Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why Tim Gunn will never, ever be my BFF

As I've mentioned in my previous few posts, I was visiting my family down in Jersey last week, and while I was there I went through several boxes of old photographs.  As I looked through this collection of moments in my life, one thing became abundantly clear: I am, and always have been, woefully unfashionable.

These days, I tend to stick to what I've come to think of as my SAHM "uniform" - sweaters and jeans or cords with wool socks and clogs or boots in the winter, long-sleeved t-shirts and jeans or pants with clogs or boots in the spring and fall, short-sleeved t-shirts and capris or shorts with Birks or flip-flops in the summer.  I wear appropriate clothing to church (skirts, dresses, sometimes even heels) and if the occasion demands it (social functions for Hubby's work, etc).  I know I'm not trendy or hip, and I don't particularly care, since I'm not really trying to be "in" these days.  I dress in what is comfortable and practical for my lifestyle, and it works for me.

Earlier in my life, however, I did care more about fashion.  I tried very hard to be hip and trendy, to look hot and therefore be cool.  Tried, and failed, it seems, for decades upon decades.  Looking through the evidence of my lifetime of fashion don'ts, my overwhelming unpopularity among the cooler crowd is suddenly making sense.

Shall we have a photo retrospective to illustrate my point?

This is my third grade class picture.  We had just moved to our new home in NJ and I started third grade a few weeks into the start of the year.  I was a year younger than my classmates, from a small, upstate NY town that was light years behind the much "faster" and more mature culture of the tri-state area, and I was smart.  Really smart, and bookish and talkative and without meaning to be, an instant teacher's favorite.  I also was wearing glasses (though not all the time yet, just for distance things like reading the blackboard), and I lived on a working sheep farm in the middle of an increasingly developed, suburban community.  Only one other kid in my grade lived on a farm, and he wasn't exactly the epitome of coolness either.  My parents tended to fall on the conservative end of the spectrum, and furthermore didn't believe in the "importance" of having all the latest and greatest things.  While I did have some teeth in my mouth again (the previous year, I'd had twelve pulled during an overnight stay in the hospital, including all my top and bottom front teeth.  The hanging-down threads of the stitches were the only things protruding from my gums for a couple months there that year), the teeth I had were wonky and screaming out for orthodontic intervention, which they soon received in the form of every appliance known to modern dentistry as well as six years of braces.  When you add all the above factors up and then look at my fashion choices, it is no wonder that I spent the next three years in abject, mostly friendless misery, followed by a junior high and senior high experience that definitely did not find me running with the "in" crowd or sitting at the "cool kids" table in the cafeteria.

You think I kid?  Check out the following year:
This was my most favorite dress, ever as a child.  I thought of it as my Laura Ingalls dress.  I adored it and would wear it to school whenever my mother would let me.  With knee socks and Mary Janes.  This is the late 70s now, mind you, when tight designer jeans and long, feathered hair were in vogue.  Not whatever I had going on on top of my head and the Little House on the Prairie look.  This was the last year I only was a part-time Four Eyes, and I'm fairly certain I was holding my retainers in my other hand.

Speaking of the farm, here I am in a casual moment, sometime around 1980 or '81.  While I'd like to give myself points for having a shirt with my name on it (if memory serves, my mom ironed the fuzzy letters on herself), I'm fairly certain the rainbow sneakers kill any chance of coolness the outfit might've had.  Also, those were either Lee or Wranglers jeans, not Jordache or Sergio Valente.

Let's skip ahead into the formative teenage years now, shall we?

Here I am in high school.  Freshman year, I think.  This was taken at Christmas (at my aunt and uncle's house - my parents never had that color shag carpeting on the farm), and my outfit of choice?  A red, polyester blouse with a red and black bowtie, black sweater vest with a white argyle-esque print, a white skirt (with pockets! that I used!) and oddly orange-toned pantyhose.  (I believe those were my favored "suntan" color hose by No Nonsense, which was a sad case of me believing the marketing. I really should've stuck with the "nude" color.)  Tell me, what 13 year old dresses like this voluntarily?  I remember, once again, thinking I looked good.

It really was downhill throughout the 80s.

This is me on vacation with my family at Disney World, spring break of my sophomore year.  I don't know where to begin here.  The dark indigo Lee jeans poorly pegged at the ankle, the purple t-shirt under the pastel, striped, short-sleeved jacket, the hair, the earrings, the sunglasses, oh dear Lord, the sunglasses.

Seriously.  WTH?!?!

