Friday, October 31, 2008

My First (and Only) Halloween Memory

My family almost never celebrated Halloween.

But one time, when we were very, very small--and because my sister and I were the only ones old enough to understand what it was all about--the two of us got to celebrate Halloween. My dad bought us matching Wonder Woman costumes that we wore for months afterwards--we both were crazy about Lynda Carter and spinning until we were dizzy, imagining that we too could have magical powers. I remember squinting through the small eyeholes of the pressed paper mask, struggling with the elastic that went around my head. The painted black hair on the mask, which fanned out from our painted faces, wasn't enough to satisfy my sister and me, who both sported short, easy-to-wash haircuts. So we snatched up some old towels, tied them on with headbands, and preened with our long "hair" draping over our shoulders.

The costumes themselves were basically big plastic bags with arm and legholes, and painted to look like Wonder Woman's bustier and star-spangled underpants. We struggled into them, uncomfortable and probably a little sweaty. But we thought we looked fabulous. There's a picture somewhere in an old photo album of us in our towels and plastic costumes and paper masks, vamping for the camera.

Then, we stood in our tiny hallway, just the two of us, with all the doors closed around us, bags in our hand. I remember feeling inexplicably scared and timid. The light seemed too bright, the house too eerily quiet. Then we knocked on the door to our living room. "Trick or treat!" My dad opened the door and smiling dropped some candy in our bag. Next, to the kitchen, where Aunt Dot stood waiting with more treats. I don't remember, but I'm sure my uncle and my mom were behind the other doors too.

Looking back, it was such a strange and oddly sweet thing for my dad to do. I wish I could remember why he did it, if we'd been talking to him especially about Halloween or he had just caught us wistfully looking at costumes or if it was just a crazy idea he thought up, a fun thing for his girls to do.

We never did it again. But as my only Halloween memory, it was, and is, absolutely perfect.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What Do You Want To Do?

When I was little, figuring out what I wanted to do was so easy. At first, I wanted to be a dentist, until my dad mentioned that I'd have my hands in people's mouths all day (My reaction?Eeeewwww! I was about 5 at the time.) Then I wanted to be a country music singer, and belted out some pretty good tunes in the living room, at the dining room table, in the bathtub, in the backyard..... But when I first figured out that I could get a pencil and fill up a notebook with stories--real stories like they had in books--that is all I really wanted to do. 

Then came the roadblocks. I was painfully shy (and often still am) and just getting up the nerve to let anyone even read my stories was tough. But our school did have a newspaper for a semester or two (we were tiiiny), and I can't even remember what I wrote, but I do remember the thrill of seeing my name in print, officially. In college, I was sure that I wanted to write novels and poetry and draw too, but before he died, my dad really drummed into me that I needed to really do something practical. I remember sitting in the hospital room with him before his final round of chemo, and us talking about my future. I wanted to write; and he was supportive of my choice (being so shy, I seldom offered any) but gently told me to think about money too.

For a while, it was easy not to think about the money and just get lost in the dreams. I was a journalism major as a backup, but I knew that after college I was going to go to New York and be a writer. So naive! Until my sister started asking where I would live and how I would support myself and how I'd even eat, moving to New York with no job and just a few hundred dollars in the bank.

So I came home. I feel like my career so far really has been serendipitious...I got my start working in magazines, then got an interest in PR and now marketing. But I started thinking too much about the money and not enough about what I really love. So now I'm full circle again, dreaming dreams that I haven't thought about in a while.

Will I make the right choice? I don't know...heaven knows I've made plenty of bad ones already. But one thing I've always said and always believed in is that certain things aren't worth it unless they make you happy. Even if they ensure you're in a certain tax bracket and can take vacations to places you've always wanted to go. Day-to-day happiness, that's what I'm wishing for. We'll see what happens next. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Room With a View

People always seem to be a little surprised when I tell them I also do a little painting. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I'm playing the role of an artist, mainly because I don't do it very often, and "almost being an art major" isn't much of a background.

But it's something I enjoy when inspiration hits, as it did when my sister asked me to paint a mural for her nursery. It actually became a family project, with me as lead painter and my brothers, sister and husband all helping. "I painted that hill," my brother Piers still points out proudly. "That's my picket fence," says Sean.

I also did a portrait of their dog, Bonnie, on the opposite wall. I think my best review came from Bonnie herself...after I had finished, I called her in to take a look, and she barked at herself there on the wall.

Most recently, for my new niece, my sister asked me to paint something to go over her crib. We chose bluebirds; my sister, who has the best handwriting in the family, would later add her daughter's name in gold ink.

Such a fun project!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some recent changes in Italian law make me sad (both courtesy of CNN):

"We found St. Mark's Square a bit lonesome since officials passed an ordinance in April banning tourists and locals from feeding the pigeons that used to flock to the piazza by the thousands. (The birds' filth was blamed for damaging the city's facades and monuments.) Still, no visit to Venice is complete without a stop here."

Right on the heels of this, in July:

"Cappuccino by the Trevi Fountain? Gelato on the Spanish Steps? Such small delights have run afoul of the guardians of Rome.

A ban on snacking is in effect at some of Rome's famous sites, including the Spanish Steps.

City Hall has banned snacking near its famous monuments in the historical center. Violators face an $80 fine."

Some of our best memories during our March visit to Italy were seeing the pigeons in San Marco in Venice. Vendors would sell little bags of bird seeds, and the greedy birds flocked to anyone foolish enough to buy them. Walking was nearly impossible as the fat, complacent things blocked our steps (Sean even kicked one by accident). My favorite memory was shooting a picture of Japanese photographers shooting male Italian fashion models in expensive suits with pigeons flying around them.

And my visit to Rome would not have been complete without a visit to the Spanish steps to eat a gelato, a la Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." 

We took a quick subway ride over and found the closest gelateria to place our order. We'd ordered a one-scoop gelato in Venice for about 2 Euros, so felt like pros and didn't even ask the price as we ordered two scoops. We were presented with two scoops of hazelnut and chocolate, all fancied up with "razzle dazzle": streamers, cookies and fancy twizzlers. The price? 20 Euros (about $30 American dollars at the time). Needless to say, we gulped, paid up for the melting ice cream and enjoyed every single bit of that gelato. I still say it was the best ice cream I had in Italy. Sean says it better have been. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

What I Believe

This time of year, many people are talking about the election. There's a lot of passion for both sides, as well as a lot of anger and just plain spitefulness. People want to know who you're voting for, and so many times, it seems as though if you don't agree with someone's particular side, you become evil, or just stupid. 

Our ninth grade teacher gave us a test once that was supposed to tell you whether you were conservative or liberal based on your answers to 10 or so issues. I was the only person in the class who fell squarely in the middle, and on neither side (or perhaps all sides).

I don't enjoy talking about politics because I don't like opening up the anger that sometimes comes when someone finds out you're not voting in the same crowd as they are. And I know I'm probably not the most well-informed person out there. I certainly don't read as much news as I should or necessarily keep up with who's serving in what office. But for all those who are curious, this is what I believe.

I believe in giving people the power to make their own choices. That includes health care. I've worked at a hospital--I know how awful it can be when someone doesn't have health insurance and how screwed up our current insurance system is. But stories from countries that have a national health care plan scare me. I don't want to have to wait months for an appointment or not be able to choose the doctor I want to see. 

My own family will probably not like hearing this, but I do believe in having abortion available as an option. Don't misunderstand--morally, I do not agree with abortion, but if I were raped or if my life were in danger, I can't say that my husband and I would not want to be able to make that choice. Even knowing that we would be doing something wrong. 

I believe in any policies that support families. I believe that many things wrong with our society today can be linked directly to the fact that even in the nicest homes on the block, children don't have parents who parent, love and support them. I think schools would be safer, crime rates would be reduced, fewer families would be on welfare, teen pregnancies would drop--and I don't know what else. I'm not making a blanket, rose-colored glasses statement that everything would be fine and dandy, but I think the world as whole would be a better place if families were more involved with one another and really striving to raise a next generation to be even better than the one before.

I believe in doing everything we can to help the environment. That means supporting local farmers, tax rebates for buying fuel-efficient cars and building "green" homes, encouraging recycling, and so much more. There's so much waste and just one little planet to live on. I believe in reducing our dependence on foreign oil--and domestic oil too. I'd rather we look into alternative fuels that are kinder to the environment.

At heart, I am a pacifist. I hate fighting at any level. I don't even like getting into an argument around the dinner table. But I have to believe that as a country we have to stand up for ourselves. I'm not saying we don't try to talk things over. But you also have to understand that you can't reason with people who would happily kill themselves in order to harm you. I would never want to see someone I loved have to go out and fight and potentially die for my country. But I believe there is a greater good that is worth fighting for.

I believe in taking responsibility. It's not the government's responsibility, not the school's responsibility, not the bank's responsibility. Ultimately, we all have to try to be as educated as we can to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families. So let's save and invest our own money as wisely as we can, let's teach our kids kindness and compassion, and let's live as honorably as we can. 

I don't believe any one person can solve all of our country's problems. I believe we're all human and we all make mistakes. I think, I hope, we're all just doing the best we can. And I'm voting for the person whom I think will do his best and who, I hope, will do the right things, at least the way I see them. I hope we all will vote that way. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lunch with the Chef

With all the excitement of last week's fire, our excellent dinner at Pastel, crafted by Chef Philippe Chin, was overlooked. The best thing about his menu is that it was short--to me a prix fixe menu is the best because you don't have to decide between 20 things that sound great--and everything that he cooks is always so good. I fell in love with his Japanese crab salad (served so beautifully on a rounded, rectangular crackly turquoise plate with a thick black and gilt rim) and sweet strawberries swimming in a vanilla cream sauce for dessert.

So what a treat it was when we sat down to lunch at Manuel's Bread Cafe in North Augusta to have Chef Chin and one of his friends join us at the next table. Sporting black rubber clogs with white polka dots and pink, blue and yellow rimmed glasses, he looked completely cool, and still so French.

Some choice tidbits from our conversation:
Pate: "You like pate? Next time I make it, I'll call you!" Love him!

On making pate: "The best place to buy chicken livers is Gurleys on Walton Way." (Note: We actually recently purchased some chicken liver at Publix--where they were nice enough to split a package for us--and it was sooo good. I fell in love with Florentine crostini when we were in Italy, and we recreated it--basically a loose pate served on crusty bread.)

On trying something different: We were talking about Asian grocery stores and he mentioned a kind of egg that has a small chicklet inside instead of a yolk. According to Chef Chin, it's delicious and tastes like chicken and scrambled egg when you cook it. His friend said, "I think I'd rather eat chicken and scrambled egg."

On Japanese mayo (which he mixed with his crab salad and swears is the best): "Next time your mama goes to the Asian store, tell her to buy this for you. It's in a bottle that's shaped like a baby bottle."

On our interest in looking at open houses in Hammond's Ferry: "You don't want to buy one of these. You're not yuppie enough!" I like that he considers us cool and not straights!

As we left, he was talking about ideas for his new ventures (all I will reveal is the words dim sum--I hope he really does this!) and still enjoying the beautiful breezy day, sitting there sipping his white wine, glasses perched on his nose and hair rakishly combed back. Can you tell I'm a fan?