Friday, September 23, 2011

Share Art: The Activist Music of R.E.M.

"We are young despite the years. We are concern. We are hope despite the times." Michael Stipe's words in songs like "These Days" from Life's Rich Pageant are part of my spirit, the sonic poetry of R.E.M. part of the soundtrack of my life. They announced their retirement this week. From activism, one never retires.

Michael Stipe was a different kind of rock star. He's my kind of rock star. I read he issued a press release saying "Fall on Me" was about acid rain. "Buy the sky... and sell the sky...and bleed the sky." During the Green World Tour after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster he dedicated, "Turn You Inside Out" to the Exxon Corporation. I'd like to think he'd dedicate it now to BP Oil, although that too seems readily long forgotten.

During my youth MTV actually played videos and had great programming on like 120 Minutes, Rockumentaries, and Unplugged. R.E.M. had no cologne to sell or soda to plug. When they won six awards for Losing My Religion at the MTV Video Awards, Stipe donned political statement t-shirts with messages like, "Rainforest" "Love Knows No Color" and "Alternative Energy Now." Watching him from my suburban home, this had a huge influence on a teenage me. I wanted to make a statement.

Bullied in school, I decided early on I didn't care for people who bullied our planet, animals or people. I still don't. I mailed money orders to groups like Nature Conservancy and Greenpeace, wrote protest letters for Amnesty International, and participated in a walk to save local woods. I stopped eating meat. I still don't eat meat. I still give my money to environmental groups. I still care about our woods. I still listen to R.E.M.'s words to inspire me. I remember that young girl who wanted to change the world whenever I get too far away from her. Why can't I still change the world, one protest letter, one meal choice, one piece of trash picked up at a time? "Silence means security, silence means approval," Stipe reminds us in Begin the Begin. He said their songs "Stand" and "Get Up" were basically saying the same thing. Get up and do something.

"I Believe" is a song I always go back to. Its message is so much what I believe in. Remember that spirit you had in youth that becomes jaded as an adult and try and resurrect it. Make sure your calling is true. Think of others. Live by example. Do something in "the horns of the day."

"When I was young and full of grace, and spirited a rattlesnake
When I was young and fever fell, my spirit I will not tell
You're on your honor not to tell

I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract
Explain the change, the difference between
What you want and what you need, there's the key
Your adventure for today, what do you do
Between the horns of the day

I believe
My shirt is wearing thin and change is what I believe in

When I was young and give and take, and foolish said my fool awake
When I was young and fever fell, my spirit I will not tell
You're on your honor, on your honor

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true
Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule, golden words make practice, practice makes perfect
Perfect is a fault, and fault lines change

I believe
My humor's wearing thin and change is what I believe in
I believe
My shirt is wearing thin and change is what I believe in

When I was young and full of grace, and spirited a rattlesnake
When I was young and fever fell, my spirit I will not tell
You're on your honor, on your honor

I believe in example, I believe my throat hurts
Example is the checker to the key

I believe
My humor's wearing thin and I believe the poles are shifting
I believe
My shirt is wearing thin and change is what I believe in."

Thank you R.E.M. for a great 31 years. I am truly better for having known you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Apple Picking...At Last! A Day Trip to New Paltz, New York

So it was in my 35th year of life that I finally picking? As avid a farm goer as I am, and someone who answers "going to the farm" as a highlight of the fall season (even when summer is on the calendar), I have never been apple picking, or anything picking!

I can go to Demarest Farm in Hillsdale, New Jersey, but I go there often, and I've been dreaming about a Sunday drive with my sweetheart Steve for ages. We headed to New Paltz, New York, a town I've driven through but longed to explore. We picked the first farm we found: Apple Hill Farm.

Before we even hit the orchard, we were overcome by the sweet smell of cinnamon sugar cider donuts, 75 each.

I admired but didn't go up this ladder, the image of which reminds me of an old family farmhouse in Switzerland that had ladders by cherry trees.

Eating apples doesn't even feel appropriate in the thick of summer. Now they taste just right.

A pumpkin dotted field. Can't you just smell the fresh air looking at the photo? Working in New York City during the week can be an assault to the senses. Even just a day trip here is so restorative to the harried soul.

