Friday, February 29, 2008

Talk to the Animals

I am the Cat Whisperer. Cats just like me; well, most animals do. The only cat I've ever met that didn't like me at all, ever was my mom's friend Andy's cat Dusty, but since I maintain that Dusty is a demon incarnate anyway, that works out for us. That cat has ruined more pantyhose of mine than you can possibly imagine - back when I wore pantyhose. I swear Dusty's bi-polar too; he'll gladly let me scratch him while he's curled up on the bed or couch, but as soon as Andy or one of his sons enters the room, it's all hissing and growling and swiping at my pantyhose. Fiend.

Every since I can remember we've had cats in our home. I really don't
know why; my mother has never been a pet person until recently. My dad enjoys them, though he's a dog person now, but it's really my sister who's responsible for the introducing the feline element in our home. The story goes (though Dad claims he doesn't remember this happening) that my then three-year-old sister prayed for a cat at evening prayers and the next morning, there was this tabby cat meowing on our front porch. When Nanje (my sister) saw the cat, she said "Mommy, Mommy, Jesus sent me a kitty." And that was that. It's not like you can tell the kid that she can't keep the cat that Jesus sent her. So Irving Katz entered our lives and maintained his dominion for the next 20 years.

I have a hard time existing without feline companions; I've done it for several years at a stretch, but it's not pretty. Currently I have a three cat household; two are mine while the third belongs to my mother. My two are calico twins, one with a black patch over the right eye and one with the patch over the left. I got them at St. Giralda's Animal Shelter two days after moving into my apartment seven years ago. I went in for one cat and came out with a pair because they were clearly very bonded, frolicking around in their cage and making my mom laugh. I've never regretted it.

They are both female cats as calicoes are only ever female, and their names are Baxter and Hollis after two minor characters in the great Silverado, but more because of the flawless Kevin Kline's delivery of "No, I'm not Holland," except when I was naming
the twins, I thought went "No, I'm not Hollis." I like Hollis better anyway.

Baxter (above right. I haven't figured out how to label yet; you're lucky to be getting pictures at all at this point) is the scaredicat of the two, jumping at the least sound or movement, transitioning from complete purring bliss to rocket launch across the room in a heartbeat. I have to hold her down when I cough or sneeze or she'll have a seizure from leaping straight up into the air with fright. She doesn't like to be held, but she'll lie next to me and curl herself around my arm or my head if I'm lying down, rolling around and purring with delight, so ecstatic with joy that she'll often roll herself right off the bed. Sometimes when she's curled into and around me, only the judicious placement of my arm prevents her from falling off the bed. Occasionally, I'll drop it out from under her quickly so she wobbles on the edge for a second and can see how close to the edge she is. Don't worry, I always catch her. And she always rolls right back into the same position.

Baxter doesn't meow a lot and so when she does it's more like a gurgle, as though her voice isn't used to the activity, so it begins as a "me" but gets caught in her throat halfway out so the "ow" is ragged and gurglish. She also has a butt fetish - thankfully, not mine. She loves to have her hind end scratched and patted, so much so that she literally backs it up into my face to the point where I have to swat it away and then reiterate the "no tushy in the face" clause in our cat/owner contract (you should see the fine print on that!). And she's tiny, no matter how much food I give her, she just burns it off like no body's business. Baxter employs the eat-a-little-
then-go-away-and-come-back-later-to-eat-some-more manner of supping. This poses a challenge as her sister eats anything that isn't nail down (and is very crafty in
how she gets it too) and makes meal time...interesting.

But for all her nervous issues, Baxter seems to be the dominant one because Hollis just can't do without her. In the early days when Baxter would sometimes get stuck in the bathroom, (oh the places you'll go!) Hollis would stand outside it and me
ow or track me down till I figured it out and released Baxter from her horrible imprisonment. And if Hollis gets into a scrape with Mom's cat Feaghan, it's Baxter who comes streaking in from three rooms away at the first cry to corner poor Feaghan in revenge. Do not mess with the Baxy.

Hollis is our imp. Such a trouble maker. Her main nickname is Stinker because she is a crafty one when it comes to getting what she wants. She'll be eating Baxter's food when I'm standing right next to her and I'm all "I'm standing RIGHT HERE" and she's all "Glup, glup, glup, mmmm food".

Another nickname I call her is Pasha as she's always demanding to be adored. Never met a person she didn't demand love from, although some do take longer for her to warm up to than others. I get home from work and it's "ME - OW" I go into the living room in the morning and it's "ME-OW" all "you've been awake for 45 seconds now, why aren't you petting and adoring me?"

Since she eats everything she can get her paws on
, she's got herself a belly that still doesn't seem to slow her down. I laugh to see it wobble back and forth beneath her as she trots from one room to the other. She's agile and fearless, which sometimes ends with her head caught in the handles of a plastic grocery bag and when she can't get herself loose, she just drags it around with her until I set her free. Nearly every night, Hollis will inevitably, without fail, climb up the bed and onto my lap and settle on my bad knee like a heat seeking missile. I've had a brace on the dang thing and she's just climbed right on top of it.

