What Are We Waiting For?

‘Tis the season of counting down, stressing out (jollily, of course), and waiting.

We are in the liturgical season of Advent, a time of waiting for an important arrival, and not necessarily one from amazon.com. The relationship between Advent and Christmas has become a bit dysfunctional in our time, it seems. Advent sounds archaic and – gasp – maybe even religious! And Christmas is about rushing around and shopping and decorating and parties – and ummmm,  then what?

I’ve done a lot of waiting this month. Waiting, annoyedly, for parking spaces. Impatiently, for stores to open. Waiting, excitedly, for packages to arrive, for parties to start. Waiting stoically for the sun to set a bit earlier each day. Waiting, happily, for kids to come home.  It’s a busy time. Not a lot of time to think. But luckily, inevitably, that quiet moment comes. It’s usually when I take the dogs out at night. It’s dark, and crisp, and cold.  I hear Soho and Chloe’s Christmas collars jingle in the dark. I walk over to the coop to put down the chicken door and see the hens all snuggled together on their roost.  Another day is done and Christmas is one day closer. I look up into the invariably clear winter sky (I hear there’s no more rain for us for awhile…) and see all those stars blinking back at me.

The Pleiades star cluster (image from edhat.com)

The Pleiades star cluster (image from edhat.com)

And suddenly, I am filled with wonder. With the ache of waiting for something bigger than what our 21st century holiday promises. Our shiny holidays almost seem to conspire to keep us from thinking about anything more substantive than tinsel, don’t they?

On The Huffington Post, bloggers offer the following explanations for the meaning of Christmas:

“The real meaning of Christmas is to give”

To honor the holiday, I must honor the everyday”

“The true meaning of Christmas is to cheer people up during a cold and depressing time of year.”

These thoughts, however well intended, do not satisfy that ache for me, that sense of waiting. Sometimes I’m a little jealous of the secularists, that their world view can be so neatly tied up like a gift with a fancy ribbon. Lots of talk about science explaining everything. (As if science negates the role of a Creator – but that’s another subject) But science has never explained everything. (If it did, we wouldn’t need any more science, would we?)

This swath of the 101 Freeway never fails to captivate me (image from doctorio.us.com)

This swath of the 101 Freeway never fails to captivate me (image from doctorio.us.com)

There is a stretch of the Ventura Freeway where you come around a curve and suddenly the Pacific Ocean is laid out to the right of you like a feast on a platter. No matter how many times I drive that stretch of highway, I am awed by the sight of those waves rolling in, the curve of the horizon, the dome of the sky. I think of all I’ve read about the mathematical and scientific improbabilities of our planet existing and bearing life and I picture our earth as a terrarium ornament that God holds up and views – with what? Love? Concern? Weariness?

image from etsy.com

Is this what we look like to God? (image from etsy.com)

However inconvenient it might be (we’re busy, after all!), let’s consider for a moment the possibility that the Creator of our inconsequential little planet feels some form of affection for our wayward souls (is that even thinkable?) and that He reached in to us with the most extraordinary gift imaginable – His son.

Now maybe that doesn’t impress you. It didn’t impress Jesus’ fellow Jews in his own time. They were looking for a king who would wield worldly power and instead they got one who prattled on about eternity. I don’t know about you but I get a little dizzy when I try to think about eternity. An eternity is ten minutes without my iPhone; a day without celebrity gossip, a week without hearing from my kids (Daniel, will you ever call?) But eternity, as in forever? What do we know of eternity? We live for this moment, or perhaps the next. We live on credit, on hunches, on intuition, on fumes. We are, I sometimes think, no more than moths beating their wings against a porch light while, just beyond, there is a true radiance within that eludes us. I know it’s there. I feel it. That, I think, might be faith.

We are all so certain of what we know, and so fearful, it seems, about looking deeper. I had a chat yesterday with an acquaintance who is an avowed secularist. He tolerates my Christian faith respectfully and bemusedly. When Jesus comes up in conversation, he smiles in a way that suggests he believes we are talking about a fiction, a kind of Disney character. We’ve had many friendly chats on the topic, although, predictably, neither of us has ever budged an inch from our beliefs. Yesterday, he asked me in passing what the Jews of his day thought of Jesus.  “You do know that Jesus was himself a Jew, right?”, I asked.  My acquaintance was dumbfounded. This is a well-educated man who dedicates many hours a week to his secular “church”, learning and studying and communing with fellow non-believers. And he had absolutely no idea that Jesus was a Jew. Not that his spiritual view will be swayed in any way by that new tidbit of knowledge. But it does remind me that we all only know what we know.