Inside, find cider, homemade pies, and flowers from the fields, among other delights.

Warms the heart, doesn't it?

Our bounty! This large bag was $18.

I loved this family farm by the way. On their web site, it stated of family farmer Joe Moriello, "(Pop to everybody) died on May 8, 2000; he was 92 years young...He was a simple self made man whose world was uncluttered by cell phones, facsimiles and the internet. In the words of one fellow farmer at Pop's services, "the world changed around him but Pop just went straight." What a wonderful life of health, longevity and experience of the American Dream that he enjoyed."

Joe sounds like my kind of fella. While I enjoy much about technology, I love the idea of also being "uncluttered" and being able to go "straight" as the world changes around you. I'm glad my life doesn't have phones with internet or Facebook even though that's what everyone around me seems to be doing. Those things just aren't my cup of tea.

Back to our delightful outing.

Afterward, we explored the Walkway over the Hudson, which is dedicated to preserving the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge in nearby Poughkeepsie. From the pedestrian walkway bridge, the view of the Hudson.

The Hudson: a river reborn. Think of all the life the river supports.

Walking across the Mid-Hudson Bridge. Joseph Bertolozzi has a unique sound-art installation in which he composed songs using the bridge as an instrument. We found two points where you can stop and listen to the music.

Back in New Paltz, a perfect ending to just about a perfect a day as a soul could wish for: pumpkin ravioli (on the night's specials), $20, at Harvest Cafe. I also had some of their hot mulled cider, $4, which warmed the body and spirit on a crisp evening.

What does your perfect fall (or almost fall) day look like? Do you enjoy farm visits? Apple picking?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Retro Matinee Feature Showing: Fanny, Plus a French Picnic

"It's not dying I mind. It's giving up life that annoys me. You know what I'll miss most? The little pleasures of life. Lunch. Dinner. Looking out over the old port," says an elderly Panisse at the end of his life in the film Fanny, a love letter to Marseille, the stunning Leslie Caron who reminds me a bit of equally beautiful Diane Lane, Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier, and to having an adventure but realizing most of the treasures to be found are all around you where you started.

Isn't he so right? Looking out over the old port. It might not be a port, it might be looking at the rustic palette of autumn leaves, the beauty of the Earth when blanketed in fresh white snow, daffodils bursting through the ground the color of sun on a rainy spring day, the ocean on a summer's day.

Isn't among life's great pleasures food, which to many is a convenience or an afterthought or conjures guilt-ridden thoughts? Julia Child, who in addition to Paris also lived in Marseille, said in a letter to friend Avis DeVoto that people who love to eat always are the best people. I completely agree. Best maybe isn't the word. Satisfied. Nourished.

I adored Fanny, which I watched on a whim from the library after searching for French-themed films. "A great talent for enjoying life." We should all have that talent.

In the spirit of enjoying good food, here are some food memories of a recent French chefs' picnic I attended. My sweetheart is trained in French cooking.

Coffee and pastries to share. Carbs are not my enemy. Moderation.

Since I'm a vegetarian I pass on the seafood salad, pate and charcuterie. Bean salad and tomato salad in a mustard vinaigrette with bread, apples and wine is satisfying picnic fare for me.

No beef with mushrooms for me. I have an extra helping of the communal mixed vegetables. Herbs and onions are vegetables' best good friends.

Salad with brie cheese.


There has to be some games, right? As addictive as mystery bags is tombola, 3 chances for $1. Find a number printed inside, win a a prize. I was a winner! Wine, champagne and Smuckers strawberry preserves.

Like Panisse, my eyes light up thinking about lunch and dinner. I would so miss food, and also scents, like pumpkin in fall and honeysuckle in summer, the comforting touch of people and pets, reading, music, to name a few. What earthly delights would you miss most?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Letter on September 11, 2001

Dear readers,

Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, I was not yet working in New York City. I was at a job in suburban New Jersey for a food industry publication. Someone mentioned a plane hit the World Trader Center and we went into a conference room and watched the television coverage.

