Mad Russians (Nutcracker Revisited)

nutcracker-clara

Earlier this month I wrote about my obsession with The Nutcracker, and that I hoped to see a live production of it this year. As it turns out, I won’t be able to, but I’m watching, as I write this, the third of the three productions to air on Ovation during this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers.”

The first two, and I’ve forgotten which came first, were the Youri Vamos version (danced by the Bonn ballet) and the Royal Opera house version (from London).

The Vamos actually combines Hoffmann’s tale with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for a really weird overlapping plot. While the revamped story was interesting, I think I prefer the pure libretto, even if Act II is basically pure dance. Also, the German dancers seemed very heavy on their feet with very precise footwork but none of the height in their jumps that I’m accustomed to watching.

The Royal Opera House version seemed very English…I mean, the dancers almost had English accents, and they weren’t actually speaking. But they used the original story.

I’m still watching the Bolshoi version, and may have to continue it tomorrow as I have to up three hours earlier than I’m accustomed to because I have jury duty. I have so much to do, and am almost tempted to just pay the $100 fine and skip it, but if I’m going to ever be in contempt of court, it’ll be for something worth while.

Oh, well, at least the Mariinsky version will be waiting for me when I get home tomorrow. The ballet originally premiered at the Mariinsky Theater, a week before Christmas in 1892, so showing it tomorrow, a week before Christmas, seems really appropriate.

Tikkun Olam and Me

Peter Yarrow (2009) It was my friend Carmi Levy who introduced me to the phrase tikkun olam, but oh, what a huge impact those two words have had on my life.

It’s weird the way things resonate. You read a blog post about a concept, and that sits in your brain and stews for a while. It marinates, really, soaking up some of your flavor, sharing some of its own. Then you make a connection with someone else entirely, and the first thing suddenly bubbles up from the back of your brain, and you present it to the new person, and suddenly, connections are formed, substantive questions are answered, information and appreciation are shared.

Six or seven years ago, Carmi talked about tikkun olam in his blog, and later that year, or maybe the year after, he did a last minute interview with me for All Things Girl when we had a planned “Man of the Moment” back out.

Five years ago, I was approached by a publicist working with Peter Yarrow, about the children’s books he was publishing, many based on some of his songs (I have signed copies of two of them), and that led to my second time seeing him live (the first was in 2002, for my 32nd birthday), in a special concert/talk at the local Jewish Community Center (in Dallas), and that led to an in-depth interview with him, again for All Things Girl.

One of the things I made sure to ask him about was tikkun olam, and this is part of what he said:

“Tikkun Olam means that each of us has the responsibility to repair the world and heal the world, not alone by ourselves, but we each have the responsibility to do what we can, in our own individual ways, to help heal and repair the world. This is, for me, is the most important and inspiring teaching of Judaism. I firmly believe that if we all devote ourselves to pursuing Tikkun Olam as a central part of our lives, the world will get better and better.”

“In the words of the great moral leader Mahatma Gandhi of India, who changed the world and inspired so many of us, including Barrack Obama, we must “be the change we seek to make in the world”, which means we cannot work towards greater humanity in some organization and then go home to humiliate and mistreat our friends, our family or even our dogs, cats and farm animals. We must truly “live” and “be” the answer to the trials of the world we seek to heal.”
~Peter Yarrow, in an emailed interview with me, Melissa A. Bartell, November/December 2009

Having grown up on his music, and later shared chocolate-covered strawberries with him at a benefit concert, it’s possible his words have more impact on me than they would on someone who grew up ignorant of folk music, and of who Peter, Paul, & Mary were, but an impact they did have…echoing down the years.

Last February, I was at Dallas Comic-Con’s annual Sci-Fi Expo, the most intimate of the three conventions they hold each year. It turned out to be the most intellectual con I’d ever attended, with Jaime Murray talking about feminism, strong female characters, and women in media, Saul Rubinek digressing from Warehouse 13 questions to talk about good works, Peter Weller giving us a lecture on Renaissance art, and Richard Dreyfuss speaking about education and activism.

I stood in Mr. Dreyfuss’s line because his appearance at cons is a rare thing, and because it annoyed me that even when he was speaking about real things, he kept getting questions like, “So, in Jaws, how much time did you spend in the water with the fake shark?” (Okay, that might be a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but only a tiny bit.) I wanted to see if I could get him to engage. (Also, he had a fantastic hat, and we all know I’m a sucker for headgear.)

I asked him what tikkun olam meant to him.

He lit up and we chatted for about ten minutes – not a long time, in the grand scheme of things, but longer than is typical when you’re supposed to be an autograph machine.

I owe that encounter to Carmi.

So why bring this up tonight? Partly, it’s because Carmi asked question on his blog today: What’s the most important little thing that’s happened to you – lately or ever? I answered it in his comments box, but it was a bit disjointed, and I wanted to expand, and partly because it’s the start of Hanukkah, and even though it’s not a holiday I celebrate (we did when my mother and step-father were first married, largely to acknowledge that part of my step-brother’s heritage), it’s one I observe. So, over the next few days, I’ll listen to the Hanukkah channel on the Sirius XM Radio (76 in the car), and I’ll fry some latkes, and I might think about lighting some extra candles.

And I’ll spare a few moments to send up a prayer in remembrance of Bubbie, who grated potatoes by hand to make latkes for us one year, and who loved to hear me sing, and who would light up like a little kid getting the best present ever whenever she sat at a piano and played.

And I’ll think about this concept of healing the world, and consider what I can do better, or more, or differently to meet my obligation, because no matter what religion we practice, what culture we come from we all have a moral imperative to leave the earth a better place than we found it, and as one year is dying and a new one is waiting to dawn, that seems a better use of brainpower than concocting frivolous resolutions.

Holidailies 2014

Ziti

Ziti

My grandmother used to sing to her African violets, pet their tender leaves, and encourage them to grow by calling them ‘pretty baby.’ She could pick up a pencil with her toes, and even after her fingers were gnarled with age and arthritis, she was a flawless knitter (though her taste in yarn was questionable).

By the time I was old enough to help in the kitchen, she did her best to avoid cooking, but I have fond memories of hamburgers cooked on the back yard grill, of sun-warmed tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden, of Jersey corn, and of being asked – as everyone was – what kind of potato they wanted (white or sweet). Whenever she ate those summer vegetables, she would pronounce them ‘luscious.’

Sometimes, she made baked ziti. Ziti is easier than lasagna because you don’t have to keep the pasta intact, but it uses similar ingredients. Sauce that simmered all day. Meatballs served with it. A blend of Parmesan, Romano, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses. Just the right combination of spices to make the flavors all pop in a complimentary fashion.

I never learned her recipe, but I remember the flavor, and over the years, my own version has come closer and closer. The cheese, I think, is what’s wrong, or maybe it’s that I usually just ‘doctor’ sauce from a jar. I remember her adding a dash of sugar to her sauce, but I think I also remember her squeezing lemon juice into it, and that memory confuses me because wouldn’t that just increase the acid?

I made Ziti tonight because the temperature was dropping and I wanted something that was comforting and would provide leftovers. As I served it, just for a moment, I thought I caught the scent of my grandmother’s perfume, just the way I sometimes wake in the night feeling certain that her cool hand was soothing my sweaty brow.

But it wasn’t really her perfume, of course.

It was just a sense memory triggered by making ziti.

Holidailies 2014

Swing

Swing

It don’t mean a thing
If it ain’t got that swing.

I

My hair is just enough shorter after yesterday’s salon visit that the ends flip up (a la Marlo Thomas in That Girl, but not quite so extreme) and there’s movement and lightness around my face. It was getting to the point where it was too heavy and didn’t move, and was dragging me down in more ways than one.

II

The tree is finally finished, and we used all but one ornament, after all. I had minions to help in the last stages, which is good because I can’t reach the top, even on the stepladder. I had to move some so that they dangled properly…the hobby horses and dancers especially…but it’s done, and it’s lovely.

III

My soundtrack for the day, aside from different #MusicAdvent selections, has been Seth MacFarlane’s Holiday for Swing, which I heard about through Brent Spiner’s twitter feed and then checked out on Rhapsody (because yes, I still use Rhapsody…it works better for me than Spotify or Pandora). I like big band, and the Great American Songbook – all those lovely, deliciously singable songs, and I highly recommend this album, which is available pretty much everywhere.

IV

As I posted on Twitter yesterday, never take melatonin when you intend to take migraine meds. And absolutely never take two. I’ve been loopy for 24 hours. Bonus: I slept amazingly well last night.

This entry is sponsored by the word ‘swing,’ the letter ‘H,’ and the number 14. Or maybe I just don’t have a filter.


Image Copyright: luiscar / 123RF Stock Photo

Holidailies 2014

Hair Apparent

Manic Panic Hair Products

Today was hair day. Hair day happens every 6-8 weeks, and sometimes it’s more elaborate than others. Today was one of the longer sessions, because I was doing a drastic hair-color change.

