Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day !

Soldiers & Sailors Monument, New York City 1907

Remember, all of our fallen US hero's helped secure our freedoms we enjoy today and forever.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 3 "B's" of Toasting and International Signals

Here we go again. Another American politician makes another International faux-pas while visiting a foreign country. President George Bush, then First Lady Michelle Obama touch the Queen. Tim Kaine makes the "thumbs up" gesture during the Queen's 2007 visit to Virginia, (in Europe  Latin America and The Middle East, hand gestures are obscene)! Yesterday, President Obama makes many mistakes during his toast to the Queen. The poor Queen. She does not say anything, but she did shoot him a look when he toasted her during the national anthem.

   The casual, relaxed and affable President Obama just never took the quick etiquette class on the logistics of giving a toast. He said at the end of his speech, as he was also laying down his note cards: "Ladies and Gentleman, please stand with me and raise your glasses as I propose a Her Majesty The Queen."
   These words are THE International signal for: "I am finishing up my toast," just like marrying the knife and fork together in the 10:20 position on one's plate is the International signal for: "I am finished with my meal, remove my plate." The conductor thought President Obama was finishing up his toast, so the orchestra started up the British national anthem. Then surprisingly, a few seconds later, President Obama started talking again and continued giving his toast. Everyone else in the room was standing at attention in silence for their National Anthem. Finally, President Obama raised his glass to The Queen and for the second time looked as though he was winding up his toast. The Queen, in the middle of this confusion, shot him a glance reminiscent of a look my Mother used to give me at the dinner table or at a party when my manners were lacking and she did not want to, or could not say anything.
  The President should have paused, stood silently until the anthem was done, then raised his glass and finished his toast.
   Then, after all that, President Obama did not drink from his glass as everyone else did (save the Queen). The whole scene was painful to watch. 
   Yet again, the stereo-typical "Ugly American" and our poor manners. Why? One does not have to have money to have manners. Why do we not teach a manners course in school to 3rd graders, then again, to rising Juniors? Why do Harvard and Yale apparently not have an etiquette afternoon seminar? Do they think little rules of etiquette only apply to little people? 

Tricky etiquette, especially Internationally...really? Toasting is easy, really. All you need to read are a few basic rules as follows:
1. The 3 "B's" of toasting are always: Begin, Be Brief and Be Seated.
2. A welcome toast (before eating) and a toast to the guest of honor (dessert course) is always given by the host. The host leads the
    way, always toasts first, and sets the tone.
3. One always stands up to give a toast.
4. Never drink to yourself if the toast is in your honor.
5. The International signal for finishing a toast are these words: "Let us raise our glasses with a toast to... "So-in-So."

So, you see, little rules of etiquette DO apply to little people and Big people at Harvard, Yale and The Queen. She knows all the little rules of etiquette !