Most of us had been gathering our parts for the daily newsletter that went out each morning and I remember my coworker rushing back to her office to get it done. I thought, "Who wants to read this today?" We were soon sent home.

I went to my parents' house and watched in the same horror of the unfolding events as the world did. The human urge to do something - anything to help - set in. My mother and I had tried that morning to donate blood at the Red Cross. We were turned away. None would be needed.

We did not lose anyone we knew that day. My father knew people in one of the towers that was hit, but they walked to safety. With so many commuters into New York City in our northern New Jersey area, so many souls were lost so senselessly everywhere around us.

Tori Amos wrote a song "I Can't See New York" on her Scarlet's Walk album that as I see it is from the perspective of a passenger who is on a plane that can't make it to New York. She observes that from the sky, "From here no lands are owned. From here no lines are drawn" and can't seem to understand what has happened. "What do they mean, side of what things?"

"I can't seem to make my way out of this hunting ground." Hunting ground seems right. Humans were hunted on a mass scale that day.

The physical body was just gone. "In the end, all we have soul blueprint."

I'm thinking of that song, but I'm also thinking of the solace found in her recent song "Carry."

"Love hold my hand, help me see with the dawn
that those that have left are not gone.

But they carry on, as stars looking down
as nature's sons and daughters of the heavens.

You will never be forgotten by me
in the procession of the mighty stars,
your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart.
Here I will carry, carry, carry you forever.

You have touched my life.
And so that now cathedrals of sound are singing are singing.
The waves that come to walk with you to where you will live in the land."

I'm thinking about the 10 years I had and the ones I have ahead that were robbed from others. It makes me angry, sad, and it fills my eyes with tears. A decade later, the pain still feels so raw on this day.

I'm also remembering how unified we all were, how much we wanted to show our love of our country (I remember how hard it was to find an American flag because they were sold out) and how the best of the human spirit was brought out.

If you are an American or viewed the events from your own country, please feel free to share your memories and stories of 9/11 - anything that may be on your mind about that day and the aftermath.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Thrifty Addiction: Mystery Bags at Cinema Verite Thrift Shop in NYC

It started so innocently. I passed by a new thrift shop, Cinema Verite in New York City's Hell's Kitchen, on a walk to the nearby library. I saw a display by the counter, "Mystery Bags. Hand Picked Curiosities, $2." I couldn't resist buying one to see what was inside, could you?

I wasn't sure what these were! Feng Shui cards, the charming shop owner Peter told me when I went back. I don't know what to do with them, but do like quite a few of the scenes and sayings. Maybe I'll hang some in my cubicle or on the refrigerator.

Well of course I had to "play" again. I love my little decorative egg.

A Radio Shack clock. Practical, now I just have to figure out how to set it! I also got a ceramic candle in the shape of a turtle (you'll have to project it, since I can't find it at the moment) and in a mystery bag for my sister, a bracelet made out of beaded safety pins. Did I mention this shop supports Process Studio Theatre? So you see, I'm supporting the arts!

Who knew my life needed napkin rings in the shape of ducks?!! Now you just can't go into a Pottery Barn and pick these up! I'm sure they'll be quite the conversation piece.

I'll be honest, when I opened the duck napkin rings, they were on a string and I thought for a split second - what a crazy bracelet! Kind of like when Dorothy mistook a maple syrup spigot Rose whittled her for Christmas for a wooden broach in the shape of a turkey's head the year they decided on homemade gifts on the Golden Girls. Love this show.

Mystery bag fun aside, I have been finding some pretty unique things here. I love thrifting because of what it brings in my life: the unexpected. I can't wait to watch Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Love Affair, $4; wanted to familiarize myself with the work of Edgar Allan Poe (the book, $3) after reading about the troubled Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore and upcoming The Raven film based on the end of Poe's life with John Cusack in The New York Times; and am loving the Henry Mancini Charade soundtrack, $3. New copies on Amazon were selling as of this writing for $30-$80! If you love Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Paris - see Charade! It was also here I scored the season one Partridge Family dvd set - for just $4! Did you know Shirley Jones was offered the part of Carol Brady on the Brady Bunch but turned it down?

