stories worth repeating, thoughts, Uncategorized

the thing that made all the difference…

Reading Erica Goldson’s impressive valedictorian speech, which included a scathing and truthful critique of the state of this country’s education system, got me to thinking about how there’s not usually a lot of follow up with these people. We get to hear the, let’s go get ’em speech, but unless they hit the big time, we don’t get to hear what all those valedictorians think after they been around a while. That could be interesting … or not.

My father was the valedictorian of his high school. I never heard or read what he said in that speech, although he did say later that if he had it to do over again, he would have said something different. He was also the valedictorian of his University (okay, top 1%, they didn’t have only one valedictorian). That time he didn’t give a speech but I’d like to share what he wrote about his life for the alumni book 25 years later.

“The thing that made all the difference was doing what I knew was right even though I knew it meant losing my job, which it did. Everything fell into place after that.”

Dr. Donald Finkel

1965 Twenty-Fifth Reunion Class Book and Directory, Yale University

mommies, stories worth repeating, thoughts, Uncategorized

of perfume and forgiveness

Once upon a time…

I was visiting my grandparents in New York City.  I spent quite a bit of time there, and it was with my grandparents that I was introduced to the joys of theater, music and art. When I was six, I saw Yule Brenner in The King and I.  With them, I saw a Chorus Line for the first time, went to the opera, and would circle up the ramp at the Guggenheim and eat lunch at the original MOMA.

One day, when I was visiting, I accidentally broke a large, brand new bottle of my grandmother’s perfume.  I remember that distinctive and horrible sinking and miserable sensation of awfulness.  It seemed, to a child, that impending and irreversible doom must follow a transgression so great and careless, and of such an expensive and precious item.  And then, I remember how my grandmother shrugged it off as absolutely no big deal.

She was glad I hadn’t hurt myself.  That was the last it was ever mentioned.

That memory is one of the more resonant of my childhood and I recently recalled it again when my daughter accidentally pulled the belt  and buttons off my raincoat.

At every accident, there is an occasion to practice my grandmother’s gift of nonchalant forgiveness.  It is powerful, and I am grateful be able to pass it on.

thoughts, Uncategorized

life mirroring art mirroring life

Ever read the personals?

People love to say about themselves, “no drama.”  They also love to say they are looking for “no drama.”

Yeah, that makes for a really exciting story.

Movies, for example, are a series of obstacles that deepen and complicate until the protagonist hits a low point (end of act 2).

Of course, if there’s anything you can count on in life, it’s complications although some people do generate more drama then other, they seek out.  It seems, in fact, like they can’t bear the calm.

When we go to movies (or read) we like to see other people dealing with drama and then with mirror that in our own lives.  That’s what we’re there for!  Or we’re writers and we use our own lives at inspiration and tells stories about drama, often we dramatize what we’re writing because otherwise the true story would be too boring.  Of course in some cases, if you told the true story, no one would believe it.  Either way, a story without drama is dull, and perhaps, so is a life.
When people write “no drama” they mean, no bad drama, no tiresome, ongoing complications that never cease, no sub plots or minor character injecting themselves into the main storyline.  They mean, I’m a calm, cool collected person with nothing to impede my forward motion.
Good luck with that…

thoughts, Uncategorized

back in the big, big

This isn’t exactly the view from my new flat, but you get the idea.

From the first time I saw this view, I hadn’t been able to get it out of my mind, and now, I’m happy to say, I look at it every day.

A friend looked at me a bit askance (but with a smile anyway) when I mentioned the mist wafting over the city and  the pink light, and the dreamy, romantic nature of this particular view.  Well, yes, I have moved into the city of San Francisco, not just nearby, or just outside, or any of that bay area nonsense. In.

Moving, downsizing, changing, beginning.  It was a great, if exhausting process–down the birth canal if you will, and into the new world which has an oft discussed, and decidedly misty look (it’s coming… look on the left…).

thoughts, Uncategorized

3 steps forward and 5 steps back (happily)

Painfully slow broadband speeds, dogged determination by AT&T and a bargain price convinced me to finally upgrade my broadband speed/home system. It did require that I get cable television for six weeks and thus, the my phone/broadband/cable were untited in one fat cord running into a box at the side of my house.

I then spent a weekend watching countless random movies on a combination of 8 temporarily free HBO channels–violating one of the 10 tips of achieving happiness as catalogued by a British study–watch half the amount of TV you’re currently watching. (can’t find the link at the moment. But here’s a different link about happiness tips.)

And so it was that last night, when my united cable failed, so did my phone and internet connection.  As I started to look through the papers they gave me about how to program my new voice mail, I saw the myriad  warnings about the inability to call 911 if the cable were to fail…  which… it did last night.

I have to say, I’ve been very happy  with AT&T’s customer service, they’ve been smart and apologetic (if a bit talkative) and they got the service up and running in just under 24 911-unavailable hours.

So, last night, for the first time in a long time,  I was broadband-free and not entirely sure what to do with myself. I had 20 minutes of clicking and zooming, watching and surfing withdrawal symptoms after which I ended up playing guitar and house cleaning, and guess what? I felt pretty happy.

I’m not really into co-dependence (more into independence) and I sure felt it when I had home-wide system failure. It took only one old-fashioned evening to seriously think about making my home a cable free zone, a place with a land line, where 911 can always be reached, if necessary.

And of course, in cases of broadband emergency,  I’ll always have the iphone.

dude fude, food, Uncategorized

On being irresistible…

As a kid, chocolate chip mint ice cream was my favorite flavor.  In this, I was not  alone.  However, I was alone in thinking chocolate chip mint pares perfectly with caramel, and pare it I did, when I had the opportunity to have an ice cream sunday which was usually once a year with my grandparents, on the way to the Berkshires from New York City.

Askew glances from waitresses aside, I stuck to my guns.  Glowing accounts of fudge sauce could not dissuade me.  Nor could the sight of the stuff itself. I always preferred the golden tendrils off caramel cooling against soft minty mounds.

Many years later, I unsuccessfully pitched the idea to Ben and Jerry’s during a nationwide ice cream flavor contest.  I forget which flavor won that year.

And so it has come to pass that I, on occasion, make my own ice cream.  I try not to make it too much because it is so delicious.

But with a small but significant peppermint bush growing in my garden, and an excess of cream in my fridge, I decided to make some.  The only sugar I had in the house was brown sugar and I decided to use it.

And so it was that I found myself back to the minty caramel marriage of my youth.  Not quite caramel, but just an absolutely addictive undercurrent of caramel taste.  Teasing in that way, so that you must take another bite just to make sure it’s really there. And another.  Combined with the freshest, brightest mint (from garden to pot in 10 minutes), it’s a real delight.

Butter Mint Chip

Adapted from Elise’s Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream (she’s got pictures and step by step making instructions)

Here’s my version:

Put lots (2-3 cups) of mint leaves in a pot with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of cream.  Heat until just boiling, cover, turn off heat and let sit for 30 minutes.  Repeat, but you can let it sit for less time.  Strain out leaves, mashing milk out of them and put back mixture back into the pot.

Mix in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved.

Pour 1/3 or so of the milk mixture into 4 egg yolks, stirring constantly (you don’t want to scramble the eggs).  Then pour the egg/milk mixture back in pot on the stove, turn up the heat to medium, stir constantly and make a custard.  It’s done when the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon.  Don’t let it boil.

Strain into 1 cup of cream.  Let cool.  Sometimes I do this overnight.   Sometimes I put this mixture in a bowl surrounded by ice first.

Once it’s cold, put into ice cream maker.  I add a little bit of alcohol or vanilla, and chopped up chocolate. I like it chopped finely.  I actually chop the chocolate first and put it in the freeze prior to the whole process.

After it comes out of the ice cream maker, it’s this beautifully soft and creamy ambrosia.  You can eat it now.  Or,  if you put it in a container and let it freeze, it will harden a lot.  Both forms are irresistible.  It’s food that brings on the quiet and completely focussed concentration of my four year old.  Bliss.


I have now made a chocolate ice cream with chocolate hunks and caramelized pecans and a Meyer lemon with slivers of dark chocolate.  Uh… both delicious.  It’s kind of ridiculous how good this stuff–too good. And so now, left with a huge number of egg whites left over I forge into new egg white-related domains…

Meyer Lemon with chocolate
into the freezer
trouble, Uncategorized

the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad…

Who knew that several years after I watched episodes 14 and 22 of season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that one day I would completely empathize with Buffy.  I mean, like, feel her pain.

This girl’s got trouble, but let’s face it, her real troubles began, like many of us, by falling for the Wrong Guy.  Who, in her case, is Angel, a cursed vampire.  Cursed to be good and have a soul and to care enough not to ruthlessly kill humans.  And it’s not like she doesn’t know he’s a vampire–she knows it–she just believes he can change, or, he’ll can keep the demon part under control or… everyone’s got their problems, right?

What she doesn’t know is that once Angel experiences one pure moment of happiness (which coincides with the loss of Buffy’s virginity) the curse is lifted, which means, he no longer cares about Buffy and would prefer to spend his evenings sucking blood, killing hookers, trying to destroy the world, and of course, torturing Buffy.  And he’s really into the last one.

Like most of us, Buffy gets over it.  Unlike most of us, Buffy is stronger than Angel and gets to, literally, kick Angel’s ass repeatedly (and once really hard in the balls), save the world, watch Angel get his soul back, and STILL stab him with a sword and send him to hell.

It’s a tough moment, but hey, that’s just desiny when your high school is perched at the edge of the hell mouth, and you’re the slayer.

And speaking of bad days…

I have always disliked the children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Even the title is exhausting (and, by the 10th read…).  I must confess I never found it that meaningful or satisfying, and the ending, “even in Australia” (as in, bad days happen there too, you can’t run away from them) always left me a vague sense of not really getting it. After a while, I tucked it away so it would not be in my daughter’s bedtime  reading rotation.

But recently, (for reasons I won’t go into here), I’ve started to really enjoy just how unrelentingly bad things got for Alexander. Pretty much without respite.  And guess what?  Things really suck sometimes in Australia too.  And, frankly, that’s making me feel good pretty good right about now.

Previously, watching Alexander’s suffering had been unpleasant (what a depressing story!) to witness. I kept looking for a way to rationalize it (is it really that bad?), not to mention searching for the pretty much non-existant happy ending (at least he goes to bed with the promise of a better day tomorrow?). It’s not exactly that I’m happy to watch Alexander suffer, but I do take some comfort in knowing we’re all in it together, hell mouth and all.

thoughts, Uncategorized

Neither signs

I don’t believe in signs. Neither an ordered universe (as my daughter might say, since neither is her efficient substitute for either/nor/or).

I also don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.”  I believe that we bring reason to our unruly narratives and fashion a story that seems reasonable.

But these days, I find I’m spending my sleepless night reassuring myself with those very platitudes.  They bring some comfort at three a.m.

They actually bring some comfort at 9 a.m. as well.

I knew a woman 15 years ago in the middle of one of the biggest traumatic and hideous and public messes imaginable.  Kim Goldman, sister to Ron Goldman, made famous by OJ Simpson’s crime was thrown, what could only be called,  in understatement, a curve ball– a bad one, sliding off the greasy finger tips of fate, slimy from the saliva of lady luck…

By the time I met Kim, she was still in the middle of everything: trials, media hype, emotional processing and yet she already had achieved a state of grace that–even before I had personally experienced even a fraction of the ugliness and evil that she had faced–was astonishing and recognizable.  I don’t mean to put some kind of holy glow over the whole thing.  She was very clear that there had been some extremely difficult times, but  it seemed that she was okay. Which is maybe all we can really hope to end up being.

I still remember exactly where I was (gym locker room) when I heard that OJ was found not guilty and how sickened I was by the news, absolutely.   I have thought of Kim often, as inspiration, and with admiration and respect.

And so, it was in the middle of my own, much lessor trauma, that I discovered that Kim had made contact with me through linked in.  She is now the Executive Director of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project.  She writes, “My career has mostly been focused on being of service to others.”  But she was never helpless or self-pitying, or martyrish and she never lost her sense of humor, well, maybe she did (and deserved to) but I never saw it.  That’s not even to say there’s any right way to act in these kinds of situations.  Falling apart seems appropriate and natural at certain (many?) times in life.  I don’t want to glorify certain one kind of a response over another, and yet, the way she acted has made a lasting impact on me.

And so, it was very nice, especially right now, to get a little ping from the past.  A reminder of okayness.  Of  grace during the darkest of days.

dude fude, mommies, Uncategorized

birthday time

It’s coming up on M’s birthday and it’s cake planning time.  As for the party with her school friends, I’m not going to do the gymnastics/jumpy meetup with decent pizza and bad cake (with apologies to the parents who do or, or do it better than pizza and bad cake… I’m still not doing it).  The kids do seem to like it, but I can’t throw a party where I know the food won’t be great.  And since when do kids really prefer decent food?  I’ve read that picky eating is genetic, but I’m not sure I buy it.

M likes decent food but she loves really good food.  She has recently informed me that she likes salmon sushi.

And yes, I am a bit predisposed to birthday parties with more adults than kids at this point, and cupcakes (or cake) that everyone loves, like silences-the-room-loves.  The cupcakes I made last year were like that and their was no cake left behind on plates.  (Here’s that recipe. I didn’t use the marshmallow frosting.) Kids usually just eat off the frosting, even if it’s that horrible sweetened shortening that most grocery stores use.  Last year’s cupcakes had a chocolate layer and graham cracker bottom, so they were worth eating, thoroughly.

I just discovered this cupcake website (with thanks to Naomi Aviv) which looks very interesting.  I want to find that cupcake that hits the sweet spot for kids and adults alike and of course, something for sweet M on her 4th.   I will keep you posted…

thoughts, trends, Uncategorized

at the edge; the rise of extreme stakes

Thanks to a free month-long trial subscription to Netflix, I have now watched the entire 5 seasons of Weeds, and season 1 of Californication.

I found this dramatic interlude highly enjoyable. And it got me thinking about the extreme stakes narrative trend that both shows utilize. While both shows are naturalistic, in emotion and character, they flirt with the surreal in their constant crazy heightening of unrealistic stakes and plot.  While I personally have never hurled myself out of an airplane, or “gotten air” on skis, sure, I can see the appeal. Likewise, there is a distinct thrill of watching Nancy Botwin (Mary-Lousie Parker) of Weeds decide, upon finding herself confronted with a threatening drug dealer, that a quickie with him by her car is too irresistible to pass up.  After a few seasons of Weeds, I found myself thinking, just how far can this possibly go?  And go they have, while maintaining just a thread of believability, or at least they are maintaing the suspension of disbelief.

Similarly, Californication has the same surrealistic realism that makes the show both unbelievably enjoyable as in, enjoyable and only barely realistic (LA is like that, but also not like that), but the writers and actors have taken it one step further. David Duchovny’s Hank Moody has an extreme stakes personality.  Talk about a thrill.

He is constantly being humiliated and yet never humiliated, never defensive.  He owns up to everything, embraces every personal flaw, owns everything, and is indestructible as a result, at least as of season one.  It’s breathtaking to watch the imperviousness of a character who never denies who they are and how badly they act.  He is in a constant state of hurling himself into the void.  He is also hugely successful as a likable character.  Deeply flawed, he is fundamentally a good person.  (Hooker with a heart of gold, anyone?) He is simultaneously an excessive lover of women, and an excessive lover of womenkind.

I don’t know if the appearance in the  mainstream of these kama kazi stories and characters represent a bit of our collective yearning to go loco in the face of our very difficult political, economic and environmental circumstances and the difficult future which seems to loom ahead. Stories have always been useful as a means of throwing ourselves, experientially, into the void, and getting to see how it feels without having to actually climb Mt. Everest with an oxygen tank.  And while some actually choose to stand on the mountain top and push off, I am going to stick with the storytelling from those daring writers who imagine themselves there and then dream up what comes next.