Just a tiny warrior battling the dragon of ignorance and modern
day lunacy ...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignonne: From Caveman to Julia Child

This reliable recipe for Boeuf Bourguignonne is my variation on a classic. Novices and professionals alike can make this dish sing.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How to Kill Lycra

When I was 12 years old, I owned the perfect bathing suit. A one-piece Jantzen, white with a red and blue stripe that radiated down from budding cleavage to narrow hips, it fit in all-the-right-places. That Jantzen suit made me look at least 15. The suit was hot.

I wore it on the beach, sashaying my little hips. I wore it in the community pool for diving lessons, And fatefully, I wore it to an indoor pool at a hotel. The blast of stinging chlorinated air should have warned me that my white Jantzen was headed for trouble, but I hopped in anyway, paddling around in the overly warm water. A little backstroke, a little freestyle, a little doggie paddle … I was looking great!

How great was revealed when I decided to hop out of the pool to show off my dive. Climbing out on the ladder, I did notice that my suit felt a little looser than usual, but no problem. I was gonna make that awesome dive. Up another set of stairs, out on the platform, toes curled, knees bent, back arched, and a straight arrow into the water … I nailed it!

Eager to repeat my performance and to impress the other hotel pool patrons who were obviously now watching, I prepared to exit the pool again.

My younger sister intervened.

“Umm, your suit is green” she advised, “and it looks like a balloon.”

Ha-ha! I thought, Jealous much? In your black and yellow bumblebee suit? I’m working it, kid, and you are so not.

I reached for the ladder again.

“No, really,” she insisted, “you should probably tell mom that your suit is broken.”

“What?” I smirked, “You are like so … nine. Leave me alone!”

She shrugged. Who cares if her big, dumb sister looks like an idiot?

As my body emerged from the pool, I felt an alarming slap of fabric against my belly. Wait a minute, I fretted, this suit fit snugly an hour ago.

Glancing down, I knew the terrible truth. The tight, sparkling white of the suit was replaced with sagging neon green fabric. The bright red and blue stripes were faded to a dusty pink and dim grey. The elasticity was gone, I mean completely gone. The perfectly cute, perfectly fitting suit was now a loose bell of distorted fabric sloshing around my midsection and pulling down my thighs. I had to grab the neckline to avoid full exposure.

The pool had killed the Janzten.

A little ego died too.

Those pool guests weren’t admiring my diving skills or my streamlined form. The rapid disintegration of that suit was a pure spectator sport.

My mom provided a rescue with a towel.

The hotel offered an apology for their overzealous use of chlorine.

Mom collected $25 in compensation for the death of the Janzten.

My next suit was dark blue, racing back, Olympic style, and it NEVER saw the inside of a hotel pool.

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer Reading ... and Some Are Not

It's August, which means that nearly everywhere the following exchange is taking place:

Mom: Have you finished your summer reading?

Teen: Huh?

Mom: Have you started your summer reading?

Teen: Huh?

Mom: Do you know which books are required?

Teen: Ummm ...

Mom: Do you need to go to the library or bookstore?

Teen: Now?

Mom: Arrgghh!!

Summer reading could quite possibly be the perfect predictor of future success. How each teen approaches this task will foretell his/her future with certain reliability. Summer slackers and students can be neatly divided into five distinct groups.

The June Reader
This student is destined for a life of lonely success. Punishingly unpragmatic, this student executes the requirement almost immediately after school dismisses. Purchasing the book from Amazon with his pre-paid Visa gift card, this overachiever finishes his annotations before the 4th of July. His interpretation of the text is flawless, almost argumentative in its precision. This student will enjoy his career as a Constitutional lawyer or a CPA. Details and deadlines would never bedevil this learner. Added bonus: His relentless hard work is an established fact and many other students plead for a glimpse of his work by mid-August. Stubbornly, this idealist will never yield.

The July Reader
Happy-go-lucky, this guy puts in just enough energy and advance planning to get the job done before crunch time. Mom provides a broad safety net and leaves the book on his bed where it languishes until a rainy Tuesday. Refreshed from a month of lifeguarding and Showtime movies, this guy is willing to trade a little pleasure for a little pain. He powers through his book, takes adequate notes, and dumps book and notebook under his bed until eventual resurrection in late August. This genial, middle-of-the-summer reader will succeed in marketing, management, retail, golf or related fields where his like-minded buddies can surround him. Added bonus: He can hang out with his friends guilt-free for the rest of the summer.

The August Reader
Is it August 1 or August 20? The answer really matters. The August 1 reader is just a slight variation of The July Reader. Usually a follower, the August 1 reader jumps into the task when his July buddy reports that he's finished. This learner will be a future part of a successful marketing team or an IT consultant group. This guy relies on the cues around him to make a choice. He'll do well ... as long as he is never alone.

The August 20 reader is in a totally different category. On August 19, this guy doesn't own the book, hasn't checked the website, isn't quite sure when school will resume, but a tiny voice (see also mom + teen exchange) nags him into action. If someone puts the book in his hand, he will start to read it. If he must rely on his own wits to procure the book, then advance the calendar to the 1st day of school when he will
1. beg to borrow the copy belonging to the June reader
2. failing this, scoop up an abandoned copy from the floor of the locker room

The late August reader has a bright future. Not hemmed in by a sense of responsibility or commitment, he will be a world traveler, survivor, and innovator.

The September Reader
Oooops. Too late.
This learner may or may not own the book ... and may or may not have attempted to read it. His summer was a long blur of YouTube videos made and posted by him. Perfecting stop-motion animation, he re-enacted his favorite music video moments as well as numerous personal interpretations of his favorite songs. This dude already has a long list of subscribers and a budding relationship with a CGI Hollywood connection. This guy's name will appear in many movie credits in your near future. To hell with books ...

The Blogger-Not-Reader
A dangerous breed - this instructor-type once showed the promise of a June reader only to yield eventually to life and time. Neglecting review of the books she assigned months ago, this blogger-not-reader spends glorious summer days tapping out nonsense on her blog.

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Friday, July 17, 2009

Don't Deny the Big O

I pity the president. Every guy wants to think he can get the job done. You know, close the deal … get the fat lady to sing … touch the sky, you get the idea. But there are those who just won’t give in to his gentle persuasion.

“It’s too expensive!” protest his detractors, “And it might hurt!”

“I think we should wait” offer some, “I might be ready in four more years.”

“It’s not right” complain others, “My grandmother couldn’t do it and neither will I”

He’s pushed his critics to the brink, and they are hating it. They just won't yield. No amount of calm reasoning and sweet talk will allow them to relax. Favoring irritability over the endorphin rush of acceptance, the unfulfilled outsiders grumble and chafe with frustration over proposed policies.

Healthcare for everyone? Get your hands off me!

Improved relations with other nations? Who wants relations with other nations?!

Diplomacy over defense spending? No! Give me bigger, thicker, taller, stronger missiles … Ooops, sorry, I meant to say, defense spending in prudent moderation is the only way to preserve our national identity.

What a delicious, frustrating, endless loop … so close and yet so far.

Accept. Relax. Free your mind and the rest will follow.

The government serves and protects the common good. The government collects taxes. The government uses said taxes to pay for programs that serve and protect aforementioned common good. It doesn’t hurt, at all. As a matter of fact, it can feel pretty darn good. Like when you drive across a bridge built with federal funds, or stroll through the National Gallery of Art, or drink clean water from your kitchen tap, or fill up your tank with subsidized gas, or breathe the clean air in your neighborhood.

Don’t deny the big O – bama. Allow yourself to tip over the brink and you may be glad you did.

Remember, the only truly blue things that liberals share are suits and ties.

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Sunday, July 5, 2009

READ THIS IF YOU ARE SARAH PALIN - 10 Quick Steps to the Presidency

This is a great country.

Anyone can be President.

The path to the White House is simple, simpler than you might think. Boys and girls, follow this guide, and you too might find yourself loaning out the Lincoln bedroom.

Step 1

Have famous ancestors that reach back to our colonial origins. Eschew these deep ancestral roots while simultaneously ignoring your genealogical connection to every other candidate.

Step 2

Be an athlete, of some kind. Play basketball, run marathons, kickbox, whatever.

(n.b. - Moose hunting and competitive eating are not acceptable presidential sports. Not since Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton, respectively.)

Step 3

Go to college. What the heck, go to a couple of colleges. Most U.S. presidents hold several degrees, some of them honorary, from prestigious colleges and universities If you lack the skills and necessary talent to attend famous or competitive institutions, then enroll at a series of small and non-competitive schools. Ultimately, to be president, you should complete a Bachelor's degree by attending fewer than 7 ... no, wait! ... 6 "no name" colleges.

