Category Archives: Musings on The Muffia

Following the Muffs wherever life takes them

Kona Kona Chameleon


images In this Muff’s ongoing search for the perfect cocktail for any and every occasion, her quest brought her to Firefly, the ever-trendy chia pet of a restaurant/bar in Studio City, CA. Here we learn, and appreciate that not all tequila cocktails need to be Margaritas.

Here’s Firefly’s Kona Gold

  • 1 ½ oz tequila
  • ½ oz lime
  • ½ oz agave
  • ½ oz pineapple juice
  • Jalapeño slice
  • Pinch of cilantro

Pour ingredients into a shaker. Shake then strain over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with pineapple and jalapeno slice.

Perfect for a summer’s eve, or if you’re in LA, a sweltering 90 degree mid-October eve.

Why Cocktails?

  1. They’re  delicious.
  2. One won’t kill you.
  3. A little tiny bit of alcohol per day is good for you (unless you’re on meds)
  4. It’s fun to watch your bartender mix one especially for you.
  5. They’re more festive than wine or beer.

For these reasons and more, I’m seeing out the best cocktails in my world and in other peoples’ worlds to share. If you have a cocktail recipe or LA bar you love, I hope you’ll  include it in your comments73dd62efb18915548776ba77f697c07d

Book Club Survival Tips

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The Muffia survives as a book club after fifteen years for the following reasons ( in order of importance):

1. The Muffs take turns picking the books we read.

2. If a Muff hostess suggests “Remembrance of Things Passed,”  other Muffs aren’t allowed to get annoyed if they don’t want to read it.  The corollary to this is no Muff hostess gets annoyed if other Muffs don’t read her book choice.

3. No Muff gets too upset if members can’t come at the last minute. However, a  little upset is mandatory to show caring and empathy.

4. The Muff hostess always has a tasty cocktail offering for those Muffs who make it to book club.  (Note: This could be more important than #1)

5. A Muffia book club gathering always consists of equal parts “talking about the book” and “roundy-round” where important non-book talk occurs.

 

The Muffia Gives

It’s no secret there’s a huge income and wealth gap in the U.S. and the ongoing stalemate in Congress suggests it’s not going to change any time soon. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be much political will to close the gap.

According to Wikipedia’s sources, a person needs to make at least $500,000 to be considered in the top 1% of wage earners and a very large percentage of those folks make significantly more than that. I cannot speak for all the members of the Muffia but I don’t make anything near $5oo,ooo. What I earn in a year not only puts me squarely in the 99%, it puts me in the bottom 50%. Still, I make more than a lot of people do.

When the Occupy movement began, I hadn’t yet finished writing The Muffia but I’d already had the thought, that if the book ever found a publisher—Thank you Water Street Press—that I would tithe, that is give, 10% of whatever the book made to charitable causes. I brought the idea to the members of the real life Muffia and they loved it. Tithing originated with the Old English practice of giving one tenth of one’s cattle sales, baked goods, whatever– to a religious entity. These days, tithes are generally voluntary and include many different kinds of giving. The Muffia wants to give to groups helping girls and women.

Why do I want to do this?  There are lots of reasons. In a society where what and how much we have often seems to matter more than the content of our characters, I feel like I have enough. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I want, but not much I truly need. Why it’s necessary for the über rich to have 17 homes and 2 private jets escapes me. Beyond a certain point, I can’t spend any more money. I only need one car and I want it to be a car I’m not worried about somebody stealing or keying; I only need one house, though I concede it could be fun to have a vacation home; I don’t need more jewelry or to throw “show me the money” parties. To me, these things are extravagances that add complication and worry even if a few people might look at me and say, “Wow, look what she has!” I’d much rather they admire me for what I’ve accomplished, not purchased.

It seems to me that no matter how much a person makes, there are many reasons to give some of it away: There are charitable deductions; there is feeling good for being generous; there’s the thanks one gets at having helped. I also don’t understand why more of those people in the top 1% of earners can’t seem to acknowledge—this is a big one you CEO’s: You would not have a salary at all if the 99% weren’t buying your phones, cereal, adult diapers and financial products. The 99% put you there so why not pay them back? An individual’s long-term self-interest could almost mandate giving some of one’s income back. History even tells us this. Cultures far older than ours have learned that when income disparity grows too great, the 99% may revolt.

The wealthy, benevolent few and those planning to give a large portion of their estates away—Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffet, among them—cannot make up for all the heads of banks, brokerage firms and corporations who avoid taxes and are loathe to give unless they get naming rights. When you make $19 million a year, what do you do with all that money?

I’m just one middle class, middle age woman and I’m probably getting too political. I’m realistic enough to know I cannot fix anything but I can do my part to try to improve whatever tiny corner of the world I’m operating in. If The Muffia and I do well in the marketplace, it’s because people have bought my book. Some of those people might be wealthier than I am and others less. But either way, I would not have 10% of anything to tithe without people and that’s why it’s important to give something back.

imagesThe Muffia will therefore tithe and do what it can to help girls and women in the bottom of the 99% have a chance for more. Currently, we are concentrating on organizations in the U.S., which provide education, job and mentoring opportunities. Some of the groups we are looking at are Project Return in Connecticut, Women in Recovery in Los Angeles, and Catapult/Women Deliver for International efforts. If you know of some other groups we might add to our list, please feel free to comment here and thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Clubs: The Muffia v. Oprah

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The Muffia is a very successful book club. We began reading books as a group in 2001 and we still have most of our original members; we’ve also added a few. Of course there’s more than one type of book club and when I started researching what makes a club work, I discovered a lot of suggestions that I didn’t think very helpful–starting with Oprah’s. But giving “O” the benefit of the doubt, I’ve listed each of her suggestions below, followed by a comment. Take a look and then send me your responses, along with your own Do’s and Don’ts for book club success (200 words or less) by posting on my Facebook page: facebook.com/annroyalnicholas  I’ll select a few of the submissions for an upcoming book club post. “Like” my page and you’ll be entered in a drawing to receive a free, signed copy of The Muffia (that’s the book, not us).

Oprah’s Rules Re-muffed:

1. Think Outside The Book

Liven up the discussion by reading plays or literary magazines that feature essays, art and short stories.

Muffcomment: If you’ve selected your members wisely, you’ll never be short of things to talk about, even when no one likes the book. One of the best, most fun and hilarious book club gatherings we ever had was talking about LAY OF THE LAND, which most of us hated! Actually we didn’t hate it, we just decided it was written for men experiencing prostrate cancer.

 2. Share The Busywork

Leaving one person in charge for too long will lead to her burning out. Instead, every few months, rotate the responsibility of hosting and setting the date for the meeting.

Muffcomment: Huh? I don’t even understand this one. The Muffia rotates every gathering. We’ve never had any issues with burning out and we all clamor to host because hosting means we get to pick the book and don’t have to drive. Whenever we finish a meeting, we all chime in with “Who’s next?” “ Am I next?” “I haven’t gone in a long time…”

 3. Seduce With Food

A juicy three-cheese lasagna can help the discussion of the driest novel.

Muffcomment: Food and drink are mightily important to the Muffs and we all make an effort to have delicious dishes and yummy desserts. Some of us like potluck but others prepare every course and only ask the other Muffs to bring wine. And Oprah, come on, every novel has sections that aren’t dry. But this doesn’t mean lasagna won’t help those too.

4. And Yet: Never Serve Vegetarian Pâté

Muffcomment: Sorry Oprah, I don’t know who’s been preparing your veggie pâté but the Muffs can’t abide this rule. We have a vegan in The Muffia and she knows her way around some vegetables. Sometimes she brings her own food, never criticizing the rest of us for consuming animal protein. At our last gathering, the meal was almost entirely vegetarian and we all thought it was stunningly delicious. We discussed THE FAULT IN OUR STARS—meatless—and no one minded.

 5. Keep Mortie Out Of It

Your cousin Mortie from Montana may be in town for the week, but that doesn’t mean he should come with you to book club. Members have a relationship with one another that changes when new people enter.

Muffcomment: Our club is all women and we do not permit men. Once we had a male author appearance because we read his book THE TENDER BAR, and one of the Muffs knew him from high school. Occasionally we have a female guest but ONLY if every Muff says yes and ONLY if this guest has read the book! Uncle Mortie would never be allowed to come to a Muff meeting. But Aunt Mildred might be if she read the book.

6. No Books Longer Than 450 Pages

Period.

Muffcomment: Some Muffs are big readers and have chosen weighty tomes with no harmful after effects. But you know what? It’s not the end of the world if people don’t finish the book. There’s still a lot to talk about. But when a Muff shows up without having read the whole thing, there are going to be a few spoiler alerts, which are the penalty for not having finished. The thing is, she KNOWS this so never gets bent outta shape. Also, some big books read fast and some short books read slow, so this Muff thinks this rule’s gotta go, or at least be modified for every club.

7. Set Up An Online Calendar

The crucial reason being to avoid endless group emails from everybody asking really annoying, repetitive, typo-ridden questions about what night they’re supposed to meet and what they’re supposed to read.

Muffcomment: This could actually be a good idea, Oprah, and The Muffia might try it. The problem is, it requires people to remember the website, their passwords, etc. Truthfully, most of us would rather put up with the emails and besides, there’s usually some juicy gossip or news that comes with the emails providing interest, if not outright joy and laughter, never possible from an online calendar.

 8. Stay On The Same Page—Literally

When reading classics, plays or foreign translations make sure everyone buys or borrows the same edition. Otherwise, you’ll spend the whole night flipping around trying to locate the paragraph or quote under discussion.

Muffcomment: This could be sensible but our club isn’t anal (doh!). Sometimes one of us will read a passage out loud but the rest don’t “read along.” Only once has a Muff who read the online version been frustrated about finding something a Muff was citing in her hard copy, and that was over her frustration with Kkindle insofar as you don’t have a sense of how deep into a book you are in the same way you do with seeing a book bisected by a book mark.

9. Beware The Book-Talk Tyrant

She’s frequently the most organized and best read of the group, which everybody appreciates, but she’s also the bossiest and, at times, dismissive of others’ ideas. She picks the book. She picks the page of the book to discuss. She picks the chair that’s smack in the middle of the circle and makes everybody feel as if they have to raise their hands to make a comment or go to the bathroom.

Muffcomment: Get her outa there! No one likes a blow hard. With the Muffia, it’s generally the hostess, (who we’ve established changes every time) who “moderates,” and kicks off our discussion however she chooses. No Muff turns into a tyrant when she’s a hostess. Some of us are more vocal than others, true, but we encourage everyone to speak. It just wouldn’t dawn on any of us to monopolize but if someone started to, we are comfortable enough with each other to say. “Done yet?”

10. Once a Year, Select a Book From Childhood

Like CHARLOTTE’S WEB and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Reliving why we began reading in the first place is a great way to get everybody motivated to keep on reading.

Muffcomment: This Muff is a little nugatory on this suggestion. It’s one thing to reread a YA novel like HUNGER GAMES but in The Muffia Book Club, we tend to want to read adult fiction so dredging up NANCY DREW isn’t going to make anyone happy. This concern can be managed by putting your book club together wisely from the get-go and by having a mission statement that defines who you are. Maybe you’re the “Ex-military wives of Ft. Lauderdale who read childhood classics?” If so, then CHARLOTTE’S WEB and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE are a great fit.

11. Don’t Lose a Member Who Feels Too Stressed Out to Host

The appetizers! The vacuuming! The rounding up of all those chairs! Every now and then, meet at a bar and toast your selection with a literary-themed cocktail like, say, a Great Gatsby. 

Muffcomment: Stress happens and the Muffs are always up for a cocktail. But guess what? There are workarounds. In the Muffia, we accommodate. Hostesses swap order. Some host at another Muff’s house if she has family staying or she’s getting her floors redone or whatever. Not a big deal. Again, it gets back to choosing your group wisely, genuinely liking the people in your book club and having some flexibility because being in a book club is supposed to be fun.

 12. Book Club Is Not Group Therapy

A member who loves a memoir about drug addiction because she was a drug addict (and then spends the whole two hours talking about her struggles) or a member who hates a novel about co-workers in a corporation because she works for a corporation (and then spends two hours talking about her boss) have missed the point—and taken over everyone else’s evening.

Muffcomment: OMG, I have to agree with Oprah on this one. The Muffs have read GLASS CASTLE, WHAT REMAINS, DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT and a few other memoirs but we do space them out (not that there’s a plan to do this; it’s just worked out that way) and so far no Muff has monopolized the discussion because she was abused, drugged, poor, divorced, bad in school, raped, had an abortion, etc., like the memoirist (even if she’s experienced something similar). Why? Because it would be rude. Pick your book club members wisely and there’ll be no problem.

13. Take December Off

Nobody has time to finish a novel during the holidays. Have everyone bring in a short, memorable piece to read out loud, like a poem, a few paragraphs from a novel or article, or even a meaningful personal letter.

Muffcomment: Or skip the holiday meeting. Book club is not a college course with a set reading list to be completed on a certain date. Usually book club is an excuse for a party. Real life Muff Michelle started us out over our first holiday season together with what she called the BCWBBWSO gathering; that is the Book Club Without Book But With Significant Other—Michelle has a “tendency to make acronyms out of everything” (TMAOE). This gathering happens around the holidays and has nothing to do with any book.) So yes, take time off during the holidays.

14. One Dog Memoir Per Year

We all love dogs. We all even love when the dog dies at the end of the book—as the dogs so often do—which causes us to sob hopelessly all over the final pages. But too many dogs ruin the heartbreak (and joy) we’re after.

Muffcomment: Agreed—we all love dogs and we love dog memoirs BUT they are generally too sad, too short and/or too easy a read to be a legitimate Muffia choice so it wouldn’t dawn on any of us to select one. It’s not that we Muffs must always have subject matter that challenges us (some Muffs don’t like being challenged at all) but we appreciate a book that takes us to a different place and which, stylistically, has some artistic merit (though of course we may disagree on that point). Dog memoirs, cat memoirs and even horse memoirs, are likely to fall short.  We did read THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE and that had dogs in it but it was really about the people. That’s our kind of story.

 At a time in our world when there is so much divisiveness and conflict, with ad hominem attacks hurled at those who disagree with us, it is wonderful to be in a book club filled with sensitive, involved, caring and intelligent women who make the exchange of ideas–however much we disagree–a joy. We Muffs still love each other when we close the covers of (or switch off) a book that half of us liked and half of us didn’t. Each “side” tries to convince the other of why the book did or didn’t work and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s right because when it comes to art, there is no right. What the Muffia succeeds in doing and what I think might be the goal for any successful book club is that members leave a gathering feeling stimulated, enlightened, validated and, hopefully, well-fed.

Read Oprah’s ideas yourself here: http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/How-to-Have-a-Succesful-Book-Club#ixzz2KBo49rVA

Resolutions 2013

 

So, I was thinking about how to introduce my son to the idea of resolutions. Not introduce, really. He’s way ahead of me there; but more, how to go about making resolutions that will stick.

“It’s like you think of ways to be a better person and then tell yourself you’re going to do them.” That’s what I was going to say. And then I thought about all the times I was going to become a better person and didn’t. Generally, I’m pretty disciplined about things—working out, what I eat, how much sleep I get—yeah, it’s boring, I know. But a lot of things are harder to change, like telling myself that this is the year I will confidently walk up to attractive, age-appropriate men and say, “Hi, I’m Anna. You look like you might be kind of nice, so if you’re not attached, gay, diseased, looking for someone rich or 20 years younger, then give me a call!” That was my resolution this year and so far, I haven’t done it. If that makes me a bad person, well, it makes me a bad person. Okay, sure, it’s only January 2 but still… Maybe, so I won’t have to actually say it out loud, I could have cards printed up—like the kind deaf people used to hand out on the subway.

Changing who you are is hard. My son even tells me this and how much life experience does he have? Sheesh, he’s only 16. Then again, he plays tennis and he’s tried to fix things about his game. He’s really good but he often has trouble in those tight matches or when he knows deep down—even when he’s trying not to think about it—that winning means a college scholarship and losing means, well, losing. It’s hard to just stop being nervous because you want to stop being nervous.

So what do you do on your quest to be a better person—more confident, skinnier, nicer? Well, if there’s really something you want to fix, the best thing is probably to find out how others fixed these things by reading books like, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey or “It’s Not How Good You Are, but How Good You Want to Be,” by Paul Arden. Next, build a little team around you—friends and family and maybe co-workers—to whom you entrust your mission to change. Get them to remind you how important it is to you so when you feel like slipping, they can help you up. As for my resolution, I’m going to put a graphic designer on my team—someone who can design those little cards I’ll be handing out to men.

The Muffia’s Reading list

From time to time, I’m going to share with you some of the books we Muffs have read or, as I suggested in another post, most of us have read. When you look at the selections, there’s really no theme, even though some statistician might come along and say, “Over time, the Muffia’s reading choices are 21% memoir, 40% authored by women, 63% fiction, 11% historical, 92.5% contain graphic sex, etc.” And yeah, you’re right, this adds up to way more than 100%, which shows you how much I value statistics–often they just don’t add up. I took a course called Statistical Analysis in college and the book we read was, How To Lie with Statistics, so I feel confident making the claim. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the Muffia Book Club reading list is as scattershot as the randomly choosing titles from any metropolitan library. We’re as likely to choose the new Hilary Mantel novel as we are a book about shoe fetishists. 

Introducing The Muffia

The Muffia is a Los Angeles based, all-women’s book club. We share a love of food, clothes, sex, books and wine—well, actually we enjoy most kinds of alcohol. Generally, all of us read the books our hostess (it’s a rotating position) chooses but there are a couple of miscreants—like Lauren—who hardly ever do. They have become adjectives, so predictable are they. To be flakey and cancel at the last minute, or to not read the book is to be “Laureny.” When Lauren reads the book for a change and somebody else, like Quinn, doesn’t read the book, we say she is the “new Lauren.” The members of the Muffia, henceforward known as the “Muffs,” have complicated lives and often complicated relationships, which sometimes get us into trouble. We’ve also been known to stir up new trouble—even when it can be avoided. Usually it’s because some wrong needs to be righted, small as that wrong might be. Someone needs to take care of these things. And sometimes we get into trouble just because!

Introducing the MuffStuff Blog

You probably know me as Anna but the truth is, I was given the name Ann Royal Nicholas at birth. It always felt like too big a name and I went by Annie until I was twenty because whenever I said Ann Nicholas, people invariably heard: Ann Ickles. When Wilhelmina signed me, she thought Anna was more fitting and I’ve been going by Anna ever since.
Who would have thought there’d be a plethora of Anna Nicholases out there–many of whom are also actresses and writers. One of them is almost hostile toward me.
So my team suggested I was now grown up enough to use my real name on my new book while eliminating future confusion and threats. But my name is still Anna. At this point, it’s become part of me and I’ve earned it. What’s in a name anyway? I’m an actress. I change my name all the time!