The Bee's Pajamas

Photography, politics and random other stuff from an aging Aspie brain

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Whose holiday is it, anyway?

800px-Ergersheim_NDAltbronn_46Ah, Valentine’s Day. As far as I can determine, February 14 became the lovers holiday because one of many Christian saints/martyrs named Valentine, according to legend, performed marriages for couples who had been forbidden to wed. Allegedly he also performed other loving acts such as ministering to persecuted Christians and restoring a blind girl’s sight.

Of course, the modern American celebration of Valentine’s Day has about as much to do with St. Valentine (whoever he was) as the modern American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has to do with his namesake. The latter is an excuse to wear green, party and celebrate being Irish (or declare “Everyone’s Irish today!”). The latter is an excuse to do Love Stuff.

Hey, if you want to give your sweetie flowers, and/or candy and/or a mushy card, and/or have a date night, Valentine’s Day is as good a reason as any. However, I’ve been reading some posts about whether it’s appropriate for those who are not in a romantic relationship to celebrate Valentine’s Day: not just singles but families, friends and children.

The Greek language has three words for love: “Agape” is charitable, altruistic, love of all humankind. “Eros” is romantic/sexual love.” “Philia” is affectionate, friendly love or liking. It gives us such words as bibliophile (lover of books) and oenophile (lover of wine). Also pedophilia and necrophilia, but let’s not go there.

I am fortunate to be in a romantic relationship, but I would not begrudge anyone who is not in one the right to celebrate their love of family or friends as they see fit on the 14th. Whether it’s giving a card to your parent, child, sibling or BFF to remind them that you love them, having a Galentine’s Day celebration with your girlfriends, or having a classroom party in elementary school (as long as all the kids bring cards for all the other kids!), I’m all for celebrating all kinds of love.

Not every holiday should be for everyone. I’m not a mom and I rant every Mother’s Day about not wanting to be shoehorned into being celebrated on a technicality such as “But you’re a pet mom!” or “But all women are nurturers!” I’m not Jewish and will not be hurt if you leave me out of your Passover seder or Hanukkah celebration.

Valentine’s Day is different. If you love someone, anyone, or are loved by someone, you deserve to celebrate and be celebrated.

Happy V-Day to all, and to all a good night.

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Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet, or Make Battements Grands Again

First, let the record show that I hate “exercise.” This is obvious to anyone who has seen me in person. I hate the term “working out.” Why would I want to pursue, on my own time, an activity that I’m not being paid for, and may actually be paying for, with the word “work” in it?

Sweating, to me, is an unfortunate byproduct of hot weather or an otherwise enjoyable physical activity, like sex or morris dancing. For this reason, the only exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise I could see myself getting into is swimming – and gyms with pools are not in my budget.

75429507_10219732179871381_511561120696238080_nStill, I knew my aging bod had to get moving or die. And one day about three years ago, I got a message from my inner 8-year-old: “Remember how you used to love ballet? Why not come back?”

Sure, I8YO. My obese, pushing-60-year-old self is going to put on a leotard and stumble around in a class full of prepubescent beginners? Been there, did that in my late 20s. Being the only adult in a kid class, with a teacher who was barely a kid herself, was not my jam.

Nevertheless, I8YO persisted. And I found myself Googling “adult beginner ballet Albany NY.” This led me to Albany Dance & Fitness and the wonderful Gail Tasarotti. With a few hiatuses (hiati?) because of conflicts with another new passion – community theater – I’ve been attending Gail’s classes ever since.

Do I sweat? Of course. Is it a workout? Yes, but it doesn’t feel like work – it’s art. My developpes are still sadly undeveloppe’d. I have good and bad releve days, and good and bad pirouette days. In a leotard and tights I look like the love child of Hyacinth Hippo and a Weeble. And none of that matters – not to Gail, not to my fellow students (many of whom are younger and/or thinner than I, and some who aren’t), and not to me.