Monday, May 23, 2011

Celebrating Cousins, The Preakness, And A Fille

   We Americans celebrate most everything all the time. Visiting cousins, feasting on steamed crab and champagne at the kitchen table on a Thursday night. A black-eyed Susan pre-Preakness party to benefit Breast Cancer, and a rockin' country breakfast complete with mimosas to celebrate the birth of a fille.
   Yesterday, with two cousins and their 19 year old daughter, Svetlana, who we call Sveta, I helped bring a baby horse, a fille, into this world. Neatest thing I've done since being 5th row at The Rolling Stones!
   The early morning began with the muffled voice of my cousin Mary: "Sveta, get up. Ken called and said it's time." Mary's voice was nearing our room, and I could hear in her voice her nerves and an urgency, yet she has such a warm, calm tone in her words. "We need to go now. Right now." Kathy, it's time."
    Anticipating this birth, I had taken my wedding rings off the night before and had laid my girl jeans and L.L. Bean "Rain Skimmer" shoes out, just in case. I rumbled down the stairs, ran out the door and down to the running shed. Apparently, I went the long way as I did not hear Mary and Sveta behind me. I jumped the fence as I did not have time to figure out where the gate was located. One slip on skimmer shoe got stuck in the mud and I had to circle around briefly to get it back on my size 11 foot.
   There she was, a beautiful black mare laying on her side fully "in foal" on the soft hay. Mary ran to her head to keep her calm, and got on her cell phone to call two friends who also happened to be obstetrics nurses anxious to see the birth.
  Looking down, I saw that the sac was sticking out. This birth had begun.
   Above the bubble at the base of the opaque sac, were what looked like her hooves. At this point I could hear Ken saying: "O.K., Sveta and Kathy, I need you guys to take hold of the legs and pull. Pull down." Petite and pretty, silent Sveta was standing in the middle between Ken and myself. I gently found room and placed my hands around baby's legs and began to pull. Ken quickly and kindly said: " Not there with your left hand, Kathy, that's the nose." I quietly gasped and immediately placed my hand at the top of the cannon bone where there was room. I could now see the faint outline of the foal, her hooves and nose positioned to pounce out into the world, then heard a pop. The sac was broken. Ken asked: "Was that a pop?" "Yes, I answered, still pulling. I hoped baby had oxygen, but I did not know for sure. One thing I did know for sure was that this foal needed to come out, as any baby cannot be in the birth canal for too long and survive.
  The three of us were now pulling with every pound of energy we possessed. Ken kept instructing us in his firm but focused voice to: "Pull Down" (due to the curved shape of baby and how it exits the birth canal). I could hear the strain of Ken's voice and sighs. Suddenly, the mare lifted her head up and made motions with her body and feet. She was fixing to stand up. Mary gasped: "She's standing up!" And so she was.
   We scurried to stand up and re-positioned ourselves then started pulling down, again. More straining and stressing with all our collective strength. It seemed to happen in slow motion but went on forever. All sounds seemed muted to my ears as I was so concentrated on the task at hand. Pulling down using every muscle and all of our body weight, gasping for breath, grunting with frustration. The vibe of urgency was rising in the air. I could hear it in Ken's rapidly repeated instruction: "Keep pulling down."
   Thinking something had to change, perhaps another direction, I raised my right hand and slowly, very gently pressed my palm flat against the mare's labia majora and pushed it up. My intention was to try to widen and loosen the muscle so baby had more room to slip through. Maybe baby moved a bit, I could not tell, so I tried it again. Maybe the mare felt the pressure and pushed back with her vulva muscle. Maybe the mare had a contraction. Maybe all the pulling finally worked. All I know is, in that mere moment, the foal came out with a plunk onto the soft hay. Miraculously, the running shed reminded me of a manger.
   One moment to relax our arms, relief and a sigh, then suddenly, the Mare started stomping her right hind leg. I grabbed it under the carpus to keep her from stomping on the baby. Ken put his arms around the baby and scooted her out of the way. Mary calmed the mare.
   We all stood silent, agape and in awe of the newness of this new life and series of firsts for this fille. We witnessed the opening of her dark black eyes seeing also her long eyelashes for the first time. How her sleek wet ears popped up and she lifted her head looking at all of us. Mary crept slowly over to examine the baby. She's a girl! Mary showed me her dermal papillae or "fingers" at the base of her hooves that all baby horses are born with, but that go away soon after birth once they stand up and start running around. We were, all of us, smitten with this little fille. She was beautiful and perfect, like a rare, black diamond. What a jewel! On Preakness race day, none-the-less!
    Life is filled with celebrations and blessings. We should appreciate good days, new experiences, our energy, and having our health. Of course, all horses cannot be Preakness winners, but this new fille has instantly, unconditionally, and forever championed our hearts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Different China Place Settings From Different Grandmothers is Great!