The only good thing that can be said for this period was that I hadn't yet begun the Big Perm phase of my later teenage years (which was the sequel to my Big Perm tween years).  That came the following year...........

This was a publicity shot for one of the shows I was in during high school.  (What?  Of course I was a theater geek, to go with the music geek and literary magazine geek and co-president of the Spanish Club......)  My hair was too big to fit into the frame, y'all.  (Also, that is a zit, not a Cindy Crawford wanna-be "beauty mark" there by my mouth, beautiful.)  I remember being disappointed that I didn't have some of my larger earrings in that day, as we were all just grabbed when possible by the teacher who made up the cast board with the photos.  What you're mercifully missing in this picture due to its lack of color is my eye makeup and lipstick, which were both always loud (remember that dayglo blue mascara?  Owned it, wore it, LOVED it.  Also dayglo green.  With even louder, neon-er eye shadow and liner to match), and also my hair, which by that point I'd lightened to a strange sort of orangey-red by using chamomile soap.  (Color photos of that color and further enlightenment as to my lifetime of being a fashion don't can be found here.)  At least I was out of braces by then, so my teeth were no longer a wonky nightmare.  The frosted, ice-pink lipstick I preferred in high school set them off so well...

Here's another one from high school.  This appears to have been taken at my sister's Confirmation, which means she was in 8th grade and I was therefore a junior in high school.  (Side note: the older gentleman to the right of the frame is my late grandfather, who lived with us following my grandmother's death until his own death a few years later.  *sniff*)  Please ignore the face I'm making as I'm about to inhale a piece of post-church service refreshments, and just let me point out the white pants with black pinstripes.  I loved those pants.  Loved them.  Here's the thing: I wore those year-round because hey, they're white but they had black in them, too!  Seriously - look:

See me there?  That was taken in January.  Yep, the same white, light cotton pants with a black turtleneck, white stockings and black shoes and I was good to go.  At least when I was wearing them in church that day the previous summer, they were seasonally appropriate, even if the black belt didn't tie the outfit together quite as much as I thought, nor did it go with the white purse or heels.  I had a particular fondness for that sweater, as it was one of only two Benetton clothing items I owned.  I cringe to admit that I wore that sweater well into the 90s, too.  Oh, if you look closely at the first photo, you'll see some of my favored collection of silver rings.  I wore rings on every finger, including my thumbs.  If you look really closely, you'll see the "spoon handle" ring on my one finger - it was made of two welded-together spoon handles and it was huge.  It would pinch my hand when I played piano and leave me with some nasty blood blisters, as would a few of my (many) silver bracelets.  (No, I would not take them off just to spare myself the wounds.  You have to be willing to suffer for fashion, right?)

I could go on - sadly, there are hundreds more photo examples of why Tim Gunn will never, ever be my BFF - but I'll leave you with one, last picture to prove that I've always been fashionably hopeless:

'Nuff said.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Only in my dreams...

I know I'm not the only person on Earth who has a recurring nightmare.  Mine started shortly after my eighth birthday and I still dream it to this day.  That's thirty years of the same, exact nightmare, for those of you keeping score at home.  A darn long time to be haunted by the same dream.

Like I said, I'm not the only person on Earth who has a recurring nightmare, but I betcha I'm one of the only people on Earth who has a photograph of it.  You see, on my visit to my childhood home this past week, I was going through old photographs that my parents have in boxes (and boxes, and boxes) in their house.  I was looking for a few, specific pictures out of what must be tens of thousands of photographs, and I wasn't holding my breath that I would find those few for which I searched.  (My father has been an avid photographer for my entire life, photographing just about everything right down to my very first diaper rash.  I kid you not, though that wasn't the picture I was trying to find.  I've inherited his shutterbug tendencies, and as such can rival Dad's collection of pictures already, though the vast majority of mine are digital and therefore just taking up space in the external hard drive, instead of haphazard piles in no particular order stuffed into cardboard boxes.)  I found some of the ones I had hoped to find, along with many others that I set aside for future blog posts and/or blackmail (I've already sworn a solemn vow to one of my sisters that certain photos of her from our childhood will never be posted by me to Facebook...).

The one I didn't intend to find - one I didn't even realize existed at all - was the one that captured the moment of my recurring nightmare.  Here it is:

It doesn't look too nightmarish, I know.  What you're looking at is a photograph of an evening in December, 1979, when my parents took me, along with two friends, into New York City to celebrate my eighth birthday.  We went to Rockefeller Center and saw the Christmas tree.  We saw the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.  We saw the decorated windows at Macy's and along Fifth Avenue.  We then went to the Trump Tower, which is where the picture above was taken.  I am the girl in the bright orange hat with the pompom almost as big as my head on top.