She also head butts my chin for kisses and treats, which is our little trick together. Every morning when I get out of the shower, she comes up on the bed for about 10 minutes of nuzzling and sniffing. Apparently she really likes my shower gel, cause she'll sniff my arm a
nd then lick it a little to find out how tasty I am for that day (very). Then I get ready while she waits or at least until the blow dryer comes out. Soon as she sees it she's off like a shot for better things - like the food bowl - until I'm done drying, which is when she returns for the exit treats she gets every day as I'm leaving the apartment.

Last week after I came home from choir rehearsal and had managed to finagle a parking spot without too much of the usual drama, I'd already fed the little buggers and was in the living room talking to my mom and here's Hollis climbing up around me on the couch and meowing at me with such intent and focus you'd have thought I was wearing cat nip perfume.

She's such a talker, sometimes just wailing away in the kitche
n for no reason, just cause she's there and no one is rushing out to see to her needs. So she comes and finds us instead. There she was last night, emphatically demanding my attention. Mostly because she missed me, and it's always nice to know someone missed you.

And lest I forget, Feaghan is a tortoise-shell calico who keeps to herself a lot in Mom's bedroom because the twins tend to gang up on her, though I maintain that she gives as good as she gets. Poor Feaghan had a lot of upheaval with moving from MA to PA to MA to NJ all in the course of 3 years, so it's taken a little while for her to feel safe, but she's out and about without too much trouble most days now. Her claws are sharp and massive, mostly because I never cut them, which is her own damn fault as she's sliced up my arms on several occasions in my attempts to groom them, so she can just live with them now. She doesn't meow - she squeaks like a damaged squeeze toy. She loves having her ears scratched and spends most of her time lying on Mom's lap, keeping her company.

Feaghan is our hunter. She emits a very distinctive, low-throat growl that you can hear two rooms away. Always - always - this means that she has some toy in her mouth. She has amassed a collection of them - and helped herself to the twins' hedgehog, Montjoy. Feaghan's favorites are the blue fuzzy ball, the big, red, fuzzy ball, and of course, Percy, her hamster. Her hunting instinct has been cultivated by sheer bribery; Feaghan always receives treats as a reward for hauling her trophies from the bedroom to the living room. Basically, she gets treats for anything that she does because my mom has become easy in her advancing years. Nearly every day a parade of toys make their way from the bedroom to the living room, strewn along the pathway in places designed for me to trip over them. Then in the morning, they manage to migrate their way back into the bedroom again. The best is when I come out in the morning, or home in the evening, and find Percy on his hind legs, all prepped and ready to go, waiting for a call to arms to start marching.

An island of misfit cats.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Musical Writing Support

The great Jennifer Crusie has a thing about making collages for your WIP. Presumably this is in order to help generate ideas, solidify character images, basically just give your novel form. (I'm not entirely sure on all her reasons because I've missed some stuff, but that's my take on it.) She's posted pictures of her collages and let me tell you, some of them are elaborate enough to just be beyond me. I'm already having to pep talk myself into writing, which mostly goes along the lines of "You don't have to be Nora Roberts or Jenny Crusie on your first try. Even they wrote lousy books in their early years. It's a process. Just write something," and then there's "Just 'cause no one else has come up with the idea doesn't make it's original!" I don't think I could also motivate myself into arts and crafts hour to manifest my novel in artistic form. Especially considering my craft-impaired DNA. Although I can cut up a magazine with the best of them (a handy college-generated talent).

So I've set aside Jenny's superior advice for the time being in this instance.

One other thing she mentions about her creative process that I am definitely on board with is a play list for your character(s). My play list runs more towards relating to themes from the entire novel rather than just the main character, but there are definitely specific heroine and hero related tracks in the mix. That said, I believe it's impossible to remove yourself entirely from such an exercise - I'm not likely to include tracks that I hate, though I would if I felt it necessary. Ergo, many of the artists below will come as no surprise to many of you (what kind of play list would it be without Van the Man and Bono somewhere in the mix?) But I find them still to be very appropriate, with themes of trust, possession, holding on through rough times, sex, strength, violence, separation, loneliness, abandonment, redemption, love, rebuilding, hardening,
searching for who is left after loosing a large part of your inner self, surviving, and coming out on the other side of something bad as someone better. Sometimes it's not the lyrics that apply, but the music itself and the sensations that listening to it evokes. I know it all sounds depressing when it's laid out like that, but it's not.


When I was choosing interval music for the one-woman play I did at the end of my senior year at college, I found that the music I'd been listening to in the months previous eerily applied to the play's themes as well. Such seems to be the case here.

