Friday, November 27, 2009

The bell ringer - #fridayflash

“Merry Christmas,” the bell ringer for the Salvation Army said to Karen and she put the dollar in the slot of the red kettle. “And God bless you.”

“Thank you. You’re doing a good thing by volunteering and ringing this bell in the cold,” Karen replied.

“Oh, ma’am, I don’t mind doing this. It’s something I believe in and it’s not that cold. I know for Florida it feels cold today but from where I’m from up north this would be considered a warm, sunny day.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve been in Florida for 25 years. When I lived in New Jersey, we were wearing shorts and tee-shirts if the temperature got up in the 50s around this time of year,” Karen said. “It’s amazing how spoiled I’ve gotten.”

“It’s easy to do ma’am. You get used to living one way for a long time and then something changes or you move and it seems like after awhile you just make the adjustment and forget how it used to be.”

While the conversation continued, the woman kept ringing her bell steadily and occasionally someone entering the grocery store would put in some coins or a dollar. Each time someone made a donation, the bell ringer interrupted her conversation with Karen to say, “Merry Christmas, and God bless you.”

“I like doing this, actually,” she said to Karen. “It makes me feel good. It reminds me that people are basically good and try to do the right thing. Funny, I noticed that the people who drive into the parking lot in older cars are the ones that donate the most. The ones driving the fancy new cars seem to be the ones that either just walk by or drop coins in on their way out of the store,” she said, still ringing the bell. “Either way, I thank the good Lord for every single penny someone puts in the kettle.”

“How long is your shift?” Karen asked her.

“Eight hours each day. Then someone comes and picks up the kettle. A new person brings an empty kettle and stays for four more hours.”

Karen needed to go in and do her shopping but she was enjoying this chat and thought that eight hours must be a long time to sit there on a folding chair ringing the bell constantly.

“Would you like me to go in and get you some hot coffee for you?” Karen asked.

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I had some a little while ago. I’m fine for now.”

“Well then, I’ll go do my shopping. It was nice talking with you. Have a merry Christmas and God bless you,” Karen said.

“Thanks. Oh, and thanks for the donation.”

By the time Karen came out of the store with her grocery cart full of plastic bags the bell ringer was gone. A new person had replaced her. Karen put a dollar into the slot of the red kettle and the man wished her a merry Christmas.

The lady that had been there in the folding chair was already at the bus stop. Karen saw her as she was pulling out of the parking lot. She stopped and asked, “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

“Oh, that’s okay. I’ve got a long way to go. I don’t want you to go out of your way,” she said.

“Please. I insist. I’m in no hurry and the weather is cool enough to keep my groceries cold awhile.”

“Are you sure?” the bell ringer asked. I have to go all the way downtown. It’s two transfers from here.

“Come on, then, get in. Really. I don’t mind driving you downtown.”

While Karen drove, they talked about the holidays and how the houses were all decorated for the holidays. They laughed about how funny it looked to see an inflated snowman lit up on someone’s front lawn even though they were in Florida. The homeowner may never even have seen snow.

The bell ringer gave Karen directions and when they arrived at a big building she said, “This is it. You can drop me off right here. The door is just around the side. This is where I’m staying right now.”

Karen slowed to a stop.

“Merry Christmas, again,” the bell ringer said. “And I really appreciate the ride. It would have taken me over an hour to get here, changing buses and all.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Karen said as the woman closed the car door and turned toward the building.

Karen drove to the corner and turned right. That’s when she saw the front of the building. There was a big red crest above the door. The words written in white stood out against the background. “The Salvation Army.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Breaking the #1 New Year's resolution

I stopped making New Year's resolutions when I was in my 30s and realized that I had a limited amount of control over what the new year might bring. I am more likely to set goals and general deadlines taking into consideration the reality that life may get in the way of reaching them.

This was a hard lesson to learn and I am guilty of many of what will follow. At one time or another I have been guilty of making resolutions that never came to fruition. Of course, it was never my fault, right? Here are some examples.

Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I used to give myself permission to break certain rules or become delusional about what they I achieved during the passing year with the expectation that I'll do better next year. Needless to say, the most common had to do with food.

Resolution: I'm going on a diet to lose that extra ten pounds I gained over the holidays. (Yeah, right!)

The weight gain of which I speak often started with leftover Halloween candy. It seemed like year after year I accidentally bought too much, knowing that there weren't enough kids in the neighborhood to eat it all -- but who could resist when Hershey's kisses were BOGOs?.