Step 4

Get an advanced degree. Law is a popular choice for U.S. presidents but this is by no means the only option.

Step 5

Ignore Step 4.

Step 6

Replace Step 4 with a brief time in the spotlight as a beauty queen followed by a short career as a t.v. sports reporter.

Step 7

Serve two terms as mayor of your small town (population 7,000). Run for governor of your state (population 685,000) on an (ahem) ethics platform. Serve a fraction of your term. Accept nomination to be vice-presidential candidate of aging war hero candidate. Give highly publicized interviews for which you are woefully under-prepared amply arming your opponents with fodder for your political demise.

Step 8

Develop extremely thin skin. While standing in front of cameras, microphones, and streaming web video complain loudly that the "media" has penetrated your inner circle and mocked you and your family.

Step 9

Blame everyone, anyone ... the media, liberals, Barack Obama, Ted Stevens, John McCain's staff, Katie Couric, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Vanity Fair, People magazine, Oprah, liberals, elitists, liberals, Ivy League grads, liberals, David Letterman, Vladimir Putin, the Fonz, the cast of High School Musical, liberals, the Good Humor ice cream man, Anderson Cooper, liberals, Canada, France, et. al. ... for your deficient knowledge of geography, history, literature, the U.S. Constitution, and just about anything else that an educated person should know.

Step 10

Resign as governor before your one term in office is served. Step onto the national stage to campaign for President of the United States (population 304,000,000). Garner support by currying favor with single issue voters and criticizing everyone else for your inadequacies (see also Step 9). Remember, the best defense is a good offense!

If you are puzzling over the meaning of n.b. and et. al., congratulations! You have already reached Step 5!

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Genius of Brad Pitt

Is everything possible in the age of the internet?

Maybe not.

Here are some actual combinations that you won't find on Google:

fried chicken s'mores

sermon induced coma

graceless butterfly

wasabi hemorrhoid cream

chocolate chip tacos

foot odor fetish

wealthy satirist

Of course, the title of this piece represents the most glaring absence, which I have now successfully remedied.

(OK, OK ... for all you locals, I admit that "google-nopes" were originally thunk up by Gene Weingarten. This blog entry is an homage to his enormous talent. Hey, let's Google that one - the enormous talent of Gene Weingarten ...)

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Sunday, June 28, 2009


... that you wish you could hear :

Los Angeles
Sunday, June 28
7:00 a.m. PT

"A source close the Jackson family has disclosed that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford sent a large fruit basket accompanied by a handwritten note to the family's Encino compound. Sanford's poignant card expressed his condolences for their loss and his deep gratitude for the unexpected media deflection.

Suffering under recent media scrutiny, Sanford enjoyed a few uninterrupted minutes earlier today to catch up on his e-mails. The South Carolina governor has faced significant criticism for his travels both in and out and back and forth to Argentina.

Sanford maintains that a torn map and faulty sense of direction led him off the Appalachian trail. 'Traditionally, I stay on the straight and narrow,' the governor lamented, 'but before I finished my trail mix and put on a fresh pair of socks, I found myself on a plane for Buenos Aires.' The governor further asserted that he suspected a plot executed by liberal pundits or possibly a member of the Obama administration. 'I had the right map earlier in the year,' Sanford argued 'It was tucked inside my bible.' 'Someone must have switched it' he added emphatically.

A spokesperson for the Obama adminstration acknowledged that documents pertaining to the stimulus package had been sent to Sanford a few months ago but were returned unopened. No maps were included in the dossier. Recent stories about Sanford's trips to Argentina suggest that he accepted an alternate stimulus package.

In a related story, the Jackson family will reportedly send a complimentary CD of Michael's hit PYT to Sanford."

Copyright 2009 Karen Napolitano

Friday, June 26, 2009

"I'll Be There ..."

His was one of the strangest stories in American celebrity. Rocketed to stardom before he was old enough to tackle multiplication, Michael was the sweet kid with the golden voice who morphed into megastar only to sink into isolation, but never obscurity, as a middle-aged adult.

The 70s were turbulent. Watergate hearings droned and Vietnam ignited fiery debates among the adults, but we kids knew the recipe for fun. Close your eyes and conjure up the image of 5 pairs of matching polyester bell-bottoms swinging in flawless rhythm to Michael's sweet falsetto. Through the magic of t.v. we all danced and sang along in our living rooms. Every kid wanted to be Michael - even for a moment - to capture that exuberance and effortless joy.

The 80s carried these same kids into young adulthood and Michael came with us. He sang life's soundtrack for the first MTV generation. We moussed our hair, shortened our pants, and tried to spin. Billie Jean and the Thriller videos went into heavy rotation on the only channel worth watching on cable. Lovingly, we learned the lyrics and copied the dance moves. They were awesome not only for their immediate and absolute entertainment value, but also for the promise of so many more things to come.

And come they did ...

The 90s brought responsibility. With childhood recently passed, first jobs and serious loves dominated the emotional landscape. Michael was still Bad, but maybe we weren't. Grad school, babies, and mortgages replaced the passion for the King of Pop. Yet Michael stayed firmly fixed in Neverland. No one could make him grow up, and the island of lost boys became his peculiar obsession.

In the new millennium, Michael's star power shifted from icon to idiot. He still captured our attention but for the wrong reasons. His disturbing physical appearance and the accusations levied against him were routine tabloid pablum. We lapped it up all the while protesting that we had ever been fans.

Michael Jackson's untimely death seems an inevitable final chapter in a life lived too early in the glaring spotlight and too long away from reality.

Somewhere in a box in my basement is a pair of jeans that I refuse to give away. In 1986, they were perfectly snug, precisely short, and worn lovingly with sparkly socks and low-heeled black loafers. Years from now, my kids will wonder why I hung onto these, but I'll know. A glimpse of this evocative touchstone and "I'll be there ..."

Copyright 2009 by Karen Napolitano

"You and I must make a pact,
We must bring salvation back
Where there is love, I'll be there
I'll reach out my hand to you,
I'll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I'll be there ..."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alert the Guards!

The Grammar Empress observes that her subjects are disappearing. No, faithful reader, the Empress does not refer to you or your loyal companion Rex-the-wonder-dog. The missing subjects in question are the ones that formerly appeared in sentences.

Recently, the Empress has received puzzling messages from friends, family, and colleagues.

"Am certain the meeting is at 4:00."

Presumably, the missing subject is "I" commonly paired with the first person present tense of the verb to be. The author must scarcely know what to do with the extra time saved by eliminating the tedious exercise of typing a single letter!

"Have dinner plans and will call later."

Notably, this example provides an imperative to its reader. The subject is you understood. More precisely, this reads, "(You) have dinner plans and will call later." Startled, the Grammar Empress complies with a hasty restaurant reservation.

"Running late, need caffeine, may have flat tire."

This desperate missive could seemingly be tapped out by a trapped victim in dashes and dots on a plumbing pipe. In reality, this author used the antiquated system of paper and pencil to leave a note for the Empress.

The Grammar Empress duly notes the value of expediency in communication in our modern world. Tweeting in Tehran or in solidarity with reformers has already proven effective against a repressive and paranoid Iranian government. Yet, the Grammar Empress laments the loss of any her valued subjects. She encourages the return of I, we, you, they, he, she, it, Stanley, a black lab, the little blue engine, the mulberry bush, burnt toast, and all of the other gorgeous combinations produced by those who are ... well ... literate in English.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Killjoy Was Here.

There’s a new toy in my house. It’s a large, colorful pirate ship with ample moving parts- retracting gangplank, rising sails, battening hatches, etc. Predictably, a plastic crew mans this ship. A captain with frothy beard, barefoot deckhands, a loyal first mate with shiny epaulettes, and a marauding horde of skeleton pirates vie for position on deck

Shiny pennies provide perfect treasure. Secret compartments host stow-a-ways. The Jolly Roger waves from the mast. A plastic turtle emblazoned with a skull and crossbones paddles around the ship.

Who might vanquish these pirates of the high seas?

Two challengers step forth.

The first is a vintage Batman circa 1990. Pulsing with muscles, this Batman sports spiked wings, a utility belt loaded with serious weapons, and shiny armor suggesting invincibility. With a serious height advantage, Batman initially appears as a strong contender. One mighty kick from his retractable leg clears the deck. A head butt to the portside causes the tall ship to list dangerously. Batman’s moveable fingers curl wickedly around the anchor. For several minutes, it seems as though the pirate ship will fall to Batman’s superior size and obvious penchant for aggression.

At the final moment, as the ship tips frighteningly low, the crew rallies. A volley of plastic cannon fire pushes Batman away from the anchor. The loyal turtle hooks his fin around a loose piece of the utility belt and pulls Batman deep into another section of the carpet. Batman flails, but he cannot fight the momentum. The sturdy ship rights itself and the pirates cheer.

Their victory is brief.

A giant panda, nearly twice the size of the ship now threatens the victors. With lumbering resolution, the panda advances and slowly smothers the ship. Perhaps his good-natured grin and black eye patches trigger a kinship for the pirates. His motivation is unclear, but the outcome seems inevitable. The giant panda will surely destroy the pirates with his peculiar mix of affection and aggression. Drastic measures are required. Invoking a little used move in pirate defense, the ship becomes airborne as it bucks and sways under the enormous beast. The panda’s thickly padded paws cannot maintain a grip, and the creature falls with a plop on the floor.

Again, the pirates rejoices. Their dominion over Toyland seems complete.

Neither might nor size pose a threat to the tiny pirates and their unsinkable vessel.

Until, the plastic, average, middle-aged man arrives.

Only three inches tall, he wears a white shirt and dark green dress pants. His hair is combed into a tidy cap with a visible part on the left side. His small smile greets the world with deceptive innocence.

No tools, no weapons, and no vehicle accompany the tiny man’s arrival.

Yet, he casts a long shadow of fear.

His compact frame holds all the secrets for destroying Toyland. His is the forbidden knowledge of mortgages, compromise, and suffocation. The thin plastic grin reveals a world of precise balance between stultification and illusion.

The panda hides.

Batman crawls under a chair.

The pirates weep.

And the plastic, average, middle-aged man walks calmly into the fray and announces that it is time to start homework.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Your 401 K is a Beanie Baby!

Open a drawer.

Empty, I mean completely empty, a basket of laundry. Search the bottom of a toy chest. Check the floor of your teenage daughter's closet. Look under the second bench seat in your minivan. What are you likely to find? A Beanie Baby. These maddeningly ubiquitous, fatuously cheerful, brightly colored, annoying pieces of crap still lurk beneath the surface of our everyday lives. Of course, Pinchers the Lobster, Patti the Platypus, and the Princess Diana bear are now dirty, moth-eaten, and missing button eyes and paper eartags. We kick them aside; we reject them; we toss them in the bag for Goodwill. Slightly ashamed of the value we once attributed to them, we slide them out of sight.

We should enshrine them. Build an altar to our folly. Display them on our mantels. Allow them to prick our conscience daily.

Why? Because they are symbolic of all that is wrong with U.S. economy.

Launched in 1993, the Beanies set off an craze of unparalleled proportions. Embracing the illusion that the Beanies were "collectibles," adults bought, traded, and amassed ridiculous numbers of these little plush toys. The "rare" ones were deemed to have lasting value. Entire stores were built around this "collectible" market. Ensconced in acrylic boxes, these toys were considered (no joke) "an investment."

Ummm ... did anyone notice that they were polyester bags filled with plastic pellets produced for only pennies each in China?

Not exactly the stuff to retire on.

News flash - your 401 K is a Beanie Baby.

You thought your retirement account had endless value. Capable of increasing arithmetically, your account would yield a 50% return on your original principal. Money makes money and more money! Words like "hedgefunds," "mutual funds," and "small cap appreciation" crept into your water-cooler conversations. Everyone wanted in on a hot IPO. Today's middle-manager would be tomorrow's millionaire. Throw in more money, leverage your account to buy a huge house, invest in rental real estate, buy tech stock, day trade, hell ... go nuts! What can go wrong? The value can only go up, right?


Your green Paddy Bear with the happy Shamrock stitched on his chest has a rip in his side. Most of his plastic pellets now reside in your vacuum cleaner. You couldn't sell, auction him, or trade him if you had to. He ain't worth a dime.

Unearth him from under the bookcase. Build a shelf for him in a prominent place. Let Paddy Bear remind you everyday that there's no such thing as easy money, that wealth is something built slowly through hard work and cautious investment, and that polyester and plastic can never add up to gold.