I know far too little, a failing I am reminded of every time I wrestle with these subjects. But I do know that I have two Christmas lists. One is for the here and now: 1) a winning lottery ticket, 2) the perfect coffee mug and 3) please, please, please a Golden Retriever puppy under the tree with a big, red bow around her neck. In a season of waiting, I realize I may be waiting forever for those gifts, although if someone (say, a potentate like a Chicken Emperor) wanted to make it happen, that puppy could be a reality, couldn’t it?

If someone loved me, this is what they would give me for Christmas (image from imgarcade.com)

If someone loved me, this is what they would give me for Christmas (image from imgarcade.com)

The second list is one for which I also wait: wisdom, courage, a deeper faith, peace, understanding. These are the true gifts of Christmas, the ones that come, I believe, from a deeper encounter with a true potentate – a loving God who has graciously reached into our lives and offered us a new covenant with Him through his son, the Christ child whose advent we celebrate this season. Amid the tinsel and the trappings, I hope we all find some quiet moments to to be filled with wonder and ponder what we’re really waiting for.

“The incarnation, however, is the great miracle. On the other hand, the incarnation challenges the view that all depictions of reality are socially constructed to serve the purpose of the dominant group, that there is no such thing as “Truth” at all. The incarnation, however, teaches that there is an absolute Truth and it has become a human being. Finally, the incarnation challenges the modernized versions of religion which consist almost entirely of ethical behavior or which make God a very vague and generally impersonal being or mysterious life-force. But the incarnation tells us that we have a very real God—one who can be known, talked to, listened to, served, and loved. The incarnation gives us the most personal God in the face of modern efforts to de- personalize the deity”. - Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Holidays, Spiritual | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Christmas Music I Hate and Love: In Search of the Perfect Playlist

So you’re going along with your life, over-worked, over-stressed and looking to catch a break. Instead, December shows up, the sun disappears for all practical purposes at 4 p.m. and yet the expectations go to mach speed, stress-to-the-max and they have the nerve to call it a holiday. Never mind that you are insanely busy. They want you to put on Spanx and pantyhose and go out to parties. Seriously. Who are they kidding?

Yes, I have been known get a little testy around this time of year. Exactly the opposite of what I want to be feeling in the Advent season, but yet once again peace and good will elude me.  And nothing makes me testier than a zingy rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”. It happened again the other night. The CE and I were blissfully trimming the tree with Christmas carols playing in the background and there it was, complete with hokey honky-tonk piano in the background. Followed up with “Jingle Bell Rock”,  no less. Way to kill the Christmas spirit!

I know, I know, we all have different tastes, and maybe you just love a good “Jingle Bell Rock“. Enjoy it. You can have it all to yourself.

Here are my top fifteen* (because ten is just not enough) curated choices for best holiday music. But please feel free to add your suggestions so I can finally build the perfect Christmas playlist. Just do me a favor and don’t include any suggestions with the word “Rock” in them.

 

The Air Force Singing Sergeants (image from www.af.mil)

The Air Force Singing Sergeants (image from http://www.af.mil)

15. “Carol of the Bells” sung by U.S. Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants

Some songs are meant to be sung a cappella and this is one of them. Less is more and this spirited and cheerful version is a keeper. Thinking of all our troops who are away from home this holiday.

14. “The Holly & the Ivy” sung by The Mediaeval Baebes

It’s all about the harmonies with this 15th century British carol.

Holly and ivy are traditionally associated with Christmas in Britain. Here they grow together in Wales. (Wikipedia image)

Holly and ivy are traditionally associated with Christmas in Britain. Here they grow together in Wales. (Wikipedia image)

 

13. “In the Bleak Midwinter” sung by Jars of Clay

There are many terrific choral versions of this carol written by English poet Christina Rossetti, but the Jars of Clay version is tender and affecting – and you can actually understand the words.