Here then for your listening pleasure is Bronwyn's Mix:

Possession - Sarah Mclachlan
If You Want Me - Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
I'll Be Your Lover Too - Van Morrison
Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us - Robert Plant & Allison Krause
Caledonia - North Sea Gas [This is a Dougie Maclean song but itunes doesn't have Dougie's version of it.]
Do What You Have To Do - Sarah McLachlan
Strong Enough - Sheryl Crow Live w/The Dixie Chicks
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me - U2
Trampled Rose -
Robert Plant & Allison Krause
All The Way Down -
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova
La Belle Dame San Regrets - Sting
Short Skirt, Long Jacket - Cake
Hold On - Sarah McLachlan
If Ya Wanna Be Bad, Ya Gotta Be Good - Bryan Adams MTV Live & Unplugged
Reflejo De Luna - El Alacran
And The Healing Has Begun - Glen Hansard


Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday's irreverent giggle

I busted out laughing at this response to Sarah Silverman's video on Jimmy Kimmel. At first I thought it inferior, but that's just the poor production of the post. I don't know what I loved more: the hair drying for couples, a scruffy Brad Pitt in a Fed Ex outfit, a fit and ripped Ben Affleck in a metallic, spandex shirt, the cake, the We Are the World spoof, Josh Groban on the piano - no, wait, it's definitely Harrison Ford in a blue Mini Cooper blowing a kiss.
WARNING: Even more NOT FAMILY FRIENDLY than the last one, but oh so funny, not the least because of the star power involved. Heeeee.

Oscar Dish

I'm keeping my Oscar dish short (my kind of short) because the whole world is blogging about the Academy Awards in one form or another. I think we have the Writer's Strike to thank for what feels like an unusual amount of coverage, even considering the hundreds of millions that watch the telecast every year in countries around the world. The dearth of awards shows this season, thanks to fears of picketing and, oh yeah, a distinct lack of writers to write the often cheesy intros and presentation banter, have made the Oscars the one sure thing for Hollywood's self-congratulatory love fest. The only other of note was the Screen Actor's Guild Awards. For once the Golden Globes presentation actually reflected the hypocrisy of the Globes themselves as the pitiful news conference/Entertainment Tonight slag fest it devolved into was an exercise in embarrassment and a case study in not knowing when to quit.

But what made the Oscars shine tonight was a miraculous event not seen in many a year: Everyone was having fun! Usually, by the time the gaggle of actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, costumers, documentarians, animators, and musicians, etc. get to the Oscars, the official conclusion to Spring's annual award frenzy, some just seem exhausted (
underneath the layers of make up and designer togs), presumably worn down by the campaigning and the marketing and the glad handing and by answering the same questions over and over again. But with the strike deep-sixing the larger awards shows, last night was a somewhat rare occasion for the Hollywood elite (and aspiring elite) to have a good time looking gorgeous and celebrating each other (never mind the possible catty exchanges in the ladies room.) It was just plain fun.

Here are the bulleted highlights of things I enjoyed:

  • How awesome is John Stewart? I enjoyed so many of his quips (I am NOT You Tubing them - much too much work for a Monday morning) but my favorite bit was him bringing out Marketa Irglova after the commercial break so she could add her thanks for the Best Song win, making up for the orchestra cutting her off pre-commercial. A thoughtful act for a woman who may never grace that stage again to have her moment in the sun.
  • I've loved Daniel Day-Lewis since The Last of the Mohicans, but have admired him and been in awe of his talent and process longer than that. Somehow I missed his poetry of words (which shouldn't be that surprising considering that his father was Poet Laureate of England) but after the SAG awards acceptance speech and last night's speech, I am suitably in awe of his tongue (not that way!) as well.
  • The seeming array of foreign winners last night, with Italian-, French-, and Spanish-accented English flowing out from the podium during acceptance speeches.
  • Enjoyed Josh Brolin and James McAvoy's banter together and with Jack. I always like it when the presenters have fun with what they're doing. (Sorry Katherine Heigel, but get over yourself. You've been headlining Grey's Anatomy and taking on the boys in the Apatow oeuvre - you can handle this. It was like when Ashley Judge said she was just a Southern girl in the big city - for, like, 10 years already. Please.)
  • Is Jack the Oscar mascot now? Always in the front row, repeatedly referenced by host and presenters alike, yucking it up with Regis. It's fun, but it's a little weird.
  • Loved Helen Mirren, Hilary Swank, and Jennifer Garner's dresses (though Garner needs to get the hair out of her face and Mirren should know better than to wear fabric that wrinkles in the limo ride over - see what I learn from reading The Fug Girls!) Not so good? The vine climbing Anne Hathaway's chest, Jennifer Hudson's my-breasts-point- in-different-directions Grecian ode, Diablo Cody's I-really-was-a stripper-see-I- still-dress-like-one, nearly transparent, leopard-print mu-mu, and Tilda Swinton's I-was-so-nervous-I-ate-the-sleeve-on-one-side-of-my-dress-but-spared-the-other- side-so-you-wouldn't-think -I-was-strange black caftan-like dress. Didn't work honey. I think Swinton's an amazing actor, ever since her awe-inspiring turn in Orlando, but the girl seems a tad odd.
  • Lovely, lovely George Clooney was everyone's favorite gent, despite not winning last night (always a winner in my book though, George!) I particularly enjoyed Tilda Swinton's recognition of the nipple-prominent Bat Suit she claims he continues to wear under his designer togs (I knew it!) And Day-Lewis' recognition of him on his (Daniel's) way up the stairs was a charming nod to lovely George. I love those impromtu moments.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis' knighthoood. She may not be the real Queen Elizabeth, but Helen Mirren certainly rules that realm.
  • Marion Cotillard. I found her win surprising - I thought Julie Christie had that one locked after the SAG awards - but I found Marion's enthusiasm and delight infectious. (Though what is the deal with having the Best Actress award at 10:30 and waiting another hour for the Best Actor award, coupling that award with the juggernauts of the evening, Best Director and Best Picture? I'm not liking the implications there.)
  • Love that Glen Hansard and the aforementioned Marketa Irglova not only sang their ballad "Falling Slowly" at the awards show, but won Best Song over all the productions of Enchanted (which I saw and enjoyed) and the somewhat annoying "Raise it Up". Once is so the little movie that could.
Those were the moments that are still in my head (it was a VERY late night at my house, which had little to do with the Oscars). People said that in 2003 we had a return to glam after the subdued tone the 2002 Oscars had less than six months after 9/11. I would never lift anything to the same significance as 9/11 and certainly nothing as trivial (in comparison) as the Writer's Strike, but I had the sense of a return to having a good time and enjoying the evening in a similar way.