   Recently, an article in the Neiman Marcus Blog, the NM Daily, entitled: Table of the Elements about mixing up your china appeared on my Facebook page. Apparently, using 72 pieces of the same matching china set is "out." I always thought the matching, preppy Papagallo Syndrome went out with the Reagan '80's. Retail reinventing itself once again to sell more stuff. Nothing new.
   Single in the city for 20 years, I have been mixing up my 5 sets of incomplete china from 2 grandmothers and a great-grandmother for years because I had it, it was free, it was pretty and each time I used it, I thought of my relatives!
   A friend of my Sister's has a grandmother famous for her eclectic Thanksgiving table as each of her 12 place settings are completely different china settings. Not even complimentary. Different kaolin from different continents, different designs and colors, different china companies. Each guest gets his or her own individual, special place setting of china, crystal stemware and sterling flatware. Brilliant!
   John Loring of Tiffany & Company (the lucky man who writes all those coffee table books), says that Joanne Woodward once told him having eclectic china from grandmothers means you have a background. It gives you a history of family, which is interesting!
   Yes, you may put your china in the dishwasher but you MUST use only 1 teaspoon of PLAIN detergent, gentle cycle and NO HEAT DRY. Lemon in detergents are excellent for pots and pans. However, the acidic lemon eats off the glaze on china, crystal and will eat off the gold rim as well. Heat also weakens and can crack your porous china. The water is hot enough, even on the gentle cycle. Always "Air Dry," and you'll save energy. Load and unload your china nicely. Do not crowd.
   You may place your table settings on the exposed wooden table, but you will have little scratches called patina on the wood with normal use over time. For antique tables, this may be desirable, but for modern wood or Formica tables, this may not be good.  Also, food particles and any moisture or water marks will leave stains on your table finish and may ruin the table. Instead, use a simple white or ecru tablecloth to protect the table and show off your pretty china.
  Your  Grannies' eclectic china, crystal and flat silver is always "in" and will be chic for years to come.

Take care of your family's history and enjoy!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Movie Extra Work Requires Sprezzatura

   As a retired Retail Manager having worked 14 hour days (on average), 6-7 days a week since I was 25, I thought being a movie "extra" would be work, but easier than Retail work, and fun. Wow, was I ever almost not ready for a exhilarating workout!
   "Extra" work is much more physically demanding than I physically imagined. Even "extras" must remain poised, bright, smiling and "on" while appearing relaxed and enjoying themselves. Talk about Sprezzatura*! 
    Commuting downtown, parking, shuttling to the location, followed by 2 hours of costume and makeup, hair, then more waiting for the "techies" to make final tweaks for the scene to be set up, only then to stand in 3" heels for more than 10 hours with 1 (one) 1/2 hour break after 6 hours, (according to Union rules), is exhilarating and exhausting. An unforgettable happy day!
   The scaffolding for the "techies", the cords, the tape, and the amazing cameras are many, huge and complex. A bit awesome to behold. The blocking of the shots that made it to the final cut of the Harvest Ball scenes are so very "tight" (close up) showing the movie stars off nicely, but not the real local stars of the movie.
   It was a shame the Director did not pull the camera just a bit back to capture more of the beautiful clothing, and the most unusual, exotic interior of the Victorian, High Gothic, Old City Hall building and its famous bottled glass tiled floor.
   It was also a shame the Director did not light up the 15 second exterior shot of the Harvest Ball to better show off the Historic Bolling-Haxall House and its gorgeous Brownstone exterior and the original ironwork fence and foliage.
   As a 50 year old extra, running up the large old cement exterior stairs, then back down for an immediate "reset", at least 40 times in 3" heels and party dress for 2 1/2 hours was tiring. I was out of breath toward the end of the shoot. Thank goodness for years of being a runner. One never knows in "Hollywood" what natural gifts, talents, bar tricks and hobbies which may come in handy during any particular shoot.
   Richmond, the local star of the movie, is indeed fortunate to have had, in large part thanks to Elizabeth Scott Bocock, a star preservationist and philanthropist, many historic buildings and properties preserved for all to enjoy, in the here and now and on the big screen.
   Extras do have an unspoken, unwritten etiquette to observe, and with a little luck, all their hard work will not all end up on the cutting room floor. Richmond is ready for its close up, Mr. DeMille!!

Enjoy the movie Unanswered Prayers on the Lifetime Network!

*Sprezzatura is an Italian word from the Book of the Courtier (year 1528) meaning one who is " to practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought."