Monday, December 15, 2014

A Very Merry Connie Pappalardo Christmas

Hello, again, from Connie Pappalardo.
It's Christmastime, which means one thing to the female contingent of a Sicilian-American household: 
For the benefit of "out" people (non-Sicilians), this is pronounced koo-che-DAH-dee.  Also referred to as "Sicilian fig cookies", "Sicilian Christmas cookies", "Italian fig/Christmas cookies", or simply "the figs" as in, "You gonna make the figs this year?"  I have never heard them referred to in the singular.
Cuccidati is an ancient recipe, pre-dating Columbus if you judge by the ingredients, all of which are pre-Columbian, except for some sugar in the dough.  Of course, there are certain people - and you know who you are - who feel that everything has to have chocolate in it and (I shudder to think) add chocolate chips to the filling.  If you do this, stop it.  It is an infamnia.
Every Christmas season, we baked cuccidati at my grandmother's house.  When I say "we" I mean the donne of the family, and male children under the age of twelve.  The non-Sicilian daughter-in-laws were expected to partake, but were closely monitored.  Adult males were not invited to this gathering, even if they were so inclined to be, which they definitely were not.  In fact, most of them resented the invasion because it took over the kitchen (the main room in a Sicilian household), and I once even heard my Grandfather snarl, "Big deal.  Buy some Fig Newtons and put frosting on them."  This, of course, was greeted with the mal occhio from my Grandmother, but otherwise ignored.  Take into consideration that my Grandfather eschewed ricotta in his lasagna and the fact that baking cuccidati is a leisurely activity spread out over 2-3 days, and that's sort of an explanation.
I'm going to share my family's recipe with you.  Yes, it's complicated and yes, it will probably take you three days.  But learn how to make cuccidati and you can have your pick of handsome Sicilian men to marry (check their work history first).
Call your sisters.  Put on your hoop earrings and your red aprons.  Leave plenty of time to argue about who's got the "right" recipe.  And prepare to get sticky.
Day 1:  Dough
3 lbs of cake flour (13 1/2 cups.  I looked it up.) 
6 tsp of baking powder (yes, six)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 tsp  of salt
3 sticks of butter (really)
1 cup of vegetable shortening (Crisco) or lard
2 cups of milk
Sift together (or stir together, I'm not the kind of girl who "sifts") the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  In a really big-ass bowl.  With a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and shortening until crumbly.  Gradually add enough milk to make a medium-soft dough.  Knead dough for 10 minutes, or until smooth and satiny.  Place in a covered bowl or container and put in the fridge at least an hour (better overnight).  Bring to room temperature when ready to use.
Day 2:  Filling
1/2 lb of dates
1 1/2 lbs of dried figs, as soft as you can find, hard tips trimmed
1 cups of blanched, slivered almonds
1/4 cup candied, chopped citron
1/3 cup of raisins
1 small bottle of orange marmalade (or a cut-up orange, peel and all)
3 Tbl of honey
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
A little whiskey (The good stuff, and just a splash, because you get to drink the rest.  My Grandmother preferred Manhattans.)
Toast your almonds in a 300 degree oven until they're golden and you can smell them.  Chop the dates and the figs.  Combine the dates and figs in a big bowl with all the other ingredients, except the almonds. Put through a food grinder*, using a coarse blade.  (Add a teaspoon of water now and then, if needed, to keep things moving.)  Chop up the almonds and stir them into the ground mixture the best you can.  Gather into a ball, wrap in Saran Wrap, and put in a cool place until ready to use.  Some recipes say that this mixture will keep for a week.  I am of the opinion that you could put it in a time capsule and bury it in Boston and three hundred years from now someone will be able to make cuccidati.
*A few words about food grinders.  I'm talking about the kind that my grandmother used that looks like something that would make Dick Cheney's eyes light up.  They are easy to find in second-hand stores, and will be until the yuppie kitchen boutiques "re-discover" them and start selling them for the equivalent of a downpayment on a car.  I suppose you could use a food processor, but I wouldn't know, having never used one.  Try it.
Day 3:  Baking and Icing
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough thin and cut into rectangles about the size of an index card.  Put a teaspoon (more or less) of filling, shaping it like a Tootsie Roll, on top of each rectangle.  Fold closed tightly and pinch the ends.  Make 2-3 little slashes on one side of the cookie and shape it into a "C".  Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet (thank God!  I hate greasing cookie sheets) for 17 to 20 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly browned.  Let cool.  Ice cookies with the icing recipe (below).
Icing ingredients:
1 box of confectioner's sugar
6 Tbl of warm milk
2 tsp of lemon extract (the real stuff)
2 tsp of vanilla extract (ditto)
Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Add a little more milk, if icing is too thick.  Ice cookies, spooning the icing on, and sprinkle some colorful little nonpareils on them -fast! - while the icing is still moist (this is one of the times in life when small children come in handy).  Do ten cookies or so at a time.  You may need 2 batches of the icing, depending on how thick you lay it on.
That's it.  Trust me, it's easier than it sounds.  The Manhattans help.  If you find that you have extra dough, you can bake the cookies without the filling and the sprinkly things on top.  Which your man will probably like better than the figs because, of course, he doesn't appreciate anything.
Buon Natale.  And, btw, NOBODY sings Ave Maria like Perry Como.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


The most interesting part of travel - if not the best part - is coming home.
I have always looked forward to returning home as much as, or even more so, to the journey itself.  Coming home encapsulates the travel experience in one's mind, commending it - as a whole - to a place in memory to be considered and pondered and referenced for the rest of one's life.  Upon arriving home, I am always greeted by the obvious changes that have occurred in me between the time when I departed and the time when I returned.  Other changes, more subtle, gradually become apparent over time, and the outcome is that home is not the same.  Because I am not the same.
Coming home throws one's journey into high relief, as the new merges with the old, refined with each re-telling when someone asks, "How was your trip?"
My friend, Babs, labels this phenomenon "re-entry", a soul-cleansing mental and emotional readjustment to the familiar, and is so addicted to it that she leaves town pretty much every weekend.
Of course, being away only for a weekend produces a somewhat diluted form of re-entry.  It is certainly possible to undergo a significant life-changing revelation upon re-entry into one's native environment after just a few days' wanderings, but it is far more likely to simply feel a new appreciation for having 24/7 access to a washing machine.
Generally, the length of time away corresponds to the intensity of response to the stimulus of re-entry.  A weekend away makes you realize that you missed your pillow.  A year away may entirely erase your national identity, though it may return as nostalgia.  Recently, I was in Spain for a month.  I have been away for this length of time before, studying languages in other countries, and I have noted that:
  1. After one week, you recognize your dependence on American restaurants and pop music;
  2. After two weeks, you are cured of these dependencies as they have been replaced with a lifelong hankering for - say - gelato and hairy men;
  3. After three weeks, you appreciate the absurdity of water bottles and Fitbits, neither of which you will ever again display in public;
  4. After four weeks, you have a new place to call home.
After a month in Spain, my re-entry discoveries were:
  1. "Everybody here speaks English!" and
  2. "Wow!  Look at all these new clothes!"
Which is what happens when you live for a month out of a 20" suitcase.
Overall, it was a happy homecoming, but one piece of news awaited me that somewhat dimmed the glow:
Benedict Cumberbatch is getting married.
Understand that, outside of his Sherlock persona, Mr. Cumberbatch holds very little attraction for me.  He's just a dorky - albeit talented - young man.  Too young for me, and I would no more expect to kindle romantic feelings in him than I would for Sherlock to work himself into a frenzy of passion over a delighted Mrs. Hudson.
Still, it was a disappointment.  More like insult added to injury, since the last few years have also seen me dropping both Paul McCartney and George Clooney from my fantasy dating pool.
George, I could accept.  His new wife is young, beautiful, stylish, an Oxford graduate, and an international human rights lawyer.  Which is SO FAR out of my league...well, I can't even describe it.  The gulf is just too great.
Paul, however.  I really thought I had a shot with Paul.  Not that Nancy isn't young and beautiful, she is.  But her name is "Nancy" and not "Amal" and she works in the transportation industry, not saving war orphans.  Even throw in Nancy's relation to Barbara Walters and I could still put up a fair fight. 
But such is the nature of fantasy teams, and all I have left is Peyton Manning and John Cleese.  Both are happily married (as am I), so that precludes further disappointment on my next re-entry, to which I now acknowledge my own addiction.  Maybe a trip to Italy (gelato and hairy men), or to England (pints of ale, and a chance - however remote - of running in to Mr. Cleese).
Either way, I'm already looking forward to coming home.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Connie Pappalardo Stuffs a Turkey

Hello, my name is Connie Pappalardo, and today I'm going to tell you how to stuff a turkey.  Actually, I'm going to tell you how to make the stuffing, and you can do what you want with it. 
(BTW, I'm "guest blogging" for my underemployed friend here.  Copyright:  November 23, 2014.  So don't go getting ideas.)
The secret to stuffing a turkey is - ha! - you don't.  Listen to me, I know of which I speak.  Stuffing a turkey is a PAIN IN THE ASS.  On many levels.  To begin with, you have to stuff the thing, no big deal in and of itself, but there are rules:
  1. You have to put the turkey in the oven immediately after stuffing it;
  2. You have to unstuff it before you eat, but not too long before you eat;
  3. You have to hop up from the table right after the last spoonful of cranberry sauce passes your lips to put it all away...
...before the nasty bird microbes start to interact with the nasty egg microbes in the stuffing, because that's going to kill you at room temperature.
I like to keep things simple, so I avoid the little bastards altogether and bake my stuffing "on-the-side", as we used to say.  It gets nice and brown and crunchy on top.  If you're rabid about it, you can baste it - before baking - with some of the turkey bastings. 
I recommend baking the stuffing in those little foil cake pans, the kind that come 3-to-a-package at the grocery store.  That way, you can eat a few pans at Thanksgiving dinner and freeze the rest, in dinner-size portions, and have ready-to-go side dishes.  If you're looking to avoid seasonal blimpdom, you can send any uneaten pans of stuffing home with your guests, no repackaging required.  For the record, I am IN NO WAY above serving the stuffing in those foil pans, because - in my opinion - it's all about the food.  Not that I don't appreciate the sight of a lovely table but, once you start eating, who the hell cares?  If you do, lie to me.
This recipe is from my Sicilian-American grandmother who - in a show of patriotism - always allowed space for a turkey and trimmings alongside the lasagna at Thanksgiving.  I have modified it in two ways:
  1. I have cut the recipe down by two-thirds, size-wise.  Triple it if you're feeding three rooms full of an extended Sicilian family.  You know, the inner-circle table and the outer circle table and the kids' table.  Geographically arranged to allow for maximum yelling;
  2. I leave out the sage at the request of my husband.  This, a Sicilian woman always does:  she cooks according to the tastes of her husband, even if he wouldn't know a sage leaf if it jumped up and bit him on the butt.  She understands why he married her.  Digressions from this tradition are few and far between, even to accomodate small children.  Let me illustrate one of the main differences between the Sicilian-American Table and the Very White American People's Table.  Very White American People cook some God-forsaken pap that they think their kid will like, or they get all tough-love about it and serve the food that Mommy and Daddy like and make the kid sit there until he eats it.  Or at least tries it.  A Sicilian woman does not do this.  She cooks what her husband likes, and the kids can eat bread and butter, whatever.  Which they love.  They grow up at least knowing what good food looks and smells like.  And they learn to like lentils.
Feel free to add sage, without fear of repercussion.  Or oysters, or cranberries, or quail beaks.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just remember that if you do, I'm not responsible for the results.  But this recipe will stand up to just about anything.
The ingredients:
3 large loaves of cheap white bread, cut into 1-inch (or so) cubes
4 cups of celery, chopped into small pieces
4 cups of onions, diced
1/2 cup of fresh Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind, it's better), chopped fine
3 sticks of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl fresh ground pepper
The recipe:
  1. Prep your bread.  After cutting it into cubes, you can do this in one of two ways: either toast them slightly in the oven, or leave them out somewhere safe for a day or two to get a little stale.  I like the second method because I have no time or patience for anything.  Personally, I put mine into a (clean) brown paper grocery bag and then put another bag on top (like a condom) to keep out the vermin, and leave it on the kitchen counter for a few days.  The only thing you have to remember with this method is to go into the bag once in a while to toss the bread around, so it doesn't get moldy;
  2. The day before Thanksgiving, saute the celery and onions in butter, and store (covered) in the refrigerator overnight.  WHATEVER you do, NEVER put raw chopped onions in the fridge, which will make your milk - and everything else - smell like a Chicago hot dog;
  3. On Thanksgiving, put the stale bread in the biggest pot you have.  Run some cold water over it and press it down with your hands.  Keep doing this until all the bread is wet and you're getting a little  surplus water, which you will pour out.  It's a good idea to take your rings off before you do this;
  4. Right there in the pot, add all the other ingredients to the bread.  Mix well with a big spoon.  This takes some muscle.  When you're done, you'll have worked off your first piece of pie;
  5. With the same big spoon, put the stuffing into the cake pans.  You should get four to six of them;
  6. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the fridge until they're ready to be baked;
  7. An hour before the turkey is done, uncover the stuffing and bake as many pans as will fit in the oven with the bird.  You can bake more, if necessary, while you're eating. 
How easy is that?
As far as the turkey goes (unstuffed), just put it in a big foil roasting pan into a 325 degree oven and roast it until it's done.  For a big, fresh turkey that should be about four hours, but ask the guy at the meat counter.  If you want to take the guesswork totally out of it, stick a meat thermometer into the thigh and the turkey's done when the thermometer says 165 degrees.  The science know-it-alls say we don't even have to wash a turkey any more.  My aunt says you still need to wash the blood off of it, and - putting it that way - I see her point.  You also might want to check for - and remove - any feathers, and don't forget to take out the neck and gizzards first, but I'm not talking to a stoonahd, right?
I would be remiss in my duties as a Sicilian-American kitchen capo di tutti capi if I didn't tell you what to do after dinner is over, which is usually signalled by your male diners turning on the second half of the football game.  Designate any food still on the table as "doggy bag" or "leftover" and package accordingly.  Stack the dishes in the sink.  But first, take a tall-size plastic garbage bag, put the turkey in it (roasting pan and all), secure tightly, and stick it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Remove any drawers that get in your way.
After all, it's your holiday, too.  And that bird isn't going anywhere.
Now relax and have some pie and coffee. 
After the game, of course.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bond. James Bond.

I am finally home from my travels.
After surviving a whole month without Marlboro Ultra Lights and apricot facial scrub, I have managed to return intact from parts previously unknown.
Yes, I could have packed those puppies and schlepped them through four flights, five train journeys, and six different hotel rooms.  But where's the sport in that?  What has two thumbs and isn't afraid to travel the world in spite of the lack of an adequate skincare regimen?  This girl.  Travel is all about pushing boundaries and embracing new and strange experiences, even if the closest you get is a funny-tasting cigarette or fine lines and wrinkles.
The "parts previously unknown" was Spain, with a first stop in Boston to visit my son.  As much as I enjoyed seeing him, I admit that stopping in Boston helped me get used to being on the road before taking the somewhat more drastic step of flying to another continent to wander, all by myself, for a month in a country I had never been to before.
Why did I do it?  Well, because:
  1. I wanted to scout out Spain as a potential haven from the Polar Vortex.  And the Republican electorate;
  2. I have a friend in Spain, a fellow blogger ( who, over the course of the last four years, has given every indication of being a seriously good time;
  3. I was feeling the need for a bit of culture shock, accompanied by some major language deprivation.  Very effective therapy for whatever ails you, in my experience.
There were other motivations, mostly tedious and depressing, which means I don't want to write about them.  Let me just say that when you suddenly find yourself humming Katy Perry tunes, it's time for a change.
So I pulled up tent stakes and went to Spain.  Why not?  It was marvelous.  And my blogger friend was a seriously good time, and gave me much-needed fashion encouragement.  I have too many clothes bought to comply with a dress code.  As for Spain being a refuge from the nouvelle Ice Age, I think I may need a few more Chicago winters for inspiration.  Or a Republican in the White House.
Someday, I'll get around to chronicling my adventures.  As I process them.  For now, I would just like to say a few words about ordering a martini in Spain.
Ordering a martini in Spain, or - to be fair - just about anywhere on the planet outside of the United States, is a challenge.  The martini seems to be a uniquely American thing, though I've known a few Canadians to get with the program, but only in Montreal and only because Grey Goose comes from France.  My first attempt at ordering one in Spain was greeted by the response, "Red or white?" and I immediately knew I was on dangerous ground.  On subsequent attempts, and working on the assumption that perhaps I wasn't making myself clear, I modified my requests with:
  1. Con vodka;
  2. Gin, no, gin is something British people drink.  It is nasty.  I am clearly not British, please look at my teeth;
  3. Shaken (insert gesture here), con hielo.
The results were still lackluster.
Finally, after a desperate, but brief - thank God! - flirtation with the idea of going to a TGIF, I hit upon a plan.  That very night, I saddled up to a bar and ordered a martini.
And got a glass of room-temperature vodka.  Not daunted, I implemented my plan.
"Como 'James Bond'," I said, gently pushing the glass back towards the bartender.  Unfortunately, I received a blank stare in return, and I realized that this guy was in middle school the last time James Bond ordered a martini that anyone noticed.
But another savvy soul behind the bar got the message and produced, with pride, a shaker and then - lovingly, laboriously - a masterpiece.  Barcelona is a great town.
From that point on, I was definitely feeling a bit James Bond-ish.  After all, I was travelling alone, reasonably well dressed, in an exotic foreign locale.  The success of my mission went a long way towards the restoration of faith in my abilities to handle life's thornier problems.  I began to exude a certain confidence and - perhaps, I fancied - an air of mystery to those imaginative sorts who possibly might have been paying attention.
All this from a martini.  I was soon to find out how hollow the victory actually was.
On my last night in Spain, I returned to my hotel room to find a large bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket of ice, a bottle of Galician mineral water, two crystal glasses, and skewers of fresh-cut fruit.  Obviously in error.  Thinking that a confused housemaid had delivered to me somebody else's room service, I went down to the front desk to report the mistake.
"Oh, no mistake.  You are a VIP!"
"You mean it's for me?"
I thought about giving it back.  I mean, how much champagne can one person consume in one night?  One person who would rather not wake up with a hangover since she has to negotiate a connecting flight in Heathrow airport the next day?  (A terrifying story for another time.)
Total.  Fail.
Really.  How James Bond-like was that?  True, I was now a VIP, but only because I had earned enough points from Expedia to be one.  It wasn't like I was - say - the head of the International Monetary Fund, or a friend of Taylor Swift.  Yet somebody was giving me champagne and I was reacting to it like a poor, stoned apology.
James Bond?  James Bond would have entered that room, raised an eyebrow - with infinite cool - at the sight of his well-deserved champagne, and popped that sucker open.
Which I - eventually - did, and made quite a dent in it, too.
Vince Lombardi once said, "When you get into the end zone, act like you've been there before."
Good advice.  I'm working on it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Rain in Spain

I´m in Spain.  All by myself.  Long story.

I´ll be fine, if I don´t get sneezed on by an African street vendor.

And I´ll be back, so be patient with me.  Wait until you hear my rant about Madrid!

Much love,


Sunday, October 5, 2014

With This Bling...

I went to a wedding last night.

Weddings are not ordinarily my thing.  I like wedding receptions all right, but my conscience will not allow me to go to them without first attending the ceremony, so it's always a mixed bag.

Yesterday evening was more of a mix than usual, the wedding of the second daughter of one of my husband's cousins.  All the members of this particular branch of the family are born-again Christians, and fanatic ones at that.  This is not a common occurrence among Italian Catholics.  Most Italian Catholics have been effectively cured of any religious inclinations by the time they reach puberty, and they get married "in the church" only because "it would kill" crazy old Aunt Maryrose if they did not.

Here is my take on religion.  There are some good things:
  1. Laughing Buddhas;
  2. Loaves and fishes;
  3. Christmas.
And also some bad things:
  1. Joel Osteen;
  2. Inquisitions;
  3. Lent.
But after 11 years of Catholic school (I was asked to leave after that, and with good reason), I am over it.  As of this writing, my personal viewpoint is that religion is possibly the greatest con job in history, right up there with control-top pantyhose, though I make exceptions for the occasional petition to St. Anthony, and I allow that I probably wouldn't be an atheist in a foxhole.

Try as one may, one cannot ignore the revival of religious fervor these days.  Even here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, Supreme Court Justice Scalia recently announced that the constitutional separation of church and state does NOT mean that “the government cannot favor religion over non-religion,” though what he says it DOES mean is so convoluted (he compares himself to Frodo Baggins) that I would order a psych eval, were it in my power to do so.
The last invitation I received  to a "Christian" wedding specified, "No alcohol, no children."  I could live through the reception without alcohol (albeit unwillingly), but no children?  Children are the only reason marriage - as a social institution - exists, aside from corporate subsidized medical benefits, in which case the invitation should read:  "Reception to Follow in the Human Resources Dept." 
I very much hoped that there would be both alcohol and children at last night's wedding.  I mean, even Jesus drank wine at weddings, though the word "Jesus" was noticeably avoided throughout the ceremony, carefully and pointedly replaced with "Christ", the significance of which I hope I never know.
And - thank you St. Anthony! - there was alcohol.
Lots of it.  In fact, there was a cash bar before the ceremony (one perk of the whole converting-to-evangelical-Christianity thing is that we didn't have to sit through a mass), a circumstance which my husband encouraged me to exploit.  I did, of course, order a drink.  Which came in an 8 oz. tumbler.
A few moments later, much to our surprise and dismay (it was 42 degrees and raining), we were herded outside, down two flights of stairs, across a sodden lawn, and into an unheated tent (no mean feat in heels).  It was going to be an outdoor ceremony, weather be damned, and apparently nobody had the perspicacity and/or wherewithal to move it inside.
Huddled in the back row, freezing my ass off, I realized that I still had my cocktail.  And unable to disguise the fact, due to the two jumbo olives protruding from the glass on a pink plastic toothpick.
Yes, that's right.  I was sitting in the congregation at a Christian wedding with a vodka rocks.  And thinking, "It is now official.  I am Lucille Bluth."
It soon proved to be an advantage.  Not only did the drink provide some welcome warmth, but also the necessary equipment for a little drinking game I devised to get through the mercilessly long, cold, and occasionally disturbing ceremony.
It went something like this:
"Jennifer and Marco, we are gathered here today in CHRIST (take a drink), CHRIST (take a drink) who gives us His love, CHRIST (take a drink) whose blessing we seek.  May you always remember that your love comes through CHRIST (take a drink), for you CHRIST (take a drink) died on the cross...May CHRIST (take a drink) come first in your marriage (roll eyes, take a drink), and blah blah blah CHRIST (take a drink) ..."

Even my husband, who is almost stone-deaf, looked at me and said:  "He's saying 'Christ' an awful lot, isn't he?"
"The bride just said that she wanted the wedding to be 'holy'."
"Well, Holy CHRIST, it's cold out here!"
There were also an alarming number of references to the biblical behest that wives should be obedient to their husbands.  I took the opportunity to modify the game word to "obedient" hoping to conserve alcohol.  With limited success.  And then:
"Jennifer, you tried to run away from us several times."
(Red flag, Jennifer.)
"But because CHRIST loves you, He welcomed you back every time."
(Honey, if you ever need help with that, I'm here.)
"Let us bow our heads and pray."
(Must I obey?  I'm not marrying the guy.)
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you for the very first time:  Mr. and Mrs. Marco Peccorini!"
Fortunately, the reception was  wisely held indoors.  My husband and I were seated at the table with crazy old Aunt Maryrose and the rest of the family geriatrics.  Who ate heartily, drank liberally, sang along lustily with Frank Sinatra on the playlist, and ignored cheerfully any and all attempts by the bridal party to further christianize the occasion.  So, after all was said and done and much to my surprise, I had a great time and came away a happy camper.
Okay, Jennifer, you can start obeying now.  Have fun with that. 
But I'll give you some advice:  Tell Mr. He-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed that your relatives are a bunch of cheap bastards, and stash away some of those fat envelopes where he will never find them. 
Just saying.  Might come in handy someday.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Girlz in the MuthaHood

Men are from Mars.  Women are from another solar system altogether.

Which is why mutual understanding, even in this enlightened age, continues to elude us.  At least, that is as good an explanation as I can come up with, since 160,000 years of intimate cohabitation seems to have produced zip.

This topic has been much on my mind as of late, as the majority of my co-workers are females in various stages of breeding.  A lot of the conversation in my office centers around the subtle and not-so-subtle pressure and discrimination each of them are feeling, brought down upon their heads by the inevitable "Boy's Club" of upper-management and directly related to their reproductive circumstances.  (Yes, upper-management can - and does - include the occasional female.  But I would bet the farm that few upper-management teams have many more than one.)
It is sad to see a woman struggling with her role as a mother.  One lady in my office was reprimanded for taking a few days off after suffering some complications in her first trimester.  My supervisor needs to pump her new-mom breasts in a private corner of the office several times a day (her "milking shed" as I have come to think of it), and she's miserable.  It would make oodles more sense if the baby were there to do it for her, but since babies are not allowed in workplaces, there are few alternatives.
"Stay home with your baby?"  I asked her.
"Joe says we can't afford it."
"OMG, no!  That is SO bad for babies!"
"Methinks you need to tell one or the other side of this issue to fuck off."
But she won't.  She will endure the madness, like so many of her sisters.  It is the new normal.  And like most normals, it is suited to male preferences and values.
Twelve weeks unpaid maternity leave, and then back to the can factory.  God forbid that your husband (if you have one) should get a second job.  And do not dare take a personal day because your baby is sick.  You will be branded "unreliable" and refused promotions until the kid is in college.
This is not the way civilized people should treat the teachers and guardians of their future.
Gentlemen, let us accept the plain facts.  Ladies have babies.  And you need to get over it.
A little more accommodation would be nice.  I am sure that if we can send space probes to Jupiter then we, as a society, can figure out how to allow women to bear children in peace without sacrificing much overall productivity.  But I somehow get the feeling that the male concept of Utopia is still a "Guy-World" where men make all the decisions, everyone lives in basements and wears flannel, money is spent only on beer and cars, and women are brought in - during halftime - to do the cooking.  Children, of course, should be presented fully-formed and gainfully employed.
But that is not the way it is, women are not Men Lite, and men need to get a handle on the following:
  1. Women menstruate;
  2. For this alone, men should buy us jewelry;
  3. Growing an 8 lb. person in your belly is a bit tricky;
  4. Getting it out is even trickier;
  5. And, let me tell you, it is no trip to the beach.
I'm not holding my breath.
Speaking of women, a few words about some women in the news.
Hillary Clinton is just freaking everywhere these days, each time with a new haircut.  I think she realizes, though, that the haircuts are not doing much to erase 40 years of hard-living with Bill and bad fashion sense.  Which explains the Hillary Clinton infomercial, "Madam Secretary", which is taking the airwaves by storm.  In this new Sunday-night dramatic series, a lovely 40-something Tea Leoni wrestles with the responsibilities and complexities of being U.S. Secretary of State.  Tea has the same haircut/color as Hillary did when she was Secretary of State.  She wears the same glasses.  She has a handsome devil of a husband.  And she looks a thousand times better.  My theory is that the Clintons are attempting to produce a mass hysteria among the American public, and Tea will become Hillary in the mind's eye of a majority of voting Americans.  When we look at Hillary Clinton, we will see Tea Leoni.
Uber-smooth move and I, for one, think they can pull it off.
And how 'bout them Palin girls?   Who knew that birthday parties in Anchorage, Alaska could be so dangerous that it required the combined efforts of five adult members of the Palin family to defend themselves?
"Do you know who I am?" Sarah was said to have shrieked in the heat of battle.
From the Heartland of America, I would like to answer that:
  1. Yes, unfortunately;
  2. Yes, but I never knew you wore a wig;
  3. I think so, but say something stupid so I can be sure;
  4. No, I'm still trying to figure it out;
  5. Maybe, but I'll wait for the reveal.
Finally, let us mourn the passing of the great Joan Rivers.  Can it be a just God that takes away Joan Rivers and leaves us with Miley Cyrus?
No.  It cannot.  I believe Stephen Hawking is right.