If you aren't familiar with Trump Tower, the interior is gorgeous.  Here's a shot I found online of the inside:

Coincidentally, it appears to be decorated for Christmas as it was on that night in December 1979.  (There are other shots of the Trump Tower here and here, for those of you who aren't familiar.)

That night, as we went up the series of open escalators, I first felt the gripping fear that would become my biggest phobia - a fear of falling from a great height.  (I do not have a fear of heights, per se, but only one of falling from a height.  I feel perfectly fine on top of the Empire State Building, where falling over the edge accidentally is a virtual impossibility - falling on purpose from the top must take some serious effort, indeed! - but standing on a balcony just one or two stories up and looking over a railing freaks me out.  I do not know if this technically is just acrophobia, or fear of heights, or if it is something separate.)  I was looking down as we climbed the floors and my palms began to sweat, my heart began to pound, my skin became clammy.  I shook it off at the time, but that was the beginning of the end of my previously phobia-free existence.

The nightmare, which I first had that night, is this: I am with my family at the Trump Tower at Christmastime.  In my dream, I am of varying ages; sometimes I am a child, sometimes I am my actual age at the time.  However, in my dream, my youngest sister - who would've been two at the time of the dream's onset - is always an infant, and for whatever reason, my mother has given her to me to hold.  I am holding her, both of us bundled in our winter coats, scarves, mittens, and we're climbing the escalators.  As we rise higher off the main floor, my sister moves suddenly in an attempt (I always think) to see the waterfall that cascades down the one interior wall and I lose my hold on her.  She falls from my arms, plummeting over the side and then I wake up.  She never gets rescued nor does she hit the floor before I am awake, panicked and sweaty, sometimes having screamed aloud.

That was the nightmare I had that first night, back in December '79, and it has been virtually the same since then.  I do not dream it as often as I did as a child, and there doesn't seem to be any one, specific trigger for it, but I do still have it occasionally to this day.  This is the only recurring nightmare I have.  I had one other as a child, but that one (about a giant, floating eyeball, of all things) stopped when I was maybe 11 or 12.  I just never realized there was a photograph to go with the dream.  Freaky, huh?

(By the way, I have been to Trump Tower many times since that night.  I've even ridden those same escalators, both as a child and an adult.  It never did alleviate the nightmare.)

What about you?  Am I the only one to have a recurring nightmare that began in childhood?  Anyone else share my fear of falling from a height?  Have I just outed myself as certifiably freaky?

Ah, the tortured angst of youth

My brother-in-law has been reading the Chronic(what?)cles of Narnia with my six year old nephew.  Specifically, he's been reading the boxed set that belonged first to my older cousins, then to me.  I discovered them around age 9, on a shelf in my grandparents' house, and read the series through a few times over the next several years, leaving the books behind at my parents' house when I went off to college.  Well, that set found its way to my sister's house, and thus, a new generation has begun to enjoy the stories.

One night, while reading one of the Narnia books to my nephew, my brother-in-law turned the page and out fell two sheets of paper.  Technically, they're not paper paper, but computer punch cards for the NYSE, which came in books and which my grandparents had in abundant supply, as my grandfather was a vice president at the NYSE back in the day.  The one side has lots of different boxes for bid size, ask size, sold, cash, close quote, etc, and the reverse was blank, that side being the one my family used for note pads.

Well, two such sheets fell out, and my brother-in-law immediately called for my sister, as he had no idea what in the heck he'd found.  Turns out what he discovered was a poem that my sister quickly identified by the chicken-scratch handwriting as being a Heather original creation.  She called me the following morning, giggling like a fiend, and told me of the discovery.  She promised to send up the poem to me, but as life tends to get in the way of such things, she didn't have the chance to, until I saw her in person earlier this week while the kid and I were on our annual summer trek to New Jersey.  (More on that later.)  There we stood with our kids on a blindingly sunny, hot beach and she handed over to me this relic of my youth.

