence, food was a big deal in my family.  My mother prepared the meal with me acting as second chef. This continued until I was old enough to take over the whole meal.  Preparation started at the stroke of 3:00PM with cleaning of the giant 20+ pound turkey. (Yes, we cooked enough for an army).  It had to have a high breast and plump legs or it couldn’t darken the door of my mother’s kitchen.   We extracted the giblets and neck, putting them on cook with chicken thighs, while thoroughly cleaning, drying and salting the bird, and storing it in the fridge.  My mother mixed the cornbread batter while I chopped and cried over a bag of onions, green peppers, and stalks of celery, first by hand and then with a food processor when they came into vogue. ( Then I cried for joy over the Cuisinart.)  The cornbread mixture was poured into cast iron skillets to bake.   Two hours later, we had enough cornbread dressing to fill the bird and a small pan besides.  We stored this away.

Thanksgiving-Charlie-Brown-SnoopyNext came mustard potato salad made with 10 pounds of red potatoes, celery, onions, and green peppers.  Did you know that the right amount of mustard, sugar and vinegar produce the taste of eggs?  It’s true.  The potatoes had to be peeled and cut while still hot.  Over the years, we acquired hands like asbestos although we always had ice cold water to dip our fingers on hand. The Making of Potato Salad was a family secret with my mother and I huddled over the pan, sampling for The Right Taste, adding a bit of this, a tad of that until BINGO! it was finished.

Then I would put on the sweet potatoes to boil.  These would be cooked until tender and left in the giant pot until the next day for the candied sweets.  Then we would take a break, mop our brows and plan dessert.  When I was small, my mother made sweet potato pies from scratch.  Sadly I never learned the secret of the tender, flakey crust.  She had to bake at least six pies because everybody wanted one to take home, they were that good.  She also made a three layer pineapple cake from scratch which I eventually took over.  My cakes were always moist and light, I must say.  Eventually dessert became just the cake.  After 6-7 hours of straight cooking we called it a night.

The next morning, we rose at 7AM  to dress the monster turkey and stuff it. The thing would be so heavy my dad would muscle it into the oven.  Then I made the macaroni and cheese from scratch while my mother prepared the candied sweets.  Then we fixed the vegetables, usually, broccoli and cheese, asparagus, and green beans to balance out all those starches.  The giblet gravy was the last dish prepared.  We never did casseroles or mashed potatoes since most of the dishes were southern.  In my grandmother’s time, there was also a Virginia honey baked ham and probably a capon.  Like I said, enough food for an army.

At precisely 2PM dinner was served, and the horde would descend, usually eating in shifts around the large table.  They made short shrift of all that food, leaving a quarter of the monster turkey, a small pan of stuffing, another pan of candied sweets I’d have hidden away, and a spoonful of all the vegetables. Mom and I never ate much because we tasted it already while cooking.  It was exhausting work, but we always had a sense of satisfaction having cooked a great meal.

Today, my parents are gone and the family is dispersed around the country, so I usually visit a friend’s house for Thanksgiving.  I haven’t cooked a Thanksgiving dinner in at least 14 years.  But sometimes when I’m walking down the hall of my building, I smell the aroma of onions and celery sauteeing and it all comes back, the Thanksgivings of days gone by.

 

 

 

The Holidays Are Coming! The Holidays Are Coming!

For me, the countdown to Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November in the US) means officially  heralding in the Christmas season.  This has always been the way things have been done in my family.  But for the last 15 years or so, the holiday season  seems to creep earlier and earlier in sales land.  Pre-lit Christmas trees compete for space with jack o lanterns now.  This past year, I actually saw garland being strung right after Labor Day (the first Monday in September).  I know stores feeling the pinch of the recession want the longest shopping season possible, but I don’t *really* want to shop for tree lights while preparing for a July 4th barbecue.  Do you?

All that being said, I’ve also been guilty of the Christmas Creep, only not with shopping but with music.  I started listening to my all Christmas radio station on November 11th.   In an interesting creep of its own,  the radio station asked its listeners to vote when the holiday music should start.  Each year, the audience voted earlier and earlier until the station determined it should start no sooner than Veteran’s Day.  It’s a bit strange listening to “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” interspersed with commercials for Veteran’s charities, but there it is.

You might think I would be tired of holiday music even before the season starts, and you would be wrong. The holidays ordinarily infuse me with a sense of contentment and well bearing, like the smell of jet fuel does for travel. (What, you didn’t read my London travelogue?)  I say ordinarily because at times the stress of the holidays, with shopping, deadlines, and the need to be jolly even when I may not feel that way, gets in the way of actually enjoying the season.  So I try to celebrate with things, like Christmas tunes, before the holidays get underway.  I changed my computer and iPhone wallpaper over to holiday themes.  My ringtone is “Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer.”