There is something magical about ballet. Even while doing the most mundane plie, the clumsiest pirouette or a decidedly un-grand battement, I am participating in a centuries-old art form that is all about grace, beauty and incredible physical discipline.

I’ve been wanting to post about my ballet journey for some time, but it was this Slate essay by Michelle Herman that inspired me to do it. Please read it; she describes the experience far better than I can.

Wanna dance? Gotta dance? Consider joining the merry band of grownups at Albany Dance & Fitness. If ballet isn’t your thing, there are other classes available, from belly dance, jazz and hip-hop to Essentrics, Pilates and Zumba. All in an encouraging, judgment-free environment. Classes are for teens and adults only, so you won’t be towering over any 9-year-olds — a big plus!


Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

dough-308081_640Updated: I haz a blogroll! Thank you, Howard, for the advice.

I have tried unsuccessfully to add a blogroll to my home page; I can’t figure out how to make it work. If any of my fellow WordPress users can help, I will gladly give you a huge shout-out. If you are willing to come to my house and talk me through it in person, I will buy you dinner.

There are several blogs I read regularly and would like to include in said blogroll. Until I figure out how to do that, I am posting them here, and I urge you to check them out. With one exception, these are people I know personally.

I am also open to recommendations, and self-recs from friends who have blogs I don’t know about.

So go read these, bookmark them, and like the writers on Facebook to be alerted to future posts.

Chuck the Writer: Chuck Miller is a man of many talents. Not only is he a gifted writer, he is an award-winning photographer/crafter and a pop-culture geek. His Collarworld stories, about an afterlife for animals, are sweet and moving without being maudlin. He also indirectly guilted me into reviving my blog, by continuing to link to it on his page even when I went months or years without posting.

Write in the Middle: Howard Fielding and I were fraternity brothers in college (coed house). He is a veteran newspaperman whose blog consists of book reviews, humorous insights, political opinions, fictional writings, and musings on life and language.

Rocks, Trees, Skies, Seas … : Elizabeth Nestler is another Phi Tau brother and a devout Christian. I am not, but she has a way of seeing the hand of her Lord in her everyday life that I still manage to find inspiring. Worth reading no matter what your beliefs, or lack thereof.

Balkinization: My Phi Tau bestie from way back, Mark Graber, is a law professor and contributor to this constitutional law blog. It is not the sort of thing you’d read when you want a distraction, but worth your time when you have the brain cells to spare for a deep dive.

Figuring. Shit. Out. : I have yet to meet Amy Biancolli, the author of this blog, but I hope to someday. She describes herself as “a gray-haired mama and an ink-stained wretch … A survivor of suicides. A person of faith. A player at (not of) the violin. An arts writer at the Albany Times Union.  A singer of alto lines. A lover of movies and former criticA dabbler in plays. An author of books.” She writes beautifully about love and loss and music and her sister’s love of Barry Manilow and a whole lot of other things. Did I mention I want to meet her?

So there you have it. Some reading material as my gift to you this Christmas Eve. Happy content to all, and to all a good night.

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Still beers, after all these years

In 1993, I took up brewing my own beer. I was newly separated and back to living on one income, so I started homebrewing as an economy measure. For the price of a 12-pack of Budweiser, I could brew 2 1/2 cases of porter, stout, brown ale or whatever beer with actual flavor I desired. About a year later I got my significant other into it, and he ended up brewing more than I did.

Neither of us ever got elaborate with the process the way some homebrewers do. Most of my brews were made with pre-hopped, canned malt extract — the brewing equivalent of baking with Bisquick or Betty Crocker. They weren’t fancy, but they were flavorful and drinkable.

By 1998 I had been brewing only sporadically. Then came 2000, the year a close friend was celebrating his 60th birthday, and the Pokingbrook Morris Dancers — which SO and I had joined the year before — were celebrating their 25th anniversary. I decided to mark both the milestones with commemorative beers to give as gifts to the celebrants.

