Etiquette & superstition: birthdays

My father was an engineer and my mother was a schoolteacher, and they really liked making and sticking to plans. Their plan was to have two children, born four years apart. Preferably the boy first. My brother’s birthday is four years and six days ahead of mine. They screwed that one up by six days, I guess.

ETIQUETTE: Wow, this is one I completely missed until now. It seems obvious, but I just never thought of it. Apparently it used to be considered terrible to throw yourself a birthday party as an adult. The worst. So gauche. So “look at me and tell me I’m wonderful.” Miss Manners is still not in favor of it. I have to admit that I am a bit of a “look at me and tell me I’m wonderful” sort of person at times and have thrown myself a ton of birthday parties. I’m so embarrassed.

But the good thing is the etiquette monsters have changed their mind about this one, even Miss Manners (albeit grudgingly), and it’s now all right to throw your own birthday, provided that you make it clear that no gifts are expected. If you are throwing your own birthday party at a restaurant, don’t expect your friends to pay for your meal; making people pay for not only their own refreshments but your own is not good host behavior.

And be careful with the phrasing of your invitation if you’re not prepared to pay for everyone’s meal. The Uncommon Courtesy folks suggest something along the lines of “I’m celebrating at xxxx restaurant and would love to see you if you could make it” rather than “please join me for dinner…”. Gauge this wording according to your friends’ comfort and perspicacity level. You can do it! You’re all grown up now!

SUPERSTITION: If you’re Russian or German, it’s bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday early. In China, it’s bad luck to wish someone a happy birthday late. Cross-time zone birthday wishes can be difficult sometimes.

Certain birthdays in general are also not great in China. Forget about the 30th, 40th, and 60th birthday. Ignore them. They’re dead to you. For a woman’s 33rd birthday, she needs to prepare for it by buying a piece of meat, hiding it behind the kitchen door, chopping it up 33 times*, and throwing the meat away. That’s the only way to get rid of the evil spirits associated with the number. When she turns 66, she has to find a female relative to do the meat chopping. Sixty-six times for this birthday. Phew. I don’t want to know what happens at 99.

Photo from the Wilton Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating. It really is a treasure trove, this book.
*I have tried and tried to find out if she needs to be behind the door while chopping the meat, but have not been successful in finding an answer.

 

 

Slayer cake

We went to an estate sale recently where there was one of those sad progressions of cookbook libraries that started out with Fun Holiday Cookies and Cakes For Every Occasion from the ’60s and ended up with No Sugar Desserts and Diabetes Busters from the ’90s. In honor of the lady of the house’s fun times, I went home with the Wilton Pictorial Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating from 1969.

My friend Sally asked me what I was going to make first, and I had to reply that I had no intention of making anything in the book. I bought it solely for the pictures. There are a lot of really elaborate and colorful wedding cakes and cakes shaped like pianos and very advanced sugar flower techniques, and there isn’t a thing in here that I would actually be able to pull off.

But the thing I noticed most about the book was the jarring shift in tone throughout the pages. At a certain point I realized that a lot of the perceived tonal shift was due to the photos either being in color or black and white.

Take, for instance, the Bear Skiing On The Roof Pink House Fantasia:

compared with this terrified bear/mouse creature being eaten alive while running through a field:

I’m sure he’ll be fine, but he doesn’t look happy. Polar bear about to jump off the roof seems much more dangerous if you think about it, but gosh if I don’t want to jump into that picture and hang out for a while.

What about these dolls?


or

It’s a toss-up for me as to which one I would prefer, but the mood couldn’t be more different between them. It’s Laugh In vs. Clive Barker in confectionary form. Let’s move on to clowns.

If you read this site frequently, you know that I like clowns and am annoyed by the proliferation in modern pop culture of “scary clowns.” Scary clowns are a tired cliche and are kind of unfair to actual skilled acrobatic clowns who can juggle and do magic and would be able to make a whole heck of a lot of kids happy if the kids hadn’t been conditioned to the “clowns are terrifying” point of view by their lame relatives. But still, there are some unsavory clowns around. I will admit that.

Take these guys who are creepy crawling along the perimeter of this cake:

They may be preparing to sneak up on someone, or they may be recovering from a drunken face-plant; either way, they do seem to be clowns to watch out for. On the other hand, I’d much prefer meeting all three of them in a dark alley if the alternative were:

NOPE.

There are a lot more examples like the ones above, but I’m going to wrap this up with the cakes celebrating violence and destruction. If you were to choose, would you prefer to adorn your party table with:

or

I guess it depends what kind of party it is. I never knew George Washington could seem so goth.

Foiled again

Well, here we are. As of today (or maybe tomorrow; that first post wasn’t much), I’ve been writing Fancy Notions for ten years. A ten year anniversary is typically celebrated with tin or aluminum, but I had really wanted to make myself an elaborate smorgastarta, which is

a savory sandwich cake, frequently made with shrimp and eggs but mainly just whatever you feel like would be good in a sandwich cake. Ham slices, radishes, chickpeas and beets… with frosting made of cream cheese and maybe some ranch dressing. Yes.

But it’s Wednesday, and I’m tired. And it’s also Pi Day. A pie tin would work with both aspects of the day, but there’s no way I can bake a pie right now. If only there was one of those pecan pie vending machines nearby. Who’s in Austin and can ship me a celebratory pecan pie? I’ll owe you a smorgastarta.

And don’t worry. I may be tired, and I may not be able to go on forever like pi, but I will keep this blog going for as long as I can possibly handle it. Thank you very much for your support through the years!

Photo by Pomax on Flickr

A stitch in time

What do these things have in common?

They are all nine. Turn me on, dead man.

Coming of age

Benny and I went to a “coming of age” themed party last night, and for a while we were the only people dressed in costume besides an awesome roller disco-dressed pal. So I’m not sure how grown up we are. I guess I could make the argument that being grown up is dressing up for a costume party and not worrying whether other people are going to dress up. What I do know is that being grown up is a lot more than being organized, because if that were the case, I would have been grown up a long time ago.

This week’s animation gets extra points for the part where it seems like Grandmother Cat is getting a prank call from a cow. She’s not, but it sure seems like it at first.

A very mellowed yellow

Right now I’m working in a fairly corporate/industrial area, and when I went for a walk around lunchtime, my surroundings were pretty bleak. Until I came across this on the sidewalk:

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Thank you, Vaudeville gag-style litter. You always make me laugh.

Published in: on February 16, 2017 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watch. Crystals

Once upon a time I was in a band with some pretty magical creatures. This weekend I had the good fortune to hang out with two of those magical creatures. Would you like to hear about it? Of course you would.

Julie and Elana and I drove around in a really sexy red spaceship car and played with awesome dogs and lolled about in pools of varying temperatures, and we talked and talked and talked. It was such a fantastic weekend. You need to have a weekend like this. If I had my own planet, everybody on the planet would get to have at least one weekend like this. Not too many, lest it not be properly appreciated, but at least one.

It would have been a great weekend even without the Crystal Cave. But we were at this swap meet and Julie said something about a crystal cave being there right in the middle of the swap meet, and well, what would you do if you heard that there was a crystal cave in the middle of the swap meet?

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bobcrystalcave

We found it and went in, of course. That guy with the tooth is Bob, and he made the thing. Twice. You can read more about it and see more pictures here. As you can tell from our faces, it was not a disappointment. After we got out of the cave, Bob even let us go in his sooper sekrit light show room. I’m not going to post photos of that because… well, it was sooper sekrit and you should try to go see all of this on your own if you can.

So now I’m back in real life, but I’m still happy because that whole weekend wasn’t a dream and all these people and things really exist in the world, at least for the time being. As we were leaving, Bob told us, “Share the joy!” and so I’m doing my best. Have a good week, everyone.

Top photo and video by me; bottom photo by Elana Scherr

A ticket, a tocket

I got some brand new rockets for this year’s Rocket Day. One is tall and thin and shaped like a pencil. Benny laughed at me for getting it but it’s supposed to go really high. The other one is short and squat and isn’t supposed to go really high, but it kind of looks like SBI-5.

I’ll let you know if I encounter any Atlanteans or dinosaurs or fancy space millionaires while flying it. Wish me luck.

Serious business

I’m pretty happy to have this new temporary job, and I am not going to let this new temp job sap my brain and my energy and keep me from posting like the other one did last summer. I am not going to let it do that.

But forgive me if I take a few days/weeks to get back into the swing of things. Here is a monkey on his way to work, commuting on a goat. You can pretend the monkey is me if you want to.

giphy

gif by katbell on giphy; most of her other stuff seems to be about poodles and that White Girls movie so maybe somebody else made this and she just posted it. I don’t know.  
Published in: on April 13, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hot punch

I know it’s too early to start planning a Halloween party but my friend Chuckles and I were looking through the File o Fun this weekend and I started getting excited. The File o Fun is a card file of activities that Chuckles found at her work, and it has all sort of suggestions for making parties and dances less boring. There are games like Potato Knockout and Lemon Dance, skits to perform, suggestions for a really good blindfold, and instructions about when you should and should not award prizes at your party. The File o Fun seems like something Amy Sedaris would own and use often, much to the chagrin of her friends. Our version is from 1970 but it looks like there is a newer edition available on Amazon.

Something I didn’t notice before this weekend in the File of Fun was the section devoted to “detailed party plans.” These plans fold out into full-sized pieces of paper, and while most of them look good enough to print onto a t-shirt, there is one that stands out – the Halloween Family Night.

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Yes, that may be clown makeup there on the bottom. We’re not talking about that – let’s look at the actual activities.

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Peanut Lag! Apple Biting! Jail! And then there’s the Danger Corner:

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This party sounds awesome. As soon as I determine what the Peanut Lag is, I’m going to try to put this shindig together. Google isn’t helping me and the File o Fun doesn’t have a master table of contents, so it may take me until October to figure this out.

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