Monday, January 31, 2011

New Year's Objectives Revisited

It's the last day of the month and time to take stock on the progress of my New Year's objectives.  Hell, might as well call them what they are:  Resolutions.
  1. Stop frittering money away.  I have cut back on spending, but there's still work to be done there.  I can't seem to break the Diet Pepsi-a-day-habit.  Shoot, that alone would save me $12 dollars a week.  At least.  We've eaten lunch at McDonald's a few times, too, which is strictly verboten.  So, by next month I want to see that habit completely broken.  Also, though we usually make pizza at home on Saturdays, we've eaten out the last couple of Saturdays.  Well, nobody's perfect, though that is the goal.
  2. Cut back on sweets.  Here, I've been pretty successful.  I do bake a cake or a batch of cookies every week--remember, I'm allowing myself homemade sweets--but most of those go to my husband and son, who is after all 14 and always very hungry.
  3. Eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day.  This I've also succeeded in doing.  Yesterday, for example, I had seven:  two of V-8, an orange, a banana, two servings of beets, and a serving of broccoli.  Most days I wouldn't make it without my V-8, of which I always drink two servings.  I love that stuff.
  4. Walk 30 minutes.  O.k. I confess I don't do this.  I maybe walk 15 minutes a day on my way to the library, store, or mailbox.  It's just been too cold to be out any longer than this.  I know, I know, I'm a wuss.  But I've had my husband bring our exercise bike in from the garage, so that if the weather is inclement, I can ride that instead of walking.  Now, of course, I don't have the bad weather as an excuse for my obvious laziness.
  5. Write 30 minutes on my play.  This is the one I've failed at utterly.  I haven't written a word.  I've thought about it a lot, but not one word of writing.  It's not that I'm blocked, though I may be; I'm just afraid to do it.  What is that all about?  Why are writers always afraid to work?  Fear of failure is probably the root of it for me, but, if I don't make a stab at it, I fail by default.  Well, here's hoping February brings out the bold playwright in me.  I am nothing if not eternally optimistic and full of hope on this front.
I'd love to hear from you readers, if you're still out there, how your resolutions are going.  If you're writers, let me know how you deal with fear.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Paul Newman

When I was fourteen, The Sting was playing in the local cinema.  Every morning my paper route would take me past the theater, where I would pause for five or ten minutes to stare at the poster of my Hollywood boyfriends, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  My crush on Paul Newman has never abated.  He's everything a girl--this girl anyway--would want in a man:  A charismatic movie star with beautiful blue eyes, a rakish persona, and old-fashioned liberal politics.  He once said that the thing he was most proud of in his life was being on Nixon's Enemies List.  He was Number 19.   Above all of that, he was extremely kind; he felt he'd been lucky in his life and wanted to give to those less fortunate.

And so he did.  Newman and his pal, A.E. Hotchner,  started a company, Newman's Own™, to sell their salad dressing; they soon added other foods: spaghetti sauce, popcorn, salsa, lemonade.  Many a celebrity has started a food or restaurant business; what made Newman's unique is that all of the profits went to charity.  Then he founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with cancer and other serious illnesses so that they could get away from hospitals and doctors and just have fun being kids.  Incidentally, A.E. Hotchner has written an entertaining book about his friendship and business pursuits with Paul Newman,  Paul and Me: Fifty-three Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman.