 

12. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” sung by Mariah Carey

My recent concession to the popular secular holiday song. All I heard up and down Fifth Avenue over Thanksgiving was Mariah singing her signature Christmas offering. I have to say, it grew on me, especially when the Salvation Army bell-ringers danced to it. Too bad Mariah blew it at Rockefeller Center, but hey, there’s always next year. I saw Mariah step out of an elevator of a mid-town hotel a few years back, and she was a-ma-zing. You can get back there again, Mariah! Focus, girl!

When she brings it, she's the best. (image from imgarcade.com)

When she brings it, she’s the best. (image from imgarcade.com)

 

11. “River” written and sung by Joni Mitchell

Not your classic Christmas song, but this exquisite classic of the way love and loss inevitably imbue the holiday season is as good as it gets. Just like Joni.

A Joni classic. (image from onlinesheetmusic.com)

A Joni classic. (image from onlinesheetmusic.com)

10.  “Mary, Did You Know” sung by Mary J. Blige

This song would be higher on my list if I could find the right version. It is a gorgeous and mystical song but almost every rendition is overwrought and ruins the delicacy of the narrative. Mary J. Blige gives it a good shot. I also like Erin O’Donnell’s version. But I’m still looking for the perfect cover of this lovely song. Can you find it for me?

9. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” sung by Amy Grant, who also wrote the lyrics.

So beautiful and so moving. “Breath of Heaven, hold me together, Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven, Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy, Breath of Heaven…” 

"Breath of Heaven is on this album. Unfortunately, so is "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"...

“Breath of Heaven is on this album. Unfortunately, so is “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”…

8. I just can’t decide, so it’s a tie; the old and the new. Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song” and Sam Smith’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Both are timeless and spot on.

7. Celtic Harp Music from “Best of Celtic Christmas Music”. Sometimes you don’t need words.

6. “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” sung by Linda Rondstadt

More correctly entitled “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (A rose has sprung up) this 16th century hymn is one of my favorites, but it never seems to make the department store playlists. I would like to hear it more.

5. Do You Hear What I Hear? sung by Whitney Houston.

Again, the singer makes the song with this one, and the run-of-the-mill choral renditions just don’t quite work for me. Whitney’s version might be a bit too plodding, almost clipped in places, but so far it’s the best I’ve found because she glories in the high notes.

Sarah McLachlan's "Wintersong" is an enduring Christmas album favorite.

Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong” is an enduring Christmas album favorite.

4. Silent Night sung by Sarah McLachlan

One of my favorite moments of Christmas is when, at the end of a church service, candles are passed and communally lit, and “Silent Night” is sung in a round. Did you know that during the Christmas truce of 1914, the song was sung by troops simultaneously in English, French and German? I like Sarah McLachlan’s version of this and almost every other Christmas song she does because she knows not to overdo it – she lets the music shine.

3. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” performed by Grover Washington, Jr. on the album “Martha Stewart Living Music: Jazz for the Holidays”

J.S. Bach hit it out of the park with this one. One of the few songs of which we never tire, and just in case the classical treatments are wearing thin for you, Grover Washington’s jazz interpretation is smooth and lighthearted, perfect for Christmas dinner background music.

More annoying than ever: Is there anything she can't do?

More annoying than ever: Is there anything she can’t do?

 

2. “O Holy Night” sung by Susan Boyle

This is where I need help. This is one of the most moving songs of the entire Christmas canon. And yet, I cannot find a satisfying performance of it to add to my playlist. Yes, I know Celine Dion sings it. And Mariah. And even Faith Hill and Jewel.  I must be too picky, because none of them quite work for me. It has to be a female soprano for those soaring high notes. For now, I’m going with Susan Boyle’s clean and understated version.

 

1. “Ave Maria” sung by Maria Callas

This is the winner:  the most beautiful and heart-wrenching performance I have ever heard. Frustratingly, I cannot find it on iTunes – they only have the “Ave Maria” from the opera Otello, which is a different piece of music. If I could have one gift for Christmas, it would be this on my holiday playlist:

Hope your days are merry and bright and filled with great Christmas music!

 

*all songs except Callas’ “Ave Maria” can be found on iTunes

Posted in Holidays, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oh Puffer, How I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways…

One of my favorite writing quotes comes from the great Ernest Hemingway, who said “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

After spending a few frosty weeks on the East Coast, the truest sentence that comes to mind is “I love my puffer coat.” This may be a compelling indicator as to why I will never travel in Hemingway’s orbit, but I am suffering from jet lag and re-entry trauma, so it’s the best I can do.