Two Valentine's Days ago, my library had a really cute idea: have a blind date with a book. Books came gift-wrapped, and if you didn't like the book, you could bring it back - no hard feelings.

Disappointingly they didn't do it last Valentine's.

My date, which came with a heart-shaped lollipop, was Jennifer Weiner's Best Friends Forever. I ditched my date without a fair chance, since I was in the middle of John Irving's 500 plus-page A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I'm forever grateful to Cate from Liberal Simplicity for recommending.

I think we all need a little more whimsy and mystery in our lives, don't you?

While I love being thrifty by brown bagging lunch most days, using the library often, getting my clothes at swaps and thrift stores and such, I do allow myself some mad money for thrifting "wants" (not needs). I've passed on too many things I wanted that were a couple of dollars.

Would you be hooked on mystery bags? What do you spend mad money on? Pumpkin lattes? Magazines? Seventies kitsch? More books than you can read? Anything?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rainy Days, Tea & Sympathy Dreams

Is there a place you dream about going when it rains? For me, it's New York City's Tea & Sympathy, my favorite rainy day haunt. I do also like a good Irish pub, where I'd devour a bowl of soup or veggie burger with some Magners cider and rice or bread pudding. Just thinking aloud! Under a blanket napping or sitting by a fireplace with a book or watching a great film sounds equally inviting. I wish I had a fireplace.

At Tea & Sympathy, comfort food is a must. The Welsh rarebit: English farmhouse cheddar with mustard and tomatoes on toast, $10.95, and a pot of blackberry tea, $4.50.

Hopefully a good friend is by my side sharing something equally nourishing to the soul, like the cheese onion quiche with a salad.

Long after it was eaten, still dreaming about a rhubarb crumble with hot golden custard, $8, enjoyed at a coveted window table.

Had a bite of my good mate's chocolate hazelnut banana cake, $8. I must try adding hazelnut and chocolate chips to my next banana bread loaf.

At Carry On Tea & Sympathy, the shop next door, Will and Kate fever continues!

Keeping Up with the Karadashians? No thanks. Keeping Up Appearances is more my speed. I always want to watch an episode when it rains.

What is your ideal rainy day filled with?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Domestic Yearnings: Cooking and Sewing

A checkered skirt at the Family Jewels vintage shop in New York City which I'd love to be able to recreate - but I can't, since I can't sew by hand or operate a sewing machine.

When I casually mentioned to my sweetheart Steve that I wish I could make some of my own clothes, he said he heard making your own clothes is growing in popularity due to the rising costs of clothing. I wouldn't want to make all of my own clothes since I come across so many great pieces for free at seasonal clothing swaps or for significantly reduced costs at thrift and consignment shops, but would love to reproduce some of the vintage pieces I see.

I love vintage clothing, but the problem, aside from it is often over-priced: it's small. At a size 12, I don't fit into a lot of it. I would like to get down to my ideal size, an 8. Looking at photos of myself when I was a 4, I actually think: too thin! But even at an 8, it would be a challenge.

While the cost savings would be a benefit, I really don't want to support all this cheap foreign labor. On this Labor Day, I'm thinking about how little is produced in the United States.

Do you sew or make your own clothes?

How about cooking? Do you enjoy it and feel like you have enough time for it? I love cooking but with a minimum two-and-a-half hour round trip door-to-door commute and an eight hour work day, it doesn't leave me with the time I'd like to pursue it. Steve is a chef but after cooking all day, he has little desire to go in the kitchen at day's end.

I adore the film Julie and Julia, which always makes me want to get in the kitchen.

I watched two seasons of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, and I remember him remarking about why aren't we teaching cooking in schools and giving people eight recipes that can help them survive in any economy.

As back to school is starting up, I'm also reflecting how few life skills we are taught in school. Are test scores all we value and what defines us? If I had to take an algebra test, I'd fail. There was a front page New York Times article about technology in the classroom - but education isn't just putting a computer in front of the child and expecting miracles. Being able to cook your own wholesome food is not only good for your health, but is an act of economic empowerment.