For the last six or so months, I’ve been trying to make purple dye stay in my hair. No matter what brand I tried, it would slide out within a week or two, even with my stylist, Natalie, doing the work. I liked the purple, it was dark and interesting, but maintaining the purple was a hassle that was driving me crazy.

I’ve done many, many colors since 2008, when I added pink streaks to my hair for the first time. I’ve had base colors from dark brown to platinum blonde, and highlights from aubergine purple to cotton candy pink. I even, once, bleached my entire head of hair and had it dyed hot hot pink (but that nearly melted my hair, and I promised Natalie I’d never ask her to do that again).

Today, I went back to a color I’ve had before – RED – but in a way I haven’t done before. Usually, my reds are based on the natural-hair spectrum. Today, we did a dark auburn base color and then highlighted it with Manic Panic Rock-n-Roll Red. It’s vibrant and funky, and NO, I do NOT have pictures yet, because selfies always suck, but I might, eventually. (As a rule, I prefer to be the one taking pictures, not the subject of them.)

I could go into a long thing about why I dye my hair in technicolored hues, but the bottom line is: it makes me happy, and harms no one.

Besides, it’s only hair. If something horrible happens to it, it grows back.


Image is from the Manic Panic website.

Holidailies 2014

Getting Ready

Writey and Typey and Reclaimy

It’s Friday night, twelve days into December, and my tree is barely decorated (well, it’s about half decorated). Fuzzy has been away most of the week, and without his quiet presence in the house, I just don’t feel motivated to decorate, which is ironic, really, because he doesn’t particularly care if the house is dressed appropriately for the season or not. I mean, he likes the finished product, but he hates the process.

I think I’m finally over the stupid cold/sinus thing that’s been sapping my energy and destroying my mood, but the weather’s due to change again in a day or so, so who knows? In any case, I’ve had a decently productive day, even though I still haven’t finished the chapter I meant to write this week.

On the other hand, I read three books and reviewed three books, and am now reading a lovely book of essays that my friend Becca wrote. I’ve been reading her blog practically since she started it, of course, but reading it all on bound, printed pages is a vastly different experience. It’s self-published, but that doesn’t matter a whit, because she DID IT. She completed it. And you should all read it, because it’s funny and gentle and kind and self-deprecating and insightful and incredibly articulate, just as Becca is herself.

(I was not paid to write all that. I even BOUGHT my copy of her book, and then got all misty when I read the way she inscribed it.)

I am a bit over five years younger, now, than she was when she began this collection of essays on her blog, and I feel like I haven’t accomplished enough, and I’m pretty certain that’s ALSO sapping my Christmas Spirit.

But something wonderful has been happening as I’ve been reading my friend’s published words. I’ve been feeling, to use my own word, really writey. In fact, instead of reading her book straight through, the way I typically read EVERYTHING, I’m having to stop, and walk away and dash out notes or phrases or write a paragraph…

And that’s kind of cool.

I still feel like the Christmas feeling is hovering just outside my perception, waiting for me to be ready, but at least now I have faith that I will actually be ready fairly soon.

Ditto my own writing…two separate projects that have eluded completion.

And I guess, that’s appropriate for the season. After all, advent is a time of preparation, whether you mean it religiously or not. It’s waiting. It’s watching. It’s planning and yearning and getting ready.

Soon.

I’ll be ready, soon.

I Wish I’d Learned to Play Guitar

Santa's GuitarI’ve always wanted one of those fantasy Christmases with real pine trees and snow outside (enough to make everyone stay put, but not enough to be dangerous) – the kind of holiday where conversations overlap and someone brings out a guitar, and maybe the power doesn’t actually go out, but no one even considers turning on a television or radio and everything is lit by candlelight.

I’ve come close to having one, once, when I was eleven, and we’d just moved to California, but I was too young, then, to really appreciate it, and I’m fairly certain that the image in my head is a memory wrapped in gauze and viewed through a soft-filter…possibly there’s even vaseline on the lens so that the details remain comfortably blurry.

The reality is that while our family Christmases are always warm and cozy, none of us actually plays the guitar, and my mother sings with great enthusiasm and a love of music, but absolutely zero sense of pitch.

I wanted to learn guitar in 2014, and ended up learning how to produce (slightly) better podcasts, instead. Well, I guess any new skill is a good thing, and you can’t learn guitar without owning a guitar.

Why am I never the person who is gifted with a guitar and lessons?

Why doesn’t anyone ever believe me when I tell them it’s what I want?

(I want a piano, too, but guitars are much less expensive…and then there’s the eternal discussion. Fuzzy wants an electronic keyboard that can interface with our computers, which is absurd because neither of us are composers. I would prefer something with real wire and real wood, and hammers that strike the strings and, and, and….)