We’ve all heard that the Eskimos have a hundred words for snow. I have two, and they address all forms of precipitation in New York: “Oh, #$&@!”

1930 etching titled "Stoops in the Snow, West 40's" by Martin Lewis (image from ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

1930 etching titled “Stoops in the Snow, West 40’s” by Martin Lewis (image from ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com)

 

If it is snowing, sleeting or raining in New York City – especially raining – you can’t get a cab. If it’s icy, you may not even make it down the stairs of your apartment building or the subway, at least not in the vertical position in which you began your journey. I can’t carry an umbrella due to my back problems, but if it is windy, which it seems always to be when something is coming down cats and dogs, your umbrella will only serve to embarrass you when it a) pokes someone in the eye or b) turns itself bum over teakettle and attempts an Icarian flight down the wind tunnel that is Broadway.

 

You can carry an umbrella in NYC - or maybe it will carry you. (image from kmuw.org)

You can carry an umbrella in NYC – or maybe it will carry you. (image from kmuw.org)

Enter the Puffer Coat. If your first visit to New York City happens to be between November and March (oh, horrors, sometimes April – and, dare I even say it: occasional moments in May) you may wonder at what appear to be legions of dark-coated Michelin Men trudging down the streets. They are The Pufferized and however unappealing they may appear on the outside, they are toasty, dry and possibly quite smug beneath their microfiber shrouds.

A Mackage sample sale in NYC: one way to get a good price on a puffer (image from ny.racked.com)

A Mackage sample sale in NYC: one way to get a good price on a puffer (image from ny.racked.com)

Reasons to love the puffer:

1) Warm! Dry!

2) Many of them (like mine) have a hood. Forget the adorable hat; the hood may impair your peripheral vision but it will protect you from the elements and those random umbrella spoke jabs.

3) You don’t have to wear cute shoes! Yes, a fur coat or for those immune to cold, a trench, might look snappier (always important to look good while you are perishing from hypothermia, right?) but what about the shoes? You must wear something that lives up to the coat and that usually means heels. In the winter. In New York City, where every time you step off a curb, it is into a puddle – or something worse. But if you’re wearing your puffer, anything goes – sneakers to Army boots.

My puffer is nothing special. Not cheap, not expensive. Just warm. I bought it from Garnet Hill where it retails at $238.00. You can go lower than that and keep plenty warm, and you can go much, much higher.

This is the Garnet Hill puffer I purchased.

This is the Garnet Hill puffer I purchased.

H&M makes a stylish down jacket that retails $129

hmprod

Uniqlo’s tallies up at $149.90 and I’m not really a fan of fake fur (if you hate fur, then does it really make sense to wear something that even approximates a dead animal?) but it looks more substantial than the H&M coat with the funnel neck and Uniqlo has a good track record of delivering well-insulated clothes at a great price.

Uniqlo's version of the puffer.

Uniqlo’s version of the puffer.

I’m not in the market for an expensive puffer, but I can dream, can’t I? And when I do, I head straight to the Gorsuch catalog. It is peopled by willowy Nordic types who appear to come from a planet completely alien to the one where my DNA was formed, but I still like looking at the clothes:

The coat is from frauenschuh. The model is from some other-worldly place I can never hope to visit.

The coat is from frauenschuh and costs $1,600. The model is from some other-worldly place I can never hope to visit.

Racks of Moncler coats tempt shoppers at Saks and Neiman Marcus. I don’t know if they keep you warmer than the bargain brands (I can’t even afford to try one on!) but there is a certain je nais se quois to their sleek, slick appearance.

This chevron-quilted jacket by Moncler retails for over $2,000 at Bergdorf Goodman. (mage from bergdorfgoodman.com)

This chevron-quilted jacket by Moncler retails for over $2,000 at Bergdorf Goodman. (mage from bergdorfgoodman.com)

 

Everyone and their brother/sister/niece and nephew is currently braving the city weather in a coat sporting a giant Canada Goose logo. I don’t see enough style to justify the price, and I’m not wild about being a billboard for someone’s merchandising efforts, but these must be wonderfully warm coats, because the people wearing them always seem to have a jaunty spring in their step.

The Canada Goose camp coat retails for $545.

The Canada Goose camp coat retails for $545.

