'Twas the night, 'twas the night

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, not a bug, not a rat.
Himself in some sweatpants that had seen better days
and I still bone-weary from shopping malaise
Were snacking while sitting in front of the tree,
watching the Yule Log flicker on the TV
When outside the window there arose such a clatter
We grabbed for our Go-Bags then checked what was the matter.
In New York we've have had Go-Bags for many a year;
The office provides them in profit-centered fear
that in a crisis we'd rush home without that tiny ration
of band-aid, tinfoil blanket, power bar and Dasani hydration.

At home I'm better ready, I grew up as a Scout.
I'm Prepared for emergencies and won't be without
a bottle of cognac, a warm cashmere throw
and some Drake's Yankee Doodles, they're what I know
will get us through trouble by night or day -
those chemical cakes are indestructible
cognac's medicinal, that's ineluctable -
even though cashmere's somewhat of a cliché.

But out on the terrace – a real jaw-dropper:
a visit from Santa and his new lead reindeer Shopper!

“Where's Rudolf?” I cried, “and his nose of Bright Flame?”
“It's called Maraschino, so he stayed home in shame,”
Santa sighed, as he called to the team
Of reindeer that worked on a measly per diem.
“On Clearance, on Killer, on Twofer and Blitzen,
on Markdown, on Promo, on Goner and Sitzen!”

“But aren't you meant to be up in the sky?”
“Not so much,” replied Santa, with a tear in his eye.
“The prices were falling so early this year,
everyone bought her own gifts, which is why I am here.
The reindeer walked out in a regular snit,
So I took on these new guys who just can't commit.
I'm just riding around out of habit, I guess.”
We gave him some Doodles and some cognac no less.
And we heard him exclaim as he rose out of sight
Merry Christmas to All and To All a Good Night!

my annual PSA: ‘tis the season - welcome to New York. Watch your back.

Welcome to New York City. Stay awake.

This discussion touches on a few dull and depressing topics - crime, taxes, and public transportation - but skim through if your holiday travel plans include New York City.

First, know that stores, street and sidewalks get very crowded during holiday season. In addition to the expected public attractions, some people’s homes or offices attract crowds, and for purposes of your visit it doesn’t matter if the crowd is of curious people, annoyed and tired people, protesting people... crowds to you or me are hunting grounds to pickpockets.

As the wife of a guy who has had his wallet removed from his trousers almost every time we visit a major city abroad, and who still thinks he shouldn’t have to take sensible precautions because he has always kept his wallet in his back pocket and people should recognize and respect this - let me offer some of the good advice to which Himself is impervious.

the Artful Dodger - a tradition continues
Men. Your back pocket is easy pickings. If you must carry a loaded wallet, carry it in a front or side pocket. If someone’s sticky fingers grope the front of you, you will notice, and you can step on the perpetrator’s foot or grab his wrist, say something like NOW CUT THAT OUT, step back, and you will still have your wallet and not have to miss dinner or theater because your tickets or credit cards were in your wallet. Just because you CAN freeze or unfreeze your phone or credit card, doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy being in a situation where you’ll have to.

Busses. By and large, I’m in favor of busses, mainly because you can see where you are and figure out very quickly whether or not you are going in the right direction. Also because the drivers have to take a special test that checks their knowledge of the city, at least of their very own route.

At present bus and/or subway fare is paid with a Metrocard. You can buy Metrocards in varying denominations at Metrocard machines, which live in subway and railroad stations. Also, the MTA’s website will find neighborhood stores that carry Metrocards - here’s a link .

At present you can also pay regular bus (but not subway) fare with coins (but not pennies) (and not bills) as you board the bus. The bus driver can not make change.

All of this is going to be “improved” - Heaven help us - municipal planning is underfoot - so here is a link to the MTA’s very own website.

Sales tax. I wanted to pick up a little souvenir Statue of Liberty for a stocking stuffer and popped in to one of those souvenir/antique/going out of business shops on Fifth Avenue.  A crime was in process. The sales clerk (owner?) was explaining to a puzzled young couple that there was a rather hefty sales tax on tee shirts, but that they could collect it back at the airport.

OK, this is where you should pay attention. The United States does not have a national sales tax or Value Added Tax. Really.New York State has its very own sales tax, as does the City of New York. If a merchant tells you that you can collect back the New York taxes, or the non-existent national tax, at the airport as you are leaving, he is lying.There is no such facility. I wouldn’t buy anything from someone who tried to tell me that, because if he’s that kind of liar, the goods could turn out to be fake or counterfeit or damaged or worse. Walk away.