I enlisted SO to help me dig my brewing supplies out of the crawl space where I’d stashed them two years before. During that process, we discovered, in a case that I thought contained empty bottles, two full six-packs of amber ale that I’d made two years earlier.

Now you wouldn’t expect homebrew to have a very long shelf life; it’s made without preservatives, after all. Nevertheless, that ale was not just drinkable, but better than the day I’d bottled it. I shared it with some friends, one of whom, Bob, remarked, “You should lose all your beers for two years!”

80370181_10220045138895161_1011552918052012032_nFor birthday boy Jake, I made a honey nut brown ale that I christened “Chef Oil No. 60.” Jake loved to cook and loved beer, and used to say that the secret to a good meal was “a well-oiled chef.” For the morris dancers, I made Pokingbrook Silver Anniversary Porter.

It turned out that Jake was sharing his birthday party with another friend, Mr. Bill, who was also turning 60. I didn’t have time to brew him a batch in advance, but gave him a coupon for a batch of his choice. Then there was a third friend, Ruth, who turned 50 that year, and I made her the same offer. She requested a Scotch ale.

The other brews had come off without a hitch, but that Scotch ale was flat as the proverbial pancake. Ruth’s birthday came and went, and it was still unresponsive. We both gave up on it.

Fast-forward to March 2001. I had another batch ready to bottle, and pulled out the cases of Scotch ale to pour them out so I could use the bottles. I opened the first bottle and heard … that unmistakable POP! Houston, we have Scotch ale! And it was both properly fizzy and tasty.

October-born Ruth got her birthday brew on St. Patrick’s Day. Better late than never, no?

Remember my friend Bob, who commented that I should lose all my beers for two years? Bob received a bottle of Pokingbrook Porter back in 2000 and held onto it … and held onto it … and held onto it. The photo accompanying this post was taken THIS MORNING — December 22, 2019 — right after Bob pulled it off the shelf it had been sitting on for 19 years, and right before he and I and our respective SO’s shared it for breakfast.

Yes, it was still good. After 19 years!

SO and I no longer brew. Something happened in the quarter-century since we started: the craft beer explosion. Good beer in multiple varieties is available everywhere now at reasonable prices. Even convenience stores carry the good stuff now. It became no longer worth it to either of us to invest the time in brewing and bottling in such an environment.

SO got rid of his brewing equipment but I haven’t been able to bring myself to take that step.

For one thing, I still have the makings for two cases of bitter sitting on my kitchen counter. Maybe I’ll turn that into a birthday brew for his 75th (he just turned 71). Then we’ll lose a few bottles and rediscover them in time for his 80th.

Stranger things have happened.


The Dickens, you say?

As a follow-up to my previous post regarding my mixed emotions about Christmas, there is one seasonal phenomenon I love to bits: “A Christmas Carol.”

vintage-1705150_640Charles Dickens’ tale encompasses everything that is beautiful about Christmas and is accessible to everyone who celebrates — whether as a religious or secular holiday. Being from the 1840s, it is also free of the unpleasant commercial baggage that has become attached to the holiday in the ensuing 170-something years.

This time of year I like to binge on a variety of “Christmas Carol” screen adaptations: feature films, TV specials, sitcom episodes. Here I humbly present some of my favorite and least favorite takes on the tale.

The good:

“Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”: You never forget your first, and mine was this 1962 TV special starring the comically nearsighted character voiced by Jim Backus. It wasn’t just my first; it was the first animated Christmas special, predating Charlie Brown, Rudolph, the Grinch and Frosty.

It’s not the truest adaptation of Dickens. It leaves out nephew Fred and sister Fan, and presents the Ghost of Christmas Present before Christmas Past. But with songs from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill of “Funny Girl” fame, I can forgive the liberties it takes with the source material. Razzleberry dressing all around!

It doesn’t show up on TV much these days, but you can buy it on DVD or watch it online.