The puffer seems to have sprung from the backcountry to city streets in a blink of a fashionable eye these past few years, but in truth, it was born back in 1936. It was the brainchild of the venerable Eddie Bauer, who invented it after a close call on a fishing trip. He almost froze to death after the temperature dropped precipitously and his soaked wool jacket turned to a block of ice.  Borrowing from the Russian military’s experiments with using down in coats (if Napoleon had thought of it first, they might be speaking French in Moscow today!) Bauer designed a coat with down insulation, quilting it to keep the feathers evenly distributed.

Eddie Bauer in 1924 (image from eddiebauer.de)

Eddie Bauer in 1924 (image from eddiebauer.de)

The "Skyliner", grandaddy of the puffer, was introduced in 1936. (image from eddiebauer.de)

The “Skyliner”, grandaddy of the puffer, was introduced in 1936. (image from eddiebauer.de)

Maybe you are clinging desperately to your wool coat because you fear taking on the dimensions of a fat baby seal in those horizontal quilt seams of a shiny puffer. Just remember that fashion pride will do you no good as you lie freezing to death in a snowbank. And, surprise, surprise: it is not true that all puffers make you look fat. Which brings me to the ultimate puffer caveat: try before you buy.

You really have to take your potential puffer for a test drive. Last season, I briefly flirted with the idea of frittering away a fortune on an expensive puffer until I tried it on. In the ads and on the rack, it looked like the ultimate winter jet-setter’s equipage. But as I stood before the mirror, all I saw was an old lady auditioning to be an extra in Doctor Zhivago. The je nais se quoi had gone all avoirdupois.

You really have to try a puffer coat on to make sure you don't look like this guy. (image from furnishedsouls.wordpress.com)

You really have to try a puffer coat on to make sure you don’t look like this guy. (image from furnishedsouls.wordpress.com)

When you’re shopping for your puffer (and if you are on the East Coast, you’ll be wanting to do it soon!)  consider length (longer is warmer, but also bulkier), belt or no belt, hood or no hood, and, of course, color. For me and, from the sea of ebon I see swarming the city on any given frigid day, it can be any color as long as it’s black, but there are those brave and genetically blessed souls who can carry off a white puffer without looking like Mr. Michelin. Every now and then I see someone wearing a brightly-hued puffer. Good for them, but it challenges my sense of winter dispiritedness and, frankly, hurts my eyes. I mean, who has room in their closet for two puffers when one of them is neon yellow?

The single most important feature of your future puffer, even more important than how slimming it may be, is the ZIPPER. I know this because I am the person getting the dirty looks in the crowded restaurant as I linger far too long at my table after the check has been paid, fighting with the recalcitrant zipper on my coat.

Zip it up: when purchasing a puffer, make sure the zipper is a good one.

Zip it up: when purchasing a puffer, make sure the zipper is a good one.

I’m back in balmy So Cal now, where coats of any kind are practically extinct given our prolonged drought. But my thoughts are with those brave folks back East as they huff and puffer their way through the oncoming winter. Be strong! Spring is just around some very distant corner…

Don't forget about the dog: Hugh Jackman's pup takes a New York City stroll in his doggie puffer. (image from dailymail.uk)

Don’t forget about the family dog: Hugh Jackman’s pup takes a New York City stroll in his doggie puffer. (image from dailymail.uk)

Posted in Fashion, New York city | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NYC Holiday: Giving Thanks and Making Spirits Bright

I keep trying to become a jaded New Yorker but it’s not working. Neither temps in the 20’s, nor rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a borderline sinus infection can keep me from celebrating a holiday visit to the city. Especially this holiday. Years ago we celebrated a few Thanksgivings at The New York Palace and this year we revived that tradition. Taylor, Daniel and Angie and family bunked there this weekend so we could re-create a midtown Thanksgiving dinner there after viewing the parade from our little spot at Columbus Circle. The absolute best of two worlds.

A favorite Macys parade balloon: Hello Kitty

A favorite Macys parade balloon: Hello Kitty

Daniel and Chris at the parade.

Daniel and Chris at the parade.

Taylor's signature selfie with SpongeBob. Twins separated at birth?

Taylor’s signature selfie with SpongeBob. Twins separated at birth?

Feeling the power: no wind for this year's parade so the balloons could fly high.

Feeling the power: no wind for this year’s parade so the balloons could fly high.

Our dear friends Teri and Billy joined us for Thanksgiving Day.