I know I enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lies Always Get You In The End

It may come as little surprise that I've been working on a novel for some time now. Sadly, this time frame stretches 15 years which says a lot about my inability to follow through. Technically I have four WIPs (works in progress); I get an idea or I have a dream (my subconscious is a scary thing that I mine for ideas in my waking hours) and I go gung ho on it until it bores me or stumps me and I shelve it. When I was first out of college and working at a Sears regional credit center in Massachusetts, I wrote on steno pads in between answering customer phone calls about their credit cards. I thought I was going to die there, stifled in lost potential and a time clock . I was in my early twenties, a year out of Oxford, three months after graduating Gordon College and couldn't see a way out. So I wrote.

But the one I've been working on since my sophmore year at Gordon (long, long ago) evolved out of a lie I told at a women's choir bonding/rehearsal retreat. I know, I know, Christian school, Christian choir, Christian event, and I'm lying. Explains a lot, huh? We (the choir) were having this small retreat, spending Friday night and Saturday morning at the episcopal church in Hamilton, MA where we were going to rehearse and have dinner and play ice breaker games and bond, so that the old members and new members (mainly freshmen) could "get to know each other".

For the ice breaker we were supposed to write down one thing about ourselves that wasn't well known and turn that item in to my friend Melody (who was the president of the choir or something at the time) so that she could make up a list of all the unknown items. At the retreat everyone got a list of the items without the names that go along with them. The idea was to go around the room asking only one question of each person before moving on to the next person until you could match up every item on the list to each person it belonged to.

I could not think of a single thing about myself that would apply. Not that there weren't things that no one knew about me, but that those were things I didn't want them to know about me and anything else I came up with just didn't seem clever enough. Frustrated and stressed, Melody finally told me to make one up. So I did.

As I was not yet the (ahem) savvy, ballsy, outgoing, fairly fearless person in social situations that I am today, plus not so invested in the ice breaker either, I escaped participation by heading for the kitchen to help Melody who'd bitten off more that she could chew with the stuffed shells and manicotti she'd brought for the dinner. Melody thought she could just boil the shells and manicotti in 12 minutes flat like you can ravioli only to discover that shells and manicotti are frozen and have to be defrosted before being cooked for 45 minutes minimum with sauce, in a saucepan, in the church's ancient oven that would take at least half an hour to heat up. So she was going to be 1 hour late with dinner for 50 hungry women.

It is never a good idea to deny a group of women food when it is promised.

Melody of course knew that my "nobody knows" ice breaker item was total crap and she was busting on me about what I'd come up with while cooking and sweating and chatting and laughing. Then Heidi, a very sweet, smart junior with an air of innocence that I've never had, came into the kitchen to pitch in and in the course of conversation asked which were our items on the list - what was the thing that no one knew about us.

So I told her what I'd written: I had spent the previous summer hitch-hiking cross-country, hanging out with some bikers and truckers along the way. Keep in mind that this was the fall of 1991 when I was 19 years old. Melody snorted from where she was washing pans over at the sink at this patently absurd notion (my mother would have kicked my ass six ways to Sunday). Heidi, God love her, always ready to believe the best of people, nodded appreciably and said, "Wow" and "you must have met a lot of really interesting people." I remember blinking once at her and pausing to check if she was serious. Realizing that she was indeed quite sincere, I had a second to decide whether to confess my fib or go with it.

I went with it.

Me: "Yeah, I did. There's real people underneath those tatoos and leather. It really taught me not to judge a book by its cover." (I kid you not, the "book...cover" is a direct quote.)
Heidi: "I can totally see that. What a great experience."

At this point, Melody stuck a plate of something in Heidi's hands and sent her out of the kitchen.
Melody: "You are very bad."
Me: "I know. I can't believe she bought that."
Melody: "Are you going to tell her the truth?"
Me: "Where's the fun in that?"
Melody: "You are going to hell."
This all happened while we were totally cracking up of course.

The more I thought about it, the better an idea it became for a short story. But since I never wrote anything short in my life (which is why I suck at poetry - unless it's epic poetry) it wound up being more of a short novella. I submitted it to the literary magazine at Gordon and they rejected it (cliquey hussys) as they should because it was terrible. But I kept at it - mostly when I should have been studying - and it evolved into a novel and I figured one day I'd make amends for my horrible lie by publishing the book and adding a note for Heidi on the appreciation page or something.

Heidi - here's your note. Sorry 'bout the lies. Thanks for believing the best of me in spite of myself.

I finished the novel about ten years ago and it's still terrible. Since then I've had several life changes and a bunch of professional careers (including publishing) under my belt and frankly I prefer today's me to the 1991 version. She writes a hell of a lot better too.
(Though, I have gotten better at lying, which is bad, lying is bad, BAD I say, and I do NOT make a habit of it. Ahem.)

About a year ago, someone in the publishing realm that I work for from time to time said
that they loved my "voice" and would be interested in reading anything I've written. Of the WIPs I have, I went right back to this first one because, 1) it's finished albeit still horrible and 2) I have to let these first characters of mine finish their story and live their lives. So I've been massively rewriting it in the mean time, when not continuing my well-honed self-sabotage by dragging my feet and procrastinating (and my grandmother fell ill and died last year too, which tends to massively put a snag in writing time though it's great life experience for source material and I guarantee will someday show up in something of mine), plus I had my protagonist stuck in a garage for 6 months and couldn't get her out. But having finally finished the new first chapter Monday and gotten a huge brain surge in the car this morning of how to better start the second chapter revision, I believe (knocking so hard on wood it hurts) that I might be having writing flow here.

This is all a long winded way to prep you for info as it pops up here on what's happening in my seriously flawed writing world. Hope you're not bored yet.

BTW - something not too many people know about me? I alphabetize my cash money.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eating Soup With a Fork

Seriously, what is the deal with soup? I was trying to greet/punch/roundhouse kick my rainy, clammy, post-snow storm, pre-second snow storm, craptastic Wednesday with some Healthy Request Grilled Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. And it just wasn't working. I enjoyed the saltines I scrounged from my boss more than the soup.

I bought this soup with the hope of circumventing my aversion to vegetables by tricking my taste buds with sausage and chicken and swallowing the peppers, tomatoes, and whatever else they stick in there down before my body realized what it was eating. Yet another twisted attempt to add something healthy to my sadly lacking diet because the surgeon general and every other freaking do-gooder out there tells me that eating vegetables is good for my health.

Nosy gits.

Frankly, if there was more than two pieces of chicken in that bowl, I'll eat my wimpy-assed, plastic fork. It's enough that I had to scrounge around the peppers and whatnot to search for any sausage (ergo the fork). Also, spicy! Which I guess explains the gumbo aspect of its name.

No, I did not begin my lunch in this frame of mind. I genuinely planned to eat all the soup, with a spoon no less, scraping the bottom of the bowl figuratively as well as literally. I reasoned that the sausage and grilled "chicken" would add some protein. I imagined triumphantly telling nay sayers and friends who smile indulgently and shake their heads at me when I pick veggies off of items or ask waiters to make changes to the entrée to avoid the taste-reducing fiends, how I conquered a bowl of soup chock full of the little buggers. But alas, instead I've got one more reason why the lot of you are frickin' nuts for eating the revolting things in the first place.

I'm sticking with Chicken Noodle.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Beagle Has Landed!

All hail Uno the Beagle, Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show last night.

Though I remain a cat person (cat whisperer extraordinaire
), I still love the doggies and I cheered wildly (startling my semi-comatose kitty who was lounging on the bed with her favorite blanket, utilizing my leg as a back rest) when the spunky Beagle puppy beat out that prissy toy poodle and the painfully embarrassed standard poodle. There were other contenders, but thos poodles were the dogs to beat. Judges frickin' love poodles, which I just don't get. I mean, what is the deal with the poodles? The toy one reminded me of Paris Hilton with a noblesse oblige attitude that made me want to smack her. A true kick me dog. And I just felt sorry for the standard who looked mortified by the bouffant ponytail and the cotton ball swatches of fur on its tush that apparently is the breed standard for grooming. The toy had the exact same cut, and how embarrassing is that when you show up at an event and some bitch has your exact same haircut? Give the dog a break. He's not that high up on the food chain to begin with (tm Robin Williams).

