Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Oprah dilemma: narrowing down favorite things

Today was the last today to enter the "Favorite Things" give-away and now it's too late. Having had every intention of entering, somehow something always came up, time passed and I missed my opportunity to meet a well-known celebrity.

Having retired from TV, Oprah, she-who-doesn't-need- her-last-name supplied, is doing the speaking tour circuit. Nothing wrong with that since everyone from former presidents and politicians to lifestyle gurus and media celebrities are doing it. Ms Winfrey will be delivering her take on the world and dispensing advice as only Oprah can, in our corner of the planet.

Have to admit that I watched her TV show regularly in earlier years and on-and-off after that, depending on the subject. Reading the promos for her appearance here, I checked the ticket prices and sort-of tucked away the information in one of those "got lots of time to decide" things. Eleanor, thy name is procrastination.

In order to help promote her arrival and talk, our local newspaper and sponsors ran a "Favorite Things" contest. For the uninitiated and during her reign, Oprah put aside one day per year on her show for a super giveaway with accent on the super. Audience members who were lucky enough to get tickets for her favorite things show, were the recipients of a plethora of products ranging from eletronic goods, name it, chances are it was featured on the show at some point.

The promotion for her appearance here includes a "full day VIP experience to an evening with Oprah." Included in the package is the grand prize being a salon experience, a shopping spree, dinner, limo service, meet-and-greet and premium tickets to the show. The only pre-requisite to entering the contest was to send along a photo of one's favorite object(s).

In the way of an excuse, there was the dilemma as to determining and narrowing down my favorite thing. Maybe, a photo of my favorite jeans might have been an option, or my new pair of 'killer' suede shoes so named due to their toe pinching quality, then again there's my large-ish new purse that has the capacity to hold my umbrella and a host of other "must-take-along-and-have-with-me" objects.

As an artist, I could have sent along a photo of my favorite "10-hair-painting-brush"used to paint fine lines for flowers and the like, or even a picture of one of my paintings but narrowing down the one to send would be an issue. If nothing else, maybe she would be interested in owning an Eleanor original. 'masterpiece.' Then again, playwriting rates high on the favorite list so the cover sheet of one of my plays could have been an option.

As I've frequently bemoaned, it's always the could-haves, would-haves and might-have-beens that get you in the end! Ain't that the truth.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Goblin-proofing a chicken coop takes Oddest Book Title

 Most writers strive when publishing their book, to draw attention to well-written content, a good story and if they're fortunate, to get on a best seller list. Honors are in the eye of the beholder and the winner of the Oddest Book Title of the Year award is Reginald Bakeley and Clint Marsh, who together wrote the fascinating book, "Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop." Be still my beating heart!

There is no information supplied as to the background for coming up with this story but I would never have thought that chicken coops experience goblin problems. Perhaps a wolf raid or a drop in egg production on occasion, but it's really disturbing to think that chickens fall victim to goblins.

The book attracted 38% of 1,225 on-line votes to beat out a craft manual on "How Tea Cosies Changed the World" which acquired 31% of the vote to win the annual Diagram Prize. As a devoted tea drinker, this is somewhat disappointing. Tea cosies are a very important  tool in maintaining a hot pot of tea and one would imagine and even assume that this would be a fascinating subject for tea drinkers world-wide, who would want to create and personalize their very own tea cosie. I know I would!

The third place honors went to Tom Hickman for his book, "God's Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis." Again, no background information provided but did a search and came accross a review on  "The story of the penis -- a brilliant history of the male member that tells you EVERYTHING you wanted to know but were too shy to ask." Now you know.

In addition, shortlisted for an award was a study of Adolf Hitler's health entitled, "Was Hitler Ill?", "Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts" and a guide book about "How to Sharpen Pencils." As a person who at some points in my life has attempted to sharpen a pencil with a knife, or a pencil sharpener that continously broke the lead, the latter could come in handy. Here is a short video by the author, for people reading this who are interested in the art of...pencil sharpening.

The Diagram Prize was founded at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978, and past winners include "Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice" and last year's "Cooking with Poo", a Thai cookbook by Bangkok resident Saiyuud Diwong whose nickname is Poo.

There's still hope for me to write my book detailing the fun and enjoyment of re-using tea bags. This is something the world is waiting to read.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

About obituaries and attending funerals

Just finished reading a fun obituary. You know me - always looking for and seeking out the unusual and this certaily falls into that category.

For most people, an obituary is straight-forward information piece detailing the date of the deceased's passing, names of family members and the date and place of the funeral. However, the family of Harry Weathersby Stamps, noted his death and contribution to the planet with a warm and humorous tongue-in-cheek notice that has gone viral on the Internet.

Eulogized by his daughter, Amanda Lewis, he is described in the opening paragraph as, "ladies' man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013." It is obvious in the way that the obit is written that Ms Lewis wanted to share her father's life in a meaningful yet light manner with people who knew Harry and the family.

This got me thinking about obituaries in general and how we will be remembered by family, friends and acquaintances. As a writer, my life and contribution in general to the literary world could be summed up in three sentences, "She lived. She wrote. She croaked."

Have to confess that in addition to reading the news, the obituary page comes a close second. Attending a funeral is a mark of respect for the deceased and their families, especially if you would want them to reciprocate when the time comes, if you get my drift. Not that I specifically seek out a reason to be present at funerals but there are people who are "funeral groupies." Frequently, they don't know the deceased but show up anyway, in case there are people they may know and chat with. In conversation with one of their kind, frequently questions arise as to the cause of death to which my pat answer is, "their heart stopped beating." This is usually enough to quell any further conversation.

It's also not uncommon, unfortunately, to hear the ringing of a cell phone in the middle of everything. I mean, give me a break! If courtesy can't be extended to turning of a cell phone during a funeral ceremony...but I digress.

Ben Franklin sums it up perfectly. "I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up." I hear 'ya, Ben!

Meanwhile, it's worth reading Harry's obituary.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

To tea or not to tea. The Downton Abbey syndrome

For the last couple of years and as is the case with many people who indulge in an afternoon beverage break, I find myself thinking more about the proper way to serve tea. Usually, tea for me consist of a large mug with the words, “I heart New York” written across the front in large black letters, the dropping of a tea bag inside followed by the slow pouring (has to be slow to bring out the full flavor) of boiling hot water and allowing it to steep for a few minutes, finishing off with a drop of milk (cold – not hot). I’m giving a lot of thought nowadays to the idea of switching to using a tea cup and teapot.

Having spent the first six years of my childhood in England, tea has always played an important role in my life and now with the emergence of Downton Abbey on the TV screen, I feel a pull back to ye old country customs, be it on a much more limited scale.
For those of us who are devoted and confirmed Downton Abbey-ists, we can blame the BBC and Julian Fellowes for springing Lord and Lady Grantham and the Crawley family experience on to the TV screen. In essence, it’s a soap opera where the characters are members of a privileged upper-class aristocratic family and the internal rivalry of their servants. Viewers like moi, get to share the ups and downs of the various family members as they live out their lives in ignorant bliss and splendor, while being served hand-to-foot in the true sense of the word, by servants who cater to their every need and whim.

It’s not difficult to see why the series has caught the imagination of royal watchers and soap opera followers (like me). How many of us wouldn’t like the experience of owning and wearing splendiferous clothes throughout the day and changing them depending on who rings the bell? Dining would always be a special occasion and take place in the various dining rooms, depending on the time of day and importance of thevisitors. Mornings would call for the silver serving pieces and white linen tablecloths and napkins. Place mats and paper napkins would never do.

“Excuse me, Eleanor,” Lord Tylbor would utter while scanning the financial section of the newspaper. “Could you pass me the butter and the marmelade?”

“Dearest husband, Lord Tylbor...sweetie,” I would or could respond as a servant pours tea from a beautiful bone china designer teacup, adding a touch of milk, two lumps of sugar followed by a quick stir. “As you will recall, we no longer use butter in favor of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” due to your cholesterol problem. Besides, we do have a butler to do those menial things like butter passing.”

There are certain rules and regulations to be followed and as mentioned in previous blogs, my favorite source of etiquette is Debretts. When it comes to doing and knowing the right way to conduct oneself, Debretts has it all.

"It is the responsibility of 
the person who has invited you to brief you on what you should expect. If in doubt, always ask before you attend as codes of conduct and etiquette are strictly observed.
You should arrive on time and dress appropriately, following the dress code on your invitation. Look particularly to the top table for cues as to when to sit down, start eating, leave the table etc. Refrain from leaving the table during dinner. Table manners should be faultless; this really is the time to be on your best behaviour," Debretts offers in the way of helpful advice.

Advice is also available on bathroom etiquette. "When nature calls, either slip away quietly or excuse yourself from the group. Leave it clean, always flush and never discuss." This leads one - me - to ponder why one would discuss one's bathroom habits. I mean, it's not a dinner topic. Thinking further, one could share toilet flushing techniques but that's about all.

 Back to Downton Abbey.

All the series characters are interesting in their own right but the one that has stood out as a favorite is Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Her zingers are anticipated as much as the story lines. Here are a few of my favorites accumulated over time.

Cora: "Things are different in America."
Lady Grantham: "I know. They live in wigwams."

(Upon being told the swivel chair was invented by Thomas Jefferson) "Why does every day involve a fight with an American?"

"So that’s Mary’s replacement. Well I suppose looks aren’t everything."Sir Richard: "I'm leaving in the morning. I doubt we'll meet again."
Lady Grantham: "Do you promise?"

Mrs Crawley: “I take that as a compliment.”
Lady Grantham: “I must have said it wrong.”

 "I have plenty of friends I don't like."

 "Last night! He looked so well. Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else's house."

"One can't go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We'd all be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper."

(Struggling with the newly installed telephone) "Is this an instrument of communication, or torture?"

Having watched seasons one through three at least twice I’m looking forward to the next installment. According to “spoiler” reports, Mary, now a widow, will get a new love in her life, and being treated to the Dowager Countess's bons mots is something to look forward to. Meanwhile, there’s always tea in the I heart New York mug with water poured after a full boil – never tepid – accompanied by a scone and jam. The Crawleys would understand.