It feels weird to not be involved in any Christmas activities at home. We skipped our annual trek across town to see Lessons and Carols because I was too ill to enjoy it. There’s another church doing their version this weekend, but we’re supposed to get massive rain on Sunday, and while I trust Fuzzy’s driving, no matter the weather, I do not trust the other people on the roads. Like Californians, Texans tend to treat every rainstorm as a surprise.

Last year, even though we didn’t go anywhere, we at least went to midnight mass. I love midnight mass. I love the candlelit church, and the scents of pine and spice. I love that we begin with at least half an hour of caroling, and I love that everyone gets to participate. Teenagers gift us with their voices and instruments lifted in song, and adults respond by singing along, and offering loving applause, and if there are bobbles or wrong notes from these very young artists, it doesn’t matter because we’re joined in community…in communion.

It’s very difficult to be a person who literally thinks in music (which I do…as much as I think in prose…music and lyrics are how my mind works) surrounded by people who aren’t musical. I wish I were a better, more versatile musician.

I wish I’d learned to play guitar.


Image Copyright: gyso4ka / 123RF Stock Photo

Holidailies 2014

Traces of Tinsel

Christmas Tree 2013

My tree is still half-decorated, as I’ve been busy, and not feeling well, and not in the mood. Every time I walk past the dining room, where it lives behind closed doors to protect it from flailing paws and floofing tails of big dogs and small puppies, it chides me for leaving it half-naked in the window.
Who knew plastic pine trees could be so stern?

I walked into the dining room today with the intent to hang more ornaments, and came across a stray strand of tinsel. Now, as I wrote in 2005 (which was, apparently, the first year I officially participated in Holidailies) neither my mother nor I has added tinsel to a tree since 1987, when her brother, my uncle died.

This tree is three years old.

The previous plastic tree was purchased in 2009.

The tree before that, which came with us from California, was purchased in 2002.

None of them has ever been close to a box of tinsel. And yet, I keep finding the odd strand. Not clumps, just a strand or two, caught on an ornament, or shining from within the center of the tree, and I’m confused, because we shouldn’t even have traces of tinsel anymore.

I’ve decided to embrace my 2005 philosophy about them, and, instead of wondering exactly where these silvery strings are coming from, interpret them as fond messages from my uncle, my grandparents, my friend the WarriorPoet.

Sure, the mundane answer is probably just that they’re stuck to the tissue we reuse for years, or have been twined through different ornaments since the dawn of my collection (which began before I began – my oldest ornaments are from my mother’s childhood).

Perhaps after I post this, I will go and put more decorations on the tree.

Perhaps when I do, I’ll find more traces of tinsel.

Holidailies 2014

Off Balance

Ballerina Warming Up by David Gilbert

Fuzzy left for DC early this morning, from an airport shrouded in fog, and landed in an airport being dusted with snow. I am home, because his trip is for work, but I feel the way I always do when he’s gone: off-blance.

The house is too quiet. I have a white noise app on my iPad, but I can’t listen to it 24/7. I can’t get the temperature right – all day I’ve been too cold, or too hot, adding and subtracting layers as needed. The thermostat for the ground floor of our house, which is where our bedroom is, is above my eye-level; I can move the control that makes it warmer or colder, but I cannot see to pick a just-slightly-higher temperature, and while we own three stepstools, I never remember to bring one to the thermostat.

As well, getting up early to tke him to the airport has completely disruped my schedule, but the dogs are still on their usual schedule, which meant I couldn’t just veg and sleep all day.

I hate it when the rhythm of my days is disrupted. I hate that Fuzzy being gone for three nights makes me off-balance for a week.

Fog and Firelight

Fireside Cafe

We haven’t had more than a drizzle in days – maybe weeks – and aren’t likely to before this weekend, but yesterday was the perfect day to have a cold, because it was chilly and grey.

Normally, I’d have retired to bed; instead I puttered around the house, doing some tree decoration, making an uber-garlicky chicken soup in the crockpot, baking pumpkin spice cake, and sitting in a wing chair in my living room, my hands wrapped around a mug of coffee and the fireplace snapping and crackling, hissing and popping, beside me.

Our fireplace is more decorative than designed to actually provide heat, but it takes the chill out of the room, and makes everything feel cozier. I couldn’t focus on writing, had no voice – still have no voice – for recording, but I watched Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, and really enjoyed it, and then we watched the penultimate episode of The Newsroom and the first episode of The Librarians, and then I went to bed to curl up with dogs.

Sometimes puttery days are the best kinds of days there are, even when you have a cold.

Holidailies 2014