Thursday, January 28, 2016

Downton Abbey, It's Been A Good Run

         The arrival of the Crawleys onto our television screens was a most welcomed diversion in my life. At first it was only supposed to be the one series. But when the last episode of that first season was broadcast I could tell there was a lot left unanswered and not much time in which to resolve everything before the screen faded to black.  At the end it was announced that Downton would be back for another season. I was elated. And for the next five years a new season of jolly good fun arrived each January to lift our spirits after the inevitable let down once the holidays were over.
         This past Christmas I pulled out seasons one through five and had myself a Downton Abbey marathon in preparation of the sixth, and, dare I say it, final season. I rushed out to World Market and headed straight to the tea section where I purchased all of the specialty Downton brews put out by The Republic of Tea. I added some good chocolate and settled in with my batch of DVDs.  The theme music always sends a chill through me and though I could have zipped through it with each episode, I let it play on.
         Despite being the world’s biggest Downton fan, I was surprised at how much had slipped my mind. There was O’Brien and Barrow plotting away in the kitchen, and poor Mr. Pamuk’s body being carried across the great house in the middle of the night. The ongoing stream of bad luck dumped on Mr. Bates and Anna had me wondering what the actors had done to incur the wrath of the writers. And who could forget the creepy solider who claimed to be the heir to the Crawley fortune? Will we see more of him?  And what about sweet, sweet Miss Swire who captured Matthew’s heart, and maid Ethel and her decent into ruin only to be lifted back up by Isobel Crawley. Lady Sybil and Branson, Mary and Matthew, and poor Edith and Anthony Strallen. There they all were always under the watchful eye of Carson, spewing out delightful nuggets like, “have you done something jolly with your hair?”
         I don’t have a favorite Downton character. I love them all with equal measure. As season six plays out, I am relishing every second, anxious to see what happens next, but not wanting it all to end. I want Mary to find a new love and something good for Edith. I want Baxter and Mr. Moseley to be together, and I want Barrow to find some peace. I wait with bated breath for the next bon mot out of the Dowager Countess’ mouth, and hope Isobel finally agrees to marry Lord Merton.
         Like the rest of the Downton-obsessed world I am curious to see how it all turns out in the end. All I know is that next January won’t be the same. Perhaps Julian Fellows will bestow upon us another gem from across the pond. We’ll have to wait and see if the rumored Downton movie comes to fruition. But until then, I have my DVDs and my tea and chocolate. And that will just have to do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Kitchen Table

     It’s that time of year again. No sooner has the last piece of pumpkin pie been eaten and we’re on to the obsessive search for just the right holiday gift. But are shiny things bought at big box stores really the stuff of memories?
     For me, my most cherished memories of the holiday season don’t include what I found under the tree, or the fact that I had time off from school, but rather with the gathering of family and friends around our small kitchen table. A lot of life happened at that yellow Formica table. It was where my older sister and I did our homework while my mother made dinner, where we played games on cold winter nights, and where my mom taught me to sew. It was where each evening I would have a snack before bed, and on hair-washing days it was where my sister and I took turns sitting under the big blue bonnet of the hairdryer. That table sat at one end of what I remember as a big kitchen, but with the passing of so many years that I’ve now lost count, I know it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been. The entire house was nothing more than a breadbox.
     When November and December rolled around the kitchen table was the place where we all squeezed together, warmed by the oven cooking the turkey. The smell of my mom’s homemade apple and pumpkin pies cooling on the counter, and the scent of balsam from the tree mingled with the good food and laughter we shared in that small room where someone would tell the same story from the previous year, and we would laugh as if it were the first time we had heard it. Later in the day, after the meal had been cleared and the dishes done, we took out the board games. After several hours of Sorry and Yahtzee, someone would bring out the leftovers and we would start all over again.  
     It’s been many years since I’ve been in that kitchen. These days everyone has a life so full of activities and work that it’s hard to gather at the kitchen table even for an evening meal. But on Christmas day this year, as we’ve done since my nephew was born sixteen years ago, my family and I will gather at my younger sister’s kitchen table to play Five Crowns while we gorge ourselves on snacks throughout the morning. Her table is not yellow nor is it Formica. My mother and I are the only two left from those days so long ago around that yellow Formica table. We are a small family, just seven of us now. But we will gather nevertheless to laugh and eat and reminisce with my sister’s in-laws and have the time of our lives once again.
     So this season as you celebrate the holidays in your own special way, turn off the phone, step away from the computer, and return to the kitchen table and the magic of just being together.
            Happy Holidays -


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Can You Make Me Look Like A Super Model?

Once I found out that my book was going to be published I needed to get a photo taken for my Web site and the back of the book. Who knew this would prove to be the most difficult thing about getting published? Personally, I don’t think anyone can take a good picture of me—not that I let anyone with a camera within a mile of my face–but with a book launch looming, I had to do something. In hindsight, I should have become a writer when I was younger and a lot more photogenic, but things happen in their own sweet time.  

