As the year rolls to an end, let's consider what happened and what we want for next year. Ask yourself two questions. First, what good things occurred to you in 2016? Then, what good things do you want in your life in 2017? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
2016 turned out to be one of the best years of my life. That wasn't expected but occurred as the fruit of conscious choice. For decades, I've worked too hard at my job. Sacrificed too much. A year or so ago, I decided I want more balance in my life. Less work, more fun. Fewer chores, more adventures. So I set out to achieve that. I bought two new motorcycles, made ambitious plans and deliberately shifted attention from my job to the rest of my life.
The results were very pleasing. I took more than a dozen big motorcycle trips and they were all great fun. I made efforts to become closer to my friends by dropping into their towns and spending valuable time with them. I got more exercise, mostly by hiking in the woods and taking pictures. And I cooked more of my meals. Home-cooked food is always tastier, healthier and cheaper than eating out.
The very positive results of this shift make me want to continue the effort. I'm planning multiple motorcycle trips for 2017, hoping to convince my friends to let me visit them, and working on my health. For Christmas, I asked for and got new hiking boots which encourage me to walk more. I got new motorcycle gear for the same reason.
What are you doing? How was your year? What are your plans for 2017?
Humans fear the unknown. The best cure for prejudice is familiarity.
This fact has helped many groups (e.g., African-Americans, gays, Muslims) gain social acceptance. Increased visibility (for example, on television) causes mainstream folk to relax about the "other"-ness of foreign groups. Those who are transgender, like myself, are at the very beginning of the process of acceptance.
Most people have never met anyone transgender and have nobody in their lives to ask obvious questions. I thought it might help to give you that opportunity. If you have any questions about transgenderism or me, fire away. If you prefer privacy, e-mail me (email@example.com).
I'll answer every inquiry. For instance:
- Do you guys all know each other?
Yes. We have weekly meetings.
- Are you all alike? No. Caitlyn Jenner is a conservative Republican. Try as I might, I can't wrap my head around that.
- Are you happy?
Most of us are not. Being obstructed from having an authentic life causes many to become depressed and even suicidal. Gender is fundamental to our psyche and being mis-seen on this is crushing. Of course, one can find ways to deal with it (as I have) but that depends on the individual. Among other transgenders I know, about 80% are deeply sad.
- Do you all have the same sexual orientation?
No, and this is the most common misperception. Transgenders are both straight and gay, in roughly the same percentage as cisgender people. ("Cisgender" means you feel right about the gender assigned to you at birth.)
- Do you have a sense of humor?
Some do, some don't. I find it the only way to get through life.
A 41-year old woman from Texas named Cindy Stowell competed on the TV game-show "Jeopardy!" The show was taped in August and is now being broadcast. At the time of the taping, Cindy was dying -- she had Stage 4 cancer and on painkillers. Two weeks ago -- before the show aired -- Cindy died. We are now watching her on television after her death.
Cindy told the producers of the show about her health but they didn't disclose it to the other contestants to avoid affecting the competition. Cindy donated her winnings to cancer research. On the show, if you win, you come back the next day to keep competing. On the episode aired today, Cindy won for the fifth day in a row and she'll be back on TV tomorrow (ABC). The show is not revealing how many days Cindy won before being de-throned.
It is heart-breakingly poignant to watch this smart, young woman win over and over, knowing that she was dying at the time and is now dead. Tune in tomorrow.
If someone calls you a "ham and egger", should you smile with gratitude or punch 'em in the kisser?
I'm in the midst of a binge, watching a TV show that aired in 1961-1962. I was 4-5 years old back then, watching cartoons not quality drama. I missed out on this old show until now. One of the fun parts of hearing it is the dialogue, filled with hip slang from the Fifties and early-Sixties. A "ham and egger" is a common man of no significance, someone washed up like a boxer past his prime. The phrase is uttered in an episode co-starring Ed Asner (with hair!) and Al Lewis (Grandpa from "The Munsters").
The show is "Route 66," named after the iconic highway. In it, two guys in their twenties (Tod and Buz) ride around the country in a red Corvette, stopping for odd jobs. They stay in different places for short times, getting involved in local dramas. The theme of the show is their search for meaning in Sixties America. Each episode is shot in a different location (rare back then) with a new cast of co-stars. The dramas are engaging and well-written. And it's a treat to see faces familiar to you from later television shows in their youth.
You recognize the lead actor, Martin Milner, from his later role as a patrolman in the hit police show, "Adam-12." His partner here is George Maharis, a handsome guy who in real life later posed nude for a Playgirl magazine centerfold (1970).
I love learning trivia about entertainment. Here are two fascinating facts. In the casting of the lead character, Martin Milner beat out another then-unknown actor who was deemed less talented -- Robert Redford. The second fact is sadder. After a promising start to his career, George Maharis was caught in a "scandal." In 1974, a tabloid learned he was homosexual and published that as negative news. Immediately his acting jobs dried up and Maharis says casting agents no longer considered him for any roles. It's tragic that as recently as this a person could be punished simply for being gay.
Route 66 was not syndicated which is why it was not on TV after its original airing. The show is available now on DVD which is where I got it. Have you ever heard of this?
After travelling too little most of my life, I plunged into travel this year like a woman on fire. I couldn't get enough. I rode my motorcycle all over the country -- and even outside it (Canada). I visited friends in faraway places, saw beautiful and interesting sights, and ate good food.
As the year winds down, I'm reflecting on those adventures. These trips truly were adventures. Wisdom teaches you to cherish experiences, not material possessions. I added dozens of wonderful memories to the Happy Vault in my head.
What was my favorite trip? It's so hard to choose, so I'll pick two.
The first was my visit to Niagra Falls (the Canadian side). Seeing the power and majesty of nature up close is astounding. The intensity of the water-flow, posed against the backdrop of massive rock, amazes you. Here are some pics which don't really do the place justice...
The second trip which will reside forever in my memory was a motorcycle ride I took to Detroit. I met my best friend Sara there and she showed me cool places like a famous outdoor art exhibition. The journey was long one (700 miles each way) but worth every ounce of effort. I'm definitely going back!
It's been over 25 years since I had a real Christmas tree. I went shopping yesterday for an artificial one. While at the store, I decided to look at real trees. Once I got a whiff of their pine scent, I was hopelessly hooked.
The experience of carrying the tree on the roof of my car brought back memories -- but I don't remember the process being so physical. When I last did this in the 1980's, my muscles didn't ache the next day.
Are you putting up a tree this year? Real or artificial?
Oh, and that's not a motorcycle helmet in the back of the photo -- it's my new coffee-maker shaped like a motorcycle helmet!
Down in America, we tend to think of Canada as a peaceful place. But we're mistaken. There's a war raging up North. A battle pitting Canadian against Canadian, brother against brother. A conflict that shows no sign of resolution.
The fight is over the National Bird of Canada.
Canada has many national symbols (e.g., maple leaf, beaver) but no national bird. Recognizing this gap, the country embarked on a mission to select one. A year ago, they surveyed Canadians and the population responded. The top three choices were the loon, snowy owl and grey jay. Unfortunately the loon and snowy owl aren't available because they're already official symbols for two provinces. Which leaves the grey jay as the backup choice.
But many oppose the grey jay. They say they've never seen one, which is true. The vast majority of Canada's human population live near its southern border with the U.S. The grey jay inhabits the northern area of Canada. Not only have most Canadians never seen a grey jay, they've never heard of one. How can something be chosen as a symbol of your country if you've never heard of it?
Worst of all is its spelling. Canadians are fussy about spelling. Certain words are spelled differently there and Canadians resent Americanized versions. In Canada, grey is spelled "gray"; they view "grey" as American imperialism.
The grey jay acquired the spelling of its name from a non-Canadian international avian organization. Canadians question why they should accept a decision from a non-Canadian body.
Arguing against the opposition are people who say the grey jay is a lovely bird which lives in Canada year-round. Unlike most birds, it never migrates outside the country. And they add that just because you don't know the bird now doesn't mean you won't love it later. Finally, its supporters admit there are no other good alternatives. One expert described the Canada goose as an unholy "pooping machine."
The poll on this subject was open for a year. It ended in August, then a team of expert convened. Last month they announced their decision that the grey jay is now the National Bird of Canada. If Canadians weren't such nice, peaceful people, riots would have erupted and cars would have been overturned. Instead, they're mostly grumbling into their beers and talking about moving to the U.S. It's social turmoil with no end in sight.
I've never been described as alluring -- but have always thought that would be fun. Yesterday I found a sexy gown at a local thrift-store (only $15) and do my best attempt here to create an alluring look.
Scour local newspapers and websites until you find a new bakery opening up down the block from you. Well, actually, two miles away but you need the exercise.
Walk there -- don't drive! -- and buy a huge loaf of brick-oven bread. Carry the bread home under your arm like a football, imagining you're a pro running-back dodging suburban housewives out shopping for the holiday.
Set the scene. This is important, don't skip this step. Fire up a pot of gourmet-roasted coffee. Put the (vinyl) soundtrack to the original Rocky Horror Picture Show on your turntable. Turn it up loud. No, louder. Don't be a wuss -- LOUDER!
Change into your bright pink robe with polka dots and pom poms. What? You don't have a bright pink robe with polka dots and pom poms? Leave a note for your husband to buy you one for Christmas.
Okay, you're ready to cook. Place 8 large cloves of garlic in a medium frying pan. Add an entire can of anchovies. Toss in two fresh jalapenos for heat. Add imported extra virgin olive oil and wonder how something can be "extra" virgin. Don't forget two pinches of tumeric for color (orange) and health benefit. Splash some Tamari (real soy sauce) and Frank's Hot Sauce ('cause you put that stuff on everything). Turn on the gas stove until you hear the oil bubble. Stir the potion until it becomes an magical elixir. Cackle like a witch (optional).
Pause. Look out the window at approaching Jehovah's Witnesses. Watch as they hear the loud music, then quickly turn around and run away in horror.
Return to the kitchen. Place the bread on the biggest cutting board you have, use a serrated knife and cut four large pieces. Toast or not, depending on your whim.
Spoon the garlicky hot oil spread onto the sliced bread. Savor and realize that life is worth living. Sometimes.
I love Canada. I've been to Vancouver, I've been to Toronto. I rode my motorcycle around Nova Scotia on the Cabot Trail. Every experience I've had up North has been a delight. Plus, I have several close friends who live in igloos there.
I was excited to see a new documentary about the country. The film is hilarious. A comedy-writer born in Canada explores important questions about being Canadian by travelling from the east coast to the west coast of the country, interviewing a dozen Canadians along the way. You'll recognize all of them. Seth Rogen, Mike Myers, Dan Ackroyd, William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, Eugene Levy, Jason Priestley, Conan O'Brien, Alanis Morissette, Howie Mandel and Alex Trebek. Your first reaction is, "I didn't know [he/she] was Canadian."
The movie is amusing and educational, focusing on questions like why are Canadians so nice, how do they manage the cold, and why does the rest of the world know nothing about Canada. I laughed and learned throughout the movie. So will you.
My friend Sara is a real Party Cat. She just sent me this picture. Last Summer one of Sara's friends snapped us drinking in Detroit. Come to think of it, that ought to be a song -- "Drinking in Detroit."
Over the years, Sara has proven herself to be an exceptional friend -- because she's an exceptional person. From the first time I met her, I knew Sara was special. I have an instinct for that.
For my birthday this month, Sara bought me a mermaid blanket. How perfect! Now I can relax in style. Ally-Cat style. It even came with a cute necklace.
I've raved before about the cultural -- and personal -- significance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The 1975 movie features Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Meatloaf. After bombing during its initial run, it gained new life and immortality during midnight shows in cities (like New York where it played for decades at The Waverly Theater). Those raucous shows include substantial audience-participation with props (e.g., rice).
The recent TV re-make was well-intentioned but disappointingly bland and boring. It lacks the bite of the 40-year old classic. The re-make did, however, awaken new hunger in me for the original soundtrack so I went looking for it, On Saturday I found the record at Rough Trade, the hippest vinyl record store in Brooklyn.
The soundtrack is now on high-quality vinyl and... wait for it... is RED! The music sounds great and it's fun to play with a red platter.
"I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey,,,"
I braved the cold today and rode my motorcycle to a local museum for the opening of a new photography exhibition. The works include masterpieces from the best photographers of all time, like Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Cindy Sherman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon.
One picture I'd never seen before struck me. Created by Ormond Gigli, it displays 43 models in the windows of a building about to be demolished. Here it is, followed by photos I took of sculpture and a plant on the museum grounds.
My last fashion experiment was a failure. Which is okay; that's how I learn. My outfit went beyond sober and entered dreary territory.
To clear my palate, I'm returning to my core style -- colorful, playful and lots of leg. It's my wheelhouse. What led me to this was a brief stop at a thrift-store today on my way home from court. I spotted a cute mini-dress in Sixties-era bright pink with a red Eiffel Tower. Really, an Eiffel Tower! Comme c'est fou!
Do you remember the post I did two weeks ago on the new Long Island Welcome Center? Well, one of the highlights of that place is its avid promotion of local products. They carry foods made in New York State.
While there, I spotted something called "Vampire Salt." Being a salt-junkie, I had to take a closer look. Vampire Salt is made by a local company in Amityville (Crimson & Clove). Their products are all natural with no chemicals or artificial ingredients.
Vampire Salt has only three ingredients: black Hawaiian salt, garlic and Aleppo pepper. Hawaiian salt (sometimes called Alaea salt) is an unrefined sea salt mixed with volcanic red clay. It get its dark color from particles of volcanic red clay. It is part of native Hawaiian cuisine and used to season Hawaiian dishes. It's also used to cleanse, purify and bless tools, canoes, homes and temples.
Aleppo pepper is a spice used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It starts as pods which ripen to a burgundy color and are then dried, de-seeded and coarsely ground. It possesses a spicy kick equivalent to jalapeno peppers.
In addition to looking cool, Vampire Salt tastes good. It's got a strong salt-kick with a medium flavor of garlic and pepper. Perfect for finishing off a dish of vegetables or a juicy steak. Interested?