Our dear friends Teri and Billy joined us for Thanksgiving Day.

Bundled up: it was really cold this year!

Bundled up: it was really cold this year!

Tough Thomas: he was determined to see every minute of the parade, even though he was freezing!

Tough Thomas: he was determined to see every minute of the parade, even though he was freezing!

Those dogs bark! Thomas had to soak his feet to warm them up after the parade.

Those dogs bark! Thomas had to soak his feet to warm them up after the parade.

We all took a break after the parade and then reconvened for dinner at The Palace. It is looking very regal indeed after a recent renovation. Such a special way to celebrate Thanksgiving!

Bobby, Thomas and James getting cozy at The Palace

Bobby, Thomas and James getting cozy at The Palace

Turns out The Palace is dog-friendly, at least for royalty like Tiny.

Turns out The Palace is dog-friendly, at least for royalty like Tiny.

View from 46 stories up.

View from 46 stories up.

They sent an expert to carve our 24-lb turkey

They sent an expert to carve our 24-lb turkey

Let's eat!

Let’s eat!

My guys looking contented after Thanksgiving dinner.

My guys looking contented after Thanksgiving dinner.

You can't do this at a restaurant - loved our Thanksgiving at The Palace!

You can’t do this at a restaurant – loved our Thanksgiving at The Palace!

The CE and I headed back to Midtown for dinner with our boys last night and enjoyed looking at the Fifth Avenue decorations once the Black Friday crowds dispersed.

The Christmas tree at The New York Palace

The Christmas tree at The New York Palace

Where did Saks Fifth Avenue's snowflakes go? I miss them!

Where did Saks Fifth Avenue’s snowflakes go? I miss them!

Bottega Veneta's clever holiday window

Bottega Veneta’s clever holiday window

Harry Winston on Fifth Avenue

Harry Winston on Fifth Avenue

Tiffany wins this year for best lights!

Tiffany wins this year for best lights!

Bergdorf Goodman’s holiday windows are always a delight. This year’s theme is “Inspired” and dedicated to The Arts. We were truly awe-inspired when we saw the “Authors” window with needlepoint portraits of Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson and others.

Piece of cake: I loved this little window at Bergdorf's.

Piece of cake: I loved this little window at Bergdorf’s.

This window is dedicated to sculpture.

This window is dedicated to sculpture.

The "Authors" window at Bergdorf Goodman

The “Authors” window at Bergdorf Goodman

Close-up detail from the Authors window - it is hand-stitched needlepoint!

Close-up detail from the Authors window – it is hand-stitched needlepoint!

101 trombones? The music holiday window at Bergdorf's.

101 trombones? The music holiday window at Bergdorf’s.

Even 58th Street is beautifully lit up for the holidays.

Even 58th Street is beautifully lit up for the holidays.

It has been a most perfect Thanksgiving weekend. Well, except for missing those critters (and that reported 80-degree weather) back in California. Don’t get to feeling too sorry for them, though – looks like they are not suffering in the least:

Thank you Tammy, Tom and family for spoiling those dogs!

Thank you Tammy, Tom and family for spoiling those dogs!

 

Posted in Big Fun, Holidays, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Fowl Words.

Like anyone else who plays Words With Friends, I am continually composing words that should be words but turn out not to be. Therefore, I am always pretty excited to learn a new word to put into the rotation, and if it has to do with chickens, so much the better.

If chickens had little arms, their lives would be so much easier. But alas, they do not, which makes them that much more ridiculous and entertaining to watch. Lacking arms and the ever-so-handy bonus of opposable thumbs, chickens cannot make use of a dinner napkin, so are left to wipe their beaks after a messy meal. If you have no idea what I am talking about, you can see it at about :17 into this video:

So now I have learned that there is a word for chicken-beak-cleaning and that word is: feek. It sounds vaguely foul, I know, because it has slang references that depart from its true meaning, which is simply and decidedly fowl. I know this because I recently read the delightful The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl by Martin Windrow. The author spent fifteen happy years with his pet owl, Mumble, and memorialized the experience in this book, which has been effusively reviewed by both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Mumble the Tawny Owl was just a bit taller than a coffee mug. (Image from Daily Mail)

Mumble the Tawny Owl was just a bit taller than a coffee mug. (Image from Daily Mail)

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially after I endured a somewhat grotesque passage that described Mumble’s primitive eating habits and found the following sentence: “When she had finished eating she usually “feeked” – stropped both sides of her beak against a perch, presumably to clean it…”

 

That is exactly what chickens do! They feek! The word is obscure enough that my autocorrect goes into hyperdrive every time I type it. As long as @mamabelle and @highway150 don’t read this, I might finally win a game of Words With Friends with my newfound knowledge…

 

Good things come in pairs, and right on the heels of being feeked out, I finally, after three years of gross mispronunciation, learned how Pippa’s breed is pronounced. For such a little hen, she has a rather big title: Belgian Bearded Mille Fleur d’Uccle Bantam.

