Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm from SOUTHERN California - Does That Count?

In the move "Jaws," Chief Brody's wife asks her friend, "When do I get to be an islander?" The friend laughs and says, "Never! You're not born here - you're not an islander!"

I found that to be true when I lived on Catalina Island. I lived there for three years - and loved it. But three years or fifty years - I would never truly be an islander. That's the down side. However, my non-islander status did give me a perspective that true islanders can never have.

When I moved to Virginia, I found that the same rule applies. I wasn't born in the south, so I will never truly be a southerner. And that's ok.

I did have some pre-conceived notions about living in the south, though. To be honest, I had always regarded the south in extremes: graceful plantations with romantic, sweeping verandas...

I knew that it would be hot and unbelievably humid in the summer; the bugs would be weirder and because some folks can't let go of the past and still think that the south will rise again - racial issues (which infuriate me probably more than anything else I can think of) are still a hot button topic.

Friends warned me, almost like the admonishment above the River Styx: "Abandon All Hope - Ye Who Enter Here" that I was moving to RED NECK country.

And that I would likely never be seen or heard from again. Or, if I was, I would have been transformed into Ma Kettle or Granny Clampett.

"It's a cultural wasteland," some cautioned. "You'll be starving for civilization - and you'll be back in SoCal in 6 months."

It has now been a year and a half. Not ONE of those dire predictions came true - well, at least not to the extreme predicted. Yes, the weather is VERY different; we do have some weird bugs, most notably the stink bug - a seemingly benign little creature who resists attempts to dislodge him by emitting a stink worthy of a skunk.

The few red necks I have met were nice to me, courtly even - and not at all like what I had imagined. This is, after all, Virginia - not Possum Holler, Kentucky. And racial issues, well, let's be honest. They exist everywhere. You either choose to live that way or you don't. And our neighbors, of whom we are very fond - don't. Thank God.

As for cultural opportunities, there are lots of community theater groups in the area, a writers group - and we're an hour and a half away from DC and the Kennedy Center. Even a weekend trip to see a Broadway show is doable.

Life is slower here, more peaceful. Most houses have front porches - and folks use them.

I now subscribe to Southern Living (great recipes!) and I read Virginia Living online.

Paula Deen is one of my favorites. I follow her on facebook, but the secrets to true southern cooking are passed down generation to generation - like DNA. Only a world class chef could duplicate the delicate and enchanting flavors. Someone like Julia Child - or Audrey Kovacs.

I have finally had a chance to try moonshine! No idea where it came from - but it was blueberry and it was actually pretty good. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in how it's produced. I have always pictured a moonshine still hidden deep in the forest, with guys with sawed off shot guns on their laps and a sign saying: "Revenooers Shot on Sight". (Okay, maybe I watch too many movies.)

But the reality was more like -

In somebody's perfectly modern kitchen.

Still - as much as I love and have embraced the Virginia countryside, I know that I will never really be a Southerner. And despite the fact that I yearned for years to move to the country - I will never be a full fledged country girl, either.

This fact was brought home to me in a little white box my son-in-law, Eddie, placed in our refrigerator some weeks ago.

I took no notice of it until one morning I was pulling items out of the fridge for breakfast and something icy cold and wet flew out of the fridge and landed on my bare foot.

It was a night crawler - name says it all. A big, fat earthworm.

BUT WHAT WAS IT DOING IN OUR FRIDGE??? The little white package was full of rich, damp soil and a large population of night crawlers - for Eddie's fishing trip the next day. Apparently this night crawler had more smarts and gumption than his fellow inmates, because he figured out how to escape the package and make a desperate bid for freedom.

I'm told they heard me clear over yonder in West Virginia.....

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In night of chill, When the wind blows ill

And evil lurks well nigh

With crack of twig and shadows big

And eyes that follow you by

The timbers groan as spirits moan

And the moon hangs cold in the sky

Old headstones lean, with moss between

And echoes of ghostly sigh

Hurry home, my Dear

Allay your fear

Worry not of where you’ve been

Enjoy the eve and make believe

And have a Happy Halloween!

