Monday, December 29, 2008

Palm Springs

is gorgeous this time around.  My husband and I have been here in 116-degree heat, and in snow flurries.  This trip the weather has delivered sun and mild temperatures, with breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains ringing the Coachella Valley.

Yesterday we rambled around in Palm Springs, where the 50's are forever preserved.  Today we'll visit the Living Desert and hike a bit.  Tomorrow we'll go home, stopping at either the Palm Springs Air Museum or the Art Museum on our way out of town. Wednesday I'll be back to bugging my teenager when I'm not blogging, and on Thursday we'll mark our thirty-second wedding anniversary, most likely by watching the Rose Parade on tv, and napping in the afternoon. 

So, happy week-between-the-holidays to you all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

I wish you all joyful giving (and receiving), happy feasting, and some deeply satisfying lounging between the two.

(And to my dear friend Linda, your good news was all the gift I needed.  It's a Merry Christmas indeed.)

I'll be back after the big day.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Yes. It's raining again. We parched inhabitants of Southern California consider this good weather, so we're all sparkly and smiley and full of holiday cheer.

Today's rain is the excellent kind, slow and steady and nourishing, the kind the Navajos call a female rain. We can walk our dogs in it without getting soaked to the skin, and we can shop in it without risking the integrity of our purchases. Instead of knocking down hillsides, it helps the native wildflowers germinate, which keeps the soil in place. This rain doesn't create a mad rush down the arroyos to get to the ocean. It sinks into the soil and makes itself at home. We don't get white Christmases here, SoCal being semi-arid and all, but this year we're getting the next best thing - a green one!

Now that I've painted this inviting picture of our winter weather, I think I'll go walk the dog in the rain, and then I'll do some last minute shopping. And then, because it's chilly, I think I'll make soup.

Happy Rainy Monday to you all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Yesterday I attended a Bar Mitzvah, my first ever. For this fallen-away-Catholic girl, the experience was more than interesting; it was thought-provoking, moving, and weirdly familiar.

Yeah, that's right. Familiar. To my surprise, I discovered strong parallels between the Catholic Mass of my childhood and the Jewish service I attended yesterday. Both services employ a liturgy. Both make ample use of an ancient language. There's sitting and standing, and an ark which is opened to remove a sacred object central to the service. There are even chapel veils for the women - little lacy hats. And - in the ultimate parallel - in recent years, the use of ladies' chapel veils has become voluntary in both venues!

There are clear differences, of course. The men are required to wear their own version of the chapel veil, kippehs, to synagogue, while in the Catholic church men have always had to bare their heads as a sign of respect. The use of Latin in the Mass has become rare. There isn't much kneeling in synagogue, but there's clapping, which you won't find in Catholic churches. The ark in synagogue is much larger than the little one set on the altar in Catholic churches, and what comes out of the Catholic ark are tiny edible wafers as opposed to the large (and wonderfully ancient-looking) Torah scroll. And, yowser, those readings - we covered Onanism, duplicity, harlotry, single-motherhood! Youngest Daughter and I, sharing the prayerbook, kept reading ahead in the translation because, let's face it, it was wa-aa-ay more interesting than any letter Paul ever wrote to anybody!

The differences seemed just details, though. I had never felt so strongly the shared origins of Judasim, Christianity, and Islam (with its own liturgy complete with risings and kneelings and traditional head-coverings) as I did yesterday.

Most striking, in the end, was the feeling of community, of ancient roots, of the ritual binding of families and friends together in the presence of an Almighty Being. I don't go to Mass anymore for reasons I've thought through and embraced. But attending yesterday's service reminded me of how much I will always enjoy a good, mysterious, religious rite.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Favorite Christmas Memory

I wish I had a video tape of this.

Middle Kid was two. I had to do some Christmas shopping and was at a gift shop in Sierra Madre, California. Sierra Madre is quaint and as out-of-the way as a town can get in the San Gabriel Valley, meaning it doesn't have a freeway, Route 66, Foothill Avenue, Huntington Drive, or Mission Boulevard running through it. It's packed right up against the foothills and is famous for its quaintness, its community-built Rose Parade entry, its search and rescue team, and its volunteer fire department. Firemen get the call in Sierra Madre via a horn that is the loudest quacker you ever heard in your life.

So. MK and I left the little gift shop. I had bought a lot of stuff, much of it breakable, and when we left my arms were so stacked with packages that I was having trouble just keeping it all balanced. Of course I didn't have a hand free to hold onto MK, but the car was only about a block away so I didn't anticipate a problem.

Mistake. Sensing his advantage, MK began walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from the car.

I called him. He ignored me. I called him again. He half-glanced at me over his shoulder and continued on his way. I yelled at him. He kept going. I started following him down the sidewalk, cajoling (okay, in a not-very-friendly voice), urging, pleading, threatening. Now and then he'd stop and look at me, but he would not come. I turned around and marched towards the car. He kept going in the wrong direction. I stopped and stared after him. I was tired. The packages were heavy. I needed divine intervention.

And I got it. The fire horn, which was situated on top of a poll right smack between us, started blasting out that horrible quacking sound, BRAAAAAGHHHHH BRAAAAAGHHHHH BRAAAAGHHHHH, so loud it was like an explosion inside our heads. MK stiffened, his mouth formed a perfect O, his arms flew out, and he danced around like he was being electrocuted. As soon as the noise stopped he ran to me and flung his arms and legs around my shin.

A delicious calm descended over me. My son was quaking against me, but did I show him pity? I did not. I said, "That's what you get." And then I limped to the car with my arms still full of packages and MK stuck on my leg like a monkey.

I don't think this experience scarred him. I know it did me a world of good. For that one moment, I believed utterly that all was right with the universe, and isn't that what Christmas is about? So, Merry Christmas. Yo.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


A couple of days ago, when Tom Vilsack's name turned up as Secretary of Agriculture in Obama's administration, and then Ken Salazar got picked for Interior, a light bulb went on in my head. Ah-ha, I thought. Obama's idea of a big tent holds not just a variety of races, genders, and parties. He's accepting different points of view, too.

Today, defending his choice of Rick Warren as invocator-in-chief at the inauguration, he said so. We can disagree without being disagreeable, he said.

Hoo-boy. I suppose he thinks we should forgive the trespasses of the wingnuts on the right over the last eight years, and learn to live with those toads.

My first reaction is resentment. Why us? Why do the Democrats always have to make nice while the crazy wingnuts get away with bad-faith negotiating and vicious double dealing? Couldn't we slap them silly for a while, and then, when we feel a little better, start down that forgiveness path?

My second reaction is this: that's why we're Democrats. We believe in making nice, in being grownups, in for...for....(deep breath)...forgiveness. If that moronic crackpot in the White House had been a little less moronic and a little more mature - if he'd been accountable to everybody, and not just to the ultra-rich - we might not be in a world of hurt now. And continuing along the trail he blazed and then expecting to end up somewhere different is the definition of insanity.

Besides, we voted for change.

This is going be to a mind-expanding (character-building?) exercise. But okay. I'm ready. On with the show.

(Not giving up my Fox News voodoo dolls, though. Forgiveness can only take a person so far.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Random thoughts on Christmas

I've been Christmas shopping in the rain. It's not white, but at least it feels like a season other than summer...

Every time I hit a Christmas milestone, like hosting twelve for dinner last Saturday night, I think, OK, that's done. Now I can coast. Then I remember the next milestone. Like shopping and cards, which I've ignored until now.

One of my favorite things about Christmas is visiting (fill in the blank) Museum with my granddaughter and whoever else wants to come along on Christmas Eve. This year it'll be the Natural History Museum of LA County - same as last year because we love it so much. On Christmas Eve you have the place to yourself, and they serve a darn good lunch. Sooo much fun.

Another of my favorite things is getting Christmas cards - particularly if they're fat with (oft-maligned) Christmas letters inside. I'm a total sucker for those letters.

I love Christmas music. Especially churchy Christmas music - Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. The Hallelujah Chorus. O Come, All Ye Faithful. Silent Night. We Three Kings. Anything instrumental and flutey. (Hate hate hate Jingle Bell Rock. Argh.)

I love Christmas decorations with sparkly stuff - gold paint and glitter and that sort of thing. It's gotta stay inside, though - I'm not big on ostentatious yard displays; and plastic blow-up stuff? Puh-leeze. A simple strand of lights along the roof line is about all I want to see.

I love peppermint bark. 'Nuff said.

My son makes the most incredible eggnog. I was not sold on the idea the first time around - he puts the liquor and (raw) eggs together in the cupboard for some ungodly amount of time (countable in weeks!), which sounds like a recipe for a Christmas Day spent running to the bathroom, if not actual death. It doesn't turn out that way, though. Apparently the liquor renders the eggs harmless as well as delicious. He adds the cream at the very end because liquor doesn't work the same magic on milk products. Anyway, it tastes stupendous.

I'm pretty sure there are other things I like, having to do with hope and brotherhood and new beginnings. But those border on the maudlin so I won't get into it them now. I'll leave it at this: Christmas is the best anticipatory event of the year.

Update: In rereading this today, I find that I was a little hard on yard displays. I like lights in trees and bushes outside - especially the tiny multicolored ones that my neighbor has scattered over the rosemary growing under his tree in the front yard. Also, I'm partial to those deer shapes with the white lights, and I like wooden cutouts like the moose and deer I see here and there. I really don't like plastic blow-up santas, though, and I don't think I ever will.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I love soup. Here's a recipe for one of my favorites:

Dice an onion. In a large saucepan, saute it in some olive oil over medium heat until it turns golden. This should take at least five minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and chunk up about six medium potatoes. Clean and chunk up half of a head of cauliflower. When the onion is ready, add the potatoes and cauliflower and six cups of broth or water or a combination of both to the pot. Add a teaspoon of salt and coarse ground pepper to taste. Bring the mix to a boil, cover it, and simmer for awhile, until the veggies are a little mushy. (This could be done in twenty minutes or so, but if you want to let it go a little longer while you watch the news, feel free.)

At some point, grate a cup or two of cheddar cheese. (I like mild for this, but I'm sure some people would prefer a sharper cheese flavor. Suit yourself.)

Just before you're ready to eat, puree the soup mixture in a blender - you'll probably need to do this in three batches - and pour the puree into a tureen or very large bowl. Now, quick, while it's still really hot, stir the cheese in and keep stirring until it has melted and is incorporated in the puree. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Eat with crusty bread and a green salad. You don't need anything else. The soup will make you full in a scarily short amount of time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I mailed the gifts

that go to the Midwest this morning. This used to be a big accomplishment, but today I walked into the post office carrying only three small boxes containing, in all, six gifts. Wow. What a difference a decade-and-a-half makes.

I used to buy gifts for a whole slew of people. I'd get out my luggage carrier and strap a tower of boxes into it for the annual trip to the post office. But a few years ago we discontinued the practice of drawing names amongst the siblings, my mom died, my dad decided he didn't want gifts anymore, and the nieces and nephews grew up.

Is it easier? Sure. But it's not nearly as much fun. No more wandering the aisles at specialty shops and bookstores, no more keeping track (or trying to, anyway) of nieces' and nephews' changing interests, no more satisfaction at finding the perfect - and perfectly odd - item for so-and-so. I miss it. Not to wax too mundanely sentimental, but I've always enjoyed the giving more than the getting.

Ah well. There's still the Christmas letter to be written. I'm a long way from giving that practice up, no matter what the Grinches (those sad souls who find Christmas letters a massive irritation) say.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh, damn it!

I wanted to post on something all sweet and Christmasy, like my memory of the year Middle Kid had the flu on Christmas, slept on and off throughout the day, and was delighted during the following week to discover gifts he had unwrapped in a daze. "Is this mine?" he'd ask. "Cool."

Or, how about Youngest's first Christmas, when I wanted to get a picture of her with Santa? She was terrified of him, so I persuaded then-13-year-old Middle and recent-college-graduate and mall-store-manager Eldest to be in the picture with her, resulting in a fabulous portrait of my three kids which I display to this day.

Or how about the year Eldest was working at the checkout counter at her store, and moved from shopper one to shopper two with a cheery, "Hi, there! Merry Christmas." At this point shopper one-and-a-half, a seriously height-challenged lady, waved her hands and yelled, "Hey! What am I, chopped liver?"

But I'm too annoyed to blog about good stuff like that. Here's the thing: the punditry seems to be falling all over itself looking for a link between President Obama (screw the 'elect' part - I've moved on) and comically corrupt Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Now, it's one thing for them to be curious. It's another entirely for the country to be subjected to an endless string of breathless pronouncements that begin with, "What if..."

Geez. It's like they're panting for something rotten to report about the new president. Maybe they don't feel relevant anymore - and maybe they aren't. As a class, they screwed up every major story for the last eight years, beginning with the one they failed to report on the complete incompetency of that idiot they were so helpful in foisting upon us.

Look, all you talking ass-heads. We're tired of you. Sit down and shut up. (Thank you, Helen Philpot, for my new favorite phrase.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I love Christmas

but this year it's kicking my ass. So much to do, so little time. How on earth did I manage to bake all those cookies when I was a young working mother? I don't bake anything at all anymore, and I can't seem to find the chunk of time that should be freed up by my new (Spartan) regime. This is a question for Einstein, I think: does time being relative mean that as we age our days are actually shorter, and not just seemingly so?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good-bye, Sam Zell

Talking Points Memo is reporting that the Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy protection. I hope this will ultimately translate to deep personal anguish for Sam Zell, who has made it his business over the last many months to destroy one of the best, most vital newspapers in the nation - the Los Angeles Times.

Go to hell, Sam, you fatuous prick.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Call me crazy

but the jobs numbers released yesterday are starting to make sense.

I know, I know, I suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome and I'm paranoid as a coot. But this is what my tiny mind has noticed: for years now, the Bush Administration has released certain economic indicators only to quietly revise them a few weeks later. Now this isn't unusual, nor is it unusual for an administration to put a positive spin on information it makes public. But what was notable about the BA was that the first numbers were almost always better than the later numbers. A jobs report might show that 100,000 jobs had been created (which wasn't actually a great number, but the spinners would applaud like crazy and the public would say, Oh, good.) Then a few weeks later, on page 23 there'd be an announcement that that number had been revised downward to maybe 65,000. It seemed obvious to me that the BA was using the rosy numbers to push legislation or to make certain rule changes more palatable.

Then came this week's jobs report, and it was astonishingly, shockingly, awe-inspiringly bad. Scary bad. What-the-hell-is-going-on bad.

I thought, wow. They've really checked out. Or they've lost their mojo so completely that they can't influence their own bean counters anymore. Or 500,000 jobs lost is the rosy version. Or they've suddenly discovered a deep-seated desire to level with the public. (Snort.)

Then I heard the news on NPR. In light of the dreadful jobs report, Congress is close to agreeing with the White House to dip into the money set aside to develop fuel efficient vehicles in order to bail out the automobile industry.

Oh. Dang, they're good. (That would be the Orwellian good, of course.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Funereal musings

Yes, we really have to think about these things. Lives end, funerals happen. It's cruel to leave all the decisions to your survivors, who may be in shock (if your end comes unexpectedly) and will certainly be grieving. In that spirit, I offer the following account of my husband's final plans:

(It should be noted here that my relationship with my late Mother-in-Law was difficult. My husband's relationship with her was complicated.)

MiL and my hus are sitting at the kitchen table during this discussion. Eldest Daughter and I are sitting together in the family room, just a few feet away.

MiL: I've decided to be cremated when I die. Does that bother you?
Hus: No.
MiL: I think it might bother some of the others.
Hus: Really? It doesn't bother me at all.
MiL: Are you sure? Because, you know, there won't be any remains to be viewed.
Hus: I'm fine with it, Mother. Viewing remains isn't my favorite thing.
MiL: But some people like to be able to see the deceased at the funeral.
Hus: Well, you know, we could have a viewing before the cremation if it made people feel better.
MiL: So, you're sure about this? I don't want anybody to be upset.
Hus (wearying of the discussion): You know, Mother, I've been making some plans for my own funeral. McMama doesn't know this, but when I die I want to be placed on a funeral pyre on a raft and floated out into the Long Beach Harbor in flames. Sort of a heroic end, you see what I mean?
MiL: But...can you do that?
Hus: I think so. McMama will find a way.
McMama and ED (burying faces in hands): Mfffff, fff, fff. Hee, hee, mffff, mm, mm.
MiL (suspiciously): Are you serious about this?
Hus: Uh.
McMama and ED: Choke, gasp, hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. Hee. Hah. Mfffff. Mm, mm, mm.
MiL: Do you want to go out to eat tomorrow night?
Hus: Sure. What do you have in mind?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Night terrors

I'm talking the motherhood variety, not the screaming-child type. My mother told me there's no age limit for this disorder and it turns out she's right. No matter how old your kids get, you still wake up at night worrying about them.

I've worried about some stunningly silly things during my 3am-wake-up calls. Suppose Youngest's date doesn't show up at the appointed meeting place, and she finds herself all alone at the ball - can she be persuaded to take along a warm coat so she doesn't freeze to death while she waits for me to rescue her?

Suppose Eldest keeps on smoking forever. Will she end up with a haggard smoker's face?

After a decade of higher education, have Middle's student loans grown so big that paying them back will affect his ability to buy a new car when he finishes his Ph.D.?

Oh, all right. I've worried about the real stuff, too. I suspect the silliness is a defense mechanism, my mind's attempt to knock the real worry down to size so I can go back to sleep.

But the point is that as a parent you'll never stop worrying. It doesn't end when they get big enough to cross the street alone, or to drive themselves to work, or to enroll their own kids in elementary school. It's as permanent as the designation, parent. It sucks, but there it is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Not much to say today

But Bitchphd took care of me just fine. Go here and watch this. You'll be glad you did.

Update, December 4th: This video's being linked all over the place today. I just want you to remember, I did it before The Huffington Post or Crooks or Liars. So there.