Paul Newman himself passed away from cancer in September of 2008; today would have been his eighty-sixth birthday.  To celebrate, I'm going to eat some Newman's Own™ Pizza and watch a few of his movies.  I've compiled a baker's dozen of Newman movies:  Whittling the list down to thirteen was no easy job.  If you've never seen a Paul Newman movie, you're in for a treat.  Pop a movie into your DVD player, grab a Newman's Own™ snack, and enjoy the show.
  1. The Hustler(1961).  Eddie Felson, a two-bit pool hustler, tries to prove he is the best by beating  Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). 
  2. Harper(1966).  Detective Lew Harper is hired to find a missing millionaire. 
  3. Cool Hand Luke(1967).  Luke ends up on a chain gang after a drunken night of cutting off parking meters.
  4. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969).  After a botched train robbery, Butch Casssidy, leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) flee the states for Bolivia.
  5. The Sting(1973).  Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) are two con men out to pull a big sting on a mob boss (Robert Shaw).  Added bonus is the Scott Joplin ragtime soundtrack.
  6. The Towering Inferno(1974).  Doug Roberts is the architect of the world's tallest building, which is consumed by flames on the night of its dedication ceremony.
  7. Slap Shot(1977).  Coach Reg Dunlop recruits some thuggish players for his third-rate hockey team.
  8. Absence of Malice(1981).  Liquor wholesaler Michael Gallagher is front page news and the target of a murder investigation when a story about him is leaked to a reporter (Sally Field).
  9. The Color of Money(1986).  Fast Eddie Felsen, an aging pool hustler, enters into a lucrative but explosive alliance with a young pool shark (Tom Cruise). 
  10. Nobody's Fool(1994).  Sully Sullivan, a ne'er-do-well handyman, gets a second chance with his estranged son and grandson. 
  11. Twilight(1998).  Aging private eye Harry Ross finds himself in the middle of a Hollywood murder mystery connected to a decades-old missing-person case.
  12. Road to Perdition(2002).  Mob boss John Rooney's adopted son Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) seeks revenge on Rooney's son Michael Jr. (Daniel Craig) for killing his wife and son.
  13. Cars (2006).   Race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) drives into Radiator Springs, a forgotten town on old Route 66, bringing new life to the residents, among them Doc Hudson alias the Fabulous Hudson Hornet (Paul's final film role) and  Fillmore, a 1960 VW microbus (George Carlin).

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Harry's Law

    From David E. Kelley (Boston Legal,The Practiceand Ally McBeal)comes a new legal comedy-drama television show.  Kathy Bates is Harriet Korn, a patent attorney fired from her corporate position who endures two accidents immediately following her dismissal.  After her second accident, she has an epiphany to open her own practice in an abandoned shoe store in an economically challenged Cincinnati neighborhood.  Eccentric employees include her assistant who sells shoes when she's not typing legal documents and the two men responsible for Harriet's accidents:  her first client-cum-paralegal and a lawyer whose courtroom antics will remind you of Boston Legal's Alan Shore.  Expect Harry's Law to deliver lots of fun and passionate crusades for the wronged underdog.  Harry's Law airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Tom and Huck Down on the Farm

    Harris and Meby Gary Paulsen, Sandpiper, 2007, 168 pages, ISBN: 015205880X

    Reading Harris and Me is the most fun anybody can have between the covers of a book.   Originally published in 1993, Harris and Me is the best story Gary Paulsen (Hatchet) has ever written, and I suspect it is based on a summer he himself spent with a cousin on a farm.  This is a twentieth-century Tom-and-Huck story.  Harris, the instigator, is Tom, and Me, the narrator who is never named, is Huck, the cast-off child of drunks.

    Our narrator is sent to spend a summer with his distant cousins on a farm in a remote part of Minnesota.  Being a city boy, he is not used to the hard work--or hard play--of a farm. The farm is owned by Knute Larson, a big man who hardly ever talks but can take down a bull with his fist, and his wife Claire who mothers our affection-starved narrator.  They have two children: the mischievous Harris and Glennis, Harris's older sister who whacks Harris in the back of the head every time he swears--and that's a lot of head whacking.  Also on the farm is Louie, the hired hand who never bathes and hoovers up all the food in reach.  Try as they might, Harris and his cousin cannot get any food while Louie is at the table.  Harris takes his new friend on a daring roller coaster of a ride through the summer:  Our narrator is kicked in the head by a cow, forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat with 300-pound-pigs, and must learn to dodge the attacks of Ernie the rooster and Louie's pet lynx Buzzer.  But our narrator learns fast, and before the summer's over he'll take Harris on a ride of his own making.

    Harris and Me is a glimpse into the childhood of the past when childhood was fun and not a bit safe.  Set in the post-war late forties, this nostalgic story will thrill the over-scheduled, video-driven kid of the twenty-first century.  The pacing is fast, the action daring, the storytelling hilarious, and the ending very poignant.  This story will entertain and charm even the most bibliophobic of middle school students.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Supper Time

    The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Timeby Laurie David, Grand Central Life & Style, 2010, 256 pages, ISBN: 0446565462

    In spite of my son's preference for Chipotle™ burritoes in front of the t.v.,  most nights I insist on everyone sitting down together to meals made at home from scratch.  Lately, my son has not seen the sense in eating at the table as a family.  Why can't we all go in the living room and watch The Simpsons while we eat? he asked.  I told him it is because we're only going to have him around for a few more years, and we want to enjoy his company as much as possible.   But I have to admit, our dinner conversations have been less than stimulating, unless you are a die-hard Bulls, Bears, or Cubs fan.  And, sadly, I am not.  To the rescue:  Laurie David's book,  The Family Dinner.  The book is full of interesting conversation starters, like "Name three places you would not want to go,"  which I trotted out on day one, and all of us were really and truly hooked on conversation.  In fact, three places were not enough for my son:  He wanted to list five.  And he wanted to list five places he would like to go.  And my husband suggested we add three places we'd like to go for a meal.  And we started planning our next family vacation.  And so on.   Now when we all sit down to dinner, I throw out a new question.  Most nights it keeps us at the dinner table longer than twenty minutes.

