Romania Beckons

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romaniaBy JULIE SEYLER

Today is August 29 and in one month and a day we leave on our trip, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on October 1 (my bday).  We’ll switch terminals, grab a bite to eat and board Tarom Airlines Flight 9382. We land in Bucharest at 7:15 P.M. and the next day the adventure begins!

Inevitably we are asked “Why Romania?” and all I can say is there is so much to see and do, I wish I had more than 14 days. As it is we are cramming in Bucharest, Count Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania, the medieval village of Sighisoara, the university town of Iasi, the Painted Monasteries of Bucovina and various places in between. We are missing the Danube Delta and the Black Sea. I’m already thinking “next time”!

I did a little prelim research and learned that Romania was the birthplace of Johnny Weissmuller, (the first actor to play Tarzan) and the great sculptor Constantin Brancusi. American pastrami owes a debt to Romania because Jewish immigrants imported the tradition of “goose-pastrama”. In the old country, to preserve the goose for as long as possible it was salted, seasoned, and smoked. There was no goose in NYC and so the technique was adapted to beef and voila pastrami. (Here’s to the the lower east side of Manhattan where old world pastrami sandwiches live on at Katz’s Deli.)

We shall visit grand synagogues, castles, wooden Saxon churches, traditional villages and always be amidst what looks to be gorgeous scenery. It sounds too enticing, and then there is the price point value. Real bang for your buck. We are staying in hotels that are classified as 4 or 5 star and are not more than $100 night including breakfast! We booked one night at the Grand Hotel Traian, designed by Gustave Eiffel, where I read that John Gilbert and Greta Garbo secretly nestled in the 1930s while they were romantically entwined. Perhaps the accommodations  shall not be akin to the Four Seasons, but nonetheless old world luxury from the belle epoque with whiffs of a pre-Ceausescu world.

And after Romania we stop four days in Paris. Steve has never been and I have never been to Versailles so it is on the list of things to do. And because we have an extra long stopover in London on our way back- hopefully we shall take the train into the city for lunch.

Now I more than anybody knows no trip is perfect. There will be snafus and disappointments and best laid plans that go awry (all of which Steve will weather with aplomb and me with not such great aplomb). But, it will be forever memorable, as every trip always is.

 

Corn with Marshmallow Fluff: Sweet!

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Corn done

Dinner: Fluff on the left, Saffron and Olives on the right.

BY LOIS DESOCIO

Presented with a food challenge, chances are, I will bite.

So last Wednesday night, void of a dinner idea, and starving, I came across this food piece from The Star Ledger, titled: “Would You Dare to Put Fluff on Corn on the Cob?”

You bet.

After all, I’ve topped a good crusty French loaf with Nutella and hot sausage, and I eat Sardines with Olive Mayonnaise for breakfast.

The Star Ledger piece had 10 new directions in which to take that corn on the cob. Consider making a meal out of corn – it is one of the few commodities, thanks to the wet weather in the Midwest, that farmers predict a glut of, and has seen a drop in price.

I picked an olive-infused spread: Saffron and Olive Cream Corn, and a dessert: Toasted Marshmallow Corn

The Toasted Marshmallow kept on giving after chomped, chewed and swallowed. (Probably not unlike filling your cheeks with a mouthful of candy corn.) I added my own twist: a sprinkle of nutmeg. It made it taste like Thanksgiving.

And the Saffron and Olive Cream Corn – a messy, sweet, savory, creamy, salty and crunchy festival for the tongue.

Also, since I don’t have a grill at the moment, I broiled both recipes. But I imagine that the Toasted Marshmallow Corn, especially, cooked over a campfire, would make me sing.

Here are the details:

Corn ingredients

Toasted Marshmallow Corn:

Skewer the husked corn, spray with cooking spray and grill until lightly charred. Spread with Marshmallow Fluff, and toast as you would a marshmallow – turning constantly.

Saffron and Olive Cream Corn:

Mix two tablespoons kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons mixed green olives, a pinch of black pepper, a pinch of saffron, with a quarter cup of marscapone cheese. Grill, boil or broil the corn, then spread the mixture on the hot corn.

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

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Even Facebook believes EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON

Even Facebook believes ‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.’

BY BOB SMITH

People always say: “Everything happens for a reason.” Usually with a knowing wink, as if there’s mysterious meaning behind it. As if some greater being or force has determined the proper sequence and nature of everything that happens on earth, and makes things happen to fit that grand scheme.

But it isn’t so. It’s really just causation, dressed up as having meaning.