As to the state and city sales taxes - you also need to know this: items of “clothing” that cost $109.99 or less are not subject to NY state or NY city sales tax. Items of clothing that cost $110.00 or more are taxable. For NY sales tax purposes, “clothing” is defined here.  By the way, I have filed with the State a Complaint and Request for Refund against Ann Taylor because they insisted on collecting sales tax on 2 scarves and a belt (all considered clothing). The amount of money was not enormous, but the staff were rude and condescending when I pointed out the error. I could have just walked out, but c’mon, I was not the one committing tax fraud.

Looking Back - Anniversary - dinner and a show. Or two.

Today is close to but not exactly our anniversary. We were married on a cold miserable rainy sleety foggy windy night in November. The rain and wind started as I left the hairdresser’s. My hair melted. My makeup melted. I had organized a car and driver - no show. I got home to learn that my dress had been delivered. But not the sleeves. When I start reciting the litany of Things That Went Wrong At The Wedding, people first cluck in sympathy, then start to laugh, and then as the list goes ON-AND-ON-AND-ON they try to look at phones or watches without me noticing.

I understand that recently pictures of soaking wet brides in full wedding regalia have become a Thing, and there are photographers who specialize in immortalizing the magic moment. This had not become a trend, or even a whispered nightmare when we got married. So I'll just say that once I learned that Himself had in fact shown up, I tried to go with the flow and get it over with.

There were pictures taken, but I'm not in most of them. The so-called society photographer who had insisted that he be allowed to do my father a favor ultimately didn't show up in person. He sent a terrified non-English-speaking assistant, and it's possible that the exact details of the event (Wedding. Bride. White dress. Cake.) had not been made clear to the kid with the camera and the shaky hands (Remove lens cap. Focus.) Mom put the proofs into a folder and for our fifth anniversary transferred them to a loose leaf binder which she gave to us. We never did purchase the album. Most of the pictures include all or parts of a cousin that my sister and I couldn't stand. The "photographer" was entranced by her upper body. There is also a picture of me adjusting a bra strap, which I think was meant to be the clichéd picture of Bride Adjusting Veil. Also it seems that the substitute photographer had grown up under communism in a country where domestic comforts were scarce and so the Done Thing was for the wedding pictures to include boastful shots of the family’s larger material possessions. Like the furnace. And the toilets. I showed the binder to my sister, and put it away.

We've been married a VERY VERY long time, and given the sheer awfulness of the wedding (example: his mother started crying when she arrived and was still in tears when we left), we usually acknowledge the day by getting out of town with no set agenda. This is appropriate because other than his relatives’ odd behaviors, the main topic of conversation was Traffic.

What's been happening lately to commemorate the event is something along the lines of "Oh.You're still here. Good."

However a few years ago we decided to try doing dinner and theater. We'd both read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and had both noticed that the National Theatre (London) production of both works had gotten great reviews, and both plays were about to close their West End runs.

Good seats were available, we had mileage, a few phone calls took care of the dinner part, and we were good to go.

Um, perhaps not quite. With the same expansive outlook that has inflated plans for a weekend out of town into a 3-weeks road trip, or dinner at his cousin’s in South Jersey to two weeks in Key West (since we'd be heading south anyway), we found another show, a few more meals...

So: London. We arrived the day before our theater date, and had dinner at Gordon Ramsay's little gem of a flagship. We always make room for at least one meal here when in London - because notwithstanding their financial issues and personnel matters, dammit the food is good! and after all this time they almost always find a table for us. I don't have food pics, but for some reason, possibly  related to the champagne, I only took a picture of my belt bag reclining in splendor on its very own petite chaise. In keeping with the wedding theme, the zipper had burst, putting on display some used tissues and a bottle of nose drops. Toujours exquise.

The shows were terrific, one in the afternoon, the second in the evening, with a non-memorable supper at Balthasar in-between. We plan to remain married forever, or at least until the final parent of the trilogy is published, Kindle’d, turned into a play by the RSC, and re-adapted for public television if such a thing still exists at that point in the world’s dubious future.

We also found time for tea at Brown's again, where I tried to overdose on scones with clotted cream. If you haven't had clotted cream,  you can make a very close approximation if you can get your hands on NON-ultra-pasteurized, NON-homogenized heavy cream, give the little bottle a good shake, and refrigerate it for a few days. Clotted cream is a delicious detour on the way to butter. When it thickens, get out the thick-cut toast (I'm assuming noone wants to cook scones), spread, add some tart red jelly or preserves, and enjoy. Crème fraîche is sold in many supermarkets, it’s close...