- K August, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Plus-Size Fashions Join NY Fashion Week!

The headline reads: "New York Fashion Week Announces Plus-Size Show!"

Woo hoo!

FINALLY - after some 40 years of weight tyranny, rampant eating disorders and mounting criticism of fashion houses for photoshopping pictures of already emaciated models down to cartoon-like figures - the fashion industry is awakening to the reality that normal women just don't look like the 17 year-old models who struggle to survive on a diet of lettuce, cigarettes
and coffee.

But the fashion industry considers "Plus-Size" 14 or 16 and up. Really?

Statistically, the AVERAGE American woman is 5'4", weighs anywhere between 140 - 160 lbs. and wears a size 14. If this is the norm - and sizes 0 - 8 the favored minority (because, let's face it - even the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" revealed that size 6 is sneered at in the fashion industry as being too plump for the runway) doesn't that make the smaller size range the anomaly? Shouldn't they be labeled "Under-Size" instead of stigmatizing the majority of the female population as "Plus-Size"?

Thanks to campaigns launched by Dove and Fruit of the Loom encouraging healthy self-image in women and girls of all sizes and shapes - shapely, full-figured women have finally emerged from the shadows to demand their place in the sun - and the clothing stores.

The fashion industry can turn on a dime when it comes to dismissing a color or a handbag as "so last year," but when it comes to acknowledging - let alone catering to - the average woman, they seem to have a learning disability. Further, the conventional "wisdom" of the fashion industry is that women who are size 12 and up are not fashion conscious. Apparently they believe that we prefer being relegated to ugly, voluminous garments in drab colors, the fashion equivalent of trash bags.

If - as statistics indicate - 62% of all American women are over-weight, does it make good business sense to virtually ignore the needs and desires of such a large population - not to mention their spending dollars?

And therein lies the real trigger for the growing - albeit tepid - trend to cater to "real" women.

Like every other sector of American business, the fashion industry is suffering from the down economy. Slowly, they are starting to view the "plus-size" woman (i.e. most of us) as an untapped market. Designer Marc Jacobs has announced plans to expand his line to include larger sizes; Saks 5th Avenue and Forever 21 now have plus-size sections in their stores. Fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Glamour have featured plus-size models in some fashion layouts.

Whatever the incentive, hopefully this heralds a new era - not only of acceptance of fuller- figured women, but admiration as well. And of models of all sizes regularly appearing in fashion layouts - not just special features to appease.

How did we become so twisted in our concept of beauty? How did our society come to pressure shapely women into risking their health and safety by starving themselves to fit such an unrealistic, disturbed image?

Throughout history, the full-figured woman was the feminine ideal. Ample bosoms, round hips and thighs were admired and aspired to. Renaissance artists painted voluptuous women and cherubs; sculptors depicted the female figure as round and ripe. Upper class women proudly displayed their girth, as it showed that they could afford plenty to eat.

Starting with the 17th century, bodices and corsets began to alter the figure, pushing breasts up and out and narrowing the waist, while panniers made the hips look larger. In the 19th century, panniers phased out, making the hips narrower - and bustles added volume to the rear end. All of these were designed to enhance - if not exaggerate - the soft, curvy female form.

The concept of sex symbols as we know it today caught fire in the 40's and 50's with beauties such as Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. These women were icons of feminine sex appeal.Their voluptuous figures had men drooling and women rushing to emulate them, copying not only what they wore - but how they wore it: the decolletage and hip-enhancing skirts and slacks.

It may not be fair to blame the entire skinny-as-life-goal mania on Twiggy, the British model whose stick-thin, boyish style became the fashion icon of the British Mod generation.

More likely, it all began with Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor - an utterly non-voluptuous woman - whose famous quote "You can never be too rich or too thin" resonated with a society among whom many already had Anglophilic aspirations and held her words as gospel.