By the time the candy was gone Thanksgiving was here. Dinner wouldn't be complete without deviled egg appetizers; a healthy veggie tray with dip made of cream cheese, sour cream and herbs; mashed potatoes with lots of butter; mashed sweet potatoes or sweet potato pie; green bean casserole with those yummy, crispy fried onion rings on top; stuffing/dressing made with plenty of butter; mashed rutabagas; dinner rolls -- lots of dinner rolls with butter...well you get the idea. And then, pies with vanilla ice cream after everyone wakes up from their tryptophan induced naps.

If the turkey gets to be stuffed, why shouldn't I?

The day after Thanksgiving stores open at 4 AM offering the "biggest bargains of the year." It's impossible to consider buying clothes on Black Friday because Thanksgiving dinner probably added a size to my body that I take for granted will be lost by the time I want to wear them.

I know, I know, that day is intended for buying Christmas and Chanukah presents for others, but if I come across that pair of jeans or slacks (my weight gain always goes directly below my waist) that I need and they're 50% off but will return to regular price the next day, how can I not buy them? The lines to the dressing rooms are so long, it's much easier just to buy my size without trying them on.

A week later the holiday parties start. My husband's company has a Christmas party. I haven't seen many of these people for a year and I'm curious to see whether I'm the only person who is aging and still dying my hair to cover the gray. Then there are other Christmas parties -- organizations I belong to, friends, etc.

The New Year's Eve party is always at my house and although we normally have between 25-40 people, somehow we always have enough food for 100. I tell people not to bring anything because I have all these Pampered Chef kitchen tools that I only use once or twice a year and I plan on making every conceivable appetizer and dessert myself. You'd think I'd know by now that nobody comes to a party empty handed. Maybe this year I'll cut back on my cooking.

The bottom line is that between Halloween and January 1 I can easily gain more than ten pounds if I indulge myself and the likelihood that I'll lose it by February is unrealistic. And at my height, ten pounds is a full size and maybe two!

So experience has taught me to cut down when buying Halloween candy and leave out some of the Thanksgiving traditions and steam some veggies as an alternative. Before and after a Christmas party I eat light. I cook with reduced fat products and use low fat ice cream for the a la mode. And for New Year's Eve, my new rule is NO TASTING. If I taste everything I cook all day I won't have room to eat at the party. That gives me another idea. I'll wear tight pants or a tight dress for the party so I can't overdo it or I'll suffer all night long.

Happy holidays all. Indugle if you dare. Make resolutions if you choose. Keep them or not. There are no guarantees in life so enjoy!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Paper please #fridayflash

Nick and Nolan went to the grocery store with their mom almost every Sunday afternoon. They hated making the trip. The music on the speakers was nothing they had heard before, although mom hummed along with the songs. Little did they know that the music was implemented as a subliminal force to keep people relaxed while shopping and therefore spending more money.

“Stop hitting me,” Nick said.

“You pushed me first,” Nolan answered.

“Will you boys just stop? The next aisle is the cookie aisle and if you’re good, I’ll let you each pick out one package of cookies.”

It seemed to the boys like the entire day had been wasted at the store while they could have been out playing ball. Finally, they approached the checkout.

“Nick, you get in front of the cart and start unloading the groceries from there. Nolan and I will do the ones we can reach from here. That way we’ll get done faster,” mom said.

Chips Ahoy and Golden Oreos were carefully placed together to remind the boys of their reward for helping.

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

“Paper, please,” mom said. “They’re easier to unload.” She knew that nobody requested paper bags anymore, but she still found uses for them and hated the little plastic bags that held three items each.


Monday was a school day. Nick and Nolan walked to and from school together since they lived too close to take the bus. They liked school about as much as any seven and eight year old boys did. Recess and lunch gave them something to look forward to.

At the end of the school day, they hoisted their backpacks on their respective shoulders and began the trek home. As usual, they talked about their teachers and the other kids. Nick started running and Nolan chased after him. When they got home, mom would let them shoot hoops before doing homework so they were in a hurry.

Nolan noticed something on the sidewalk up ahead. It was a paper bag. As he knew from his trips to the grocery store, nobody used paper bags anymore. It wasn’t ‘green,’ his teacher said. Obviously his mother either disagreed or didn’t worry about such things.

The bag was all puffed out and he stopped about a foot away from it.

“Look, Nick. That bag looks full,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s probably filled with trash,” Nick said condescendingly.

They approached it warily and when they were about three feet away they agreed to run up and kick it as hard as they could. They expected to see garbage scatter everywhere but little boys are rarely deterred by the consequences of their actions.

“One, two, three, go!” said Nick.

They got to the bag almost at the same moment and kicked it as hard as they could. They scurried around it, expecting papers, cans and other discarded items to explode. They looked back and saw money, lots of money up in the air, falling to the ground. They rushed back and stared in disbelief!

“Wow! Nick, look at all these dollar bills,” Nolan said.

Eight-year old Nolan, slightly more sophisticated than his younger brother realized that in the corners of these bills weren’t 1s, they were 10s and 20s!

“Nolan, there must be a million dollars here!”

They looked around to see if anyone was watching. Nobody was. Nolan started stuffing the bills in his pockets and Nick followed his lead. When their pockets were full, they unhitched their backpacks and put the rest of the money in the zipper compartments where their lunches had been. After all the bills were off the sidewalk, they left the bag and ran home.

Mom was waiting for them on the front porch. They were so excited when they ran up to her that they both started talking at once.

“Slow down, boys. One at a time,” she said. “I can’t hear either of you when you’re both shouting over one another.”

Before they could explain, their hands went into their pockets and they started emptying the bills in front of her. Her eyes widened as she stared in disbelief.

“Where did you get all that money?” she asked. They recounted the story as quickly and logically as any boys their ages.

“Mom,” Nick said, “Can we go to the grocery store with you again next week? No wonder you always want paper bags instead of plastic!”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Billy Hall, jazz pianist, dies in Orlando Florida

Orlando lost Billy Hall, one of its jazz treasures this week after a battle with "C". I remember when I was a little girl and nobody in the family was allowed to mention the word 'cancer' aloud. My grandmother referred to it as a kena herra (phonetical spelling), which was a Jewish expression that implied something like a hex, or at least that's what I understood it to mean. She and other adults referred to it simply as C, or the Big C.

Billy Hall was not afraid of the word nor of the disease. He fell ill only months ago but left the hospital feeling better. It wasn't long before he returned, was diagnosed and placed under the care of Hospice. He passed away on Monday, November 16, 2009.

The jazz community knew him quite well. He performed all over Central Florida and participated in the House of Blues School House teaching children about the origins of blues and jazz. Over one year ago, he founded a weekly event called the Monday Night Jazz Jam (a.k.a. Jazz for Jesus) which was hosted by Yvonne Coleman at Beluga, a restaurant in Winter Park. His core band played for free with a large brandy snifter for tips placed on the front of his grand piano. Each week a charity was chosen and the tips were donated to help the community. The recipients were not chosen by religion, race or background; simply by need.

Beluga closed its doors suddenly on a Sunday and the jam joined the ranks of the homeless. But not for long. The Grand Bohemian Hotel welcomed the musicians and fans into The Boheme Restaurant and they quickly picked up where they left off. Billy was a staple at the Grand Boheme's Bosendorfer Lounge.

Although his friends, family and fans will miss him terribly, Billy was a man of extreme faith. He always said “While I am here, I’m happy walking for him and when I’m called, I’ll be happy walking with him. I win either way!”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shuffle up and deal #Fridayflash

Marianne put on her gauzy, colorful peasant blouse and long billowing skirt. She reached into the drawer and pulled out a purple scarf that complemented the colors in her blouse. She wrapped the scarf loosely around her neck in an effort to cover the folds that women of a certain age refer to using a term describing a part of the bird commonly served on Thanksgiving. She opened the large jewelry box that her grandmother had bought her for her 21st birthday. She selected a pair of large hoop earrings and several strands of beads in varying lengths and put them on.

In the bathroom, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub facing the vanity and pushed the switch causing the frame of the magnifying mirror to light up. A small gold colored basket held her make-up. She brushed some dark pink blush on the apple of each cheek before carefully applying black liner to her upper and lower eyelids and several coats of mascara to her lashes. She reached for the tube of deep mauve lipstick and colored her lips, smacking them a couple of times. A glance in the mirror reflected a gypsy woman.

It was time to go to work. She got into her son’s battered Volkswagen and backed out of the garage of her suburban home. She only used this vehicle to drive back and forth to work. The Maxima stayed in the garage for now.

At the downtown section of this bedroom community she drove into a driveway and parked on the grass behind a tiny house. There was enough room for two other cars.

Marianne unlocked the back door and entered the house into the kitchen. She immediately put the teapot on the stove. Then she pushed aside the curtain separating the front room from the kitchen and kicked off her red shoes. They landed perfectly – one standing up and the other lying next to it. Even though it was a sunny day, she lit scented candles to set the mood. Everything was ready, so she walked around the little table to the front door and flipped the sign over from “Closed” to “Open.” Above the door was one word painted on a piece of wood: READINGS.

The kettle was whistling. Marianne walked back to the kitchen and put an aromatic teabag in a china cup. As she poured the water and rested the cup on the saucer she heard bells jingling as the front door opened. Returning to the candlelit room, Marianne saw a young woman standing tentatively inside the door.

“I made you a cup of tea,” she said to the stranger.

“How did you know…I’d be coming in?” the woman said.

Marianne smiled cryptically.

“Have a seat,” she said. “Make yourself comfortable and have a sip of tea.”

The stranger sat down with her back to the door and Marianne sat opposite her. On the table was an unadorned wooden box. Marianne tapped it three times before opening it. Looking down, as if she didn’t know what she’d find inside, she hesitated. Then she took out the deck of Tarot cards.

“Relax,” she told the stranger. “I know you’ve never done this before but I’m glad you decided to come today. It’s the perfect day for your first reading.”

The woman put down the teacup and Marianne handed her the cards.

“Shuffle them three times,” she said, “and then put them on the table.”

The woman looked frightened but she picked up the cards and did as she was told.

Marianne tapped the deck three times and picked it up. She started arranging the cards face down in a circle on the table. Then slowly, one by one, she turned them face up, starting at the top and working her way around the in a counterclockwise direction.

“I’m Marianne. What’s your name?” she asked.


“Eleanor, something’s troubling you. According to the cards, you’re having a problem relating to a job. Have you recently left your job?”

“Yes. I was laid off last week,” she said.

“Ah, and I see you are worried about how you’re going to pay the bills.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Eleanor.

“You see this card here? The five of coins? That tells me that you have lost one job but another will turn up quickly. It won’t pay as much but you’ll like it better.”

“Really?” Eleanor asked hopefully.

“Yes. The card to the right is the Queen of Hearts. That means that your new job will bring you a new relationship that will affect your life in a positive way. A new friend,” Marianne told her.

The reading lasted about 15 minutes. Eleanor finished her tea and was smiling when Marianne gathered the cards up and put them back into the box. Eleanor opened her purse and took out two bills, a twenty and a five. She was glad she had come in. She wondered what she would be doing at her new job. She thanked Marianne, stood up and left.

Marianne had grown up thinking that her grandmother had special powers that gave her the ability to read cards. Otherwise, how could she be so accurate?

“Nobody comes to a reader when everything is going well,” her grandmother had explained. “People come when they are worried or depressed. The goal of the reader is to send them out feeling better than when they came in. You simply use common sense.”

Marianne reflected upon how easy it was for her to make people happy. She, too, had been laid off due to the recession. She had to think outside the box in order to find a way to pay her mortgage. Two weeks ago, she had searched in a drawer for the Tarot cards and got creative. She had never done readings but her grandmother’s words had not been lost on her.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cirque du Soleil, La Nouba - the music

Imagine going to a Cirque du Soleil show with earplugs blocking your the sound. You would only be experiencing half of the show. Here is a highlight of how the music brings the show to life. It's hard to believe that only six musicians and two vocalists can create the incredible soundtrack. If you're coming to Orlando, make La Nouba a priority on your list of 'don't miss' entertainment.

Clowns entertain as people take their seats. The lights go down. Spotlights illuminate the aisle dividing the lower section from the upper seating and a parade of characters steps out from the right. Brightly attired acrobats form a parade followed by a trumpeter as a tease of the upcoming show.

Stage lights come up suddenly and performers start moving. All eyes are focused on the brilliance and activity. The music is perfectly synchronized to enhance every motion. The two components are inseparable yet the musicians are virtually invisible. Elaborately costumed vocalists seem like part of the backdrop to the fantasy world of La Nouba. Dancing melodies create the auditory adventure appropriate to the swelling excitement on stage.

Overlooking the stage Glazer prompts the musicians through headsets and earpieces to ensure that the music compensates providing seamless accompaniment ending each act with a simultaneous stroke of the drum and beginning the next scene perfectly as he whispers “Un, deux, trios, quatre” to the musicians on platforms five stories high in towers on each side of the stage. Former opera singer Ralph Daniel Rawe and the soulful, European-sounding vocalist Sisaundra Lewis-Reid wear tiny earpieces to hear Glazer’s cues allowing their voices to blend with the instruments to create the live soundtrack.

Six musicians juggle instruments in the towers giving the impression of a large troupe of artists hiding behind the scenes. The horn section consists of Glazer on trumpet and Alain Bradette alternating between soprano, tenor and alto saxophones. Dany Lamoureaux switches between electric and acoustic guitars and adds a mandolin to the mix. The violin is bowed passionately by Benoit Lajeunesse. Eric Bergeron moves quickly between his bass, upright bass and cello. Throw in two organs, played by Glazer and Bradette and you hear the hint of an accordion. Drummer Georges “Joe” Bertrand keeps the rhythm. Instrumental solos provide emphasis during different acts. Imagine the shifting of instruments in virtual darkness.

“Music is a team activity; like a sport,” Glazer said. “If the team doesn’t work well together and one athlete isn’t willing to pass the ball to make the play, it is not a winning combination.”