Pippa is a little girl with a big name.

Pippa is a little girl with a big name.

I have made several queries as to the pronunciation of d’Uccle and have gotten just as many variations as an answer. One chicken keeper was absolutely insistent that it is pronounced in a manner that rhymes with “buckle”.

Nope. Not so. Because I ran across an article in The Wall Street Journal’s Mansion section all about Pippa’s home town of Uccle. It turns out to be a tony enclave of Brussels, where real estate values are flying high. Pippa and I might not be able to afford a coop there, but at least I can now pronounce the name correctly: according to WSJ, Uccle is pronounced ook-la. (I’d love to dazzle someone with that word on WWF, but proper names are regrettably vetoed.)

Lastly, since you’ve been so kind as to sit through the grammar lesson, here is a photo for anyone who thinks I’m too dedicated to my pets:

This is for real - a pet duck who rides around town in a baby stroller (edhat image)

This is for real – a pet duck who rides around town in a baby stroller (edhat image)

His name is Pomi Duck, and, of course, he has his own Facebook page. No word on whether he plays Words With Friends but I’m willing to bet he feeks after he eats.

Happy weekend!

Posted in Absurdity, All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Day Chloe Ate A Chicken Carcass.

Firstly: no, it wasn’t one our our chickens. Second, as you may have guessed, I’ve waited all week to use that headline.

Wait. Someone out there eats chickens? Chickens as in me????

Wait. Someone out there eats chickens? Chickens as in me????

No, it wasn’t Lola or Ginger or Summer or Pippa or Luna. It was some distant cousin of theirs, thrice-removed and ill-fated to play out its destiny as a shrink-wrapped rotisserie chicken from Von’s. After it spent a few lonely and neglected days in our refrigerator, the CE carefully picked the meat from the bones for the dogs’ dinners and discarded the carcass. In the wastebasket. Where Chloe found it.

Now I suppose it’s possible that when Chloe discovered it she spirited it off somewhere via UPS. We will never know, because neither the chicken nor its ghost has been seen. Not so much as a shred of meat; not the tiniest splinter of bone. All we know for certain is that the CE found the trash tipped over in the kitchen and a very contented Chloe posed nonchalantly nearby. Circumstantial evidence, at best.

Pleading the Fifth.

She’s pleading the Fifth, but that’s a guilty look if I ever saw one.

I have two facts at my disposal: first, there are 120 bones in the body of a chicken. Second, you should never, ever feed chicken bones to a dog.

Oddly, perhaps, I flashed upon a memory of the time Daniel, at age two or thereabouts, was discovered having climbed an impressive height to pluck from a shelf and guzzle a decorative container filled with liquid air freshener.

As you can see, Daniel survived the air freshener episode.

Circa 1993: as you can see, Daniel survived the air freshener episode.

It turned out that the air freshener mercifully, was non-toxic. Other than the fact that Daniel slept a record ten hours that night and had marvelous-smelling breath, there were no other effects. He has probably drunk far more toxic potions since then…

He grew up big and air-freshener strong.

He grew up big and air-freshener strong.

But at the time, I was cold-sweat frantic. Now, no one loves Chloe more than Daniel does (unless it’s his brother, Taylor), so he would not be offended to learn that my reaction to the chicken carcass consumption was not too far off from my reaction to the air-freshener incident. We have to get her to the vet, IMMEDIATELY!

I expected there would be x-rays. $$  Scans. $$$ Maybe a stomach pumping? $$$$$

What I did not expect was the report from the CE that the vet yawned. Now I know that someone out there has a tragic story to tell about their dog and a chicken bone. And our vet is a responsible guy and I’m sure there are conditions under which he would NOT yawn when chicken bones are involved. But in this particular case, he was said to yawn and offer up the rather sensible suggestion that dogs are carnivores and that when dogs travel in packs (rather than live as pampered surrogate children to oldsters whose real kids have flown the coop) they do not have a butler to remove the bones from the chickens they eat.

Chloe ate a chicken carcass and couldn’t be happier.  We are three days out and she hasn’t so much as burped.

Could we stop talking about it and just throw the ball for me now?

Could we stop talking about it and just throw the ball for me now?

The chickens, however, are horrified.

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT CHICKENS BEING EATEN?????

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT CHICKENS BEING EATEN?????

Posted in Absurdity, All Things Family, All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Listen Up, Y’all: Patty Griffin

Since most of the musicians I listen to are centuries dead (classical), gone kaput (very ironic, Civil Wars),  deeply reclusive – where are you, Joni? - or really too old to be strutting around on a stage (this might mean you, Mick Jagger…) I was pretty excited to learn that Patty Griffin was coming to town. I don’t remember where, when or how I found her, but hers are among the few songs on my iPod playlist that never get skipped.

Singer/songwriter Patty Griffin

Singer/songwriter Patty Griffin (image from eastvalleytribune.com)

In the week before the concert, I told five different people I was going to see Patty Griffin and every single one of them responded “Who?” One of them is my dear husband, who, bless his heart, is a perennial good sport about being dragged to see my latest musical crush. “Sure, I’ll go”, he says, bravely, knowing there’s a chance he will be a lonely guy in an audience of sensitive and soulfully-inclined women, as he was when we saw Sarah McLachlan recently at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Judging from the crowd at UCSB’s Campbell Hall last weekend, Patty Griffin’s demographic is 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. While we were on the far end of the age distribution (that’s a given these days…) the CE was, thankfully, far from the only husband dragged out on a Sunday night to see a performer he’d never heard of.

How is it so many of you have never heard of the great Patty Griffin?

Lord knows, I  can’t fix immigration or the mess in the Middle East, but I am here to right the great wrong that is the criminal obscurity of Patty Griffin. She is a sweet and spunky little life force, blessed with a silvery voice imbued with just the right touch of rasp that tells you she knows what it’s like to be tossed around a bit by the storms of life. If you doubt it, just take a close look at her lyrics:

“Headlights searching down the driveway
Our house as dark as it can be
I go inside and all is silent
It seems as empty as the inside of me

I’ve had some time to think about it
And watch the sun sink like a stone
I’ve had some time to think about you
On the long, on the long
Oh the long, on the long
On the long ride home”

She’s good enough that I’m having a hard time picking just one of her songs to recommend. There are my personal favorites, “Top of the World” and “Peter Pan” but they may be just a tinge too wrist-slitting for the rest of you (by the way, researchers just found that listening to sad music actually improves your sense of well-being). So I’ll give you the top track of hers on YouTube, the hauntingly lovely “Rain”:

 

 

Or how about the relationally instructive “Let Him Fly”:

I tried to describe her to the CE as “a little bit Bonnie Raitt, a little bit Emmylou”.  Turns out she and Emmy Lou are friends, have toured together and teamed up to record the country ballad “Little Fire” Pandora Radio suggests that if you like Cheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin, Dar or Lucinda Williams or Beth Orton, you will also be a Patty Griffin fan. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think Patty is at the top of that heap.

And I’ll admit it, I was pouting a bit over the fact that none of my friends seemed to share in my love for Patty Griffin or even heard of her. But then I ran into someone a few days after the concert and mentioned it in passing. “You saw Patty Griffin?! Wow!”, he enthused. Turns out at least one person I know is a big fan. His first question: “Did she play “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida”? Yup, she did, and it was great:

Patty Griffin is sufficiently eclectic to defy an easy label, although after the concert the CE summed her up as having “an Austin sound”, and, indeed, Austin is where she lives and records. But I think her talent is too big for just one genre so you could say folk or you could say rockabilly or you could even call her a gospel singer or a balladeer and you would be right on all counts. I’m going to borrow from some of Joni’s lyrics to describe her:

“I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
I’m a broadcasting tower
Waving for you
And I’m sending you out
This signal here
I hope you can pick it up
Loud and clear”

(npr image)

(npr image)

However you decide to describe her,  I just hope you’ll listen to her. Turn it up loud. She’ll break your heart and make your day.

Posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments