Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Postcards from a Jazz Age Lawn Party

Economic woes, hurricanes, blackouts, environmental destruction. I can't take it! Let's escape to the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on New York City's Governors Island.

Strike up the band: Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra. If you like 1920s and 30s music, check out WFUV's The Big Broadcast Sundays from 8 to midnight. You can listen to two week's worth of archives for one of my favorite words: free.

Cut up the rug like it's 1921.

Check out classic cars. Wonder if any cars today will be considered a classic in the future. I know mine won't be.

So dapper. I love the parasol the lady is holding - after all, what did they do before sunscreen? Pale me often carries an umbrella when sightseeing, but a parasol - that's got pizazz!

They did have food for sale for $10: Jack Daniels BBQ beef, chicken salad with cranberries, and for vegetarians like me, a black bean burger with cilantro and feta cheese. Smaller hot dog plates for $6 were available too, including a tofu dog.

Steve and I packed a picnic: peanut butter and jelly, cheddar cheese and cherry tomatoes, limeade and peaches.

Well we weren't that frugal: my St. Germain elderflower liqueur in champagne with a lemon twist (so good!) and my heart's desire's Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale beer, $5 each. We had a vanilla ice cream cone too. I love the comfort of vanilla.

The one word I think of when pondering the clothes, music and fashion of the 1920s era: style.

I love men's hats. Darn that JKF for not wearing one to his inauguration and killing sales!

Since I was practicing being "in the moment" taking less photos, are were some snapshots from last year's party.

Women's hats from Odd Twin. I cherish my small vintage hat collection, which I've acquired at thrift shops.

She looks like she just stepped out of her time machine!

Zelda, "The Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau." A recent cover girl (not here) was Ginger Rogers, who said she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.

Admire the style of the bathing beauties, including the stylish lady on the right. Reflect on how sultry a bit of modesty can be.

On my bucket list: take part in a vintage photo shoot. One day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feeling Pangs of Nostalgia for...

The United States Postal Service? Yes. A mailbox in New Jersey which didn't have enough senders. Its pick up time labels have been removed.

Some 3,600 may be shuttered under a plan by the Postal Service. To humanize these closings, The New York Times profiled one:

"Residents are already worried that their community...will lose more than just a place to buy stamps.

Manufacturing and mill jobs have left North Hoosick, as they have much of upstate New York. Just past the post office, tall grass climbs the sides of the old Methodist church, which is empty and up for sale. Along the hamlet's two main roads, a fire station, a used-car lot and an auto repair shop remain, but the number of gathering places has dwindled.

Yet neighbors still find one another: over pie and hamburger noodle soup at Jean's Place; under the night sky at Hathaway's, one of a few drive-in theaters left in the area — and at the post office."
Postal clerk Ken Stevens remarked:

"I probably feel like most people: it's a part of Americana going by the wayside."

The alternative would be the Hoosick Falls post office three miles away. "But for many of the elderly residents who rent boxes, the distance is daunting, especially during the winter. For others, the neighboring communities, though similarly rural to an outsider's eye, are simply not interchangeable."

While I think online bill paying is good for paper reduction and that we should have a "Do Not Mail" law for junk mail similar to the opt-out option for telemarketing calls (forests shouldn't be chopped down for what's going straight into the landfill), I'm saddened so many jobs will be lost, and I agree with Ken. It feels like this is just one more slap in the face to a sense of community. Everything seems to be about the almighty dollar.

I love how letters documents our lives, and encourage writing them. I also drop thrifted Christmas cards in the mail, and love receiving them.

Photograph albums and actual photos.

I've been looking through old family photo albums of my youth and miss actual photographs, which I don't seem to print. Don't get me wrong: I love my digital camera. But I consider often that since I have the ability to take so many photographs, am I missing being in the moment trying to get the perfect shots on the boat ride on the Seine in Paris or my vegetarian paella in Spain? On vacation, many a time I've witnessed people going up to a painting in a museum, taking a photo, and walking away without even looking at it. A coworker said trying to approach the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris was like horrible because it was like the paparazzi trying to photograph it. I've come to appreciate "no photo" policies in museums, and I'm trying to take a few less photos to gain a few more moments in the present.

Cup of coffee outings with friends, and interactions that focus on "quality." I never understand the idea of "social networking" as it applies to friendship. "Networking" to me implies trying to gain something for oneself. True friends don't come in the "hundreds" count. I have a few good ones I can count on for good conversation, understanding, laughter, and companionship, and I cherish them. I'm so grateful they are in my life and that they include me in their own. There was a radio ad in which a young girl tries to get her father to go to a store to buy all these electronics and at the end he asks her among other things if she even knows her hundreds of friends on Facebook and she says, "Oh Dad, you're so 20th century." We'll I'm proudly so 20th century.

That said, I miss the days when people had time to get breakfast at a diner on a Saturday or go out to Friendly's for ice cream and coffee. Everyone seems too busy running errands.

I talked recently about marketers getting to our girls younger and younger, and about the anti-social behavior of people with handheld devices, and please don't feel that this was about judging people. This was about a true sadness about innocence lost. When I was at Friendly's with my mom, who always has time for me, three girls, about 13 I guess, were glossy eyed pulling out their gadgets constantly and putting down their spoons in between ice cream bites to text. There's no living in the moment, savoring that ice cream and the company with you (not on the receiving end of that text). No text so important worth sending while savoring this strawberry Happy Ending at Friendly's. In fact, I don't send text messages at all.

And speaking of youth, feeling nostalgic for the great American family sitcom, which seemed abundant before networks decided it was cheaper to put reality television on air and audiences willing to watch it.

I adore the sitcom The Wonder Years, a show that ran in 1988-1993 chronicling young Kevin Arnold's life growing up in suburbia in 1968-1973. Don Henley sings in the The End of the Innocence, "Somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us." I think the heart often longs for those simpler times and sense of community.

Remembering Kevin's words in the final episode,

"We were family, for better or worse....Things never turn out exactly the way you plan. Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.

I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is after all these years, I still look back with wonder."
Change is part of life, but for me, sometime it feels overwhelming and too fast-sweeping. Do you ever feel that way? Are you nostalgic for any of these things? Anything else?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Can't Help Falling in Love...With The Music of Elvis Presley

My fledgling Elvis collection, I'm so proud! The Viva Las Vegas soundtrack and Elvis CD from a great local music shop in New Jersey, and two greatest hits CDs and photography book with CD, from Housing Works.

Who knew at 35 years of age I'd become such an Elvis fan. I have his Number Ones CD from years ago, but fell in love with his music after taking out Viva Las Vegas on a whim from the library. My sister reminded me of a great scene from one of our favorite sitcoms, The Golden Girls, where Rose and Blanche throw Dorothy out of their unauthorized Elvis fan club for mocking a pork chop once purported to be eaten by the King. Elvis would never leave that much meat on a pork chop, Dorothy winced! When Blanche suggested Dorothy join an organization less fanatical in its devotion, Dorothy remarked, like what Blanche, the PLO?

I think we use the term "star" far too liberally nowadays. Stars shine bright on us from above and light up our lives and the dark sky and bring us up. This star dimmed too soon, on August 16, 1977. Elvis was beyond a star. He was the highest point in the galaxy: an icon.

From the movie that started my obsession, C'mon Everybody.

If you're an Elvis fan, feel free to share your favorite songs, films and memories.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Whispers from the Pioneers: Remember Our Stories, Pass on Your Own

""I WANT to be a pioneer!" exclaimed Annie Foley, 9, of Omaha, climbing on a teeter-totter made of old wagon wheels and a wooden board at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead in De Smet, S.D." in The New York Times article "Trading Tiaras for Calico on the Prairie." I wrote earlier this year on Wendy McClure's charming The Wilder Life, a must read for all fans of the book and or series.

Pioneers always seem to be calling out to me in art forms - written, film and television, and sonic shapes. I would not want to be one. But their stories intrigue me. Perhaps it was my early love of Little House on the Prairie (the show, not the books, the latter of which I plan to read).

There's a 10,000 Maniacs song, Gold Rush Brides, which starts out very romantically,

"There's no way to divide the beauty of the sky from the wild western plains.
Where a man could drift, in legendary myth, by roaming over spaces.
The land was free and the price was right."

Only a few lyrics later, a darker tone:

"The land was free, yet it cost their lives.
In miner's lust for gold a family's house was bought and sold piece by piece.
A widow staked her claim on a dollar and his name so painfully.
In letters mailed back home her Eastern sisters they would moan as they would read accounts of madness, childbirth, loneliness and grief."

Consider the letters that were sent, and also the diaries that were kept.

In Sandra Dallas' The Diary of Mattie Spenser, which is a work of fiction, a neighbor comes across the diary of the grandmother of an elderly neighbor which marks her passage from Iowa to the Colorado territories in 1865. She is instantly is drawn to it, knowing diaries...

"fall into two categories. Most were for public consumption. They were lengthy letters written on the trail, then sent to the folks back home to read aloud to friends and neighbors. Parts of them were even printed in local newspapers. Rarer were journals women kept for their eyes only. Having no women friends with whom they could confide during the hazardous trip, women used their journal as confidantes, recording private thoughts they never expected anyone else to read....

She wrote on the page the usual way. Then she turned the book sideways and wrote across the original writing. People did that back then so they could double the number of words they put on a page. Imagine being that hard up for paper."

Imagine also how different a world we live in now, where emotions are broadcast in real time constantly. Imagine also what those who came before us endured.

After a harrowing attack by the Indians that ended in bloodshed, Mattie notes,

"There is an irony in the events of the trail, for our lives here are the twain of both great and ordinary events: I discovered that following the Indian attack, the bread dough, which I had set in the morning, had risen quite nicely."

An aside, Mattie's story found me the way most stories find me - because someone purchased a physical book and passed it on - in this case to a library book sale where I purchased it for 25 cents. My mother and I devoured it in record time. I love "real" books, and hope they don't go the way of letters - a dying breed. I loved Mattie's story, and think you might too, so am "passing on" the book in this way. I also found thrifted copies of Nancy E. Turner's These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, although I haven't read either yet. You can visit the Wilder homestead which Farmer Boy is based on in New York State.

This year, I watched the film Meek's Cutoff. No romantic look at life on the Oregon Trail here. Walking for 10 miles a day. False hopes of water. Dropping family heirlooms off the wagon. Hunger. Broken wagon wheels. Loneliness. Fear of the unknown.

In 2002, PBS did an outstanding documentary called Frontier House, which followed three families who lived for several months in Montana as if they were preparing for winter in 1883. It is well worth putting on your Netflix queue or checking out at the library. It reminded me of what historian David McCullough said of how we are not utilizing television as a teaching tool. His sentiments were along the lines of "We've created fire, but we're burning down the house." This is an example of television as a teaching tool at its best.

I, too, wonder as in the 10,000 Maniacs song, "Who were the homestead wives? Who were the gold rush brides? Does anyone know? Do their works survive their yellow fever lives in the pages they wrote?"

I consider their letters leaving a paper trail of not only the history of our young country, but of a family history, and how much family history is lost if we don't ask our parents and grandparents and keep this history alive. Then there's the sad case how the elderly descendant of Mattie Spenser had none of her own, and those family stories would evaporate. All those hardships, but also all those joys, forgotten.

Are you interested in stories of the pioneers? How about your family history? Do you have any favorite books, films or other resources you'd like to share? Please feel free to leave your thoughts. I love hearing from you.

Learning to love history: children at play during the Bergen County Historical Society's Pinkster Fest.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Retro Sitcom Classic: The Brady Bunch

I have a case of 'thrifter regret': passing up on this used copy of The Brady Bunch season 2 at Housing Works. It's now on reserve from the library. My library sadly does not own the complete five season set (behold, the sight of the shag carpet covering!)

My big sister and I used to love watching The Brady Bunch in re-runs. We also loved Different Strokes, The Facts of Life, Gilligan's Island, Three's Company, and still one of our favorites: Little House on the Prairie.

People can mock the wood paneling and funky colors all they like: I think their house and their clothes are retro-fabulous!

Were you a Brady fan? Do you remember how you could cut the tension like a knife when they were eating dinner and the vase they broke was leaking? If that wasn't a cautionary tale for "Don't play ball in the house!" I don't know what is. Did you long to go on their trip to Hawaii? Just how did that cousin Oliver get there?

Are you feeling as sentimental as I am for these great sitcom days before bad reality television took over our world? Please feel free to share your favorite childhood sitcoms.

Check out TV Land's The Brady Bunch page for more Brady fun!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Letter on The Lives of Women and Girls (Flagged: Urgent)

Dear readers,

I'm writing this to you in letter format, inspired by a letter written in a film.

In the charming Audrey Hepburn classic Sabrina, a young chauffeur's daughter, obsessed with puppy love over the wealthy, handsome David played by William Holden, is sent to Paris to cooking school for a year. At the end of that year, she is much changed. She writes to her father,

"It is late at night and someone across the way is playing La Vie en Rose. It is the French way of saying I'm looking through the world through rose colored glasses and it says everything I feel...I've learned how to live. How to be in the world and of the world. And not just stand aside and watch. And I will never ever again run away from life or love either."

Of the world and in the world. How many women are watching their lives go by as they watch others live it? Will anyone look back at their life and think, I'm so glad I spent so much time watching Teresa Giudace on the Real Housewives of New Jersey!

Consuming unhealthy food is bad for our bodies, but consuming all of this "entertainment" is bad for our soul and minds. If you clutter your mind with gossip and toxic energy, gossip and toxic energy is what comes out of people.

I've talked before about "Endangered American Species: Language and Conversation," but so often conversation among women involves talking about mindless television and judging and belittling others.

When the actress Drew Barrymore was still married to Tom Green, Howard Stern insulted Green at a fundraiser saying how scary it must be for her to sleep with him. I loved how Drew replied,

"I just don't even go to the mean kids' area in that playground."

I wish people, especially women, wouldn't go there either. In the film Jane Austin Book Club, Emily Blunt's character has a mini-meltdown when she sees an old high school rival flirting with her husband at her mother's funeral. Her husband reassures her it was nothing and that high school is over, and she cried out, high school is never over! Sometimes, I think she's half right. Maybe because I was bullied as a teenager I'm more sensitive to this even as an adult, but I wish people didn't making gossip a sport.

I also wish women would get as passionate about more important things than what happened on the most recent Mob Wives (who cares times ten thousand). Our mothers, grandmothers and those before them fought through all these social justice movements - for this? To spend valuable leisure time sitting on our couches watching Kim Kardashian (net worth $35 million). It's not a drug, but this garbage (no other word for it) is numbing people to reality.

In the film the 11th Hour, psychologist James Hillman says, "We numb our senses from morning till night. Whether it's with noise, or loud music or light at night so nobody sees the beauty and if we've lost the feeling of the beauty of the world then we are looking for substitutes."

I want to explore the beauty of the world. Enjoy the seasonal produce at a local farm. Watch the geese swim and the dogs bask in the joy of the moment at the park. Or if I spend time watching television, I'd rather be in the company of Ginger Rogers or Audrey Hepburn, not some Botox-filled housewife.

Like Tori Amos talked about becoming a mother drew out wanting to mother her own true mother - the Earth - I don't understand why so many women don't think or seem to care about issues like clean water, air, soil and food or connect their actions to these things. These are not issues Democrats should care about - they are human rights issues. More important on many a woman's radar: is she swimsuit ready for the beach? I loved how my writer friend Jennifer put it,

"We'll all be standing on a bare Earth in our bikinis."

We complain about why gas isn't cheaper, instead of wondering what the pollution the SUVs so many in suburbia drive is doing to their kids air. We brag about our cheap finds at H&M, but don't ask, who made this? Why is it so cheap? We say we value education, but brag about possessions, not knowledge. We'll spend so much putting on makeup, doing our hair, getting a nice outfit on and then for lunch, "Let me microwave a factory farmed chicken with pesticide laden veggies which will be exposed to all the plastics while it's heating up, which I'll eat while working at my desk."

Many put vanity first. In this article (the subject matter of an eight year old getting Botox was a hoax) financial reporter Kathy Kristof bemoans,

"In 25 years of financial reporting, I can't count the number of women who have told me that they couldn't afford to save, but they could afford weekly manicures, expensive make-up, shoes, clothing and purses because that was an investment in their future.

That kind of thinking has resulted in a stark reality: 80% of the people living in poverty when they're old are women. That's not just because we continue to earn less, on average, than men. It's because women spend a fortune trying to be beautiful...Millions of women will spend hundreds of dollars every week getting eyebrows waxed, hair tinted, nails wrapped — and seek the perfect handbag for a party — but say they don't have the wherewithal to invest $100 a month in a mutual fund.

Girls, if you want to be beautiful, I'll give you a tip. What makes you pretty is confidence. You get confidence from being kind, responsible and successful — not from having the perfect handbag and nails. I assure you that properly arched eyebrows and fewer wrinkles will not help you look gorgeous when you’re old and destitute."

I can't say enough how extremely disappointed I am in the culture for girls (and boys right now). Everywhere - everywhere, young children are glossy eyed staring at their hand held devices. Isn't it sweet how the makers manufacture these all sparkly and shiny like toys. Did you know Toys r Us is going to start selling Kindles, eager to add yet another gadget in your child's life?

At a movie recently in Westwood, New Jersey, almost every young girl in the 12-14 age range had a fancy bag with a Blackberry. Mothers - what does a 13 year old need a Coach bag for? Some girls as appeared to be as young as eight had hand bags and phones. Am I the only person who feels like they are in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? This is Bergen County, New Jersey. Please chime in and tell me if you are witnessing this too, and teachers, I'd love to hear from you too.

Instead of being outraged marketers are getting to our girls younger and younger to groom the next generation of consumers, some parents seem to be writing a blank check to them. Here you go Verizon, Blackberry, UGG, Coach, here's my kid's soul!

Instead of a device, why don't we put in girls' hands a paintbrush, a piece of athletic equipment, a gardening tool, a microscope, or book (a real book)? Why don't we teach girls pleasure in a logo bag is fleeting, but knowledge lasts a lifetime.

Katy Perry has a new hit song Last Friday Night. Her great Friday night includes all these things:
getting so drunk after doing multiple shots
posting their photos online, oh well we're screwed!
having a menage a trois
the law being after her (since she can't remember why, could it be offing a few innocent motorists on the road?)
maxing out her credit cards (was it buying her perfume?)

A creepy TGIF-chant follows, and can't wait to do that all again next Friday night!

This is the summer anthem for our youth post-The Great Recession? I don't think alcohol abuse and credit card debt is something to be singing about in a sugary-sweet sounding song. What ended up online, sexually explicit images? Happening every day. Jennifer told me her daughters witnessed some very young girls singing this on the street. Katy Perry, how do you feel about that? Too busy counting your money? Much like a song about not wanting to go to rehab by another female pop singer sounded bad at the time and even worse in retrospect, should young girls be singing joyfully about self-destructive behavior?

Jennifer she says corporations put music on the radio they want the public to mimic. Who wrote this song, the credit card companies, Mark Zuckerberg and some liquor companies?

Young girls want to be 13 going on 30, and women want to go backwards (see my "Younger - Better? More Valued? Says Who?") post. Why can't we embrace where we are in life?

Singer Natalie Merchant, while promoting her work of sonic poetry Leave Your Sleep, talked about wanting to mature gracefully. She has a daughter, and I was so thrilled to hear her - or anyone - talk about aging gracefully and the concept of maturity.

She is one of my longtime favorite singers for her love of history and beauty of the word, caring for the environment and many social causes. She has no perfume to sell, only her art. I loved how she celebrated the diversity of women when she did the video for Wonder from her Tigerlily album. We need better role models, ones that lift us up, not bring us down. She's been one of mine.