So I asked another writer friend where she had her picture taken and she told me and then she told me the price. Being a frugal New Englander I was rightfully aghast. I emailed my sister and she said, come on over and I’ll take a few shots for half that! Kidding, right? She wasn’t going to charge me, was she?

I took my trusty little digital camera over to her house. It takes wonderful pictures of flowers up close, so this would be easy. My sister was otherwise occupied, so next in line was my 10-year-old nephew. A smart kid, and I would get to spend some quality time with him. We went outside and he proceeded to snap photos of Auntie standing by the tree, Auntie standing by a bush. The problem was, while tall for his age, he’s still just a bit shorter than I am so all the photos looked like someone was sitting on the ground looking up at me. Not a very flattering angle, what with the age thing and gravity taking its toll. This wasn’t working so we moved into the house where I sat on the sofa with him across from me. And then he went over to a floor lamp and unplugged it and moved it right next to where I sat.

“What are you doing?” I asked this 10-year-old Richard Warren wannabe?
“Lighting,” he said to me with a worldly air.

I started laughing so hard that we had to end our photography session.

The next week, it was my sister’s turn behind the camera. Again, nothing turned out.

I finally bit the bullet and called the first professional photographer on my list. “We’re going out of business. Closing our store this week,” the man told me. “You should have called sooner.” Yes, I think with a sigh, perhaps about twenty years sooner.

I moved on down the list and called the next photographer in my area. The price for taking my picture would buy me a small car. I was getting desperate with only one name left to call, a woman who conveniently had her studio close to my office. We talked for a bit and she quoted me a price that sounded reasonable. I told her I would check my schedule and email later in the day with some times that would work. I checked my calendar, found a free Saturday morning, and sent off an email with a list of questions—did she think she could air brush me to within an inch of my life, make my eyes look bigger, elongate my neck, and take ten years off my face?

I’m still waiting to hear back.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ah, Autumn!

Sometime toward the end of August, I start to feel it, that almost imperceptible feel in the air signaling the imminent arrival of fall. I grew up in New England, that bastion of all things autumn, but even here in California, I can tell.

Almost immediately melancholy envelopes me and my mind replays my childhood in vivid hues of reds, golds, and russets. There I am, my ten-year-old self, on my blue bike, peddling through fallen leaves, an apple in my pocket, and the warm sun on my face. I’ll be gone for hours, leaving my family anxious with worry, but I can’t be contained this time of year. When I finally return home it’s to the smell of my mother’s spice cake with the burnt sugar frosting.

If I’m not riding through the country roads of our town, I’m raking leaves into massive piles, sometimes stealing from other yards to make mine the biggest and best. But leaves aren’t the only lure. It is, after all, the month of Halloween; witches and ghosts, a full autumn moon, and pumpkins carved and luminous.

People don’t seem to revel in these simple pleasures anymore. Children prefer to sit in front of glowing screens killing yet another alien from some far off planet. But no matter where I live, in my mind I always return to my roots when the days begin to grow darker and a chill settles in.

There’s a tree in front of my house now, not a glorious maple or a stately oak, but nevertheless it heeds to the season and its shiny green leaves turn to red seemingly overnight. It’s time to take out the Halloween decorations, grab a light jacket, and kick up some leaves.

Happy autumn!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Goodbye, Downton...For Now

Like Christmas when I was a child, I wait all year with great excitement and anticipation and then poof! It’s over in a flash and I’m left feeling empty and alone.

Of course I speak of Downtown Abbey. It just started and tomorrow night season three will conclude and then what? Luckily I’ve DVRed all the episodes and bought the DVD so I can console myself by watching them over and over as I’ve already started to do (Hello, my name is Elaine and I’m a Downton-aholic) but still…

There’s nothing like that cold Sunday night in January when, after a hectic holiday season, I need a bit of a pick me up and there she stands, Laura Linney, seemingly as excited as the rest of us, and utters the words I have been waiting eleven months to hear, "Tonight we come back to the spellbinding magic of Downton Abbey." The music starts, we see Isis’ rump waddling along Lord Grantham, and I get chills all over.

And what a season! Superbly written and acted, it kept us enthralled. Bates and Anna, Lord Grantham’s financial downfall, the death of Lady Sybil, Mrs. Hughes cancer scare, a wedding that finally happened and a wedding that never made it back up the aisle. We saw Lady Mary blossom into a kind, lovely woman. Of course, she was there all along under the cold alabaster exterior. And we saw Lady Edith come into her own. And Branson. I wasn’t sure about him at first but he fit beautifully upstairs where he seems to have gained a great respect for the Crawleys.

And downstairs…I cried for Thomas and his tortured soul and loathed O’Brien who doesn’t have one. Will Anna and Bates unlock the horrible secret behind those words, Lady Grantham’s soap? Will Thomas be humbled by Bates’ help or will he revert back to his conniving self?

So tomorrow night I’ll sit in front of my television anxious to see what happens, all the while willing it not to end. A few tissues will become soggy before the screen fades to black, no doubt, and melancholy will envelope me.

Years ago in the heyday of Dallas, my friend Janet and I would watch the season finale and then say that we hoped we didn’t die over the summer before we found out what happened. So here’s my wish for the coming year. I wish for world peace, an economy on the rise, good health, blah blah bah. And come January 2014, on a cold Sunday evening, for Laura Linney to look out directly at me and say, "Tonight we come back to the spellbinding magic of Downton Abbey."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Carnage on the Kalahari

I like TV as much as the next person. Sometimes I just want to be entertained and sometimes I want to learn something from the viewing experience. So when I read in People magazine—my weekly secret indulgence—about a new Discovery Channel series called Africa, I decided to tune in. I’ve watched these kinds of shows before, so I really should have been prepared, but we never are, are we?

The first installment in the series is called Kalahari, referring to a region in southwest Africa. It’s a hostile area filled with fossil lakes and desert fog and has very little water. I was really looking forward to the sweeping landscape and the breathtaking photography these kinds of shows are famous for. And then I started watching. A better name for it would have been Carnage. In big letters. And bolded.

It began with a windswept sand dune and a spider rolling down it. Incredible. And then it moved on to the good stuff—the big animals. I love giraffes, those gentle vegetarians that don’t seem to cause much trouble. That is until another male invades their territory. A giraffe’s neck is six feet long. It weights more than five hundred pounds. When a giraffe fights it starts by swinging its neck like a pendulum, gathering speed and then WHAM! it strikes the other animal continuously until it is down. Horrifying.

It was time to take a break. I pressed pause. I needed a cup of tea and maybe a Xanax.

Act two of Kalahari/Carnage started off with, say it with me people, more carnage! This time around it was between a leopard and an antelope. Antelopes and zebras, do they ever get a break? After that the show moved on to giant, gross, repulsive slimy bugs doing God knows what to each other. Time to fast forward. After the bugs came the birds of prey circling over the remains of some animal carcass. I’ve never been a big fan of birds. Now I know why.

I looked at the clock. Halfway through. Surely they would show me something warm and fuzzy next. They did. Baby ostriches, just hatched, were trying to get across this vast expanse of sand to the watering hole before they died of thirst. And just to make it interesting and get their little hearts going, those sadistic Discovery Channel people tossed in stampeding zebras, a couple of elephants and lions on a rampage.

When was this going to be over? And then…black rhinos, whose numbers have been depleted to fewer than five thousand, gathered at night at a secret watering hole. Something like this had never been filmed. First a mother emerged out of the dark with her calf and then others arrived. It was truly breathtaking.

So in the end, I did learn some things. In one of the most inhospitable landscapes on earth, life prevailed and I was witness to these incredibly beautiful creatures.

Just remember to fast forward.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alex, I'll Take Popes For A Thousand

Now that the craziness of the holidays is over, I thought it time to turn my attention to more intellectual pursuits; something stimulating and fun at the same time. Something that has the potential to turn into a life-changing event with the added bonus of perhaps adding to my meager retirement coffers. Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again when the Jeopardy! Challenge is upon us.

I enjoy Jeopardy! I don’t watch it every night but I try to catch it a couple times a week. I like shouting out the answers with reckless abandon to an empty room, which gives me the advantage of not being embarrassed if I’m incorrect, which I admit happens. I like final Jeopardy! best and give myself a pat on the back if I get the answer correct—especially if the people on the show don’t. I also scowl at the television if the contestant gets things wrong, telling them they’re an idiot and how did they ever make the cut. Yes, things can get pretty hairy at my house around six-thirty each evening.

But here’s the thing, they’re not idiots. Not even close. I’ve taken the test before. I sign up, receive my instructions and on the appointed evening I log in and stare down the timer until the test begins.
You get fifteen seconds per question. Just in case you didn’t know, fifteen seconds is not a long time, especially when you have to type out your answer. At least it doesn’t have to be formatted into a question as it does on the show. But you still have to come up with something. The computer spits out fifty questions, moving on to the next one whether you’re ready for it or not. Afterward, they don’t inform you of your score. If you’ve done well, they’ll call. So far they haven’t.

But before you go judging me and shout out the word idiot, do you know who the pope was in the year 1215? Huh? Do you? Because that’s the caliber of the questions you have to deal with. The fact that I get even a handful correct is pretty impressive—or maybe disturbing because, really, why would one know the answer to such a thing? It’s Pope Innocent III in case you were curious, by the way.

So suffice it to say I won’t be asked to be on the genius tournament with the likes of Ken Jennings any time soon, but nevertheless, there I’ll be on January 10 trying my hardest to find out exactly how much I don’t know.

But keep watching the show. You just might spot me—in the audience.

Happy 2013!