    One other thing we've added to our weekly meals is having our son cook every Friday night.  For now, I am supervising and making suggestions as to what he should cook.  But as he begins to feel more at home at the stove, I will let him plan the meal and cook solo.  This past Friday was his first meal.  He made one of his favorites: sautéed shrimp with frozen vegetable and saffron rice.  Simple but elegant.  True saffron story:  Last fall I had a coupon for a free spice from Penzey's, and I used it on the $80 saffron, Penzey's most expensive spice.

    Most of the time, I do the cooking, and most of my meals, though from scratch, are pretty quick and easy.  Following are two of my favorites.  The chicken linguine I've been making for twenty years; the soup I just concocted last week for our first Meatless Monday.  A salad and a good, crusty bread are all you need with either of these meals.  I use the recipe for Light Whole Wheat Bread on page 74 of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

    Chicken Linguine (Four Servings)
    Sometimes I jazz this up by substituting shrimp for the chicken.

    1 1/2 pounds skinless and boneless chicken breast
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
    1 tsp. minced garlic
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    2 tsp. dried basil
    1 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. white pepper
    1 pound linguine, fettucine, or gemelli

    Cook the pasta according to package directions.  While the pasta is cooking, cut the chicken into bite-size pieces.  In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the olive oil until a haze forms.  Add the scallions and garlic and cook about two minutes.  Add the chicken and cook until cooked through, about five to ten minutes.  Add the lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper.  Cook and stir constantly until well incorporated, about thirty seconds.  Toss the chicken mixture with the drained hot pasta.  Serve immediately.

    Tuscan Bean Soup (Four Servings)

    1 Tbsp. olive oil
    1 carrot, diced
    1 celery stalk, diced
    1 small onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
    1 14 1/2-ounce can chicken or vegetable broth
    1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
    1 cup water
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/8 tsp. black pepper
    1 tsp. Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle
    1 cup ditalini pasta

    In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion, and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the beans, broth, tomatoes, and water.  Turn heat to high, and heat the soup to boiling, then reduce heat to simmer.  Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  While soup is simmering cook the pasta according to package directions.  Add the salt, pepper, Pasta Sprinkle, and ditalini to the soup.  Serve.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Life on the Wrong Side of Town

    The Outsiders 40th Anniversary editionby S. E. Hinton, Viking, 2007, 192 pages, ISBN: 0670062510

    The Outsiders is the quintessential middle school book.  It always seemed so corny to me, like West Side Story, so I never read it.  Then last year when my son was in seventh grade, his language arts teacher assigned it to the class.  My son loved The Outsiders so much, he devoured all of S. E. Hinton's books and hungered for more when he'd exhausted the Hinton canon.  I saw that last year The Outsiders was on a list of top ten paperback children's books of all time.  It's no wonder, as there is little to date this book, and teens dig it as much today as they did in the late sixties when it was first published.  And, I confess, I love it, too.

    The Outsiders centers on Ponyboy Curtis, a greaser who lives on the wrong side of the tracks with his two older brothers.  His parents had been killed in a car wreck; his oldest brother Darry, the twenty-year-old head of the family, works two jobs to support his family.  Middle brother Sodapop, a sixteen-year-old high-school dropout, works at a gas station.  The family's goal is to stay together and keep fourteen-year-old Ponyboy, a bright studious kid, in school.  Ponyboy is a dreamer, who loves movies and books, but, according to Darry, lacks commonsense.   Darry is worried that because Ponyboy doesn't think and often gets into trouble, he and Sodapop will be taken away and put in a home.

    As if the boys don't have enough to worry about, being greasers, they are engaged in class warfare with the Socs, the gang of rich kids who live on the other side of town.  As Ponyboy says, "It wasn't fair for the Socs to have everything.  We were as good as they were; it wasn't our fault we were greasers."  One night Ponyboy and his friend Johnny are attacked by a group of Socs; the ensuing fight leaves one kid dead and two on the run.

    Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was sixteen and understands the teenage mind as only a teenager can.  She herself said that she wrote it at the right time, as "the feelings you have at sixteen you can't recapture."  And her focus is completely on the teenagers, as there are no major adult characters.  Like a Charlie Brown cartoon, Ponyboy's world is free of parents.  Ponyboy's parents were loving, but are now dead.  Most of the living parents are abusive and neglectful, and many of the greasers often stay over at Ponyboy's house.  The absence of parents adds an element of fun.  If Ponyboy and his brothers want chocolate cake for breakfast, they bake a cake.  If they want friends to hang around all night, their friends come over.  I suspect this aspect of the book is a big draw for the teens.  What teenager doesn't at some point daydream about a life without parental interference?

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    The Clothes She Wore

    Love, Loss, and What I Woreby Ilene Beckerman, Algonquin Books, 2005, 144 pages, ISBN:  1565124758

    Ilene Beckerman tells and illustrates her life story through the clothes she wore.  I am not a clothes horse, but this charming book got me thinking about the clothes I've worn in my time.
    1. Red Snowflake Sweater.  Typically, I don't know if an article of clothing "belongs" to me until I've gotten it home and worn it for awhile, but this Ralph Lauren hand knit cotton sweater called out to me from the rack in the consignment store where I purchased it for $17.  Pretty good price, given that one just like it is going for $167.99 on Ebay.  I am not usually a label snob, yet I know just how Marge Simpson felt when she found a Chanel Suit at an outlet mall for $90.
    2. Black and maroon dress.  About sixteen years ago, I bought a cotton dress with a long, tiered skirt at Target, the only article of clothing I've ever bought there.  But I loved that dress.  I wore it in the summer with sandals.  I wore it in the fall with clogs and cardigans.  I wore it until it was threadbare.
    3. Pirates of the Caribbean Crocs™.  I saw these in the gift shop of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World about three years ago.  I loved them on sight, but the $50 price tag seemed a bit steep.  As soon as we left Florida, I regretted passing them up, and I complained bitterly to my husband that I should have bought those bitchin' Caribbean Crocs™, so he surprised me on Mother's Day with a pair he purchased online for $35.  I'm now wearing my third pair of Pirates Crocs™.
    4. Scottish Terriers Flannel Nightgown.  From October to May, I sleep in flannel nightgowns.  I always have and have never considered graduating to adult lingerie.  Nothing is more comfortable to sleep in and for me comfort trumps all.  A few years (15?) back I noticed the flannel on new nightgowns had gotten so thin that it was no longer keeping me warm.  A friend of mine, also a flannel lover and a flight attendant, told me she buys hers in England, where they still make them out of thick flannel.   Though I've no immediate plans of traveling to England, I did discover that The Vermont Country Store sells Lanz of Salzburg sleepwear,  made of--you guessed it--thick flannel.  Pricey, but I no longer have to shiver under the covers in January.
    5. Gold knitted wool baby hat.  My Oma made this hat for my newborn daughter to wear home from the hospital.  Over the next seven or eight years, Oma knitted sweaters, dresses, and even a coat for my daughter, but by the time my son was born, Oma was too old to knit.  And, though he never met his maternal great-grandmother, who lived in Germany and died when he was seven, when I brought him home from the hospital, he was wearing this gold hat Oma had knitted fifteen years earlier.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    New Year's Objectives

    I make resolutions every year, but I never keep them.  So this year, instead of making resolutions, I'm listing specific objectives that I'd like to pursue daily.  They say that those who write their goals down are more likely to follow them.  Certainly, publishing them online will make me more accountable.  In fact, at least once a month, I'll revisit this list and see how it's working out for me.
    1. Stop frittering money away.  Save those nickels and dimes.
    2. Cut back on sweets.  If I don't eat processed foods and only eat treats I've made myself, my sugar intake will plummet.
    3. Eat five or more fruits and vegetables a day.
    4. Walk 30 minutes a day.
    5. Write 30 minutes a day on my play.
    These  objectives actually work together.  If I'm not eating purchased sweets, I won't be spending a dollar on a candy bar or a bottle of pop.  Not eating sweets will also mean I'm more likely to be snacking on fruit.  Instead of running to the store to buy junk food, I'll take walks, which will stimulate my creativity and aid in the half hour of writing.  And in the big picture, I should get healthier, wealthier, and more productive. We'll see how it works out in the coming months.