As thin began to be associated with rich, upper class, desirable - the full-figure began to likewise be associated with lower class, lower IQ - and even cheap.

Today, Walls Simpson's adage still has a stranglehold on women's self-image, the fashion industry and the movie and television industries. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Calista Flockhart are suspected of suffering from eating disorders, while others - such as Kate Winslet, Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Love Hewitt - beautiful women all - have endured insults and criticism, not for getting fat - but just adding a few extra pounds. In other words, looking like the average woman.

Hosted by Emme - the plus-sized fashion model who has been instrumental in getting full-figured women onto the fashion industry's radar - the New York Fashion Week Plus-Size show on September 16 at Lincoln Center is not officially a part of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. This may make it seem almost conciliatory, like a toe in the water to see what the reaction will be.

My guess is that the show will be well received, acknowledgment at long last that those of us who are over size 10 are not only fashion conscious and starved for acceptance - but an economic force to be reckoned with.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Wish Satisfaction Dept. Needs a Calendar!

It occurred to me the other day that I have often gotten what I've wanted in life.

Oh - not EVERYTHING. Just some key things that, at the time, seemed impossible (like living on an island - and moving to the east coast) yet ended up happening anyway - just not always when I wanted them.

An example: when I was about 5 years old, I was a Shirley Temple fan. A BIG Shirley Temple fan. And I wanted curly hair like hers, but my hair was long and thick with only a slight wave to it.

My sister, Cindy, who - at 3 years old - didn't know Shirley Temple from Shirley Booth, had a head full of natural ringlets. And I hated her for it. And I hated my mother for allowing it.

Mom did her best to appease me by curling my hair with rollers, even pin curls - but within an hour after taking them out, my hair would fall - slightly wavier, but no curls. God bless her, she did try!

Then the 60's arrived - and the "mod" look came in: long, straight hair, parted in the middle.

Now that I was older and well beyond my Shirley Temple ringlet phase and straight hair was in, you would think that there would no longer be an issue. You would be wrong. By this time, puberty had changed my long silky hair into a frizzy nightmare - neither curly nor straight.

And it was imperative that I have straight hair - that was THE look. EVERYONE had long straight hair: Peggy Lipton from the Mod Squad; Ali MacGraw; Cher; Jean Shrimpton (top model from London) Julie Christie; the girls in the Beatles movies - and everyone I went to high school with.

I tried everything: ironing, sleeping on rollers made of orange juice cans, chemical straighteners
and spending hours under the bonnet dryer in my room.

After a night of sleeping with my head 4 inches off the pillow, I would go to school.

First period: PE - and swimming! I remember the straight-haired girls bent in front of the air hand dryers in the bathroom - all of their hair flipped forward as they brushed it vigorously. Then they would stand up straight and their long, straight, silky hair would fall into place like a damn Breck commercial and they would saunter off to class.

But I hadn't gone through hours of drying and lack of sleep only to have to go through the whole day looking like the Bride of Frankenstein. So - to the annoyance of my completely unsympathetic PE teachers, I refused to swim - and got very good at running track.

Later, when blow dryers came out, I tried blow-drying with round brushes, with flat brushes. It worked - sort of. Unless it was humid or it rained - and then it was back to square one.

Fast forward 30 years. I'm in my 50's now and no longer obsessed with my hair. It is what it is - and what it is - to my utter shock - is CURLY. I mean RINGLET curly!

What the hell???

I wake up in the morning with a head full of curls - natural ringlets. They're adorable - except for the fact that they're GRAY.

And my sister - she of the cloud of ringlets I so coveted? Her hair is now STRAIGHT!

I'm not making this up. I got what I wanted - just 47 years late.

Now I live in Virginia - a place where you can step outside at 1 am and your glasses can literally fog up with the humidity - and wreak havoc with your hairstyle.