“A Christmas Carol” (1951 film): Also available online, this version stars Alastair Sim, the best live-action on-screen Scrooge who ever Scrooged. Sim also voiced Scrooge in a 1971 animated adaptation that scared the pants off me when I was 13, with its frightening representations of Jacob Marley and the children Ignorance and Want.

“Mickey’s Christmas Carol”: Mickey isn’t Scrooge in this charmer from 1983. That honor goes to (who else?) Scrooge McDuck. Mickey is Bob Cratchit. It cut out a lot to fit the running time, but Disney fans will delight in the casting — not just McDuck as Scrooge and Mickey as Bob, but Goofy as Jacob Marley and Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past, among others. It’s also available online, but prepare to be interrupted by lots of ads.

The bad:

“A Christmas Carol” (1938 film): Hollywood tried much too hard with this version, which stars Reginald Owen in a role originally intended for Lionel Barrymore. While other adaptations left nephew Fred out altogether, this one gives him too much to do (gotta get that young love story in there somehow), and transforms Scrooge from grouchy to giddy far too soon.

“Topper”: As a preteen I fell in love with reruns of this largely forgotten early 1950s sitcom, based on a movie that was based on a book, about a staid middle-aged banker who lived with three ghosts — a sophisticated young couple who died in an avalanche and the alcoholic St. Bernard who perished trying to rescue them.

When a friend told me about the “Christmas Carol” episode, I duly watched and was terribly disappointed. Topper just wasn’t mean enough to be a credible Scrooge, even in a fantasy sequence. And Tiny Tim was a dick. Watching Leo G. Carroll spout 1920s slang in one of the flashback segments was fun, though.

The meh:

Muppet Christmas Carol: I love the Muppets and really wanted to like this, but found the Gonzo/Ratso interstitials and the two Marleys (Statler and Waldorf) distracting, although Michael Caine nailed Scrooge. Kermit was Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy was Mrs. Cratchit. Not awful, but for Muppetational Christmas cheer I prefer the special with John Denver.

What are your favorite and least favorite “Christmas Carol” adaptations? Share in the comments.

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You can’t spell “humbug” without “hug” — assorted thoughts from a cynical agnostic Christmas fan

candlelight-1281563_640Let me start by introducing you to an excellent book, “The Myths That Stole Christmas,” by gentleman and scholar David Kyle Johnson. In this short but meaty volume, he dissects seven common beliefs about Christmas but also invites everyone to celebrate the season — including non-Christians of all stripes.

One of his theses is that winter solstice celebrations and many of their traditions predate Christianity … and despite having “Christ” in its name, Christmas should be for everyone. Whether your personal Christmas is about Jesus, about family, about giving … it’s all good. Seriously, give it a read.

On to my thoughts:

I’m all for Christmas — not the day; I have been known to spend my December 25 driving Uber or watching movies that have nothing to do with the holiday (“Fatal Attraction” ripoffs and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” reruns are perennial favorites). I get into the spirit by participating with friends in celebrations leading up to the 25th. These involve music, dance, food and togetherness.

Presents? Nah. I’ll do present stuff at work (Secret Santa, adopt-a-family, Yankee Swap at the office party),  but I excused myself from the MUST-BUY-GIFTS-FOR-EVERYONE-I-KNOW madness decades ago. I’d much rather give gifts to people on their birthdays — more on that below.

I don’t believe in Jesus as the literal Son of God, and I’ve read enough to know that He was probably not born in December. But I do believe He was a great teacher with an important message, and for that reason I consider His birthday worthy of celebrating. Who cares if He wasn’t born in December? If the Queen of England can have her birthday party in June despite being born in April, why not Jesus?

The “war on Christmas” is BS. I remember seeing “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” sentiments when I was in the first grade, and Bill O’Reilly was a freshman in high school. Back then, the generic sentiment meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” If it has evolved to encompass not just Christmas and New Year’s but also other holidays people who don’t do Christmas celebrate in December, why is that a bad thing?