I had a home economics class in my suburban New Jersey school, but as far as I can remember, we learned how to make muffins and chocolate chip cookies. Did you have a home economics class? Would you like to see culinary education and home economics in our school system?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Retro Obsessions: Come on Get Happy

A window display at the Family Jewels vintage clothing shop in New York City. Of course I love the laundry hang drying in the display, and I also adore the pretty cotton tablecloth, cheerful yellow slip, the smart green gloves, the apron and those outfits on the mannequins. When I look at films, shows and even photographs of my parents during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the clothes and home furnishing are fabulous. Flipping through childhood albums, I coveted everything from a gorgeous floor length plaid skirt my mom had in a Christmas photo (I excitedly found a similar one thrifting at Housing Works) to the bedspread my parents had in a photo I was lying on as a baby in the mid-seventies.

I've been on a journey this year discovering (and sometime re-discovering) great American films, shows, music and styles of various decades. I am definitely drawn to things of years gone by. Perhaps it's partly because the news just always seems so dire now and much of our entertainment so cynical. I definitely need a little feel-good escapism.

I was at an ice cream social at work and we were all giddily eating our ice cream and declaring we felt like little kids, and my friend Jennifer pondered, "How come we so often associate happiness with our childhood?"

What do you think? Maybe because like a child delights in a balloon, little things seemed to make us so happy. Here are some of my balloons so to speak putting a smile on my face.

Remembering retro cartoons, like The Jetsons, which aired 1962–63 and again from 1985–87. It was Hanna-Barbera's Space Age counterpart to The Flintstones. I loved both shows. Didn't The Jetsons make the future look fun? All-time favorite cartoon as a kid: The Smurfs. Do you have a favorite you'd like to share?

Retro setting: sitting at the counter at an old fashioned ice cream parlor - this one Conrad's Ice Cream Parlor in Westwood, New Jersey, where I had a chocolate milk shake. Some history from

"Milk shake...When the term first appeared in print in 1885, milk shakes may have contained whiskey of some kind, but by the turn of the century they were considered wholesome drinks made with chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla syrups. In different parts of the country they went by different names...A "malted" is made with malted milk powder-invented in 1887 by William Horlick of Racine, Wisconsin, and made from dried milk, malted barley, and wheat flour-promoted at first as a drink for invalids and children. By the 1930s a malt shop was a soda fountain not attached to a pharmacy." - The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.

It's funny what we remember about childhood. I can still recall eating grilled cheese sandwiches at this place as a kid (they sadly recently discontinued lunch and are now treats-only). I also remember making chocolate milk shakes in my family's kitchen in an olive green blender. In fact, I love older blenders - maybe that's why.

I recently watched Elvis Presley's King Creole set in New Orleans and loved the five and dime with a ice cream/sandwich counter. I wish those were everywhere now!

Retro show: The Partridge Family, which I just recently discovered. I found season one while thrifting for just $4, and fell in love with it immediately and picked up the CD for $10 at Music Merchant, my go-to main street music shop in Westwood, New Jersey.

What's not to be smitten with? Shirley Jonses' orange pantsuit with the white collar (which I love that she wore over and over); the yellow shag carpeting, green appliances and wood paneled cupboards; Keith's pink and white print shirt and shaggy hair; the comedic genius of young Danny Bonaduce! Those timely Power of Women vs. Morality Watchdog confrontations where some members of the latter were won over by "I Think I Love You."

Retro show and films: The Muppets. This was my sister's groovy Muppet Show lunchbox. I had a pink Smurfette lunchbox with a yellow thermos. I definitely want to check out the Jim Henson exhibit in New York (learn more from The New York Times.)

I love the frugality of brown bagging lunch for work, but peanut butter and jelly (a great lunch at any age) seems just that more festive in a lunch box. Did you have favorite cherished lunch box?

My soul always has a big smile hearing Kermit sing "The Rainbow Connection." Check out a beautiful version here by the Carpenters too which I read about in a book out about Karen Carpenter's life, Little Girl Blue.

Probably because I'm going through a bit of a seventies phase, I'm also loving blue eye shadow, colorful wallpaper, and bright prints for clothing.

We all need some balloons lighting up our daily lives. Feel free to share yours.