Except mine. I have naturally curly hair!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Get Out Your Pig Spleen and Persimmon Seeds!

Virginia has strange weather. I don't know if it's because of geographic location or because weather across the country has been unusual lately, but we had to get out of the pool the other day (in the last weekend of July) because it was too cold.

Also, birds have been mating and nesting like crazy - not just robins and sparrows, but ducks and geese too! I'm no expert in ornithological mating habits, but isn't the end of July a little late for that?

And I keep hearing that we are in for another hard winter like last year. I didn't move here until spring, so I'm not exactly sure what that means, except a lot of snow.

"Yeah," someone will glance up at the sky and say with sage resignation, "We're gonna have another bad winter." I look up at the sky too - nothing. Just a few clouds or a dazzling blue and crystal clear sky. What are they looking at?

But when I ask how they know - I can't get a straight answer. They just know. Just like they can tell that a storm is coming long before it appears on the horizon because the leaves of certain trees turn their backsides to the direction the storm is approaching from.

Yeah - I didn't believe it either. I thought they were just teasing the California city girl. But it's true! Works every time! And now I use it myself.

I'm used to California's non-weather. It isn't true that it "never rains in California" (although I love the song). And the temperature can get down to the low 50's - pretty cold by California standards. But you're never going to get hurricanes, serious tornadoes or 6 inches of snow blanketing Los Angeles.

Here in Virginia, however, you can get any and all of these things. All this talk of a bad winter coming up made me curious, but the usual weather resources only cover today, tomorrow and the next week or so. And then I remembered: the Old Farmers Almanac!

I don't happen to have a copy. In LA, the Old Farmers Almanac is more of a quaint artifact, full of mysterious farming tips, down-home recipes, folksy wisdom - and arcane weather information.

Here in Virginia farm country, the Almanac has more relevance and its wisdom is taken more seriously. If anyone would know how to read the signs of nature to predict the weather, it would be the folks whose livelihoods are dependent upon it. And the Old Farmers Almanac is the holy grail of such wisdom.

I went on the Old Farmers Almanac website and clicked on "How to Predict the Weather" - ready to be enlightened by a compendium of hundreds of years of science, experience and old world knowledge.

What I found was a series of options. The Old Farmers Almanac provides weather forecasting based upon solar science (sun spot activity) meteorology (atmospheric conditions) and climatology (prevailing weather conditions over long periods of time - even centuries) as well as by the phases of the moon.

You can also click on "Predicting Weather with a Pig Spleen."

Say what?

I'm not making this up. All you need is a barn, a farmhand - and a live pig.

According to some guy named Gus from Saskatchewan, you can predict the weather by the shape of the pig's spleen. You have to slaughter the pig first.

There's even a diagram of the spleen sectioned off into 6 parts, each representing one month, starting at the top (the part that was towards the pig's head) and the last of the 6 month period at the bottom. Wherever the spleen is thickest indicates a cold spell. A pronounced bulge predicts stormy weather ahead. A spleen that is even all around indicates mild weather conditions for the next 6 months.

Another guy, Joe, also in Saskatchewan, is adamant that a fall or early winter slaughter is more accurate for weather forecasting than a spring slaughter. Despite harsh El Nino weather predictions for 1997 - '98, Joe forecasted mild conditions for his area, based on the evenly edged spleen he extracted from a pig that fall. And he was right - thick onion skins and corn husks notwithstanding.

Another school of weather forecasting holds that persimmon seeds are the way to go. No barns, farmhands or livestock required - all you need is a persimmon.

The Almanac fails to mention if the persimmon must be organically grown, fresh from the tree or store bought, but apparently the shape of the kernel inside a persimmon seed will predict the weather for the next several months.

A spoon-shaped kernel means you're in for a lot of heavy, wet snow and a harsh winter. A kernel that is shaped like a fork indicates a mild winter with light snow - and a knife-shaped kernel is a harbinger for cold, "cutting" winds.

Then there's the tried and true goose bone method. For those whose Thanksgiving feast features a goose instead of a turkey ( and apparently it must be a goose for weather prediction, a turkey won't do) after carving the bird for dinner, you strip the breastbone of meat and cartilage and set it aside to dry. If the breast bone remains white, a mild winter is predicted. A bone that turns blue, black or purple warns of a cold, harsh winter. The explanation for this is that the dark color indicates that the bird had naturally absorbed a higher amount of oil - as a natural fortification against the coming winter cold.

In LA, my experience with weather forecasts was on the radio or on TV news programs - with an accuracy rate of about 50-50. If they forecast a 60 - 70% chance of rain - it might get wet. Anything under 50% - forget the umbrella.

Maybe they should start reading pig spleens and persimmon seeds!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Storms

In California, summer weather is pretty predictable. It can range from hot to sizzling hot. It can even be unusually cool. Humidity is rarely unbearable, and it always cools down in the evenings, bringing welcome relief. But it almost never rains in Southern California in the summer time.

Summer here in Virginia is a bit different. It's very hot, humid like a sauna - and it doesn't cool down much in the evenings. I'm used to it by now, but what still surprises me are the rain storms.

And I don't mean a few little sprinkles here and there. I'm talking STORMS: thunder, lightning, gale force winds and rain hammering down - often coming at you horizontally. And the weirdest thing is that they appear out of nowhere - and are gone almost as quickly - several times a week, usually in the afternoons.

So yesterday, Sunday, we had a sort of impromptu pool party with our wonderful neighbors - truly, a fun, crazy bunch of all ages I have come to adore.

Our gatherings at the pool are a weekly thing, starting Friday after work and ending on Sunday evenings. This means that if you are busy on one day, you can still hang out with the gang and join our demented version of volleyball (completely unfettered by pesky details like rules) the rest of the weekend. Somebody came up with the idea to give our little gang a name, and one woman suggested "The Pool Pals."

She's a kindergarten teacher...

We had everything set up to grill burgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings, salads and dessert.

I had gotten out of the pool so that I could dry off before going into the house to start getting the food out, when the dark, foreboding clouds that had been hovering ominously in the distant west were suddenly upon us.

Normally, you can hear a storm approach by the thunder, and they say that if you can hear thunder, you should take cover or risk getting hit by lightning. However, this time there was no thunder, which suggested that we would get minimal rain, if any. More likely, the storm would move on right past us.

It began sprinkling, but we were all wet anyway, so it was no big deal.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a blast of warm wind smacked into us, sending the plastic poolside tables and umbrellas flying into the pool and the light
sprinkles became a torrent of monsoon-like force. We scrambled to gather up our towels, cell phones, books, magazines and the chips and dip and hurried into our apartment, which is closest to the pool.

No matter. We set everything up inside, and by the time we were actually serving, the storm had passed and we could return to the pool as if nothing happened!

Three-plus years on Catalina Island and I rarely saw the sun. A few weekends here at the pool and I have the best tan I've had since I was 16!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

For the last 40 years, on April 22, we have celebrated Earth Day, both as a global celebration of the progress that we have made in our efforts to clean up the environment – and as a means to increase awareness of environmental issues. Cities and neighborhoods around the U.S. and the world observe Earth Day in their own fashion, some with large events, some with small. The current trend to “go green” has given Earth Day greater significance in recent years, but often lost in the effort is the event that triggered the whole movement.

On a Sunday afternoon in June, 1969, a fire erupted on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. Thought to be ignited by molten steel or a spark from a passing train, the incident was not regarded as particularly alarming at the time. Indeed, rivers that flowed through many US urban centers were used as convenient sewers for industrial and human wastes, and river fires caused by the accumulating oil and debris were common between the late 19th and 20th centuries.

The Cuyahoga flows past Akron in northeastern Ohio and empties into Lake Erie, resulting in severe water quality deterioration, fouled shoreline and loss of fish population in the lake. Heavy industry in cities along the shores of Lake Erie also contributed, but the damage was caused largely by the pollution of the Cuyahoga.

By 1969, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire at least a dozen times before the 1950’s, causing substantial damage to docks, ships, dockside properties and becoming a hazard for local shipping. So when the Cuyahoga ignited again in June of 1969, local officials took it in stride. No one called the Chief of Police. The fire was handled by the regular firefighting tugboat crew, who routinely dealt with oil slicks and maintained constant watch for river fires. The blaze was under control within a half hour.

William E. Barry, then chief of the Cleveland Fire Department was quoted as saying, “It was strictly a run of the mill fire.” The story barely made the local news.

But this “run of the mill fire” was different. It caught the attention of Time magazine, who commented in August of 1969, “Some river! Chocolate brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases. It oozes rather than flows. ‘Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown,’ Cleveland’s citizens joke grimly. ‘He decays.’ ”

Other national media gradually picked up the story, but perhaps the greatest awareness came from Randy Newman’s song, “Burn On, Big River” and a famous photo of news reporter Richard Ellers removing his blackened, gooey hand from the waters of the Cuyahoga.

As national media began taking a closer look, it became obvious that the inches-thick black goo and floating debris causing a fire hazard on the river was also causing severe ecological damage. A year before the ’69 fire, a Kent State University symposium had already determined that the Cuyahoga was in trouble. Their study found that accumulating sludge increased the water temperature and slowed the river’s velocity, causing anaerobic action, a reduction in oxygen levels in the water, killing off plant and animal life.

Unlike previous fires along the river over the past 100 years, the fire of 1969 became a source of shame and ridicule to the city of Cleveland and local and federal government.

Sorely embarrassed, Congress acted quickly to pass the Clean Water Act of 1972, followed by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada to significantly reduce dumping and phosphorous runoff into the Lake Erie Basin. The Cuyahoga incident also inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

In a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle in September of 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D. Wisconsin) announced his idea for a “teach-in” on the deterioration of the environment, to spotlight issues such as oil spills, raw sewage, toxic dumps and pesticides and to spur enough of a grassroots outcry to be heard in Washington, D.C. And Earth Day was born.

Despite attempts to organize the movement into one cohesive effort, Earth Day took on a life of its own, bringing together once-disparate groups fighting for recognition of their particular environmental concerns. April 22, 1970 marks the inception of this modern environmental movement.

Today, the water quality of the Cuyahoga River has improved enough to support the return of 44 species in river reaches once devoid of life and Lake Erie has seen the return of economically important fish species such as the walleye.

In 1998, the Cuyahoga River was designated as one of the 14 American Heritage Rivers. In 1986, REM commemorated these events in their song, “Cuyahoga,” as did Adam Again’s song “River on Fire” in 1992. And the Great Lakes Brewing Company named their Burning River Pale Ale in honor of the event.

In the movies, this is the part where the triumphant music swells, the camera sweeps over cheering crowds and a closing shot of a once murky, sludge-filled, debris-strewn river now sun-sparkling, flows freely, abundant with fish and plant life once more.

But the story isn’t over. Earth Day is not just a celebration of a job well done. It is a reminder that the job is ongoing – and there is so much more to do.

Pollution is still a serious problem for America’s rivers, including the Cuyahoga, where the source is now urban runoff, combined sewer overflow and stagnation caused by dams. For this reason, the EPA includes certain areas of the Cuyahoga River Watershed as among the 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The Environments Working Group ( lists 50 rivers and waterways as endangered among them: the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Savannah, the Missouri, the Susquehanna, the Delaware – and the Cuyahoga.

Back in the 1970’s, environmentalism was a little known concept, often attributed to hippies and “tree huggers.” Since then, greater awareness and, perhaps, economic problems have brought recycling or “going green” - and Earth Day - into fashion.