Santa – -I don’t have a canine in this conflict since I don’t have children, but I’ve done a lot of reading about whether it is a good or bad thing for kids to believe in the jolly old elf. I believed until I was 10 despite having doubts and was not traumatized to be told the truth.

I have read the arguments on both sides — lying to your kids is bad, letting them experience the wonder of Christmas is good. If I had kids, I would like to think that I would let them believe at a very early age, then break it to them by age 6 or so, weaving in the St. Nicholas story, that Santa is not a real person, but an idea and a spirit that we can all be part of. Then I would invite them to become Santas themselves by giving to others in the spirit of Santa.

The music — ohhh, the music. If it were up to me, there would be a moratorium on all Christmas songs written after 1980 or so. And any songs in that date range played on the radio leading up to December 25th must be ABOUT Christmas. No generic winter songs. Lookin’ at you, “Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and you, too, “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells,” Those songs are not about Christmas. They’re about winter. Why can’t we hear them on the radio in February when we’re sick and tired of winter and need a reminder of how pretty it is?

Oh, yeah, birthdays. Today, December 11, is mine. At my age (61), I don’t have a huge emotional investment in presents, and I’m OK with not receiving gifts for my birthday or Christmas. But if you love a December baby, I urge you to acknowledge and celebrate them, with or without gifts, on their day. Combination birthday/Christmas gifts for December babies are not cool.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Cool Yule, Super Solstice, Blessed Kwanzaa and to all a good night.

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There are no Pelotons in “The Handmaid’s Tale”

I’m starting to think I’m the only person in America who is not offended, outraged or even annoyed by the new Peloton commercial, which has been called everything from sexist to body-shaming to dystopian. It’s an exercise bike commercial, people, not “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Disclaimer #1: Body shaming and looks-shaming are not OK. I have been subjected to my share of it as an overweight woman, and it’s not cool. Ever.

Disclaimer #2: Feelings-shaming is also not OK. I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone they shouldn’t feel offended or outraged; however, changing the way you think about something can change the way you feel about it. I am here to suggest a different way of thinking about this commercial.

You can view the ad here. If you can’t or don’t care to watch it, it goes like this:

A husband surprises his wife with the gift of a Peloton stationary bike — a very expensive piece of equipment that comes with spin classes on streaming video to follow along with. The wife, whose name, we soon learn, is Grace, is thrilled. She jumps into her new workout routine “nervous, but excited.”

The ad follows her over the next year as she videos herself on the bike and ends with her watching a montage of her video journey with her husband. She says at the end of the montage, “A year ago, I didn’t realize how much this would change me. Thank you.”

Those who dislike the ad seem to think that Grace’s husband gave her the bike because he’s unhappy with her appearance and wants her to “get in shape,” and might even be pressuring her into using it. Here’s why I disagree:

  • First, Grace is obviously thrilled to receive the gift. Which tells me she actually WANTED it. Perhaps she asked outright for an exercise bike, or dropped hints about how much she’d like one. Her delighted reaction may come from the fact that hubby got her a Peloton rather than a less expensive, less fancy bike.
  • Second, Grace is slender — skinny, even. Whatever her reasons for wanting an exercise bike — and I stand by my belief that she did, indeed, want one — losing weight is not one of them. She obviously benefited from her regular exercise routine and is happy with the results. What’s wrong with that?

I’m not the first person to make this observation, but if Grace were visibly overweight, this might be a very different commercial. It would probably have lots of disclaimers — e.g., our heroine exclaiming, “Just what I wanted!” or something similar to emphasize that this was HER idea, not his. More likely, though, judging from Peloton’s track record, they wouldn’t even go there.

I’m not here to talk anyone out of disliking the commercial or refusing to buy a Peloton because of it. I’m not planning to buy one myself — because (a) I don’t have room for one, and (b) they are bloody expensive.

Here’s to getting what you want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Your Holiday Here — not what someone else wants for you. Here at TBP, just as in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, we like you just as you are.