So I was really glad to see the beagle win Best in Show last night at the Westminster Dog Show. I've had it on the last two nights while I've been (cough) "working" on my freelance job (it's nearly done so no worries) having tuned in to the event sporadically in the last few years, pretty much since I saw Christopher Guest's hilarious movie Best in Show. I confess, I still view the actual handlers and owners at the real show through Guest's slightly nutty lens always wondering, which one is in therapy with its dog? Did the Weimaraner loose its busy bumble bee?

But the real entertainers are the dogs. I always look for the mop dog (though I missed him last night - stupid snow storm), officially know as the Komondor of Hungary. I could never own one though; I'd always be trying to untangle the cords the make up the coat. But it's always a riot to watch one trot down the lane with all those cords sweeping the floor. Own a dog like that and you'd never have to sweep the floor.

My favorites tend to be the large dogs, which mainly reside in the herding, sporting, working, and hound groups, because they're just so awesome. I used to view all yip yip dogs as inconsequential, but I've been slowly wooed over to some of the smaller dogs like the Norwich Terrier, the Dachshund, and of course, the Beagle. But I don't like the Boston Terrier, or the Bulldog, and I'm not a fan of long-haired dogs. Family loyalty pulls the Shih Tzu into the fold or my father will disowned me (and his dog's a sweetie) and my aunt's Westie mutt is too damn cute to be a kick me, so they can come too.

But there's something to be said for the breadth and majesty of the Irish Wolfhound, the Scottish Deerhound, the Retrievers (six different breeds of retrievers in the show!), the gorgeous Doberman Pincher last night and imposing Great Dane. There were four new breeds added to the American Kennel Club this year, including the Tibetan Mastiff, who received a warm welcome and sixth prize in the group competition. Look at that face! Love them big dogs!

The show is also great as a source of information. The announcer for the show at the Garden describes each breed, both good points and aspects to watch out for, often with a commentary about what sort of living environment best suits the dog and what sort of family arrangement is would thrive in. For instance, Great Danes, for all their size, don't require a lot of running room and can make good apartment dogs - if you don't plan to have any furniture since they'll take up all the room. Which would explain the enormous Great Dane I sometimes see being walked in my apartment heavy, Weehawken neighborhood. Seriously, you could drive my car under that dog and still clear two inches. Also, some of the sporting dogs have water resistant coats (cool!), others webbed toes (hee), and there are other genetic specialties this show imparts that my incessant need to know soaks up. After the announcer has dropped his know-how, the commentators for the network build off of the dogs' descriptions and will sometimes add in a particular insight about the owners, trainers, or handlers, or about the particular dog itself, how many awards its won, whether it's the last show for a retiring dog, etc.

Honestly, this show is a real trip every time.

Huzzah to the doggies!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Good Things in Threes

The saying goes "bad things come in threes."

Several months ago, the famous deceased threesome of the hour, so to speak, was Luciano Pavarotti, Jane Wyman, and Madeline L’Engle (if these names mean nothing to you, look them up–they’re worth it.) Each one died within a week or so of one another. I can remember when the first one died (and I think it was Pavarotti) I thought, well, that's one. Wonder where the other two will come from? Sure enough, two and three fell into place.

All sayings, like stereotypes, have some truth to them. This time it got me wondering: why is it that we expected death to come in threes, but we never expect happiness to follow suit? Something good happens to us and we celebrate it (as we should). On rare, blessed days, things may fall miraculously into place one after the other. But for the most part, we're pretty happy just to have one thing go right in our crazy, busy lives.

I think we're cheating ourselves. We should look for good things in threes - nay, we need to expect them, demand them, determine that we are going to have them, dang it. [sidebar: If you're one of those "glass half full" people who daily find the joy in everything around them, like a hyped up Kenny the Page from 30 Rock, you may be reading the wrong blog.]

I started that same day admiring my friend and co-worker Anne’s lovely bouquet of eucalyptus, (courtesy of Costco though you wouldn’t know it to look at it) its tangy scent wafting throughout our office kitchen as she trimmed stalks and filled a vase with water. All those blooms burst forth from the bouquet, shepherding the welcome, clean scent of eucalyptus. It all seemed to suit Anne who daily and effortlessly bursts forth in beauty with her long black, glossy hair (recently chopped to a fashionable bob) and olive-tinted skin topped with dark expressive eyes that are framed by her sooty lashes. She's one of those effortless beauties you wish were a hateful beeotch so that you didn't have to like her on top of it.

The eucalyptus stalks dusted the air in clean, fresh scent and I just wallowed in their scent. Anne told me she bought them just to have something to brighten up her office and I remember admiring the freedom that allows such an impulse buy without qualm or consideration when I nickel and dime my own excursions to an annoying degree.

Later on I walked through Michaels craft store and caught another eucalyptus scent. I always feel overwhelmed and out of place in craft stores. My latent nesting/maternal instinct strains to be let out and sink into the great possibilities of all the arts and crafts projects spread out before me like unattained potential as though I’m a glue gun away from being Martha Stewart’s rival. That’s usually when my common sense rears up to remind me what a complete and utter disaster I am with anything remotely homey. Really, the only thing I get with a glue gun is fantastic glue gun burns.

But I needed Gorilla Glue to fix my funky, much loved, Indian-style (dot, not feather), wedge-heeled shoes. I went to two Payless Shoe stores to get the right size and fit on these shoes, at 9:30 at night too, dragging my poor mother with me like shopping ballast, which made them worthy of repair and not the trash bin. So there I am in Michaels, part of me aching to be the woman I’m somewhat genetically engineered and certainly conditioned to be, the rest of me glad to be the damn-the-torpedoes, buck-the-expected person I am, perusing the Mary Engelbriet $1 Christmas extras when I smelled eucalyptus – again. And I kid you not, I actually sniffed around the plastic flower displays seeking the scent’s origin, but no dice, because – and I know this is a shocker – plastic flowers have no scent. Sometimes my Polish genes are just working overtime. (Later on, I did not sniff around the check out counter to find the burning glue gun I smelled while going gray (more gray!), waiting for my turn. My nose is an amazing, complicated thing.)

So that was two and now, like a good celebrity death watch, this question lurked in the back of my mind; will the eucalyptus come in threes? (Also, I’m wondering where in the hell is my cuddly koala? With all this eucalyptus, you’d figure a fuzzy bear with sharp claws, fluffy ears, an Australian accent, and a penchant for climbing eucalyptus trees would mosey on over too, wouldn’t you?)

That evening I abused the hospitality of Steve and Marcy, two of my favorite people in the world, as I tend to do from time to time (like most Tuesday nights.) Interestingly, I rarely think of them as Marcy and Steve; it just flows better as Steve and Marcy. Sorry Marce! So we had dinner (tacos, I think, an all around favorite and yes, mine was devoid of vegetables. I’d hate to disappoint) and laughed as we often do, and Marcy and I said the same thing at the same time as we sometimes do, and Steve just shook his head at us as he usually does, and we confirmed our advancing years by watching JEOPARDY and proving how smart we are while snarking on the contestants when we got the answer wrong. [Steve claims that whenever I answer a question and get it wrong I say “it’s the same thing” and I’m thinking he’s probably not that off about that. Part of the bliss that is me, I guess.]

So my eyes are tearing (from all the laughter – follow the bouncing ball people) as I slipped over to the bathroom (hardwood floors meet knee-high socks and zoom!) where I was yet again blessed with the soothing, tart odor of eucalyptus thanks to Marcy’s handy bathroom hand soap and lotion. I thought, geez Louise, is it my day for eucalyptus or what? And then I rubbed the lotion deep into my hands so I could bring the scent home with me for a little while.

Every day should have good things that come in threes. Sadly, few do. Now, when I see a triptych of death, I wonder where the trio of good is. And every time I smell eucalyptus, I think of my three-pronged day. Most times it makes me smile (though I’m still looking for the damn koala). Sometimes it makes me wonder why I don’t have three good things today. Often it makes me want to find three good things every day. (The Trinity doesn’t count – that’s a given.)

So what were your three good things today?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cinematic Harmony

I've been listening to the CD soundtrack from the movie Once in my car since I picked it up last Friday and I just have to mention it here because it's great and makes me happy.

But first a little about the film.
Once is an independent film released last year about a Guy in Dublin with a newly dented heart (courtesy of ex-girlfriend) who fixes vacuums in his father's business but whose real passion is music. Every day he goes and sings on Grafton Street as a street musician, his playlist made up of the songs that attract the tourists and their money, but he breaks out his own material at night. He meets an Eastern European Girl who passes out flowers on Grafton Street. She approaches him while he's playing one night and sings (pun intended) his praises. They bond. They make music - literally. She inspires and encourages him to record a demo and helps him secure a bank loan to do so. He rustles up some street musician friends to be the band and they record said demo so that he can go to London, make up with soon-to-be-not-ex-girlfriend, and we are left to believe that success lies around the corner for him as he conquers the music business with his singer/songwriter tunes.

I thought the movie was lovely, but I can't laud it without caveats. It's a little slow and is basically a series of songs linked together by a nice little script, which makes it great if you're a fan of music but not so great if you're looking for a more traditional movie. It's has a typical independent film feel with a little shaky camera work and lots of use of authentic locations, which include the wonderful treat of seeing different parts of Dublin. Movies like this one often makes me wonder whether the people in the background are extras hired for the scenes or just regular people going about their day. I love the ambiguity of that. This guerilla style film making is most obvious when filming our street musician performing on Grafton Street in Dublin while hoards of shoppers and tourist flow naturally around him.

It's such a sweet story of a thirty-something man with a dented heart still seeking his dreams, playing his music when he can while fixing vacuums with his newly widowed father. He clicks with this woman who plays piano in the back of a piano shop on her lunch hour b/c she can't afford one for herself. In a very short time, these people have an enormous effect on each other, their lives subtly reinvigorated from their time together. They're never given names - simply listed as Guy and Girl in the credits - and I for one never noticed the lack till the end. And for a film marketed as a romance, there's very little overt romance in the film. They're just two people who click with together and fill a need in each other's lives long enough to get to the next step in their journey.

And then there's the music. I've been listening to it nearly nonstop since I bought the CD. I really like it; for some reason, the songs are still spinning around in my car and in my head. They're written (with the exception of two Van Morrison covers) and sung by Glen Hansard a singer/songwriter who is the former front man for The Frames and who plays Guy. I'd never heard of him before, but he's very talented and he sings every song on the CD accompanied on many by Marketa Irglova (Girl), also a singer/songwriter who contributes material as well. They're musicians, not actors, which makes me think that they were probably playing themselves for the most part in the movie, but it works, so no worries.

Really, it's the music that resonates with me more so than the movie. One scene that sticks with me where the music and movie function inextricably - one unable to exist without the other in order to create the desired effect - is when Guy takes Girl to a large dinner party where it's loud and boisterous with everyone having a good time eating and talking and then the instruments come out and there was music. I watched this scene and thought "this would be a perfect evening for me" and that's true because that is indeed what I would consider a perfect evening; good friends, great food and conversation, and then music and singing and joy.

I listen to track 14 on the soundtrack "And the Healing Has Begun" where Glen Hansard sings a cover of Van Morrison's great song with such passion and commitment...

we're gonna make sweet music under the stars/
we're gonna play to the violin and the two guitars/
and we'll sit down and play for hours and hours and hours and hours/
when the healing has begun

...and I think of that scene and the times I've sat around with people and music and just sang (something that hasn't happened in a long time) and had joy . I still find myself driving along listening to this track, thinking on this scene and smiling. Sweetly, sadly, but smiling.

Track #2 is another favorite where a very different emotion is evoked when Marketa sings:

are you really here or am I dreaming?/
I can't tell dreams from truth/
it's been so long since I have seen you/
I can hardly remember your face anymore/
when I get real lonely/
and the distance causes our silence/
I think of you smiling/
with pride in your eyes/
a lover that sighs/
if you want me/
satisfy me

It's so haunting, so aching with loneliness and desire, and yet so beautiful. I get out of the car and that song just stays with me, floating around in my head all day. Cinematic harmony.

So go rent the movie for a lovely film about two people at a crossroads who, for a short time, find kindred spirits in one another and are able to move to their next stage of life because of that brief relationship. Then get the CD and dive into the music. If you like acoustic guitar heavy, singer/songwriter music like Dave Wilcox, early Cademon's Call, or the great Van the Man, then give this a listen. And the healing may begin.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Afterthoughts

Only a few quick afterthoughts today as I am feeling particularly non-engaged. I'm blaming the rain for that. I am about to head out into rainy New Jersey, Friday night, Lincoln Tunnel rush hour traffic. (Why is it that drivers seem to loose brain cells with every rain drop?) So here's the short and sometimes sweet:
  • If you live in the Bergen County area and haven't already checked out Wide World of Bagels in Ridgewood then you must do so right away. Their bagels are fantastic, all soft and fluffy and they don't scrape off the roof of your mouth when you're chewing. I had a salt bagel from them this week and it was perfect; not so drenched in salt so that you immediately needed a saline IV to balance your system, just enough to give it a bite . And their cream cheese is delish, creamy and lush. It's also a deli and has catering, but I can't vouch for that just yet. Their Web site (look at me - I'm linking!) says it's on N. Maple Ave in Ridgewood; It's down the street from the Goffle Grill, which I thought was on Goffle Ave in that Hawthorne/Midland Park/Ridgewood wasteland where you're never sure exactly what town you're in at a given time. But then I'm a native Essex County girl. You may wonder why I'm touting a bagel store. Do you know how difficult it is to find a bagel worth the name? Sure, I can make do with some inferior versions or the occasional good effort bagel. But once found, a prime bagel provider should be held on to fiercely. Trust me - I spent 6 bagelless months when I first got to England before I discovered George & Davies ice cream shop, which, ironically, had real bagels. And Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream, but that's a different story. Anyways. Check them out.
  • If you want to see good people doing great things for animals, check out Best Friend Animal Shelter, an organization I discovered today, courtesy of the Guidelines magazine that my boss pawns off on me every so often. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of having my own ranch with all the cats and dogs that no one wanted; I imagined being able to tell surrounding shelters to send their unwanted ones to me rather than euthanize them. Here are people who are actually doing that exact thing.
  • On a much more irreverent but funny note, there is a clip of comedian Sarah Silverman on the Jimmy Kimmel show from last night that is very funny. WARNING: it's not "family friendly" by any stretch of the imagination and I'm certainly no proponent of Silverman's work. But I laughed big time at this one.
  • A few weeks ago, we had a Krum family party for my grandmother's 95th birthday, a luncheon that my uncle kicked off with a list of Krum/Litzenberger (my grandmother's maiden name) traits. One in the long list was OCD, which, okay, to some extent, yes. But it made me wonder if there was a more personally accurate OSD - Obsessive Snark Disorder. 'Cause I'm pretty sure I got that.
Happy Friday everyone!