I even thought about putting up my tree, but something stopped me – have to wait for Thanksgiving first.

 

On Meeting Yet Another Fan

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Michigan countryside

This past weekend I headed out of town to visit one of my buddies, Elsa (she of the Trina, Elsa, and me trio of 15 years and counting.  She’s also Patty’s godmother.)  Elsa snagged a day off and I seized the opportunity to head to the suburbs for some autumn fun. City girl that I am,  I’ve never done any of the fall activities like picking apples in orchards, going on hay rides, carving pumpkins or seeing a cider mill.  Elsa offered to take me to Blake’s Farm and Yates Cider Mill.   It just so happened that Dhana (she of ArmitageWorld) also lives in the same area.  We arranged to meet for Sunday dinner, then sight see at Yates.

As luck would have it, my travel mojo was *still* broken.  Everything that could happen did: I forgot my phone and had to retrieve it; the train was late then sat on the tracks; TSA decided to hold up the security line, etc.  I missed my plane.  But I got a ticket for the next one.  However the delay made it too late to visit the orchard. So Elsa and I met with her brother and his SO at Famous Dave’s.  I have no clue if this franchise is in Chicago, but it’s a great place for BBQ done the right way, slow cooked with smokey flavor.  The desserts were heavenly (Be sure and try the bread pudding or Kahlua chocolate brownie.  Mmm.)

Beef stew

Carbonado en Zapalla

Dhana’s travel mojo worked just fine.  She bravely drove to Elsa’s house, risking the possibilities we were either ax murderers or would have made her watch the entire tenure of David Tennant in Doctor Who.  (Well, I might have done the latter but we didn’t have enough time.)  She told me she wasn’t troubled due to experience in meeting members of her quilting group.  Dhana sews gorgeous quilts by the way.  Dhana is a lovely woman; she is soft-spoken but friendly.  She’s also not as quiet as she thinks she is. (I’m looking at you, Dhana.). She showed more of her arts and crafts talents: little converted figurines.  She’s transforming RA action figures into other characters and doing quite an amazing job.

I admit to not being concerned as well.  Like her, I’m also an old hand at meeting strangers from fandoms and most of them have been good experiences.  Meeting Servetus was more daunting because I had to travel alone to a strange city and it would just be her and me.  Here, I was on familiar turf with friends.  Dhana definitely had the riskier task. Also, since I earlier had gotten the issue of race out of the way by discussing it on my blog, I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Apple tart

Apple Tart

Sunday dinner was amazing.  Elsa loves to cook (she gets upset if she doesn’t get to cook when she visits) and she opted to cook Carbonado en Zapallo , beef stew in a pumpkin.  It’s a South American dish that is both slightly sweet and spicy.  The ending flourish is cooking the stew the last hour inside a pumpkin and serving it that way.  It was a great presentation and an excellent stew.  It was so good that I want to make it myself which will be a minor miracle.  Dessert was a scrumptious homemade apple custard torte.  Every bit of it was gone by the time I left for home.

Conversation was an interesting experience:  Elsa was from Doctor Who fandom, Dhana, from AW, and Tom and Ardath from none.  I was the only one who linked all of them.  What do you talk about when one doesn’t know anything much (or at all) about the other?  I felt like Oprah.  Happily all the guests didn’t have much trouble finding common ground and the chat went smoothly.

Yates Cider Mill

Yates Cider Mill

After dinner, we waddled to our cars to drove to Yates Cider Mill.  Elsa and Dhana tell me it used to be in the country but urban sprawl has caught up to it.  However it’s located next to a city park that looks like a forest preserve so the area was still woodsy.  The mill is what I had expected: a large barn straddling a stream with a giant wheel.  The wheel has been turning every season since 1863.  The building itself is smaller than expected.  It’s still a working mill; workers moved the huge press which churned out pure unpasteurized apple juice.  The building also contained a store where you can purchase anything made from apples: cider, donuts, turnovers, pies, and caramel apples.  The mill’s grounds  were quite crowded with both people and their four legged friends.  I’ve never seen so many dogs in one place.  So, I was happy camper, sipping cider, eating donuts and chatting with Elsa and Dhana.  (Winston was back at the house, being cowered by Ollie and Floyd, Elsa’s Jack Russel terrier and black Labrador.)  Finally we bid Dhana adieu and later went to see The Debt with Dame Helen Mirren.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend. My Master Plan proceeds apace.  Oh, you don’t know about my Master Plan?  Alright, I suppose I’ll have to tell – in another blog post.

Judi and Dhana

The unveiling: me (l) and Dhana (r)

 

 

London and Me, or Two Ships that Almost Passed in the Night: Part 1

I’ve touched some heavy topics like depression, racism and the impact of Richard Armitage’s facial hair. It’s time to move on a lighter topic: London!

I left off blogging about the suspenseful 4th week on medication. Ordinarily this would have been only me and my shrink heaving a sigh of relief as Winston morphed into a pug and hid in my bag. But I also had a long standing problem demanding resolution. In January, I purchased tickets to see two performances of Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant (my Other Squee) and Catherine Tate in London for the third week of June. In March, my computer fell ill with a virus, causing me to lose about everything including my ticket reservation code and dates. I tentatively planned to leave Saturday, June 18th and spend a week there. But as Winston dragged me down, it became unlikely I had the mental wherewithal to do anything, much less vacation alone in a foreign country even though I’d been there many times. I renewed my passport and had it expensively expedited. I moped and procrastinated and despairingly checked the expensive air fares. My friends asked how I would cope if something bad happened? (My backpack with passport was stolen on an earlier trip.) I suspected not well. Still it galled that I would miss seeing DT and the city I loved.

The 4th week when my medication kicked in was the same week I’d planned to leave. As I sat talking to my shrink on June 16th, an inner voice I’d not heard in a while spoke up. Not sure whether Freud would have called this my id, ego or super ego, but I call her Jada. Jada suggested that since I was so much better the trip could still be salvaged; I could get there in time to see the second show (I was convinced the tickets were for the following Tuesday and Thursday. Remember that, dear reader.) Dr. G. thought this an excellent idea. I thought my chances of finding a relatively decent air fare on short notice was as good as getting the stars’ autographs – meaning nil. (Remember that one too.) That night I found the cheapest fare yet and a Bed & Breakfast to boot. So I booked everything. This was Thursday, June 16th. I was to leave Tuesday night, June 21st. This was my shortest turnaround for a trip ever. I’d never been on a trip alone so that was a bit scary. But I would see DT onstage again and London after all.

I was a happy camper through better chemistry, so I was chuffed.

Next: Travel Trauma!

To The Wilds of Ohio

Well, it’s the wilds to me; I’m a city gal, born and bred.  I enjoy staying in the country with almost unbroken vistas of corn and wheat fields, blue skies, and fresh air except when the fragrant aroma of cow manure blows my way.  I’m told pig and skunk is even worse.  I’ll take their word for it.

As I drag out the suitcase, this song always pops into my head.  The words are bittersweet and nothing to do with me, but my mind playing it.  I suppose the line “I’m leaving on jet plane.  I don’t know when I’ll be back again” offers the fantasy of what it would be like to have the freedom not to return.

I wonder what the Power Ball lottery jackpot is now.

 

Roughing It

I was working on the next post when I realized it wouldn’t be ready for prime time before I leave for the long holiday weekend on Friday.  For the past 15 years I meet with two buddies (who I met in a fandom online) at cabin located in forest preserve on a man-made lake.  It’s a cozy little place with a 3-season from which we can observe nature on 3 sides without getting eaten alive by the bugs. It has the creature comforts like electricity, cable and internet.  However this year there won’t be cable and therefore no internet.

You might find this funny, but the idea of no internet is daunting.  I can do without a telephone. I don’t have to turn on the TV.  I can leave the microwave. But no internet? We are hard core geeks who think nothing of arriving for a visit and the first thing we do is plug in the laptops to check email.  We’ve been known to chat together online while sitting in the same house.  I’ve not a clue how we will survive this.  The friend with cabin (who happens to be my computer guru) promises we can retreat to some local wi-fi hot spots if the shakes get top bad and troubleshoot my WordPress problems.  She also reminded me the cabin isn’t completely in a dead zone; I will be able to get 3G access on my iPhone  if I perch like a crane on the dock with my arm stretched perpendicular to the 3rd tree on the left.  Or something like that.   I could weep.

She added my relaxation will be supplemented with reading real books with pages, talking (face to face!), playing board and card games, and going to the movies.  It’s new-fangled way of old social interaction.  It will be like the days when we had no air conditioning, only one TV with four channels, snail mail, and no McDonald’s.    My childhood is flashing before my eyes. This will be like, you know, before civilization.

But if she tells me there will be no electricity, I’m walking 40 miles upstream one way to the airport.

I hope everybody has a peaceful, restful weekend.  Here is somebody else in restful repose:

Richard Armitage in 2004 promotion shoot; Courtesy RichardArmitageNet.com