1920's Halloween PostcardA Connecticut lawmaker wants to move the day Halloween is observed, so it always falls on a Saturday:  http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Lawmaker-Wants-to-Move-Halloween-to-a-Saturday-132466008.html

I feel compelled to speak up for my Wiccan friends.  OK, I don’t have any Wiccan friends, but Halloween used to be a religious holiday–Samhain, in the old Celtic religion.  Its original name in Christianity was All Hallows Eve, when evil spirits roamed about before being vanquished on All Saints Day.

Now it’s mostly the occasion for parties on or around the day, and closely controlled trick-or-treating.  It’s a time for innocent (or not so innocent) fun.  Still, Halloween should not  become the only weekend-mandated holiday.  That establishes a really bad precedent.  Do you want St. Patrick’s Day to become a Saturday-only holiday?  How about the Fourth of July?

Stand up, citizens of Connecticut, and quash this idea before it spreads!  And a Happy Halloween to all!

Just to celebrate, here’s one of my favorite Halloween movie clips:  “Most Horrible” from Meet Me in St. Louis.  Enjoy!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3NFOMHDFzg






High-Hat and Other Expressions

My family has been in Tennessee since shortly after the Revolutionary War, when one of the Bowers ancestors got a land grant.  That branch of the family came from England long before that.  Sometimes I have wondered if some of the characteristic expressions that Mother, Daddy and various of my aunts and uncles used go back that far.

Most of them were vivid, descriptive and not anything my friends from other places (like Pennsylvania, for example) had ever heard.  Mother used to complain that someone “high-hatted” her, which meant to act in a snobbish or condescending fashion, i.e., this person thought she was better than Mother.  There was no greater offense to Mother than to be looked down upon!  It looks like the term is derived from a “high hat” like a beaver or a topper which a snobbish person might wear.

Another one was to “be on your high horse.”  This means “to be disdainful or conceited,”  according to the American Heritage Dictionary.  Used in a sentence:  “Don’t you get on your high horse with me, young lady” (usually addressed to me).  This expression goes back to late Middle English, according to the online dictionary!  1375 – 1425, to be precise.  Who’d a thought?

My favorite, however, is “poor dog wouldn’t wag his own tail.”    This one is complicated.  It means, someone who is boastful or bragging, or it can mean someone who is too proud to speak of their own accomplishments.  The irony and understatement make me laugh.  When I looked it up, there’s another expression I had never heard:  “It’s a sorry dog that won’t wag his own tail.”  Apparently this one is from Georgia, and means self-promotion is ok.  The quote was from a judge in Atlanta.

Finally, the best one from Uncle Floyd, who was a font of old sayings:  “Drunker than Cootie’s goose.”  “Drunk” means dizzy or giddy in this old saying.  But who on earth was Cootie, and why did he have a goose?  This may be derived from “Drunker than Cooter Brown,” who apparently decided to stay drunk for the duration of the Civil War (not a bad strategy in my opinion). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooter_Brown

Anybody else have a strange or funny saying from your family?

It’s Not OK to Be Old

Lately I’ve been observing the TV commercials that are running now for enrollment in Medicare Advantage Plans, as well as various pharmaceutical ads than run around the nightly network news (only watched by dinosaurs, presumably).  I’ve only seen a few brave advertisers who dare to show real people in their late 60’s or 70’s.  Most of them are like that United Healthcare commercial, where the handsome white-haired guy teaches his granddaughter how to play “Born to Be Wild.”  “You’re more rock and roll than rocking chair,” it says.

I have some respect for this viewpoint, since aging has changed enormously with the advent of the baby boomers.  However, I’m really tired of the premise that aging is just another phase of life, and you’ll be hot/handsome/Viagra loaded until the day you die.

Let’s face it, aging stinks.  Even the relatively minor problems I’ve faced so far remind me that I’d rather be 30 than 50.  But, you know what?  We don’t have a choice.  We either get older or we die.  I’ve never been one to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.  I intend to die old, beating young’uns with my cane if they offend me.

What bothers me is this pretense that we can stave it off with facelifts, healthy living, etc.  Granted, healthy living can make a huge difference.  But it can’t turn back the clock.  It just keeps ticking, no matter what we do.  I read an article in More magazine about women being shocked that they couldn’t get pregnant after age 40.  Hello?  Any legitimate fertility website will tell you the truth about that.  And no credit to Hollywood stars who lie about how they had their babies.  JLo, I’m talking to you.

Forgive the rant, please, gentle readers.  I just wish we could all age gracefully, be accepted as valuable and cherished members of society, make a living wage, and enjoy the life we have, while we have it.  That’s all.  Peace out.

Small Comforts, Part 2

Agatha Christie Plaque at Torre Abbey
Lately I’ve been burying myself in murder mysteries, and I’ve started to wonder why they are so appealing.  I don’t like police procedurals unless they are set in a place I find interesting, like Ian Rankin’s novels in Edinburgh, or some of the older P.D. James’ novels (although hers are much more than police procedurals).  I couldn’t put down the Stieg Larsson trilogy (“The Girl Who”) but have to admit I found it violent and overtly political.  I liked it at the time but won’t read it again.

I like a good “cozy,” but it needs to be either one of the British classics (Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, the immortal Dorothy Sayers), Rex Stout or a well-plotted and character-driven recent addition.  I’m especially fond of Donna Leon’s series set in Venice, and the attention her Guido Brunetti pays to meals and to his former-radical wife.  There are a lot of bad mystery novels out there–anything involving a recipe, a quaint/creepy nonexistent village or someone with a peculiar name is instantly suspect to me.

The big question is, why are mystery novels a satisfying small comfort?  What do they do that romance novels, for example, do not?  What need do they fill?  I think mystery novels work for those of us who love them because they create a small world, people it with characters you can believe in,  ask a question (who killed Roger Ackroyd?) and answer it in a logical and emotionally satisfying way.  In most cases, the guilty are punished and the innocent released.

Some mystery novelists are able to make readers comfortable even when good does not prevail.  Donna Leon’s novels have an extra twist; sometimes the evil are not punished due to the depravities of the Italian government and its corruption.  The “Aurelio Zen” novels feature this as well.

Why is mystery more rewarding than romance?  I’m not sure if it’s because some of us need logic, and others just don’t believe in Prince Charming any more.  Maybe it’s just the pleasure of being lost in a complete, well-formed world with characters you care about, and mortal results.  Maybe it’s that these books have order, in a world of disorder.  What do you think?

Faster Than Sound: The Concorde

Photo by Henry Salome
A few months ago I made a list of things I’ve done that I never thought I would do.  No, I haven’t robbed a bank or sailed solo around the world.  Some of them were things I never wanted to do, however, like choosing the flowers for my boyfriend’s coffin.  Others were adventures that never crossed my mind as a child in Tennessee, like going to Australia and New Zealand.  My dreams were pretty small, really.  One big adventure (among many) that I was pushed into by that same boyfriend was flying in a Concorde.

I had gotten sick when traveling in Guatemala and Jamaica on business, and was ill for several weeks after I got home.  Somehow this translated into panic and a fear of flying, which I’d never suffered from before.  Ron was panic-stricken at the thought that I didn’t want to travel.  Travel was life’s blood to him.  He was happiest when setting off to somewhere he hadn’t been before, preferably with a luxury hotel in an exotic setting at the other end, or at least Paris, his favorite city.  He often traveled without me on business, but was insistent that I come along as often as time permitted and I could afford it.

He had a trip coming up to France to visit a client and discovered that Air France was running a special:  buy a round trip business class ticket, and the New York-to-Paris leg was on the Concorde.  “You have to do this,” he said.  “We may never get this chance again.  And the client will pay!”  I was scared, but I agreed.

The plane was actually kind of claustrophobic.  It was narrow and the ceiling was low.  I took deep breaths and drank some wine.  Then the plane took off, and I felt–nothing.  You literally could not feel the acceleration.  After that, it was like being in a very luxurious subway car, only much smoother.  Then after a while I noticed the speed indicator; we were approaching Mach 2.  And I looked out the window.  I could see the curve of the Earth.  Wow!

I still felt a bit scared and shaky, but after that flight I didn’t panic again.  It really was magical.  The Concorde made absolutely no economic sense for the airlines, and I understand why the supersonic plane no longer flies.  But it’s a little bit of magic that’s gone from the world.

Remembering Steve Jobs

Photo by Matt Buchanan, Steve Jobs, Jan. 2010
The outpouring of emotion, eulogy and analysis sparked by Steve Jobs’ death has  been overwhelming.  Like much of the world, I found out he had died on one of his devices (an iPod Touch).  I’ve been reflecting since on why his insight into what people needed was so profound, especially since he despised consumer research and relied on his intuition.

Why are these products so appealing?  It’s not just that everyone wants the latest toy, although that is part of it.  To me, it’s that each machine lets you do things you didn’t even know you wanted to do.  The Touch lets me play music, check emails, play games, keep my contact list, look at videos, carry photos around with me, chat with friends–in a small package that fits in my pocket or purse.  With an iPhone I could take photos and call people as well.  And do a million other things it never occurred to me were fun to do.

Ten years ago those possibilities did not exist.  But other devices have come along.  Why are Apple products the ones people want?  I think it’s because they are stylish, sleek, simple and cool.  And also because they were FIRST, in perception if not in fact.

Will Apple go forward without its guru?  It’s hard to imagine, but life, and companies, do go on.  No one else will have the passion, taste and inability to suffer fools that Steve Jobs did, the intolerance for anything but the best.  May he rest in peace.  May he inspire some other brilliant perfectionist to create the next best thing.


Recipe: Mother’s Cornbread

My  mother’s favorite cornbread recipe was not the traditional one she grew up with.  That one used only cornmeal, probably like a johnny cake, with bacon grease, salt and boiling water.  It was the cheapest type of food.  Mama, Mother’s mother, would make this kind of cornbread to feed the hounds when there weren’t enough table scraps.  When times were better the recipe incorporated an egg.  Here is a recipe for that type, credited to Alison Krauss, from the Martha White website: http://marthawhite.com/Recipes/Detail.aspx?recipeID=2564&mealtype=26

What follows is the recipe written in Mother’s handwriting, labeled “one I use.”  It’s my favorite too, if not for purists, or for us lazy slobs who use cornbread mix (Martha White might quarrel with me there).

Mother’s Cornbread

1 cup sifted flour

1 cup cornmeal (yellow preferred, but white is ok)

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (your preference)

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs well beaten

1 cup milk

1/4 cup corn oil (or canola would work)

Sift dry ingredients together.  Add egg, milk and corn oil.  Bake in an iron skillet in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

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