Say you’re sitting at your desk and a pencil rolls off a shelf, falls onto your old address book (yes, the paper kind, which people kept before the advent of the electronic calendar), and lands pointing directly to a listing for your elderly aunt. This seems to be a truly random event, particularly if your desk is an unholy mess like mine. When you notice the pencil apparently pointing in the general direction of this particular listing, you recall that this elderly aunt had recently been ill, so you call and wish her well. Tragically, she dies four hours later.

You later mention that the circumstance of the pencil having fallen was what prompted your call to ailing auntie, and someone immediately wants to ascribe the event to divine intervention. You get the knowing wink and the conspiratorial nod – “Everything happens for a reason.”

Yup-gravity.

Calling it a divine act seems to bring order and reason to what would otherwise be random chaos; mere coincidence, but that’s all it was. Saying everything happens for a reason is really just an extension of Ecclesiastes 3 (remember the song “Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds – a time to be born a time to die, etc.?). “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Maybe.

Or maybe things just happen because that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Time goes by and cells get tired and maybe you breathe more radon than you should have, and a bunch of lung cells multiply madly, grow into a tumor, metastasize, travel to everywhere in your body, and your life is over. If you’re 80 something, the conclusion will be “he lived a full life,” but “it was his time.” If you’re 30 the prevailing wisdom will be “he had his whole life ahead of him,” but again – obviously – “it was his time.” And then when the thirty year old’s widow meets and marries a billionaire six months later, the conclusion will be “everything happens for a reason.”

It is what it is.

This is another favorite of the casual (causal?) philosopher, and like the Ecclesiastes conclusion, it’s irrefutable. “It” must be an object of some kind; therefore it exists and “is.” Whatever “it” is, that is its identity, and therefore it is “what” it is. So to say “it is what it is,” is simply to recognize reality: things exist, with their own identities, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That last part is implied. When you say “it is what it is,” you’re really saying “it’s reality; you can’t do anything about it; shut up and accept it.”

Which brings us to a related platitude: “let go and let God.” This follows naturally from “it is what it is”: because if you can’t affect the reality of things, you might as well just accept them (“let go”), and let the universe have its way with them, as it will in any event (“let God”). Whether there’s a divine being up in the sky pulling the strings on this marionette show, or whether everything that happens is dictated by the course of nature, or whether it’s all just random madness, these sayings seem to foster comfort and acceptance. And at this stage of my life, those are good things regardless of the source.

So go ahead – recite them on any occasion, either alone or in sequence, and they’ll make as much sense as anyone needs to ascribe to them.

“Hey, everything happens for a reason.”
“It is what it is.”
“Let go and let God.”

AMEN!

Hello 50. Goodbye Creativity?

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franks 54BY FRANK TERRANELLA

Have you ever noticed that creative people create their best works while they are young? Whether it’s musicians, authors or artists, it’s an inconvenient truth for those of use on the right side of 50 that creativity declines with age.

I know I may get arguments on this point.

People will inevitably point out the exceptions to the rule as disproving it. But if you look at the great creative works in history, you will find that the overwhelming majority of them were created by people under the age of 50. Some of that is due to the fact that many great artists die young —  Mozart was 35; VanGogh was 37; Fitzgerald was 45. But among those who do not, most find their later years much less fruitful from a creative standpoint.

There are lots of examples, but I will pick just three from the 20th century. Example one is Orson Welles. Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 26. He never attained that level of creativity again, and made his last film when he was 50. Example two is Truman Capote. Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s when he was 34. He wrote his last great work, In Cold Blood, when he was 42. After that it was all downhill. Example three is Albert Einstein. Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity when he was 26. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics when he was 42. Although he lived to be 76, his later life produced no other creative breakthroughs on a par with his earlier work.

So why is it that most creativity comes in the earlier years of life? Frankly, I don’t know. Is there something in the brains of younger people that dissipates over time and blocks creativity? Anyone who has ever had a stroke of creativity will tell you that when they were creating, it was like someone else was inhabiting their body directing the genius. Composers talk about sitting down at the piano and composing a hit song in as long as it takes to play it. Creativity, when it comes, always flows out so fast, it’s an effort to write it all down quickly enough. The very word “inspiration” comes from the Latin “in spirito” meaning literally “possessed by a spirit.” This is exactly the way artists talk about the process of creating their most brilliant works.

Perhaps the human mind as it ages becomes less welcoming to this process of being possessed by creativity. Perhaps there is an unwillingness to just follow the dictates of the spirit as we grow older. Isn’t this the idea of “old people” that we had when we were young? Yet there were always exceptions to the rule. Most of us have memories of an older relative who didn’t act his or her age, and we loved them for that. So certainly we can be inspired and possessed by creativity in old age. It’s just less common.

Famously, Grandma Moses did not begin painting until she was in her 70s. Fortunately, she lived to be 101. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote great works like the Mass in B minor into his 60s. Woody Allen’s output has not lessened with age. He was 76 when he wrote and directed Midnight in Paris, which won him an Academy Award.

Clearly, inspiration can still occur in later life. I think the trick is not to settle for a comfortable existence where life has an unchanging routine. If the spirit moves you to pull an all-nighter to create, open your mind and let it flow. Creativity may prefer youth, but we over 50s can still claim our share. Go Woody!

OBEY is Not a Command. It’s a Status Symbol

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obeyBy JULIE SEYLER

I saw a man wearing a black t-shirt with the letters OBEY emblazoned in white.

All I could think was who wants to wear a t-shirt that screams I’M SUBSERVIENT? I envisioned a dog teaching this guy new tricks.

I mentioned this to Lois. She tuned me in: OBEY is a pop culture status symbol, albeit she was not sure exactly what it symbolized. It didn’t matter, at least she knew it was out there in the cultural zeitgeist of cool and hip.

It’s a clothing line. But more interesting is the fact that the man behind OBEY, is the same man as behind HOPE, the iconic poster of the 2008 presidential election. But the poster created issues for the artist Shepard Fairey because the Associated Press claimed he had not obeyed the copyright laws. The snafu was settled, and I just read that Fairey is about to start working on a new mural on the Bowery.

So the point of the story is (a) I was reminded of how far right of 30 I am, (b) I am abreast of copyright lawsuits; and (c) I know what’s happening in the art world.

I Don’t Hang Loose When it Comes to Tight Pants

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Originally published December 13, 2012:

JBrands

Good Morning.

BY LOIS DESOCIO

“I could never wear those.” I heard this sentence twice recently while shopping. One time it was while I was picking out these big, bedazzled pink earrings. The other was when I was checking out three pairs of my favorite J Brand black skinny jeans. The women who said this to me, who appeared to be over 40, knew I was shopping for myself, because I was wearing big, bedazzled purple earrings, and black skinny jeans. I did have a moment about the jeans, and thought: maybe I shouldn’t wear these either – I’m over 50. There is that uptight, conventional wisdom that says older women shouldn’t wear tight anything. Or maybe if you do, you’re trying to look younger. Do this! Don’t do that!

But it was just a moment. Not only will I continue to wear them, I will be wearing them when I’m over 70 – just like Jane Fonda.

Black skinny jeans is pretty much all I wear these days. In fact I wear them every day. Unless I’m on the beach, in the shower, or in bed – I’m in my black skinny jeans.

To me, tight means a good fit. That small percentage of spandex helps them hug, and hold their shape. They’re comfortable. They’re fashionable. They’re me! They make me happy. And they let me work from the bottom up. Picking out the shirt, the earrings, is where I want to put my daily-dressing energies. (I love shoes, too, but they’re usually black – to match my jeans.)

Think flower stem, tree trunk, or maybe ice cream cone – all the good stuff is on top. My jeans make me a pedestal that sprouts color; essence. Add black heels, my legs look twice as long. (Those big earrings? They give my face sparkle and pop!)

You’ll find me in my black skinny jeans during the day.
Jeans dayAnd at night.
Jeans night

I have about a dozen pair, and they are all exactly the same. Which gives me my personal strength in numbers. That phrase used to mean: never wear the same thing twice in one week. Now it says: buy a dozen of exactly the same thing, and wear it every day.

Bottoms up!

Want to Make a Gun? It’s a Piece of Cake

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Originally published December 12, 2012:

Drawing by Julie Seyler.

BY JULIE SEYLER

On October 7, 2012, The New York Times ran an article discussing how 3-D printer technology is allowing us to make guns at home.  This flipped me out, because really, regardless of where one stands on the Second Amendment (the right of the people to keep and bear arms), and gun ownership laws, it does seem somewhat crazy that we are moving into an era where guns, like cakes, can be whipped up at home with a little push of the button. Talk about the Wild Wild West!

So I brought the article up with a couple of my colleagues at work – neither of whom were particularly bothered.  One guy said, “If a person is intent on killing, it is very difficult to stop them.  They will find a means to do so with whatever technology is available at the time.” And another guy said that you still need to understand how to assemble the gun, so we need not worry about our ten year olds readily printing a gun for a fun game of cops and robbers.

Well, great!

But what does it say about where we are going as a society?  The simple fact that homemade guns are coming to your local neighborhood – it just blew my mind.  I wrote the above, did a fast drawing that reflected how I saw the situation, and figured one day we’d post my thoughts on the blog.  But last Friday I was talking to a different colleague, and he said, “Do you know what one of the most watched YouTube videos is?” I wouldn’t know since I forget YouTube exists. He said there is a video online that directs you how to make a paper gun – a usable, workable device to kill someone, and it is one of the most popular, watchable, and shareable videos within the small domain of YouTube entertainment.

He shook his head in utter disgust and resignation, and then asked me if I had heard of the University of Colorado dormitory that is specially designated for college students. You know – 18-21 year olds. That own guns. (Hate to be there on a night of too much drinking.)

Wherever you look, the liberalization of gun laws, coupled with the constant progression of technology, is not making us safer. It is just making our society scarier. I grew up knowing a gun was a company-manufactured device sold through regulated retail outlets. There were laws that governed accessibility. I may not have been any “safer” than I am today, but it sure felt that way.

So how does this relate to being on the right side of 50?  Only that I have more years behind me to feel sad about the years ahead.

I Want What She Has: Big Muscles

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Originally published on December 11, 2012:

Muscle Chick by Julie Seyler

Muscle Chick, by Julie Seyler

BY FRANK TERRANELLA

When I was 12, I arm-wrestled a girl and lost. I had not entered puberty yet, and the girl had. As I remember, it wasn’t even close.  The girl, who was the same age as me, had initiated the match.  She asked me to show her my bicep muscle. Perhaps she was flirting, but I was oblivious. When I flexed my arm, practically nothing popped up. The girl smiled, suppressing a giggle. She also did not have a defined bicep, but she had a thick arm, and was simply much stronger than me at that age. From the moment she engaged her strength, and started to push against my hand, I simply could not stop her from pushing my pre-pubescent arm down to the desktop. She was proud of herself, and when we argued about anything thereafter, she would flex her arm and say, “Remember, I’m stronger than you.”

Soon after that, I entered puberty, and within 12 months, when I flexed my skinny arm, a hard, round muscle popped up. It was truly amazing to the girl. She knew that I had not started lifting weights, or even exercising.  Just on the basis of being a boy, I had developed a bulging bicep muscle bigger than hers.  And to add insult to injury, she found out when we had our re-match that I was now just a little bit stronger than her also.

I was never a gym rat in my teens and never had athlete-sized biceps. But like most men, I developed biceps in my teens that were bigger than those of the women I came across. While they were just average by male standards, I was confident that I was not going to lose a strength contest to any woman I might meet.

Then I hit 40. I noticed that my biceps did not have the peak they used to have when I flexed them. I noticed there was more fat on my arm covering the muscle.  By the time I hit 50, I noticed a decrease in arm strength.  Lifting heavy items to put them on a top shelf was not as easy as it used to be. I started to read articles in The New York Times and elsewhere that said I was losing one percent of my muscle mass each year. This was alarming.

And then I started noticing that many women were developing  biceps as large or larger than mine. I was walking in Midtown Manhattan one day, when I saw a young woman with biceps the size I had formerly only seen on men. These were not cute fitness biceps from aerobics; these were cannonball-sized guns on a beautiful woman.  And I loved them on her! And beyond that, I wanted them on me.

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Hanging On to (And Finally Letting Go of) the Chooba Diamond

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Originally published on December 5, 2012:

the chooba diamond- drawing by Julie Seyler

A Little Chooba Diamond on Her Hand.
Drawing by Julie Seyler

BY BOB SMITH

Have you ever heard of the Chooba diamond? I invented it when I was 11.
In 1965, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had a pretty big hit on pop radio with a song called, “Let’s Hang On.” It’s a bouncy anthem about love gone wrong featuring Valli’s powerful falsetto, and one of the verses begins like this:

That little chip of diamond on your hand
Ain’t a fortune baby but you know it stands
For the love (A love to tie and bind ya)
Such a love (We just can’t leave behind us) …

The chorus exhorts the girlfriend to:

Hang on to what we’ve got
Don’t let go girl, we got a lot
Got a lotta love between us
Hang on, hang on, hang on
To what we’ve got.”

Somehow, I misunderstood the first line of that verse.  I thought Frankie said, “that little Chooba diamond on your hand,” instead of “chip of:”

I’d had zero experience with diamonds (or engagement rings, or girls, for that matter), so I  assumed Chooba was a designation of origin for a rare type of diamond unknown to me.  The “ain’t a fortune baby” line made sense because he did say “little,” after all.  So in my quaint understanding, Frankie had purchased an engagement ring for his girl set with a minuscule, but nonetheless highly-prized and mysterious, “Chooba diamond.”

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