We also saw a play called Great Britain, a rapid-fire depiction of the staff of a gamy tabloid caught in a tacky and dangerous phone-hacking scandal. Hysterically funny, politically incorrect, sharp-edged and sad: people do want to hear about this stuff. Just turn on your television.

Fittingly, the weather was chilly, damp and misty.

By the way, there is a Facebook page called Trash the Dress. I just checked.

I’ve got a sequin...

and if Blogger's benevolence continues, and this post ever gets published, here are a few things I picked up recently to see me through the winter, or the winters, if that's in store.

olive green chinos, dark and not-so-dark jeans, a few tees replaced - oh, seriously does anyone still need to see pictures?

the brown/maroon/burgundy sequin pencil skirt - real possibilities. In the not-too-distant past, this skirt would have been shown with a chambray or gingham shirt or a striped tee or (gasp!) an Aran sweater. Well, no.

I believe it's now safe to say that I always thought that kind of combination looked like “my big sister said I could borrow the skirt but I’d have to find my own top because her chest is way bigger than mine”.

Depending on the light, the sequins read as very dark brown, as “burgundy,” as maroon, as mahogany, as almost purple. By the way, since Winter Is Coming, or Is Here, J.Crew Factory has some nice wine-colored tights that have worked well with the skirt. So far.

Sooo... here are some silk blouses that can accompany the skirt to dinner out or to a concert of holiday madrigals. Top, Vince, next two, Sézane.

I’ve ordered a velvet top with a draped neckline, but it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t vouch for the color. However I’m enchanted with the play of textures. Fingers crossed. 

Also en route, a few cashmere pullovers, but no conclusion until I see the colors and reach an independent judgment on the fuzziness quotient. I’ve ordered a deep cool brown and a lavender. No bows or other features, I think the blend of textures will be enough visual activity.

accessorize merrily with a splash of tomato sauce

I thought you might be curious about what one wears for an extravagant summer event in the "Hamptons," which is what the collection of once charming small villages on the eastern end of Long Island's South Fork is called by people who didn't grow up here or didn't grow up summering here.

We are in fact preparing for an extravagant event here at Flintstone Manor: I drive up to my favorite farm stand, the one that's sent 3 or 4 generations of its children to college and is still staffed by nice young nieces and cousins, and I purchase a box of 25 pounds of Plum Tomatoes and two very large bunches of basil.

The extravagant part is that I buy the Number One tomatoes, the good ones that don't have to be trimmed before cooking. No wormholes or bird pecks in my kitchen. Also, it speeds things up if I don’t have to barber the tomatoes.

Then I pop into a supermarket for little freezer containers. I've learned the hard way that if I want just a cup or half a cup of sauce for, say, a sausage sandwich or two, having a few quart containers in the freezer is not helpful. And ultimately you will have a tomato-colored iceberg or two in the freezer,  which will have to be thrown out. This is one of those times when "spending to save" works.
 There is no recipe. Crucial first step:  I remind Himself that the great big lobster pot is already booked for the weekend, so he shouldn't show up with lobsters. 

Then I rinse the tomatoes very thoroughly and get going cutting them up. I quarter them and cut them in half again, trim off the remains of any stem parts, and just keep going. About 1/3 of the way through the tomatoes, I put 3 or 4 very very very thinly sliced onions and some sliced garlic and olive oil into the lobster pot, put it over very low heat and cover it and let everything cook without browning until the onions are melted. Meanwhile I finish cutting the tomatoes. Although if the onions look like they're ready, I'll add whatever tomatoes are cut and let them start becoming sauce.
The basil gets a thorough rinsing, and the bunch is held over the pot and hacked up with a kitchen scissors. The rest of the tomatoes and more cut up basil go in. When the whole thing comes to a boil, stir madly for a minute or two, turn the heat down and stir some more. I want the tomatoes to break down and the sauce to reduce by about 1/3.

Sooo - when the pot's ready for a long, traditional simmering, I put it into a slow oven, say about 250' F. That way, the heat is all around the pot and it only needs an occasional stir. If the pot and cover are too tall for the oven, even on the lowest shelf, try turning the cover upside down.

I don't peel the tomatoes, because the peel adds color and flavor. So does the gloop around the seeds.  When it looks to me like all the tomatoes are cooked through - a few hours of cooking, say 4 or 5 - I lift the pot out of the oven to the top of the stove and have at it with a stick blender. Goodbye, peel and seeds. If it looks pale, I plop in a 6-ounce can of tomato paste, imported if available.

Then, back into the oven to reduce - to cook it down so that it gets thicker by itself and isn't watery. If I happen to come across more basil I add it here. I leave it partly covered, overnight, in a very low oven, say 175 or 200.

In the morning, there is sauce. Let it cool while you stoke yourself with coffee, decide if it needs another buzz with the stick blender, and then begin the transfer into the freezer containers.

And then find space for all the containers into the freezer.

Fashion note: This is not a dressy event, but you should see how cute I look with dabs of tomato sauce all over my arms and nose and oldest jeans and tee. Not.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Fine fabrics and craftsmanship are disappearing faster than glacier ice.

I’ve tried but I can no longer even think about spending a whole day “tidying,” let along a whole week, or more likely a month, which is what it would take. At a minimum. And to what end? I like having more than one top per jacket. I like not having to worry about things coming back from the cleaner in time. I like not worrying about what’s taking the hand laundry so long to dry. I like being able to change socks in the middle of a hot day. I like knowing that I have a closet full of things made of fabrics and minerals to which I am not allergic. And - oh, the shame - I like knowing that if the black pants I bought last year have mysteriously become too tight, there will be a pair of black pants purchased 4 years ago when my weight ballooned after a trip to France, still there, still well tailored, still coordinated with other items I own...

Until recently, I was concerned that my closet reflected the personality of an over-aged, lazy spoiled brat.

I now know better.

I have been, simply, an early adapter of Self Care. In owning black silk pants in a range of sizes, in a fabric to which I’m not allergic (that would be the silk), I have been proactively preventing skin irritations, that is, practicing full-body skin care. Same for fine wool. Same for navy pants, same for beige, camel, wine, hunter green, military green, tweed and tweed-like patterns. (note to self: find and insert picture of defiant stare) (ok, dear readers, please imagine such a vision - passport picture of someone who would benefit from an expensive blow-out but is going to get on that plane anyway, dammit)

Back to self-care: One can’t achieve a state of calm and mindfulness (formerly referred to as Inner Poise) if the Big Issue at the Forefront of One’s Mind is not Living in Peace and Harmony with One’s Neighbors and Looking Forward to a Bright Tomorrow but Whether The Waist Button Will Hold Till I Get Home, or Is Anyone Looking Because I Itch All Over. 

Same for shirts.

Same for sweaters.

Same for jackets.

and so on.

I even buy dupes. Knowing that I won’t be leaving the house in an uncoordinated outfit gives me the ability to worry about real issues.

Moreover, as a practical matter, should I and my dear ones be trapped in a political or economic crisis, I won’t need clothes to job-hunt, to volunteer, to campaign, to flee, to lend to those who have fled. I’ll be ready, I won’t break out in allergic rashes, and I’ll have plenty left over to share. No matter what time of year, what kind of weather.

um, just noticed, there may be a shortage of lightweight pull on rain boots. Back in a while.

dawn patrol, armed with discount codes, hot coffee, and a dwindling attention span

Within the last 24 hours:
my lavender houndstooth herringbone blazer arrived 
it was a deranged magic hour grab 
during a recent 60% off sale.

It was not lavender.  It was a faded mauve. 
The difference between the website photo (below) and the reality 
was too great to be blamed on screens or pixels.
It was also not houndstooth  herringbone
Here are some pictures of houndstooth herringbone jackets, all J.Crew.

observe the little woven-in chevrons. 
they are what make herringbone, herringbone.  
There were no little “teeth” on the jacket that arrived.
My best guess is that someone mis-set the computer-governed specs in the fabric mills,
and the mill shipped out the resulting bolts to the cut-and-sew operations anyway. 

Nobody's perfect.

so: not lavender, not houndstooth, not herringbone either.
But fortunately, not final sale. 

Among other items, I ordered a 2019 diary very early this morning. 
Used the “flash sale” promo plus the “apology” discount. 
I’d probably get a better price if I waited until this coming November 
but what the #*&$.
I might have to go out to dinner or catch a plane between now and then.

I admired but didn’t order a pair of multi-colored make-believe snakeskin sandals. 
I never know what size J.Crew thinks my feet are, and I still have Christmas stuff to return
so I didn't bite.
Later today, I passed one of the remaining J.Crew stores, 
and there were the sandals, with 25% off. They were sooo cute. 
A favorite look: multi-colored shoes with an otherwise monochrome outfit.

Before I tried them on, I had to remove packing stuff. 
The shoes fit a lot better without all that. 
There are holes on the straps to make adjustments. 
They get lost in the snakeskin - persevere. 

Worst event of the day - 
LinkedIn has found the perfect job for me. 
At Goop.
I’m trying to close my account at LinkedIn - before they send me puppies.
Seems to be the same algorithm that tells me men's hiking boots are in my shopping bag.
Yeah, right.