And what a tortured youth it was, apparently.  Now, bear in mind that I've always fancied myself something of a writer and poet (also a lyricist and composer - oh, to have properly transcribed the melody lines of the songs I wrote as a teenager... alas, I have naught but the occasional fragment of verse and chord notations from which to recreate my attempts at emo 80s pop).  Obviously, one is never more Angsty and Tormented than when one is going through the hell that is puberty and adolescence, and I was never one to suffer from a lack of an overactive imagination or delusions of grandeur.  It was the pitfall of being a kid whose nose, more often than not, was stuck in a book and whose ears were typically covered with headphones through which music, that food of love, played on and on and on.  What I'm trying to say, basically, is that I tended to the dramatic and the melodramatic.  In my mind, I was Catherine on the moors, Scarlett in Atlanta, Anne in Avonlea and the leading lady of every Shakespearian drama, Eva Peron and Grizabella and Sally Bowles and Cosette, Katie in The Way We Were, the Baroness in Out of Africa, Etta Place hanging out with Butch and Sundance and Sophie with her horrific choice......

This is all a means to attempt to explain - justify? - what I'm about to transcribe.  Yes, dear readers, I'm about to give a Lost Work of Staggering Genius its decades-belated, long overdue public debut.  I'd save myself the transcription effort and scan them in, but my handwriting has never been beautiful and was even less so as a Tortured Teenage Artiste.  Go ahead, laugh, I sure did.  I think, reflecting back on this piece of what surely can only be rightfully termed dreck of the greatest magnitude, that it is eminently clear why I never became the Next Great American Writer, the female Jay McInerny, the 80s Sylvia Plath that I once aspired to be............

*deep breath* Here goes.  The poem is untitled, and I honestly do not remember what traumatic event caused me to write this in response.  More likely than not, it was some fight with my parents.  Perhaps my mom had gone into my room (as she was wont to do) and gone through my belongings, finding something I didn't want her to find.  I'm transcribing this verbatim, mightily resisting the urge to edit as I do:

Walking down a winding path
of darkness patched with silver
sewn into the shadow-filled
darkness by the
far off
distant moon
High above this forest-topped hill
Bravely gleaming all alone
for the host of stars are very faint
The ground below my feet dips and swerves
it is foreign to me, and evil
I yearn for a friendlier path
One through a meadow I have walked before 
worn smooth over years of travel

But somehow
I have entered this
secluded wood
full of unknown dangers and challenges
I fear I am not
experienced enough a traveller
but now
I have no choice

Gone are the easy days, days
when the path was wide and clear
and home was waiting
at the end of the lane.

The wind blows
sharp and icy cold
The old door is barred.  It stands welcoming
no more for me.
It is no longer the end
no longer my destination.
This path
leads not to what once was my Home

Now I must press forward, through the black,
the unknown
I must safely make my way,
alone and unguided
to a clearing in this strange, new wood

And with no background, no past
Nothing of old to call my own
I must build myself
a new Home
in the shadows of these trees
Send down my own roots, create
my own history
build up new walls, as these old crumble down
And protect myself from the past, from the future and its 
unknown frights
Make my own hearth and lay my own fire
to warm myself by.

What I once thought was my own
is no more.
Now I am alone, to begin
in the darkness
When I do build my new Home
will you share it with me?
I'm suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to find a better example of my teenage writing, to prove I wasn't always as horrible a writer as this would lead you to think.......

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You want fries with that?

Earlier this week, Kiddo and I went with some friends to the county fair.  While perusing the various dining options, we saw many traditional fair foodstuffs, like funnel cake, fried dough, snow cones, etc.  I mean, one doesn't go to a county fair for fine cuisine, after all.  Then, we came upon this booth:

Holy moly.  Now, I've eaten deep fried Oreos before and they're actually quite delicious.  However, I just couldn't help but feel like this particular food emporium has gone a wee bit over the top with its listing of deep fried fare.  Some things just shouldn't be deep fried, dontcha think?  Like, say, pizza.  That is just wrong!  (And this is coming from someone who is currently in the throes of major PMS and who would gladly dive head first into a giant bag of Fritos, followed by a supersized order of fries from Mickey D's and finish off by finishing off a bag of Double Stuff Oreos.  It isn't that I'm against junk food or grease or oil or deep frying, is what I'm saying, it's just that sometimes one can go too far.)  The stand didn't seem to be lacking for customers, however, so maybe I'm in the minority here, thinking that not everything tastes better when it's been deep fried.

(Also, I'm trying reallllllly hard not to comment on the grammatical error right there at the top of the stand's sign.  Reallllllllly hard.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not quite life handing one lemons and making lemonade, but...

So, I had this bunch of bananas going steadily overripe in my fruit bowl on the kitchen counter.  Actually, it was parts of two separate bunches; the original bunch I'd bought which started getting riper than the ripeness level Kiddo will willingly consume (she eats a banana each morning as part of her breakfast), and a second bunch I'd bought when the first bunch started getting too ripe so there'd be bananas for Kiddo to consume, with the assumption that Hubby, who isn't nearly as persnickety about what constitutes a too-ripe banana, would eat the remainder of the first bunch (he takes a banana in his lunch on days that he brings lunch to work).  What wound up happening was that Hubby didn't eat enough of the first bunch and the second bunch ripened alarmingly quickly, being, as they were, in such close proximity to the first bunch, and before I knew it, I had half a dozen bananas that were all way too ripe for anyone in the house to want to eat.  And by "anyone" I mean "Hubby or Kiddo" because I do not eat bananas.  Not in their original form, anyhow.  I have a thing about bananas dating back to when I was a child, and try as I may as an adult, I cannot overcome it and eat them plain and unadulterated.
I will, however, gladly eat them in an adulterated form, like, say, as banana bread.  Of course, to eat them as banana bread requires making the banana bread, which is what I decided I'd do.  I decided this right around when the insane heat wave started, though, as the bananas all had the unfortunate timing to edge perilously close to rotten just when the thermometer started racing up (and up, and up.  Didn't the heat wave realize where it was?  This is upstate New York, for Pete's sake!  We prefer to buy plane tickets and make hotel reservations to experience those kind of temperatures.  When we choose to, on purpose, paying good money to do so.  We don't like to just be subjected all willy-nilly to upper 90s in our own hometown, sheesh!!)  Who in their right mind wants to turn on an oven and bake things for an hour when it is freakishly hot outside?  No one in their right mind, that's who, and not me, either.  So, the bananas sat, going browner and browner, first in the fruit bowl and then in the fridge, until today when the heat finally dropped back down below 80 and turning the oven on didn't seem quite so laughable a thought.

I rescued my beloved, cobalt blue Kitchenaid stand mixer from its sad, temporary home in the bottom of my pantry, vowing to it once again that the moment our kitchen renovation is complete (neglecting to mention that the renovation won't even begin for another few years unless we win the lottery sooner than that), I will move it to a permanent place of honor, out on the countertop, so it will no longer have to languish behind the bag of dry cat food, nor will it have to practically give me a hernia every time I haul it out and up into the daylight to use.  I dug out my go-to recipe for banana bread, took a deep breath, fired up the oven and got to mixin'.

Here's the thing about banana bread: it smells better than any other thing in the world when it is baking.  Seriously.  The smell wafts all throughout the house, permeating every nook and cranny with that delicious odor.  Longer lasting than chocolate chip cookies, more powerful than brownies, less "have to be in the mood for it or it is icky" than bacon, there's just something about banana bread that makes it the best thing you can possibly bake in terms of making your entire house smell edible.  Within 15 minutes of me popping the pans into the oven, Kiddo surfaced from the lanai, nose sniffing away.  Hubby, downstairs in the office, noticed the wondrous smell as well.  Both of them began asking me "When will it be ready?  Is it ready yet?"  By the time I pulled the loaves out, we were all salivating heavily.

I wish that there was a Scratch-n-Sniff plug-in for the internet, because that would make this:

so much better.  Sadly, you'll either have to take my word for it, or hop in your car (or on a plane, depending on where you're reading this right now) and stop over for a slice of banana bread heaven.  We've only got a loaf and a half left now, so you'd better stop by soon.  Or, for a last option, buy too many bananas, let them get too ripe, and bake up a batch yourself:

Best Banana Bread in the World Recipe:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together 2 sticks butter and 2.5 cups sugar.  Add 6 overripe bananas, blend well.  Add 4 well-beaten eggs, blend well again.  In a separate bowl while the previous mixture is blending (I set my Kitchenaid around a 4 for this - medium/medium-low), sift together 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 3 teaspoons of baking soda.  Add dry ingredients and (once again) blend well.  Pour into two greased loaf pans (you know, the traditional size "loaf" pans, though I have several and no two are the exact, same size).  Bake for about an hour - until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out cleanly.  Depending on the oven I've been using, this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes, so I generally start checking the loaves for doneness around the 45 minute mark, then every 5 minutes thereafter.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mostly Wordless Wednesday... the official portraits

I finally got my act together and got Kiddo's professional portrait taken, as I've done every year around her birthday.  "Around her birthday" used to mean within 3 days, max, back when she was younger.  This year, "around her birthday" turned out to mean within 6 weeks, give or take a day.  At any rate, it's done now, plus I had a coupon and I'll be able to save myself some mailing charges as we're heading to the motherland (aka Jersey) the week after next, so I can distribute the latest pictures in person to all the aunts, uncles and grandparents then.

Without further ado, Kiddo, age 7, the official portraits: